Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Toleration

I've been meaning to mention that I entered a couple of my photos into a contest to show the meaning of the word "tolerance." The first caption says: "In spite of having different traditions and ethnicities, we find a common language through a new game: baseball. All of us, Roma, Bulgarian, Bulgarian-Muslim, and an American, are tolerant towards others." The second caption says: "They're not worried that one is Roma and the other is Bulgarian. They just want to get the steps right for a waltz." My pictures have been in the first position on the website since they were posted. Even though new pictures get added regularly, my baseball boys are always the first picture people see. I'm hoping that means they really like me. Otherwise, it's just an oversight.
You know, I've been thinking, and I've been wanting to share a few things with you that I've been thinking. These are my "deep thoughts." Well, no, but I have some random thoughts I wanted to get out there.
You know, I really don't like living in a place where I'm not obligated to follow through on even the smallest things... nevermind big things. I've whined about this several times in my blog. It seems as though Bulgaria is a place where keeping your word isn't necessarily expected or valued, and yeah, I hate it. It encourages me to be lazy. This inevitably leads me into bouts of frustration and sadness. I'm a person who needs structure and consequences.
I think I'm finally crawling out from under this confounding illness, but I'm still weak. I decided not to go to Velingrad with my colleagues. They hadn't planned on me coming anyway, and I knew it would just exhaust me. It's been pretty awful having to be cooped up inside all the time though. I'm leaving in a little bit to meet some friends for coffee. I need to get out of my house. Plus, we need to talk about the fundraiser this weekend. The thought of getting up, however, is exhausting me. Meh. My butt is killing me from sitting in my bed.
Once, when I was visiting Thomas, his neighbors were making some unexpected "improvements" to their apartment. I'm going to try and explain this as best I can: Their door was across from his and a little to the left. They decided to put up a wall right next to Thomas' door. They then put a door in this wall and made it their new entryway. In this way, they probably gave themselves an extra 1.5 square meters where they could put their shoes and coats. I was appalled. It was literally right up on Thomas' door. "Do you think they have the right to do that?" I asked Thomas. He shrugged. "Probably not, but if someone complains, they can probably just pay a fine and keep it."
And this is what I don't like. And this is what Bulgarians don't like either. It's just that I think they feel powerless to change anything. Interestingly, a part of the government is currently trying to shake things up. Four votes on non-confidence have taken place against the ruling coalition. "The government must resign because its corruptness inflicts heavy damages on Bulgarian citizens and discredits Bulgaria's authority within the EU." However, as the party in power occupies most of the parliamentary seats, there probably will not be a shift in power due to these motions. I cannot say whether or not the government here is corrupt. I know an overwhelming number of citizens here believe that it is. What I can say is that I admire those who act on their beliefs. There's a big difference between talking and doing. And in my case, writing and doing.
I just got in from a meeting with the two girls who have taken charge of the fundraiser. At this point, I should probably be stressing, but I'm not. I think the reasons for this are two-fold: 1. I'm too sick to care. 2. These girls have literally taken care of everything. They are one step ahead of me. I'm impressed. What I'm not impressed with is how many people said they would be helping out and how many of those same people are now backing out. I can't say I'm surprised, but I never fail to be irritated by it. I've learned not to rely on people here. That's why these girls are so awesome.
I stopped in on the card-players this evening. In the beginning, it was really interesting with them. Now, they play games I can't follow, and I'm mostly ignored. I just went 'cause I needed to be around other humans. You know what's interesting? They never shuffle the cards (that's why I'm so interesting to them), and they throw cards down on the table with a fury (like the one who throws the card down the hardest wins). At one point, a woman refused to answer her phone because she was in the middle of a game. That came as a shock to me, 'cause it seems that people here answer their phone no matter what's going on. My students answer their phones during my Engish sessions - much to my chagrin. Of course, they hang up quickly, but phones do not usually go unanswered here.
Another random thought about phone etiquette that strikes me as interesting: It's normal for people to answer the phone with "Kazhi!" which is like the equivalent of "Speak!" To me, it sounds like, "What do you want? You're bothering me," but that's probably not how it should be taken. I remember the first time Angel said that to me when I called him. I was really upset. I didn't even know what to say. And this concludes my non-linear bout of thinking for this post....

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I'm Pro-Crastination

...and I'm out for the count. I have the bird flu. I swear. I ate eggs last week, and now I'm dying a horrible death - coughing, aching, sniffling. Nevermind that I might actually be getting better. I've been debating taking the Tamiflu that Peace Corps has given us in case of infection. Okay, not really. And the bird flu is no laughing matter. I read a story that a 23-year-old Vietnamese woman died of the bird flu yesterday. They're not sure how she was infected. It's hard not to let your mind go there: "I ate my eggs from my neighbor's chickens last week. Did I wash the shells and my hands well enough afterwards? Did I cook them well enough?" I remember reading a medical book at my grandma's house when I was young. It was designed to help the reader self-diagnose illnesses based on their symptoms. By the end of the afternoon, I swore I had every illness in the book. Bird flu aside, I've been really sick, and it sucks. I was actually supposed to go to the Peace Corps Medical Office today for a vaccine, but they told me to just stay home.
The Peace Corps Director was visiting last week from Washington. I was invited to a luncheon last week with several other volunteers to meet him, his wife, and his entourage. I had been asked to give a short presentation on the perspective of a volunteer who's been in-country for over two years, but the conversation took a different tack. In the end, I was glad that I didn't have to speak in front of that whole group of people. Here's the bio they were given on me:

Apryl Gibson, YD B18, site Rakitovo

Apryl is from Sacramento, CA. She graduated from La Sierra University in Riverside, CA with a Degree in Spanish in 2003. Apryl has worked with youth as an ESL tutor and had an Internship as a translator for a small business development center.

Apryl is a third year volunteer, and has been living in Bulgaria since August 2005. She works with an NGO called Future Foundation in Rakitovo, southwest of Pazardzhik. This Foundation promotes Roma integration and better life opportunities through education. She is recognized within Peace Corps Bulgaria for her exceptional Bulgarian language abilities.

I like the bio. I think it's flattering - except that it doesn't mention what I do in Rakitovo. It's like Peace Corps thinks I only speak Bulgarian all day long. Actually, that's probably an accurate description. Haha. "Apryl's Bulgarian rocks, but for the life of us, we can't figure out what she does in her site."
This Saturday, I went to a small village with my colleagues to meet with other, local organizations who want to make the world a better place. There's another Peace Corps Volunteer living in this village of a thousand, and her colleague insisted that I stay the night with her. I felt awkward - like maybe the volunteer was being put on the spot to host me. Bulgarians don't see spontaneous house guests the same way that many Americans do. It worked out well though.
I was immediately given clothes to go work out in her colleague's garden. I was roped into planting onions, and I loved it. It' been forever since I've been out working in a garden, and it almost made me wish that I lived in a tiny village. Afterwards, the other PCV and I went out into Pazardjik to grab some dinner. We then went to an underground club where a cover band was playing some old rock songs. It was a cool atmosphere, but I soon realized that I was falling desperately ill.
I made it back to my site the following afternoon, and started drinking vitamin drinks. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous as of late, and it's almost painful to have to stay inside. I sat out on my porch the other day - dozing in the sunlight. Being sick bites the big one, but it's a good excuse to rest. I've been watching movies and sleeping a lot.
Tomorrow, we're supposed to go to Velingrad for a team analysis meeting and project writing. I'm almost hoping I'll still be too ill to attend that one as well. I hate team analysis meetings 'cause we sit around and point out each other's failings. I know I'm imperfect. Can I live with this knowledge without having every flaw pointed out to me? I'm not good with handling criticism. It's a character flaw.
This next weekend, the students at one of the schools are having a fundraiser to help a girl who's pretty ill with cancer. I'm so incredibly proud of these students. They've pretty much done the whole thing without any help from me. I just spurred them on. This is exactly how it's supposed to be, but I can't help but feel useless. I wish I were more involved. That way I could take more credit. Hehe. Actually, at this point, I just hope people show up. I'm really scared that we're going to get a small turnout, and I feel that this initiative needs to be successful - not only for the girl that we're raising funds for, but for the self-confidence of all involved. I definitely don't want this to be the last initiative of its kind. I want these kids to go on to do bigger and better things. I want them to be encouraged to take on the world. I want me to be encouraged to take on the world....

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Scalding Irony

As I mentioned before, some of my pipes have been frozen the past few days. This means I haven't showered in three or four moons. I was turning into that girl - the smelly one.
Tonight, I was ecstatic to find that my shower was running again. I immediately dashed in for some needed refreshment, only to find out that the "cold" nozzle was still frozen, meaning that the only shower option was "scalding hot." I stood there - cursing the irony of the situation and getting a steam. I used the precious ten seconds at the end while the water went from "scalding hot" to "arctic ice" to throw some shampoo in my hair and try to rinse it out all at once. I felt dirty all through my shower, but now, amazingly, I feel pretty clean. I bet I'll still have greasy hair tomorrow. Who says extreme temperatures can't be fun?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Design and Management

I haven't had a blog comment since I've been back in Bulgaria! (sigh) I wish I were popular. Hehe. My posts are probably too long and mundane. I bet if I had a blog dedicated to the trails and tribulations I live through with my boyfriend, "Raging Alcoholic with Identity Disorder" and my lover, "Insecure Rocker with Purple Leather Jacket Collection," I'd get tons of hits and comments from people who understand what I'm going through. But alas, I'm just a girl living in Bulgaria. Where's the drama in that? They won't make a miniseries out of me anytime soon, that's for sure.
My pipes are frozen again. It's frustrating, 'cause it didn't seem like it was that cold over the weekend. I slept soundly while Jack Frost did a number on my pipes. Meh. And the fan on one of my heaters has stopped working. That fan makes a huge difference when it circulates the air to warm up the room. Whine, whine, whine.
This past week, I went to help out with a Project Design and Management (PDM) workshop in a town called Hissar. The one other volunteer from my group who extended was also there, but we were surrounded by over 80 volunteers who appeared on the scene after us. It's not easy for me to jump into a new crowd of people, and even though pretty much everyone was nice, I missed the other volunteers in my group. But, like I said, the people were nice, and they let me hang out with them.
I think the training itself went well - at least for our group. I was partnered with six other staff from Peace Corps, and our task was to train volunteers and their Bulgarian counterparts on the basics of project design. We had about 36 people in our group, and they seemed to grasp the concepts well. I even got to do some interpreting. Even though I was far from perfect at it, I loved that part the most. There was one part in the training where I lost a bit of self-confidence and fretted that I wasn't being clear, but people assured me that I was doing fine. Strangers and acquaintances alike told me that I am a good facilitator - so, what more can you ask for?
I was asked a couple of times why I say "yes" when Peace Corps asks me to do these trainings. I've mentioned before that I don't exactly enjoy getting up in public. Well, the truth is, it always sounds good when Peace Corps asks at first. I think, "Hey, it'll be cool." Then, I get in front of everyone, and I start doubting myself. I get nervous - especially when I'm trying to relay vital concepts that I think are tough to grasp. The truth is, I like speaking in public. It's just that my physiology indicates otherwise when I start freaking out. In the end, I got to meet a lot of cool people, I felt useful, and I received a lot of compliments. I would say that it was worth it for the old ego.
I returned this Friday to find that my colleagues had postponed their annual Valentine's dinner so that I could attend. That was really nice of them, but I was exhausted from PDM and didn't want to go. I turn into a snot-nosed brat when I'm overtired. This is something I've learned about myself. Yanko started by giving us all beautiful long-stemmed roses, and he got us perfume. I pulled out my gift, read the box, and chuckled to myself. "Should I tell Yanko," I thought, "that this is cologne - for a man?" It said "pour homme" on the box. At first I thought, "This is a really nice gift. Don't say anything." But Yanko soon started explaining that he didn't pick them out. He told the woman in the shop to choose something for each of us. It was too funny not to share. I told him. I would have kept my mouth shut if he had picked them out himself, but I just had to go and tell. Yanko was frustrated, but my other colleagues said we shouldn't expect the lady in the shop to understand French. Still, we thought, if you're going to sell perfume and cologne, you should know what you're selling. My other colleagues had all received perfume - for women. I've left it for Yanko to take back. Maybe I should have "re-gifted" it or kept it around for when I want to fantasize about having a man at my place. Oh well.
Toward the end of the evening, my eyes were glazing over, and I was staring off into thin air. We were joined at our table by three other guys, and one of them was getting on my nerves. He's the same guy who follows me around and throws words at me in English. I was reminded that he's an orphan, and he's got this indomitable spirit, so I try to like him. I can't by sheer force of will. Then, one of my colleagues said something careless, and I really got upset. I was moody and pouting. It was time to go. I told everyone good night, made a slight scene, and left. No harm done though.
Now that I'm back in the office, we're doing project writing and we're fighting. (sigh) We fight over the silliest things - like, "What do you mean by the word 'festival?'" It's so ridiculous. What usually sets it off is someone's tone of voice when they question someone else's reasoning. The first person will insinuate that the other isn't thinking clearly (or not at all); the other person gets defensive, and it just escalates from there. It's like trying to write a project, and we're all temperamental four-year-olds. There are actually comments like, "Fine. I won't ask any questions. I agree with whatever you decide. I'm not going to talk anymore." And then that person stares off into space while there's an awkward silence for the next minute or so. In the past, I haven't usually been the one to break that silence, but now I've taken that role just because it's so unlikely that someone will turn and blast me. I don't know how we develop good projects in that atmosphere.

Monday, February 11, 2008

True Love Is Yellow

My neighbors have the cutest puppy. I think it's a yellow lab, and it's name is K.C. It was nipping at me on my way out of the yard this morning, and I turned to see it clamoring at the fence as I walked to work. It's true love. I'm trying to think of a way to stage a puppynapping without my neighbors finding out. Any ideas?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but when dreams come true at last, there is life and joy - Proverbs 13:12


Many are the plan's in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails - Proverbs 19:21

Caveat: I just realized that my blog title matches that of a recent book by Barack Obama. I must have seen it somewhere, and the title worked itself into my brain. This post is in no way a reflection on Mr. Obama, his book, or his campaign. I just like the title. It matches well with this post, and I'm not changing it... unless, of course, Mr. Obama asks me to....

I am feeling happy, hopeful, and fulfilled at the moment. I am grateful for these feelings - even if they are fleeting and are just chemical reactions in the brain. These feelings are based on recent events, and I'm ecstatic.
For the longest time, I've heard how boring Rakitovo is - how people here are apathetic and no one ever wants to do anything but spend their time in cafes. My experience has largely been the same with young people in town. I haven't had much success trying to get youth to take on a cause or a small project, but maybe that's because I've been feeling defeated before I even tried. Maybe it's because of the youth I've been trying to inspire thus far.
Another comment I hear often is, "Apryl, you know I'd love to do something, but you know people here...." There's this idea that the people in Rakitovo are "special" in their desire to bog down in the mire. The supposition of that statement is that the speaker is different, and would love to take on the world if only others weren't holding them back. I want to say that I don't buy it, but I think I've begun to accept it too easily as true of the situation here. It's an easy cop-out. I've heard the same comment from a bunch of different people, and I think, "If only I could get them all in the same room."
Something has happened to rip open the status quo, and I'm bursting with hope. This past Wednesday, in the office, we had started planning our programs for the rest of this year. We had all these ideas for young people that included work with student councils, employment shadowing, fundraising, extracurricular activities, workshops, etc. Of course, we loved our ideas, but would the young people go for them? Unfortunately, we don't have much contact with youth at the moment to bounce ideas off of them. One of my colleagues was particularly negative, "Maybe kids do that in other towns, but they would never do that in Rakitovo."
Later that evening, I was talking to a couple girls I've started meeting with for coffee. The purpose of our meetings is to speak English, talk about current events, share ideas, and see if they can participate in any European programs. I had to ask these girls what they thought about our ideas. Many people will tell you what they think you want to hear, but I felt like I could trust them. "Be brutally honest," I told them. "If this is something that doesn't interest you, you have to tell me. You won't hurt my feelings. You'll be saving us a lot of frustration in the end." I shared our ideas with them, and they got more and more excited with each one. Before I knew it, the three of us were planning a fundraising campaign for a couple of sick children in our town.
I told them that we needed more than just the three of us. Their job over the next couple days would be to mobilize the students at their school to see if we could generate interest and human resources. They talked to a bunch of students and teachers - getting positive reactions from everyone. Like I said before, however, many will tell you what they think you want to hear. However, I sat at a table with nine youth last night. They were all taking the project seriously, and said they wanted to help. I don't want to give too much away and jinx it. We still have two huge tests coming up over the next couple of days: talking with the parents of the children and getting permission from the mayor, but if we get past that all right, I have no doubt these kids can pull it off. It's a matter of willpower - a person's strongest resource. Them showing up last night said a lot. Did I mention that I'm excited?
I also learned that these girls I meet with are part of a tourism club in Rakitovo. I didn't even know there was such a club in my town. I love learning new things about my town. It shows me, little by little, that this place can't be as inactive as many proclaim. I was supposed to go to their meeting yesterday, but no one wanted to come because of the cold. Some things still don't change....
I have more exciting news. I received word that one of our donors has decided to continue funding the Educational Center. They have given us more than enough to fix our radiators. I think we're going to get a deal from the guy who'll repair them, so there are plenty of reasons to feel grateful. We are told to praise God in every season, but I must admit it's easier to praise Him when you think things are going your way. I suppose it's a part of being human.
The resilience of the human spirit is something amazing. Many times, I feel like I'm continually spiraling into a pit. You carve a hole for yourself. No one comes to a meeting you're hosting, and the hole gets a little deeper. You realize that the organization you work for could be sinking slowly in front of your eyes, and your hole opens a little more. It doesn't take much, however, to get you inspired again. It could be project planning with your colleagues. It could be a meeting where you define a new vision for the coming year. You suddenly remember your purpose, you feel solidarity with your colleagues, and you think you can conquer the world again. No matter that you've tried many times and failed. This time people will listen to you. This time people will buy into your product. This time people will care. The road is paved with nay-sayers, but nay-sayers should know that they don't deter the determined. They just spur them on to try and prove the nay-sayers wrong.
This week, we had a dinner with our informal women's group. This was followed by a two-day consultation session in Velingrad. Yesterday, we had a meeting with initiative groups in the region. All these things have conspired to change my mood and give me hope.
I now have even more English classes - which is actually quite frustrating 'cause it's not what I want. It seems to be what other people want though, and I have a hard time saying "no" and sticking to my guns. I feel like my time is precious. I have a lot of other things that I need to be doing, and teaching English is... meh.
I met my landlord's youngest daughter and her husband. They seem like very nice, hospitable people, and they've already helped me out with minor, household repairs. I'm reminded that she was initially against my living here, but now she seems to have warmed to the idea. She even said that she was happy her mother wasn't alone in this big house. We all had a very lovely conversation.
I played cards with the regulars here again, and the bright spot was a new acquaintance insisting I show him how I shuffle. I had to listen to yet another, very nice men bug me about why I like the Roma and why I've been living in Bulgaria for so long. One minute, I'm listening to someone tell me that I'm foolish for living here. The next, I'm listening to someone else tell me about how it's the greatest country on Earth, and I should never leave.
That's the paradox that is Bulgaria, and I don't envy its citizens. You have a beautiful, amazing country with a rich history, but very little seems to work. You're torn between frustration and disgust, and intense, national pride. If you could snap your fingers and leave, you would, but your heart can't seem to let you go. It's a bit like cheering for the Sacramento Kings. There's a little jab at my beloved, scrappy, home team.
This week, I'm helping out Peace Corps with their PDM (Project Design and Management) Workshop for the new TEFL/COD/YD Volunteers. I'm a little daunted, but I feel like I'll be working with a good team of people. I'll be facilitating some sessions, and I'll even be translating some others. It should be interesting. I hope it goes well, and the new volunteers and their colleagues feel like it's a useful exercise.
I found out that a friend of mine will be coming to visit me in Bulgaria. This will be the second time that I've had a guest from the states. I'm excited to say the least, and I really hope she has a good time over in this part of the world. See? All sorts of reasons to hope!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Bulgaria Ten

The next album featuring pictures of my time in Bulgaria is now available for viewing.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Pics

I posted some pictures if anyone is interested. You can see pictures of my Euro trip this last October and some pictures from home leave. If an album called "Bulgaria Ten" comes up, please don't bother going in there. It's not organized yet.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Kooks!


This weekend I went to an International Kukeri Festival in Pernik. As you can probably tell from the picture, people dress up in costumes, - usually hairy ones - attach bells to their person, and then walk around town. It's great fun. It's supposedly based on a tradition to scare away "winter spirits," but you can read the short blurb here for yourself. I hung out with some volunteers from the B-19 group. It's strange for me to spend time with volunteers outside of my group, but it's what's going on these days. I had a good time. I'll probably put up more pictures later. I need to get on that. It's been six months since I've posted pictures.
This week has been interesting. I have had plans every night after work, and I haven't been able to be home much. That's a good thing, though. I have a lot I need to do here at home, but it's nice to be out with people instead of cooped up all the time.
A lot has happened this week that I could share, but it's really not that interesting - not that any of my ramblings here are based on anything spectacularly exciting, but....
I've been learning to knit. Maybe I mentioned this in my last post. I'm making an ear-warmer. It's coming along all right, but it's nothing amazing.
We had a competition this week with our women's group. We got together some mothers/sisters and kids. The mothers/sisters fed their kids Dannon® yogurt, and the kids placed based on how quickly they ate the yogurt. Not very many people came. One kid freaked out and ran away before the contest even started. We wanted the mothers to come to try and attract them to the women's group, but it seemed pretty clear that they came for the food and prizes. And then there are those that never attend our meetings - despite all promising that they will come. Like today: We planned a meeting on a theme that's relevant to sixty women in the Roma Mahala. Only one came. I don't know....
Our women's group also took part in an informational session regarding the flu and how to avoid cathing it, and the conversation drifted to other diseases whose Bulgarian names I had a hard time recognizing. I think our next discussion will be about depression and mental illnesses. That should be interesting.
Yanko wanted to buy a new monitor in Pazardjik this week. He took me along for consultation support. One of our computer monitors had an issue where the picture would scrunch up and flicker in a middle of the screen. We'd hit it and hope that it'd straighten itself out. It was time for a new monitor. We bought a nice, plasma, flat-screen. Hopefully, it will last a while.
Yanko has been going a little nuts buying new equipment for the office. He bought another, second-hand plasma monitor and a flash drive today, and he's talking about switching out a computer in the office. I don't blame him. That computer is eight years old. Some people switch out their computers every six months. Imagine eight years of owning the same computer.
I've been asked when I'll come back and play cards again. I haven't had time this week. In fact, one of the regulars was nice enough to change out a blown fuse for me. I asked what I could "cherpa" (treat) in return. Coffee, beer? His wife joked that I should "cherpa" an American girl. He said it was enough that they know me, and he refused to accept any sort of compensation.
Ah, and I was stood up! In my last post, I mentioned that I was supposed to have coffee with one of my colleague's cousins. Well, he didn't show. Oh well. Maybe I'm not as pretty as I'd like to think I am. Hahahaha.
My classes are going well. It seems that just about every day, I get asked by someone else if they can join a course, but it's always someone who wants private tutoring or a course for beginners. I don't have any such course, and I don't have time for private tutoring. It's really hard telling people "no," though. I don't mind the classes that I have, but I certainly don't want to teach more. Teaching English endlessly isn't exactly my idea of a good time, but it seems that that's what people want from me while I'm here.
Besides my English classes, I also meet with a few high school students to drink coffee and speak English. We also talk about programs that are going on in the European Union. They're really smart girls, and I'd like to see them gain some personal development somewhere outside of Rakitovo. It seems a lot of people are going abroad these days. It's all the rage.
It looks like we'll be having some projects coming up here. Either that, or we'll nose-dive into non-existence. It should be an interesting few months/year. I'm sure I'll have all sorts of things to post. In the meantime, I feel like I'm at a loss. I feel like I've been pretty busy this week - like I've been more useful in the office and I've gotten a lot done, but I don't even know what that is. Well, at least I'm feeling good. Does there need to be a reason why?
I'm going to Sofia tomorrow to help a friend paint his apartment. It seems like painting is something I commonly do in this country. I only hope he's picked a good color. I don't want to be covered in puce, chartreuse, or some other similarly-named color. Ick. Maybe it'll be a rainbow like these guys' costumes.