Monday, March 31, 2008

On My Way...

So, Michelle made it into Bulgaria... with a giant cold! Poor girl. We're going to try to get to Istanbul by tomorrow morning. Woo-hoo!
In other news, I saw a stork! Finally! People were giving me a hard time for still having those red and white bracelets on, but I refused to be bullied into pretending I had seen one. I saw four yesterday, and I found a flowering tree to put all those "martenitzis" on. I hope it gives me luck throughout the coming year! Or at least just in Turkey.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Eccentricity and Obnoxiousness

I've been wanting to post for a long time, but it seems like something is always going on, and I never get around to posting. Here are the big things that have been happening:
1. Probably the most eccentric guy in town asked me to translate a paper on Vasil Levski - the iconic hero of Bulgaria - and it was practically a treatise. I probably should have said "no" just because, while my Bulgarian is pretty great, it's not quite "up to snuff" for something like that. Plus, work like that should really receive compensation. I could not accept money 'cause I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I should have left it to the professionals who can ask for money. I even roped Angel into helping me figure out a few thoughts I couldn't understand. Poor guy. Oh well. It was interesting, and there went my last weekend. If he ever asks how I can make it up to him, I'm going to tell him I want to learn how to say "no" and if he can give me a weekend of my life back.
He really is an interesting guy, though. Way back in the early days of democracy, he asked that the president revoke his citizenship. His ID card literally says that he is without citizenship. It makes it tough for him to leave Bulgaria. He says he knows things that they don't want leaving the country. He's just the type of person to pull that story off. Who knows? It may be true. He's definitely a smart guy.
2. Tim and Andy are here. I mentioned before about their project and stuff. We had a meeting with some people last night. Not everyone who said they would come, came, but I guess I can't expect anything different from this place. It went fairly well, though, and I think the guys were happy with it. I hope they are.
Today, we went into a couple English classes, and the boys talked to the students in there. Again, I think it went well and it was interesting for the students. The boys will say when they post again to their blogs. I've enjoyed having them around. We made an amazing meal today of soup, salad, and bread. Then they came to my Spanish classes with Maria and Reneta and talked with Ani and Yanko afterward. We also went to a volleyball game at the school today - teachers vs. students - and that was fun. Also, Andy and I made cookies. As work has been going pretty slow, I've been enjoying the time to hang out with the boys.
3. Work is a little slow, but my boss has been running around like a crazy man. So have we a little bit, but really - it's more of a waiting game thing. I mentioned that we won a huge project recently, and we've needed to get all sorts of documents from our partners. It's been trying at times to get them to cough up their information, but it's all worked out in the end, apparently. My boss took all those documents to the ministry in Sofia today.
4. We also turned in another project at the end of last week. I stayed at the office until about ten at night to finish it up, and we still turned it in early. We'll see how that one goes. I'm praying it will all work out for the best.
5. I go to Sofia tomorrow to pick up my friend, Michelle. I'm so excited that someone is coming to Bulgaria to see me. I really hope that she has a good time with me.
6. I finally went out to coffee with a guy in town who has caught my eye. I mentioned him in an earlier post, but our signals got crossed, and we never met up. Here, two months later, we finally were able to talk briefly and he asked me to coffee. He called that night, but I was busy. He called again tonight, and we were able to go out for a couple hours or so. It went well, and I'll probably meet up with him again.
I guess that's about it. I did want to talk about something here that drives me nuts for a moment: Cutting in line. I was in line at a fruit and vegetable stand the other night when it really got to me. I went up to the window to tell the woman what I wanted, when another woman came up with her son. They started talking about how they wanted strawberries, and the woman at the window began serving them. Excuse me! I was here waiting in line! It wasn't even like I was leaving any space for them, either. I was literally at the window. Here, if you even leave a little space, people can crowd you out. That's why I make sure to use the "boxing out" skills I learned while playing varsity basketball in high school. Anyway, the boy practically began climbing on top of me. I was so irritated, I stepped back. I began sighing and making all kinds of faces.
Meanwhile, another man came up. When the woman and her son were done, he stepped in and started placing his order! I must have sighed loud enough to hear, 'cause he was like... "Oh, were you here? I saw you step back...." I'm like, "Um, yeah, I've been waiting a while, actually." "Oh. We'll I'm just getting some ingredients for a salad. I'll be quick." By the time I got to the window, the lady could tell that I was irritated, and she was quick about getting my stuff.
It happens all the time in the market. It seems like someone's always got to cut in front of me to get a pack of cigarettes, or whatever it may be. I get more frustrated with the lady who serves them. Only a few times has anyone ever said, "Hey, this girl was here first." They say that the "crying baby gets the milk" or something like that. I hate that. The "crying baby" is obnoxious and needs to wait his turn. And his "mother" shouldn't cater to his needs right away just 'cause he demands it. I refuse to cut people off. I wish they would have the same consideration for me, but I'm just a whiner.
What's interesting about my new digs is that I currently live next to the public bath house. Mostly Roma go there on the weekends because they don't have bathing facilities at home, but it's interesting watching people walk down my road with a bag of clothes and then returning with wet hair. Okay, this concludes your random update. Until next time....

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Two Hundred

Welcome to my two-hundredth post. Yay!
It snowed today. Can you believe it? The weather had been behaving so nicely recently, and it decided to snow for a few hours.
I haven't seen a stork yet, so I'm still wearing all these red and white bracelets around my wrist. Some people swear they have already seen a stork, but I guess I just don't have any luck. It makes it harder now that I don't live right across the street from a church with a storks' nest on the bell tower.
What is interesting is that I live closer to the mosque now. I hear prayers sung out every once in a while, and it's fascinating. I've walked around the mosque, and I've tried desperately to peer through the windows, but I haven't been inside. I haven't gotten a clear answer yet on whether or not women can enter for prayers.
I also live closer to the monumental clock in town. It chimes every hour and on the half hour. Instead of being woken up by church bells, I'm constantly reminded that time is ticking forth. It's kind of weird. I'm glad I don't live closer to it. I bet it'd wake me up all the time.
Tim and Andy still haven't let me know about exactly when they are coming. I shouldn't complain, but it makes it hard for me to plan and leads to stress on my part. They don't put stress on me. I put it on myself. They're just trying to be laid-back about their goodwill mission, and I'm thinking I have to do something amazing to make its Rakitovo stop a success. I've been trying to mobilize some youth in my community. I have tenuous contacts with a variety of people, and I really hope it will work out to get them all together. Ideally, it would be great to have a discussion about minorities up in the Educational Center, but I don't know how many Bulgarian youth I could convince to come in the Roma neighborhood for a stimulating conversation. It's a shame.
In other news, my organization found out on Monday that we won a huge grant from the Ministry of Education and Science. It's almost 100,000 leva for two years, and I'm so glad that my colleagues will have work for at least that period of time. I mentioned before that Future Foundation was about to go through a trial of sink-or-swim here soon, and it's a relief to get such great news. It looks like we were placed first amongst the organizations that applied in our category, meaning that we wrote a project that received the best evaluation and therefore the highest score. I'm incredibly proud of all of us, and I'm glad I was able to help and be a part of its development. We have a lot of work coming up with it - them moreso than me - but there's nothing like the value of hard work.
We're still doing grant-writing, which is fine by me. This latest one is a fun one, but it's currently a mess. I hope to be able to fine-tune it and give it enough sense to be attractive to possible donors. Who can say? It's hard getting one approved out of every six or so, but it's so worth it when that moment of triumph comes.
My landlady returns from her three-month, Canada stay tomorrow. She left right before I returned from home leave, and I've had the place to myself since I got back here. As of tomorrow night, I won't be alone in this house anymore, and it'll be weird. I've really gotten used to being here by myself, and I'm almost sorry to lose that situation. It's not fair to wish someone wouldn't return to their own home. That's ridiculous. I'm just saying I'll miss being here with only me, myself, and I.
I'm sure there are other things that I wanted to share, but it's my bedtime. I hope you have enjoyed the 200th installment of my blog. xoxo

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ken Lee!!!

This is too good not to share. I love you, Ken Lee!!!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Losing Touch

I feel like I'm losing touch with my community. I don't know. Maybe I was never really that in-touch with them, but I feel like I've lost a lot of contacts - mostly with young people. I have two former volunteers, Tim and Andy who are on this mission through interaction and cultural understanding. They've already been to many countries, and tomorrow they'll be in Bulgaria. Ever since they've been talking about this project, they have wanted to come and do something with me and my kids here in Rakitovo. At the time, it sounded like a great idea. Now I'm thinking, what kids? I feel like I've lost contact with a lot of the young people in my town. And I have no clue what to have them do. Did I mention that they'll be in Bulgaria tomorrow? I feel like this is going to be a huge disaster, and it's my fault. I can just see the blog entries now: "We wanted to go back to Bulgaria to do something with Apryl in her community, but we realize now that Apryl isn't really a part of her community. What is she doing there?"
Yesterday, I celebrated Todorov Den by going and watching horse races on the road between Kostandovo and Dorkovo. There weren't very many participants, but it was mildly interesting. I felt entirely out of place though. Over ninety-percent of the spectators were male, and I realized that I don't talk much to men in my town. I know it's always been hard for me to interact with men, but I still felt completely isolated. I talked to a few people and said "hi" to a few kids I knew, but I felt really exposed for the first time in a long time.
In the end, they called the winners to come up with their horses to receive certificates and feed. One of my favorite boys had told me to follow him and ended up leaving me right where the horses needed to be. I was oblivious, and I wasn't paying attention. Fortunately, a nice lady grabbed my arm and led me out of the way a number of times before a horse a) backed into me or b) kicked me. I think horses are amazing creatures, and I would love to be around them more. Sometimes I'm so taken by their beauty that I can forget that they're also powerful animals.
I mentioned before that the radiators in the center have been fixed. I used them for the first time last Thursday for a class, and they worked like a charm. I was so happy for the warmth that I actually hugged one. We have been plagued by problems with our radiators since the beginning, and I was so ecstatic to have them behave and do what they should.
Speaking of, the first "specialist" is going around town saying that we still owe him 20 leva for the work he did to "fix" the radiators a while back. I saw him today, and my stomach actually turned. His body language indicated that the feeling was mutual. I'm not a confrontational person, but I want to throw 20 leva in his face and tell him all sorts of things that basically boil down to "shut up." He did subpar work that put people in danger and was paid for it. You bet I want to yell at him. It's like paying someone to build you a house, and this person has no clue what they're doing. The house is about to fall in on you, and even though this person needs to fix what they've done, their guarantee is crap 'cause they don't/can't make anything better. And then after they move around one of the sticks that's propping up your roof, they want more money from you. It's ridiculous.
After the radiators were fixed, the center looked like it had been hit by a typhoon. I planned to go and clean up some things today, and to chop some wood. I got to the center to find that Yanko, his girls, and his nieces had already done that. In fact, Yanko had broken his axe from chopping wood. He has more plans for the center, and he was sharing with me about how they'll come to fruition. It's fun when Yanko gets starry-eyed, idealistic, and excited about something. He's like a little kid.
When I got to the center, a woman and her cameraman were interviewing some of my colleagues and acquaintances. Apparently an organization is doing a film project on the Roma and the tradition of marrying young. It was interesting to sit and listen to people talk about their lives, 'cause they were sharing things that I had never had the courage to ask them about. There are a lot of things that I think will be uncomfortable for them to share, or it's none of my business, but they were talking freely in front of the camera. I talked to the woman afterwards, and she has a way with people that I admire. She's interesting, and she gets you to relax and to confide in her like an old friend within the first few minutes of meeting. People like that astound me, and I wish I had that talent.
On a random tangent, I watched the Michael Moore film "Sicko" yesterday. I don't always agree with Michael Moore, but I respect him for being assertive, getting out there to challenge the status quo, and inciting dialogue. He cited a WHO study that placed us at 37th in the world for our system of health care. Later in the film, he took some people to Cuba to have them receive medical care and hailed their system. Cuba was 39th on the WHO list. Something doesn't add up. (By the way, Bulgaria is listed as number 102 out of 191 countries.) Anyway, that documentary made me cry about the saddest situations I'd never even heard of, i.e. people being tossed out on the street and dying from coverage denial, and it made me feel so amazingly grateful that my healthcare here is free. I feel unworthy of it. Almost makes a person want to stick with Peace Corps indefinitely just for the health benefits.
We've been doing project writing in the office as of late, and I'm enjoying it. I feel like I can make a contribution in that sphere - whether it's offering ideas, translating documents, or creating a budget in Excel. The only thing I wish is that I were able to offer avant-garde ideas that would intrigue donors and project beneficiaries, but I don't feel like I have that talent. You would think that, growing up an only child and lacking default playmates, that my imagination would be boundless. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to happen in my case. I keep doing the same things hoping for a different result. Wasn't that the definition of insanity?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I'm So White

This blog describes me so well, it's scary... especially this post....

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Inertia

It seems like once I get going on something, I can do that thing for a long time... like being lazy. Meh. I read something today that my grandma sent me, and I love it: "Tomorrow: One of the greatest labor-saving devices of today." That's so true about me. Why do today what can be put off until tomorrow? I want to ask God a lot of things. (sigh) I thought I wanted to post, but now I think I don't even want to do that. Man, I am lazy. I just took a spill down my neighbors' front steps. That was fun....
Oh, yesterday was International Women's Day. Thomas says it's a Communist holiday. I don't know. Communist or not, I sure like the hyacinth I was given just for being a female....

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Some Days....

Some days revolve around a task that takes less than five minutes. That was my day today. I got up. I traveled two hours to Sofia. I took a bus to the Peace Corps office. I got a shot. I hung out and waited to go to lunch with another PCV. I had lunch with her. I caught a tram to the bus station. I rode another two hours home. Now I'm home. Oh, the glamorous life of a PCV.
In this mundanity, I did make a quick stop in Velingrad to pay my phone bill. I've mentioned the Velingrad M-Tel guy before. We are in love, and he doesn't know it. I got there a little early, and the store wasn't open yet. As I was walking away to eat my breakfast, I saw him. And he saw me. And he broke out into a smile that said, "You, Apryl, are my one, true love," and he said, "Zdrasti!" (Hi.) And I said, "Zdrasti!" It's the smile that gets me, makes me weak in the knees, and makes my day. I'm a sucker for a smile that lights up the whole face and makes you look like the most honest, sweet person in the world. My heart was racing as I ate my breakfast. About fifteen minutes later, I went back to the M-Tel store. Of course, it was crowded. My guy was waiting on someone else, and I was looking around like a little, lost puppy. He pointed to his colleague and said that he would help me. I wanted to cry out, "No! We are in love! We only get to see each other once a month when I pay my bill... if that!" but I'm not quite that crazy. I realize that he's a serious worker, and he wanted to accomodate me. That, and his heart probably doesn't flutter the way mine does when I see him. It makes me all the more crazy about him.
I went over to his colleague - who was smiling at me. I told him I needed to pay my bill. He told me the sum and asked if I understood. Then, he picked up a book I was carrying and started reading the back cover. "You're the curious type, aren't you?" I asked. "Yes," he answered boredly. "Do you speak English?" "Yes." And then he looked at me - expecting me to say something more. I just smiled and blinked at him. A few, awkward seconds passed that way. "Oh, so that was your question?" he asked. "Yes." I paid my bill and left. All that time, he was watching me with this smirk on his face - a smirk that says, "You intrigue me, American." All I could think was, "No! Your colleague and I are in love, and he doesn't know it! Don't ruin this for me! I want to keep coming to this store and not have to default to you!" Some days are like this....

Monday, March 03, 2008

"Sunshiney"

The weather has been positively gorgeous as of late. I almost miss the cold weather. It was a good excuse to be lazy. I'm feeling much better now. I can still tell that I'm a little sick in that my appetite hasn't quite returned yet, and my body gets tired easily. Oh yeah, and I'm also still "coughy" and "sniffly." It's nice to be able to get out of the house a bit though. I was getting stir-crazy.
Our fundraiser went really well. I don't know if I mentioned what it was for, but there's a young girl in my town who has cancer. I don't know how serious it is, but she hasn't been well, and she's been needing treatment. Her family isn't by any means wealthy, and people have taken up various collections for her sake. I asked a couple girls what they thought about a fundraiser, and they ran with it.
As I've said before, I barely had to do anything. I just made a bunch of cards, some posters, a donation box, some cookies, and I came with balloons, markers, and tape. I was amazed at how pro-active everyone was. There were sweets and cakes galore, cards, books, pencils, notebooks, mugs, and "martenichki." More on that in a second. I was so impressed with how many people turned out with items to sell. In the end, we were left with very little. Many people refused to take their change, and several put extra money in the donation box. I was amazed that the cards I made sold. People must have really wanted to help. Hehe. We even had an elderly man hanging out near us - telling everyone who stopped by that they should put 2 leva in the donation box.
We had the fundraiser on Saturday. March 1st is "Baba Marta" day in Bulgaria. It's the annual holiday where everyone gives each other "martenichkis" - bracelets, pins, or necklaces of red and white yarn that you wear until you see your first stork. Then, you take the "martenichkis" and put them on a fruit-bearing tree or hide them under a rock. This ensures health and luck, as most Bulgarian traditions do. So, the "martenichki" were the first to go from our humble sale. In the end, we raised 426.45 leva... which is quite a haul for our little initiative. Yesterday, I went with the two girls to drop off the money. The sick girl's grandmother had tears in her eyes and kept saying "God bless you." She gave us all kisses, and we had to refuse to come into the house. I could tell that the girls felt proud of themselves, and they thanked me for "giving them the idea." Really, that's pretty much all I did. They turned it into an amazing reality.
I had a guest over the weekend. A PCV came to visit all the way from the other side of the country, and I put him to work making cookies for the fundraiser. He was a good sport and hung out with us for the duration of the sale. It was nice to have a guest - especially after having been cooped up for the week. I don't get guests that often - even when my group of B-18 comrades were here, not many people made it down to my town - so it's always nice to have company.
Yesterday, after my guest left, I called up my friend, Veska, and had her meet me for tea. I haven't been able to see her since I got back in-country, and I had to give her the souvenir I bought for her. I went up to the mahala to meet her, and I saw a group of boys hitting a volleyball around. They asked if I wanted to join them, so I went after I met up with Veska. It didn't take long for a suitable group to gather together, so they divided into two teams,and tied a cable between two poles for a "net." I didn't play long. I tired out quickly, and the boys were hogging the ball, but I had a great time being out in the sunshine playing a pick-up game of volleyball. When I wasn't playing, I checked in on the Educational Center next door. The radiators are finally being fixed, and they're almost ready - just when the weather has decided to improve.
Today was "Bulgarian Liberation Day," so we celebrated the national holiday instead of working. There was a short program in the center, and my colleagues decided to get together for some coffee. We decided that we would get together again this evening and eat dinner. Valia and Ani would make "sarmi" (sour cabbage leaves stuffed with rice), and Yanko would bring some meat. Sylvia said she would bring some pizza. I decided that I would bring cookies. I couldn't find any peanut-butter today (boo-hoo!), so I decided to make chocolate chip cookies. They turned out pretty nicely. Dinner was nice. I liked being with my colleagues again, but I had a hard time sitting in one place. Like I said, my body still gets tired and restless very easily.
Tomorrow I have to go to Sofia to get a shot. It's going to hurt! There's no way around it. I suppose I'd better "suck it up" and just go. I'm going to treat myself to a good meal to make up for it. I deserve it.