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.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

i've used wax on eggs before, when my 5th grade class studied russia. but you need the cool pin/needle. We miss you (well I miss you). I hear you on the slackers, we have a big pathfinder gorup this year and lots arn't comming or even calling to say they can't make it. we've offered them rides and they still don't call. and this year we were gonna have attendace count for the campouts.