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.

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