Friday, March 16, 2007

"Q" - Under Construction

How many countries have you been to that start with the letter “q?” I’ve been to one. It’s called Qatar. Now I’m trying to think of any other possible countries that start with that letter. Anyway, let me tell you about my trip.
I went to the east coast of Bulgaria to meet up with the friends (Amy, David, and Greg) I would travel with. We had a nice time walking on the beach and eating out at restaurants. The next morning, we took about a 7 hour bus ride to get to Istanbul, Turkey. There were fairly frequent stops, and they kept pouring lemon water on our hands, so it wasn’t that bad. They were also amused by the fact that they had some Americans traveling with them. They just had to tell the border guards, and, in turn, the border patrol would ask, “Where are the Americans?” in that half-amused, half-accusatory tone. Then they would talk to us for a bit in English. The nice thing about stopping across the border is that you get to stop at these Duty Free shops and buy things in bulk! We got a huge bag of peanut M&Ms, and Amy and I ate most of them.
When we finally got to Istanbul that evening, we checked into our pension and met up with some of Greg’s friends for dinner. After some yummy, Turkish food, we went up to Taksim – a happening part of town with tons of people and row after row of shops and restaurants. We turned down an alley with a bunch of bars, and we finally found a place up on a tiny balcony to get a drink. Amy and I both got “raki” – a strong, local drink that’s milky white and tastes like licorice. We stopped at one and soon left the bar.
As soon as we were outside, we could hear people shouting. I didn’t catch much of it, for soon I felt my weight being pushed backwards into David. Amy fell back into me, and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man shaking an iron fence at another man who was running away. Then, the first man sprayed a liquid that looked a lot like the “raki” we had just drunk. I didn’t think much of it until my lungs started to burn and my eyes began to sting a little. Pretty soon, we were all coughing. We high-tailed it back up the alley. Wherever we walked, people started coughing around us. We had been in the vicinity of pepper spray, and now it was latching onto us and moving up the alley.
We stumbled back out onto the main strip and continued to cough and rub our eyes. We were soon laughing. I had never been around pepper-spray before, and it was an interesting experience. I hope I never get it straight in the face.
The next day, we went to one of the “newer” palaces in Istanbul and took a tour. It was a beautiful palace, but I suppose the most interesting thing about it was that Ataturk died there. I don’t know much about Ataturk. He was a revered statesman who brought quite a lot of western-influenced development to Turkey. You can find his picture everywhere. After a tour of the palace and the harem, we went back up to Taksim to get something to eat. David and Greg decided to follow that with a Turkish bath while Amy and I walked around the Blue Mosque. Afterwards, we went to get some tea from a very nice man who kept calling us “neighbor.”
The next day, we went out to the Grand Bazaar (this place is so huge, you can get lost here) to find some gifts for our hosts in Qatar and some souvenirs for ourselves. Amy stopped to get some tiles from a very nice vendor, and I waited with her. The vendor kept asking me why I looked so sad. I just told him that I had “sad eyes.” At the end of their transaction, he asked me if I’d like him to do something for me to make me happy. I was trepidatious. Greg was laughing, “Yes, she does.” He said, “Come, follow me,” and walked into his shop. I waited outside. He soon came out with a small, hand-painted bowl. Sweet! I got something free for looking down.
After our adventures at the bazaar, we got a “duner.” It’s basically a wrap with meat, fries, and vegetables inside. While we were eating our duners, we came across El Torito’s. Yeah. For those of you who know El Torito’s, they have one in Turkey. I had been looking for it the last time I was in Istanbul, and I hadn’t found it. Here it was… so close to the center of everything. You can’t imagine my joy. Even though we had already eaten, we decided to go inside and eat again. Our appetites had been spurred by the thought of Mexican food. We ate some delicious food and flipped out over real jalapeños and sour cream. After a yummy, second lunch, we went back to the Blue Mosque and ogled at the architecture inside, and then we packed up our bags and headed for the airport.
We caught a late flight out and arrived in Qatar four hours later – at 1 a.m. The flight was interesting when we got to the Middle East. It’s debated what route we took – whether we flew over Iraq or Iran. On the screen, it looked as though we had flown over Baghdad, but I doubt that. Also, we saw a bunch of fires burning down in the waters. Oil refineries? It was eerie and beautiful at the same time.
As soon as we stepped off the plane, we saw a smartly-dressed woman holding a sign with all our names on it. She followed us to the terminal, and we met with some others who asked us to give them our passports and have a seat in the lounge. We waited while they took care of the visa information and escorted us through immigration. They then waited with us until we found all our bags and our hostess. Ellen was a very nice lady who picked us up after midnight and gave us a driven tour of downtown Doha. She then took us to her elegant house and let us crash. Here’s the connection in case you were curious: Ellen is the step-mother of one of Amy’s friends. Her husband is there on a three-year contract with a gas company. So, we took the opportunity to visit. When would one ever have an opportunity to go to Qatar and get free lodging?
The next day, we went out to get some lunch before going off on a desert safari. We met up with our tour guide and a Canadian on his way to Nepal, and we all set off on our adventure. We started out by getting out of Doha and leaving the paved roads for the desert in an 8-person jeep. We passed a chemical refinery and saw more fires burning out in the desert.
Where the road ended, and the sand began, there were men there with their camels – smiling and willing to take our money. We climbed out on the jeep and hopped up on the camels. We were pulled around for about a minute while others took pictures. It’s one of those things you willingly do even though you know you’re getting ripped off. In fact, someone came up in their fancy jeep, asked if they could speak English to us a bit, and then proceeded to tell us not to pay for such things. It turns out he had been in a random town in Bulgaria many years before. Small world.
All of the sudden, we found ourselves out in the dunes with a bunch of people on 4-wheelers. We almost collided with one of them as they came up over the edge of a dune. We also saw someone parasailing in the distance. Meanwhile, we climbed up and slid down steep dunes. It was like the “Indiana Jones” ride at Disneyland – for those of you who have been. We stopped at checked out the Persian Gulf and looked over across the way at Saudi Arabia. Greg climbed in the driver’s seat, and we took off. Our guide was pretty laid-back, but he got nervous as Greg tried to crash us into a dune. Then I got into the driver’s seat, and I took us across the desert as fast as I could. Amy climbed in after me. It was great to drive – after going so long without being behind the wheel. David had to remind me which was the gas and which was the brake. Sad, huh?
We arrived at our camp in the late afternoon. It was a nice base right next to the gulf. We were the only customers there – in fact, the workers outnumbered us. Amy and I picked out a Bedouin tent to sleep in that night. It’s illegal for men and women to sleep in the same space if they’re not married.
Greg, Amy, and I started a volleyball game with the workers at the camp. We had a good time diving and rolling in the sand. I hadn’t played beach volleyball in forever. Afterward, we went back out to bash some dunes while watching some questionable rap videos. It was surreal. We then took a break for dinner around the fire. There was a debate on where they could have obtained the wood and how much it must have cost them. After dinner, we learned a new card game from the workers at the camp. Later, we hung out on the beach, went dune bashing again, and then sat around the fire. David revealed that he was leaving PC Bulgaria to return to the states. There was a quiet mood around the campfire that night. We were all sad to see him go. It’s a strange feeling every time a volunteer goes home. It’s as if a family is being broken.
The next day, I woke up before sunrise. I got up to try and catch it coming up over the water, but it was soon clear that I wouldn’t be able to see anything. The fires of the oil refineries and chemical plants had been burning all night, and all one could see in the distance was haze. I took a walk down the beach and watched the sun break through the haze. It was anti-climactic. But I talked to God, and I enjoyed my alone time on the beach. It’s been so long since I’ve been alone with the sand and the waves.
After breakfast, we headed back to Doha. We arrived early in the morning and were dropped off at a mall. We wandered around looking for public phones from which to call Ellen. It turned out, there was a phone store there that sold cards to use at public phones, but there weren’t any public phones in the mall. Seems dumb, but yet it almost makes sense. Everyone has a cell. The two things I noticed about the men in their stainless white robes and scarves: how everyone had a wire to their ear, and how they all smelled of strong cologne. I’ll get into that in a bit – my (possibly misguided) perceptions of the country.
So, we stopped into a jeweler’s shop and the nice man there let us use his phone. We walked around the mall and ended up running into a Baskin Robbins. You can’t imagine Amy’s and my excitement. I got a waffle cone with mint chocolate chip and chocolate chip cookie dough. How long has it been?!?!
We got lucky finding a cab. It was either: wait until a random taxi came along, or call a limo service. Once in the cab, we couldn’t make the driver understand where we wanted to go. Finally, he called a friend and had him talk to Amy. It must have all worked out, because he started driving us to the “souqs.” The “souqs” are row after row of small shops. We went to a group of “souqs” that looked more “Arabic” in nature. I don’t know any other way to describe it. We started walking through some wonderfully-smelling stalls. There were more spices there than you can shake a stick at. You like that saying? Anyway, we wandered around and looked for souvenirs.
At one point, I was following David into the shade. I crossed the path right in front of a man. He made this horrible sound of displeasure in his throat. I guess he didn’t like that I had taken the opportunity to cross his path right in front of him. Maybe I should have waited until he had gone by in order to take my feminine body on its way. I could do nothing but laugh.
Later, we people-watched while we waited for Ellen. We saw a father and his children throw bird seed at pigeons while we waited for Ellen. We saw many women covered in black from head to toe. One could tell that they were exquisitely-dressed underneath their robes. They had expensive shoes and expensive jewelry. There was a very relaxed atmosphere in their elegant movements.
We went to a nice restaurant and ate on floor couches. After getting up so early and filling my belly with such delicious food, all I wanted was to take a shower and sleep. We ate for a few minutes, and then we would relax to let our stomachs settle and get ready to eat again. I fell asleep at lunch; the couches were so comfortable.
I had such a headache when I got home. I immediately took a shower and crashed. I slept for a long time. When I awoke, it was dinner time, but none of us really had much desire to eat the wonderful meal Oliver, Ellen’s husband, had brought home.
Later that evening, Oliver took us out to the “Cornishe” – a nice walkway down by the bay. We walked, joked around, and looked at all the downtown lights. It was a nice, cool evening. Oliver was waiting for us on the other side of the bay, and we climbed in the car and stopped at another row of shops. Once we got home that night, we settled down to watch “A Walk to Remember.”
The next morning, we went out to a superstore for some souvenirs. It was interesting to be in a Wal-Mart type and to hear prayers being called out over a loudspeaker. We saw a version of an Islamic Barbie. There was everything your heart could desire – at low, low prices.
Afterwards, we went out to a mall to look for souvenirs and get some lunch. I found another Baskin Robbins and took advantage of getting a repeat of the day before. I know I lack imagination, but when you don’t get the things you love, you want to have them as often as you can in the short amount of time you have.
That night, before we hopped on a plane, Amy and I went to play pool at their “shagadelic” clubhouse. This place was insane. Neon pink chairs, yellow sofas, purple walls, and I swear I saw zebra print somewhere. I don’t know who decorated the place, but I’d like to shake their hand. Ellen and Oliver took us out to Chili’s for dinner that night. Yes, Chili’s. They have Baskin Robbins, Dunkin’ Donuts, Hardee’s, Dairy Queen, Applebee’s, Fuddruckers…. I’ll get into all that in a minute. So, we ate at Chili’s. Oh, it was so good. Then, they dropped us off at the airport.
Our plane was at 2 a.m., and it was full. Our plane over had been fairly empty, but this one back to Istanbul was full. I had a really hard time sleeping. I don’t sleep much on planes anyway. We got to Istanbul at 5:30 a.m., and we went straight to our pension to sleep. We got up for lunch, and I decided to go back to the pension. They were planning on going to an archaeological museum and back to the bazaar. I was feeling tired and run-down. I just wanted some alone time. I ended up reading my Bible and sleeping a lot. I was glad to see them when they came back, and I tried not to be jealous when they showed me all the souvenirs they had bought.
We went out to dinner and enjoyed our last evening in Istanbul. It was hard to come back to “Bulgaristan” (as it’s called in Turkish), honestly. But we came back. I got off the bus with Amy in her town, and the boys continued on the bus to their respective cities. It was nice to just hang out with Amy. I enjoyed having girl talk, and I liked seeing her town. We hiked up to a hija (lodge), and the ground was covered with autumn leaves and purple flowers. It was so beautiful.
The next day, I had to travel 11 hours to get back to site. It was a long day. On the train back to Velingrad, I sat next to some teenagers who were playing cards. They were nice enough, but they were also kind of punks. I told them not to smoke as I had sat on that car specifically so I wouldn’t have to deal with smoking. They paid no attention to me. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out the point of the game they were playing. I probably should have asked them to teach me, but there was never really a good moment.
Once I got back, I brought some Turkish Delight down to Enyo and Milka, and I told them all about my trip. I don’t spend enough time with my landlords, and they are one of the few people that I can tell about such trips without feeling that I’m making them feel badly ‘cause they’re jealous of me. They have also had some opportunity to travel, and they understand what I’m talking about much of the time.
So let me back up and tell you some of my impressions of Doha. I was only there four days, so my rambling is based only on this limited experience and what our hosts told us. It feels completely artificial. Seventy percent of the population is made up of ex-pats – meaning that they’ve been transplanted from somewhere else. I saw a bunch of Filipinos working alongside a Romanian. There were Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Indonisians, etc. It was smorgasbord of ethnicities. Eighty percent of the entire population (just over 600,000) lives in Doha. And I swear 75% of those are on the road at any given time. Good gravy. There is so much money flowing in, they don’t know what to do with it. So they build. It’s a city that’s under permanent construction. There are “diversion” or detour signs all over the place. Investments are pouring in, and so are the people trying to take advantage of it. Some become exorbitantly wealthy, while others scrape to put together something to send their families back home. The neighborhood we stayed in felt fake somehow. All the houses were the same. Of course, it’s like tract homes in the states, but these were sparkling white on the outside. I saw several fair-skinned, blondies running around. They were playing with children of other ethnicities. That was great, but it still felt so closed in. And then there’s the fact that many of them are only there temporarily. You have a contract, and then you move back to where you came from. All these people with so many backgrounds and different stories – thrown together in a complex in a foreign land. It seemed so strange to me.
Ellen’s Bible Study group came over, and they were such nice women. One of them had been there nine years. Another had recently moved there, and had a one-month old. I looked at Amy and asked her, “Do you think you could ever be the wife of an ex-pat?” It’s just such an interesting role to take on. I really admire and respect these women. I don’t know if I could follow my husband and his job to a foreign land. There would have to be some pretty big stipulations. Of course I love living abroad, but…. Yeah.
What else? Oh yeah, I wanted to comment on the dress. The women there are free to dress how they please – within the guidelines of modesty. Amy wore capris, but we were told not to sport tank tops. Otherwise, we were fine in jeans in a tee-shirt, which was good ‘cause it was pretty warm there. There were women, however, who went around in full “burkas.” They were covered in black cloth from head to toe. Instead of looking restricting, these dresses looked pretty comfortable, actually. Some of them had exquisite embroidery around the sleeves and the bottom of the robes. They would then wear pretty scarves and veils around their heads. I thought they looked regal and beautiful. It was the ones with covered faces that tripped me out. There’s something about passing a person and being able to see their eyes. This “black ghost” image messed with my mind because it caught me off-kilter. I like being able to look someone in the eyes as I pass them. Whether or not I do it is a different story. At least the option is there.
Also, I have heard that these women wear glamorous lingerie underneath their robes. I don’t know how true that is, but I probably would. It’d be another way to express myself and do something just for me. Like I mentioned before, they had exquisite shoes and wore a lot of gold.
I asked about their freedoms, and Ellen told me that some of them are pretty free to go where they want – whether it be alone or with friends. Others are provided escorts by their husbands, which are pretty much bodyguards. I don’t really understand a man’s fear of women or other men. I really don’t know the situation, so I’m not going to go on a diatribe of this subject. All I will say is that I was surprised by the elegant beauty of a woman covered from head to toe in black. And the men looked pretty handsome in their white robes. I’ll have to share pictures with you all.
So I came back to “Bulgaristan,” and it’s crazy here. We’re doing a new campaign to get people to sign up for English and computer education. At first, I was afraid there wouldn’t be much response. Now, I worry I may be overwhelmed. I try not to get my hopes up though. I remember what happened when we first opened up the center for English and computers. Tons of kids signed up, and then they never showed. Or they came for a few times, and then they mysteriously vanished. My colleagues are excited at the response, but I tell them that I don’t believe people anymore. I’ll wait to see what they do.
My Monday English class with my little kids was supposed to be fairly uneventful, but it turned out to be interesting. I told all of them that we wouldn’t have English unless they had paid up through the month of March. Several of the kids frowned at me and whined. They had waited all this time to have English. “My mom’s at work,” is the usual excuse, but I wasn’t listening to it this time. In the end, only one boy stayed with me to study English.
Halfway through the lesson, the mother of one of my students came in with a friend of hers. She looked highly displeased, and she said “Dober den” in that sarcastic tone of voice that lets you know she really doesn’t want you to have a good afternoon. She then went on a diatribe about how she wasn’t there because of the money, but she was there because her daughter had come home upset. She went off on me and spoke to me pretty disrespectfully. I tried to tell her my side of the story, but she just kept getting more and more worked up. She said things like, “May only one child study with you. Good job. You’ve done great work.” Her friend jumped in with “Who’s your boss?” I just calmly tried to tell them that all the children were upset, not just her daughter. I asked her if I could come after my class and talk with her and her daughter. At first she said, “Do whatever you want,” as she and her friend stormed out of the room. I said, “Wait a second. Let’s get this cleared up. Can I come after my class and talk with you?” She was a little more calm and said that was fine. I turned back to my student, who was sitting there like a block of ice, and we continued our lesson.
Afterwards, I had another one of my students show me where the woman lived. I came in, and she was a little more calm. Her daughter was happy to have me in the house, and we discussed things fairly maturely – like adults. I told her daughter, “You know how much your mother loves you? She came all the way down to the center to yell at me.” The mother tried to say that she hadn’t yelled at me, but there’s no other way to describe her frustration and tone of voice. So, I calmly explained that I didn’t have it on record that her daughter had paid for a previous month. She had tried in the center to say that I needed to keep better records. I said it’s possible for me to make a mistake, but according to my records, she hadn’t paid. That was the reason I had told her we weren’t going to study English. I told her that all the other kids were unhappy with me as well. In the end, we had a civil discussion. She said that her daughter would pay the next time around. She then offered me some juice, and then she asked me what I was doing here in Bulgaria. Do you get paid? Why don’t you make much money? Etc.
At the time, I thought it had turned out well because a parent had actually taken the time to come and talk to me. Other parents might just say, “Okay, well, you’re not going to study English, I guess,” and then leave it alone. I shared this with my colleagues (‘cause I gotta share my problems with them, right?), and they were none too pleased. “If she didn’t care about the money,” they said, “and she was so upset about her daughter not being able to study, why didn’t she just bring her daughter and a lev down to the center?” Good question. There’s a thing called tact, and there’s a way to approach problems. I asked her if, next time she wanted to talk to me, she could wait after my class. She tried to counter with the fact that she’s busy. Yes, she’s busy. I’m busy, too. I have class. Please talk to me at an appropriate time in an appropriate tone of voice.
Anyway, I’ve just been having my classes this week (or not having them when people don’t show up). I talked to some of my girls that were supposed to show up for class, but instead showed up to play when they saw that I was playing outside. “Look, I told them. You need to tell me whether or not we’re going to meet for English. I have new groups coming in, and I don’t want to hold aside times for you if you’re not going to show up. Even if you say you won’t study English, I don’t care. I just want you to tell me the truth.” They said they would come on a regular basis. We’ll see. I’m so tired of people looking me in the eyes and lying to me… especially these people I consider to be my friends. I ended up telling one of my English students that I wasn’t going to meet with him anymore. He was hanging around outside like he had nothing better to do. When I called him over, he shuffled his feet. “We’re not going to study English together anymore.” “Why?” “Because you don’t come.” “I forget.” “Yeah. You forget, and I have better things to do, so we’re not going to study together anymore.” He then followed that with a round of “pleases.” I just continued to say “no.” So silly.
The past couple days have been interesting with my colleagues. Valia’s son, Sashko, has decided to go and live with his dad. It’s a really sad story. He’s one of those pre-teens who thinks his mom is being so unfair to him. With his dad, he doesn’t have to go to school. He can sit in the Mahala all day and play cards. He can go around and do whatever he wants. He can go with his father and make money. He has this freedom right now that he thinks is just amazing. Valia and a friend went to try and get him to come back. He mocked them and treated them horribly – as if they had never done anything for him but abuse him. Valia said that he was dirty, and he smelled. It’s awful. She doesn’t have parental rights for him because she never had a legalized marriage with his father. I can’t imagine her pain.
In spite of this, the mood in the office has been pretty upbeat. I don’t know if my colleagues are trying to mask and compensate, but we’ve been joking around and having a good time. We haven’t necessarily gotten much work done, but we don’t necessarily have to at this time of year. It’s a slow month in a lot of ways. We’re planning for the next round, and we’re waiting to hear what will happen with our budget. We’ve spent our lunch hours out on the benches in the center – just sitting in the sun and listening to the birds. Even though I should go eat or prepare for my classes, I find that I’d rather just sit there and hang out with them.
The school called me over yesterday because they didn’t get a grant they had applied for. I tried to pacify them a bit, but it’s disappointing when you don’t get a project you’ve worked on. While I was in the office, a woman who works for the welfare of children (at least that’s what I got when she went on a long “vocabulary specific” explanation on I stopped by Brandy’s classroom afterward. They were having a “green” party for St. Patrick’s day. I wasn’t wearing any green, but no one pinched me. I just partook in all the green food and talked with Brandy’s charming students.
Today, the upbeat mood in the office went out the window. My colleagues started fighting again, and I don’t know where it comes from. In the end, we all feel guilty for it. The previous days, I had felt that old, nagging desire to stay for a third year. It’s days like this when I think I just get in the way, and I’m not really helping anyone on my team.
I don’t know. I love my colleagues, but I sometimes wonder if my presence does them much of any good. I can’t help them out much with what they’re working on in the office.
I left the conversation to go and teach my computer class. I was standing, waiting for my students to finish some conversation. Finally, I went over to one of them and said, “We’re going to learn a new program today. Let’s go.” She said, “Let’s not have it today. We’re busy… unless you’re not going to be here next week.” I was livid. Um… what? I saw them standing outside later – when I went back out of the Mahala to do some other, pressing work. If they do it again, we’re done with those classes. I’ll have my plate full enough as it is. Or, if not, I’ll find something else to do.
I finally went to the classroom where Maria and Reneta study English in their free time. (Those girls are so busy. In fact, I couldn’t have Spanish with them this week ‘cause they had other classes going on.) An English couple gives workbooks and English lessons for free. Well, a Bulgarian teacher holds the classes, but the English couple funds it. The room was clean and simple, with three rows of desks, a television, and a DVD player. I sat in on the class for a while, and the teacher gave me some books she wasn’t using. I’ll try and use them for my adult classes.
My class with the kids went well today. Only girls showed up, and we sang songs and played games to have them learn the days of the week. I had a lot of fun with them today. I sure do love those little kids. They are my most serious students. And they actually get upset if we can’t have English for one reason or another.
Well, that’s the update. I’m on my way to Sofia tomorrow for a meeting with the Minority Committee in Peace Corps. We talk about tolerance and minority issues. It’s good people and good fun! It’s also St. Patty’s day. I’ll have to wear something green and go out to get a green beer or something to celebrate. Nevermind that I’ll only be able to drink a few sips. I don’t care much for the stuff. On Sunday, we’re going to have a language refresher! I’m so excited. The most demanding teacher of all will be holding the session. I can’t wait for him to kick our butts and tell us how rotten our Bulgarian is! Haha. Nah, he’ll probably be complimentary while finding a way to push our buttons. Good stuff!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Strengths and Weaknesses – “Thank You, Sir. May I Have Another?”

I write to you from a smoky café in my town. It’s so crowded here, and I hate it. I didn’t think it could be this crazy on a Wednesday night. I just figured that I needed some time to get out of my apartment. I rarely get out in the evenings anymore. After my classes, I’m beat, and I just want to stay home and be a hermit. I figured, let’s go out to the café and get hopped up on caffeine and chocolate. And let’s take my laptop so I can update the good old blog. And I thought I would have a comfortable couch on which to work. That hasn’t happened. Maybe when I keep yammering and the place clears out a little. Right now, I’m sitting at the bar. I guess it’s good for my posture. I rarely take out the laptop in public though. I know it’s not a luxury item that really anyone owns here, and I don’t want to give them a reason to covet. People usually fawn over the laptop when they see it, and I just become an extension of a luxury item. It’s made me realize how “rich” I am – at least in the eyes of people here. As if people didn’t have a reason to stare at me already – I might as well have an extra head. Anyway, I’m sorry that I haven’t been good with updating. I’ve just been really busy, and other demands have taken up my time. It’s not that I’ve lost interest in sharing my ideas or events. It’s just that I’ve lost the time… or maybe I’m not managing my time as well as I should be. That’s also a possibility. Well, it makes for some really long posts. That’s for sure. And we all know how you love that, dear readers. Let’s see… where did I leave you last? I think it was right before Valentine’s Day. And, yes, it was another uneventful day. Well, Yanko bought us all long-stemmed, red roses. I made my valentine feel guilty because he didn’t call me until the day was almost over… and I guilted him into buying me lots of presents! We’ll get to those in a second. In the end, I turned out to be a bad valentine. Anyway, the week progressed like any other week. I went to my classes – got frustrated by the dwindling attendance. On Friday, I was all over the place. I had a million things going on, and I grabbed a quick lunch on the run, before heading up to the center. I must have eaten something that didn’t agree with me, because in a matter of minutes, I was having stomach pains that were causing me to double over. I walked up to the center, but I realized that I just wasn’t going to be able to teach my four classes for the day. No way. So, I left a note and promptly turned around for home. I spent the evening watching movies and slowly feeling much better. I don’t know what that was about. My colleagues also had a parent’s meeting, and I felt badly for missing that. Apparently, attendance was low as usual. Thomas came for the weekend. He brought me a fragrant, pink hyacinth – that bloomed over the weekend, a couple bars of dark mint chocolate, a couple movies in Spanish, and an entire box of 3-in-1 coffee packages. I think I’ve mentioned the magic of 3-in-1 before, or “trivedno” as we call it here. It’s very popular here, and I’m addicted. Basically, it’s coffee, cream, and sugar mixed in the perfect amounts and thrown in a package. All you do is add a little hot water, and you have the perfect drink. The only drawback is that you could probably drink it in two gulps if it were lukewarm. Anyway, Thomas knows I love those, so he brought me a bunch! He also got me a “martenitza” in preparation for “Baba Marta” day – which is tomorrow. I’ll get to that again. I talked about it last year, but it’s here again, so I’ll explain once again. Guess who else was here over the weekend. None other than my favorite people – Milka and Enyo’s son and pseudo-daughter-in-law! I’m being mean. They’re nice people. I just hate it when they come over because their appearance means that I’m expected to let them stay in the extra room in their apartment. I talked to my landlords about this before, asking them if they could at least give me some warning to their arrival. It’d come to the point where they just walked in with their luggage – much to Apryl’s displeasure. So, please, could you just let me know in advance? They took that to mean that they could warn me a couple hours before their “possible” arrival. Bleh. I told Milka that Thomas was coming. “Okay, well, we’ll see what we’ll do,” was Milka’s answer. I had hoped that meant that they wouldn’t be staying in my apartment. It had meant that before when Thomas came over. No such luck this time. Their son came up to inform me that they would be staying there. Some friends from Stara Zagora had come to visit and there was no room for them downstairs. I was livid. To top it off, they made a lot of noise as they argued in the second room, and they smoked in there. I’m getting angry just writing about it. So Thomas and I made do. We went hiking on Saturday. There’s a funny-shaped mountain in the distance that I can see from my window. We decided to go up there and check it out, plus there was some snow up there. Snow is exciting these days. Anyway, it was some hike. I’m really out of shape, but it was worth it. I had always wanted to go up there, and we discovered some old walls and stonework up there. I’ve been asking people what’s up there, but I keep getting different answers and the impression that no one seems to really know. They just like to pretend like they know – or distract you with another old thing they know about nearby. They’ll get you talking about that, and then you have to turn them back to the subject of the thing they don’t know about but would really like to speculate on. We came back soaking wet, and then a friend of mine called and asked if I could take the time to explain to a graduate student the difference between “can” and “be able to.” It’s interesting when you sit down and think about your language. It’s really ridiculous if you think about it. And then I made a gourmet dinner. Okay, maybe Thomas would disagree if he had any input in this blog, but it was a pretty involved affair if you ask me… especially for the girl who doesn’t cook. On Sunday, I was supposed to attempt a walk around the Mahala once again. It was snowing, however, and I figured it was too cold and unpleasant to wander around. Plus, to drag someone else in that weather for my endeavor… that’s just silly. So, I spent the day inside and read. Who knows what I did? It was one of those nice, lazy days. You watch the snow fall and are grateful you get to get out of whatever you had planned. The following week, I had a bunch of kids again for my youngest class. They’re great, but they don’t listen to me. I’ve been having some serious discipline problems with them, and I don’t know how to keep them in line. I sent a couple boys out of the room because I just couldn’t take it anymore. One of them left crying. The other came asking if they could come back inside. As there was only five minutes left to the lesson, I told them they could come next time. Well, next time is turning out to be a long time coming. My other students are being infuriating. There’s no other way to put it. I’m monumentally frustrated. They’ll tell me they’re coming, and then they just decide not to show up. I swear I make it fun and interesting for them. At least I’d really like to think so. They look like they’re enjoying it while they’re there. And then they come up with some uber-lame excuse like, “I forgot,” or “I was sleeping,” or “I had to go visit someone,” or “Two dollars a month for English is too expensive.” The whole time, they were really out in the street playing ball with their friends. You know what? I would prefer you just keep your mouth shut. I would prefer you didn’t bother telling me you were going to come, and then you just didn’t come. You know what would be best? “Apryl, I’m not going to come to English class anymore. I just don’t want to.” Great. Now I don’t have to invest myself in you, and you can stop lying to me. This is a fantastic arrangement. Can you tell I’m angry? You’d think I’d be used to this “gluposti.” I’m not. I still expect people to follow through when they say they will. Lying liars. One of my adult students even told Yanko that he thought it would be good for us to meet more often. He hadn’t shown up for my previous class, and he didn’t bother showing up for my next class. Um… am I missing something? Maybe people don’t take it seriously because it’s only a few leva a month to study English. Well, screw that. I’m worth more, people! You’ll see, and you’ll take me seriously, or you won’t come. We’ll be coming back to this topic in a second.
I wanted to share with you all a random incident that just shows the mentality of some of the people here. So, I had one of the boys from the former "volunteer" group open the door to the old clubhouse for me. There had been a meeting or something there previously. The tables were set up, and there were still some old cups and cookies on the table. He asked what had gone on there while I went and fetched something. I told him I didn't know. I hadn't been there, but it looked like they had had a meeting. As I grabbed a few things, he helped himself to one of the stale cookies. This struck me as interesting because: 1. How do you take a cookie when you don't know how long it's been sitting there? 2. How do you just help yourself to stale cookies in a situation like that? I don't know, but I found it odd. You see a cookie. You don't know how long it's been there. You don't know who it belongs to. You're with another person who doesn't know what's going on, but is kind of linked to the cookie because she works with the foundation who provided the cookie. And, without asking, you just help yourself. Again, does anyone else find this odd? So, what else did I do last week? I went to my classes and taught people one or two at a time, and I went to the school to try and see what teachers do with the younger kids to keep them in line. I think the teachers were really flattered that I was turning to them for advice. They were very accommodating, and they willingly let me in to observe their classes. I also spent some time helping them with their SPA project. They were kind of frantic there at the end, but Brandy and I were able to figure it out with them. I really liked helping them with their project. These are the things that keep me alive and feeling like a useful volunteer. My kids were excited to see me at school and have me sit in on their classes. They kept pulling me along by the hand, hugging me, and hovering around me… like I was their precious jewel that only they had access to, and the other kids would just have to be jealous. Yeah? Behave in my classes you adorable, little devils! So, I think I picked up some good tips from observing the teachers. I don’t want to be yelling at them and hassling them throughout the whole class period. I want to get things done and have them learn ‘cause they’re intensely bright. They constantly wow and amaze me with how quickly they catch on. So yeah, what did I learn? I’m not strict enough. I don’t make it clear who’s in charge, and I don’t give them enough incentive to keep on task. I don’t know if these are things I can learn at this point, but I have to make the attempt. What else went on? Let’s stop talking about my classes (computers and Spanish went well) and just move on to Friday. Wait, wait! Let’s talk about Thursday night. I told you all about a haunted house in an earlier post. Well, the “baba” who invited me to that house way back in the day tracked me down again and insisted that I come over. Plus, she wanted me to help some guy with a computer in Sofia? What? People constantly find little, odd-jobs for me to do. It seems like it always has to do with computers. I don’t get it. Anyway, so I finally went with the baba to her haunted house. It was like this cool log cabin place. It didn’t look so ominous once she turned on the light and I was inside. It was very rustic and log cabin-ish. She was the nicest “baba.” I loved her sense of humor, and she was sweet. I was just uncomfortable with how quickly she was taking our relationship. She wanted to give me a key right away and have me come over anytime I wanted. Then, she wanted to give me a foot massage. Then, she started talking to me about how we would be sleeping in the same bed together the next time I came. Um… I have a place to sleep, thank you very much. Plus, Thomas would get jealous? Maybe he wouldn’t. Who knows? But it was weird. I let her give me a foot massage. It was kind of painful – maybe because I was on edge. However, it’s not everyday that you meet a nice “baba” with a multiple-room, rustic, haunted house who wants to give you a key to the place. Maybe I can take advantage of it when the son and pseudo-daughter-in-law are visiting. Oh yeah, and the guy with the computer issue kept coming up. I kept trying to say that I didn’t have time to go to Sofia and check out his problem. Plus, if he had a problem, I probably wouldn’t be able to fix it and figure it out. She just kept bringing it up. Finally, I explained it to her in terms she understood. I said, “Look at that radio you have over there. You turn the knobs, you get it to play the music you like, and you enjoy it. But, once it’s broken, can you figure out how to get it to do the things you like?” She finally got it, and the conversation ended there. It’s not just her. It seems like people here are endlessly fascinated by someone who can use a computer with some limited skill. Oh, you can use a computer! You must know how to fix computers as well. You must fix computers for breakfast. Um, you drive a car. Does that mean you can get under the hood and diagnose why it doesn’t run? I traveled to Sofia (yeah, I had time for Sofia, but for business, people!) for a meeting on Friday with VSN. It was an interesting trip because I paid for a bus ticket, but I ended up taking a car with two other passengers. Interesting, but I guess it's more economical for the bus company. So, I kicked back in the back seat of some red, foreign, beat-up sedan, and I had the guy drop me off along the side of the road once we got to Sofia. But I digress.... VSN stands for “Volunteer Support Network,” and I’ve been involved with it for the past year. It’s not like I’ve done anything substantial it. Basically, a VSN member is there as a confidential outlet for other volunteers to talk to. I don’t think other volunteers quite understand it, and I don’t think they care to use it. If they have a problem, they talk to their friends. It makes sense. I try to stress the confidentiality of our work. If you told someone something, and someone else found out, and then all of Peace Corps found out, wouldn’t you want to talk to me instead? C’mon people. But it makes sense. I never used VSN. Anyway, we had a meeting in Sofia on Friday to talk about turning it over to the next groups of volunteers. It was a productive meeting, but I just feel like I don’t have much to contribute to these things. VSN also plans events volunteers can come attend and interact with other volunteers. I haven’t helped out with any of those. I’m lame! After our meeting, we went to Vratsa for a VSN-sponsored event. I had never been to Vratsa before (it’s up in the north-east part of Bulgaria), but I really liked it. Thomas and I were both impressed. It’s just seems like the center is well laid-out, and it’s charming. Anyway, it was freezing cold, but the highlight of the weekend was an outdoor football game between our B-18 group of volunteers and a mix of volunteers on the other team (mostly B-20s, but there were some B-17s and 18s as well). We won! That’s the most important part. Man, was it cold. I made the first big catch of the game – big preparation for a later TD, but I never got the ball again. Sucks! I’m sporty! I’ve got skills! Pass Apryl the ball! Anyway… so much for the “best athlete of the B-18s.” I had fun though. Did I mention it was FREEZING? I couldn’t manipulate the ball. I didn’t want to QB. I didn’t want to play center. I didn’t want to play the line. I just wanted people to pass me the pigskin, dang it! Is it because I’m a girl? Thomas and I took some time to do cultural things like visit the ethnographic and historical museums. They were pretty interesting – especially the historical museum! We were able to see the largest Thracian silver collection ever discovered! It was found by a man digging in his garden back in 1984. Can you imagine? You’re planting some tomatoes, and you find some silver belonging to ancient civilizations. After some contemplation, you think, “I’m going to hand it over to the Communists like an upstanding citizen!” I would have hid it all in my basement. Hehe. Pretty cool stuff. The building was the best part though. There were all these levels, and they just collided with each other in these interesting ways. If I had my way, I would turn it into an ice castle with different levels for ice skating, concerts, and who knows what else? I guess it’s a good thing I’m not in charge. Coming back to Rakitovo was interesting. I had been in the big city, right? I got off at “Gara Kostandovo,” and I went in a café to wait for my bus to come by and pick me up. I was listening to some manual labors talk over some wine. Their conversation was all about how this person was related to that person and what they did many years ago. They argued over family connections. It seems like that’s a lot of the conversation in villages. We sure do that in the office sometimes. “No, I’m not talking about THAT Katia! I’m talking about the Katia that’s related to Ivan! No, not THAT Ivan and Katia! The Ivan and Katia that live further up the hill! No, the ones that are related to Nadia and used to have that house over in that village across the way. Do you get it now?” “Oh, THAT Katia! I thought you were talking about….” And it just continues. Interesting stuff, let me tell you! I love my village life. It’s hard to get in on these conversations when you don’t know who people are or how their related… and you’re not related to any of them yourself. We had a “team analysis meeting” with my colleagues this week. Man, was that painful, but it was needed. The pre-meeting leading up to it was painful. Basically, we needed to find a time that was good for everyone, and that brought up a lot of frustration. We had to work around schedules of a couple people in the office (myself included, but I had just asked for a weekend. I still don’t get this whole – “choosing-to-work-on-the-weekend-if-it-can-be-helped thing.” We already work too much on the weekends as it is. Plus, I had already made plans to be doing other “work” weeks ago. Anyway, so we had this meeting. We talked about the difficulties, successes, and challenges we faced over the year. So… you know how the educational center has taken over my life? You know how I talked about how difficult it was to realize and see it through? You know how I’ve become crazy over this educational center? Maybe you don’t. Well, I’m nuts about this place. This is probably the pinnacle of my service as far as a material thing you can see, touch, and imagine (here’s a PC magic word) the “sustainability” in it. Utterly ridiculous. My service (let alone my worth as a person) is more than some building. I’ve lost that actual realization somewhere. I started getting really defensive when they brought up all the complications they’ve lived through with the center. Wait, didn’t you want this place? It was like they were spitting on it. Then, the next minute they were talking about how great it was that they had this place and how many events they’ve held in it. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. I’m probably not making much sense. I haven’t been making much sense to my colleagues in a while. Yanko pointed out that I had signed my participation in the analysis as the volunteer – working exclusively with the “Educational and Informational Center for Children and Parents.” Our team had divided in two. I started crying. Without meaning to, Yanko had given me exclusive responsibility for the center. It was too much for me to handle on my own, but I wasn’t sharing that with my colleagues, and it was dividing our team in two. I started crying harder. Then Ani started talking, “Apryl, I told you a long time that it felt like you were keeping something from us. You mentioned the other day that if you didn’t have activities to do in the center, you didn’t know what you would do for work. You fear having nothing to do. Trust me: there are other things that you can do.” I started crying harder. I was too wrapped up in the center, and I can only be grateful for colleagues that understand me too well. I’ve been sacrificing myself for this center. Instead of helping the situation, it’s just making everything worse. I won’t go into what I’ve been doing to keep the center going (maybe you have some idea), but it’s utter idiocy. I do stupid things to justify my existence here. My colleagues know it well, and they finally called me on it. On a side note, we’ve been doing our budget for the next year. They gave my work up at the center a monetary value. It was a pretty hefty portion of our “in-kind contribution” to the budget. I stared at it and trembled at the sight of my worth here reduced to numbers. Yeah, I’m glad I make a big contribution, but if this is all I am (and I know it’s not), then it’s not worth it for me to be here. After that, I took a break and thought about a third year here. It all became so clear. I shouldn’t stay. I’ve given all I have to give. They really need a volunteer here who can being some new ideas and excitement to the place. It was clear for a few minutes there. It’s become muddled again, but maybe that’s just because I’m selfish and want to stay with these people who understand me so well they know how to reduce me to tears. So, we came back and started to talk about our strengths and weaknesses. I was defensive. I don’t take criticism well. I shouldn’t be that way. No one is perfect, least of all me, but I’m nervous of people pointing out my flaws. Maybe it’s because I think I already have enough flaws. Why should you – even though you’re my friend, you care about me, and you just want to point me in the right direction to be a better person – give me more to be insecure about? I started by talking about what I thought my weaknesses were: Okay, I don’t share my problems. I don’t ask for help. I have low self-esteem. I have a hard time saying “no,” and I let people use me and, subsequently, the foundation. How about my strengths? I think I have a good way of looking at things… a different background to give you some perspective. Who cares if you think it will never work here? At least I got you to think about it for a second – and be jealous of how I live in the states. Anyway… what else? I said some other things I thought I was good with – things that escape me at the moment. Then, we went around the room and talked about what we thought were weaknesses and strengths in other people. When my turn came, my colleagues said some really nice things about me. In spite of my doubts, they actually think I have healthy self-esteem. They think I’m a good teacher, and I’m good at writing projects. Also, they think I’m very responsible, and I’m pretty punctual. What? Punctual? You don’t care that I come stumbling into the office late? I guess they mean with deadlines and responsibilities. And they said that I’m scary-ambitious. Being ambitious wasn’t just good enough – I’m “American” ambitious. My drawbacks, however, were that I don’t share my problems with them and ask for help. It was dangerously separating me from the rest of the team. Yeah, well, those are American qualities as well. I was told, “We’re not talking about personal problems here. You don’t have to share your personal problems with us if you don’t want to. But, you know, you can if you want.” If only my colleagues could read my blog…. I was told that I give help to people who don’t deserve it. I don’t know about that. I mean, I agree in a way because I know people use me and don’t show gratitude for it, but I don’t know how to classify people as “undeserving” of help. You come to me, and I tell you that you don’t “deserve” to be helped from me. I just don’t get that. I’m glad God doesn’t treat us this way. How should I treat people? I argued that I understood what they meant, but the people who honestly “deserve” my help and attention don’t come to me asking for assistance. I don’t know what the answer to that is. So yeah, I probably cried some more. “You know that I’m crying, not because I’m upset with what you’ve told me, but because what you’ve said is so true. You know me so well.” Ani asked, “Do you think you know us as well that way?” “No. I see what I find in myself in you, but I can’t read the other things about you. I’m not really that great at reading people.” I explained a lot of things to them about why I am the way I am and why I do the things I do. Then, Ani jumped in and asked, “So, are you staying a third year, or what?” I smiled, “I was thinking about it, but it just hit me over lunch. You need someone new with a new perspective. I’ve given all I have to give.” We argued about that for a while. They were saying it was great how we already know each other – our strengths and weaknesses – and how they could work with someone who already knew what was going on. Why go through all that stuff with a new volunteer and take the risk of it not working out? I tried to tell them that it wasn’t a reason to keep me around. They needed a volunteer with a fresh perspective… who hadn’t felt defeated yet. Plus, I think they would have to pay my rent. They decided that they would have to take the opportunity to convince the volunteer that she was needed – that she still had plenty to give. That should be fun. Of course, I’d like to see what they have up their sleeves. On a side-note, we’ll see about our office manager. There’re some hurt feelings there. I don’t know if we’ll be able to keep her – despite our best efforts to make some compromises. The day was cathartic, and it was entirely exhausting. I slept well at first, and then I woke up in the middle of the night. My brain just keeps going like it always does. The next day, we did some project planning. We wrote up some good ideas, and we decided that we were going to do some changes in the center. This is a good thing. I’m scared. This is always a good thing. I’m scared no matter what. I lack self-confidence, but fear can bring about some good changes. Basically, we’re starting a new campaign to get people to come to the center for English and computer classes, and we’re upping the price for English classes by 1000%. I have my trepidations. I’ve been trained by my students to fear any raise in price. My kids look at me with puppy-dog eyes and ask me if we’re really raising the price for lessons. I melt and bind myself in helplessness. That’s going to have to stop. So, I printed up some fliers, and I already have a bunch of adults signed up. And they can’t believe how low the price is. Here’s the part where I categorize things by race and try not to put my foot in my mouth: Roma think paying money for my classes is asking too much. Ethnic Bulgarians think I’m asking for too little, and they can’t believe the deal they’re getting. I’ve been spending too much time with Roma (amazing people), and my colleagues and I have trained them in this “gimme” mentality. If it’s coming from our foundation, and it’s not free, they don’t want anything to do with it. It’s nothing new. I think we’ve been trained to think that anything coming from the internet should be free. I know I fall into that mentality. Anyway, when they come back at me with it, I don’t know how to stand my ground. So I’ve gotten to the point where I think my services aren’t worth a discounted rate, and I’ve been subtly giving people the message that I shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s my mistake. I don’t know what’s true anymore. Forget it. If there are people that think our center is worth maintaining, and they’re willing to do what it takes to keep it going, I want to work with these people. I hope they’re serious. My colleagues were getting excited about the people who were signing up. They were trying to tell me how great it was and how serious these people are. I looked at them with my cynical look, and I told them I just don’t believe people anymore. They understood, but Ani said that my eyes were laughing once again. Why was that? I shrugged and smiled. Maybe I’m just comfortable and relaxed again. This was followed by a discussion about how my eyes resemble those of a cat; followed by a discussion about cats. Good times. I was supposed to go to a birthday party for one of my students tonight, but I heard she had surgery today for appendicitis. Poor girl. Who wants to have their appendix taken out on their birthday? So, I sent a few presents her way. Hopefully that will make her feel better. Tomorrow is “Baba Marta” day. It’s a celebration of Spring. Basically, you give “martenitsis” (little red and white charm bracelets) to people, and they’re supposed to wear them until they see a stork – a sign that spring has come again. Once you see a stork, you’re supposed to hang your “martenitsis” on a fruit-bearing tree or bury them under a rock. This will ensure you life, love, happiness, fertility, and all those good things you know you want. So, yeah. I’m kind of bummed that I’m not going to see my kids ‘cause I’d probably get a truckload. Well, I’d like to think I’d get a truckload of “martenitsis.” It’s ridiculous though. We didn’t have a real winter. We had a glorious snowstorm the other day only to have it followed by a gloriously sunny day. How disappointing. How can I appreciate spring when a dark, blisteringly cold winter didn’t precede it? This is true for life in general. How can I appreciate accomplishments if they weren’t preceded by some grueling challenges? I’ll have to remember this little bit of insight. How about I just learn to appreciate them regardless? That would be nice. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that I cancelled my classes for this week. I knew I would be gone for a team analysis meeting either through Tuesday or Wednesday, and then I’m going to the other side of the country on Friday so I can take a bus to Istanbul and then fly to Qatar. Apryl is traveling again! Aren’t you excited for me? So yeah, there will be another break in the blog. Try and hold back the tears. I thought my little English learners were going to break down and cry when I told them we wouldn’t be having English for a couple weeks. “But why?” Yeah. Apryl needs a break, kids. And there are going to be some changes. I left a snide little note up at the center for those who dropped by. It went something like this: “For reasons of work and vacation, Apryl will not be here for the next couple weeks. I suggest you take this time to think about how serious you are about these courses and if you’ll come to class consistently. If you didn’t know this news, that’s because you haven’t been in class this past week.” When it comes down to it, Apryl isn’t happy. Be prepared for some changes. If you can’t handle it, buh-bye. I refuse to live in fear of losing activities I’m not all that jazzed about anyway. There will always be a reason to use the center. You get to decide what some of those reasons are. If you don’t want to be a part of it, I’m not going to bend over backwards to get you to be a part of it. It’s not fair to the people who actually care. Stay posted, readers. Apryl is about to stand up for herself and see if people still like her. I think I worry too much about what people will think. I tell myself I don’t give a crap what people I’m only going to spend two years with think about me. But it’s not true. The only thing I wish I had learned while growing up was how to stand up for myself and hold my ground. How will anyone respect me if I don’t respect myself? I hope that answers your question, Mom. Everything else about me is perfect, of course. Haha. I’m so modest. You raised me well. So, speaking of standing up for myself and how I’m a giant chicken who doesn’t do it, I complained to Peace Corps about my living situation and how my landlords feel like it’s okay to use the spare room in my apartment. Peace Corps said they would talk to my landlords. I chickened out at the last minute, and I asked Peace Corps not to talk to my landlords. I had been there the other night, and they had fed me and let me watch “The Fugitive” with them. (sigh) I just didn’t have the nerve to tell these people their actions really irritate me. I told Peace Corps that I would make a compromise with my landlords. I just want them to give me some notice that they’re going to use that room. Then I can make plans to get out of Rakitovo. That shouldn’t be too much to ask. But, yet again, Apryl doesn’t stand up for herself. I think of how others live, and I wonder if I have any right to complain. Then, they show up and help themselves to that room. I think, “No other volunteer has to put up with this nonsense.” They come in late. They argue. They smoke. They use my bathroom, and I can hear it from my room. They creak through my hallway. They noisily put up my stand and use it to dry their clothes. And I want to punch a hole through a wall. Passive-aggressive is NOT healthy. Possibly ruining my already fragile (because of my dislike of this situation) relationship with my landlords is not something I want to risk. And it builds a further chasm between us. Why am I so afraid of standing up for myself? So, I’m back from the café. They closed, so I’m back in the comfort of my smoke-free apartment (except my clothes smell like an ashtray). A waitress I know said she’d like to study English with me… after she fawned over the laptop, of course. “You’re only asking for that much? You’re kidding me. I’ll come if I something changes in my work schedule.” (sigh) I have a lot to learn. Anyway, look for the post-Qatar post. See you on the flip side. P.S. Nine pages in Word! I think this might take the award for longest post ever!!! P.S.S. Oh yes, and for those of you who cannot forget the entertaining, marriage-proposing Krum, you'll be interested to know that the guy completely ignores me now. No, "Hi Apryl;" he doesn't even LOOK at me now! Interesting, huh? So no more entertaining, Bulgarian, marriage proposal stories in your future, dear reader.