Thursday, January 24, 2008

Съществувам!

"Sashtestvuvam!" That's a fancy, Bulgarian word that means, "I exist!" One of my colleagues denied my existence today. It's okay now. We worked it out. But I still have to digest it in my blog.
A meeting of the municipal council was scheduled for today. Seventeen municipal board members would come together and vote on a variety of motions. One of them was about a letter that we had submitted regarding the Educational Center. Basically, since we're maintaining a municipal property for the good of the community, we wanted our rent lowered from about 40 leva a month the ridiculous sum of one lev a month. There's another non-profit in our town that pays that amount, and we wanted the same to apply for us.
Yanko was supposed to attend the session, but he was in Pazardjik, and he wasn't sure if he would be back in time. I had to go to the municipality office anyway (I had mail to pick up (Grandma, that package finally came through), and the post office is in the same building.), so I inquired about the schedule for the session. I saw that it would start at 1:00 p.m., and we were the 17th item on the list. There would be plenty of time for Yanko to get back.
Well, Yanko missed the 11:30 bus from Pazardjik, and he said he would catch one at 1:00. Could a couple of us go to the municipality to at least be there when the meeting starts so we could explain/defend our position if need be? We discussed it in the office, and right away I said I would go. I feel strong ties to that center. I know all about it, I've been with it since its inception, and I use it more than anyone else.
A few minutes later, the question came up again: Okay, well, who's going to go with Apryl to the municipality for the municipal board's session? One of my colleagues (who will remain unnamed for the sake of propriety) nominated herself and another colleague. The second colleague said she had a lot of work to do, and she didn't really want to go. I said to them, "Well, then, the two of us will go." The first colleague declared, "I don't want to go alone!" My jaw nearly dropped to the floor. Didn't I just say I would go? Do I not exist? I stuttered, "What do you mean go alone? I'll be there, too." She continued to affirm over and over that she would not go alone to the municipality for the meeting - meaning I didn't count. Someone else had to come.
I went home briefly to change for the session, and I decided to call up one of my program managers. When something like this - hurtful, astounding, and completely unexpected - happens to me, I need instant emotional support. I'm not looking for advice or anything. I just need someone to listen to me. Maybe that person throws in an occasional "Man, that sucks," every once in a while for sympathy. That's all I need... someone who can imagine how it would feel if it happened to them. Thing is, the B-18 friends that I would call in such a situation are all gone, so I called up program.
I think my program manager was thrown off by me at first. I can't blame him. "Wait, what do you want?" "Just listen to me and then laugh with me when I'm done." So, I explained the story to him, and he suggested I talk to my colleague. "Yes, that will be done. I just need someone to listen to me right now." Sometimes Peace Corps thinks I'm looking to them for solutions. Most of the time, if I search them out, I just want them to listen or to let me bounce ideas off them. He finally caught on, "Sorry. All I can do is listen." Exactly. That's what I want.
After instant emotional consolation, I started crying. I screamed and wailed in my apartment. After two years, my colleagues don't trust me. My colleagues don't think I can go into a municipal meeting and get things done. I might as well not exist. I felt utterly useless. I think that's my greatest fear in life... feeling like I'm useless. So, I pounded on the table, I had an emotional fit, and it felt good.
After a few minutes of that, I went back to the office - feeling much better. My colleagues had convinced another man (a former colleague of the Foundation's) to come with them for emotional support. I had nothing against it, but I felt like again I was being dissed. So, the four of us went to the municipal council meeting.
We knew Yanko would probably be there before they even got to us - after all we were #17 on the agenda. Sure enough, the opened with a discussion about their salaries. It reminded me of the U.S. Congress voting raises for themselves. Actually, I just found out I have it backwards. A pay raise for Congress is automatic - unless Congress members vote to reject it. So anyway, the municipal council soon went into a heated debate about how much they should make. Fun times. A lot of outside people were there, and one even dared to challenge them on it. I understand it must be frustrating to watch public servants raise their salaries while you're struggling to get by. I'm sure we all wish we could just vote ourselves raises.
Anyway, that was educational and fun to watch - honestly. After that, they went through a couple more motions and then took a break. Yanko showed up. We went through a bunch of more motions and votes, and then it finally came around to us. The municipal board chairman noted our presence and then opened the floor. One of the local school directors stood and said something to the effect of, "We should be grateful to Future Foundation for taking on this municipal property and using it for the good of the entire community - not just the Roma. I have students and teachers that study with this girl here (she couldn't remember my name and Yanko threw it in), and I'm very happy with their work in that center. The council members were already acquainted with the motion, so there wasn't a need to actually discuss it. Sixteen members (one was absent by this time) approved the motion - some eagerly raising their voice in a thunderous "za!" to show that they were for it. There was no need for any of us to even speak a word.
At the next break, I stood and shook the hand of the school director, thanking her for the kind words she had said about our work in the center. I smiled at a few of the council members and ducked out with my colleagues. The two women that were with me started talking about how it was important that we all work together in spite of our differences. It's amazing how positive you can feel about someone when they have just voted in your favor. Actually, it's very human. "Wow," you think, "that person was in my court. Maybe they're not so bad after all...." If only that were a feeling you could carry with you all the time about every person you come in contact with. Then, my colleagues started discussing why they thought people were supporting us. Was it because we helped them out with this favor that one time? Was it because they saw that others were voting "za?" I'd like to believe people in our town support the idea of education and the people who work for it. Maybe that's too easy an explanation. It's hard to get past the idea that everyone's motivated by some personal vendetta.
So, after work, I sought out that colleague. I said, "You know, your opinion of me matters a great deal. I look at you not only as a friend, but as someone I turn to for council. When you said 'I don't want to go alone!' after I had already stated that I was going, I felt like my existence didn't matter." I told her that I realized that maybe she wanted someone who spoke perfect Bulgarian to go with her; someone who would stand up and defend the center; maybe someone with a stronger personality." She said that she did, and that she wanted someone who knew about things in town - about the center, and about the fact that there's another organization in town that only pays 12 leva a year in rent. Thing is, I did know about that. In fact, I've worked many times with the director of that organization - including assisting her with writing a project. I can't say I know the town or its mechanisms nearly as well as my colleagues, but I think I know more than they give me credit for - or that they're willing to trust me with. It's frustrating. Two years, and sometimes I feel like I've made such small gains. She did apologize, however. She understood how I felt, and finished my sentence, "When you said you wouldn't go alone, I felt...." "...like you weren't even there, like you weren't even a person." Exactly. "Sorry about that."
So, now that I've digested all that for the nebulous internet, how about I continue on to an update? I know you want to read more....
Monday was "Baben Den," which is like a holiday for grandmothers and babies. All the children that have been born over the past year go to the municipality and receive gifts. There's a program, and relatives and friends show up. I was glad that Yanko suggested I go with Fatme to see her relatives. It was interesting. I ate bread, chocolate, and I had a sip of rakia. I saw some people I knew. I actually got in a picture. I observed a lot of well-behaved babies. I had a boy sing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" for me in front of his relatives, and we both chimed in on "...and a Happy New Year!"
I was able to get Yanko and Krum (our accountant - not THAT Krum) to put together an account of our transactions in the center for one of our donors. I was frustrated that Yanko wanted to put over 600 leva towards the purchase of coal. I even told the donor that I understood if they didn't want to support us again (we had discussed the money going to other overhead expenses when they were first here), but I received an e-mail saying it was all right. They had given us freedom to use the money for whatever we needed to maintain the center. Turns out Yanko was right again.
Yanko has been insanely busy lately - running around helping the municipality with a project they're writing. A week after I first told him about it, I finally was able to get him to come over and look at my kitchen sink. It wouldn't drain. In fact, I had even tried using a solvent to unblock it, and nothing happened. I don't know who designed the drainage system in my new place, but I swear they designed them to clog. My shower drain is no better. He and Vesco came over to take apart the pipes underneath the sink. There was a lot of junk blocking the way. After they cleared all that out, they started scratching their heads over a chunk of solid, white, sugary mass that was blocking the pipe. "Oh," I postured, "you know what that is? I think that's this solvent." "Ah," they replied, "I noticed it was starting to tingle on my hands." It was really stuck in there, but Yanko was able to get it to finally unblock and dissolve by soaking the pipe in hot water. They weren't able to put it back together without leaking, so Yanko said he would replace one of the rubber washers while he was in Pazardjik. He was looking for that when he missed the 11:30 bus. My colleagues started commenting on that, and I felt like they were insinuating I was to blame for him missing the bus. Please. I tell myself not to be so sensitive. Yanko was too busy to replace it today. Fortunately, I ran into Vesco, and he took care of it for me.
A dozen people have been coming through the office lately. Our working space is no larger than a child's bedroom. It's cramped for the six of us. If anyone wants to come in for any reason, it's a game of "musical chairs" trying to get everyone seated and comfortable. We'll literally have ten people already in there, someone else will come, and my colleagues will say, "Sit down somewhere," regardless of the fact that to sit down would defy the laws of physics. I admire my colleagues' ability to make room and continue to invite people in. It's like a game of "let's see how many people we can fit in this tiny space." Personally, I'd tell people to go away and come back when we get a bigger office. I can't get used to it.
Last night, I went to a cafe my landlady has here in her own backyard. A group of people get together there every evening to hang out and play cards. I don't know how long the tradition has been going on, but I'm astounded by the ability of people to get together every evening for the same activity. I have been wanting to go for a while now - just have always needed to do something else, come home too late, or feeling too drained. I've been wanting to learn a game called Belot - which I swear is the national card game or something. It's pretty popular here. So, I went and hung out with my landlady's niece for a bit. She was preparing the cafe, and she gave me a couple of drinks (not THOSE kind of drinks) on the house. She's been taking care of her aunt's place while she's been gone, and sometimes that includes looking out for me.
A couple men came into the cafe shortly, and one proudly proclaimed he was the best Belot player ever. The other tried to buy me a beer. They had gregarious personalities that instantly draw you in. The first guy sat down and tried to explain Belot to me. I like to think that I'm a quick study and a card-shark in training, but I must admit that the strategy of Belot was too difficult for me to figure out last night. I was able to crack a few jokes, however, and I always love meeting new people.
A few more couples came into the cafe, and after some gossip, we began to play cards. Six of us sat down to play a version of rummy. They helped me out quite a bit with the first game, and I actually won. I had very little luck afterwards, but I enjoyed the company. I was amused. Each time someone came into the cafe (they were all men after that), someone piped up and said, "Come meet an American!" I would shake their hand and tell them my name while the other women would loudly inform me of his status if he were single, "Oh, he's a bachelor," while giving me a knowing look. Except for the smoke, I enjoyed the atmosphere. It's nice to know I can go somewhere and hang out if I really need to get out of the house... without imposing on another family.
I had dinner with Enyo and Milka tonight. It's amazing how much more I like them now that I'm not living with them. I really did like them before, but now I like them even better. I feel like our relationship is more honest. I find myself telling Milka things I wouldn't tell other people, and I wonder why that is. I pretty much keep everything in, but they've been really good to me.
It's amazing the ways God helps you get by. Unfortunately, I'm the type of person who needs constant validation. I have a friend who's said she'd like to meet "the sane, rational, calm, non-reassurance seeking version of [herself]." I feel a lot the same way. Anyway, while I was feeling "useless," apparently people decided to take note of my outward appearance today. An older man I know in town saw me for the first time since I've been back, and he said, "You've only grown lovelier since you've been here." Reneta said that I looked like a "movie star" with a scarf Thomas gave me last Christmas. Also, while I was talking to my colleague about her comment, another colleague suddenly turned to me and asked, "Do you want to drink coffee with my cousin?" She was on the phone with him, and I guess I caught his eye at "Baben Den." "Okay, but when? I'm busy through the rest of the week." He was talking through my colleague, and he thought I was blowing him off. I took the phone. "What's your name?" "I'm busy this week. Are you free Monday evening?" "Okay. Listen. This is where you're going to meet me." He sounded a bit put off, but I think it was a mix of awkwardness and confusion when I took charge of the situation.
Bleh. I've never really considered myself that astoundingly attractive on a purely superficial level. So, being seen as "Miss America" is not exactly believable nor something that I desire. I'd rather feel useful that "pretty." So far, my colleagues haven't shown me that they really need me here. I'm beginning to wonder what this third year is really going to be about.... Meh. God's in charge. In the meantime, it's nice to be flattered. I'm not going to lie. I'm a validation-seeker.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Girl in a Bubble

I had a visitor from the states this week. I was put in touch with a girl who's doing a college project on discrimination and the Roma. She was doing some traveling around Albania and Bulgaria, and I invited her to come stay with me. She was able to sit down and talk to my colleagues for a morning, and then I started dragging her around. I made her come to an English class and talk to my students. Later that evening, I had her come out for coffee/English conversation with a couple of teenage girls and me. That night, we went to have her meet Maria and Reneta. She seemed particularly impressed with the young people she met. I can't blame her. They're pretty amazing.
It was nice having a guest, and I think we had a pretty good time over the day and a half we spent together. I'm still trying to recover from getting back/moving, though, and my place is a little scattered even now. I moved down into my guest room because it has two beds and we could share the heaters. I think it's honestly warmer in here, and I have a little nook set up, so I'm still sleeping here. It's nice. It feels so good to know that this place is honestly mine. If anyone comes to stay, they will be my guest(s), and I can truly retreat to "America-land."
That's what I did this weekend. I had some stuff to do here around the house. Plus, now I have the internet. So, I basically hid out this weekend. I went out on some errands a couple times, coffee once, and church.
Friday night, I stayed with Maria and Reneta. Their parents were gone celebrating the hospital release of Yanko's new granddaughter (his eldest daughter lives in Velingrad and now has two kids), and the girls were home alone. I happened to be there for Spanish class and dinner when Valia came and asked if I'd be going home. I could tell she was worried about the girls staying alone, and I offered to stay. I honestly don't like situations like that though. My bed is a few blocks away, and I find myself just wanting to go there. Plus, I didn't have pajamas or a toothbrush. I slept restlessly.
I had my first week of English and Spanish classes, and I'm so impressed with all my students. I know they haven't studied at all since I've been gone, but it's not taking them long to get with the program again. They haven't lost much, and I'm really grateful. In the meantime, others are starting to ask me to start other classes. I get frustrated because I really want to help them, but I've been offering these classes a long time. I already teach more than I want to. Apryl, learn this lesson: You will never make everyone happy. Right. As a funny sidenote, I was asked to teach someone Bulgarian. I'm acquainted with a couple of people who had an Irishman marry into their family. They thought it might be good if I teach him Bulgarian. "What? You want me to teach him 'razvalen bulgarski' (broken Bulgarian)?" "What do you mean 'razvalen bulgarski?' You speak Bulgarian very well." I find it funny and flattering. I never thought I'd ever be asked to teach anyone Bulgarian.
As part of a project for our new, informal women's group, I went up into the Roma neighborhood with another member of the group and started taking surveys of women there. Is this a good time to confess that I rarely go very deep into the Roma mahala? My work rarely takes me further from the main street, and the environment changes the deeper in you get. It was an interesting experience in the sense that I felt like I was being scrutinized and harshly judged. I tried to be upbeat, but the sense of "otherness" was overwhelming. I imagined, "This must be how it feels to be judged." I hated it! I almost always feel a bit "other" in general even in my own town, but this was an oppressive feeling that made me want to go running for familiarity. It reminded me just how much I take for granted - being a white girl.
Talking to those women, I realized just how differently the pathways in my brain are wired. For example, there are a couple of questions on the survey (What do you dream of achieving as a woman? What would you change about yourself?) that I can think of a hundred answers to. I asked these questions, and a few women just looked at me blankly and shrugged their shoulders. I wasn't sure if they didn't know what we wanted, if they didn't really want to share their deepest desires, or if they had just never thought about it before. I have an inkling it was the latter, but maybe not. It makes me wonder, "Is it better not to have dreams? That way you never suffer disappointment. Is it better not to want to change? That way you accept yourself for who you are and avoid insecurity." I don't know, but I'm not convinced. I'd rather have dreams to spur me on and suffer the occasional failure. I'd rather take self-assessments that make me want to be a better person. I asked Maria and Reneta those questions the same night, and they easily came up with answers to them.
One of the women I interviewed was on her way to get some water at a local spring as she didn't have running water in her place. Not only was I delaying her from her task, but I was asking her to think of things she just wasn't contemplating at the moment. Sometimes we at Future Foundation think, "How is it that we want people to think about things like education and a better future for their children, when they don't even have basics like paved roads and running water?" It reminds me how incredibly blessed I am for the sheer, dumb luck of being born where I was. It's humbling, and I don't feel like it's fair. It reminds me that I really live in my own, naïve little bubble.
Onto a lighter topic, Krum is back! He found me the other night. "Apryl! They told me you went home to the states for good!" He then started walking alongside me; telling me all his troubles. He tried to walk me home, but I wouldn't let him as I don't want him knowing where I live. He keeps insisting that we have to get together. Hurrying along and saying, "Another time," is always a good rememdy for that one. He's mostly harmless and always good for a smile. And the boy who "throws" English words at me hoping they will stick is back as well! His English is getting better (despite my best efforts), but he's still missing a lot of the important sentence connectors like verbs! He's taken to endlessly asking me the translation of words and then writing them in his cell phone. I admire his tenacity. He insists I'm a "good teacher" even though I grit my teeth in frustration a lot. Ah, the characters that populate my world.... I'm not worthy of them.
I was asked this week how it is that I'm always so happy in a foreign country - far from home. Wow. Well, it was postured by someone who rarely sees me and always gives me a smile when she does, so that's probably how that works out. Still, it's a credit to God.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Flattery Will Get You Everywhere

One of my Program Managers from Peace Corps was here on Friday. He's the type of person that used to intimidate me before I had a chance to really interact with him, and now I enjoy giving him a hard time every once in a while. He sat down with my colleagues and told them that Peace Corps expects my third year to the "the most successful year in PC." Everyone gets to do two years... to do three has to have real value. The organization really needs to prove that they need me. I explained that I was a little frustrated my first week back because they were so busy with other stuff, they hardly had time to try and include me in the office work. I felt pretty useless. They assured me that things would change. I think I was just being sensitive for my first week back. I'm glad Peace Corps was here to push how important it is that I have work to do - and not just classes.
I think my colleagues got it. It's just that turning a "we should do that" into a "this is how we're going to do it" is tough here. I feel like a lot of time gets wasted here in the office. We could be doing so much more, but we come up against some obstacle like, "Oh, I can't send it in that format right now," or "Oh, I can't think of a good goal to write here at the moment," or "I don't have what I need on this computer," and then all of these excuses are followed by, "I'll do it tomorrow." Well, "tomorrow" things pile up. And I wish I knew how to help them.
Right now, we're supposed to be having English classes, but a couple of my colleagues are MIA. "Working" in Bulgaria can be frustrating.
Coming back I realized just how small our office is. I think the PC representative was surprised as well. "You work here?" He thought we had moved up to the Educational Center - which would be more expansive and conducive for working space. We just bump into each other around here - getting in each other's way and playing "musical chairs" with the computers.
I miss that about the states - having space to move about. I also miss things like customer service and not smelling like a perpetual ashtray. Ah well, there are a lot of things I like, too.
After the meeting with colleagues and my program rep, he and I went to coffee. We had a good conversation, and he encouraged me to apply to be a technical trainer for this next YD PST (Youth Development Pre-Service Training). When new volunteers AKA trainees come into the country, Peace Corps has a volunteer (usually one who's been here two years) help out with the training. In the past, it has been through recommendations of past volunteers and program's choice. That person doesn't make any extra money for the work they do. Well, this year, they're opening it up to volunteers to apply. Apparently, the salaries are going to be pretty good as well. There will be a lot of competition. He encouraged me to apply saying, "I think you'd be good at it, and we'd work well together." Yeah well, I'm not so sure I'd be good at it. Besides, I guess the CD (Country Director) will be deciding - not Program staff. We'll see. As they say here in Bulgaria, "Ima vreme" (there's time).
This weekend I went to visit my host family in Trud. I had a great time with them - as always. The thing is, I think I have to tell them things a bunch of times to make them real. For example, Vili and I get super lazy on these weekends. And our "parents" let us. We had some things we needed to do, and Vili was dragging her feet. I told them, "I have to go home this evening." They thought I was joking. Even when I told them that I wasn't joking, they thought I was joking. In the end, we had to hurry to get everything done.
Dear American Taxpayers,
I bought something with your money - something expensive. I saved up a good chunk of leva while I was in the states. Thank you.
Okay, now my colleagues are back, and we're arguing about whether or not we'll really study English. Grr.... I'm doing this for you. Don't be like everyone else and say "Oh yeah, I'll come," and then in the end - nothing. I can't handle that from you.
I was reading a beauty magazine at my "parent's" house, and there was an interview with one of the chalga singers that I like. As a sidenote, it's embarrassing in a way that I like chalga. It's like admitting to liking Britney Spears. It's not my preferred style of music, but I admit to liking some of it. Anyway, this woman was asked, "What's the worst thing that's ever been written about you?" She answered, "Once, in the beginning of my career, they wrote that I'm a 'tsiganka'(a woman of Roma ethnicity)." I couldn't believe it. The worst thing ever said of you was that you're Roma. The interviewer went on to ask, "Wasn't it difficult when magazines were writing that you broke up with your boyfriend?" (I think she has a child with this guy.) She basically told them to mind their own business.
Wow. The "worst" thing is to be called Roma when you aren't. I was trying to think how I would feel if anyone mixed up my ethnicity. I get frustrated when people call me "English," but I'm not offended, and it's certainly not the worst thing anyone could ever call me. In fact, Angel sometimes affectionately calls me "tsiganko," and I love it when he does that. It makes me feel included. Just goes to show you that one person's insult is another person's compliment.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Unfrozen

I feel badly for complaining about my pipes now. I heard about the storm that hit Northern California after I left, and it reminds me that things could always be much, much worse. I was able to unfreeze most of my pipes, however, and I can now bathe. Don't worry about me. Really, I'm fine.
So, I'm back in the office, and I find myself listless. English will start up next week, and that will keep me busy. Other than that, I want things to do. I pray something will turn up soon to make me feel "useful."
Peace Corps is coming on Friday to talk about the PLAN for the third year. I put it in big letters because something about it seems so daunting to me. I really don't want to talk to Peace Corps about how I plan to be "successful" here.
Today, I was able to help someone find work in England. He asked me to call a friend of a friend on the phone, and it turned out that he had work waiting for him and his three friends. The guy on the phone asked if I could come to England with them. I must admit, it would be interesting. It's the smallest thing, but it feels good to help someone communicate and find work in a matter of a few sentences. Why can't all my work have that feeling of instant gratification? God gave me that one as a freebie. It reminds me that I really want to do translation/interpretation work.
I went and saw Enyo and Milka the other night. They were excited to see me. They embraced me in huge hugs and repeated that I should come to them if I ever needed support of any kind. I'm counting my blessings that there's no ill feeling there. It seems that they had quite a crowd for the holidays. I'm glad I got out before then.
It's been great seeing people again. Yanko's eyes glistened when he found me in his living room. My colleagues were excited about the presents I brought back with me. Ani and Valia went wild for their "American" jeans, and they talk about them everyday and how they plan to wear them. I saw the youth I used to work with this morning, and they joked with me and invited me to coffee. I saw some of the younger kids I used to work with, and they came running up to me. My "sister," Vili, said that she missed me so much and couldn't wait to see me again. Some people couldn't care less that I'm back, but most ask me how things were back in the states. I don't consider myself having very many "real" friends here, but there are plenty of great people.
It's true what the addage says, "How can I miss you if you won't go away?" It's usually used in a negative context, but it has a lot of truth to it. My friends and family in the states bent over backwards to spend time with me because I had been gone so long. And people here are doing their best to be accomodating since I disappeared for a while and have now returned. I am counting my blessings.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

"Home"

(...and other items in quotation marks....)
So, I'm "home" from being "home." Let me say, first of all, that I'm so incredibly blessed. Yes, I make my "home" in two places. I like to think that I'm one of those "trend-setters" that have a home in California and in Eastern Europe. I'm trendy. I'm cool. I'm a "rich American."
I had a wonderful time in the states. So wonderful, in fact, that I do consider it my true home. If home is where you can feel that people love you... that people understand you... that people truly want to be with you... that things make sense on a level that is inexplicable... then yes, California is my home. It was a little disconcerting, and yet amazingly comforting, to come to this realization.
Before I went, I told myself that I would experience reverse-culture shock. I thought that I was so ingrained in Bulgaria that the states would be a pretty foreign place. Well, there were some things that struck me as odd, yes, but the most unexpected thing was realizing how easy it was for me to slip back into my "American" skin. Maybe I had never left it. It was hard in a way because I wanted that feeling of "otherness." Wasn't I a different person? Hadn't I changed? Wasn't I a little "Bulgarian?" I'm not going to worry about it too much. Maybe it was because I knew I wasn't staying for a long period of time and I would be back here. Maybe it was because I wasn't back there looking to jump into the next "stage" of my life. Whatever it was, adjusting for the "real deal" come the end of this year might not be too hard. I think the only thing that threw me was constantly stabbing myself with light switches in the beginning of my visit.
I do have to get some things off my chest about America though. I complain at times about Bulgaria. It's only fair that I talk about America's faults before I sing its praises. And believe me, I'm about to sing its praises. Okay, America. You are fat. I'm sorry, but my eyes are so used to seeing skinny Bulgarians everywhere I go. Seeing people take up so much space in the O'Hare Airport was shocking to the eyes. It's our lifestyle, and we are fat. Kudos to my Grandma Gibson for working so hard to go against the tide. You are awesome.
My next complaint is that people need to learn to speak English properly! Learn less vs. fewer! "Lifes" isn't a word! I propose we all go back and take some English classes. I want to, too. 'Cause my blog is not a shining beacon of proper language skills either. English is a forgiving language, but there are rules, people. Speak like the educated person you are!
Oh, and not many people really asked about Bulgaria. It's not like I really wanted to talk about it. I don't know why. That was my fault. I got all the way home and didn't really want to get into the last two years. That was weird, but it was just my own thing. People who read this blog are genuinely appreciated. It's long, but like I say, it helps me "process" my experience. I got to the states, and I didn't really want to talk about it. But then, people didn't really ask. It was a win-win in the end, but I think people should have an interest in knowing what Bulgaria is like beyond the "Oh yeah, that's where you live," and maybe another couple predictable questions. Bulgarians constantly push me to tell them about the states. Extra kudos to the very few people who pushed me to talk about Bulgaria.
Okay, well, I think that ends my list of complaints. Hahaha. I love the states. I have some amazing family and friends there. It all started when I got to the airport in Sacramento. I had an astounding entourage waiting for me. Some people had come from very far away just to see me for a few minutes/couple hours. I was so touched. I felt like a rockstar - all those awesome people I love cheering for me. It was more than a girl could ask for. And then, some were willing to wait while I got a shower, so we could go get some coveted Mexican food. Oh, that long-awaited burrito was so yummy. It was soon followed by many others.



So, I had an amazing time at home. I saw people I love, and that was important to me. I went to my Grandma Daugherty's for Thanksgiving. I went to the Bay Area for a girls' weekend. I went spelunking in some awesome caves up at Lava Beds National Monument. I camped in snow. I saw a fascinating exhibit on the human body... and even had it affect me to the point of dizziness. That's an interesting story. Basically, I was reading about how the inner ear maintains equilibrium, and I almost fell over. Scary. Fortunately, it was just that one time. I had friends visit me from the Bay Area. Two friends came all the way up from Southern California to see me. My dad came over from Hawai'i. We took a trip to Monterey. We walked along the beach at Carmel and went to the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium. We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge. I saw the Golden Gate twice! I celebrated a friend's 30th birthday. I baked cookies and a bunch of other goodies with my Grandma Gibson. I went shopping. I was sent a nice phone to use in Bulgaria. I was offered a new laptop, but took a computer upgrade instead (which may prove to be a mistake)! I spent a lot of money. I saw a movie and had lunch with my mom. I spent Christmas with both sets of grandparents. I celebrated the New Year with family for a change. I literally ran into old friends.
Basically, I had a lot of fun. People went out of their way to see me and catch up. I didn't realize how much that would mean to me. It was as if I hadn't missed out on anything these last two years. I didn't feel the least bit excluded or "out of the loop." My friends and family are amazing. I think, during those six weeks, I only spent one full day at home... and that was because I chose it that way. Otherwise, people were always looking to take me out to eat or invite me to do something. I don't think I've been out to eat so much in my whole life! I definitely gained weight, but I was hoping that would happen. It's America. It wasn't much of a surprise that I gained weight.
I realize that we really are quite wealthy. I write a lot in my blog about the stereotype of the "wealthy American," but stereotypes exist for a reason. I felt like there was a lot of wealth in the places I was spending my time. I didn't feel odd about it though. I thought I would, but I realized how exceedingly generous people are with their wealth, and that made me feel blessed. So, I had a blast in California, and I want to thank each and every one of you for making it happen. I'm spoiled! Literally, everyone should have an experience such as mine: Six weeks where people are itching to see you, and you don't have to work. You just get to go out and be with people you love. I feel so incredibly blessed. Did I say that already?
So, I'm back in Bulgaria. The flight back was uneventful. I met a nice girl who's studying in Munich. I was actually able to do some dozing. Once back in Bulgaria, I treated myself to a hotel room. I just wanted to shower and crash out in my own space. I got back to Rakitovo late yesterday afternoon. A student of mine helped me cart my luggage onto the bus and then to my apartment. My landlady left for Canada a few days ago, and she will be there until March or April. Fortunately, there's a very nice woman who will be coming by in the evenings to water her plants and heat her living room... basically take care of the place. She had turned my boiler on, and it was working. Unfortunately, a couple of my pipes were already frozen, and I think the boiler is no longer working. Needless to say, this is disheartening. The world is a beautiful white, and I walk in designated areas to get around, but I'm cold. I wish I could lie and say it's not so bad, but.... Well, my pipes are frozen. I have two heaters heating my room, but the rest of my house is really chilly - I mean, my pipes are frozen. Did I mention that my pipes are frozen? And I can't shower? And I have no hot water? And... and... (sniffle).
I went to Yanko and Ani's last night. Maria and Reneta were surprised and attacked me with hugs as I came in. Yanko and Ani showed up later, after I had been dozing a bit. They were excited to see me. Yanko was saying he had wanted me to come back earlier. I presented them with a bunch of gifts and the American jeans they had wanted. Fortunately, the jeans seem to fit. Well, Yanko's needs some washing for shrinking purposes, but Ani's had better not shrink. They seemed happy with them. Yanko pored over a map of California for quite some time - looking for everything. And they all looked through the picture book of California that I gave them.
Tonight, I'll try and see if my former landlords are available for a visit. Anything to get out of my house. Did I mention that I have to find a way to unfreeze my pipes?
Oh, and apparently we've had some damage to the radiators in the Educational Center - again an issue of water freezing in pipes. I don't even want to know what that's going to take to fix. I guess I will have to find another place to hold my classes.
It will work out. God takes care of me always, and while I know this year is going to be a struggle, I chose it. I hope I grow because of it. I want to see some change, darn it! And even if those things aren't granted, I will be home before the end of this year.