Monday, May 28, 2007
God takes excellent care of me. I’m so incredibly blessed.
So, I came back yesterday from a week-long hiatus from my life here in Rakitovo. I was at Slunchev Briag (Sunny Beach) from Monday to Thursday. I probably shouldn’t have gone. I’m not exactly sorry I went, but my being there was incredibly pointless. I felt like I was crashing a party, and, in a way, I was. On Monday, after a long delay due to lack of adequate transport, we took a crowded minibus to Pazardjik to switch to a more appropriate vehicle. The ride was long, and we stopped often for smoke (yes, most of the 12th graders smoke), snack, and potty breaks. They drank and played chalga pretty much the whole way. It was a long trip.
Finally, we checked into our hotel (it was nice!) and Brandy and I got our own room. We didn’t spend a lot of time with the other teachers or the students. We mostly hung out together. We were all given the freedom to do pretty much whatever we wanted. The teachers didn’t many obligations to the students, and no one was really liable to anyone. It was very different from any school-organized trip I had ever taken.
I had been to Sunny Beach once before. I wasn’t all that impressed because it’s a coastal area with hotel after hotel. It’s okay, but it doesn’t resemble any of the rest of the Bulgaria that I know. It was incredibly expensive as well – maybe not for tourists, but for volunteers on a PC budget… yeah. But I still had a good time exploring the areas along the coast – even if the beach in that part of the country is ugly and spoiled. The interesting thing was that you heard English spoken everywhere. I had a good time trying to convince people that they should speak Bulgarian with me. “What? Why in the world do you speak Bulgarian?”
The first night, Brandy and I went and got some dinner, then we went for drinks at a restaurant that played great cover songs from artists like The Cranberries, U2, Brian Adams, Coldplay, Oasis, etc. The second night, we had a formal dinner with the teachers and students at the hotel. Our girls took an extra hour to get ready. They spent a long time getting primped and pretty in their formal, ball gowns only to discover that the girls from other schools had decided wear dresses that were a little more casual. They sat at their table for ten minutes, only to look around at the other girls and feel out of place. Then, three at a time, they went upstairs to change. Half an hour later, pretty much all of them were in smart, casual wear. Oh, to be a teenage girl again. Wait, nevermind. I don’t miss the insecure neurosis of that age. I’m neurotic enough as it is. I don’t need peer pressure to push me over the edge.
Earlier that day, I had taken a walk alone down the beach. I set down a towel and began to read a book, but light raindrops soon started to mess with my vibe. I thought about getting up and going back, but I was really just enjoying sitting on the beach. Pretty soon, a man stopped and struck up a conversation with me. It turned out that he was an Egyptian living in D.C. Small world. We went and got a drink, and then he invited me out that evening. I told him that I had plans, and he said that I could come find him after the ball – even if it was at 3 a.m.
So, after the ball, at about 3 a.m., I went to find him at his hotel. Brandy was a good sport and came with me. First, we went to a club that seemed to be hopping. The guy said they would be open until 6 a.m. We paid the four leva to get in – only to find that it had been deserted. The Egyptian was frustrated. “Why did they let us in if no one was here?” Brandy and I shrugged. “This is Bulgaria.” He tried to take it up with the guy who let us in, but the man only shrugged and told me to tell him that everyone had gone to have sex.
Afterwards, we went to a club that was actually hopping. Some of the students were there, and there was techno on one floor and chalga on another. Brandy soon left, but the Egyptian and I hung out a little bit. Finally, we couldn’t take the techno anymore, and we didn’t want to hang around for chalga. He suggested we go back to the previous club. Yeah, no one was there, but they had decent music. The two of us could just dance. Um… okay.
So we went back. We were the only ones there, and we danced for about three songs before they turned on the house lights and turned off the music. The Egyptian was frustrated and tried to talk to the D.J. “There’s no one here. We’re not going to play music for two people. We’re going home.” The Egyptian tried to argue, but the D.J. just shrugged. We went downstairs, and the Egyptian tried to talk again to the guy who had originally let us in. He didn’t speak much English, and he resorted to trying to talk to me in Bulgarian. He said something in Bulgarian that basically means, “So, four leva is a big deal to you?” but it comes across much ruder in the native tongue – like, you’re cheap. A security guard followed us down, and he tried to get us to leave. Finally, he turned to me and asked if I was Bulgarian. “No, but I speak some Bulgarian.” He told me to explain to the Egyptian what was going on. “Okay, but first let me explain why he’s upset.” I shouldn’t have gotten into it. That whole time, I was keeping my mouth shut and just thinking, “This is Bulgaria. This is Bulgaria.” But I went off.
I explained the guy at the front and the security guard that it wasn’t exactly appropriate, and the conversation went something like this:
Apryl: “You said one thing and are now doing another. You said that this club would be open until six, but you’re closing early.”
Guy: “But no one is here. You want us keep the club open for two people? Normally, we’re open until six, but no one is here. What do you suggest we do?”
Apryl: “I suggest you give him his money back.”
…and it just went around and around like that. Mostly, it was me trying to get them to be aware of their discrepancy. “The Egyptian agreed to pay you money based on what you told him. We went upstairs, and no one was there. You decided not to fulfill your part of the agreement. You should give him his money back.” I don’t know why I got into it. I’m not an argumentative person, but, sometimes, I like to argue in foreign languages. I get even more passionate about it, and it’s more fun!
Afterward, I wished another Peace Corps volunteer had been around. We could have gotten into a conversation about Bulgaria and the woes of things here – just how different it was from the states. At the same time, I was glad that it had happened. There is still that part of me that feels like she gets taken advantage of in these situations, and it was glad to be reminded that this was “normal.” In the part of the world where I come from, these practices would be seen as shady. It was nice to see things from the point of view of someone who had been living in the states recently. “Oh, so that’s why I think the way I do. I’m not so crazy.”
I had wanted to make it to Sozopol while I was there, but that just didn’t happen. We got up late for the most part, and the days pretty much escaped me without a whole lot of production. I guess that’s what vacation is for.
On the final day, I packed up and went to Bourgas to catch a bus to Razgrad and visit a friend of mine there. Greg and I were busy with baseball pretty much the whole time I was there. It was fun, but it was exhausting. On Friday, I went with him and a couple other volunteers to back-to-back practices. It was hot, and I almost didn’t make it for the second practice. I helped out where I could, but I didn’t do a whole lot. It was nice to be a part of it though. That night, we saw a crazy, electrical storm. It was like the clouds were “speaking” to each other with lightning. We couldn’t hear any thunder, but the gray sky was perpetually lit up with streaks of yellow. It was beautiful, and I felt like God was talking to me.
On Saturday, Greg and I got up early to catch a train and meet his team and two other volunteers in Samuil. We then went to a town called Golyamo Gradishte to play against another volunteer’s team of kids. I spent the day calling out batting order and taking stats for the two games – one between younger kids and the other between older players. I had a really great time. The kids were fairly well-behaved, and they seemed to have a blast. Some of them were really adorable and had amazing personalities. Samuil won both games, but the last one was especially close.
The whole affair made me wish I lived in the northeastern region of the country. Many of the volunteers there practice baseball with kids, and they coordinate games between their teams. They arrange travel, and they have a crazy amount of equipment: bases, catchers’ gear, helmets, balls and bats galore, uniforms, etc. They have all done a lot and worked together to get something really amazing going. Of course, they have had the support of family and friends back home (you can’t get this stuff in Bulgaria), and the municipalities have helped them out with arranging transport and a place to play.
I looked at those kids – how they met and interacted with one another, how they bonded over a new game and took pride in their accomplishments, and how they were able to get out of their towns for truly memorable moments. I looked at it, and I was honestly jealous. I thought, “This is making an impact. Even if it doesn’t last after the volunteers leave, these kids will always remember this summer. They will talk about how they once played baseball. They will see it on T.V. and be reminded of a whole slew of good memories. I really wish I could be a part of this.” I really credit those volunteers for finding something that seems to be having such an impact, and I’m a little envious.
I had a long and lame bus ride back to Rakitovo on Sunday. It’s weird. I used to really miss Rakitovo, but now I have a hard time coming back – even after an extended vacation. Once I’m here, I’m okay and happy. For some reason the thought of coming back really stresses me and makes me nervous. That was probably for a couple, silly reasons that I’ll get to in a moment. The weather was crazy. On the six-hour bus ride from Razgrad to Plovdiv, I was melting. The ride from Plovdiv to Pazardjik was met with raindrops. While I was waiting for a bus from Rakitovo to the Kostandovo stop, I was greeted with a heavy downpour. I kept switching my sunglasses for an umbrella and back again. I love summer storms.
I met my colleagues this morning just as they were walking out for coffee. They soon delegated tasks and Yanko and I went to Velingrad. He and I both had errands that we needed to run, and we kept each other company the whole morning. I was glad he was there. Like I said, I had been nervous about a couple things that I will tell you about now, but Bulgaria and God impressed me today. I don’t know. I’m a silly girl, but…. I had been worried about a couple things. The first was that, while at Greg’s, I couldn’t find my house keys. I knew it wasn’t really a big deal. So, I lost them. I’d get new ones made, but I just didn’t want to deal with it. I prayed about it. Upon unpacking my bags at home, I still couldn’t find them. I was sure I had put them in a pocket of my purse, but they weren’t in there. I felt all around, but I just couldn’t find them. Later that evening, a thought suddenly came to me: “What if there’s a whole in that pocket and they fell into the lining of the purse?” I couldn’t feel a hole, but I shook my purse and heard something that sounded like keys rattling. I dumped out all the contents of the purse, and the rattling was still there. I finally found a small hole in the pocket. It was so small; I don’t even know how the keys got down there. I had to rip it a little to get them back out, but I had my keys!
I was pleasantly surprised by something else that happened to me in Velingrad today. I’d been dragging Yanko around to try and find lithium batteries for my alarm clock. It’d been working for the past two and a half years, but the numbers have finally faded into oblivion. I figured the problem was with the battery. A guy at an electronics store opened it up for me so that I could see what kind of batteries were inside, but he didn’t have any to switch it out. I went to a few other stores, but they either didn’t have the batteries I wanted, or they tried to sell me a cheap version of them. I finally found a Kodak store with the batteries I wanted, and I decided to get them even though they were over four times as expensive. I asked the guy to open my clock and switch them out, which he did. After that, we discovered that the clock still wasn’t working. He checked the power of the batteries, and we found that they weren’t the problem. Thinking I already knew the answer, I asked if he would consider taking back the batteries he had sold me and giving me back my money. He started to tell me how this was Bulgaria and he couldn’t resell the batteries because he didn’t have them in packaging now. Reluctantly, however, even as he was saying how Bulgarians would think he was cheating them if he sold them individual batteries from a box, he pulled out my money from the till and handed it to me. I was pleasantly surprised. Thumbs up for customer service in Bulgaria!
The other thing I was really worried about was my laptop. I had left it in Velingrad for repair, and I hadn’t heard from the shop. They said they would call me when it was ready, but I never heard from them. I started imagining all sorts of crazy scenarios: They had broken my laptop and didn’t want to tell me. They had stolen my laptop and sold it for spare parts. It’s absolutely nuts, I know, but I had no proof they had my laptop. I started to think they had done whatever they wanted with it and would say, “What laptop? It’s your word against ours.” An unknown number had called me earlier in the week, but I didn’t have a record of it anymore. Was it them? Were they trying to reach me so quickly? And I revert to the little girl who used to think her dad had died in a horrible car accident if he was two minutes late in picking her up. I’m nuts. I know. So I was beginning to think of what I would do if they had stolen my laptop, and I was trying to contemplate my life without my laptop. Man, would that suck.
So, of course it was there when I went to the shop. Only the girl was there again, and she smiled when I walked through the door. She said she had tried to call me earlier in the week, but there hadn’t been an answer. She even tried calling me today, but it wasn’t around. The good news is that I got my laptop back. The bad news is that they weren’t able to repair it ‘cause there’s no such part in Bulgaria, apparently. The good news is that she sold me a USB LAN that I can use instead of the broken piece. The bad news is that I can’t figure out how to install it. The CD seems to be a pirated version, and it doesn’t have any setup files. I’m so confused. The apparatus was lighting up earlier, but I couldn’t get a connection. Now, it’s not lighting up. I don’t get it. I’ll have to get someone here to look at it or take it back to Velingrad. Meh.
Ani told me that the kids have been asking when I get back so we can play baseball again. I hope there will be a good-sized group for tomorrow. I got a package from my mom with a couple kid gloves in them. (She also packed a new, nifty alarm clock in the box! How did she know? She’s Mom, that’s why.) My colleagues were utterly confused and fascinated by them. We tried to put our hands inside, but they were too small for even the smallest of our hands. They started asking questions like, “Now, only the goal-keeper wears a glove, right?” and “Do you wear gloves on both hands?” I had a couple classes today, and those went fairly well. Today was a good day. Just getting back into a routine, right? And hopefully not letting my imagination run away with me.