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.

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