Sunday, May 20, 2007

Protocols and Oranges... and Raindrops

I'm here at the internet cafe for a quick update. My computer is in Velingrad for repair. Man, was that hard turning it over to the lady in the shop. I tried, in my "razvalen" Bulgarian to explain to her what the problem is (the part where the internet cable plugs in is messed up), and then she said it would probably take a couple days for the guys in the shop to take it out and get it fixed. After all the arrangements were made, I held onto my laptop case and just blinked at her. "This laptop is my entire life. I'm kind of scared to leave it here." She just smiled at me and took it in the back.
The crazy weather started this last Friday. I was on my way to Velingrad with my computer when sudden, giant drops of rain came falling from the sky. I got caught in it along with my laptop. I ran all the way to the computer store, but I was still soaking by the time I got there. I then headed out to a nearby store and pretended to be interested in phones while I escaped the rain. Afterwards, I headed to an M-Tel store and signed up for a year of phone service. I've been on vouchers all this time, and it has been costing me a ridiculous amount. I figured, since I'd be here for another whole year, I'd actually get a plan with a year contract and everything. The guy at the store (I've seen him a few times before and he pegged me for a Peace Corps volunteer) recognized me and made sure I knew that I would have to be here another year. Yeah, I know. And then he started asking me what I do here. When I explained to him, he said, "Would you ever think of starting Spanish classes here in Velingrad?" I guess he already speaks some English, and his cousin married a PCV who served three years in Velingrad. I thought, "Yeah, I'd come to Velingrad to teach you Spanish. You're cute!" But, of course, I didn't say that.
The rain finally let up, and I returned to Rakitovo. I went and exchanged this shirt I got as a present for a guy I translated for. Now, I have a shirt that says "University of California" on it that I got here in Rakitovo. It's cool. Afterward, I went to a ball to celebrate my friend, Fanka's graduation from high school. It was a lot of fun, even though the weather was pretty bad. We went to a restaurant and we ate and danced into the evening. Fanka was wearing a glittery, purple number that I hadn't been super-impressed with on the hanger, but it looked absolutely lovely on her. Whenever I go to a celebration like that, or I attend some extravagant event due merely to connections or the kindness of people here, I really count my blessings and think how fortunate I am to have "fallen" into Bulgaria. At events like these, people talk to me more. I turn into the novel American again. People who ignore me otherwise start talking about how they want me to take pictures of them. They then talk about how they want to send their kids to study with me. One guy I knew by face only, started saying he wanted to send his young son to me "in a year" to study English. "I won't be here after a year," I told him. "What about our children?" Comments like that are flattering and frustrating at the same time. If I'm so "important," take advantage of me now. Otherwise, realize the truth that these things are, in the end, up to you, and my being here doesn't really hold much importance in the way of things. If you want something, go out and get it. Don't rely on me.
I excused myself from the party early and went over to "Kliment Ohridski" - the school where Brandy works. They were having their ball ceremony that evening, and all the girls were dressed to the nines. I was invited to go along, but I declined this year. I just didn't want to be a part of it this time around. I wanted to be a spectator. Plus, I had to get up early the next morning and go to Plovdiv. I relaxed that evening. It's interesting how my evenings change when I can't use my computer. It makes me wonder what I did before I got the internet. I lived here a whole year before I got the internet. What did I do in the evenings? It makes me debate whether or not I really should bother having internet in my place, but it's very nice. I just have to be more pro-active about my time on it. Anyway, I did some "Sudoku," read, and fell alseep on the couch a few times. It was nice.
This weekend, I went to Plovdiv for a Minority Committee Meeting. I got there early and wandered around. I love Plovdiv. I don't think I could ever get tired of going to that city. Part of me wishes that I'd had my site placement there. Anyway, we had a good meeting full of productivity. We're working on an informative toolkit with sources new volunteers can use in our sites. Another girl and I had finished our portion of the kit, so we reshuffled some things. Plus, leadership was refocused as the founders will be moving on here soon. I'm glad to still be able to be a part of it, but I was happy to see it passed to others hands without a "Well, Apryl, you're staying another year. Is this something you want to take on?" I digress.
I had a good weekend with my "family" in Trud. I hadn't seen them since my mom and I visited last October. It had honestly been too long. Vili and I went out with a couple of her girlfriends. I had a good time with them. Now that my Bulgarian is better and I'm not too wrapped up in my shell, I'm a little better about including myself in the conversation when appropriate. As long as I can keep them from gossiping about their friends, I'm safe 'cause I can relate.
One of the girls, Irina, wanted to go to a piano bar. Another girl, Sylvia, was definitely against the idea. Irina won out because we argued that every other place would be full. So, we went to this piano bar. It was obviously for the "older crowd," but they played a lot of songs I knew. Songs by Clapton, Sting, Dire Straits, etc. I enjoyed myself, but Vili and Sylvia sat in the corner while the Irina and I danced and sang along. Finally, we left Irina there with some people she knew and went on our way. Sylvia started saying she'd never again go to such a place - only for "babas and dyados" (grandmas and grandpas).
We met up with another friend of Vili's, someone I'd met during training, and we went out for drinks. He started talking to me about life in America, and I was tired and wasn't up for the conversation. I'm tired of trying to convince people that life in America isn't all that great. I don't know how to explain it. There's a fine line I like to walk. People here think Americans make a bunch of money and pay little for their goods. If they thought about it, they'd realize that an economy can't exactly work that way. Income has to match, more or less, the needs of the society. Of course, Bulgaria has a long way to go towards this equilibrium, but that's the way it is for the mostpart. I just try to remind people that we certainly have those who are poor. Usually, if they think the U.S. is a land of incredible wonderment and perfection, they'll say, "Well, that's just if they're lazy." I'll try and explain that there are some who work two jobs and still can't make ends meet. Problem is, they've only heard about someone's friend who went to the states and got rich doing some mundane job. I try and argue that they may have had incredible help from those around them (an established community of people like them who are already there), and they probably do a great job of saving their money. But, yeah. It depends on if the person wants to listen to me or not. Last night, I didn't feel like explaining, and I got to the "Yes, I agree that there are more opportunities in America. Society is structured there to help a large number of people be 'successful'" part of my argument a lot sooner than I usually do.
After sleeping a few hours, the family went to Shishmantse to see the extended family. My "cousin," Nelly, was supposed to be there. I hadn't been to Shishmantse since training, and Nelly hadn't been able to come out with us the night before. It turns out that Nelly had to work, and she wasn't there when we showed up. Vili and I looked at each other. Nelly was the only reason we had come. Our "mother" soon sent us into the other room while she did some chores. We watched TV and soon fell asleep for a few hours. We're spoiled "daughters." We got up to have some lunch, and then Vili cut her grandmother's, uncle's, and mother's hair. She also cut her "sister's" hair. I have a new style. It's pretty short, and I like it. I didn't think she would go that short on me. She keeps trying to get me to grow my hair out.
We then returned to Trud, and we were there for an hour or so with the whole family: Vili's brother, Kiro, was there with his wife and daughter. I hadn't seen the daughter, Kristina, for a long time, and it was amazing to see how much she had grown. Unfortunately, she had a fever, but she was still smily and spunky. She would wave by clenching and unclenching her fists, and her mouth would open into a wide grin. She seems a happy child. I'm sure she's spoiled. Everyone was doting over her the entire time we were there. She was always the center of attention.
Vili drove me to the bus station, and we agreed that I need to stop by more often. I have to take the time to make it to Trud. Those people are just too important to me, and they spoil me. I need some spoiling in Bulgaria once in a while - especially with people I can just relax around. They're excited that I'm staying a third year.
I almost missed my bus to Velingrad. It was hilarious. I was standing out in front of the bus, and I didn't see many people inside. The driver was sitting there, but the door was closed, and there were other people sitting out on the bench in front of the bus. I was waiting for him to open the door so I could get on, but I was standing a distance away to be out of the rain. All of the sudden, he started the bus up and started leaving. I turned to the people on the bench and asked, "Where is that guy going? That's the bus for Velingrad, right?" They affirmed it was, but they didn't seem worried about it. I ran out, and the driver stopped the bus. I apologized and said, "I didn't realize you were letting passengers on 'cause the door was still closed." That was funny.
So, after a ride with a speedster in the driving rain, I made it in one piece back to Rakitovo. It's good to be back for an evening. I'm leaving tomorrow to go to Sunny Beach with the recently-graduated 12th graders. One of my English students is their homeroom teacher, and she invited me to go with them. I think I already mentioned this. My bank account is hurting, but I'll be in a four-star hotel this whole week. I'm excited. We leave bright and early tomorrow, so I'd better get home and get packed! I just hope it doesn't rain!
*Side note: If you knew Bulgarian, you would laugh at this... maybe. So, this is for my readers who speak Bulgarian. I forgot to mention in my last post that, during the proejct writing, we were having a discussion about "sustainability" and "measured outcomes" and all those great "project terms." I was asking Yanko how we'd show our project had been a success, and he said we'd sent protocols to our donors. Bulgarian-speakers, do you know where this is going? So, I repeated back to him, "Okay, we'll send protocols to the donors." But instead of saying "protokoli," I started to say, "portokali" (which is oranges) and my colleagues were reduced to laughter. Tsetska was almost rolling on the floor. Hey, if we can convince donors they should sponsor us with some oranges as bribes, I'm all for it. Plus, it's always great to have a good laugh at my Bulgarian. These are the moments I hope my colleagues remember long after I'm gone.
** Post side note: A friend passed this along. It's a quote taken from a musician by the name of Chris Smither, and it fits well with how I feel about languages:

My father is a language professor – Romance languages – and he saw to it that my sister and I were exposed to other languages and learned them at a very young age. And there was never any question about whether it was valuable or not. It was just one of those things — if you can speak more than one language, you’re a better person. You will think better. You will do better. It has served me well! It instilled a love of language in me. Language is not something that I take for granted. Many, many people do. They don’t think. It’s not a conscious thing to them any more than breathing is, and they don’t really have any formulated ideas about what it actually does and the importance of knowing how to express yourself. Learning four languages does that because it automatically shows that there are things you can do in one language that you can’t do another. And all of a sudden you realize, ‘Oh! It’s not the same. It’s not the same as breathing,’ you know? So that’s subtle but, to me, it’s very near the center. It’s very near the center.

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