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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the 3rd year! FYI, PC HAS turned down people that have applied for the third year (especially in cases where there were five applicants and three spots).