Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Dilapidated Rumor Mill

...and Spring has arrived... with a *bang.* Sunday was hot! My sister, Vili, came with a couple of friends, and we went up to the nearby reservoir. It was a nice afternoon. After they dropped me off at home, I went to a party that my landlady, Margarita, was hosting. Last Sunday was Palm Sunday here, and basically, it's "Flower Name Day." What do I mean by that? Well, anyone who's name coincides with the name of a flower (and there are quite a few) celebrates their name day. Margarita had guests coming in and out all day long, and there was tons of food. I had a good time socializing and eating.
Ever since then, the weather has been finicky. I've been wearing things like skirts and flip-flops - only to be caught in the rain later. I kind of like this weather though. And if I could only show you all the beautiful flowers that are in bloom here.... My town is gorgeous, and the hills are clothed in green. It's wonderful. I've been wishing I were on my way to the beach instead of work.
I have a lot of random things I want to share - nothing that really makes sense as a coherent whole. For example, I'm positive that my neighbor's yellow lab, K.C., loves me more than anyone else. She always comes running to me first - past the little girl whom she belongs to. Yes. She loves me the best!
We're starting another project in the office. It's one that needs to be in English, and I love the process - and yet find it so frustrating at the same time. For example, my colleagues will sit and discuss the best way to word something in Bulgarian, only for all of us to realize that I don't know the meaning of that word. They then "dumb it down" for me so that I can understand what they're talking about, and all that meaning gets lost - especially if the word doesn't exist in the dictionary - or we English-speakers use it in another sense. Also, when I have to read it back to them, I'll mistake a word, and then they think that I didn't understand them or something. It's an exercise for the brain that's so frustrating, but it's so good for me. I just have to be more patient with myself while I'm reminding them to be more patient with me. They know it's difficult, too. Language!
Speaking of language, I'm proud of one of the group of teachers that I teach. They have decided to have English during their Easter break. Wow! And they are facing tough times at the moment 'cause we're starting to learn past tense. It's difficult. For example: "Did she have a big breakfast yesterday?" The word "have" is in present tense in this instance, and in first person form. "Yes. She had a big breakfast yesterday." "Have" changes to "had," and you're golden. How about perfect tense? "Does she have big breakfasts on Sundays?" "Have" is in first-person form, but we're talking about third person. "Yes, she has big breakfasts on Sundays." "Have" changes to "has" for third-person. Maybe it doesn't make sense 'cause you've taken it for granted. I know I have. I try to get my students to focus on the patterns. For two of them, it comes naturally. For one, it's difficult, and she gets frustrated easily. And it's not like you can give someone a key to all the rules and exceptions. You just have to listen and pay attention - suck it up and hope you catch on eventually. For example, think of all the different ways we pronounce these words that all end in "ed:" cooked, hated, and visited. Language! I used to think English was easy.... I still think it's easier than Bulgarian!
My counterpart, Angel, had been acting evasive this week. He wrote to let me know that he was on his way over on Saturday night. An hour later, he still hadn't shown up. I wrote him a message to ask where he was, and he called me back, "Apryl, something's come up. I can't come over," and then he hung up. The next night, I tried to get in contact with him to figure out what was up. Again he was evasive, and he said I would find out soon enough. Monday morning, my colleagues informed me that my friend, his sister Veska, had been in a car accident. It was big news in the Roma neighborhood, not only because she was seriously injured, but because apparently she was with someone that maybe she shouldn't have been with. And the rumors flew: She was in a coma. She was near death. She had already had three operations for head injuries. The person she was with was fine. No, the person she was with had broken both arms. What was she thinking being with this person? She got what she deserved...and all sorts of other BS nonsense. This is what I hate about living in a small town - everyone thinks they know what's going on with you, and everyone's ready to cast judgment in the blink of an eye.
I wrote Angel a message just to let him know that I was thinking about his family, and that they were in my prayers. He called and asked, "When did you find out?" and then he told me not to worry. He sounded calm. I tried to believe him, but I didn't know if his sister was stable, in a coma, or near death. The new rumor is that she has returned home. If she has returned home at this point, she's obviously not near death, nor in a coma, nor has she had major operations in recent days. I should just ask, but I feel like it's not my place - even though both Veska and Angel are friends of mine. I figure, if they want to tell me, they will let me know. It's just so hard caring about someone and not knowing what's going on with them - plus having to hear everyone's exaggeration about the most interesting thing they heard today. Small town life is great, but big town life certainly has its advantages.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Drama of Crying Wolf

It's been a dramatic and pretty unproductive week in the office. In short, my colleagues have been under quite a bit of stress as we've been in limbo trying to figure out what's going on with one of our partners. They haven't received a paycheck in two months, and my colleagues are trying to figure out what to do. The nerves have been getting to everyone, and we started working on another project on Monday. One of my colleagues said that maybe it was difficult to write and focus because they were so wrapped up in what was going on with our other project, not getting paid, etc. My boss flipped out. He accused her of "demotivating" others, and we all got into an argument.
For the next three days, my boss decided not to come into the office. We were upset and confused, and we didn't know what to do. Ani was acting as a liason between office staff and her husband. She'd tell him what work we were trying to do on the project, and he'd always have something negative to say about it that would discourage us from diving into it the next day. We got some work done, but we were defeated and didn't know what was going on.
By Friday, the colleague who made the original comment had decided that she should quit. She felt that she was to blame for whatever ambivalence had arisen in the office. She tried to call Yanko to give him the news, but he wasn't picking up the phone. We were all quiet in the office.
It's funny, 'cause I had been thinking, "What a beautiful morning! I feel like my town should burst into song... like everyone I see should be a participant in a musical." Once I got to the office, even though the mood was heavy, I wasn't bothered. And I think I know why. Literally, if I had a dollar for every time one of my colleagues talked about quitting, I'd have quite the racket going. It seems like the subject comes up every other week.
She finally got through to Yanko, and she told him that she was quitting. He said he'd come into the office to talk. So we sat down, and we talked. In the beginning, it was heated. Finally, we were able to calm down and talk like civilized adults. We reached an understanding, or what I like to call a "temporary cease-fire," and my colleague decided not to quit... until next time.
I'm glad my colleague didn't quit. Believe me. I'm relieved. However, after we reached a consensus and understood Yanko's point of view, I was actually upset. I'm tired of these arguments. I've told my colleagues before that yelling at each other is unproductive, and it only creates an uncomfortable atmosphere. Nothing ever changes. The funny thing is, they still want my advice. They seek it out, and they appreciate it. Advice is cheap.
It flatters me. I'll be honest. On a few occasions, I've been listening to my colleagues debate a topic, and I'll just listen. At some point in the conversation, the person who's dealing with the issue will turn to me and say, "Apryl, I want your opinion. What do you think of this?" And usually, I'll give it.
At one point during our conversation yesterday, a dialogue was going on between Yanko and me, and my other colleagues were listening:
Yanko: "Do you know how many times I've thought, 'Wow. Apryl is right.'"
Apryl: (laughs) "Do you say it to me?"
Yanko: "Okay, so maybe I don't say it to you, but I think it."
We continued to discuss what our problems are and how we can't seem to communicate, and I started listening again. Suddenly, Yanko turned to me and said, "Apryl. I want your opinion."
Apryl: (raised eyebrows) "My opinion on what? All of this?"
Yanko: "Yes." (looking intently and listening)
Apryl: (sigh) "Well, I think there's a breakdown of communication in this office, and I think it comes from the fact that we're constantly yelling at each other. We work together in this small office, so we're constantly bumping into each other, and we're like a family. When a family member is displeased with us, it hurts us more than just some stranger on the street. In other workplaces, there's some distance between colleagues that helps maintain professionalism. Our office isn't like that. We're great friends, but we can't work together. When someone is displeased, we're all hurt. And the tone and the yelling.... When someone is yelling at me about a mistake I've made, I'm not focusing on what they're saying. All I know is that they're yelling at me, and I don't like it. Plus, we don't compliment each other. We don't talk about all the things others have accomplished. We only highlight their short-comings. It's natural for that person to think that they're utterly useless, and we don't need to talk about how much that feeling sucks. Also, I don't know how you and Ani work together...."
Throughout my whole discourse, Yanko was nodding. He kept saying, "You're absolutely right." What does it matter... me being "right?" Maybe I'm right. Maybe I'm not, but is anything really going to change? I love my colleagues, but I refuse to work in such an environment. I'm only still there because I've made a commitment and there's light at the end of the tunnel. The day will come when I won't work in that office any longer. My colleagues might be hurt to hear me say it, but that would go for anywhere where there was constant argument and conflict. The only way I would work in such an environment in the states would be if I were living from paycheck to paycheck. Even then, I'd be looking for something else. We're like little children on the playground. You kick dirt in my face, and I push you down. You cry and refuse to talk to me for the next few hours. Later, we grasp hands and run for the swings. You run too fast for me, and I fall. I blame you. Repeat silent treatment. It's a dysfunctional relationship.
This week, I broke out one of the frisbees I got from another generous volunteer. Can you believe that they don't have frisbees in Bulgaria? Well, if they do, most people here have never seen one. I have such great memories of playing frisbee with my uncles (and others) - in my Grandma's backyard, at the ocean, etc. A flying disc seems so basic to me. I don't know. But the kids have loved it. Who would have thought that a flying saucer could be so much fun? A few kids, however, basically say, "What's with this 'frisbee crap?' I wanna play baseball!"
I haven't started baseball yet. The weather has been finicky, and it's been a good excuse to delay the season. The truth is, I think about adding baseball to my schedule, and I get drained just thinking about it. It's not like I really do all that much. It just means 11-12 hour days for me, and I really like my down time. I find I need it - even though I'm really not that productive. Being in the office, even if we're not really doing anything, is draining. You can probably see why from what I wrote above.
Of course, the kids don't see it that way. Why should they? They're kids! Baseball is fun! I miss the blissful ignorance of youth - when someone else was in charge. I round them up to go home, and they start whining. How can you want to go? This is so fun! I tell them that I'm hungry; that they have mommies to cook for them, and I don't. They suggest my mom come and cook for me as well. It's hard to understand adults when you're a kid, and it's hard to understand anyone else's mindset in general. I just wonder when I turned into an "adult?" I guess it's when I decided to be in charge of activities involving kids, and I realize I don't see things from their point of view anymore. I'm tired, and I want to go home. I'm twenty-seven, and there are lines starting to crease my face. It's freaking me out!
I went to the Adventist church today. I haven't been in ages. The only reason I went was because a couple members have been asking me where I've been. Well, that, and probably God was encouraging me to go. I think I've mentioned before the reasons that I don't go often. They're all selfish. I'm glad I went today. One of the members, an acquaintance of mine, had lost her mother and was terribly distraught. I doubt I was able to comfort her, but at least I was there. We also had a visitor - a young boy who studies at the university in Plovdiv.
Have you ever met someone that struck you as just so pure and naïve? You almost didn't want to talk or interact with them because you were afraid that you would somehow corrupt them, or they would see you for the sinful creature that you are? That's how I felt with this boy. He had the most beautiful, innocent face, and you could tell that he was on fire for God. He was asked to address the congregation after the service. The leader knew that I was expecting a guest, and he went overboard making sure I knew I could leave. Finally, they figured out that I wasn't going anywhere, and the boy got up to talk. He spoke about an Adventist conference he had attended in Germany, and it was interesting to hear how he saw God taking care of him along the way. Afterwards, of course, I was introduced to him, and he tried speaking to me a bit in English. We didn't talk much. Honestly, I shied away from him for the reasons I mentioned above.
The congregation is, honestly, amazing. There are elderly women who can barely walk, but are whip-smart. I was talking to one afterwards, and I love her. We disagree on doctrine as she's a staunch Adventist, and I consider myself a non-denominational Christian, but I realized it was pointless getting into a theological debate with her. Not only would neither of us change our point of view, but we'd be arguing for arguments sake, and she'd probably beat me in an argument anyday. She's well-read.
As a personal confession, I wonder why it is that I sometimes get so defensive. It's interesting. There are some things that I feel so passionately about, that my shield automatically goes up at the most pointless times. For example, the church leader was talking to a woman next to me about the 24-hour period, and he said, "Maybe Apryl doesn't know this, but a day is actually from..." "Sunset to sunset," I cut him off, "I know." And it was so pointless to cut him off to prove that I knew that. Who would know that I might know that? I guess, I figure I've told them that I was raised in an Adventist church and attend one back home, and I feel like they should just know that Advenitism is Adventism everywhere (except for the meat issue and patronizing businesses on the Sabbath, apparently - and even that differs in regions in the states as well), and I've been "sub-cultured" into the same doctrine that they talk about every Saturday. Adventism is not foreign to me - just like it's not foreign to anyone else who grew up in the church. It's almost the same as being born into a culture... seriously. I imagine it's a bit the same with other denominations.
I get most defensive when it comes to my work. Ask any layperson on the street what I do here, and they will probably tell you that I teach English. I don't know why it irritates me so. A lot of my time is spent trying to get people to grasp English, but that's still a small part of why I'm here. What do I expect people to say? "She works with an organization that encourages education and integration. This means that she spurs non-conventional learning through educational campaigns, informational sessions, and sports - like baseball, volleyball, football, basketball, etc. She stimulates the development of youth, and she brings an outside perspective to the projects of the organization she works for. And, occasionally, she finds time for English and Spanish lessons." Are they going to say this? No! Puh-leeze. That would be absurd. And am I going to say it? What? No! Am I crazy? Am I so full of myself? Should I tout the lofty goals I barely aspire to? Who am I? Would they even understand? It's easier for everyone to just say that I "teach English." And I simmer and stew in the fact that my town has no idea why I'm here or what I'm doing. "What? You're not teaching English right now? Then what are you doing?" (sigh). I wonder if I would feel better if they said, "She plays with children," or "She works with children." Even that wouldn't cover it. I don't feel like I work with children that much anyway. Heck! Even I can't define what I do. How should I expect them to do it for me?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Games We Play

The wind is raging outside! I don't know why it has to be like that. We're having moody weather. One day it's sunny. The next, it's gloomy. The next, it's windy.
Speaking of moody, this is probably going to be a "whoa-is-me" post. Whiny posts are lame, but sometimes there's no way around it if you want to talk about how you feel - honestly. Oh, if you'd rather look at pictures of my latest trip than hear me whine, feel free. I think there are some great ones in there. It was a great trip.
And that's why I feel like I don't have the right to be sad - ever. I mean, I get to do all these great things! I'm so incredibly blessed, and I take so much for granted. But even the happiest person on earth has to have tough times, right? And I'm sure that person would still like someone to listen to them and to get some things off their chest.
Work has been slow as of late. We're between projects, and we're trying to "outsmart" one of our partners. It's like chess. Actually, a lot of my life feels like chess sometimes. If I move there, how will you react? If I do this, how will you move?
Recently, we've had a lot of people come into our office asking for recommendations for college scholarships for Roma. I think it's great that a lot of people want to study, but the recommendation form asks what kind of activities that person has been involved with to assist the Roma community. Maybe they've done something, but they haven't been involved in such activities with us. Basically, people are asking us to lie for them. And then they're angry with us when we refuse to do so.
A friend of mine asked me to get all the scholarship applications together for him - which I did. Then, he wanted me to meet with him and help him with the application process. He hadn't read any of the instructions, and when I sat down, he basically told me that I was required to figure it out for him. I told him to read it and see if there was anything he couldn't understand. It made sense to him when he took the few seconds to read through the instructions. He then implied that he thought I could write him a recommendation. I told him that I could not, and he would not be getting one from our organization. Even though I told him that he wouldn't be getting one through the organization, he still went to talk to Yanko and try to convince him to change his mind.
And this is the thing that's so frustrating: I had gotten into a disagreement with Yanko a few hours before about the fact that I had even given him the scholarship information. He had called me earlier in the day - asking where to find the application forms. He brought a blank disc in the office, and I put all the forms on the CD for him. Free information from the internet is open to all. I can't deny someone access to that knowledge. A recommendation is one thing - a link to a public forum is another. Yanko argued that I shouldn't be so forthcoming with it. I disagreed entirely and got worked up by starting to think about being told who to talk to, what to talk to them about, and how to help people. The thing was, in the end, Yanko was right. I was distressed thinking that my friend had blatantly ignored me and gone to Yanko's home. Can I blame him, though? I mean, it's a scholarship. It's money.
Tuesday was International Roma Day. The first year that I was here, Future Foundation put on a celebration. Recently, another group has taken it on. This year, a celebration was organized by the municipality as we have a few Roma in local government. We even have a vice-mayor of Roma origin. Now, reading my account of the latest celebration, someone could say that I'm biased in favor of my organization. It's true. It's just that... (sigh).
The point of International Roma Day is to highlight the Roma as a people - talk about their culture, their importance and significance in society, about their persecution during the Holocaust. What I saw was a lot of alcohol and money flowing. I saw a lot of "self-congratulation" amongst the organizers and their guests. There were "Miss Roma" contests and "Best Kuchek" contests, and there were displays of "questionable entertainment." I'm all for having a good time. Kuchek definitely should be a part of the celebration. It's a traditional dance. It's just that the organizers talked about "development" of the Roma neighborhood and of "self-development," and I began to think, "What do you mean? You throw a few-hundred, Euro banknotes at a girl for shaking her tail-feather, and we're supposed to call this 'development?'" The thing is, this visual display is quite impressive, and this type of "instant gratification" is hard to dispute. I almost don't blame people for pointing a finger at our organization, "That guy gave us a hundred Euro. What have you ever done for us?" Ouch. Sigh, sigh, and double sigh.
And then there was my 27th birthday.... It reminded me of what a spoiled brat I am. I've gotten some amazing packages recently. (Tom, I baked brownies for my birthday! Thank you!) This morning, I received an e-mail from a friend asking what "cool surprises" I got for my birthday. I'm going to share my response with you all:

Ready for the cynicism?

Surprise #1: I got to pick up trash and broken glass that some kids had left in the yard of the Educational Center.
Surprise #2: My boss didn't come to a dinner I planned because he was tired and was trying to hide from someone else.
Surprise #3: The guy he was hiding from came to my house demanding to see my boss - twice.
Surprise #4: My colleagues, when I had them over for dinner, decided to talk about problems and uber-depressing subjects. One was even crying. There's no crying at my birthday party!
Surprise #5: The guy I've been "casually dating" had partied all the night before and was too tired to go out. Actually, I had a strong feeling that would happen, but it still sucks to think you're going out the night of your birthday, and that person bails on you.

So, now you can see that I'm a spoiled brat.

My birthday wasn't so bad. I did hear from a lot of great people (like you) who wished me well, and I got to talk to my parents. My colleagues gave me a bunch of gifts which were truly from the heart, and they went overboard.

I think it's just that, ever since I was little, I held 27 to be an age of great importance. Some people think your 21st, or your 25th birthday is really monumental. They all are, but I don't know why - I just thought that 27 was an age where you truly became an adult. It's silly, I know. But maybe that's what I'm dealing with.

Anyway, I know I should count my blessings. Some people "celebrate" their birthdays in refugee camps. Others "celebrate" in war zones. Others "celebrate" in extreme poverty. A good number don't even get the opportunity to celebrate turning 27 'cause they'll never reach that age. I truly am blessed.

Aren't you glad you asked?

Basically, I'm tired. I'm tired of all the games. I'm tired of people having an opinion of me one day and then changing it the next 'cause I had the "audacity" to say "no." I'm tired of people seeing our organization as a service they can use and abuse when they need us. When we need them, they're nowhere to be found. I'm tired of having to "out-think" the person next to me so I won't be taken advantage of. I'm tired of people telling me they'll do one thing, watching them do another, and then arguing with me when I call them out on it. I'm tired of thinking, "Well, I could just go back to the states," and I'm tired of the feeling of guilt that inevitably follows. It falls on me on so many levels. I'm tired of people cutting me off in line at the store to flash 50 leva bills and buy cigarettes. I'm tired of "inspiring" books and movies that talk about people taking on the world and conquering against all odds. Instead of leaving me inspired, I just feel like even more of a failure. Basically, I'm a whiner. Is this an acceptable blog post of a third-year volunteer? I wish God would come and put an end to all our "games."

P.S. I was playing this game earlier today, which encourages you to think about the cost of life for a Haitian family. It's a great, fascinating, and educational game. However, my poor, little family never seemed to be able to get ahead. They were always too sick to work, make money, and get an education. I still can't understand it. Too poor to get an education? It's an addicting little game that's actually quite depressing.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Of Tulips and Turks

I just got back from Turkey the other day. I went with my friend Michelle, and it was a fantastic trip. Let's start from the beginning, shall we?
I picked up a sick Michelle from the airport on Sofia. I was amazed that she was willing to come in her condition and traipse around with me, but she was a definite trooper. She doped up on drugs and forced herself to be mobile. That first night, we stayed in Sofia and went out for some excellent Indian food. We walked around the town a bit and then went to bed. The following morning, we walked around some more, went to the "Communist" bazaar (we only call it that 'cause you can still find some great, old memorabilia.... like, need an accordion or a pin with Lenin on it?), and then caught a couple buses to Rakitovo.
I took Michelle up to my boss' house to meet Ani, Maria, and Reneta. Afterwards, we went on a walk and ended up by Enyo and Milka's house (my former landlords). Enyo was outside and insisted that we come in to have a drink. Before long, we were sitting down to salad, and homemade rakia and wine. Michelle and I had an animated, although slightly tipsy conversation with them. Michelle was great 'cause she wanted to know about people here, and she didn't let language get in her way. After that, we went home to eat a late dinner and drink the bottle of wine that Enyo gave us on our way out the door.
The next day, we caught a ride down to Pazardjik from a friendly couple (they were trying to get me to marry their 17-year-old son), and then we caught a bus to Plovdiv. I took Michelle up to the old part of town, and we walked around to see the sites. We met up with my "sister," Vili, for dinner. Again, we had a very animated conversation and lots of fun before she dropped us off at the train station to catch our night train to Istanbul, Turkey.
The ride to Istanbul was rather sleepless and annoying, but fun. We got stuck at the border for hours 'cause no one would come to give us our visas, but we had a great time joking with the other travelers and laughing at the situation to try and keep ourselves warm. Finally, back on the train a few hours later, we were able to catch a little bit of sleep before arriving in Istanbul.
We checked into a cozy pension, grabbed some showers, and then hit the streets to see some sites. It was my third time visiting Istanbul, so I could navigate around fairly easily. The only thing was, I had been there before and I wanted to see something new. We walked around the various bazaars, got lost in the streets, ate ethnic foods, and had a good time talking to people.
Michelle placated me by pulling me into a travel agency for a trip somewhere. Before we knew it, we had arranged a trip to Ephesus and Pamukkale. The next morning, before the crack of dawn, we hopped into a very expensive cab and headed to the airport. Being the clever (and very expensive) driver that he was, he dropped us off at the international terminal. We had to walk all the way down to the domestic terminal to catch our hour flight to Izmir. We were greeted at the airport by a very tall and friendly Turkish man who drove us, along with another French-American woman and her son, to the town outside of Ephesus.
We caught a tour with a very knowledgable and informative tour guide, and we had a great time walking around the ruins of Ephesus. Hopefully, I will be posting pictures sometime in the near future. Afterwards, we saw the ruins of the temple of Artemis. Then, we had a delicious lunch. The visit to Mary's house was optional 'cause the guy said that there wasn't really much to see and that it was for "hardcore" Christians. Michelle and I decided to visit the archaeological museum instead. I wish I could call myself a "hardcore Christian" regardless, but a Mary shrine sounds more in-tune with Catholicism anyway.
After that, the tour of "you have money, and it should be ours" began. I love Turkey. I think Turkish people are great and friendly. They are also honest and sincere about saying that they want you to buy something from them. They press that you can look and won't be haggled, but their definition of "haggling" must be different from mine. If you only look and do not buy, I feel like they start looking at you in a different way - like they're frustrated with you. I did not like this part of the tour. From here on out, it got lame.
We were taken to a cooperative where women apparently sew Turkish rugs and make a living. It was interesting to see the women, the silk balls, and the weaving looms. Afterwards, we were given tea and taken into a hall where our host presented us with different regional rugs and explained each one. They wanted us to buy a rug, and they were all expensive. It soon became apparent that none of us in the tour group were high-rollers, and we weren't interested in buying a rug. We got onto the bus and went to the next place. Our tour guide said that he was "on our side" as far as making purchases, but I find that hard to believe as he apparently receives a commission for whatever they sell.
Afterwards, we were taken to an ancient mosque. The mosque was nice, but here was where "cynical Apryl" stepped in. Now, I realize that I'm in a Muslim country, and I respect that. I love seeing mosques, and I was happy to see that one. I was just a little irked, (probably unnecessarily, but I'm just being honest about my feelings) that the visit to Mary's supposed house was optional, but we all went as a group to the mosque and listened to detailed explanation about how amazing it is. Again, I'm in a Muslim country, and I need to respect that. I think I was just getting frustrated 'cause I saw the the tour was turning into an "organized shopping trip."
After that, we went to a leather coat factory, where we saw a fashion show and were then pressed to buy uber-expensive leather coats. The best part of the whole thing was the fashion show - we got to drink tea, listen to Spanish music, and oogle and good-looking models. Again, we didn't stay long. We weren't big-spenders.
Our next stop was at a ceramic factory. We saw how they spun the clay into artifacts, fired them, and painted them. Once again, we were pressed to buy ceramic souvenirs. I think someone bought something for 10 lira, and then we left. We just weren't into it, and I felt like our tour guide's mood was changing. That could be for a lot of reasons, and maybe it was just our imagination.
We were spending the night nearby, so we were finally dropped off at our hotel and freed into the world. Michelle and I took a walk up to a local castle, and some guys stopped by to tell us that the castle was closed. We ended up going with them for tea and having a good time laughing and sharing conversation. They wanted to take us somewhere for dinner, but we refused to get into their car, so we parted ways.
We were walking back through town, when we ran into a boy who had a guest from Los Angeles staying with them. Of course, we had to meet her, and we had a great conversation over some tea.
While looking for a place to eat, we ran into the guys that we had met earlier in the evening. One of them was about to open a shop, and he was overseeing the flooring operation. We talked to them for a bit, got some dinner, walked around some more shops, bought some souvenirs, and then ran into them again. We decided to go to a local place to get some drinks, and we had a great time laughing and joking around with them. They were so sweet, polite, fun, and not the least bit creepy. This is exactly what you want when you meet a foreign guy. In fact, I had my fingers accidentally smashed in the bathroom door by another customer. More out of frustration than pain, I screamed out an explitive, and everyone around me asked if I was okay. We finally said good night and they walked us back to our hotel. One said he might see us again in Istanbul, but it didn't happen. No worries. Part of the joy in traveling lies in meeting new people, trying to learn something new from them about their culture and perspectives, and flirting a bit. And Turkish guys are cute! Maybe it's because there are so many of them, and statistically, you can't help but see a few, but they were all over the place! And many of them dressed well and smelled good. That helps, I suppose.
The next day, we went on a tour to Pamukkale with a girl who seemed to struggle a bit with her English and wasn't communicative in the least. She would tell us to drop off our bags without informing us why we were doing that or when we would be seeing them again. We were taken to a place where others started piling in our van without anyone explaining why or what was going on. Our driver took us somewhere and dropped us off. Only as we were getting out of the van were we told that we would be eating lunch there. It was early, and we weren't the least bit hungry.
During lunch, were were looked at by waiters who refused to let us drink our own water at their table. I agreed with them in the sense that they were selling drinks and it was their restaurant, but it made the whole atmosphere tense. I was already tense in the fact that we had no idea what was going on, and our tour guide was not being communicative.
After lunch, we went to a site and were told to get out of the van. We did not know where we were or what was going on. Our tour guide started walking toward the site, and Michelle asked her what was going on. We had brought our swim suits to take them to the hot springs that we would see later, but we did not know whether we needed to carry them now or if we would be seeing the van beforehand. Michelle told our guide that she wasn't being very informative, and we didn't know what was going on. We didn't even know where we were. A few others got to complaining, and the atmosphere was tense. We found out that we were at Hierapolis, and she did not give much information after that. There was another confrontation, and the atmosphere got even more tense. I went and talked to our guide, and I hope she saw things from our point of view, but the day was already shot as far as the attitude of the tour. We saw the old town, and we went to Pamukkale to walk through the springs. Michelle and I walked quite a ways and saw some amazing springs. We waded, but we certainly didn't need the bathing suits and towels that we had carried around with us the whole day.
Afterwards, we were taken back to get some dinner and catch a plane to Istanbul. We stumbled in late at night, found our pension, and slept. The next day, we explored Istanbul again - having a great time visiting the Blue Mosque, walking the streets, eating good food, and talking to people. We also got a Turkish bath. After my first experience there, I wasn't too excited to go back, but I agreed to go with Michelle. This time was much nicer. The women did not rearrange my bones like the last lady did, and I enjoyed myself much more.
We caught a night bus back to Sofia, and I sweat through the whole evening. I swear it was 80 degrees in that bus, and I did not get much sleep! The border crossing was a huge ordeal all over again, but at least we did not have to spend much time outside. Although it was a nice reprieve from the bus!
We finally ended up back in Sofia and went to our hostel. We walked around the town - trying to see new things. We ended up at a few bazaars and went to a mall to see a super-lame movie. By the time we got out, it was raining, but the taxis didn't want to drive us back to our hostel. We walked back in the rain, and hung out a bit talking to the hostel owner, his friend, and another guest. It was an amusing conversation to say the least, but I don't feel like going into it now. We mostly disagreed about how great Sofia is and how cheap it is. Fun times.
Michelle and I walked around in the rain to find a place to eat, and then we went back to the hostel. We slept in and then went to the airport so she could catch her flight back to the states. We had a great time, but it was nice to get home, take a much-needed shower, and then meet up with Tsanko - the guy I mentioned in the post before last.