Sunday, October 14, 2007

Little Trip to Sanity

So, Peace Corps needs to come out and do a check of the apartment I'm planning on moving into. I was going to have them look at both possibilities and then choose the best one. Well, apparently Peace Corps is too busy to come out at the moment, so they sent me a checklist to fill out. I have to look for things like... making sure the apartment is "away from landslide prone locations, rivers and ravines, rail stations and major industrial pollutants" and "safe water heaters" and the like. So, with my little list in hand, I went to the first place: the place where the guy said he wasn't going to remodel and then decided that he would remodel after all. We woke up his napping wife, and I felt like a jerk for imposing. Yanko wasn't fazed, however. She took us upstairs and showed us what they were doing. The place was getting ripped apart. I couldn't answer any of my questions, which was just as well. I was thinking how cool the place was, when we ran into her husband as we were walking out.
"So, you saw what we were doing up there," he said.
"Yeah," I replied. "When will it be ready?"
"Well, you can see how much we're doing. It'll be a while."
I explained to him my upcoming travel plans and told him that I had hoped to be in before I went back to the states. He wasn't so sure, and then he started talking about how they were making the place exquisite for me; they would buy new furniture and everything. Okay, that sounded cool. "So, that means the price is going to go up."
My heart sank, "By how much?"
"I can't let you live here for less than 100 euro."
Why was this guy talking to me in euro? We deal in leva here. "So, 200 leva."
I started talking about how that seemed like a lot of money and Peace Corps wasn't going to agree to pay that much. He then started talking about how America is a wealthy country, and Peace Corps has money to burn. I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. Everyone could see how uncomfortable I was, and they were just laughing, so I decided to make the best of it.
"You wanna give me a car, too? How about a goat and some chickens?"
They just laughed. I'm honestly tired of people thinking I have unlimited access to money. My only problem is where to spend it all. Sure, geniuses. Let's think about that again....
So I wrote Peace Corps. Sure enough, I was denied. It was a relief. I called the guy and told him.
"Well, explain to Peace Corps that you're getting a whole floor and...."
I cut him off, "They're not going to go for it." They had already approved the first price when he quoted 160 leva a month, and I told him that 160 was going to be their ceiling. He tried to talk me into fighting for it, but I told him I had found a place when he told me that he wasn't going to remodel, so I was going to stick with that. Now, I'm just hoping that works out. Again, hopefully it'll all get clarified before I go to the states.
What's funny to me is that the place I currently live in is better than that other apartment, and it has all the amenities he's talking about giving me. It's sad, but we all know the reason why I can't stay there any longer. Speaking of the reason I can't stay there any longer, they were back again this weekend. I had to escape. I'll get to that.
Enyo and Milka invited me to go to Enyo's sister's place for dinner. She had made "pulneni chushki" (stuffed peppers) and "mequitsi" (fried dough), and since those are my absolute favorite Bulgarian dishes, I couldn't refuse. It was interesting going and seeing the house Enyo grew up in; raised his family in for a few years. There were once 11 people all living in that house. Amazing. I still refuse to feel guilty for wanting to live alone - no matter what Bulgarian culture dictates.
So, as I said, my two least favorite non-guests came by, and I had to get out to preserve my sanity. I called a friend and asked if I could visit her, but she never got back to me, so I decided to go to Sofia and play "independent girl hits the big city." It was the best idea I've had in a long time. I thought, as a plus, I could pick up some books Thomas had been wanting. Well, that goal wasn't fulfilled, but the trip was definitely worth it.
The hostel I usually stay at was full, so I got to try out a new place. The owner was a really friendly guy who carried on a pleasant conversation with me in Bulgarian. When he found out I was from California, he asked if I spoke Spanish. Then he started talking to me in Spanish. Whoa. Awesome. Then his friend came by with gin and tonic. Then a real, live Spanish girl showed up. We were enjoying listening to the owner strum his guitar and sing songs in Spanish. I was jealous of his ability to switch between English, Spanish, and Bulgarian with facility. I've complained about my struggles with that. The brain is an amazing thing. Mine is always ready to produce the Bulgarian word for something when I'm looking for the Spanish one. Fascinating and infuriating.
That evening, the Spanish girl and I went out. I tried my best to speak Spanish with her, but I was failing miserably. Of course, I understood everything she was saying. I just struggled to respond. We spent a lot of time speaking in lame, old English. Meh. We had a good time, though. We found a restaurant with traditional, Bulgarian food, and she told me to order for her. Then, we walked all over the center to try and find a place to get a beer. I dragged that poor girl all around. She was a good sport, though. And I loved listening to her speak Spanish. No one beats the Spanish at speaking Spanish. I love that language.
So, I went out to look for books and do some shopping therapy. I found some Spanish schoolbooks for my lessons with Maria and Reneta. I'd been wanting that for a long time. As for clothes shopping, it seems that one can never find anything they like when they're actually looking. C'mon girls, you know what I'm talking about. You want to buy yourself something cute to make you feel good, and everything is either too expensive or just isn't your style. You go out to support a friend with her shopping therapy however, and everything is calling out to you, "Buy me!" Yeah, so everything I liked was ridiculously expensive. I did splurge on some jeans, though. Anyone with me would have sworn that I actually am an American with money to burn. I waver between loving my new jeans and having buyer's remorse.
Clothes shopping in Bulgaria is an interesting experience. Usually, when you go in a store, you get ignored. No one is at the front to greet you. Sometimes they do greet you, and that's nice. And you're left alone to shop. I've been in stores at times, however, where they won't leave you alone. That's the most unnerving of all.
Like today, I walked into a brand name store, and the girl was right by my side. Huge smile. "Can I help you find anything?"
"I'm just looking, thanks."
She smiles, and I wander off to look at some enticing denim. As I'm fingering it, she's right behind me. "Do you want to try that on?"
"I'm sure I will in a minute," I reply.
I grab a couple pairs, and she's Smile. "That's going to be too big on you. You're going to need a smaller size."
Smile. "This is fine." I think I know what size I wear. And even if it is big on me, I know what I like.
Smile. "You need a smaller size. Here, I'll get it for you."
Fortunately, she couldn't find a different size of either of the jeans I was holding. I almost got both pairs 'cause they were that awesome and made me look that good, but then I regained my sanity. Her colleague was right there next to her. Smile. "Can we interest you in a blouse or a sweater to go with your new jeans?"
Smile. "No, thank you."
Smile. Credit card. More smiling. Deal closed. They're happy, and I'm happy... except for brief, anxious moments of buyer's remorse, "Apryl, you could have done so much more with that money. What was that everyone says about the wealthy American?" All that hovering on their part must equal a pretty hefty commission. Maybe they're working their way to affording their own pair of ridiculously-priced jeans. Well, I'm wearing them as I type this, and I'm telling you... I can feel how awesome I look in these jeans. Hahaha.
So, I went to another book store to find some books for Thomas, and I came face to face with the eerie stare of one of the employees. It probably would have bothered me, except that he was really cute. I felt his eyes on me, and I figured he was probably thinking I'd look great in the pair of jeans I was holding onto. Haha. Either that, or he thought I looked like a complete goofball. I asked the cashier something, and she motioned to him that she thought an old guy in a heavy overcoat had stolen something. He walked out for a moment, then he came back in and said to her quite seriously, "Just because he's an old guy in a big coat doesn't mean he stole something." He wandered off, and she made a face. I smiled at her, but I thought, "Oh my goodness, I love this guy." So, M-Tel guy in Velingrad, bookstore guy in Sofia... I'm adding to my list of "Bulgarians I'm not-always-so-secretly infatuated with." Just in case you briefly forgot that I can be a superficial girl... yeah. Cute boys drooled at from afar, expensive jeans, good conversation... it was a great weekend for "independent girl takes on big city." Mostly I just enjoyed the conversations and time spent with new people. It's been something I've really missed, and I've been craving it for a while. I'm don't think I'm a great conversationalist, and I think I put too much pressure on myself at times... the extrovert trapped in an introvert's body.
While waiting for the bus, I ran into the famous Krum. He has started talking to me again as of late, and he's always a joy. He broke into a smile when he saw me at the bus station, and he came right over and started whining about how how he was really hungry. He wanted me to help him out. I gave him four leva, and he was off! A minute later, he was back with "vafla" (a wafer with chocolate in the middle) for me. I tried to refuse, "I don't want this," but he shoved it on me. As the bus was taking off down the road, he hailed it down. We thought he was getting on, but he only jumped on long enough to say, "Where's Apryl?" When he saw me in the front row, he shoved a red carnation in my hand - along with a card that said "I love you" and a stick of gum. Then he jumped off again. The bus started talking about how he must really be in love with me. I couldn't decide whether to be mortified or die of laughter. He used most of the money I gave him to buy me presents. Oh, Krum.
Anyway, I'm off this week on a trip around Europe. Wealthy American strikes again! When I come back, countdown to Operation "Visit Motherland" is in full-effect and full-force! Whatever that means.... I'm just excited... and terrified.

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