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.

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