Friday, September 28, 2007

Elections: Cool By Association

The local mayoral elections are coming up, and it's like high school all over again. Rakitovo is small enough that just about everyone knows everyone - or at least everyone knows someone who's related to someone, so they know everyone by only a few degrees of separation. Questions such as, "Who are you voting for?" and "Who's running?" are not uncommon. Rumors and gossip abound. My boss, Yanko, is running for municipal council, and he likes to be "in the know." Elections are going to be next month, and I'm sorry I'm not going to be here for democracy in action. A couple people have joked that I should run for something. Awesome. I would love to be the mayor of Rakitovo. I wonder how long it would take before they impeached me.
Yesterday, we had our fair to celebrate the "European Year of Equal Opportunities for All." As is habit, I was designated photographer. Angel and some of his friends passed out balloon and brochures, and my other colleauges ran around like crazy getting everything in order. The show went well - with a lot of people of all ages and backgrounds participating. We had hoped for a bigger crowd, but I would say the "chitalishte" was 65% full. I had a good time hugging kids and joking around with them. A handful of the Roma boys that I've been playing baseball with are now enrolled in an integrated school with better educational standards. I'm so thankful for that. One of the boys asked me this morning what was going on with baseball. When I told him that we'd wait until next year to play again, he said, "Next year! It might as well be forever." Time is an interesting concept in children. I wish I could go back to the days when a year felt like forever.

Pictures from the fair.

Fair crew.

Something interesting about Bulgarian culture: People don't necessarily introduce you here when you casually enter a group. For example, let's say you come upon a friend drinking coffee, and you sit down with her. Now, it's obvious you don't know the other friend she's sitting with, but no one bothers to introduce the two of you. You have to take it upon yourself to introduce yourself to new people. When someone wants to meet you, they'll still say something like, "Well, aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?" But then they'll get a response like: "Well, go ahead and introduce yourself then." It's very strange to me. People can sit at a table for hours without having made each other's acquaintance.
Today, my colleague, Tsetska, and I were sitting at a cafe when a guy came over and started talking to both of us. He had seen me carrying a bat around town, and he started joking with me about how I'm the "girl with the bat." "What do you carry a bat for?" He turned to Tsetska and said, "Aren't you going to introduce me to your colleague?" "Go ahead," he was told. "Introduce yourself." He then started asking if I liked Cyrillic letters and how he could join the Peace Corps. He was a goofball.
It's interesting being the American around town. As I've mentioned before, many people think I just came with bucketloads of money to help the Foundation and... who knows what else? I don't think they've necessarily thought beyond that. I'm American, therefore I have suitcases full of money stashed somewhere. Sometimes people try to play the "cool by association" card. I don't necessarily understand that one. The other day, one of my neighbors was hanging in the center with some guys drinking coffee. As I walked up, he turned to one of the guys who was watching me and said, "Look how we know each other." As I walked by, he smiled and said, "Hi, how are you?" I returned the greeting and continued on my way - all the while feeling their stares. It is like high school. I'm like the untouchable one - I'm not necessarily known or understood, but you can impress people if you can show that we're used to having some kind of interaction. I don't get it.
And I still get stared at in the center - not so much as I used to since people are used to me, but there's an overwhelming amount of men who drink coffee in the center in the mornings (and sometimes all afternoon as well). They don't seem to tire of staring at me. I can't wait 'til I trip on a step and fall flat on my face. It will be interesting to return to the states, where I can't possibly be introduced as "The American."
So, I found another place to live. Well, Yanko had already put this place in the works from the beginning. I was slated to move in with a former teacher (and also one of my former English students) before her daughter objected and sent me searching for other housing. Well, her daughter rescinded her objection, but I had already found a new place. Now that this other place fell through, I'm back with the teacher. Her house is lovely. The only "complaints" (if you can call them that) is that I have to walk through her living room to go to my apartment. That, and the rooms all have a disconnected feel because it actually feels like living on the second and third floors of someone's house - not a separate apartment. It's hard to explain without you all actually *seeing* it, but I'm sure I'll be posting pictures after I move in. Now it's just a question of Peace Corps approving it and her putting in some additions like an electric stove and a refrigerator. Otherwise, the place is awesome. I will have a big bed (as opposed to the twin I sleep in now), and there are balconies all around. I think I'm going to have to share a balcony so she can hang clothes, and I'm not exactly clear on whether or not she'll be using the washing machine in the kitchen or not, but I feel like, at this point, anything is better than having to live with perpetual "unexpected guests."
Tomorrow, I'm seeing another friend off as she leaves Bulgaria. On Sunday, we're continuing our work on a mammoth project proposal. My colleague, Tsetska, has submitted a formal resignation. My colleagues aren't going to be in the office for part of next week, and I don't know where that puts me during that time. Have I mentioned in this post yet how much I'm looking forward to going back to the states for a visit?
Sharing a random thought that crossed my mind today: Another volunteer just told me that he doesn't "feel like [he] owns [himself] here." True. Today I was thinking, "Never have I felt so amazingly independent and yet so utterly helpless."

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