Friday, August 31, 2007

Property - "You Got Owned"

I got smacked in the ribs with a bat yesterday. One of my kids, after hitting the ball, let the bat go flying behind him. Guess who was standing right behind him: yours truly. It was perfect. In slow motion, I saw the bat flipping toward me. *Smack!* Right in the ribs. The best part, was the kid had no clue. He ran to first base, and I followed him, laughing. "Next time you throw the bat, you're out!" I told him. It's moments like this that remind you you're alive. I can't even count the number of times I've almost been beaned in the head off a hit. I love it. I can feel it when I press on the rib, but I don't have a bruise or anything.
So, I'm still playing baseball with the kids. They're horrid outfielders, and they frequently get into the stupidest fights, but we're having a good time overall. Yesterday, some girls came to watch. One of the boys really wanted them to play, but they didn't want to. I was glad he was trying to get girls involved like that. Boys aren't always known for being so "pro-active" when it comes to including girls in sports. We also have some new players. It's a dynamic environment. Someone is always leaving while someone else is joining. It's a good thing we're not a "real" team. I would give up in frustration.
So, I'm pretty sure the apartment I was talking about before is going to work out. It's absolutely charming - on the top floor of someone's house. It lets in lots of light, and it's spacious. It's a lot like my current apartment, except that the bathroom is a LOT smaller. Seriously, it's like a broom closet. I'll practically stand on the toilet to take my shower. There isn't even a boiler in there. It's kept downstairs, but my (future - fingers crossed!) landlords say it'll always be on. And they promise that they will never send people up there to stay with me (which is the most important thing of all). They have to do some remodeling. They've agreed to buy a washing machine, and they're going to clean up some things. Then, as long as Peace Corps comes and it all checks out, I should be able to move in sometime next month. I can't wait. I have a feeling I'm going to have people in my apartment again this weekend. Their son is already here, and I figure it's only a matter of time before the girlfriend comes today and wanders in like she owns the place.
Things at work have been more or less interesting as of late. There's been a call for project proposals at the Minestry of Education and Science, and a bunch of schools in the area have looked to us as partners and consultants in project writing. I've been going with my colleagues from this school to that school - trying to help them write their projects. Mostly, I've been called on to figure out how to work with the proposal on the computer. "Apryl, how do I get this to move here? See, when I do this, it does this. I don't want it to do this. How do I get it to stop? How do I copy my information to CD? How do I get the proposal to print out the way I want it?" This leaves people thinking I'm a computer whiz. I'm just glad to be able to help, but it makes me wish more people here were more adept with computers.
I had a discussion with my colleagues about my third year here. I reminded them that I didn't want to work so much up at the Educational Center. And I admitted to them that I was having a hard time accepting that I'm going to stay here for a third year while I watch my volunteer colleagues leave to go back to the states. I think we had a good discussion. I was pretty upset the other day over one thing, though: Yanko insisted that I work for Future Foundation, and I shouldn't be going off looking for side projects elsewhere. Anything I do in that regard should be in my own free-time. Peace Corps is kind of shady on the subject. You're assigned to an organization, but you're told that you're a community volunteer. You're encouraged to branch out and connect with other change agents in the community.
A hosting organization can be possessive. It's within their right to say that they want you to work in their office only. It's not in their best interest, however. Hoarding a volunteer, especially when that volunteer has nothing to do, is pretty stupid in my opinion. Think of the partnerships you could develop through that volunteer. Think of the possibilities you could be open to if you let the volunteer's leash out a bit. Plus, the volunteer won't despise you for being so selfish, and they'll enjoy the variety of the job. I've seen volunteers that are "owned." It's not pretty. In some cases, the volunteer changes site because of it.
My organization has never been possessive, and I've always been grateful for it. It disturbed me, however, to know that Yanko thought I was Future Foundation's property. "Even if you have nothing to do here," he said, "you need to be in this office." I couldn't believe my ears. Even if I'm sitting on my tuckus staring at the wall, you'll feel better knowing that I'm here? He then showed me the contract he signed with Peace Corps. It is a little hazy. I am supposed to search out partnerships with other entities, but only with those the organization deems worthy.
Anyway, I'm perfectly happy coming in the office. There's no problem with that. And, as things go, the status quo usually doesn't change around the office. They've been letting me go work with others and go off on trainings whenever I've needed to. Not once have they denied me something I've wanted to do outside of Future Foundation. They're extremely liberal - maybe to a fault. It was just being told, "You're exclusively ours," that upset me. I felt like property, and I wanted to say, "I'll be yours when you start paying me," but that isn't right. They've done a lot for me, and, in a way, I do belong to them because they applied for me, and I decided to stay. Peace Corps, who does pay me, would probably agree. I'm still going to have a talk with them, too.
I've been feeling better ever since the talk. I've told myself (and maybe I've mentioned it in the infernal blog) that I'll have two tests:
1. Watching my volunteer group (B-18) leave. Seeing other volunteers return to the states and "get on" with their lives, is going to leave me sad, lonely, and "left behind." I think, "I'm going to be 27 when I get out. Isn't there something to be said about 'getting on' with life?" Plus, my "American" support group will be gone.
2. Going back to the states for vacation, and then knowing I have to come back here for 11 more months. If I miss Bulgaria, I'll be okay. If I don't miss it.... I've been told by other volunteers (who have gone home for vacations, family issues, etc.) that I will miss it. No problem. By the way, for those who are counting, (me!) it looks like I will be home in 80 days. I will be around for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. Ever since the talk with my colleagues, I feel better. They still complain about the same old things with me: "Apryl, you don't talk to us enough. You don't tell us what's going on with you." I don't know. That's just how I am. Only God can change that about me if He wants to. And there's something to be said about not being able to fully integrate into this culture. I am who I am, and who I am is not Bulgarian. I have recently felt that there's something here that I just cannot grasp, that will always be out of my reach, that will always make me "other." Anyway, we'll just take one day at a time for now.
It's been flying by recently, and I'm grateful for that. We have some projects of our own coming up here that I've been working on. Also, I'll be gone a couple days to train upcoming volunteers how to do project development. Hopefully, we'll also get the 6th of September (Bulgarian Reunification Day) off. Unfortunately, these things don't matter if we don't have our work done. It's crazy working with an NGO. Right now, my goal is to get Yanko to take some time off. "Seven years," he says, "I've gone without vacation." He wears it like a badge, and I've begun to turn it around on him: "Who's to blame for that? Only you and no one else. Do you really think the world will end if you take 10 days for yourself?" At least he admits I'm right.
Fun side note: I see Peace Corps is now including a new panel session for trainees: "Dating in Bulgaria" They're looking for "PCVs who can share their experience & insights into the cultural expectations of dating/mating within different Bulgarian communities and cultures. We’d like a mix of male and female PCVs with different degrees of experience and success, who can offer PCTs practical advise - - how to successfully culturally navigate the experience of dating a Bulgarian or feeling community pressure to date. Goal is to share practical experiences, and offer practical advice - both successful and unsuccessful experiences are helpful." Awesome. I just want to listen in.
Also, Peace Corps called me yesterday to ask me to weigh in on a site I'd never been to. Awesome. You want me to speculate on whether a PCV would be happy there based on the fact that some people I had coffee with once asked me to assist them in getting a volunteer? I really respect Peace Corps for the impossibility of matching PCVs with worthy sites, and some volunteers get frustrated with them for this very reason. Site placement almost requires a magic 8 ball.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I've decided I want to be a "trophy wife" when I grow up. Any takers? I'll get plastic surgery to look good on your arm. All I ask is that you be a successful entrepreneur who makes oodles of money for me to spend on various charity causes. Being devilishly handsome is a plus, but not required. Again, any takers?

Saturday, August 25, 2007


So, Enyo and Milka (my landlords) aren't here, but their son and his girlfriend are staying in my apartment. It's obvious that it's never been about limited beds. It's just them wanting that room. I really hope this apartment I'm going to see tomorrow works out. I just don't get how these people can give me the cold shoulder after I pointed out that this behavior was unacceptable. Actually, I'm a mouse. I don't fight for my rights. I'll defend others to a point (and even sometimes then barely), but I'll let you walk all over me if it will avoid a fight. It's just as much my fault for letting them do it as it is theirs for taking the opportunity. As my grandmother so aptly pointed out, "We teach others how to treat us."
I have, in so many occasions, defended the Roma to Bulgarians. I have gotten in the most heated of arguments with what I see as discrimination. Some Bulgarians are quick to talk about all the ways the Roma are "ruining" "their" country. As soon as I use the word "hate," however, most are quick to say they don't hate the Roma. They're unwilling to accept the term "racist." Most people are. The interesting thing is: I don't do it when my boss starts going off on Bulgarians.
My boss can say the most hurtful, unfair things about ethnic-Bulgarians. I had to work today, along with Yanko and Valia, with a nearby young people's group who wants funding for an initiative. They're a great group of guys - all Christian's who do their best to live up to Christian ideals. After finishing up our work for the day, we were standing around in the hot sun - joking around and talking. My boss kept cracking jokes about Bulgarians and talking about his intense dislike for them. One of the boys piped up and criticized Yanko's hatred for Bulgarians. "Wait a second," said Yanko, "I don't hate Bulgarians. There are exceptions." It sounded just like a Bulgarian talking about Roma.
This post isn't an update on what I'm doing. It's a partial update on what I'm thinking. Bulgarians talk a lot about "philosophizing." It can have both positive and negative connotations. I have to take this opportunity to admit I'm not perfect. I know this. Does this mean I shouldn't point out things I don't like?
There are things about the foundation I work for that I definitely do not like. The problem is, I don't always speak up and point them out like I should. I figure I'll just get shot down, I'll talk from inexperience, or I'll bring about opportunity for conflict. There's a quote by Elbert Hubbard that says, "To avoid criticism - say nothing, do nothing, be nothing." It's an awesome quote, and I seem to live by it. Instead of telling my colleagues or people here how I feel, I keep my mouth shut. I always thought I wouldn't care what people from another culture (who I was only living with for two years) thought about me as long as I felt I was doing what was right. This has not proved to be true. I still care way too much about what people think/say about the American. Lame. I become, in effect, powerless.
Instead of hanging around some more this afternoon with my colleagues and the initiative group, I lied and said I had other things to do. The truth was, I didn't want to listen to the conversation anymore. I don't do the whole "na ghosti" thing anymore. I don't know why. It almost always turns out that I'd just rather be alone.
My colleagues have really taken to speaking Roma in my presence. This last week, when I was helping Valia make mequitsi, she and Ani started speaking in Roma. After we ate, and I decided to leave, Valia asked why I didn't stick around? Why should I stay and stare off into space while you two speak a language I don't understand? I did enough of that when I was trying to learn Bulgarian. And I learned it.
What's awful is when they do it in the office - even though they know the office manager and I don't understand. The problem is, I don't speak up about it (Yanko does it for me when he's there). I just stew and wonder how they can be so inconsiderate. I remember how they never did that, even a year ago. I'm going to stop this post because... well, it's not fair that I hide behind my blog. It isn't correct to be forthright in a place that's "hidden" in a sense. Strangers know how I feel about all this, but the people here closest to me aren't clued in.
This isn't necessarily an encouraging post from a girl who's here to stay on a third year. Angel gave me some great advice, "If you're going to really stay here for another year, Apryl, make this your year." I gotta start biting the bullet and demanding what I need without worry someone will hate me for it. It's ridiculous. I put in my service. I gave them a good two years. When will I have the courage to be me?
I think the big reason I fear returning home is confronting myself again and all the problems I will encounter. Here, I'm so "native," as some would say, that it's hard for me to remember what parts of perception are "American" and which are "Bulgarian." This is going to sound horrible, and I don't want to offend Bulgarians, but I'm going to say it anyway: What scares me about returning to the states... is that it will be more "Bulgarian" than I can handle. When something goes wrong, or I confront an attitude or an action I don't like, I easily write it off as "Bulgarian." I won't have that luxury back in the U.S. I've already heard some things from friends in the states that seem so "Bulgarian" to me, but I can't write it off (discriminatorily - that word really is in the dictionary) as something that is inherent to Bulgaria because it is happening in the states. I have comforted myself upon witnessing things I don't like by saying, "It's okay, Apryl. You're here for a limited time only." But what if these things happen in the states? How will I escape from them? How will I escape from me? What if it's not "Bulgaria?" What if it was just me growing up and recognizing the problems in the world?
I stumbled across a blog maintained by a PCV in Namibia. She's all the way in Africa, and I'm here in Eastern Europe, but it was amazing to compare the challenges we faced: discrimination, low self-esteem and low self-expectation in the people we work with, questions about our impact as PCVs, etc. Maybe not every PCV would agree with me, but I think there's a commonality that brings us all together as volunteers. Even though you're in a completely different continent, on some level, you will understand me. In her last post, she shared a quote I really liked. I sure wish people would act this way in spite of me not being perfect:

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

- Kent M. Keith

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Do What You Gotta Do

Crazy baseball boys.

It's been an interesting week - full of ups and downs. Let's dive in. Shall we? First, I'll give you all an update on my health. I'm still coughing a bit, but my lungs aren't wheezing quite so much, and I convinced Peace Corps that I didn't need to come in for another check-up. They sent me yet another inhaler by courier service. This time, it's a lower dose of medication. I really want to kick this thing. Fortunately, I can walk around and not get winded like I used to. It's a slow process, but I think my health is improving.
The other day, I learned how to make "mequitsi." Valia promised me when I first moved here that she would teach me how. Yanko had a craving for them this last week, and voila! he gave Valia an afternoon to go home and make them. I went with her, and finally learned how these magical creations are made. All it is is fried dough with powdered sugar (hmmm... where have I eaten that before?), but it is yummy! I had fun coloring with Janette and trying to keep her away from the uncooked dough.
I haven't been doing a whole lot in the office. Mostly, I've been alone while my colleagues go and give project development and design consultations. In the meantime, I've been working on some project writing. We have a project in the works that we were supposed to hear back on over a month ago. I even contacted them and said, "Hey, even if our proposal wasn't chosen for funding, we'd like to hear something from you." They replied saying they were inundated with proposals, so it was taking longer than expected, but they would reply as soon as they had reached a decision. Okay, but over a month past the announcement date? I'm just assuming we didn't get it and I've started translating the project to other applications.
A couple representatives from C.E.G.A. came today. They came to talk about the initiative groups we've been working with and different possibilities for their funding ("Even though those guys don't have jobs, they could still pool their money and pay for internet and communication fees if they really wanted to." My incredulous response, "You really think so? I know you don't want to teach them to expect "ready-made funding," but these guys are working for free! And they don't even have side jobs to actually make money! But, you are the endower. You ultimately decide....") Then, we went with them to a school and a pre-school to provide consultation support for a couple projects they're writing for European Union funds distributed through the Ministry of Education and Science. I tried to speak up and help wherever I could. I realize I don't always speak up enough in those situations because I feel like I'm going to sound stupid or someone's going to disagree with me in a way that makes me feel ridiculous. I don't know why I have that fear. I think I'm pretty decent with project proposals. I know what I'm doing. Shoot, Peace Corps asked me to come again this year and help train new PCVs on project proposal development. I can't be completely dim-witted. So, I talked more. I felt weird doing it, but I think my colleagues appreciate more when I give my input than when I just sit there.
The other day, Yanko announced that he was going to run for the Municipal Council. I couldn't believe it. For a long time, Yanko has deflected suggestions that he get involved with politics by saying it's not for him. Now, he thinks he should be on the Municipal Council. And he wants at least six other Roma men to join him. I asked if, by all of them running, they would block each other's chances to win, and he explained that they wouldn't. I then asked if he was sure he wanted to be a part of a political system and run an NGO. It just seems a little questionable to me. But my colleagues were all for it. They insisted that, to survive (especially if the woman who hates Roma wins the mayoral elections come October), they need someone in their corner on the Municipal Board. Other NGO directors are doing it, apparently. I spoke up and told Yanko how I felt about it, and he said he appreciated my viewpoint, but he's still going to do it. I guess it's okay as long as he runs under an Independent ticket.
Meanwhile, the search for housing continues. Yanko has been going here, there, and everywhere to find me a place to live. He's gotten a bunch of his friends on board, and I appreciate that they're looking for places as well. I had found a place last month, but the woman's daughter decided she didn't want me taking the whole upstairs. There went that place. I wasn't broken up about it. Others had places available, but they didn't want to rent them out. Some had a floor, but it needed a lot of remodeling. A lot of people have houses that just wait for their children to come home and occupy the empty spaces.
You might be wondering why I'm looking for a new place to live. Well, I finally decided that I couldn't take my landlords just letting their son and girlfriend-in-law stay in my apartment whenever they felt like it... without telling me. Basically, after dealing with this for over a year, (I know, I suck!) I decided it was making me too angry and affecting my relationship with my landlords way too much. I finally sucked it up and told them, in July, that I would look for a new place if things continued the way they did. I asked them before to at least tell me when they were coming, and they didn't even have the courtesy to do that, so it's time to get out. I haven't been very assertive, but they know I don't like it. This is the gist of the conversation we had in July:

Apryl: I'm staying for a third year. I suggest I look for another place to live.
Landlords: Why?
A: It seems to me that you want to use that upstairs apartment for your guests. It's not fair to have a paying renter and guests in the same space. If things continue this way, I will look for a new place come October. The housing contract was for two years anyway.
LLs: Well, you decide, Apryl. Our son could go to work abroad before then. You never know. There's plenty of time before October.
A: Well, I've decided that, if things continue the way they have been, I'm moving.

When I'd found a place, I sat down with Enyo and his son-in-law because Milka was gone, and I told him the following:

A: I've found a new place to live. I plan on being out in September. I can't share a space with your guests. Tell Milka.
Enyo: I know it's not very pleasant, but think about this again.
A: I've thought about it many, many times. I'm not going to change my mind.
E: Okay, Apryl, but think again.

The funny thing is, my landlords didn't change their attitude toward me at that time. They were still very civil and nice to me. In fact, Enyo brought me plums earlier this week. I brought them peanut-butter and macademia nut cookies in return. Then, Milka came up and brought me stuffed grape-leaves. The other day, however, Yanko told me that he waved "hello" to Enyo, and Enyo turned around and gave him the cold shoulder. He saw Milka somewhere, and she put her head down and ignored him. I think an outsider came and told them that he heard I was searching for other digs, and that's why they're sulking. As of yesterday, I've noticed a frostier exterior from Enyo, his daughter, and his son-in-law.
I don't get it. "I told you people what was going to happen. You didn't change your ways. I'm moving. It's as simple as that." I don't get why they have to act like children now, as if I've done them this huge disservice. I'm a customer. This is a business. You aren't fulfilling your end of the bargain, and I'm going elsewhere to get what I need. I talk to others, and they chide me for enduring it this long. If I went in to all the ways the situation pisses me off; all the impertinence that's wrapped up in the whole thing, I'd be here all night. Peace Corps even said I've been way too patient. I would have left anyway had I not extended a third year. I can't decide if they're upset that they won't be getting the extra money every month, or if they think I'm ungrateful or something. My colleagues think it's the former.
I was talking about it in the office today and getting worked up about how my landlords are reacting. "How can they be like this?" Yanko suggested I just "stop giving a damn." "I've lived with these people for two years! I'm going to give a damn," I told him. I had hoped that getting away from them in the renter/rentee relationship would actually improve my interactions with them. As it is, I'm so frustrated with what they've done to me, I interact with them as little as possible. I actually really like them. They've been very good to me. This is my only complaint, but it's too big to ignore. I figured I'd come visit them, and I'd want to spend time with them again. Now I'm beginning to wonder if they'll talk to me when this is all said and done.
Anyway, let's talk about the places I've been and the places I could have moved into. The good thing about this whole undertaking is that I realize just how nice an apartment I have. It has everything, and the layout is fantastic. It's honestly pretty perfect. The first place I went to look at was owned by a couple in another town. "Perfect," I thought, "My landlords wouldn't even be in Rakitovo. I'd be left alone like I've always wanted." We went to Dorkovo (feel free to laugh at the name. I so hope a PCV gets placed there someday. "Hi, I'm Bob. I live in Dorkovo.") and found the couple. The guy said it was a possibility, but it needed a lot of remodeling. Boy, did it ever. That place looked as though no one had lived in it in decades. Everything was dusty and falling apart. It needed a complete overhaul. Yes, it had a lot of potential. No, it wasn't for me.
The next place I went to was owned by a very sweet man who showed us a two-room option. It had everything - except a sink, a bathroom, and a shower. "Sorry," I told him, "but I'm going to need those things." He understood. He then showed me a room they had underground. I went down with him to humor him, but Yanko wouldn't even follow me. "We'll fix this place up a little," he said, "and we'll only ask about 20 to 30 leva (about 12 - 20 dollars) a month for it. It's honestly warm in the winter and cool in the summer down here." I smiled. He was right, but I'll die of depression if I live underground.
The other day, I went to a place who was owned by the organist at a church I sometimes attend. It was honestly an amazing place. The apartment was long. The kitchen was small, but the living room was huge. They had an upstairs terrace they said I could use as well. There was a bedroom, and the shower and toilet were separate. It was great, except that the toilet was a turkish toilet (i.e. hole in the ground.) in a space the size of a broom closet. I know I'm spoiled. I know a million people make do with holes in the ground. I just can't imagine Apryl with diarrhea or Apryl vomiting, and she doesn't have a bowl to sit on/grab onto. I know that's a nice image for you all, but these are things you have to keep in mind. It probably wouldn't be hard to remodel that, but.... I don't know. The place was nice, but it just didn't feel right for me. Do I really have the option to be picky though?
Yanko showed me a mansion. Literally, it's "the white house," and I don't think anyone even lives in it. He said that the people who own it built it for their son. He was a lawyer, and he died unexpectedly. Who knows if they would be willing to rent it out? I've been dying to get in and get a look at the place, but they've apparently been at their "villa" this whole time, and they can't be contacted. Sheesh.
This whole time, I'd been suggesting that we go and ask Brandy's old landlords if they'd be willing to rent out the house she lived in. Yanko says he wants to find something better if he can. I hate feeling like I'm putting him out like this. I even cried over it the other day. It was awful. I've been insisting on Brandy's old place, and he's been insisting we can find better. Brandy's old place was fine. It was roomy and had everything a person could need. She also decorated it well. The only things I could find "wrong" with it was that it didn't have a washing machine (not many available apartments do), the water heater was small (I'll never be able to shampoo and shave my legs in the same shower!) and it was a bit cold (all places are cold in Bulgaria in the winter - unless you heat with wood!). Yanko finally agreed that I could go and talk to the landlords.
I still haven't talked to them. Yesterday, I was told (for the third time) that the P.E. teacher and the local veterinarian have a wonderful house, and I really should go check it out. I'd been with Yanko other times when their names came up, but he always shrugged it off, so I figured he knew something other people didn't. It was more one of those "in one ear, out the other" instances, but anyway. I was with a friend of mine who knew where they lived, so we went. It was the first time I'd gone to check on a place without Yanko. I've interacted a number of times with the P.E. teacher, but I've never met her husband. They sat down with me, and we discussed some things about the apartment. Unfortunately, they couldn't let me see it at the moment 'cause they had visitors from Varna renting it out for the week, but I'll go back Sunday, and they'll show me the place.
Apparently, it's nice and has everything. They could be biased though, right? The awesome thing was, the P.E. teacher was very aware of Brandy's living situation and how things were paid for and taken care of - what things were required. Even she talked about the importance of the PCV living alone because Peace Corps insists on it. I then confessed to them why I was looking for a new place. Her husband right away recognized our relationship as one of business. I try not to bring up the topic with outsiders if I can avoid it. Rakitovo is small enough as it is, and everyone "knows" what everyone is doing and invents stories about why. They asked about heating and said it wouldn't be a problem. I asked about a washing machine, and they were quick to say that they would install one. Her husband said that he was planning on remodeling the place, but he hoped that he could get it done before the end of the month. They just "got it," and I think they'll be willing to cater to spoiled me. Of course, I will pay them - er, Peace Corps will pay them. It will probably be more than I'm paying now, but it will hopefully be reasonable. I'm hoping the place is awesome. I find out Sunday. If not, I really am going to try and snatch up Brandy's old place - if it's still available. Either that, or I'm holding out for "the white house," which is most-likely a pipe dream.
Okay, that's enough of that. Let's talk about baseball! I have been having so much fun this week playing with the boys. I figured they'd have wandered off and never want to play again after I left them high-and-dry for a month. I have my myriad of excuses: I was sick, I was gone on vacation, I was gone on doctor visits, I was gone on Peace Corps business, I was gone seeing someone off, etc. I saw some of the boys at their school the other day, and they were quick to ask when we'd be having baseball again. "Tomorrow, if you want." That was Monday. When they didn't show up on time Tuesday, I figured they were taking it out on me. No matter. I was about to pack up and leave when two boys showed up. They assured me that more were coming. They also told me that some really weren't coming 'cause they were mad I was gone so long. Whatever. Three more boys came, and we decided to go to the stadium. I figured the other group of boys (from another neighborhood that we used to play with) wouldn't come because I'd been gone so long. We had been out on the field for about five minutes when a whole gaggle of boys hopped the fence and came to join us. I was overjoyed! We had a great time.
Of course, there are always the protests in the beginning that I absolutely love:
"I don't want to be on this team. I want to be on that team." I usually don't let them choose because they'll try to divide things by race if they can help it. My pseudo-baseball team is an excellent experiment in intergration. I think they're getting more comfortable with each other, and they interact more.
"I don't want him to play. He doesn't know how to use a glove. He doesn't even know what a base is!" This is my favorite argument because they were ALL at this stage at one time, and I LOVE reminding them of it.
"I want to pitch!" "No! You can't pitch! I want to pitch!" "I want to bat first!" "No! I'm going to bat first!" They argue about position. They argue about anything and everything. I usually let them battle it out unless it gets too epic. Then, I'm the "bad guy" when I decide for them.
They're getting used to the gloves, and they actually want to stay afterwards and throw the ball around. Unfortunately, there aren't gloves enough for everyone, but they seem to work it out and share pretty well. Before, they used to complain that they had to wear them because it was uncomfortable for them. I haven't convinced them that they need to use the batting helmet though. I'm waiting for a kid to get beaned in the head before I try to drive that one home.
Before this week, I had led them to believe that baseball was played by running one base at a time. My kids aren't strong infielders/outfielders, and I figured that it wouldn't be fair (or fun) to have homeruns on just about every hit. This week, I decided they should finally learn how that segment of the game is actually played, and I told them to run 'til they thought someone would get them out. It's been interesting. The outfielders really do have a hard time getting the ball infield to be a threat to the runners. Also, I've had runners pass other runners that decided to stay on their base. Oops. Guess I should have explained that one.
My kids, like I said, aren't at that strategic level of baseball. I've been trying to work with them to explain that they need to run up to the ball, they need to react before the ball goes past them, they need to know what they're going to do with the ball if it comes to them (Which base is closest? Which base can I make an out at?). There have been a few instances where they'll throw to an unoccupied base that no one was running to. I try to tell them strategy, but until I do drills specific to these fundamentals, they will never get it. I try just to let them play because it's not "that serious" at this point, but I can't help but try and give them pointers and make them think about strategy. We did have a fantastic play today. I almost screamed and jumped up-and-down. A boy hit a line drive to second base. The second baseman grabbed the ball and threw it straight to first. The first baseman caught it without blinking. It was absolute perfection. I cheered and congratulated them, and then I made sure to congratulate the batter 'cause it really was an awesome hit. All three boys were pleased with themselves. I'm also getting excited because the boys are learning to catch pop flies to get someone out. Others still run away from the ball, but they will learn.
Today was a fun day. It's been wet at the stadium, and the boys kept playing with the sprinklers and disconnecting the hoses around the place. I would usually chew them out for it, but it was hot, and I figured I should learn to relax. Even I got wet trying to connect two hoses together.

Crazy baseball boys getting soaked. My favorite quotes of the day: "Get me wet! Get me wet!" followed by "How did I get wet? I'm cold. My mom's going to kill me."

We decided to take some pictures - which I am sharing here. I was worried that they wouldn't come today because some of my boys from the mahala (Roma neighborhood) showed up late, and another boy said he wasn't coming (he ended up coming anyway). As you can probably tell, I'm having a lot of fun with this.
I wish we could find other teams to play. I've tried contacting another volunteer in my region who apparently has a baseball team, but I can't get him to answer my e-mails. If we could get together for just one game, I think my boys would flip out. I think I would flip out. It'd be so much fun, and it'd be such a good experience for them. They invited me to go fishing and swimming up at the local reservoir this Saturday, but I unfortunately have to work! Life is not fair.
I'm really happy with my boys. Even though I spend (or used to spend 'cause I need to chill out!) a lot of time yelling at them, they still really respect my game. They've developed a love for it, and they're always looking for me to play on the team. I haven't this week 'cause it's been pretty fair between them and I'm still using my "bronchitis excuse." They beg me to hit to them. They beg me to throw to them. I amaze them with how fast I throw ("Shouldn't you be throwing that ball more slowly? It's really hard.") and how well I catch. I've been playing baseball/softball since I was an ankle-biter. Cries of, "Apryl! Look at this!" "Apryl! Watch this!" "Apryl! Throw me the ball!" make me really, really happy. Some of them were telling me that they want to grow up to be football and baseball players. And they suggested I be known as "coach" from now on. They're adorable.

Crazy baseball boys with crazy baseball coach.

Friday, August 17, 2007


A monarch butterfly was playing with me today. And by "playing," I mean dive-bombing. Interesting.

The culprit.

Also, I picked up an ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) brochure in the Peace Corps office. Random, I know. Anyway, it says ADRA supports "people with psychic disabilities." Awesome. *Maybe it's possible if you allow a certain definition of "psychic," but go ahead and insert your own sacrilegious joke here.*

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Две Години

I've officially been in Bulgaria for two years. I was back at the airport (in a terminal that's been built since I've been here) to mark the occasion. Thomas left to go back to the states this morning, and I saw him off. Wow. Words fail me at the moment.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Everything Old Is New Again

I don't have much of an update for you all. I have been a super-slacker. I was telling a PCV friend of mine the difference between the Apryl of August 2006 and the Apryl of August 2007. Last year, at this time, I had had a full summer. I had participated in a couple of camps. I had been working with my colleagues, getting the educational center ready. I had been busy, but I hadn't felt fulfilled. I was, in short, obsessing about my seeming unproductivity. This year, I've done about as much - if not less. The difference is: It doesn't bother me much. I don't feel unproductive. I don't feel like a "bad volunteer." Interesting. "I've grown," I told this volunteer. She congratulated me.
It's interesting. I think I have grown. Not that I think apathy is a sign of maturity. I think I've just become a little more realistic about the expectations I put on myself. It's summer. Everyone's gone for work, or they're taking tests to get into university, or they're vacationing somewhere far away. My colleagues don't have a lot of work in the office, and they're taking advantage to get some other things done. I'm taking advantage to recover from my bronchitis and relax a little. It's doctor's orders. Plus, I've got some other things to keep me busy.
A new group of volunteers just arrived from the states. I've been asked to be a resource volunteer. Basically, I am assigned to a training group, and I go visit them a few times to help them facilitate some meetings and project writing. I'm a real-life PCV resource. I still remember Trud's resource volunteers from training. They were a wealth of information, and I always enjoyed talking with them.
I met "my" group last Thursday. They seem like cool kids. I had a good time getting to know them and fielding their questions about what it's like to be a PCV in Bulgaria. Honestly, they were cute 'cause they were worrying about the same things some of us were worrying about. It was their first week, and they were about to meet their families: "What will I say to them? What if I can't learn Bulgarian? What if I can't cut it as a volunteer?" A few of us "seasoned" volunteers looked at them, and we just thought, "We're so glad we're not in this situation all over again."
This weekend, I went to hang out with Thomas in Dolna Banya. He was finishing up some training on his SPA project - doing some team-building activities with some of his friends in town. I felt like I was in the way a little, but I did help out when it came time to demonstrate some exercises. I was the first to take part in a "trust fall" (because I was the lightest), I "walked" between a couple trees on a rope while holding another rope, I was a "survivor" on an island. I love those kind of things. The best part, however, was there were some other kids up at the "hija" (lodge), and they took part in these games without blinking an eye. They were so adorable. I love how brave kids are.
Last night, Thomas had a farewell dinner with some of his colleagues and friends. He's been cleaning his apartment (I got a load of stuff) 'cause he's leaving in two days for the states and grad school. It was a very nice dinner until... they started talking about their intense dislike for the Roma. They know that's a sensitive topic for Thomas (and me), and they still insisted on bringing it up and getting into a heated discussion about it. It was so awful and disappointing. We were thinking, "It's Thomas' last night with some of you. You know this is a topic he's pretty passionate about. He's not going to change his mind this late in the game. You haven't convinced him just as he hasn't convinced you. Why do you insist on getting into this?"
I'm going to Sofia tomorrow to hang out with Thomas one last time and drop him off at the airport. It's going to be hard saying good-bye. It's always difficult to say "good-bye" to your friends - especially to volunteers you've shared an experience with. Thomas has introduced me to new ideas and he's taught me a lot. It's going to be hard losing an ally.
As for a health update, I still have bronchitis. I saw the doctors up at the PC Trainee Orientation, and they were dismayed that my condition hadn't improved much. I've been put on another inhaler, and it's probably true that I hadn't been using the first one correctly. I've seen people use them, but I don't have much experience with trying to inhale medicine into my lungs. If I'm not better by the end of the week, I'll have to go see a pulmonologist. Honestly, I'm already starting to feel better. I still have some fluid and wheezing in my lungs, but I don't cough as much. I really don't want to go see a pulmonologist.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hot Lips

I have a new alias. We'll get to that. So, I told you all that I've been ill with bronchitis. At least, we think it's bronchitis 'cause it fits all our pretty definitions at the moment. So far, my phlegm has seemed to loosen up a bit, and I don't cough nearly as much. I suppose that's a good thing, right? The weather has turned rather peculiar, and it hasn't helped with the illness. We've had rain and flooding. There were fires in other parts of the country, but now we've got rain and flooding. I don't want to go outside. I'm sick, and everything is gray, blue, and sopping in water.
After hanging out in Sofia, I went to Dolna Banya to hang with Thomas for the weekend. He was hosting a hash. I've mentioned the hash before, but I've only ever gone with Thomas. I'll refresh your memory. Basically, a "hare" marks a trail that other runners have to follow. It's mostly made up of ex-patriates. In the end you eat food, drink beer, trade contacts, tell jokes, and generally socialize. They say hashing, or "Hash House Harriers" is "a drinking club with a running problem," but we don't really do THAT much drinking. Anyway, Thomas organized a fabulous hash, except that he forgot to tell me about it. I didn't have any running shoes or clothes with me, but that worked out great 'cause Thomas thought I could lead the walkers - basically, the people who don't run the hash. A group of walkers goes off somewhere else to get some exercise. I've never gone with the walkers before. The problem was, it was literally pouring that day. Thomas went out to lay the running trail and then came back, soaking wet, to find that I had used up all the hot water. I'm nice. So, we go out to meet everyone for the hash, and the walkers don't quite know who to turn to. And I don't know what to do because I have about as much a clue as to where we're going as they do. But they still look to me because... I'm the girl who hangs out with Thomas.
So we start walking. We make a lovely stroll through some gardens Thomas told us to go to. Then, we come to a dead end. We take another path. The path leads us to a beautiful stream without any walking trails. We decide to go back. I was ready to go back to the starting point of the walk, but someone suggested we take another trail. It was a good suggestion because the terrain was beautiful, but we kind of got out of our way and ended up getting slightly confused as to how to get back. Well, at least I did 'cause I can have a pretty awful sense of direction at times. The runners were calling us 'cause they were back already, and... where were we? The kicker was when I suggested a final trail that was off the beaten path. Yes, it would have taken us back to the starting point, but it wasn't the trail we had come in on, so they probably figured I had lost my mind by then. Actually, they probably thought that in the beginning when they saw me wearing flip-flops. It was all I had!(sigh)
We finally met up with the rest of the group, and we gathered in a circle (as tradition) to drink refreshments and take care of "hash business." Basically, if you're thrown in the middle of the circle, they talk about you, sing a song, and then you're expected to chug a cup of beer. Thomas and I were first in circle as the "hares" or organizers of the hash. Thomas did all the work. I just helped the walkers get semi-lost. I felt silly being there. Then, I was called back in the circle 'cause I'd been missing from recent hashes. So, there goes another cup of beer. Finally, I was called in one last time to be given a name. All hash regulars have an alias. Thomas' name, for example, is "Dirty Waters." It's supposed to be based on something to do with you - a hobby, a dark past, a dirty secret, etc. The racier, the better. There was talk of naming me "Child Molester" because I work with kids, but I'm really relieved they didn't name me that. Finally, after an awkward Q&A session, I decided to throw out a "juicy" piece of information and see what they did with it. No, I'm not telling you what I said. I'll let your imagination save me the trouble. They settled on the name "Hot Lips." I'm relieved. It could have been much worse. So, I went in the center of the circle, I was "christened" with beer, and I was given the name "Hot Lips," and then I had to chug another beer. Good times.
Afterwards, we had a huge, excellent, delicious meal organized by Thomas' friends and acquaintances up at the hija in Dolna Banya, and then we caught a ride back to Thomas' place while the rest continued onto Sofia. We tried as much as we could to dodge the rain, but I was soaked. I'm sure that was just super for the bronchitis. Oh well. I ended up staying an extra day in Dolna Banya because the flooding was insane. I came back early today, and the train to Velingrad was full. As that's never happened to me before, it makes me wonder if the train was running yesterday. Well, the weather is supposed to get better from here on out.
My boss was surprised that I was in the office, and he pretty much sent me home. I'm cooped up, and I'm a little stir-crazy, but I'm also liking the excuse to relax. I think I really wore myself out last month, and I'm taking the opportunity to be a lazy slug so far for this month. In other news, volunteers are starting to slowly trickle away. Thomas leaves next week. New volunteers arrived yesterday. I'm going to be a resource volunteer for them, so I've got to go to their orientation site (Dupnitsa) to meet them at their official dinner before heading out to meet their host families. The wheel just keeps on turning.... I think I'll go listen to some "Wheel in the Sky" by Journey or "Wheel" by John Mayer. Whatever. Bronchitis sucks.
Ah, I posted pictures! Check them out... you know, if you want....
Ah! And Future Foundation's website went live. Blame me for the English version... the words - not the web site layout! Check out the pictures in the gallery link at the bottom of the page.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A few more things....

So, I don't have asthma and my chest x-ray was clear, so I don't have pneumonia. They think I have bronchitis. I'm on an antibiotic and I'm using an inhaler. They suspect it's viral, but I guess I'm on the strong antibiotic just in case it's bacterial? And the PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) said the inhaler was to help clear out the excess sputum and junk in my lungs. I'm kind of confused as to why I'm on these meds 'cause the internet says that the treatment for acute bronchitis is rest and plenty of fluids. If I do have a viral infection, I don't see what good these medications are doing. (sigh) The good ol' internet. I'm sure doctors appreciate and curse it at the same time. It aids in a lot of "self-diagnosing." Plus, the internet said that I should take the antibiotic in a manner that was not prescribed by my PCMO. Do I believe the internet? Do I believe the health professional? The internet wins!
In other, fun news, I was man-handled by a "baba" (elderly woman) in Sofia yesterday on my way to the office. She planted her formidable form in front of me as I was getting off the tram. I couldn't get past her or her cane. She started pawing at me, and I grabbed all my belongings in a defensive maneuver. She then started yelling something at me. My head was racing. "What is this woman doing?" Finally, I understood her. "Biletche! Biletche!" she was yelling as she was pushing into me. She was demanding one of the tram tickets that I held in my hand. At last, I pushed by her, "Mi triyabvat." (I need them.) I told her and wandered off shaking my head. It's not every day you get violated by a "baba." Cheeky grandma.
Here's another rant. Why is Bulgaria selling all its land? I mean, I say this with very little knowledge on the subject, but it seems to me that Bulgaria is ready to sell what public domain it has just to make a quick buck. I suspect that most of the Black Sea Coast is in the hand of foreigners, and the prices of most hotels are so astronomical by Bulgarian standards, that your average Bulgarian can't even go to the sea anymore. (sigh) It's so ridiculous to me. I don't know what the answer is. I just want to rant and bring it to light. Hotel after hotel after hotel. In fact, many of the banners advertising apartments by the sea aren't even in Bulgarian! Everything is in English. It's as if people know that they shouldn't even bother. Okay, I'm leaving now. Thomas is complaining that I'm WAY too verbose. Are you happy, Thomas!?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Act + React

I don't really want to document my week at the beach in Ravda. The place we stayed was pretty pathetic (What do you want for 100 leva (about $60)) for a place to sleep + food for a week? Plus, they were about to sell the place to another investor to build yet another hotel. When my colleagues complained, the manager of the place pointed to a nicer hotel across the way. "You want rest and relaxation? There. Go there."). The food left quite a bit to be desired (They're feeding about three hundred people, and in shifts. Again, what do you want for how much you paid?). None of us ate as much as we would have liked. BUT! The base was literally right next to the beach. That was its one redeeming quality. I spent a good amount of time on the beach, and I went to neighboring Nessebar a few times. The picture above is of a c. 5th century church at night. I'll have to post more pictures. I LOVE the old town. I witnessed a harvest moon the last night I was there, and I only wish the camera could have captured it appropriately.
I'm going off on a tangent. I don't want to document my week 'cause it was a mess of arguments punctuated by a few bright spots.
Bright spots:
1. Going out a couple evenings with Katia. Drinks and bumper cars = good times.
2. Bungee trampoline. Looking down at a crowd watching me do flips = good times.
3. Nessebar. Nessebar = good times.
4. The beach. Fairly clean beach = good times.
5. Town praznik (holiday). Crowd doing the horo/beer & french fries/talking to Dad = good times.
Here are the things I learned from the week:
1. Going on vacation with colleagues is a mistake. Part of the reason you go on vacation is to get away from them - even if you love them.
2. The fact that my body refuses to tan will always be of paramount interest and confusion to people who easily darken.
And the BIG FACT I learned from the week is:
3. How you react to stressful situations speaks volumes about your character.
I guess it's kind of something a person already knows in the back of their head, but this week really pounded it into mine. We had some incidents that were yes, stressful, but were exacerbated to astronomical proportions because of how someone decided to react to them. Just to avoid conflict, I played the role of the deaf/dumb girl who fades into the background. It's not a characteristic I like in myself, but I don't see the point in bickering with people over a grain of salt either.
Several things happened throughout the week. I had an incident where I took a couple girls to a carnival ride and forgot to tell someone where we were going. Yes, I made a mistake. My colleague hit the ceiling. She started yelling in general, and then she laid into me. It was like it was the end of the world. Things just got worse from there. I take responsibility for my mistake. I don't take responsibility for how she reacted or what happened afterwards due to her reaction.
The ride home was like the icing on the cake. Six of us had an issue with our train tickets and were almost kicked off the train. We were allowed to stay on in the end, but relationships were damaged - maybe irreparably. One of my colleagues says she's going to finish the month and look for other work. It's a statement that's been said before. Even I start to think, "I'll just be here until X date, and then...?" I don't know. I made a commitment, but I didn't commit to drama and infighting. How can we be effective if we're constantly nipping at each other?
Anyway, let's move on. Shall we? Not much is going on at the office (thankfully), and Apryl is taking it as it comes. I'm enjoying the downtime and entering a relaxed state of mind. This is better than stressing about what an "unproductive volunteer" I am - like I was doing last summer.
I'm here at the Peace Corps office now. The cough I complained about in my last post just wouldn't go away. The doctor checked me out and had me breathe in a meter-sort of thing to make sure I don't have asthma. I think I did pretty well with that, so we can rule out that sort of inflammation of the airways. Over the phone, she was hypothesizing about a virus that's been exacerbated by allergies. Now she thinks it might be bronchitis. I had to go over and get chest x-rays taken. It was a relatively painless experience, but being in Bulgarian medical buildings unnerves the "I'm American and I'm used to my definition of 'sterile environment'" part of me - even though I'm sure it's just as sterile. It's all very concrete, and there's not much around.
As long as they're not saying that it's due to something cold I drank, or the fact that I've come in contact with cold water. Have I "diatribed" about this before? Okay, so everyone has wives' tales and superstitions about the origins of illnesses and a host of other things that can be traced back to cultural histories, etc. In Bulgaria, it's always due to something cold. "You have a runny nose now? Well, remember when you drank that soda with ice the other day? That's what it's from! Your kidneys are bothering you? I told you not to drink that cold water while you were sitting next to that open window!" And I just kind of blink at them because, yes, we have our own notions for tracing the origins of illnesses back in the states, but I have NEVER heard the "cold soda" theory. We had some girls get sick at the beach. One was throwing up. The doctor there asked her if she had taken a cold shower the day before. Yes, she had. "That's it!" Nevermind that we're staying a base where germs and questionable food and water are rampant. Those, of course, cannot be factors. When I told my colleague that my cough had become worse since we'd come back from Ravda, she explained that it was due to the climate change.
The thing is, I almost believe her. I mean, why not? It makes perfect sense. I went from a low elevation to a higher one, and my system just couldn't take it. I mean, hey, maybe the air changed. What do I know? I'm not a doctor. And yet the doctors and nurses here will tell you the craziest things. That's why I love having our own Peace Corps doctors who actually examine you (did I mention the story about the Rakitovo doctor who signed of that I was healthy just by looking at me and asking if I had any health problems?) and take time to review your history. I was asked by my colleagues the other day why I didn't have a doctor in Rakitovo. There are, of course, a host of reasons that I was uncomfortable sharing, but I explained that my healthcare was fully covered (Hallelujah! Thank you U.S. government that currently has HUGE problems with the healthcare system but covers most of my health issues) and they have my entire patient history. They weren't fully satisfied with that answer, and they tried to give me a wealth of proven, Bulgarian remedies to tide me over until I could get to Sofia. It's interesting to me. Wouldn't they prefer getting their healthcare in Sofia if they could? Wouldn't they prefer state-side techniques? Maybe that's just my bias. They complain quite a bit about the healthcare system and the hospital environment where they live - and rightfully so, but maybe they're actually satisfied customers.
Enough about that. I got the results back from my latest LPI (Language Proficiency Interview), and I'm right up there under the highest level possible. Thing is, I just barely squeaked into that level because, right after my test, they had an LPI reassessment and the levels have gotten more difficult. I agree that they should be more difficult. If you are going to say that I have a "Superior" level of the Bulgarian language, then I should be able to expound on abstract theories about what experts say will bring about the destruction of the world, etc. I can't exactly do that in my "packaged" Bulgarian. The PC language coordinator said that my grammar is pretty flawless (kudos to me as Bulgarian grammar is a nightmare - even for Bulgarians), but I don't speak well outside of a first-person point of view. So yeah, I'm grateful for my "Advanced-High" level at the moment.
My problem with languages, however, is that I get to a good point where I can talk about just about anything. I have my basic vocabulary, and everyone says I speak amazing Bulgarian. This is the point where a person really has to stretch themselves to become a native speaker. This is the point where Apryl gets lazy. I did it with Spanish. I'm doing it with Bulgarian. I'll do it with any other language I learn. I don't know if a person can get a job as an interpreter with such a characteristic. (sigh) I'm going to have to push myself - and make my tutor push me as well.
Okay, well, I've just been summoned back up to the medical office to hear the results of my x-rays. I'm whispering a prayer that everything will be all right.