Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Broken Heart That's Still Beating

You probably saw the title and thought, "Oh, great. Another 'woe-is-me' post from this crazy navel-gazer." Actually, it's a line from a song that I really like. It's become my theme song of sorts for the moment. It speaks volumes to me about my current situation in Bulgaria, my relationship with God, and life in general. I love it.
On a random tangent, have I raved about the produce in Bulgaria? Good gravy, that stuff is amazing. And it's cheap! I don't think I've had a bad tomato in this country. I just finished eating a fruit salad with chunks of green apple, a peach, kiselo mlyako (a delicious, sour-tasting yogurt), and muesli. I think I might die from the deliciousness of it all. I'm still hungry, though, and I'm still dying to eat Mexican food. I plan on eating it at least three times a week while I'm in the states (only 68 more days to go!), so I'll actually look forward to another 11 months of deprivation. So, I took a couple days off last week 'cause, you know, they were holidays. Well, it turns out that my colleagues went to the office on Thursday (Hello! Do we know what a national holiday is?) and did some project writing. I found out from Reneta when I was walking to baseball: "Today is a holiday? But my mom and dad were in the office." So, on Friday, I went and found the entrance locked. There are several offices in our building, and the main entrance was locked. So, I made plans to high-tail it out of Rakitovo. I found out the next week that my colleagues had locked themselves inside so as to not be disturbed while doing some project writing. Did anyone call me? No. I told this to Yanko, and he said, "We wanted to let you rest." Huh? He agreed to call me if they were working. I said, "Oh, so you just conveniently forgot about the volunteer." "Nooo!" he said as he grabbed my head in his hands, "We just wanted you to relax." Okay, so wait... what was the whole speech about before where I'm Future Foundation's "property?" and I need to be spending more time in the office doing, um, project writing? (sigh)
Oh, and here's something interesting: Bulgarians will switch a holiday for a "working Saturday." For example, last Thursday was a national holiday. So, to "make up" for it, this Saturday is a work-day. Huh? What's the point of a holiday? Holiday = day off NOT "switch for Saturday." Even agrees. It's a freebie. It kind of works out 'cause kids and teachers have to go to school on Saturday regardless. September 15th is the first day of school. It's written in stone, and it doesn't matter if it falls on Christmas. (Like my wit?) It's always the first day of school. Of course, it's not a REAL day of school. It's more for first-graders to go and give flowers to their teacher. They walk in, see the classroom, let their moms take pictures, and then go on their way. The upper-grades show up, but it's kind of a moot point for them. Wait, am I using "moot" correctly?
So, I escaped to Byala Slatina this weekend. My friend, SaraBeth, of volleyball camp days lives up there. When we had our site placements two years ago, she came over and said, "We work under the same parent organization! We're going to be seeing a lot of each other!" And, yes, while both our organizations are tied to C.E.G.A., she visited me for the first time because of the volleyball camp, and I finally made it up to her site this last weekend.
I had an awesome time with her, and it made me think I should have made the effort to get up there earlier. She took me out to eat at fabulous restaurants, and we had a great time talking, over innumerable cups of tea, late into the night. She took me to the Adventist church in the Roma mahala. Most of the youth she works with attend that church, and they were warm and welcoming to me. Adventists. Small world, huh? So, yeah, I had a great weekend. I got up at 5 a.m. on Monday to catch a bus back to Sofia. I literally had five minutes to say good-bye to my friend, Andy. He came to the central bus station to give me a hug and put me in a cab for the south bus station. He wasn't ready to be leaving Bulgaria. And as selfish as this is, it made me feel good to hear. So many people are looking forward to getting out of here, and the mood is kind of contagious. Andy was feeling just the opposite, and it was refreshing... especially for someone who actually is sticking around.
I literally *just* made my bus from Sofia to Velingrad. I asked the taxi driver if he thought we would make it on time, and he said, "Sure, but I could drive you directly to Velingrad. I'd only ask for 150 leva." "Hmmmm... 150 leva in a taxi vs. 10 leva on the bus. No, thank you. You think I'm wealthy 'cause I speak Bulgarian with an accent?" I thought he might purposely sabotage me so I might consider it. I was trying to make a 9:30 a.m. bus, and the next one wouldn't be until 1:30 p.m. It's quite the dilemma if I miss the first bus, but it's not a 150 leva dilemma. Fortunately, he must have broken 138 different traffic laws (and made my knuckles permanently hinged and white) to get us there on time. He started asking if I knew what route the bus takes so we could cut it off on the freeway. I tsked and nodded my head "no." Fortunately, we were able to cut the bus off at the station. I thanked him for "the exception," (What? I meant to say "adventure!" He must have wondered what I meant by "the exception." Silly Apryl and her silly Bulgarian - this is why I'm not at a "Superior" level.) and jumped on the bus. The driver literally pulled out as I was stumbling to a seat. Ah, transport in Sofia. Good times.
I made it back to the office on Monday afternoon, and my colleagues were all in exceptionally good moods. Yanko brought in cookies and soda - for what reason, I don't know. Ani had cut her finger during lunch, had practically passed out, and then was laughing about it in the office. Valia was more subdued - confiding in me her latest dilemma. Ani soon turned to me and said, "You're about to take over all my work for this week." She and Valia had to go to Veliko Turnovo for the rest of the week for a seminar. "Really? Awesome. What do you want me to do?" So, she explained, and I wrote everything down. "I know it will get done if I give Apryl something to do," she said to everyone else in the office. Of course. Why wouldn't it? It's just so rare that my colleagues actually ask me to help them in their program-specific work. So, what did Ani want me to do? During the "Week of Active Citizenship," we want to have a fair commemorating the "European Year of Equal Opportunities for All." Go and talk to six local schools about participating in this fair the end of this month. Talk to the "chitalishte" (every town has a cultural center) about space. If you can get a headcount of participants, talk to a local cafe about appetizers. I was up to the challenge.
So, yesterday, I gave four of the schools a heads-up. Basically, I got the same reply from all of them: "We can't give you any information about participants until after the first day of school." Yes, yes, but could you please keep it in mind? All except one school is willing to participate... at least, in these early stages of "hey, sounds good," they want to participate.
Yanko was laughing at me 'cause of the way I've been talking to people on the phone. It's one thing for people who know me and for those I talk with in person. At one of the schools, all the teachers were leaning in to hear how I'd express myself. It caused me to stumble over the more elaborate words. It's another, however, for people I haven't interacted with, and we're on the phone. "Hi. I'm the volunteer who works with Future Foundation, and I apologize for my 'broken Bulgarian.'" Yanko thinks it's hilarious, but then he adds, "If they spoke English half as well as you speak Bulgarian...," and he just shakes his head. People have been very patient and accommodating. I just like having something to do that's so "out of the norm."
A couple representatives from C.E.G.A. were in the office today. I have had a tepid relationship with them ever since the whole "What computers? We never promised you computers!" incident. Yeah, sometimes I can hold a grudge past its expiration date. I'm courteous when they come in the office, but I usually don't interact with them beyond, "Hi. How are you?" Well, I've decided to open up more the past couple times that they've been there. And they've warmed up to me as well. One has taken to supporting me with my project-writing suggestions, and she catches my eye when she's talking about how to formulate goals, objectives, etc. I think she respects my "oh-so-expansive" (eyes rolling) project knowledge. Quite a turn from, "You can't write fake items in the budget!" The other woman was joking with me and winking at me.
The interesting thing is, I could put the mood of the conversation on "repeat" with C.E.G.A. We get together. We sit down and eat some salty snacks, cookies, and we drink some soda. They look over what we're doing, and then Yanko and C.E.G.A. reps get into a heated discussion (filled with jokes to break the tension) about why we're doing things the way we're doing them and why they're wrong. Then Yanko will ask for money for something, and C.E.G.A. will deny it. The nice thing is, the jokes really do lighten the mood. I don't know. I really think we have an interesting love/dislike-to-some-extent relationship with C.E.G.A., but we both need each other. The funny thing is, as of late, I find myself agreeing more with the stances C.E.G.A. takes on funding issues. In the past, I would have almost always agreed with the other side - whoever it may be.
I'll be back in English classes next week. I've decided only to continue with the teachers. That will be plenty for me this round. I've done the "four classes a day" thing, and I'm over it. My kids have been asking when we'll have English, and now I get to look into their disappointed faces when I tell them we're not. I know. I'm the "bad guy." It's just that it's a "pick your assignment" adventure as a volunteer, and I've decided I don't want to teach classes all day long to people who may or may not show up. As the teachers were the most reliable and well-behaved, I've decided to go ahead and continue with them.
It will be interesting trying to explain my upcoming schedule to them, however. Basically, I'll be completely unreliable until after the New Year. First, Peace Corps will be knocking at my door for some "experience" support until the trainees swear-in. After that, I'm going on a trip for a couple weeks with a COS-ing (do you know the acronyms now?) volunteer. Then, I have about half a month until I return to the beloved motherland for six weeks. I love being a pseudo-slacker. They'll just have to take what they can get.
And now, for the weather report. We had some nice days last week. They were followed by rain. Ever since then, the weather has decided to get progressively chillier. The sun shines, but there's a chill in the air. I love it. Everything feels fresh and awake. I feel alive. I just don't want it to get any colder. Last year, Jack Frost gave us a wimpy excuse for a winter. I'm thinking he'll unleash with a vengeance this year. I can wait. I am placated by the thought that I'll be spending over a month of this Bulgarian winter in my beloved California.
The new group of trainees found out their site placements this last Monday. They met their counterparts yesterday, and I can only imagine that they are all in their new sites today. I almost envy them. Yes, it was a completely nerve-racking and stressful time, but everything was so new and interesting. I don't think I want to relive it, but I want to experience something utterly soul-baring, heart-palpitating, this-is-going-to-change-everything new. It'll probably be another year before anything like that happens, but I should be careful what I ask for.
I'd like to state my gratitude to my amazing and wonderful laptop. It has been there for me many a time. It doesn't matter whether I'm lonely or what-have-you. My laptop has seen me through varying trials in this Peace Corps experience. I'm so grateful to have it - even though it's also a ball-and-chain of sorts. So, yeah, I'm addicted to it. That being said, it's being completely infuriating. For a while now, it's been overheating. Yeah, geniuses put the fan on the underside of the laptop, so I don't see how it's supposed to cool itself... while it supports itself... while doing complex calculations. I've basically dealt with that problem, but now the power cord isn't connecting properly with the computer. I have to fiddle with it to recharge the computer/stop it from draining its battery. Well, this has started to overheat as well (if it's not connected properly) and I've actually caught it smoking on a couple occasions. SMOKING! There's no smoking while recharging the laptop! (sigh) I feel a Christmas wishlist present in the works.... Otherwise, what else will I find to drain my time with by posting to this blog, etc?

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