Monday, November 19, 2007

All About the Benjamins - or the Levskis

So, the past few days have been more running around and getting things done. I'm currently sitting in the Peace Corps office watching the snow fall outside. T-minus 14 hours until flight time. Telling you I'm excited would be an understatement. I can't stop smiling. Twenty hours of traveling is going to bite the big one, though. I'm not looking forward to that - but the ends more than justify the means in this case.
This weekend was a little frustrating, but it worked out all right in the end. I came to Sofia on Friday to go to the dentist and get some medical stuff done. I also had a few chats with some people on PC staff. I called a taxi about an hour before my last bus that evening. The guy came after half an hour. I had pretty much given up, but hopped in anyway. We immediately hit traffic, and I asked him if there was any point trying to make my bus. I asked him to drive me to a hostel, but we hit more traffic, and I had him let me out. Twelve leva for nothing. In the meantime, he put on a television show and was flicking back and forth between channels with a remote. Awesome.
On Saturday, I went to Plovdiv. I was ready to go home pretty early in the day, but I was still waiting for Vili (my host sister) to show up to hang out. Once she did show up, she convinced me to stay the night in Trud. Nellie (my host cousin) came over, and we had a great time hanging out.
*Randomly, I learned some interesting Bulgarian sayings from Vili and Nellie and shared ones they found amusing. For example: I told them we have "raining like cats and dogs," they told me one that's like "it's pouring buckets," and we all agreed the Bulgarian one makes more sense. They thought it was hilarious and said they were going to say "It's raining like cats and dogs" from now on. They started saying things like, "It's blowing like cats and dogs," or "It's windy like roosters and hens." Those silly girls.
I also told them that my Grandma used to say "The devil is beating his wife" when it would rain while the sun was shining. They said the Bulgarian version is "The bears are marrying." So, in this instance, both languages make no sense. They really liked my Grandma's version though. Maybe they'll use that one from now on as well.
The next day, my family was planning on making me my favorite Bulgarian dish (stuffed peppers) for lunch, but I told them I had to go. Disappointing to say the least. Vili, Veska (host sister-in-law), and I went to Plovdiv so I could catch a bus.
Last night I met up with Valia, Ani, Maria, Reneta, Sashko, and Janette for some quality time before I left. I later met up with Angel for a walk in the drizzling rain. This morning, I saw Yanko, Enyo, and a few other people. (Enyo drove me to Velingrad.) Everyone's been so nice. They've been filling my luggage with gifts for the people in the states. If you could weigh "pozdravi" (greetings), I'd have a ton to carry with me. It's such an exciting time. It makes it easier to know that I'll be coming back.
So, I'm in the office again today. Staff is wishing me safe travels; they're giving me money for travel allowances, re-adjustment allowances, etc., and it's nice. Other than that, I've been getting shots, and that's not so nice.
An interesting thing happened to me on my way back to Rakitovo from Plovdiv yesterday. I was waiting at a bus stop for my bus to Rakitovo, and a gentleman invited me in to enjoy the heater at his local magazine. I've talked to this gentleman a few times before, and he's always been so nice. Yesterday, he started talking to me about Communism and how things were so much better during those days. He asked me what my opinion was, and I just told him that I haven't lived under Communism, so I really couldn't compare. He knows I'm from the states. He then started talking about how America needed to help Bulgaria out more - to restore order and control here... to make sure the Democratic process is working. I didn't say this, but I just thought it's interesting to me the mentality that an outsider needs to come take care of these things. How responsible are we, as people, for making sure that our government mechanisms work appropriately? What should we do when we think they don't? Should we wait for another government to come in and tell our government how they should run things? It's just interesting to think about. What should America's role be? How much should they be involved? It's a definite question considering the recent elections, and how democracy was up for sale this time around in a lot of places. There are even rumors that some paid for votes with false money. How crazy is that?
Anyway, I got so involved listening to this guy, that I missed my bus, and I had to wait another hour for another one. I was so mad! I had things I needed to do! Anyway, he sat me down, asked me what he should "cherpa" me (treat me to), and he brought around "boza" (a drink you REALLY have to develop a taste for - which I haven't!) and "vafla" even though I insisted I didn't want anything. You can't escape Bulgarian hospitality.
We then got into a conversation about how much money I make. I really dislike these conversations. Plus, we had an audience. I really dislike these conversations in front of an audience. I was asked how I like the Roma, but fortunately that was a short conversation. I just wanted my bus to come! Repeatedly, he made me promise to come back so I can meet his grandson. Ah, Bulgaria. I will miss you, but I will enjoy the break.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bulgarian Bureaucracy

So, the past few days have been a lot of filling out paperwork, picking up documents, and running around for nothing. It'd be boring to get into it. I did finally turn over the keys to Enyo and Milka last night. I've spent the last couple evenings with them, and that's been good. I really do love them. I just can't live with them.
So instead of boring you with the mundane tasks and all the waiting I've been doing the past few days, (I swear I spend half my time just waiting for something to happen, i.e. a bus to come, etc.) I wanted to ask you if you're a "genius" procrastinator. I know I am. I'm just too smart for my own good! Hahaha.

Here's the definition according to Wikipedia:

"Genius procrastinator" is a type of "relaxed" procrastinator. Unlike the typical "relaxed type" procrastinator, who usually does not care about the task they are delaying, geniuses do care but do not need to put a great deal of effort into that task to do well, and therefore can wait until the last minute, put in minimal effort, and still produce a good result. "Genius" procrastinators often work well under pressure; often when they do not have a set deadline for a project, their work lags. Other "genius" procrastinators are just lazy with their time in general, and when they're procrastinating in a subject that they are not as skilled at, they usually fall under the "tense-afraid" type.
A common example of the "genius" procrastinator is the precocious student who is working in a class where the expectations are set far below their ability level in that subject. For example, a gifted writer in a standard-level English class often waits until the last minute to write their papers because they know that they will get an A even by putting in the lowest amount of effort possible, and that to expend any more effort than that on such an assignment would be wasteful.

Awesome. Anyway, I think I'm actually ready to go to the states. I can't think of anything else I have to do, really - other than pack.

Tomorrow: I'm in Rakitovo... kickin' it.
Friday: I'm in Sofia for a dental appointment and physical.
Saturday: I think I'll go to Plovdiv - still my favorite Bulgarian city.
Sunday: I think I'll get together with colleagues and have a drink.
Monday: I'm in Sofia for medical follow-up and a meeting.

For the next six weeks: Family, Friends, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years 2008, and copious amounts of Mexican food!!!!!

I can't wait. I just want it to be here already.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Nostalgia Will Kill You

I'm bored at the internet cafe, so I thought I would update my blog. I've been cleaning up my old apartment this weekend. It looks great! I wish I had kept it this clean when I was living there! My light connection burned out somehow, however, and Enyo can't seem to get it fixed, so no working after dark. I went down and had lunch with them today. That was nice. I really hope our relationship gets better now that I'm moving out. I told Milka that I was going to miss the "parno" - a heating system they installed last year that takes the edge off the cold. (I'll have to heat with radiators (which are so far proving fairly inadequate) at my new place.) She replied with, "Well, that's what you chose." "Yeah...," I said. I wish I had said, "You were in on that choice as well. You could have changed one thing, and I would have stayed." Whatever. What's done is done. At least I'll be spending six weeks of this winter in the states. (Nine more days!)
I was sitting in the living room of my old place as the sun went down. I was looking around the place - taking inventory of the memories I had made there. It made me sad and contemplatively happy at the same time. It's interesting the way an inanimate object like an apartment can become such a part of you. I sat there until I could barely see anything anymore, and then I grabbed my things and left. I have a few more things to do (probably get them done tomorrow), and then I'll turn over the key. (sigh) My new place is growing on me though. I was sitting in the kitchen yesterday - liking what I had done with it. It's really great. It's just an adjustment.
So, I found out I have to go back to Pazardjik to get yet another "lichna karta" now that I have a new place. Lichna kartas show personal addresses, and I really don't see what the big deal is, but who am I to argue with bureaucracy? I imagine the ladies in the migration office are going to be overjoyed.
Krum brought me a rose and "vafla" last night. He's insisting on coming around even though I tell him that I have a boyfriend. Half the time, I don't even know what he's saying to me. I just know he's trying to court me, and deterrents don't seem to work. Valia and Ani were teasing him (and me!) - saying he should fight my boyfriend and the victor would take the prize: me. I wavered between wanting to hit them and trying so hard not to laugh. They were telling him that I was going to the states - never to return. He insisted that he would accompany me to the airport - if he couldn't follow me to the states! He then put on a baseball helmet and picked up a bat. He joked with Valia and Ani that he would fight my boyfriend with his "gear." Oh man, I think I liked it better when he was ignoring me.
And it snowed for the first time on Saturday. And just like that, winter is here. When am I going to "sunny" California again?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Random Blog-Stalking

I found this picture while doing some blog-stalking. It was posted by one of the former trainees in Bobov Dol - the training site where I played the role of "resource volunteer." This was taken during their youth activity this last month. Cool kids... cool kids. I wish them luck now that their certified Peace Corps Volunteers.

Apryl's Third-Year Peace Corps Mission: Drive Bulgarians Crazy

This post is going to be about the wonders of reapplying for a Bulgarian "lichna karta." For a reminder, please go back and see this post, and then go ahead and read the following. Andrea went four times to get her lichna karta. Now it looks like I'm going to have to do the same. So, the first time I went to fill out the documentation. The next week I went to get a stamp in my passport so I could return to the country the day my card expired... which I didn't get 'cause they told me I didn't need it. I got back in Bulgaria with few questions, but questions were asked. This time, it still isn't ready because they changed the date on it, and I have to wait a full ten business days from the expiration date to pick it up or something. I'm going to have to go again next week. But then I know that I won't have to deal with them, nor they with me, for another year. At least, I hope not. There's some question about having to get a new one now that I have a new address, but I'm hoping for the best.
Let me take you back to the days I worked in the pharmacy at Longs' Drugs. Christi and Brandy could really relate to this, but I don't know if they read the blog anymore. Anyway, I remember how annoying the customers could be at times. Let me break down an average situation for you:
Customer comes in with a prescription from their doctor. They want it filled in an hour, and then they can go home with their medicine. Their insurance doesn't cover it. Either the doctor needs to change the script, or s/he needs to submit what's called a "prior authorization" detailing why s/he wants his/her patient to have this specific medication. It sounds straight-forward enough, but all this takes time. Meanwhile, prescription drugs are expensive, and who wants to pay full price for their drugs? In all this time, the patient can't get medication 'cause we can only administer what the doctor prescribes, and we can only discount what's covered by insurance. Do you think a sick person cares about any of this? Most of the time, they're only worried about the fact that we're "denying" them their medication. We pharmacy workers always took the heat if some customer decided to get irate or debate the issue. A lot of customers don't care what we tell them; they think they should be able to get (at a reasonably insured price) whatever their doctor prescribes for them.
So now the tables were reversed. I went to Pazardjik to play the role of the annoying customer. The first time, I turned in all my paperwork - telling them that I would be back the next week to get a stamp in my passport because I would be coming back to the country the day my card expired. I thought they were cool with that. So, I went back the next week. The ladies try to explain to me that I don't need a stamp in my passport. My paperwork in the computer should be good enough. I don't believe them (because Peace Corps tells us we need a stamp), and I tell them I want a stamp (they gave me a stamp last year). They tell me to come back four hours later. I call Peace Corps. Peace Corps tells me I don't need a stamp. I go back and tell them I think I finally get what they're trying to tell me. The "nice lady" (I'll elaborate more on this in a minute) writes down my request/documentation number that I can show them at migration. I leave and go on my trip. I get back in the country with few questions. I go back today. The card isn't ready. I ask them if I can get a copy of my Bulgarian housing contract. "Nice lady" gets it for me. I go and make a copy and then return it to them. "Nice lady" tells me to come back next Monday or Tuesday.
So, there's "nice lady" and there's "mean lady" at immigration. I'm used to dealing with "nice lady." For the past two years (a total of three times - this being the third), I've applied through her, and she's always been pretty helpful in getting me my Bulgarian ID. Enter "mean lady" this year. "Mean lady" makes snide comments to "nice lady" about me. The glass is sound-proof if you're not right up against it and speaking loudly, but I can see how her face twists when I make a request of them. The only thing she's done with regard to getting me my documentation is throw documents back at me, twist her face into ugly expressions, and make snide comments to her colleague, "nice lady."
So, I went back today. I asked about my card. "Nice lady" started making some comments about how it wasn't ready, and she told me to come back next week. I wasn't understanding why it wasn't ready because I was there over two weeks ago, but whatever. At least now I'm in the country, and my paperwork is being processed. She asked if I had any problems getting back in. I said that I hadn't because I showed the imigration lady the "request number" she had written out to me that links to my documentation, and I thanked her for it. Then, I asked if she could find my housing contract so I could make a copy of it. "Mean lady" then starts making some comments that I can't hear, but she has expressions that I can see very well. There was another man in the office, and he calmed the situation. He saw the worried look on my face, and he indicated that I shouldn't worry. "Nice lady" set to looking for my contract in a stack of papers.
The man came over and started talking to me.
Man: "Why do you need that contract?"
Apryl: "I have to talk to my landlords about something, and I only have the English version. I need the Bulgarian one."
Man: "Why? Are they not fulfilling their end of the agreement?"
I indicated they weren't with a shake of the head.
Man: "What aren't they doing?"
Apryl: "Well, that's our issue, isn't it?"
Man: "Well, it's our issue if it has to do with foreigners. Our job is to take care of foreigners here."
He then came over to the window and continued with the questions: "Where are you from? What did you graduate college with? What will you do once the 'Peace Corps Mission' (I've rarely heard Bulgarians refer to it as 'mission') is over?" I was nervous, sweating (I swear they keep it at 100 degrees in there), and probably red. Knowing I'm annoying, while it doesn't stop me from getting done what I need to get done, flusters me.
"Nice lady" found my contract in a matter of a couple of minutes, and I presented her with a box of candy saying, "This is for you because I know I only plague you here." She broke out into a beautiful smile, and I took off. I got the contract copied. I dropped off a copy with them, and I asked her when I should come in. She said to come back early next week, and then she actually explained why the ID wasn't ready yet. Anyway....
So here's the thing: Everyone sees things from their own point of view. I'm sure "mean lady" and "nice lady" both see me how we used to see some of the customers at Longs'. No matter what they were telling me, I had it in my head that it needed to be a certain way. Excuse me, but I'm trying to make my life in a foreign country a little less stressful on me... but I stress them out in the meantime. Asking for a favor after that is like insult to injury or something. I know they don't want to deal with me anymore. The difference is in the attitude. Like I said, I know I'm bugging "nice lady." I know she's frustrated with me and my requests. I know she's probably thinking, "Why does this girl keep showing up when I gave her our phone number in the first place?" In spite of being obviously frustrated, however, she still treats me kindly and with respect. She fulfills my requests and does things to ease my stress: When I came in for the passport stamp, and then later told them that I finally understood why I didn't need it, she started writing out my request number to show them at immigration. I think that was the time they were most frustrated with me. "Mean lady" asked "nice lady," "Why are you even bothering with that?" And "nice lady" replied, "To give her peace of mind." Meanwhile, "mean lady" just sits there and makes faces when I make a request. It's all about customer service, which is hard to find these days... especially in Bulgaria. It's a lesson I could sure learn to use. Even if a customer is bugging you with their own ignorance, requests, whatever it is, you're there to provide them with a service. It's best to try and be considerate. If they really piss you off, you can always complain to friends later about how annoying they were.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Rip It Like a Band-Aid

I've finally moved. I wanted to move this weekend, but it didn't happen. We couldn't get a car over to my place. Enyo surprised me by offering out of nowhere to assist me. "Oh, I wasn't planning on asking you, Enyo, 'cause that just seems weird to me." "Why? We're friends, are we not?" I took him up on it, but then it didn't work out. I wanted to get it over with, but it just wasn't to be this weekend. Finally, today, in about an hour, it was all over with. Ninety-nine percent of my crap (and I have a LOT of crap) was in my new place.
I was unpacking this evening, and of course I was comparing it to the old place. "Why?" I ask myself. "Why did I have to move? My last apartment was so perfect." I guess it's only natural. I did have to move. I couldn't take the "Hi! You have someone else's unexpected guests for the weekend... again!" situation any longer.
My new place is also great. I just get attached, and I really liked where I lived. Three things that are awesome about my new digs:
1. I have a giant bed that doesn't dip in the middle.
2. I have a rectangular (yes, rectangular) toilet of normal height. My last toilet was really low to the ground. Hehe.
3. I have a newly remodeled kitchen.
In the "things I don't like as well as my last place" category, I can list all sorts of things, but it's pointless. I moved. I'm happy. Hopefully, my biggest problem will be solved and any new ones will be palatable.
The anticipation of moving was so silly. It was like ripping off a band-aid. You know it's going to be unpleasant, and you don't want to do it. You take your time. There's all this build-up. (I've known I'm going to move - somewhere - since July.) Finally, you rip it off. You're okay, but it kind of stings.
I was in my old apartment tonight to get something, and I got kind of sad looking at the emptiness of the place. I have so many memories in that apartment. It was my haven. It was my "America" - where I could be me. I guess it's normal to feel nostalgic. It's a far cry from when Yanko first suggested I move (back in February of last year because of a misunderstanding over electricity) and I actually cried, but it's still sad.
I'm at the internet cafe, and I'm reminded of why it's been so nice to not have to come here on a regular basis anymore. People here are unnecessarily noisy (some woman here has the most awesome cackle in the history of laughs - she should audition to be a witch! She'd be deadpan perfect.), and there's smoke all around. I've been really frustrated by the smoking recently. Maybe it's because there's still, yes still, some wheezing in my lungs, (Bad Apryl! Tell Peace Corps!) and I fear I may have developed asthma. I blame smokers.
This weekend, I went to a partner meeting with my colleagues in Bankya. I had a nostalgic moment when I passed the hotel where we B-18s had our COS (Close of Service) Conference. Anyway, we had a meeting to talk about how we're doing and what kind of projects we've been working on. I don't usually talk much at these meetings. Heck, I don't usually go to these meetings, but I was able to add some pertinent information and feel minutely useful. "We've applied for these projects... we're still waiting to hear back... etc." The best part of the meeting, however, was during dinner when my dad called! And after that, the alcohol flowed and the dancing began! I realized that my favorite part of being here in Bulgaria is when I've been with my colleagues while we're dancing "kuchek" or a "horo." We had a great time dancing. It showed the next day.
Yesterday, I was able to meet up with one last B-18 for lunch. I thought all the B-18s had left the country by now, but I guess there are still a few still hanging out. I had a good time talking to her, but I spent most of the conversation complaining about my living situation - since that was on my mind.
Today, I met up with some of my favorite student-teachers and told them that we wouldn't be able to have English classes until after the new year. They were great and understanding about it. The ironic thing is that they were the most gung-ho about getting back into classes, and we haven't had a class yet! We had a great conversation about Democracy vs. Communism in Bulgaria today over some tea. I explained to them what was coming up for me (in English!) and they understood! One teacher even remembered the word "accountant." Awesome. My kids have forgotten everything.
Ah, and the teachers are no longer on strike, but there's still this weird atmosphere that permeates everything. Somehow it still feels like the kids aren't going to school. Maybe I just see the ones who are ditching like always. Anyway, the teachers said they were going to hold out until the end until the Ministry met their demands. I'm not sure what they got, and as far as I can tell, it was unsubstantial if it was anything. Maybe they got tired of the whole affair - and of not getting paid.
Okay, I've had about enough of this. I'm off to my new, giant bed.
Thirteen days until America!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Big Trip to Sanity

So, I recently returned from a trip to Slovakia, Austria, Poland, and the Netherlands. Greg, a friend of mine from Peace Corps, closed out his service and then we met up at the Sofia airport. I had a great time. It was nice to get away and visit some different places in Europe. I'd been especially wanting to go to Poland and The Netherlands for a while, so I was happy about that.
Greg and I started our trip in the charming capitol of Slovakia. Bratislava has a great "feel." Both Greg and I commented on it, and we had fun walking around the old part of town and visiting the castle - even in the rain. We then went to Vienna - where we went and saw a concert, visited the graves of musical geniuses, and indulged in Starbucks. I had classical music, mostly the waltz "On the Beautiful Blue Danube" by Strauss, stuck in my head the whole time. I've been to Vienna before, but this time was better than I remembered for some reason.
In Vienna, Greg's friend Brandon came over from the states to join us on our trip. As the only girl, I got picked on quite a bit. Sarcasm was the major form of communication for us from then-on.
We then moved onto Krakow - which I loved. We went to Auschwitz/Birkenau - the most famous of all Nazi Death Camps. I wish I could say that I wanted to go for some other reason than pure, morbid fascination, but that's probably not true. I could preach to you about the things I saw and how they should affect you... how you should imagine yourself in the situation. But I did these things and was affected little. It's shameful, but I felt so far removed from it all. The only response I had was reverant observation and a few pangs when I tried to imagine what it would be like to have my family ripped away from me and sent to the "showers."
Afterwards, we went to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. That was a really awesome place several hundred meters underground. Describing it wouldn't quite do it justice. I'll try and post pictures soon, but it won't be until I get back to the states (eighteen more days!) at the earliest.
We also visited a "dragon's lair" at a nearby castle. Krakow has all these cool legends, and they've taken a synonymous link with dragons. I loved that place. One night, we even met up with the cousin of a former foreign-exchange student that used to live with Greg many years ago. He took us out for dinner and billiards, and he refused to let us pay for anything.
We flew to Amsterdam to meet the former foreign-exchange student, Magda, and her family. They were very sweet, and they had the cutest little blonde, curly-haired son who used to scream in the night right next to the bedroom I slept in. He also gave me mischevous looks and kisses. What are you going to do? They were awesome hosts, and they took us everywhere.
As you may or may not know, much of the Netherlands is below sea level, so we learned about how some of the dikes, dams, and giant "sea doors" have been built to keep the water out. Just about everyone has canals, and they had a lovely one in their backyard. We walked around in Amsterdam, and I was surprised by all the canals and bicycles. Bicycles are pretty much the main form of transportation. There were hundreds "littering" the sidewalks. We went to the Van Gogh Museum 'cause I was dying to go there, and we also walked around the Red Light District of Amsterdam. I felt odd having girls peer at me from windows. I wanted to play the voyeur and have them ignore me. We also spent time in an area known as the Hague - which is famous for its prision and "killing" Slobodan Milosevic.
So anyway, we had a great time. We saw a lot of museums, churches, castles, parks, and I enjoyed the respite from Bulgaria. It was nice to come back though. Although, I had a monster headache and felt nauseated after the plane ride. Coming back into Sofia was an awful snap into reality. I tried not to focus on the fact that I'm one of three B-18s currently left in the country. Meh.
I couldn't get a taxi with the company I wanted, and I had to settle for a different one. They eagerly waved me over, and the driver started talking to me about how I don't speak Bulgarian very well, where am I coming from, where am I from, etc. I noticed that he hadn't turned the meter on, and we were already halfway down the street leading from the airport. I asked him why he hadn't turned it on, and we got into an argument about how much it was going to cost and why he hadn't turned it on. He claimed he "forgot," and he wasn't willing to start it now that we were already on our way. He finally turned it on, but the rest of the cab ride was silent. In the end, I paid him what I thought was fair, and he apologized for having "forgotten" to turn it on. "Forgive me if I'm incredulous," I thought. "It's just that you drive a cab all day long, and the *first* thing you do when someone gets in is start the meter. I think you saw me as 'foreigner' and 'big sucker with lots of money' and decided to try and take advantage. What would have happened had I not said anything? What would the price have been based on. I have a right to see the meter and make sure it's following the rate adverised at the airport." I only told him that last part: when he balked at turning it on, I told him it was my right to see that the meter follows the advertised rate.
I immediately looked at the meter when he started suggesting he drive me all the way to Velingrad. I'm so tired of hearing that suggestion. It's ludicrous. "Yes, let me pay you thirteen times the amount of a bus trip so I can get there half an hour earlier." I don't get it. Obviously I speak Bulgarian, so I must live there, so I must have an idea about how the system works. I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but there's no way I can be the dullest either. I don't understand why they even bother. It irritates me. Isn't it obvious since I've practically dedicated more space in my post to this than I have to my trip? Anyway... I'm just glad I spoke up. And he got me to the bus station just in time to catch my bus. Point for assertive Apryl who hides too much in the shadows as it is.
"Apryl," you say, "We're tired of hearing your diatribes about Bulgaria! Tell us about Europe!" Haha. Well, Bulgaria is what I know, and I feel like I can describe it better than my trip. My trip was great, and it needs pictures to adequately explain. What's interesting there? It's like good news: it doesn't sell. Hehe... not like rambling thoughts on Bulgaria do, either.
So, my "lichna karta" (official ID) expired on the day I returned. I think I shared in a previous post my preoccupation with that, and I've been bugging the lady in Pazardjik to put a stamp in my passport to make it "okay" for me to come back. I saw her again the day before my trip, and she was trying to explain to me that my paperwork was already being processed and migration could look it up if they wanted. I wouldn't have any problems. I called Peace Corps and got the same answer, so I was satisfied. Coming through migration yesterday was interesting, however. She looked at my passport and then asked for my "lichna karta." She looked at then and then asked me if I spoke Bulgarian.
Apryl: "I know that it expires today."
Migration Lady: "So, what are you doing about it?"
Apryl: "I have a 'molba' (official request for a new card)."
Lady: "You have a 'molba?'"
I gave her a piece of paper with a number on it, and she waved me through. That's the longest and most "trying" conversation I've had with an immigration officer. (What's the correct term? Migration/Immigration - I use them interchangably in this case.) All the other officers were men, and they just flirted with me.
Speaking of men and flirtations, I think I mentioned that Krum is back - after ignoring me for almost a year. I don't know what his deal is, but he came to my house yesterday with a couple dollar bills... actual dollar bills. He was trying to pay me back for the money I lent him a few weeks ago, but I gave him a hard time. "Krum, what am I going to do with that?" He started on some rambling diatribe about men needing to care for women, and I spaced out. Anyway, he dropped by again later with "presents" - chips, facial tissues, and gum. Ah, Krum. You make me laugh.
I'm moving this weekend - finally! My landlords don't know yet though, and today is Friday. That's bad. Peace Corps was here while I was gone, and they checked out my new apartment. They gave the green light, and I've got to get everything done before I go back to the states (eighteen more days!). I just got back on Wednesday, and I felt awful. I went straight to bed. I was going to tell them last night, but their grandson was having a birthday party, and it wasn't the appropriate time. Tonight will be the night. It's funny. Before I left on my trip, I went downstairs to tell them that I was going to be gone for two weeks. I was in the middle of packing, so I came down in a whirlwind. They invited me in and just looked at me with that look of anticipation. I could tell they were worried that I was going to announce my departure from their home. As soon as I told them I was going on a trip, they loosened up and started asking me questions about my planned excursion.
So, the teacher's strike is *still* on. Can you believe it? They've been striking for over six weeks now! I've been trying to figure out what's going on with the Ministry of Education, but I hear different answers:
1. They offered raises, but it wasn't enough for the teachers.
2. They haven't offered anything, and they're ignoring the issue.
3. They suggested firing half the teaching staff and increasing the salaries for the remaining.
Anyway, most of the schools in Rakitovo are back in session. Only one, the school Brandy used to work at, is still holding out. Rumor is that they will start up next week. Apparently, they may have to hold classes until the end of July. I don't know what the point of all this was. I'm not sure if the teachers made any significant gains.
The topic on everyone's tongues at this point are the local elections. Yanko wasn't elected as a municipal council member. Others, who sponsored "sausage roasts and juice" up in the Roma Quarter (I usually refer to it as the "mahala") were elected. The candidates for mayor have been narrowed to two. I think they're both holding meetings up in the "mahala" this evening. One of them already sponsored a "sausage roast and juice" session. As I really can't comment here what I think about the issue, (I can't even vote!) I'll let you form your own opinions. Honestly, I know nothing about the candidates and what they stand for, so it doesn't really matter what I think. I just like to think about all the pretty, changing leaves I saw in places that were to expensive for my budget.
Good gravy, Europe is expensive! Well, Bulgaria is technically part of Europe. It's in the European Union and everything, but I'm used to dealing in leva and having everything be inexpensive. I balked at €2.50 (about $3.60) for juice! I think I'm going to have a heart attack when I go back to the states. A sandwich, some chips, and a soda should not cost ten dollars. But then, we were eating at museums and airports and tourist traps and such. I shouldn't complain. People treated me well, and we took turns paying for each other. I probably came out ahead in the deal. I think I gained weight on this trip as well. That's a good thing, right?
Ooh! Another thing about Europe that is ah-mazing. Everyone I spoke to spoke English. Seriously. Every.single.person. Not once did I get a confused, what-are-you-saying-to-me look. Now, I try not to be imperialistic and all that, but how awesome is it to go to foreign lands and everyone can communicate with you in your native language? Of course, we were in big cities that receive floods of tourists, but it's not just native English-speaking tourists that come. It's pretty amazing, and it gives me another excuse to be lazy. I don't have to learn your language. You already speak mine.
Listening to Slovakian was pretty cool. We were addressed in Slovakian a couple times, and we had to give apologetic looks. I had this feeling, however, that I understood what people were saying - I just couldn't reply to them. It was weird. Slovakian seems to be quite similar to Bulgarian. Poland was a little harder. I'd catch words in a sentence, but not enough to tell what was going on. And Dutch. Oh my, Dutch... with its double vowels all over the place. Unless they said a word that was similar to English, or it was similar to the five words I know in German, I had no clue what was going on.
Okay, so I'm going to share with you the best picture I took on my trip, and it's a picture of... drumroll please... a duck!

Yes, this duck was floating around in a fountain at a Viennese palace, and I think this picture is pretty awesome. I've already received compliments on it.