Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bright and Happy

I wrote recently, but I’m writing again ‘cause I love to write. You know this about me. You don’t have to read this if you don’t want. All the other entries you were required to read. Didn’t you know? But this one, you don’t even have to bother. Go ahead. Take a break. Drink some iced tea and lie in your hammock in the shade. Take a little, spray bottle and squirt yourself in the face. I give you full permission.
Strawberries are in season. Have some strawberries. Sprinkle some sugar on them. Dip them in whipped cream. Slather them with chocolate. Eat them without confections. They’re delicious on their own. Now that you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for them, I think you should indulge yourself. Is your mouth watering?
I’ve been locked in the office the past couple of days – project writing. Like I said, I really like project writing. My head has been hurting, but it’s been like a good hurt (if that’s possible). I’ve been hashing and slashing with my colleagues. The conversation sometimes gets a little heated when we don’t see things the same way, but it all works out in the end.
Mostly, it’s that Yanko likes to make posters and have everyone see the project. There’s definitely something to be said for this. Everyone needs to be on the same page. He’s a very visual person. Almost anytime he’s explaining something, he has a sheet of paper on the wall and a marker in his hand. I’m more of a “Tell me what you want. I’ll plug it into my Excel spreadsheet here with some nifty formulas, and I’ll tell you what the outcome is,” kind of person. Yanko likes a pen, paper, and a calculator. I’m glued to my laptop, and I just smile. The women laugh at the dichotomy between Yanko and me. They know I’m doing it the budget automatically, and they just look over at the computer every once in a while to see what’s going on. I try to give and take a little when I can. Yanko has WAY more experience with project writing than I do. I have to remember this. Sometimes I get so bogged down in how I want the layout to look, that I forget it’s not just me writing, and I forget that I really do have quite limited experience in this area. Yanko will say, “Apryl, explain the reasoning why we want this in the project: It will produce this outcome and lead to this and that.” And Valia, Ani, and Tsetska will have been watching me the whole time – writing in English – and they will say, “She already put that in, Yanko.”
Other times, he would jump from activity to activity in the budget, and they would say, “Wait, Yanko. She’s still putting in the cost for this, or the explanation for that, or she’s cutting this and pasting it elsewhere.” They would jump from one thing to the next, and I would have to say, “Wait. I’m still on the last thing we talked about. You have to let me formulate it. My fingers and laptop are not as fast as your thought process.” So there’s definitely something to say about the limitations of computers. Our brains are amazing!
At one point, Yanko and I were getting into a slightly heated discussion about salaries and administrative costs. Did this person’s salary count as project or administrative costs? I told him I wanted to call my program manager at Peace Corps and ask her opinion. He then said that he would call all his friends that he’s written a bunch of projects with and get their opinions.” It was funny. Yanko has a bit of a temper, but I fortunately get away with this stuff without him flying off the handle. I tried to diffuse the situation by making a bet with him. The women said they wanted to be on the winner’s side. We decided, at least for now, that we were both right. It just depends on how you word the justification. Anyway….
I sent the project off yesterday, after looking over it a few more times, doing some more translating, currency conversion, and the like. This is the work I enjoy doing. I want to translate quality projects. I want to live my life speaking another language on a daily basis. We’ll see if that’s what God wants me to do as well.
From my thought processes and the way I write in my blog, you probably think I suck at formulating my thoughts and putting them in a brief, coherent format for a project. Haha. Shows what you know, suckers! No, I don’t know what you think. I just know the way I write in my blog and I think, “this side of my personality does not write good projects.” No, she doesn’t. She has to learn to be concise and persuasive. Free-format is not my strong suit. I will explain all day long and say the same thing five times over in four different ways. But I like that. I like forcing myself to be a good writer. I like playing with words and editing thoughts, “Okay, so this would sound better if I put it this way, or this word carries a better nuance than that one.” I think that’s probably why I like writing and languages so much.
My colleagues, especially the women, have a lot of faith in me. They think I’m a pro. Haha. Silly girls. Ani said, “I was watching Apryl – how she did this, how she wrote that, how she put this here and that there.” We were talking about the differences between Yanko’s and my strategies. “She has a different view on things. She looks at things more from a donor’s perspective. The person who’s reading the project – how will they see it? See how she got Angel that opportunity to go to France?” I laughed. I’ve written two or three successful projects, hardly enough to say I know what I’m doing. Watch us not get this one. Then they’ll sing a different tune. Hahahaha. No, they’ll be fine with it. And I’ll still believe I’m a good project writer. It’s my favorite part of the project cycle: formulating ideas, dreaming big, writing and re-writing, fingers flying on the keyboard, hoping your convincing someone else that your ideas are fund-worthy. I’m a nerd. That’s enough of that.
My favorite things that my colleagues say to me: “Apryl, you’re so smart. Apryl, you write Bulgarian so well and so quickly. Apryl, you speak Bulgarian like a rockstar.” Hahaha. Valia told me that she would be moving to Velingrad. “Why did I stay a third year, then?” I asked her. She seemed to like that. She cracks me up. We’ve all gotten really attached to each other. Many times, the women talk about the possibility of working elsewhere, and then they say, “But I’m so used to working here! It doesn’t matter that I’m frustrated most of the time and I make so little money! I want to stay here and work with all of you!” We talk about the silliest things here, and we joke around so much. It’s hilarious.
I had to cancel another couple classes yesterday. Well, the second one I didn’t have to cancel. The second one I played hooky (bad Apryl!) and shot the breeze with my fellow female colleagues. I’m rarely in the office with them like that. I suspected that my student wouldn’t show up. I was wrong. She did show up, and she probably waited outside in the heat for her teacher. I’m lame. It’s times like that when I say to myself, “Self, what right do you have to complain when your students decide not to show up?” Yeah. I’m hanging my head in shame right now. I hope you’re satisfied…. Hehe.
I’ve also been working with another volunteer on an “FAQ Section” for a minority kit a bunch of us volunteers are putting together. We took volunteer’s questions on how to deal with discriminatory comments and paired them with their own answers. I think it’s turned out rather nicely. Peace Corps volunteers are taking the initiative to stand up to prejudiced language and attitudes. They also do it fairly boldly and tactfully. Their suggestions on how to deal with discrimination are pretty awesome. I hope it’s making a real impact in their towns.
Playing baseball yesterday was so awesome. My kids and I took a long walk to the stadium, but it was worth it. The vice mayor was there waiting for us. He had arranged with the groundskeeper for us to use the field. Yanko had talked to him, and they made sure that everything was ready for us. It was so cool! The grass is cut nicely, and everything looks beautiful. Unfortunately, there was some trash lying around in the stands, but I just used some of it for bases. Some lines were already sprayed on the ground, and they were at good angles for a small, baseball field. My kids and I had a lot of fun playing. We were there for about an hour and a half.
Afterward, I came to an understanding with the groundskeeper. At first, he started saying how they didn’t pay him after five, and I thought he’d put up an argument about us having to use the field later than that. He didn’t protest, however, and he said we could come in Tuesday and Thursday evenings. He also said, “Did you leave that trash out there?” and I was so embarrassed that I’d left my “bases” on the field. I took my kids back out, and I told them never to let me do that again. Hehe. I picked up all the trash and threw it away. Next time, I think it would be a good idea to have each of my kids pick up one piece of trash before they leave and throw it away in a nearby bin.
Walking back to the mahala was fun. My kids were in a good mood, and I scolded them for stealing unripe plums from people’s trees. Some of them took me by the hands and started speaking to me in Roma. “Apryl, say this: 'Kamaraf tu!' (I’ll beat you!) 'Tu havas li chi dukaf tuka?' (Do you know I love you?)" They were so silly.
Once we got back to the Roma neighborhood, Ani and Yanko were out on a bench waiting for us. “Was the vice mayor there? He called and said that he was waiting for you. Then he called me again when you were there and said he was watching you play.” My kids were beaming, and Ani and Yanko beam when they see happy kids – tired from play. (And then unicorns hopped out from behind the trees, everyone held hands and walked a rainbow path to Utopia… am I making you sick with my positivity?) Ani asked, “What’s the name of this team?” Reneta said, “How about the ‘California Peaches?’” Everyone seemed to like that, for now…. We’ll have to get uniforms with peaches on them. Hahaha. And an outline of the state of California will be in the background. Awesome. Afterwards, we played a few more games, and then I went home.
My boiler has been broken. The light comes on, and it stays on, but the water doesn’t get hot. I told Enyo on Saturday, but he has yet to fix it. So, on Sunday, I went over to Brandy’s and took a shower. The awesome thing about showers in Bulgaria is that each one has a personality. Usually, if you’re staying with a PCV, and you use their shower, they have a list of rules for you to follow. Here are some examples:
“Don’t touch the shower head. It’ll fall down.”
“My boiler is small, and hot water lasts about five minutes. Get in there. Do your thing. Get out.”
“If the fuse on the boiler pops out, just pop it back in.”
“Don’t change to the handheld. It won’t work.”
“When you turn the cold handle, only do so a little bit. A little goes a long way. Sometimes it will get too cold, and then you have to turn it a bunch to get it back to the temperature you want.”
“There’s an exposed wire in my bathroom, and sometimes water hits it, hits you, and gives you a shock.”
Okay, so the last one is slightly made up and Peace Corps would have a fit. But we all have our shower issues. I then took a shower in Enyo and Milka’s new bathroom (they just remodeled it) last night. There were no shower stories. No fun! But it was so wonderful in there. Everything was new, clean, and water stayed where it was supposed to. They have a shower curtain up and a separate shower area from the toilet and sink. You don’t know how novel that is. It was awesome. I wish they would remodel my bathroom in that way, but I wouldn’t want to go through the hassle. If they could just fix my boiler, that would be great.
I finally had an English class today. We studied the alphabet – finally. They soon came to realize that the alphabet didn’t help them so much because words are spelled without much thought to rules or format in English. We had a good time spelling a bunch of random names and words. I started giving them high-fives ‘cause they were doing such a good job, and they were smiling wide. “When you’re smiling, the world smiles with you.” It’s so true. Attitude counts for a lot. I tend to forget that. I need God to remind me. Plus, one of the teachers brought in a bag of ripe strawberries. That probably has something to do with why I’m in such a good mood.

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