Sunday, April 29, 2007

Saying Good-Bye/Don't You Forget About Me

I came home after 12 hours of traveling to find that my landlord’s son and girlfriend-in-law were staying here. There’s nothing like spending a long day on the road only to find people staying in your place. It’s not surprising here though. I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I complained to Peace Corps about it. They were going to talk to my landlords, but I chickened out at the last minute and told them not to. I tried to make an agreement with them that they would at least tell me before they put someone in the spare room. Looks like I’m going to have to talk to them again.
Pretty much the entire country has the next two days off. People are traveling and spending time together. Peace Corps Volunteers are taking “free” (no vacation days used) trips abroad and the like. My NGO, however, doesn’t believe in such things. (laugh) Well, I’m pretty sure I’ll be at work the next couple days. There’s a lot to do. Besides, I played “hookey” on Friday.
Does it count as ditching out on work when you tell you boss beforehand that you’re going to ditch? Yanko didn’t care. I told him a good friend of mine was leaving Bulgaria forever, and I didn’t know when I would see her again. You have to make time for the things that really matter. I have so few friends here, and it’s hard to see a good one go.
Amy lived on the other side of the country – near the Turkish border. She was so close, she was practically in “Peace Corps Turkey.” Anyway, I didn’t see Amy all that often, but she and I have been good friends since training. She and I have similar personalities, and I always enjoyed being around her. Of course, there are a few really great memories that stand out. Most of my trips abroad have included her: Turkey (twice), Greece (twice), and Qatar. I remember a “short” run we took up in Panachishte to prep for the marathon. We were having such a good time talking, we lost track of time and ended up going on a long run. And, of course, I remember the marathon. We ran together for the first 21 km, and then she smoked me. Amy’s an excellent cross-country runner. She made running fun. Anyway, that’s enough reminiscing. I know I’m not the only one who will miss her… her and her wonderful husband, Jerramy, who’s been living the life picking olives in Italy the past three months. I hope I’ll see them again. In the meantime, they’ll be out in the wilderness of Montana – maybe doing some swing dancing with David.
The weight of my fellow volunteers leaving has been pretty heavy on me recently. Ever since I realized I’d be staying another year, I’ve been feeling very alone and isolated – like everyone from my group has already left. I think I’m having abandonment issues. Haha. Okay, that’s not funny. As we get closer and closer to COS (close of service), there are more and more ET’s (early terminations – Peace Corps has all these great acronyms), and we know there are more coming. A lot of people are returning to start grad school. Others are going back due to family issues. Some have found new jobs. But most are going back for school. Our service ends at an awkward time, and those who finished out their service to the specified end (October 10th) would have to wait another semester or year to “get on with their lives.” It’s understandable. And it’s sad… like feeling a family unravel.
So, I met Amy for lunch, and then I hung out at the Peace Corps office in Sofia while she made final arrangements. I talked to my program managers, and they congratulated me on a third year. I confided in them that I was having some second thoughts. “What would you do in America?” Ivan said, “It’s so boring there. Every day is the same. At least, here in Bulgaria, you can have an absolutely horrible day followed by an amazing series of events.” “Yeah,” I was thinking, “that’s why it’s so emotionally draining here. Who can live at this pace?” They were doing their best to be bright and encouraging. I think I was just sad at watching my friend leave. Afterwards, we met up with another friend, Alex, and we went to the mall and got some dinner. Amy was in a shopping mood, so we stopped in some stores. As PCV’s we always make excuses for our frugality by referring to our job status. And Amy explained away a purchase of shoes by saying, “I can’t afford that. I’m just a poor Peace Corps Volunteer.” “Not anymore,” I reminded her, “you’re just a regular, poor person now.” She didn’t think that was very funny.
I had been debating all that day about whether to stay in Sofia or try to catch a bus up to the Romanian border that night. I finally decided to stay, but there weren’t any free beds at the hostel Amy and Alex were staying at. So, I snuck in and shared a bed with Amy. At least I got to “spoon” with my friend for a few hours during her last night in Bulgaria. And then we got up before dawn and headed for the airport.
I caught an early bus to Rousse to spend time with Jennifer and Tim – two of my training mates from Trud. It’s been forever since I’ve hung out with just the two of them, and we had a good time catching up. Rousse is a huge city right on the Danube River. You look across the way and see the Romanian border. It’s a pretty charming place consider its size, and the architecture varies from the communist motif that permeates this country. Jen’s going to be leaving soon as well – another grad school casualty. Jack and Ronda joined us later that evening, and we had a very nice time together. The only thing it was missing was dancing! Tim and I both had to get up this early to go back to our sites.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought a bus ticket to Plovdiv this morning. I thought it’d be faster getting there than Sofia. Boy, was I wrong. We had to cross the Stara Planina mountains (duh!) and then make stops at every town along the way. It took me two hours longer than I expected. Oh well. I tried to meet up with my host sister, Vili, but that didn’t work out. Instead I ran into a PCV I know from another group, and we had a good time hanging at a café and talking while waiting for transportation back to our sites. I found out that, due to the holiday, buses to Velingrad weren’t running, so I had to stop in Pazardjik first. Oh well. It worked out.
So, that’s this blog post – a tribute to my fellow American PCVs. Not really, but I’ve been feeling sad about the 18s leaving recently. And my site mate, Brandy, is leaving even sooner! I feel as though a ship is sailing, and it’s leaving me behind. Pretty pathetic, huh? Early in my service, I used to avoid Americans. And when I was around them, I couldn’t wait to get back to site. Now, they are my sanity. It’s hard to say “good-bye” to your sanity.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

That Authentic "California" Shirt You're Wearing Was Stitched in Bulgaria....

No kidding. I thought I would take the time to inform you. 'Cause we're all being duped, and I don't want anyone to take it anymore.
A couple weeks ago, when I was in a little "celo," I was given a couple shirts by a very nice lady who owned a sweatshop. Totally kidding, but she did have a sewing factory - or what-have-you. Anyway, I got this great, orange shirt that says "Scorpion Bay" on it, and it's copyrighted like this:
© Scorpion Bay - Out There... Mas Fina
Clothing, Baya California
And here's what the tag says:
Scorpion Bay is a legendary surf spot located on the west coast of Baja. This area is well-known among surf aficionados aound the world for the quintessential surfing experience. All our clothing designs artwork and colors subtly influenced by the remote beaches of Baja.....a feeling of good times past, and even better times to come.
Their website is in English and Italian. What's that about? Actually, I can't get the English version to even come up. Anyway, as far as I know, this shirt was manufactured in Greece and stitched together in Bulgaria. The tag, that was probably put on here in-country, has certainly never seen the shores of Baja. And it calls the shirt "mandarin," so excuse me. But this is just so true of the world and how we live. Tell us whatever you want to tell us. Make us buy into your product. We'll believe it. Why not?
Along those lines, here's a comic some of you might enjoy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Another Reason to Complain....

Someone stole 35 leva from the center. I hate this place.

New Pictures!

These are from the last few months in Bulgaria!

Life Still Surprises

Imagine not getting paid for two months. Imagine that you have a family to feed, and you haven’t been paid in the last two months. Imagine your child is sick, and you haven’t been paid in the last two months. Yeah. That’s actually happening to my colleagues. It’s absolutely awful. Unfortunately, in the practice of good form and tact, I cannot go into the reasons why. To do so might jeopardize their opportunities to get paid at all one day. It’s not my place. Besides, what do I know? I don’t even have a “real job,” and I always get paid in a timely manner.
There’s something going on here in Bulgaria (and there in Libya) that I haven’t taken the opportunity to mention yet. I can’t believe I’ve let it slip this long. Anyway, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor are accused of deliberately infecting 426 children with HIV back in 1998. Go here for the Wikipedia article. They have been sentenced to death (twice now) by firing squad, but their still waiting for an appeal – or rather, a miracle. Nevermind that there is evidence to suggest that some of the children were infected before the nurses even arrived and that poor sanitary conditions are to blame. However, Libyan officials will not allow outside scientific evidence to be allowed in the trial. They are going only with what their scientists are saying. It’s such a terrible situation, but it’s done something rather unique and fascinating here in Bulgaria. It’s given people a cause to get behind and support. Soon after the second death sentence (this last December), people started wearing ribbons with the colors of the Bulgarian flag on them. On these ribbons was printed, in both Bulgarian and English, “Ne ste sami – You are not alone.” You go everywhere, and you see these ribbons. It’s pretty fascinating. Schools and organizations have even held public protests to get people mobilized and try to draw attention to the issue. I’m impressed with their desire to come out and support a cause. I’m sorry, but you rarely see that in Bulgaria. It’s refreshing. Hopefully, the issues will be resolved fairly and in a timely manner. It’d be great to see those nurses (and, of course, the doctor) come home.
I have received e-mails and phone calls expressing surprise at my decision to stay a third year. It seems that I’ve been giving a very strong impression that I am unhappy here. Hmmm…. How do I explain this? Yes, my job can be frustrating – and even downright infuriating – at times. There are times when I want to pack up and go, or I’d rather just sit at home than go teach classes. This doesn’t mean, however, that I am unhappy. Happiness is a state of mind, and I wouldn’t be staying here if I were unhappy. I have definitely struggled with the third year question. Who wouldn’t? There are a lot of unknowns. Will I be useful to my organization? Wouldn’t it just be better to get a new volunteer with a fresh outlook on things and different talents? Shouldn’t I be getting on with my life? I’m not getting any younger, and I have so many things I want to do. I have decided that I enjoy my work and my colleagues enough to give it a shot, and I believe that, if it’s difficult, it’s probably worth attempting.
Along this line (trust me, it’ll make sense in the end), I’d like to confess to you my addiction to MySpace.com. It’s a site that puts you in contact with people all over the world. On one site, you can see pictures of them, info on them, blogs, comments, mail, etc. The problem with MySpace, other than the fact that it’s eternally addicting, is that you can, in essence, “stalk” a person without them ever knowing (well, some have profile trackers, but anyway). I have spent hours clicking on profiles and leaping from one stream of consciousness to another. I can catch up on a person’s life without ever talking to them. I can find out who’s engaged now, who’s having babies, who’s working where, and even (yes, I did find out this way once) who has succumbed to a painful death. It’s personal and yet completely impersonal. So, I’m rambling. The reason I’m telling you this is because I wanted to share with you what a fellow volunteer says about coming home after planning on staying for a third year – because I thought it was great and meaningful. Of course, I haven’t asked her permission to repost this. I’m not even in contact with her anyway. That’s the wonder of MySpace. But anyway, it gives you even more to read on this blog.

and coming home is something you've dreamt about every moment since you decided to leave bulgaria. for months and then just fourteen hours more, you imagine the terminal, the person you love waiting, running into open arms, heads buried in necks lost in a movie-made-real-made-for-movie moment—the moment when your new life begins. you imagine that everything is going to be fine, easy, logical.it's america. it's home.in reality it's trying to get through customs with a dog crying at the top of its lungs in a crate. it's exhaustion and stress drowning out the excitement of your happiest moment. it's realizing in two weeks, in two months—you're never going back to bulgaria the same way. your home there is gone.settled now, i want to wrap my experiences there up carefully--fold my words neatly around the sides of my memories, store them somewhere not too near my heart. my last week in bulgaria, i sorted through the clutter of that life—tearing up photos, choosing which memories to keep—not out of hate—there just never is enough space. every life has its limits. i already knew which letters, which trinkets wouldn't matter in a year, in five. still, i had to take more than i'd ever be able to fit into this new dream of my life.and the strangest part about living in (undisclosed city) now, is that it was where i "staged" with 58 other new peace corps volunteers… before we left for bulgaria. on our last night, we went out to a bar to enjoy one last american beer. i don't remember much else about staging, except the panic attack i had the next morning as we were leaving, when i realized i had lost my… license somewhere between a restaurant, a bar, and the hotel. after being reassured by peace corps staff that i wouldn't need it in our travels, i eventually accepted the fact that it was an insignificant piece of plastic i wouldn't need for the next two years.move me forward two and half years.i am back in (undisclosed city), dressed casually in my new life. (significant other) and i go to a movie downtown, and are heading back to his car, when i recognize the block we are walking along. "i've been here," i say, stopping in front of a window, seeing billiard tables through the glass, remembering vaguely sitting on those bar stools and small talking anxiously with the people i'd live with in a completely foreign place."OMG! maybe your license is here," he says, remembering my license story."even if i did lose it at this bar, it wouldn't be here after two and a half years," i insist.but (my significant other) is a shade more optimistic than i am, and goes inside to ask if there is a… license in the lost and found. he comes out and says i was right, no license. i say i told you so--he says he knew i would say i told him so.he adds, "it's not like you actually believed i would come out and just say, 'here it is,'"—and pulls my 2D rectangular with rainbow graphic tanned 23 year-old self from his pocket. i do an ecstatic, but modest, best-of-the-80s dance move montage while screaming, "OMG OMG!!! you found me!"and i meant it.

I wonder if I will “find me” here. I’ve certainly found a part of me. I can’t imagine “finding all of me” only to say good-bye again. Just another stage of life. Moving on. Making new experiences and moments that I will only say good-bye to.
Today I told Yanko that, ever since I was approved for a third year, I’ve been missing America more. His eyes grew wide, and he said, “Don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind! There’s no one here anymore to let you go.” When I told him that there’s a volunteer here who’s been approved for a fourth year, he said, “And you can stay a fourth year as well. We’ll just marry you off to a Bulgarian.” A lot of people say that: “We’ll just marry you to a Bulgarian, and then you’ll be tied to us forever.” Um… yeah… that sounds pleasant…. Sign me up for that!
I’ve been spinning the idea of a volleyball camp around in my head for the past few weeks. I finally went down to the school and talked to the P.E. teacher there about my idea. She seemed to like it, and she shared it with the other P.E. teacher. They both seemed really into it at first, but then we started really talking. That’s the thing with people here. They think they can appease you with what they think you want to hear. You have to pry out of them what they really think. They finally started talking about the frustrations they have with students at the school and their lack of interest in sport. Plus, it’s not like people are going to want to pay to be part of this camp during the summer. They’d rather just goof off with their friends. I would have loved to go to a volleyball camp when I was a teenager! I still would! The problem with being a PCV, is that you have to challenge the accepted attitudes of people here while, at the same time, deciding which battles are actually worth it. Sometimes they’re right. In the case of Rakitovo, it’s easy to be skeptical. There’s a mood that permeates the town which says, “I’m not going to be involved… especially if I have to pay for it! And if I do participate, and I don’t understand it the first time, I’m giving up!” Needless to say, that’s completely unproductive. I spent a lot of time today reminiscing about my high school days, and it was the extracurricular activities that really made the experience for me. I don’t know if those teachers got paid for all the extra work they did, but I’d like to thank Mr. Dunlap, Ms. Gladwell, and Mr. Thornton for helping make my high school experience. I think I’m a healthier, more confident person because of it. Plus, I have all these great memories that I think people here are really missing out on. I feel sorry for them. The P.E. teacher had an interesting idea though: Why don’t you teach the kids how to play baseball?
I’ve been playing baseball with my kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I wish you all could see how absolutely adorable they are. One kid fits the part so well when he’s ready to hit – he just looks so natural. It’s like he should have a backwards cap on and a couple smudges under the eyes. When I tell them I have to go, they always make sure they know when we’re playing again. And they won’t let me go until they get a straight answer – none of this wishy-washy stuff. Since we still don’t have gloves, we’ve been playing a variation where they just run one base at a time. I’m still the only one who has braved plucking a batted ball out of the sky. I assure the kids that actual baseballs are much smaller and harder. No injuries so far, but I’m waiting for someone to get socked in the head. Then I’ll want to crawl into a hole and die. America’s favorite pastime, huh? Not here. My kids are all clamoring to make sure they know I want them to be on a team when one actually gets formed.
In a previous post, I talked about how we were applying for funding from an International Women’s Charity. We were approved! Yay! So, they’re going to cover the administrative, monthly consumables of the center, and I think they’re also going to get us a video projector! That’s great news. God surely does provide. No more worrying about where the money for the next month is going to come from. I forgot to mention what happened when they arrived for their visit. Okay, so they were all piled into this huge, Mercedes van. It was obvious that they were foreigners. I walked up to the van and greeted them, and then I went and called my colleagues over. I heard someone say, “Oh, there go the ‘tsigani’ getting money again.” I don’t know if I’ve ever used that word in this blog, but it’s usually a derogatory word for the Roma. It depends on who’s using it and how it’s used. Usually, hearing something like that would frustrate me, but it only made me smile. Yeah, that’s right. We worked. We did something, and they came. Maybe you should do something meaningful.
The great thing that’s been happening recently is that I’ve been hearing more and more about teachers and other organizations applying for grants. They’re realizing how many opportunities are available to them through the European Union, and they’re getting up and doing something about it. I talked to my former, Bulgarian tutor today, and she told me that she’s planning an exchange between Bulgarian and Spanish students. Bulgarian students would go to Spain, and Spanish students would come here to do a cultural-learning exchange. It would all be financed by the EU. It sounds like an awesome idea. I hope it works out.
Rakitovo has been going under quite a transformation recently. It seems as though everyone is remodeling and expanding. It’s quite interesting. I’m glad to see that people have the means to expand and change things. It can’t be as bad here as they all say it is. “I can’t believe how poor I am! See my new, designer outfit?” Yeah….
Have you ever been in a moment where you knew something undesirable was going to happen as a result of whatever you were doing, but you went ahead and did it anyway? That happened to me today. I was in the new store in town, and I was looking at some glasses that I knew were super fragile due to the low, low price on them. A case of six was up high on a shelf, and I thought to myself, “If I try and take it off the shelf, one of them is going to fall and shatter.” I wanted to buy these glasses, however, so I went ahead and reached up to grab them. Sure enough. One fell out of the case, bounced a few shelves down, and then promptly shattered upon ground zero impact. I was embarrassed. The worst was when I tried to pick up some of the bigger pieces ‘cause I kept dropping them and making them into smaller pieces. Of course, I bought the five remaining glasses. I wonder how long it will take before I splinter the remaining ones in my kitchen sink. I’ve already lost four of another set. Did I mistakenly buy the ones made out of sugar that they use in the movies to smash over people’s heads? Good gravy!
I’ve been stopped a lot by “babas” recently. I’ve learned that you should never smile at an unknown “baba” unless you want to shoot the breeze for a while. First, they try to place you because they don’t really recognize you, but they think they do. “Are you so-and-so’s daughter?” And then they latch onto you and coo over you because they think you’re the sweetest thing ever to have come to Rakitovo. Oh, but you work with the “tsigani?” And there’s that word again in a not-so-nice connotation. My favorite is when a “baba” goes on and on about how her pensioner’s allowance doesn’t cover food. Meanwhile, she’s pushing enough food on you to feed an army. That happened to me when I stopped by to visit the “baba” who lives in the haunted house.
What about my classes? Why, thank you for asking! Classes are classes. They’re going well, but, every once in a while, I lose one or two people. It just makes it easier for me to pay attention to the others who are left. It’s still maddening though. It seems like few people really take anything seriously. A few of my students were consistently showing up without paying the monthly fee for the center. They would always say they were going to bring it the next time, and then the person who was supposed to pay wouldn’t show up. Finally, I said, “Where’s the money?” “Oh, um, well… we’ll get it to you tonight.” “Right, well, until then, we aren’t going to study.” “Okay, we’ll leave it with Yanko.” Did they show up? No. Have they come back? No. Finally, I ran into one of them, and she asked if I had other available times. “What? You haven’t paid. You can’t participate at this point. What you did is pretty rude, and now you’re asking about other times?” “I know, but I had a problem. I couldn’t come.” “Right. Did you tell me about it? No. You just kept going along like it was nothing, and then you disappeared.” (Oh, and by the way, when’s that English class again that I keep asking about but really have no intention of show up to? Oh! I thought you told me a different time the last five times when I asked you. OR, my personal favorite: I can’t come ‘cause we don’t have the money to pay for it. Meanwhile, my arms are loaded down with snacks and cigarettes from the supermarket, and I’m just going to act like you didn’t see that.) See? I talk about this and you must think that I hate it here. No. I hate the lies and excuses people come up with here. I hate the mentality that says, “Let me complicate your life by telling you what I think you want to hear – that thing I say I’ll do that I actually have no intention of doing. If you get upset with me for it, I’m going to turn it around and make it seem like it’s really your fault I didn’t follow through. And then when you do something that interests me again, I’ll be your friend and interact with you. Until then, I’m not going to even acknowledge your presence.” Reader, you’re probably wondering what I’m rambling about. Nevermind. Wait! Here’s another thing that makes me want to scream: “Well, he’s not serious, so why should I be serious? She didn’t follow through, so why should I follow through?” Since when do you let someone else dictate your life and steal your opportunities to make a difference?
Prime example: We’re forming an informal women’s group that can get together and cook, sew, share make-up tips, drink coffee, and gossip. Then, we’re planning on hitting them with some workshops about education, safe sex, domestic violence, trafficking of persons, health and hygiene, and a bunch of other fascinating, while simultaneously uncomfortable, topics. This project is one of the reasons I’m staying for another year. When my colleagues tell these women what the plan is and where to meet, they say, “Oh yes! That sounds great! We’ll be there!” Then, when the time comes, they’re nowhere to be found. Only one or two will come at a time. A lot of them complain about how they do the same thing over and over in the Mahala – how there’s nothing new, and there’s nothing to pique their interest. Well, here’s something new. Why don’t you come to this? Now, we’re in danger of losing the few that do come because of the many that don’t come, but say they will. Grrrrr…. After all that complaining, can I tell you that I despise people who complain? (sigh)
This weekend, I went to an anti-trafficking seminar with my colleague, Fatme. Fatme, the office manager, is the baby of the office. She’s the newest employee, and she’s the youngest. My other colleagues practically made her go on this workshop with me. She’s really not comfortable in situations where she has to travel and interact with strangers. At first, I was a little unsure of having her come along with me for these reasons. Would I have to hold her hand the whole time? There was certainly a little hand-holding going on, especially at the beginning, but she soon made a lot of contacts at the seminar, and she actually had a good time. Well, as good a time as one can have while talking about what equates to human slavery. It was great to see her open up like that. Yanko noted that she almost seemed like a new person when she returned, and he said it was time to “throw her into the fire” a little more often. Of course, she won’t like it at first, but hopefully she’ll react and adjust as quickly as she did this last weekend.
The trafficking seminar took place in Borovets, and it was interesting to be back there. It was where I spent my first week in Bulgaria – along with the other trainees in my group – and I’d been through there again, but I haven’t stayed. It was interesting walking around the center again. It felt as though I had just been there, although I obviously understood a lot more this time in comparison to last time. The weekend was a nice one. It didn’t end so well, but that’s an event that will stay filed away in my head for the time being.
There were two interesting moments (above all others) during the seminars. First, I suggested that those who solicit sex have a part in the blame. If prostitutes weren't in demand, there wouldn't be a sex trade. This suggestion was promptly laughed at. One man there said that sex would never be taken off the market as a commodity, and another woman said she didn't think you could forbid someone for buying something that was being sold on the market. I told her I disagreed. I made the mistake of using cigarettes as an example: Everyone knows cigarettes are bad for you. In fact, cigarettes have a sticker on their carton that actually tries to dissuade the customer from buying them. But at least the consumer is informed of the dangers. I think men should be made aware that the "prostitute" might not be with him because she's actually chosen that profession, and he could be victimizing her. The seminar director came by, and she asked what kind of ideas we had to stop trafficking. The man said, tongue-in-cheek, "We have an idea here to work with the customers." I was livid. I felt as though I was being mocked. Later, I felt vindicated when another group, actually, it was Thomas who said the same thing. And then a judge who works on this very issue at the U.S. Embassy said the very same thing. Victory for Apryl! Later, while we were working on project ideas, the man came up again with a sly smile on his face. "What ideas did you come up with? I know you're full of ideas." "No, I had one idea, and it was laughed at." He acted defensive, "No, actually! You can see that others mentioned your idea. It's even being tried in Sweden (prostitution is illegal there - and the crime is on the one who buys sex - not the solicitor), but you can see that it doesn't have any effect." (Really? Of course, I stopped at the first article that supported my view. You can see what a wonderful, objective scientist I am.) When he said that, I decided to get up and walk away muttering, "Right, so there's no effect. Let's just not even try." He was still smiling in that knowing way later. I couldn't figure out if he was intrigued by me or if he thought me completely silly.
The second interesting incident, according to the world of Apryl, took place when a very nice, elderly man started complaining about the all the institutions that should be doing something (but obviously weren’t) to combat the problem. Yes, yes, of course. That’s true that they should be doing something. But what are we doing? This is the opportunity to take matters into our own hands and do something to change the situation. It’s much easier for people here to point out who isn’t doing their job than it is for them to take responsibility and do something. The mentality is, “It’s not my job. Why should I do it?” And I could take some of my own advice. I do a lot of complaining on my blog. But this is my OUTLET! This is how I stay sane. I write it down, and I see if it gets read by stalkers who can actually identify. And then this person wonders why I’m staying for another year. It’s a wonderful relationship that comes back full circle with more complaining in my next post. Think! You'll be able to read this nonsense for another year! You know, if you want....
I think the hardest thing about staying for another year is missing the “American” connection with my group. The majority of them are going home, and I’m not going to have that support like I had before. In the beginning of my service, I didn’t much care to be in the presence of other Americans. I couldn’t wait to get back to Rakitovo. Now, other Americans are my sanity! It’s such a relief to be around other people who understand you. And I’m not going to have that next year. (sniffle) I remember my friend Michelle, a volunteer in Bolivia, telling me that she spent a lot of time her first year out in her community socializing. Her second year, she kept more to herself. She didn’t have the desire to go out as often and do the social thing. I’ve found that to be true for me as well. After a long day of teaching classes or what have you, I just want to go back to my apartment and be by myself. There’s only so much “Bulgaria” one can take. I wish I could spur myself more to drop in on people and interact, but it sounds like even more work.
After all this drivel, reader, I know I still have more to tell you. I’ve just forgotten it all. Ha! I’ll write again tomorrow if I think of something. It is late, however, and I think I’m going to go to bed. Ah, guess what! We’re getting a new Peace Corps Country Director. That should be interesting. It will be a bunch of figuring out how this person operates and what a volunteer can/can’t get away with – as sad as that sounds.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Shackles

Ever since Easter, I’ve been getting a bunch of “kozanak” (Easter bread – it can be a sweet bread or a really sugary pastry depending on who you’re getting it from) and colored, beautifully-drawn hard-boiled eggs. I’m going to be eating eggs through the coming months! It’s almost a shame to break them, they’re so pretty.
The Easter hash (the running event Thomas and I go to) last weekend was fun. We ran an interesting trail through one of the parks in Sofia, and then we went for dinner at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant. They served us a variety of salads and something fairly untraditional – chicken cooked in clay eggs. They lit “rakia” (Bulgarian brandy) on fire and poured it over the eggs. Then, they took a mallet and cracked them open. Chunks of clay flew all over the place, and inside was the chicken and some other, ground-up meat. It was interested to say the least.
The following day, I spent Sunday walking around Dolna Banya with Thomas. We had a nice walk and a good talk – he mostly searched out turtles and frogs while I looked on. I can be such a princess sometimes, especially with Thomas. If I were trying to impress him, I probably would be right next to him – looking for amphibians. Now, I just sit back and wait for him to show me anything he catches. Haha.
I had Monday off. It was nice, although some people forgot and came for classes, or they came to me later apologizing that they weren’t there. It was nice just to have that extra day to hang out and get some things done. Usually, I’m rushing back from Sofia on Monday mornings if I’ve been there for a hash.
My birthday was on Wednesday. It didn’t so much feel like it. I didn’t do anything special other than work, but I got some phone calls from some really great people that day – and the day afterward, and I was appreciative of that. My colleagues got me a beautiful flower. I brought candy for my colleagues and for all of my classes. When I told a group of teachers that I have English with, they burst out into “Happy Birthday to You.” I was surprised at how well they knew the song, but of course they sing it here as well. A few of my kids bought me some very nice presents. I invited myself over to Ani and Yanko’s for dinner. Hehe. Well, they told me to come in, and I stayed as I sometimes do. Ani made some delicious fish and boiled potatoes. So, that was my birthday. It would have been depressing in a way if I’d felt like it was a supposed to be a special day, but I just turned 26. Big whoop. I’m too spoiled anyway. At least nothing went wrong that day. I should be ecstatic about that.
For Spanish on Wednesday, I had Maria and Reneta watch “The Incredibles.” They brought a bunch of friends that they play with pretty much every evening, and no one understood anything, but it has enough physical comedy to be interesting and fun. They were laughing in all the right spots. I just wish Maria and Reneta understood more. I need to get my hands on another Spanish textbook.
We turned over VSN (Volunteer Support Network) to the new volunteers this last week. I wasn’t able to go because I had classes to teach, but my fellow volunteer-supporters went to Sofia to put on a presentation to show other volunteer how to support each other. Actually, they probably already know how to support one another, but anyway. I’m sorry I missed out on that. I did hear from them though. It was interesting; they were already congratulating me on staying another year here in Bulgaria. That rumor mill sure does get around. They found out before I did.
On Friday, I stayed up at the center for a meeting with a women’s group my organization is trying to develop. Basically, they’d like to a female core that meets together to cook, sew, gossip, and pass time together. Then, they’d like to introduce heavier topics into the session such as sex education and domestic violence. Finally, they’d like to get these women acquainted with the structure of the municipality so that they can take an active part in the policies that shape community life. I really like the idea. It’s great, lofty, and it can work. The problem is, when Valia went around inviting women to come to the meeting, they all said they would show up. When it actually came time for them to show, only one came on time. Two more came later. It’s just so frustrating to try and coordinate anything here. I’ve whined more than enough times on this blog about people telling you they’ll show up somewhere and then not following through. Fortunately, in the end, these women decided they’d get together for a walk in the mountains this week. Hopefully, that will bring more people out.
I had a wonderful weekend. Thomas came to Rakitovo on Friday, and he met me up in the Mahala. He graciously allowed me to drag him into the team-tag game that Maria, Reneta, and their friends were playing. He was on one team, and I on the other. The kids were happy with the “trophy” Americans on each of their teams, and they thought it was so great that we would play with them. About halfway through the game, Thomas found a beautiful, green frog, and he called me over to see it. I tried so hard to keep it in my hands, but every once in a while it would jump on one of the kids. They would shriek and jump back. The frog once jumped right on Mitko’s eye. He asked me over and over again if I was sure he wouldn’t get warts. After the game, Thomas and I stayed for dinner at Yanko’s, and we watched the scandals that were taking place on “VIP Brother.”
On Saturday, we got up and took a long, interesting trip to a small village in mountains called “Kovachevitsa.” First, we had to take a train – three hours from Velingrad to Razlog. Then, we took a bus ride for another hour or two to Gotse Delchev. After that, we hopped in a taxi to Ognyanovo. We were afraid that the taxi driver would take advantage of us since we looked so “tourist,” but Thomas started talking to him in Bulgarian, and in the end he gave us a discount off his quoted price, saying that Thomas was “his man.” He even got us a ride further up the hill. He stopped a car turning the corner, and two men agreed to take us as far as they were going. We got in the car and asked how much they would want for driving us, and they said we’d “come to an understanding.” Thomas and I gave each other a skeptical look, but they turned out to be nice men. We immediately went through the Mahala on the edge of Ognyanovo. It’s where Sashko lives now. I told you that Valia’s son ran away to live with his father quite some time ago. I got to see the squalor of the neighborhood he lives in now. I kept my eyes peeled, but I didn’t see him. The guys in the car, Roma themselves, pointed them out and said that they were like them, only “much smarter.” The driver quickly engaged us in conversation about everything from the English language to the economy to Christianity. As the two men were on their way to work, they wanted to know if we would like to see what they did.
They took us to a t-shirt factory. The basic t-shirt shape comes from Greece, and then arms, hems, and collars are sewn on at this place in Bulgaria. The interesting thing about this place – other than the fact that it was a fairly booming factory in a tiny village, was that it was built with American techniques. The owners had lived in Pennsylvania for about a year and a half, and the man decided to base his construction on American methods. Thomas was duly impressed. I liked it, but since I don’t know much about construction and architecture, I just took it all in ignorantly. The owners had us sit down in their office for a while, and then they showed us their part of the house that they were remodeling. Soon, they announced that they would take us all the way to Kovachevitsa. So, later that evening, we finally made it to Kovachevitsa. It was a stroke of fantastic blessing and fortune. We weren’t sure how we were going to get all the way up there. Would there be public transport? Would we have to walk?
So our hosts drove us up there, and we tried to treat them to homemade juice and french fries at a local pub, but they weren’t having any of it. They said that we’d have to stop by again if we ever came back through, and we exchanged contact information. It was just so interesting how it all worked out.
Thomas had been there before, so he arranged an authentic place for us to stay. We then took a walk before dinner. Kovachevitsa is such an interesting place. The houses are all made of stone. Well, the walls and the roofs. Many of the owners are actually from Sofia. They buy second homes there, and they fix them up in such a charming atmosphere.
Our hostess cooked dinner for us, and it was delicious. She took great care to prepare vegetarian dishes for me. Also staying at her house was a group of “extreme sports” organizers. They take groups out for team-building games, rappelling, rafting, etc. They're currently organizing an extreme race across the Rhadope mountains here in Bulgaria. Here's a link to their contact page on the site. The first four pictures are the guys we met. Thomas found a great contact in them because he’s doing a SPA project in his town that would really benefit from their skills and experience. They were all really friendly and interesting guys. We found out later in the evening that one of them had actually been one of the finalists on the Bulgarian version of “Survivor.” The concept of the show is new to Bulgaria, and they tried it out over this last year. Our hostess just thought that was the greatest. She was a fan of the show, and she kept asking the young man why he didn’t win and what happened to his love interest on the show.
The next day, we met some more of our hostess’ relatives – a charming couple with a young son. The man was Russian, but he’d been living in Bulgaria since he was 14. Other than Russian and Bulgarian, he knew English, Spanish, and French. He spoke English with an American accent! I guess he picked it up from a Canadian – considering he had only been in America for five days. I tested out his Spanish, and he told me he’d learned it from his Cuban friends. I was astounded, of course, and I told him that he’s what I aspire to be.
They invited us to come and see the house that they were building in Kovachevitsa. It was, of course, charming with all its stonework. They had been building it since 2004. It’s a slow process, I suppose. It was a complete getaway with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a living room, and a basement they were planning on turning into a little pub/party room. Thomas looked in awe and wished he could build a place there.
We caught a ride back to Razlog with our hostess’ son. He’s an extremely talented photographer, and he was working with the “extreme” boys to get them in Monday’s paper. He was a wonderful host as well. He stayed up with us and told us stories about Kovachevitsa. His mother is usually the story-teller, but she’d recently had all her upper teeth taken out. Poor woman. She was so adorable.
On our way back down the mountain, we stopped in the tiny village of Leshten to see a house made of clay. They call it a “Flintstone” house, and it looked African in nature. The windows were oddly shaped, and it had a thatched room. They say that it has healing powers, but you have to pay through the nose to stay a night. We helped ourselves through the gate and went up to the porch. The door was padlocked, but a window was open. Thomas and I looked in and saw what we could see. The interior looked simple, and it looked as though a guest were staying inside. I hope he/she was finding some healing.
We finally made it to Razlog, and, as there were no more buses, we took the long train back to Velingrad. Once we got home, we got some dinner, watched a movie, and went to bed. We were exhausted. It was a lot of traveling, but it was worth it. I got to hang out in the crevasses of the Rhadopes this weekend - with gorgeous views of the Rila and Pirin mountain ranges. The picture at the top of this post is a view in the village of Leshten.
Oh, and Thomas helped me with my taxes. It turns out that I missed my standard deduction (duh), and I’m back down to zero. I knew I didn’t owe the government money! The interesting thing was, I tried using an online service to file my taxes, and they tried to reimburse me my Medicare and Social Security. What? I don’t know. I’m just going to do my taxes the old-fashioned way. I’ll fill them out with Adobe Acrobat, and I’ll print and mail them off. Hehe.
Today was a blasé day. I saw Thomas off at the bus station, so I got to work late. Only two of my colleagues were there, as the rest had work to get done in outside of Rakitovo. It was Tsetska’s birthday today, so I bought her a flower. I sat in the office and prepared for my English and Bulgarian lessons. After about forty-five minutes of that, I told them I was going back home. I had to meet the cable guys to see if they could fix my internet. They showed up on time, and they told me that the connection on my computer where the ethernet connects is broken. I suspected as such. They said I could probably get it fixed in Velingrad, which is interesting. I figured I’d have to go to Sofia, Plovdiv, or another large city to get it taken care of. We’ll see when I get that taken care of. In the meantime, they’ve shoved a matchstick up in the cable to see if it’ll help hold it in place. Um… yeah. It was working pretty well for a while.
Then, I went up to the center for my classes. Only a couple people showed up for the computer class, and I was having a hard time getting one of them to type properly – with all the fingers on the right keys and without them looking, so finally I put something over their hands and dictated letters to them. A boy who was supposed to come to that class apparently forgot when it was. He showed up an hour late.
Then I had my class with three of my little kids. Man, can they be a handful! The worst is when they whine, “I don’t want to do this anymore! This is boring! Let’s do something else!” I get frustrated and short with them on everything. I had a bunch of little drawings laid out, and one of the girls blew them on the floor. I was already irritated with her whining, and I just wanted to smack her. I don’t think I would make a good teacher. And then there are the girls who see me coming up into the Mahala and say, “Oh yeah, I forgot (for the past month? two?) that we have English. When am I supposed to come? Are we having it today?” And then they don’t show up. Or the one’s who keep forgetting to pay me and try to get me to let them stay anyway. (sigh)
I put in a request to stay for a third year. The Country Director wrote me right away, saying that he was all for it. One of the Youth Development Program associates wrote me to say he thought it was a wonderful idea. Then, a little late ‘cause it went to an email box I check fairly infrequently, I got confirmation from my program director that I had been approved to stay another year. I didn’t get excited about the news. One reason is probably because I suspected it would be coming. When a volunteer wants to extend, Peace Corps gets all excited. I don’t know if it’s ever turned anyone down. Maybe it has. The interesting thing was, while reading that confirmation, I felt as though I were being tied down – as though shackles were being clamped on my arms. That’s not a feeling you want when you find out you were approved for something you applied for. I just got this eerie, trapped feeling when I got that congratulatory e-mail. I know I am entirely too honest in this blog, but this is what I felt – and have been feeling. I’ve bene missing America a lot recently. I don’t know. I’m hoping it will pass, and I can be excited about it. I just know it’s going to be hard watching my volunteer friends wrap up their Bulgarian lives and head back home to the states. Anyway, I gotta go give myself a pep talk now. I’ll catch you all later.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

“Френски Ключ” – The Key That Unlocks Everything


The weather is still a little chilly, and we’ve had a mixture of rainy and sunny days. I never know whether I’m going to have to light a fire up at the educational center or just forgo it. If I have to light a fire, that means I have to go up earlier to give the place time to heat. I am all for warm weather. I’d like to just open the center and teach my classes. Plus, the stove has taken on another unappealing characteristic. It smokes – a lot. All the smoke that’s supposed to go out the chimney ends up spilling out into the kitchen and the hallways. It’s absolutely awful. I open the windows, but that doesn’t stop the center (and me) from smelling like it’s on fire. My eyes burn terribly, and I feel like my lungs are going to strike due to smoke inhalation. Okay, so I’m nowhere near death, but it’s pretty bad. During a computer class last week (the computer salon is on the opposite end of the building as the stove), one of my students complained of the smell of smoke. I stepped out into a hall that was filled with gray haze. I can’t take it anymore. There are some theories floating around as to why the stove is so “sick.” One is that the chimney might be dirty. The other is that the chimney is just too short. I’m no expert, and I don’t know what the reasoning for the second theory is, but I’m all for turning into “Cinderella” and cleaning out the chimney.
I saw something this week that said “Bulgaria” to me. So, I was walking back down the hill from the center. I saw a “baba” standing out on her front lawn. She was kicking trash out into the street. I thought that was weird enough. Okay, so you don’t like the trash there on your lawn… let’s kick it out into the middle of the street. Then, I saw her bend down to gather up a bunch of trash on her lawn. As I didn’t see a bin around, I was wondering if she would bother to properly dispose of the trash or if she would just continue on her current method of disposal. I stopped to watch her. Sure enough, she picked up handful of trash and just tossed it into the middle of the street. I couldn’t suppress a laugh, and I think she noticed me. It struck me as entirely ridiculous. Why bother to pick up trash only to throw it into the middle of a street? My work here is done. It’s a good thing I’m not an environmental volunteer. I probably would have “ET’d” (early termination – of service) right then and there. Obviously, I’m making such an impact on people to take pride in their community.
I had some good and some frustrating classes this week. For some of them, only one or a few people showed up because people were busy. This week was Easter week, and all the kids had vacation. Depending on who they were, they decided to take vacation from the activities in the center as well. It’s just frustrating for me ‘cause I go up there anyway. I’m tired of playing the “just-in-case” card. Well, I guess I’d better go up to the center just in case someone shows up. It’s a long way for me to go just to wait for no one. I’d rather know one way or another so I can plan my day accordingly. I could be doing something else instead. I will complain about this until I leave Bulgaria. I absolutely hate people’s lack of ability to follow through. They just leave you hanging, and they don’t care. It’s like you should have known, and if you get upset, they try to find some way to make it your problem.
In one of my groups for computers, my students haven’t paid yet to study with me, but they’ve shown up to two classes. So this week, I asked them where the money was. They said that they’d bring it that night. Fine, but we’re not going to study computers today. Since I told them I wouldn’t be around at the center that evening, they said they would go ahead and leave the money with my boss. Did they? No. Now I have to go on Tuesday morning to see if they’ll show up or not – to see if they’ll continue to study with me or not.
Another one of my English classes (I mentioned this in my last blog) has dwindled down to no one. I went up this last Tuesday to see what was going on, and no one showed up. I scratched that class off my schedule. The following day, I ran into two of my girls who used to attend that class. “Where were you yesterday?” they asked me. “We looked out from our window and saw that the center was closed.” I had been sitting on a bench outside – waiting. I told them that, and then I scolded them. “You haven’t been to English class in three weeks! I figured you weren’t going to come anymore.” I had made one of the girls promise me that she would come consistently. She didn’t keep that promise. They looked hurt when I scolded them. “You have the luxury of looking out your window and seeing if the center is open for classes. I have to come all the way up the hill to see if anyone is going to show up. Plus, you have back payments you have to give me in addition to the price you’ll have to pay for studying English this month. You think about it, and then you COME to the center tomorrow to tell me what you’ve decided.” Did they come? No. I found out later that they had gone to visit a grandma in another village. Well, you know what? You have to tell me that. To do otherwise is to treat me with disrespect. Another girl from that group came to the center to tell me that she would continue studying with me – she was just busy that week. Well, at least she had the courtesy to come to the center and tell me, even though she was a little late.
Then, on Friday, I went up again to talk to some other students. I hadn’t seen them in weeks because well, first I was gone for work and vacation, then they started telling me they were too busy with work to come. It was a week by week basis though, and I’d have to go to find out what was going on with them. So, this Friday I went and stood outside their store. One of the girls saw me – she was sitting out in the front yard – but she took her sweet time getting up and coming over to me. I absolutely hate that! It’s like, I’m bothering her with my presence. Excuse me? Anyway, I asked, “So are we going to study or what?”
“Well, we have work.”
“I’ve been here waiting for you the past few weeks, and you don’t come.”
“We’ve been busy with work. We know we have computers with you at this time, but it’s just crazy. Let the holiday go by, and we’ll see.”
“I don’t want to come all the way up here if we’re not going to have class. You’re going to have to tell me. You see me up here all the time. You can tell me one way or the other. Otherwise, I’m not going to come up at this time next Friday. I have other things I could be doing.”
“We were free when you were gone.”
And I’m thinking, “Yeah, but at least I TOLD you in advance.”
“Uh-huh. You let me know.”
Honestly, I already don’t like how much I’m up at the center. If I have to scratch a few classes off my list, I’m not going to cry about it, and I already have some solid candidates.
My other classes are great. I have some teachers that study English with me, and we have fun laughing and learning English together. I admire one of the teachers there so much. She already has a pretty good grasp on the English language, but she still comes every time to the beginner’s class. I imagine the material must be terribly boring for her, but she still comes and participates. The only thing is that I think I move that class a little too quickly for those who aren’t quite at that pace. I don’t want anyone to be bored, and I probably rush it a little too much. These concepts aren’t always easy, and not everyone gets it at the same time. One of the women I mentioned in a previous post (the one who rarely answered me when I called on her) ran into me in the center and asked if I could just give her a list of some phrases she would need for hotel work. Right. It was hard. She gave up.
My computer classes with the adults are going all right. This week was a weird week though, and I hope they’ll all be full again next week. They’re catching on pretty well. The hardest thing, however, is to convince them how beneficial it will be for them to learn to type without looking at their fingers. Some are adept at it right away. Others don’t even want to be bothered with it. I caught one of my students leaning on her elbow and typing the letters with one finger on one hand. I just stared at her and asked, “What are you doing?” She immediately straightened up and got back on track.
In addition to all I’m taking away from this experience, I want to learn two very important lessons from Bulgaria:
Always follow through. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you can’t do something, be honest and admit that from the beginning. Don’t say you’ll do something you have no intention of doing just ‘cause you think it’s what someone else wants to hear. And if your plans change, be quick to tell the person you’re leaving “high-and-dry.” I’m not perfect. In fact, I’m sure some people who are reading this are thinking about times I didn’t follow through, or I had to bail on the last minute. But in a world of such profound methods of communication, it’s ridiculous not to tell someone you won’t be able to do something/show up somewhere.
Don’t give up on something just because it’s hard… especially if it’s something you really want to do, or something you know will be beneficial to you in the long-run. The only things worth doing have taken serious effort. If everything came easy, what would you learn? How would you know it really mattered? This is probably one of my justifications for wanting to stay in this frustrating environment another year.
I told Maria and Reneta that I wanted them to learn the first one. They already have the second lesson down. They’re hard-working, little girls. I said, “If you learn anything from me, learn this: Follow through.” They saw me when I scolded those two girls (their cousins, actually), and Maria said it was funny ‘cause she had never seen me like that before.
In my computer class with Reneta, I’ve been teaching her how to use PowerPoint. She made a presentation all about how she met me. It’s really great. Maria saw it, and she decided to do one of her own. I’m really proud at how adept Reneta has become with the computer. She already knew quite a bit, and it helps that she understands English, but she’s a quick study, and she’s learning more. She’s memorized where all the Cyrillic letters are on the keyboard, and she was typing a document last week without looking at her fingers. Slowly but surely….
We’ve been entertaining a few visitors this past week. First, a group I had invited from the International Women’s Charity came out. I had expected only two women, but four came out. We were happy to have them. I had written a project to them before (I have connections with them through Thomas and the hash), but they said it was a little too ambitious (that’s my nice way of saying we asked for too much money) for their objectives, and they wanted to come out and see what we were all about. These women are extremely educated, and they come from all over the world. My boss has been bragging about them as the wives of ambassadors, but it’s not quite accurate. Who are we to presume to know why they’re in Bulgaria and if they’re even married?
My boss was in his element, however. After I gave them a tour of our center, he invited them into the library and got right down to business. He wasn’t intimidated by them at all. That’s what I really admire about Yanko. He’s not put off by anyone. He’s confident in what he does, and he doesn’t feel inferior to anyone ‘cause he’s sure of himself. It’s something I’d like to emulate.
I played interpreter. I LOVED IT! Actually, to say I LOVED IT is not quite right. I LOOOOOOOVED IT! I have always known that I enjoy interpretation, but I had forgotten how much. Written translation is okay, but I love being the bridge between two languages in real time. Simultaneous interpretation (no pause in the conversation) is a little hardcore for me, but I really enjoy consecutive interpretation (the speaker says was she has to say, and then waits for the interpretation). I was totally in my element in that room. I am familiar with the work my organization does, so it was fairly easy for me to interpret and volley questions back and forth. It was a great experience for me. I want to find reasons to do it again – maybe for the rest of my life.
The following day, we had visitors from the Pazardjik area. Unfortunately, they spoke Bulgarian, so I had no reason to interpret. Hehe. But we showed them our work and the center. They were interested in getting a volunteer, so I passed along the information to Peace Corps.
On Friday, we had a couple representatives from C.E.G.A. stop by. I’ve mentioned C.E.G.A. a lot in this blog. They’re our facilitator with our primary donor. They were there to talk about budget issues. Oh man, budgets. I don’t want to get into it, but let me just say it makes me want to cry to see how little my colleagues get paid for the work they do. It’s a crime. We went around the room and talked about what everyone does. Any reference to me in the meeting was just about how great I am. I don’t want to get into that either. While I appreciate it, I think it’s unfounded, and it makes me uncomfortable. Yanko calls me their “Frenski Klooch (French Key).” As if I’m everywhere, and I do everything. It’s nonsense.
My organization wrote a letter to Peace Corps this week – asking that I stay for a third year. It’s always nice to hear people say good things about me, but it was making me uncomfortable because I just don’t see it. Yanko and the rest of my colleagues were extolling my virtues, and I scoffed. “What? You just don’t see it,” he said. I don’t feel like I’ve done all that much for my organization. And it’s frustrating to have one thing that defines my service. While I’m glad I could help them realize their dream of an educational center, I feel like it’s become who I am. I’m the volunteer that got them their center. I wanted to be so much more than that. I know they see me as so much more than that, but I don’t.
Valia compared the employees to a bunch of flowers that make up the bouquet that is the organization. Flowers come and flowers go, and they each add their unique color and fragrance to the beauty of the bouquet. The flowers you add to the bouquet usually go on the outside of the already-formed bunch. “Apryl’s flowers,” said said, “managed to push their way up into the center and become an integral part of the bouquet.” I thanked her for that image, and I said I would remember it for a long time to come. She spread the fingers on her two hands. One hand was me. The other symbolized the other colleagues. “This is how we came together,” she said, and she intertwined the fingers of the two hands. “Not like this,” she closed the fingers and bumped them against each other, “and not like this,” and she had her hands come together side by side – without intertwining.
I still have to do my part to ask Peace Corps if I can stay another year. I have to get my goals, objectives, and activities together before my birthday this Wednesday. Bleh. My birthday. I don’t even want to think about turning 26.
This weekend is off to a pretty good start. I decided to stay in Rakitovo today. I went to church. It’s been forever since I’ve gone to the Adventist Church. I usually go once every three months or so. It’s sad, ‘cause I know I could form some really good relationships there, but I actually don’t enjoy going much. I feel like I should be struck down for saying it, but let’s be honest here. Sitting for three hours on a hard, wooden chair, listening to someone talk about doctrine in a foreign language is not my cup of tea. This is punctuated by a few songs, a few prayers, a few announcements, and a break. The people are great. The service is dry. And my mind wanders. I prefer the Evangelistic service. It lasts an hour. The homily is a half hour at most. It’s simple, easy to understand, and the message makes you want to run to God and call him “Daddy.” The rest of the time, you sing out in joy.
After the service, the most persistent congregant asked me back to her place for lunch – as always. She came into the store while I was buying treats for Yanko’s family. I explained to here that I couldn’t come. I had plans. That’s why I was in the store. She still insisted that I come. Ummmm… no? She made me promise I would come sometime during the week. What was I preaching about before with regard to following through? My problem is, by the time I’m done with work up at the center, I just want to retreat into my house and “Apryl land” for a while. I have a dismal social life, and I like it that way.
So I was at Yanko’s this afternoon with Ani, Valia, Maria, Reneta, and Janette. We painted eggs! When was the last time I painted eggs? Bulgarians get wax and draw on their eggs though, and I’ve never done that before. The paint doesn’t stick where the wax has melted on, and you can make some cool designs. I was given a professional one by the school director when she came for an English class. It’s beautiful. Anyway, most eggs are painted red to symbolize Christ’s blood, but we painted them a bunch of colors. Ani even made some multi-colored ones with sparkles on them. Little Janette was being adorable. She climbed up on me and said, “Apryl, I love you.” “You do?” I asked, “Who told you that you love me?” “Mama.”
I was given some eggs to take home. Usually, people get together on Sunday and have an egg-breaking contest. Two people choose their favorite, strongest-looking egg, and then they knock them against each other until one cracks. The winner moves on to the next contender. Whoever defeats everyone has good fortune for the entire year. And you save some of the prettiest eggs, and you eat the rest. Mmmmm. I was given eggs ‘cause I won’t be able to take part in the contest and events tomorrow.
I’ll be going to Sofia for a hash event and to spend time with Thomas. I’ll come back on Monday – which is also a national holiday. It’ll be nice to have a day off. I asked Yanko if we would have a day off, and he was being weird about it. “Well, Apryl, tell me why you want to know.”
“Um, so I know if I have the day off?”
“Apryl, if you have plans, just take the day off.”
“No. Tell me if you’re working that day.”
“Well, we would normally work, but… if you have plans….”
“Okay, I’ll be here.”
Later that day, he decided that we should take Monday off, and maybe we could take Friday as well. No, no, we wouldn’t take Friday. We have C.E.G.A. coming. My boss is a funny guy.
Other than being Easter, Sunday is also “International Roma Day.” I’m not going to be here for it. It’s weird. My organization usually hosts an event on that day. Last year was an event to be sure. This year, however, there were many reasons that we decided not to go ahead with it. Here are the big three:
Lack of money
The coinciding Easter holiday – we couldn’t ask people to come and open up a venue for us (like the chitalishte) and participate on a holiday that was important for other people.
Some people up in the Mahala were already planning a program. We didn’t want to compete. They’re going to have a football game, a potluck, a “kuchek dance-off,” a Miss Roma contest, and a bunch of other fun. I would like to go up and see it, but I’m forgoing it this year. Somehow, it doesn’t feel right – me not being here on International Roma Day. I mean, I work with the Roma. I’m practically Roma myself! I spend so much time with them. Anyway, maybe next year?
So, that’s the update. The weather has been nice, and I’ve been dying to get out and go on some walks. I just have to find people who want to take walks with me. It’s such a beautiful place to live. I should spend more time outside enjoying the mountains.
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Well, they just had a midnight ceremony at the church. A bunch of people gathered with candles, and the priest sang. I was fortunate to be able to just see and hear most of it through my window. A bunch of dazzling fireworks went off and scared the storks away. Then the priest shouted "Christ is risen!" and the people repeated something. Then they all got in their cars and left to the angry chatter of the returned storks. I was doing my taxes. Sacriligious, I know. I don't technically have to file, and I don't think I will. If I did file, it would turn out that I owe the government money. I just don't agree with that. I'm a volunteer, and that's wrong on so many levels. Of course, I could have calculated it wrong. I just looked at my return from last year, and I wonder if I was drunk when I filled it out. It should be so easy: I don't make money, so I should get money back, right? Er... why do I get so confused when a monkey could figure out taxes on an income like mine? I think I'm going to go lie down now.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Apryl Fools

“Let’s Sign a Petition to Change the Official Spelling of the Month April to ‘Apryl!’”
April Renamed Apryl in Honor of Plucky Peace Corps Volunteer

You know you’re all misspelling the month anyway ‘cause you love me so much. Let’s just make it easier on you. My friend, Thomas, thought up the second title.
Anyway, I was going to write an April Fool’s post – you know, one filled with all sorts of varying misdeeds and lies like, “I’m coming home tomorrow. Meet me at the airport,” or “Bulgaria is holding a parade in my honor. I’m the best volunteer in the history of the Peace Corps.” But I figured I’d hold off on being mean, ridiculous, and just telling blatant lies. Besides, I’m not that clever. I never much cared for April fools day. Back in elementary days, kids seemed to especially like picking on me for the sake of my namesake – even if it was just to call me a fool. But I digress. Let’s get to the update. I’ve been keeping you all hanging for a couple weeks.
It’s not that I don’t have anything to say. It’s just that, I don’t know, by the time I get my day done and I come home, I just don’t feel like going through the effort of sitting down and updating the dear ole blog. I’ll get right down to it. I have lots to tell you all, but you know that.
Where should I start? How about the weekend before last at the language refresher? I went and learned some more Bulgarian. Oh yeah. It was SO fantastic. I always learn so much at those refresher things. And they try a variety of methods to get us to catch onto things. The day is never boring. My friend, Toni, was cracking me up though, ‘cause she kept insisting that we shouldn’t take any breaks. Props, Toni, if you read this. You’re hardcore. The day before, we had a meeting for the Minority Committee. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but this committee is also the brainchild of Toni. We’d like to get together a forum where volunteers can discuss minority issues and get feedback on how to work with minorities in Bulgaria. We’d also like to put together a toolkit that volunteers can access and get ideas with doing tolerance building activities and other information about minorities and minority issues. My involvement with a Roma organization makes me a natural fit for this kind of committee. I’m all about working with the largest (and possibly most misunderstood and discriminated) minority in this country.
Afterwards, we went out for some St. Patrick’s Day celebrating. We met up with some more friends and headed out to an Irish pub for some good food and beer. I had a good time, and then it was over to Toni’s to crash before our language refresher the next day.
That Monday, we started something new with our center. I think I mentioned that there would be some changes. Well, we’ve been finding out that the current users of the center – mostly Roma – aren’t quite as serious and involved as we had been hoping that they were. We decided to start a new campaign to open up my computer and English classes to the entire population of Rakitovo. Why we didn’t do this from the get-go, I don’t know, but my organization did want to have a special focus on the Roma to help them get ahead. Well, they don’t want it. At least, they don’t act like they want it. Give it to someone else.
So, in this meeting, I had them play a couple icebreaker games that they all seemed to enjoy. I don’t think Bulgarians have much experience with the icebreaker games. It’s something we regularly do in groups in the states, but it’s a new concept to Bulgaria. They really enjoy it. Everyone likes playing games… especially in a situation that would otherwise be stiff and awkward. My boss congratulated me afterward. He really liked how the meeting went. Mostly because the result was that I had three new computer groups and two new English groups by the end of the session. This was in addition to the current classes that I already had. He joked that I would be sleeping up in the center from now on.
Well, I’ve cut back a little. I told one kid that we weren’t going to meet for English anymore. He’s smart, but he’s a punk. He doesn’t show up consistently, and there’s always an excuse. One day, I was standing outside waiting for him to come to English. He was standing across the way from me… looking over at me. I called him over. “What?” He didn’t move. “Come here.” He sauntered over and shuffled his feet. “What?” “We’re not going to have English anymore.” “Excuse me?” I gave him the reasons why: “I’m busy, and you don’t come. I have better things to do – like teach other classes to people who actually show up.” It then turned into a conversation like this:
Student: “I want to come. I just forget.”
Apryl: “Yeah, you forget every single time. I have better things to do.”
S: “Please? I’ll come. I promise.”
A: “No.”
S: “Please?”
A: “No.”
S: “Yes.”
It went back and forth like this for a few more rounds. And then he gave up, “I was just kidding anyway.” Right.
I told another one of my students – one who was actually showing up and participating well… taking 2’s (F’s) in English and turning them into 6’s (A’s) at school ever since he started working with me – that the price of the course would be going up from 1 lev (60 cents) a month to 10 lev a month (6 dollars). I haven’t seen him since. I’ve told my kids that the price for them would go from 1 lev to 3 lev a month. This is not an outrageous hike. A few bucks to study English for a month is nothing when the going rate is several times that amount. Plus, these funds don’t pay anyone. They go for the maintenance of the educational center. I’m not sure how many of my kids will stick around at this new price though. I know they love coming to English, but it doesn’t always translate into participating. Here is a horribly stereotypical statement, but I find Bulgarians will usually find a way to talk themselves out of a situation that has become the slightest bit uncomfortable for them… even if it’s of benefit to them in the long-run. “What? You changed the terms of this class? I don’t want to do this anymore. What? Learning how to use a computer and speak English takes trial and error? I don’t want to risk making mistakes. I don’t want to do this anymore.” I feel as though Bulgarians are afraid of taking risks. People here have some great opportunities to start up successful businesses. There are people waiting in the wings to give them loans and see them succeed, but they’re too scared. But again, I digress. Maybe it’s not a “Bulgarian” thing. Maybe it’s a “Rakitovo” thing.
Anyway, the one student I had that dialogue with above decided not to talk to me at first. Now he’s back, however, ‘cause he’s learned about the wonders of baseball and is asking to play when he sees me. I’ll get to that.
So I have a bunch of new classes. I teach about 15 hours a week. It’s interesting. I have six computer classes a week. They’re all learning how to type without looking at their fingers. Some are picking it up pretty quickly. Others are secretly plotting my death, I swear. A lot of them say, “I’m never going to learn this. It’s just not going to happen.” I HATE that. Go ahead. Defeat yourself before you’ve even tried. Walking was hard at first, but you did it ‘cause you had to. Learning to talk must have been a trial, but you were a kid. What do you remember? Now you’re old enough to see how hard things are. You believe in the impossibility of things. You let it get you down, and you shy away. I’m here to push you off the cliff and into the water. Trust me. It’s good for you. Again, I’m rambling.
I have a class full of mostly unemployed mothers. I have another class of people who work in the building where our organizations’ office is. These women actually do work with computers, and they know their stuff. Unfortunately, they’ve only been trained to load predictable information into a predictable program. They haven’t been taught how to make programs work for their interests. My other classes are filled with Roma who just have a general interest in learning how to use computers. They realize that one can’t survive in this information age without learning about basic technology. However, my dear readers, you need to know that these students are working with a HUGE handicap. Everything is in English.
Programs, in my opinion, are amazingly user-friendly. Imagine, however, using a program you had never seen before where everything was in Japanese. It wouldn’t matter how user-friendly it was. You’d be confused out of your noggin. And I have to remember that. I try and stress to my students, “Don’t let me get away with telling you it’s easy and taking for granted how familiar I am with the program. I’ve been using Word for 10 years! If I gloss over something, and you don’t understand… ask.” I’m too used to it. I forget how difficult it can be to navigate a foreign system. Computers are second nature to me, and I have to remind myself that some people have never sat down in front of a computer before. Plus, they’re trying to learn from someone who doesn’t know all the Bulgarian terms for things. It takes a lot of patience on both our parts. I’m running around to six computers trying to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
My English classes are a little more straightforward. They’re filled with teachers! And all at varying levels. It’s a little insane, but we’re getting through it and having fun. We’ve started out from the beginning. I picked up a free, new, lesson book, and we’ve been using that for classes. It’s great! Everyone’s doing fantastically so far, but there’s always one who refuses to speak up out of fear of making a mistake. It’s natural. It doesn’t always come easily for everyone. I’ll ask her a question, and she won’t respond. The interesting thing is that she’s quite confident otherwise. She’s put us off-kilter in the office a few times with the demands she’s made while stopping by. Getting a simple sentence in English from her, however, is like pulling teeth. It’s a strange dichotomy.
So, the classes have been going well for the past couple of weeks. I’ve been teaching my kids some songs, the hokey-pokey, and most importantly of all, baseball!
Ah, the wonders of baseball. How I miss playing it. It all started when I decided to teach my kids the days of the week. Well, I had already taught the days to them, but we were doing a review. I was having them toss a monkey I got in a care package (thanks, Tom!) onto sheets a paper with the days of the week on them. Then, I was having them turn around and hit the softball I was pitching to them. In case you’re wondering if they really have baseball equipment in Bulgaria, let me just say that my sweet mother brought a bat and a couple balls over to me while she was visiting. There are some baseball teams in Bulgaria, but I imagine most of them are facilitated by Peace Corps Volunteers that are supported by friends and family back home, and I have no idea if you can find equipment in this country. So, my kids did a fantastic job. Pretty soon, kids walking by became interested and asked if they could play. We’ve played a couple impromptu games without me going into depth about the rules. They started only running one base at a time on a hit, and I let them. As we do not have any protective equipment or gloves, most of these hitters would be scoring runs every time they step up to the plate. That’s ridiculous. If you are reading this, send gloves and helmets! Let’s bring “America’s Favorite Pastime” to Rakitovo!
So it’s been fun. The kids like it because it’s a new game they have never played before. And who doesn’t like trying to hit things with bats. I’ve got a good crowd right now just because they’re all fascinated with it. I’d like to get something more formal going, but I can only do that with gloves. At the end of this post, I’m going to put a more “official” “begging for donations” paragraph.
Last weekend, I went to a birthday party. One of my cute, little students turned eight years old. The interesting thing, however, was that the party wasn’t so much about him as much as it was an excuse for his parents to invite friends over and do some drinking and dancing. This has been the norm to many parties I’ve attended, however. The men got hammered and then gyrated to the amusement of the women. It’s not exactly my idea of a good time, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless. The next day, I went to Plovdiv to meet up with Thomas and hang out for the day. We then went back to his site and went to Sofia the following day. It was a busy weekend. The reason we were in Sofia was because of the “hash.” I’ve mentioned the hash before. A bunch of ex-pats and a few Bulgarians get together to run a flour-marked trail or go on a walk. They then go out to a local restaurant for dinner afterward. I enjoyed the hash because we ran a beautiful train (or rather speed-walked as a good bout of it was uphill) and eating out at restaurants has become a luxury for me. After the hash, we had to hear about the various “sins” that took place on the event. The past couple times I’ve been on the hash, I’ve been accused of “sins.” Last time, it was for peeing on the run. This time, it was for “screaming,” as I had raised my voice at someone to get their attention. The “punishment” is standing in the center of the circle and downing a pixie cup of beer while everyone else sings a song. It’s fun though. It’s like being inducted into some silly society. Afterwards at dinner, I sat next to a nice couple from the German Embassy, and I talked with the woman about the work I do with the Roma. She is fascinated by them, but she can’t figure out how to get direct contact with them. I’ve got direct contact galore.
That evening, we stayed with a couple of the ex-pats. I’ve mentioned them before as they’ve hosted both Thomas and me a couple of times. They are lovely, generous people. In fact, one of them is coming out tomorrow to look over our center and see if we can get some funds for it from a charity organization that she belongs to. Hopefully, the meeting will go well, and we’ll get some more sustainable income for the maintenance of our educational center. Speaking of the center, look what I found while perusing the internet: Our center! I helped write that article. I’m not a fan of how it turned out, but hey, it’s out there. That’s pretty sweet!
This last week, I didn’t go in the office much. I had other things to do. One of them was waiting all day for the cable guys to never show up. Boy, was that fun! It’s like waiting for the cable guys in the states, so you can’t complain that it’s a “Bulgarian” thing. My internet hasn’t been working so great ever since I tripped over the cable and ripped a chunk out of the side of my computer. Hmmm… I wonder why? Anyway, I’m hoping the internet guys can do something about it, but it’s probably not going to happen. Bleh. I hate having to hold the cable a certain way to get my internet to sort of work. Lame!
My colleagues have been in the office working hard, however. We’re still waiting to hear what our budget is going to be for the next year, and they’ve been writing a project to form an informal women’s organization. It’s a great idea, and I want to be a part of it. I try to give input wherever I can, but my colleagues seem to have a really good grasp on the idea and what they envision. They don’t need my guidance so much. They’ve always known more than me when it comes to this stuff. I’m honestly lucky for that.
The school has been calling me out a lot recently for consultations in English. They’ve been doing project writing and some teachers are applying for workshops. I think it’s great, but I don’t like that they always call me at the last minute. I can’t be available all the time. I actually refused to come the last time ‘cause I was busy teaching classes. I’d said “no,” and I was proud of myself.
This weekend, Thomas came over, and we spent all of Saturday watching movies and being lazy ‘cause it was a dreary day. I don’t know if I’ve ever watched so many films in one sitting. I liked it, but Thomas got restless. Today, we hit the bazaar in Velingrad. I came back and cleaned up a bit before getting on the net a bit and then heading to church. I love the Evangelical church here. For one thing, it’s right next door. The location is ideal. And the room is filled with nice women who are constantly bringing in sweets. Usually, the only male present is the pastor. He’s a really nice man. And I love it there ‘cause we sing a lot! The homily is short, and then we sing again! Today, I put a leftover candy wrapper in the offering tray. Yeah. That was a great faux pas. I hope no one saw me. Okay, so apparently they use a little trash can on the piano as their offering container. I didn’t know, and I put my candy wrapper in it. I only realized my mistake when someone knocked over the trash can, and a bunch of coins and bills fell to the floor. No one even noticed the wrapper, however, and I think they put it back in. I just stared at it – dumbfounded. Well, don’t I feel like a sacrilegious idiot. Someone’s going to find it and think, “What jerk put their trash in the offering container?” I’m going to hell.
Easter is coming up this next weekend, and everyone’s getting ready for it. I don’t know how many kids will show up for my classes because they’re all on vacation, but I’m still having class. I’ve been asked a few times if I’m going to America for the holiday. It’s traditional here for families to be reunited during this time of year. My landlord’s son and girlfriend-in-law were here this weekend, but I evaded having them stay here by telling them Thomas was coming, and I needed that spare room. Whew! That was close. Then, I had to get the son to take me to a local bus stop to pick Thomas up as the buses had stopped running by the time he got there. Awkward! Oh well. Enyo insisted we have some wine, but I deflected that one with the fact that I was in the middle of cooking, so he brought a bottle up for us instead.
Now we’re to the part of the blog where I tell you random things about Bulgarian culture and events in my life:
In Bulgaria, many of the small towns are peppered with these announcements that are posted almost everywhere. Mostly, they’re death announcements. You’ll find them posted right after a person has died, six months after they’ve passed on, and even a few years afterwards as memorials. They’re everywhere. Eventually, they’ll usually come down from public places, but you’ll find them on the doors of just about everyone’s houses for years to come. Death is something just about every family here has experienced. So, here’s what I’ve been thinking: It’s morbid and probably a little crass, but I would be amused by it. What if I made one of these announcements for myself? Put my picture up there and posted these flyers all around town, and then just walk around among the living like nothing had happened? Wouldn’t that be great? I wonder how many people would come up to me saying, “Oh, Eypril! I thought you were dead! I saw the announcement….” And I’d just shrug like, “Yeah, it was a misprint.” And how many people would just look at me like I was a nutcase. That wouldn’t change much of anything. I already get those looks a lot anyway.
It’s salad season. It won’t be long before all the yummy fruits come into season. Bulgaria is a goldmine of delicious fruits and vegetables. It’s almost a sin how inexpensive it all is, too. Bulgarians think nothing of it, but anyone who knows better raves about it. You all don’t know what you’re missing out on. The abundance of fresh produce here is to die for.
The “shterkils” (storks) are back! I’ve talked a lot about them in past posts because a couple have taken up residence on the bell tower of the church across the way. They mate, they raise a family, and then they move on for another year. It feels like they haven’t been gone so long, but it’s nice to see them back. I really identify with them in a lot of ways. I don’t know why, but I just feel a kindred spirit in them somehow. They’re beautiful. Thomas and I were out on the balcony, when I saw one come swooping in on its glorious, black-encrusted wingspan. It nipped and played with the one I hadn’t seen already sitting in the nest. There’s something comforting in seeing them again… like the world does continue as it should and some good things are inevitable.
It’s the time of year where people have taken to setting trash cans on fire. The smell is absolutely disgusting. And then you see some Roma combing through the remains of burnt refuse. It’s a depressing time of year. The funny thing is, the garbage bins have been burnt so much, I can barely make out the “Do not light” signs painted on the sides. Oh, Rakitovo, I love you so.
In happier news, for me, I’ve been getting quite a few packages recently. Yes! You people are the best! If you are reading this, and you sent me a package, give yourself a pat on the back. My colleagues are always amused, and they’re always asking if it’s from my Grandma and Grandpa Gibson. If it’s not, they ask, “Isn’t it about time you wrote those grandparents and told them to send you another package?” They’re fans of my grandma’s fudge and pecan puffs. So, Gibson’s, give yourselves an extra pat on the back. Now that it’s “my month,” I’ll probably have to “cherpa” a lot at work. I could use some candy, people, to appease my co-workers.
In other news, I’ve taken up playing pente online. I’m not very good at it, as pretty much everyone kicks my butt, but I’ve really enjoyed playing with my grandfather. It’s a good way for us to keep in touch, and I learned pente from him when I was little. I still haven’t learned how to beat him though.
In supplementary news, I’ve found out that a dear uncle of mine has been very sick. These announcements of illnesses are always hard to take. Didn’t you people get the memo that you’re all supposed to stay healthy and avoid making major life changes while your Apryl is away? If not, I think you need to consult the handbook “How to Manage Your Life While Apryl is in the Peace Corps” once again. At least he’s getting better. He must have picked up and run through his copy of the manual.
My life is very strange and disconnected. I don’t tell you this for sympathy. I tell you this to try and see if I can understand it all by putting it down in words. I haven’t talked to many of my friends (except for random notes via the internet) and family in a long time. I don’t even talk to my parents all that often. Normal interaction has been replaced by games on the internet, notes on online social network, the random e-mail, and the random phone call. I spend time with my colleagues, (I was over at my boss’ twice – almost three times – last week for dinner and a viewing of “reality TV” (VIP Brother is a celebrity version of Big Brother, which is a phenomenon in this country)) I get together with Americans every once in a while, and then there’s the myriad of people that I interact with in town, but I don’t have many “friends” to speak of in the traditional sense. My social life is like a strange, laboratory experiment that seems foreign and unhealthy somehow. But, the weirdest thing, is that it honestly doesn’t bother me. I’ve learned how to keep a lot of things in – things I would probably rashly tell people before I’ve processed them. I’ve learned to really appreciate “me” time and not get bored with myself. I don’t know how to explain it. Something about it feels like it should be unhealthy and bothersome, but I’ve really adapted to this new way of life. The disconnection is a little disconcerting, but it’s my life. What can I do with it?
So, readers, on Friday I asked my colleagues to help me apply for a third year. No, it’s not an April Fool’s joke. In fact, I think it’s too early to say whether I really want to stay for an extra year or not, but the need to say one way or another is coming up sooner than I would like. I have to make a decision. I cannot get the desire to stay an extra year out of my head, so I’m going for it. I don’t know if Peace Corps will approve it, but I’m going to at least try. Either way, if it’s meant to be or if it’s not meant to be, I trust God to take care of it. As a final note, please send baseball equipment! We could really use some gloves and helmets. If you’re interested, please drop me an e-mail. Just one glove means the difference between catching a ball and getting smacked in the head with it. I fear for my kids, and they really want to play baseball. It’d be a great, learning, team-building opportunity for them. Plus, I’d have another thing to do with kids that I enjoy. One of my students commented that I looked sad a lot recently. It’s probably due to fun deprivation. I want to get out and play more! My response to that comment was to try and teach her how to waltz. I need more activity in my life! Send us fun in the form of baseball equipment! Thank you.
P.S. I have Istanbul/Qatar pictures up.