Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Buy-In, Opt-Out

The teachers are still on strike. They're really holding out. Well, so is the Ministry. They refuse to raise salaries, and the teachers refuse to go back to work. Meanwhile, the kids... I'm not sure what the kids are doing. They're probably doing much the same thing that they did during summer - only now it's kind of rainy.
On Saturday, I went to Velingrad to try and get my laptop repaired. The shop I went to last time I needed my laptop fixed was completely dark, and it said they were looking for someone to work in the store. I went to another place, and the only person there was the store manager. As always, the actual technicians weren't around. He figured out that the problem lies with the connection on the computer side. Basically, the plug (where you attach the charger) in the computer moves around, and my computer can't recharge without me holding it in an exact position. He told me to come back this week. I hope I can find time.
On Saturday evening, I went up to the Mahala. Yanko had asked me a couple days before if I wanted to see a "real Roma wedding." One of his relatives was getting married. Ani and Valia reminded him that I had, but the truth is I've only been part of the eating and dancing. I've never seen some of the other traditions that take place at prescribed points in time - some at midnight. I was intensely bored at home, so I went. I met Maria and Reneta at their house, and Reneta started complaining about how she hated being dressed up, and how ugly she was, when in fact she was quite lovely. We soon heard the drumming, and we went down the street to watch a group of people dancing the "horo."
Afterwards, we were shuttled into a hall for food and drinks. The wedding would last two days. The first evening, the parents of the bride were hosting the ceremonies, so they stood near the front door and accepted gifts and well-wishes from... well, it felt like the entire Mahala. People ate in shifts and then left. A few danced. I saw Angel standing outside, so I went to talk to him for a bit. He had just completed his first week at the university in Plovdiv, and I wanted to know what his impressions were. According to a local rumor, Angel and I are married. Whatever. I once heard that we were engaged, but I was never notified as to when we actually got married.
I returned home early because I had to get up at 5 a.m. the next day. I caught a bus out of Rakitovo at 5:20 a.m. I planned on going to Bobov Dol and help the trainees out with their youth activity. It wasn't long into my trip before I realized that rain awaited their project: a park improvement/clean-up. On the bus to Dupnitsa, I ran into another training group from a village called Dren. They were on their way to a bigger, university town - Blagoevgrad - to hang out, and I was enjoying my conversation with them so much, that I almost wished I could ditch out and go to Blagoevgrad with them.
I finally made it to Bobov Dol a little after 10 a.m. Traveling such distances honestly doesn't faze me anymore. It's just something you do. I hope that's something that stays with me in the states. Maybe it's because I'm not the one driving that I just don't care. I found the trainees seeking shelter near the playground - along with their language trainer, the PC technical trainer (my friend, Anna), and a couple Bulgarian kids. They decided that, in spite of the rain, they would go ahead and get started. One of the kids left for family reasons, but the other stayed. We mostly picked up trash and carted a bunch of sand off the blacktop. They tried to bend the bottom of the slide out, but it proved too rusty and unweildy.
Carting all that sand to the side of the playground was hard work. We banged on it with shovels and a pick-ax to break it loose, and then we carted it to the side of the playground. The sky was gray pretty much the whole time, and it basically drizzled on us non-stop. There's still a lot for them to do, but they got the bulk of the heavy stuff done. It reminded me of our project in Trud, but we had a few sunny days to help us out.
Afterward, we went to a fabulous pizza place. I had a pizza with onion, pineapple, and olives with thick crust! I'm only mentioning it 'cause it really was amazing - with entire rings of pineapple! Anyway, after we stuffed ourselves, I debriefed the assignment with the trainees. They were proud of what they had accomplished. It was true that they had worked hard - in the rain. From an American perspective, we were busy bees. The problem was, however, that they didn't have community involvement - other than the one really cool girl that decided to stay and help.
This is the trap one can fall into as a volunteer, and I myself have fallen into it many times. I have talked on this blog about the desire to be a "super volunteer," or at least to fit one's personal definition of what a "successful" volunteer looks like. Well, the American can run around and do all she wants, but if there's no community by-in, it's not going to be very meaningful or last long. Basically, for most things in this Peace Corps experience, nothing matters if the community doesn't have vested interest in it.
We Americans are used to saying, "If it is to be, it's up to me." If we want something done, we'll get it done. Bulgaria doesn't always work like that. I don't want to step on any toes here, but I really think the prevailing attitude is, "If it is to be, the government needs to do it. And if the government's not doing it, well, then it's up to us to complain." I'm not saying every single Bulgarian thinks this way. (Haha... notice how defensive I get now that I know that Bulgarians read my blog.) Anyway, from an American perspective, us moving sand from point A to point B in the rain looked like a bunch of hard-working, determined go-getters. From a Bulgarian perspective, I'm sure it was just silly. "What are these kids doing out in the rain? Don't they know that's how you catch a cold?" It's rare to find a Bulgarian working outdoors in the rain... because they're clever. It makes sense.
Anyway, Anna pointed this out to me, and I pointed this out to the volunteers, and I hope I didn't demotivate them. I even said, "I probably would have done exactly the same thing in your position. From my own perspective, 'cause I know how hard it would be to do this, I would respect you more if you went to Peace Corps and said, 'We didn't have community buy-in, probably due to the rain, so here's your money back,' than if you did the whole project yourselves. It's not your job to rebuild a playground. It's your job to get the community motivated to do something together." Well, they can't give the money back at this point, but I was reminding myself of something very important. Of course, they did get the use of shovels, pick-ax, and wheel barrel donated. Plus, they had some other people working on things in the background. I really hope they're able to get some more kids out there to get involved in the project. They're a great group of trainees, and I have enjoyed working with them as a resource volunteer. I only hope I've been a good resource. They swear-in as actual volunteers and move to their sites next week.
That night, as I couldn't get back to my site, I stayed in a hotel in Dupnitsa. I went out to dinner with Anna, and we had a nice conversation. I find it very easy to talk with Anna. I can't do that with everyone here. I'm usually quiet, but I feel like I can't shut up around her. She's a good friend. After the evening was over, as we've done a few times before, we found ourselves saying a "just in case" good-bye. I absolutely HATE those kinds of good-byes. Basically, you don't know if you'll see the person again before they leave the country, so you start out by saying, "Well, just in case I don't see you...." It's no one's fault that it's that way, but I absolutely hate that. If it's the last time I'm going to see that person, I'd prefer to know and actually say "good-bye."
Yesterday, I spent most of the day coming back to site. I was planning on getting up at 5 a.m. again, but one glance in the mirror at my bloodshot eyes told me I needed to go back to sleep. How good is that as a litmus test? "No, I can't come into work today. My eyes are too dark a shade of red." When I finally made it back to site, the office was empty. I went up to the Educational Center and had an English class. One of my students invited me back to her house for dinner, so I went. Afterwards, I hung out for a bit with my landlords. They're in the process of fermenting grapes for wine, so I had to go see how it was done. I think they appreciated my interest, and they invited me to stay late for tea. I still have to move, however. Apparently Peace Corps can't come out anytime soon, so I have to go through a checklist of the new place myself. Bleh.
Today, we had some guests from Pazardjik who led a discussion about contraceptives and safe sex. At first, we didn't have any attendees. Ani, Valia, and Veska went around last night - asking people if they would come. Of course, as usual, almost everyone said they would. When it was time for the meeting, however, no one showed. Ani and Veska went out and grabbed women off the street - just so people would be there for the session. I really hate that. "If you're not going to come, say you're not going to come. What will I do, hate you? Hold a gun to your head and tell you that you have to come?" Better to tell me you're not going to come, so I know what to expect. Why lie to me? Then I really will have a problem with you.
My English students didn't come for their lesson either. Well, sucks for them. Now I won't be able to have a lesson with them until November - if that even happens.
I have to go get my "lichna karta" (Bulgarian ID) renewed if I want to legally stay in the country. It expires at the end of this month, and I have to get on it 'cause I'm leaving for a trip on the 17th. I'll return on the 31st, and I'm not sure what immigration officials will have to say about me trying to enter the country again on the very day my ID expires. Bleh... "lichna karta" renewal... this will be the third time I go to Pazardjik for this reason, and it's never a pleasant experience. I always have to go more than a couple times to get it done.
Elections are coming up, as I've mentioned before, and everyone's got an agenda, a platform, and now advertisements to go along with it! One of the mayoral candidates has taken over a building in the center of town, and he's put up his apparent vision for Rakitovo. I'm guessing from a drawing there that, were it up to him, he'd bring investors in to build luxury apartments in our tiny town? I'm confused, but it simultaneously makes me wish I had the right to vote and be glad that I can't be a part of democracy in action. As I said before, Yanko is running for the municipal advisory board. Here's his poster:



Awesome. He looks just the right amount of serious/scary.

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