Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wild Strawberries

Do you ever get the feeling you're going to have a bad day? Like, you just know it's going to be a stinker. And then it turns out to be an absolutely fantastic day? It seems like almost every day this week was like that. Things in the office are lame. Seems like there's still a lot of bickering. Plus, one of our projects have been stalled because of the uncertain political environment here. There are rumors that a few schools will be closed. Also, we heard back that we weren't approved for one of our projects. I don't know how we'll take on more projects with the staff that we have, but it's still disappointing when a project you've worked on hasn't been approved. And that's the problem: there are so few resources to intelligently do the things needed in town, let alone in our organization. It's difficult to find competent people who are suited for the job. I think that's a huge source of stress for my colleagues.
My English classes are going well. My students are advancing, and we're having fun. I'm proud of them all, but I have a few gems that I'm particularly proud of: those who didn't know any English before they started learning with me. However, I think the ability to learn a language and learn it well has more to do with inherent capability than anything else, but it still makes a teacher proud to see her students catching on. Plus, I've learned more about the nuances of English as well. We'll see what happens for the summer. I'm trying to stress to my students that, if they don't work during the summer, they can basically stop here and now. Our time left together is short.
Baseball is going well now that the weather has stopped being strange. It's going well in the sense that we're having fun. It's by no means organized, and I wish I had been better about that. I wish there were opportunities to play against other teams, but we're just running around and getting fresh air. On Tuesday, I brought a frisbee up to the stadium, and there were people playing soccer. There was so much activity going on all around us, that the kids couldn't figure out what to do. Should we play baseball? Should we try out this frisbee thing? Should we go play soccer? They would divide their time between the three - which was a little confusing and slightly frustrating, but I laughed it off 'cause we were having fun regardless.
On Thursday, I showed up at the stadium to find that it had been taken over by club football players from the Black Sea Coast. The guy who takes care of the field told us that "our time was over," but then he said that it wouldn't be long before the paying footballers took off, and then we could play. I can't figure him out. It seems like one minute he doesn't care for us, and then the next he regards us with mild amusement. He told us we could take to the field before the footballers were done, but I felt uncomfortable stepping in while paying athletes were still using the field. Some of the younger kids and I played frisbee during that time, and we looked around for other places to play. Once the football team cleared the field, we spent some solid time playing baseball.
Spending time with these kids reminds me why I enjoy being a Youth Development worker. The days when I have baseball are the longest days. I leave my house at 8:30 a.m. and return at 8:30 p.m. It's not like I'm actually doing 12 hours of straight work, but my time is occupied with something or another. And it's not like I look forward to it all, 'cause I can feel that it's going to be a long day. Once it's over though, I look back and realize how much fun I had. What would I be doing otherwise? Sitting at home?
Anyway, the kids are cute. They always want to tell me something. They always want my attention. My name gets said more in the space of an hour and a half than it does all week. One of the kids asked me if I'd come to Bulgaria to play with them. Another asked me if I'm a trainer in the states. "No," I said, "I just really like to play." "So, you train us here." I just smiled. It makes me wish that I had gotten into it more. I wish I had found other teams for us to play against, that I had found more equipment, that we had uniforms, and (if I dream superbig) that I had found a way to put in a baseball diamond. A friend of mine sent me the book "Shoeless Joe," which is better known as the film adaptation "Field of Dreams." I've had the whole, "If you build it, [they] will come" fantasy in my mind. Of course, I realize that I can only do so much. It's enough that I get together with some kids and run around in the fresh air.
Yesterday, I went on a hike with Reneta and Ani into the woods. We had a good time walking along and enjoying the fresh air. I live in the most fantastic place - surrounded by trees, and I don't get out enough to walk amongst them. We saw lots of wild flowers and some giant ant-hills. We gathered pine cones for burning in the winter, and we ate tiny, wild strawberries. I love wild strawberries. They're like bite-sized candies.
Today I took a walk on a path I'd never seen before with one of my English students - also named Ani. We were having a lovely time, eating more wild strawberries again, until we saw a snake. Ani became pretty uncomfortable and insisted we turn back. She was right as we were just wearing sandals. I would have continued on because I've never been to that part of the forest before, but now I know I'll have to go back another time.
I have to get out more and explore, but I find myself in kind of a paradox. I don't like going out alone. It's more fun to share the experience with someone. However, as soon as I'm with someone, I find myself wishing I were alone again. It doesn't make any sense to me. When I'm alone, I find myself wishing I were with people. When I'm with people, I find myself wishing I were alone. It's so strange. I don't get it. It's not a strong feeling, just a strange sensation. There's only one exception to this, and I wonder if something is wrong with me. I feel as though I'm just kind of floating along in this life, and I'm confused by its lack of impact on me as well as my lack of impact on it. I'm probably not making myself clear, but I guess lately I've been feeling as though every day is more or less the same, and I'm devoid of feeling. This boggles me. I think I'm ready for something new. I just want to be jubilantly excited about something. I just want to have fun with people I love.
I have ants. I hate ants. I've had them for a while. First, they found the Junior Mints that my mom sent me, and that made me mad. Recently, however, I can't figure them out. They seem to just like to roam the area. They like to congregate on the counter in the kitchen after I've just wiped it down, and I think they're looking to get hydrated. My strategy: vacuuming them up. It's quick and effective for the short-term. For the longest time, they were just straggling around, then they laid a trail. Sometimes I'll only see a few. Today I came back from my walk to find that a bunch of them were having a party. Apparently they found something in the trashcan - although I still don't know what. I broke down and borrowed some Raid from the neighbors. I hate sprays, but I hate ants more. Fortunately, the Raid doesn't smell, and I know where they're coming from, so I just sprayed that part. I hope they stay out.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My Thoughts on the Thoughts of God

I rarely attend church here in Rakitovo. I'll go once every other month or so, and it'll be to the Evangelical Church as opposed to the Adventist one. It's even more rare that I attend both in one weekend. I think I've done that only one other weekend the whole time I've been here. I decided to go because, otherwise I'd have spent the whole weekend couped up in my apartment. I had nothing going on. No plans. At first it sounds glorious, but then it can get a little lonely. I needed to get out.
I think of the frustrations I feel with life here: the misunderstandings, the desire for something better, for people to act differently, to "come to their senses," and I imagine that's how God feels about me. I look at some of the people here, and I wish they'd view the world a little differently. I wish they'd live their lives a little differently - wish they'd act a little differently - wish they'd prioritize a little differently. I'm sure that's the exact way God feels about me. "Oh, Apryl, if you'd just do it My way and trust in Me, you'd see that your life is a whole lot happier."
It's easy to look at someone and look at all the ways they need to "change" their life. It's hard to look at yourself and realize the same. It's even harder, once you've realized all the ways you need to change, to put those changes into action. Actually, I see a lot of things about myself that I would love to change, but I don't know how to go about doing that. And I realize that I'm truly powerless to change myself in any extreme way that really matters. Why do I demand that others around me change? I've come to the conclusion that only God can really effect any huge change. That's just my point of view.
Anyway, back to the two church services.... They're interesting. There's actually quite a bit of bickering in the Adventist church. They're wonderful people, don't get me wrong, but they sometimes confide in me about the "sins" of others. Yesterday, they got into a friendly argument during Sabbath School because the one directing the lesson didn't want the discussion portion to run long. The Sabbath School here is a time for discussion - where most people ask questions and weigh in on what the lesson study says. If there's too much discussion, they won't get through the lesson. It was amusing watching the lesson leader play time-keeper and cut people off when they started to get a little long-winded. The entire church service goes for about three hours.
At the Evangelical Church, there isn't a lot of discussion. We get together and listen to what the pastor (a really sweet guy) has to say. The whole service lasts a little over an hour.
I'll get into theological discussions/debates with members of the Adventist church because a lot of the talk centers on logic and Truth. It's not good for me because my Biblical knowledge is not so hot, and my Bulgarian certainly doesn't help the issue. For example, one of the leaders turned to me and mentioned that the final power in the prophecy of Daniel 2 was the United States - which I've heard several times before. I mentioned that I'd also heard a hypothesis that it might be a reference to Europe and the European Union. Another church member was brought over, and he talked about the EU trying to unite through constitution votes and referendums, but he doubted it would happen. This seemed to support the hypothesis I referenced. But who knows? Maybe Asia will make the a union that will fall in line with the prophecy and they'll be the final power. If a Biblical Scholar is reading this right now s/he is probably shaking her/his head: "Please, Apryl, Daniel 2 a reference to Asia? Pshaw!" I don't know 'cause I'm not really the type of person that gets excited about trying to figure out calculations of years in history and spiritual prophecy. It's not my thing, but it seems to be what many Adventists are all about. And I feel like some of them can't understand why someone else wouldn't be interested in that. "Hello! It's the End of Times! How can you be so non-chalant about it?" "Well...." I think it has to do with Adventists and their insistance on knowing the Truth. I refuse to digress.
I never get into any such discussions at the Evangelical Church. It's mostly conversations about trials and difficulties, and then we praise God for being with us and shake hands saying, "Glory to God."
The sermon at the Adventist Church this week was about "hot, cold, and tepid" Christians. It was a good sermon, and the speaker repeatedly emphasized that only God is able to judge who is "hot," who is "cold," and who is "tepid." Even when others tried to hypothesize about what might constitute the definition of a "cold" or "tepid" Christian, he exhorted them not to judge. The only thing I wondered about is: If you accept the definition of a "cold" Christian as a person who has completely rejected Christ, can you still call this person a "Christian?" Again, I digress.
The sermon at the Evangelical Church this week was about the trials of Joseph and the phrase which appears multiple times in his story: "God was with Him." It was about how Joseph trusted God no matter how difficult things got, and God gave him success in all he did because God chose Joseph, and Joseph chose God. There was also an illustration about a dandelion seed and how, despite being caught in violent storms, floats along as if it doesn't have a care - completely trusting to be carried to an adequate destination.
And I realized why I like the Evangelical Church so much: We do a lot of singing, listening, and praying. It's all about trusting God in the hard times and relying on Him to take care of us. The sermons are interesting, light, and fluffy, and they make you feel good at the end. There are no demands of real sacrifice - no feelings of "shape up or ship out." God made the sacrifice. Trusting is difficult enough. Light, fluffy, chocolate-covered Christianity. The room is cozy. The people are always smiling. We have a song in our hearts, and we're loving God. The Evangelical Church makes few demands on me, and that's why I like it so much.
The Adventist Church extols me to make sacrifices. The Adventist Church tells me that I'm robbing from God if I'm not paying tithe. The Adventist Church tells me that I should be getting up on Saturday morning to go to church. The Adventist Church tells me I should be spending more time seeking out Truth in the Bible. I should be (gasp!) making sacrifices for God. The chairs are hard. The walls are a blinding white. The people get into debates about how we should worship. Yikes! Save me from the Adventist Church!
So it got me thinking: I really do like my Christianity chocolate-covered. I'm grateful for the sacrifice God made for me, but I'm appalled that others suggest I should be spending more time thinking how I can make sacrifices for Him. I love it when we talk about how amazing God is; how He's always there for us. I want my God to be like a big teddybear, or like a loyal dog that continues to adore you even though you run out the door without taking the time to pet it.
I'm inclined to believe that True Christianity lies somewhere between these two church services. Both are valid, and both have something to teach me about my relationship with God. Maybe it all comes down to spiritual pathways, and how we, as different individuals, experience God differently. I would imagine that He wouldn't mind a bit more sacrifice on our parts. I wonder if this means that I should continue attending both services. :)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rain, Rain, Go Away

The weather has been positively atrocious. Recently, we've been getting one or two days during the week where a storm doesn't pass through. Otherwise, the mornings start out warm, it gets hot in the afternoon, and then it clouds over, thunders, and drenches us. Everything is green and growing like crazy. The yard around the Educational Center looks like a jungle. Yesterday, I went and cleaned up the entrance with the help of Yanko, his daughters, and my friend Mitko. It was hard work, and it's nowhere near done, but it looks a lot better.
Last week was a tough one for me mentally. I don't know what was up, but I was sullen and disconnected from my colleagues. Tuesday came around, and I almost cancelled baseball even though the weather was nice. Mentally, I didn't want to deal with it. I was praying to God for help when a cute kid came up on his bike. He asked with a huge smile, "Are we playing baseball?" I couldn't say "no." I'm glad I didn't. We had a bunch of players, and we had a great time. I really wish I could be more gung-ho about the whole thing. Who knows where baseball could go if I put more effort into it? On Thursday, I saw one of the littlest team members at the weekly bazaar. I snuck up on him and poked him. "Are we going to have baseball?" he asked me through gapped teeth. "As long as it doesn't rain, we'll play," I said. The sun was shining brightly when I told him that - not a cloud in the sky. It thundered and rained like crazy once lunch hit.
In fact, I can see lightning in the distance as I write this. I'm going to shut my computer down and come back later.
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Okay, so it's now the next day, and the weather is behaving for the moment. Where was I? Oh, so I was home last week during lunch when we were hit with a major thunder storm. It crept closer, and I started to think, "You know what? I should probably turn off my computer." Just as I was setting it on the table, a spark flew out from the internet cable. I jumped back and quickly turned off my computer. I was terrified. What if I had fried my laptop? I quickly turned it back on. It went through a couple scans and seemed to be all right, so I quickly turned it back off again. What was that?
When I came back home, I discovered that I didn't have an internet connection. Well, I guess I either fried the cable or I fried my network card. I went to the cable place the next day, and they said I probably fried my network card. They took me to a local repair place where the guy got frustrated with my computer because it was working so slowly. He checked the connection, and he said, "Your network card is fine. Your only problem is that you use Windows Vista." Yay! My computer was fine! The cable guys came back over and said, "Well, the modem is blown." So now, instead of connecting the modem with a jack, I use a USB. I don't really understand it, but it's better than having to buy a new modem - which apparently would have run me 60 lev. Maybe I'll have to pay for it when I return it to the cable company anyway. Who knows? (Secretly, I was almost wishing my network card was fried beyond repair, 'cause I'm pretty sure I'm addicted to the internet.)
On Friday of last week, my colleagues and I took a walk up to the local park. It was pretty - in a misty, rainy sort of way. I took the time to ask them what they wanted from their next Peace Corps Volunteer. They had applied to the Youth Development program again, which was a little pointless as the organization doesn't do a lot of direct work with youth anymore. Plus, my colleagues have tons of experience and are about to be busy working on a number of projects. Would they even have time for a volunteer? They told me that they wanted a volunteer from the Community and Organizational Development (COD) Program. Yanko said that the most important thing for them was the "outside perspective" and translating projects. It's just, I don't know. I wonder if my colleagues will really have the time it takes to dedicate to a new volunteer - to get them integrated. It all depends on a number of variables. I talked to Thomas about it, and he had some good advice for me. Also, it turns out that it's too late to apply for a COD volunteer. They're going to have to wait six months after I leave for the next group to come in.
Speaking of a number of projects, we recently have been ranked for another one. It's not as involved as some of the others we've been working on, but it's another one to add to the workload. We had some representatives here today to check out our operation, and it's highly likely that the project will be approved. It's a project for the handicapped who use the rehabilitation center in our town, and hopefully it will help them become knowledgeable in writing their own projects and applying for their own programs.
This last Tuesday was a nightmare in the office. I don't know what happened. Was I testy? Definitely. Was Yanko on edge? Most likely. He's under an enormous amount of stress at the moment. It felt like we were bickering the whole time, and my colleagues were getting frustrated by it, too. I work one way. Yanko works another. But Yanko, if he really wants something done his way, will use all sorts of tactics until he gets his way. Sometimes, he should just play his "boss card" and call the shots, but he decides instead to play games like using the "silent treatment." Or he has to jump on you until you cave. Then he goes on for another half hour even after you've given in - arguing with you about how he was right, and you should have come to this conclusion much earlier. I know I'm not perfect either - especially when I want my way, but these arguments and games seem to happen all too often in the office. One of my other colleagues blew up at both of us though, and her reaction infuriated me even more. I spent part of my lunch break talking to Yanko and crying one of those hysterical sob-fests that come out of nowhere and make you hiccough while you talk. Then I spent the other part spending a fortune on phone fees by talking to Angel and complaining. By the end of the day, even though the weather was perfect, I cancelled baseball. I felt completely ill, and I had a headache that didn't even go away after I took two Advil.
I'm no angel, and no one is perfect. Six of us are periodically in that office, and we spend most of our time playing "musical chairs" and bumping into each other. This is another reason I wonder if it's a healthy work environment for a new volunteer. Tensions are bound to build. In fact, earlier this week, we had an argument about something that we had all decided not to do. My colleagues were going round and round arguing about an activity they had agreed we would not take part in. I finally lost it, "We've all agreed not to do this. We're not going to do it. Why are we still arguing about whether or not it should be done?" I hate bickering, and I constantly jump on my colleagues about it. It was disappointing to see myself fall into it on Tuesday, but I thought I was stating my position in a mature manner. Maybe, from their point of view, I wasn't. I've learned this: If you disagree, state your opinion once. If they hold their view, do it their way. They're probably right anyway, and you're going to save yourself a whole lot of time if you just agree to do it their way. Yanko praises and laments my Americanism all at the same time. He likes the perspective that I hold, but he says it's very hard for me to see things from another perspective. Maybe he's right. I just hate that we can't get through a project without fighting. I wonder what our fight ratio is. Like, how many fights does it take for us to write a 10-page project? Twenty pages? Sixty pages? I love my colleagues. I will always love them for a variety of reasons that have little to do with the office, but that work environment is toxic, and I honestly can't wait to get out. I don't think I've ever argued so much in my life.
We do have good times in the office. However, everyone has to be in the right mood for that to happen. I got a package from my father on Monday. It had all sorts of Hawaiian goodies in it, and we enjoyed looking at all the stuff inside - especially the magazine my dad sent me. It had all sorts of pictures from Hawai'i in it, including his picture. Yanko went on and on about how we looked so much alike. "Look, if you look at just the left half of her dad's face and then look at her smile... isn't it the same person?" And we were talking about theories on the rotation and movements of the earth, and who knows how the earth spins continuously without two points on either end to hold it? (I argued that these two points are God's hands.) These are the moments when I enjoy being with my colleagues. I wish these moments happened more often.
As a side note, I have to give my dad a hard time in a public forum. Father's Day is coming up in a couple days, so might as well tease my dad. I know he's already embarrassed enough about it as it is, but I think it's hilarious, and I have to rub it in. He spelled my name wrong on the package he sent me. Yes, my lovely father, who insisted that I be called Apryl "with a y," spelled my name "April." It happens. It's okay though. By the time it made it to me, the Bulgarians had slapped a slip that said "Artur Gibson" on it. Nice. Where they got that, I don't know.
I was interviewed for the news the other day. BBtv of Velingrad came to do a piece on our organization - highlighting the project for which we'd recently won first place. Interestingly, this is the first television interview that I've done. It's not uncommon for PCVs to be asked to give interviews because we make good interest pieces. The local media has thus far ignored me, and I haven't complained. I have thought it odd that they haven't sought me out before, however. This time, I wasn't getting away. I was nervous, of course, but it could have been much worse.
The reporter started out by asking me, "How long have you been in Bulgaria, and how long have you been working with this organization?"
"Almost three years," I answered and waited for the next question. She kept the microphone in my face and just blinked at me. After an awkward half-second, I smiled and launched into a rambling explanation about when I arrived in Bulgaria, my host family, and the moment when I moved to Rakitovo to start my work at Future Foundation. She asked me questions about projects I've done with my colleagues, and I answered them as well as I could. The whole thing took about five minutes, and then I was free. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I wasn't able to see myself on the news. It turns out the contract between that network and our local cable company has broken down, and we can't get BBtv in our town - even though they're our local news source. Interesting, huh? It's probably for the best, though. I dislike seeing or hearing myself in live, media formats. I have yet to hear a copy I was given of a radio interview I did over a year ago. I hear it's quite good, but I just don't have the nerve.
Yesterday, my female colleagues took off for a seminar in Pazardjik. Yanko and I had the office to ourselves. In the morning, we drank coffee and then went to the rehabilitation center to talk with the staff there about the coming donors meeting. Afterwards, we decided to take an early lunch and then return to the office early to work on our latest project budget. The sky clouded over and stormed like crazy during lunch. Right as I was to return to the office, there was a break in the weather, and I headed back. I figured, considering the insane weather, Yanko might not show up. I brought a book just in case. I'm glad I did. I spent the afternoon reading and dozing on the couch. The rain fell and fell for hours outside. I cancelled my English class right before the sun decided to make another appearance. I saw Yanko on my way home, and he said he had stayed up in his neighborhood to help and host workers who were taking care of a busted water pipe a few meteres from his house.
Earlier in the day, he had been complaining because no one seemed to be doing anything about it. "And who's going to have to pay for that water?" We are. Discontent with the government is normal. Either they're not doing enough, and even if they're doing their jobs, they're not doing it the right way. What's interesting is living in a small town where I see local government directly affecting the lives of the people they serve - whether it be for bad or good. In Sacramento, I never saw that. I was paying attention if I knew the name of the mayor serving at the time, but I certainly couldn't see how s/he was impacting my life. I'm sure s/he was, but I had the luxury of being ignorant of it. Here, we march right in if we want to talk to local government. We have actual relationships with these people. It's enlightening, and it makes me want to stay as far away from politics as possible.
Here's some interesting information for you: All my colleagues have two first names. In fact, a lot of people in my town have two first names. The Roma have their Roma and their Bulgarian name, and many Bulgarian-Muslims have their Muslim and Bulgarian name. More on partial reason for that phenomenon here. What's interesting is that two of my colleagues share the same two names: Silvia and Fatma. One we call Silvia, the other we call Fatme. The one we call Fatme actually prefers her name Silvia, but we've always called her Fatme, even though she came to our office before Silvia. Confusing? Not really. It's only when others try to call them different names than I'm used to calling them does it get confusing. I wonder if I would enjoy having two names....
"I-Never-Bothered-to-Learn-Your-Name Boy" called me last weekend. Apparently he wanted to ask me to come out and play, but I didn't hear my phone when he called. I called him back, and he said he would ask me out the next day. Yeah, right. He didn't call. I've seen him every morning this week, and it's awkward. I'm not used to running into him so much. It's a good thing I don't care much. Otherwise I wonder if I could continue to restrain this urge I have to kick him in the kneecaps. Mature, I know.
So, the rain is still falling. It's June, and I still sleep in layers with all my covers pulled over me. It makes our yard beautiful. The yard I walk through every day, where I almost always play with and pet K.C. on my way to my door, is filled with beautiful roses and lilies. I love it. So far, the weather hasn't truly bothered me. I'm sure it's about to get old soon enough, however.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Stories I'll Tell My Grandkids


Why is power so intoxicating? Bleh. The other day, I was walking up to the Roma neighborhood when I was called over by a guy I met a few weeks ago. He was wearing short nylon shorts and a white shirt that highlighted his gut. But, he was standing in the door of a shiny, black Audi, wearing shades, talking on his phone, and exuding "cool." He's once of the municipal council members. I saw that he was on his phone, so when he motioned to me, I just waved back. He insisted that I come over and talk for a moment. I found myself getting absorbed by the feeling of "these things make me important," and I was getting tongue-tied. He basically wanted to ask me if the Roma listened to me. Huh? "Umm...," I found myself foundering. "Did you listen to what I told you the other day? That's the important thing," I told him. (We had a conversation about capitalism vs. communism, haves vs. have-nots, and the power of money.) He smiled, "You're a smart one." Nice. Cool guy with the shades and the Audi told me I was smart. It must be true. I hope I never become anyone really "important." All I will ever do is go around and shake hands, getting tongue-tied and telling myself that I matter because I know powerful people. I can see it now. Power corrupts. It would corrupt me in a heartbeat if I were allowed to get a hold of it.
Just to keep me humble, I have to share the following story. I usually don't talk about my dating life - except to mention the M-Tel boy in Velingrad that I'm in love with, who only smiles, says "hi" to me, and then ignores me these days (my aching heart!) - but I just have to share this 'cause I think it's funny. So, there's this guy in my town that I casually dated for about a month. We haven't gotten together in a while, so I figure it's all over. Every once in awhile, however, he calls me just for fun to ask when we're getting together. Usually I'm out of town when he calls. We plan on meeting up. He says he'll give me a call later, and then he never does. Repeat this every couple weeks. He usually calls me late at night, and I'm guessing he thinks of me when he's had a few drinks.
So, last week, he called me at midnight. Here's, more or less, the conversation we had:
Guy: When are we getting together?
Apryl: I've had enough of this. This is pointless. Why do you call me to ask when we'll get together when we don't? You're just wasting minutes on your phone.
Guy: You weren't sleeping, were you?
Apryl: No.
Guy: So, you wanna get together?
Apryl: I'm going to sleep.
Guy: When are we getting together?
Apryl: We never get together. I thought this had all ended.
Guy: I've never said that it's over, Angel, so it's not over.
Apryl: This is pointless.
Guy: Angela, I really like you. I want to get together. I've just been busy.
Apryl: Why are you calling me "Angel" or "Angela" or whatever?
Guy: 'Cause that's your name.
Apryl: That's not my name. (laughing) Do you not know my name?
Guy: Of course I know your name.
Apryl: Then what is it?
Guy: (laughs)
Apryl: I knew you didn't know my name. I'm going to tell this story to my grandkids one day - about how I dated a guy who didn't know my name.
Guy: I know your name! (laughs)
Apryl: Whatever.
Guy: When are we going to get together?
Apryl: I don't see the point.
Guy: Don't you know that you're my girl?
Apryl: Um, excuse me? I'm no one's property.
Guy: Let's get together tomorrow. I won't promise that I'll call so I won't end up lying to you again.
Apryl: Right. Ciao.
Guy: Ciao.
He hasn't called since.
I'm going to go eat some Mexican leftovers.

You can look at these pictures if you want.
In the meantime, there's also this great poem by Judith Viorst that reminds me of my attitude toward awards and recognition:

What Price Is Glory?

I stood on a stage
and they gave me a medal
For being the Best of the Bunch.
The Ricky Gesumaria came by
And ate it up for lunch,
With mustard, a pickle, two slices of rye,
And a very nasty Crr-rr-unch.

I stood on a stage
And they gave me a trophy
For being the Top of the Heap.
I waited for cheers
But the audience had fallen asleep,
Except for Joshua, who yelled,
"No trophies for that creep!"

I stood on a stage
And they gave me a plaque that
Said I was the star of the Show.
It weighed a hundred pounds,
Max Goldfarb dropped it on my toe.
And the next time someone calls my name
And wants me to stand on a stage
And get some prizes,
I'll still go.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Recognition

I believe that everyone likes receiving positive recognition for an ability that they have or something they've done. I know I like it - even though I sometimes start to feel awkward, especially if it's for something I don't think that I deserve. But recognition is nice. I'll get to that in a second.
Future Foundation has decided to apply for another volunteer. They still tell me that they're not going to let me go anywhere - whether it's to the states or France or wherever my next stop is, but they know that can't put off the inevitable. About once a day I hear the suggestion from someone that I find a nice boy and just stay in Bulgaria forever. I joke that, if a Bulgarian boy can't rope me down in three years, a Bulgarian boy is probably never going to rope me down. This is followed by them insisiting that there must be someone they can set me up with, and then an unfruitful racking of brains while they try to come up with a suitable suitor.
Anyway, Yanko and company have applied for another volunteer from the Youth Development program. I don't know how I feel about it. One part of me thinks that it'd be great for them to have another volunteer 'cause they're such great people, and it's a good organization to work for. Another part of me wonders what a volunteer would need to do here and if they really have the time to dedicate the attention that's required for such a person. I sometimes wonder if my hesitation comes from a desire to remain their "one and only" Peace Corps Volunteer. I honestly doubt that though. In all sincerity, I would love to see a person come and succeed in many of the ways that I was unable to. It's time to sit down and have a chat with the Peace Corps.
With the quest for a new volunteer comes the inevitable question of who will play the role of that person's counterpart. The role of the counterpart is an involved one, and it takes finesse to do it well. This person is the volunteer's first contact into the community, and it's important that the relationship be a good one. Of course, there are volunteers who have survived "bad" counterparts and made good relationships with other colleagues, but it's disappointing and highly unsatisfying. A counterpart should be there (at least in the beginning) whether you want to help write a project, wonder where the hospital is, have a flood in your apartment, whatever. Plus, this person is expected to meet the volunteer to bring them back for their first visit to the host community, and to attend a couple of trainings with the Peace Corps.
My colleagues get that it's an involved responsibility, but they couldn't agree who should take it on. No one wanted to dedicate the time it takes to help a volunteer integrate and get on their feet in the beginning. Well, maybe it wasn't a matter of desire. I realize that my colleagues are incredibly busy. They hardly have their weekends free these days, and we've got a lot of projects coming up. They're right to hesitate. It was just disheartening to see them throw the responsibilty around. It made me thankful for my counterpart, Angel. Even though I wondered why he was constantly at my side in the beginning, I was really grateful for it - and probably even got a little dependent on it. I was trying to tell him how thankful I was for him the other night, but he's already heard it tons of times - even from other volunteers. "Apryl, I know that there's no other counterpart like me in all of Peace Corps. They should hire me to train counterparts." I shut up. His ego apparently doesn't need any more stroking.
Baseball has been a little "hit and miss" figuratively and literally. It's been fun, but I hit Maria in the leg the other day with the ball. Of course I didn't mean to, but she was angry. She insisted that she was done playing such a "dangerous sport." I told her that all sports carry risk, but she didn't want to hear it. I think she was more upset about the fact that she was unable to hit the ball that evening. After she got hit with the ball, she didn't look too bothered by it and continued to play, but she started to get more upset later into the evening as she was finding it impossible to connect the bat with the ball. On the way home, as she was complaining about her leg, I called her out on it, "You're not upset about getting hit in the leg. You're really upset that you were unable to hit the ball." She considered this, "No, that's not it." Oh, Maria, Maria. I love her, but I see so many of the things I don't like about me in her. I don't like that.
Out of hundreds of candidates, Future Foundation wrote the best proposal for a project offered by the Ministry of Education and Science. It's a huge accomplishment for our organization, and we were invited to Sofia to receive a certificate for our work. I'm incredibly proud of my colleagues - especially when I remember the headaches, arguments, and late nights we spent on developing and writing it. Yanko invited me to come along to the conference at the Hilton Hotel in Sofia, and I accepted. We went for a conference, and I ogled the interpreters in their cabinets - broadcasting live interpretations into various headsets around the room. "Wow," I thought. "I want to do that!" It's intense. It's demanding. It's amazing. Otherwise, the conference was fairly interesting, and the award ceremony was fairly anti-climactic. I hope our "first place" recongnition won't go to our heads, but people in town need to know my colleagues are capable of writing fantastic projects. I find people here, however, easily explain away these things however they want. I don't know where it's out of envy or what, but it seems people are quite talented at belittling the success of others.
On Friday, we went to a celebration for the 60th anniversary of the segregated, Roma school. They put on an excellent program, and I was astounded by the work of one of the teachers in particular. He plays the accordion, writes songs, and maintains at least three or four singing groups (both youth and pensioners) and a drum group comprised of Roma youth. How he finds time for all of that, I don't know, but my hat goes off to him. The school recognized Future Foundation's role in helping students' development, and I thought that was considerate - especially since we're not their favorite people, what with try to convince students to leave that school and attend integrated ones.
Yesterday, I spent all day cooking and shopping. We made burritos with Maria and Reneta. It was delicious! I was proud of myself for following recipes and making some good refried beans and tortillas from scratch! If it didn't take all day, I'd probably do it more often. Reneta said it was the best food she'd ever eaten. Mmmm... the rewards were worth it.
Today, I was invited to go to a program and potluck to celebrate International Children's Day with disabled children. The program was great. I was impressed by the ability of people to turn out to support the event. I sat down with the organizer and the head of the NGO this morning, and I told her that I really admired her work. She's a really great woman, and she's always been so sweet to me. Besides running her organzation for kids with disabilities, she works as a secretary at one of the schools. She also cares for three children - one has Down Syndrome. She has amassed a good collection of people to help her, and I admire her work so much. Instead of eating at the potluck however, I invited Jeina and Petya, a couple girls I regularly drink coffee with, to come over for Mexican leftovers. Mmmm.... And I still have a lot of food!
Now I'm sitting in the office 'cause I haven't paid my internet bill yet for the month, and the cable place is closed. I'm about to leave and go to the church and then probably meet my former landlords for a glass of wine. I saw Milka, her daughter, and the grandkids at the event today, but Milka was distracted with the youngest, "So, Apryl. What are you up to with the organization these days? Nothing, right?" Ummm.... I started to explain to her that we had won an award for best-written project, but I could tell she wasn't listening to me.
Before I go, however, I want to say a quick "thank you" to all those who have worked to impact my life for the better. I've been realizing how much it takes of oneself to spend time with young (and old) people who need their free-time filled in a constructive manner. If you wonder if I'm thanking you, be sure that I am.