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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

" I'm tired of having to "out-think" the person next to me so I won't be taken advantage of."

Dear Apryl, pls understand that what you face are the involuntary survival instincts that we/bulgarians developed in order to survive the miserable mess that you live with every day. This is especially true for the gypsies, who survived for cenuries by using and abusing the others (psl, spear me the bias b****t). The easiest way to deal with it probably is to accept it for what it is - a handicap. You're doing a vary hard job, from you heart, and I could only admire you. One day you'll be VERY PROUD wiht it, and you'll realise how much you learned.

sure , you can alway duck and run, to face your own problems over here...sorry for being rude.

Eating Cherrios with banana and organic lowfat milk, watching Sesame Street on PBS...7000 miles away.

Happy 27!!!