Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Busy Boredom

I have a million and a half things I want to share here. The sad thing about being busy and not updating your blog regularly is that you're apt to forget something. It's not so much for you as it is for me to write down, process, and remember what has happened during my time here. I can't believe how quickly it's all going by. I can't believe it's been so long since I updated my blog. A good friend of mine is keeping a countdown on her website that's based on a tentative "close-of-service" (COS) date. Ninety days left. I still do not have an official COS date. I should probably start bugging PC about that. I just figured they'd bug me when they wanted to know when I'll be officially ending my Peace Corps service. Wow. What will it be like to no longer be a Peace Corps Volunteer? I think I'll have some sort of identity crisis.
The weekend before last I took a hike with some friends to a hija (lodge) half-way up Hristo Botev Peak in Kalofer. It was a long hike, and I was carrying a lot of baggage (my sleeping bag, someone else's sleeping bag, and the tent), but it was so awesome. There were four of us. Two got an earlier start, and another girl and I came up later in the afternoon. She helped a bit with the luggage. Just hiking, chatting, being out in the fresh air... it was awesome. I'm going to have to post pictures soon 'cause it was absolutely beautiful. I loved it. I felt alive.
About an hour from the hija we ran into the rest of our company. They had met some very nice men who had encouraged them to keep going to the hija. We finally made it just before nightfall. We had dinner and some drinks with our new acquaintances, but we were so exhausted and soon went to bed. Camping out under the stars was absolutely spectacular - even though we didn't sleep well. Plus, there was a beautiful waterfall in the distance that just made it all picturesque. Like I said, I'll have to post pictures.
There was no way that we were going to make it to the top of Botev, so we turned around the next morning and went down the mountain. We made good time - running over and over again into a huge group of Bulgarians and exchanging a few words. They were able to give a couple of us a ride back to Kalofer once we got down the mountain, and the other two hopped in another car. That saved us enough time for me to make it back to Rakitovo. I was exhausted, but it was a fabulous exhaustion.
All of last week, I was tired. I came down with a cold, but I was good about taking my vitamins, so the symptoms were practically non-existent.
Valia and Ani (two of my colleagues) have been on vacation these past weeks. They will be gone until the end of August. The office is very quiet without them. The hours go by pretty slowly. I miss them, but... at the same time it's kind of nice not to have the chaos in the office. We don't necessarily have a lot to do, but when we do, it gets done quickly, and we go home early. Last week, I was able to finish up a big project we've been working on. I was so proud of myself - English translation, matching budgets in the hundreds of thousands of Euros. Now there's a question again about whether or not they'll be willing to support our kind of project. Augh! I feel sick inside thinking about all our work. I need to make a phone call to Hungary, and I'm putting it off.
I finally confronted the guy who originally installed our heating system in the Educational Center. I think I've mentioned before about the tirade I've wanted to lay into him - about how I would go off the handle about how he put kids in danger, how I would yell at him that we had to install an entirely new system after his shoddy work... and he still thought we owed him 20 leva. I'm not the confrontational type, and I'm definitely not the yelling type. I almost wish I were a bit more like that. I knew I wouldn't yell at him when I confronted him, but my heart was pounding regardless. I grabbed my wallet and waited 'til he was alone and could talk. I told him that we re-installed the entire system and paid 400 leva for it. I told him that I didn't want to hear his stories around town that we owe him 20 leva. I kept pushing 20 leva on him. At first he refused to take it, "Why did you have to install the entire system again? I don't have a problem with you. I've only been talking to Yanko." I was trying to tell him that I wanted him to take the 20 leva and shut up. He tried to refuse, but we just kept going around in circles. Finally, I shoved the 20 leva in his pocket, and he didn't do much to protest. "I'm going to give it to Yanko," he said. Yeah right. "Do whatever you want," I told him and walked away. I just wanted to be done with it. I can move on and forget about it. I was shaking with anger when I got back to the cafe with my colleagues. I don't always agree with lawsuits, but a guy like that would be sued in the states. Here I gave him 20 leva. I'm stupid, I know. It doesn't change anything, but I feel better.
So, there's this girl at the copy place I regularly go to. She's fantastic. If no one else is around, I find myself talking to her at length about a number of topics. I've just learned that she and her husband have to go to Pakistan in a few months for an operation. Isn't that crazy? Apparently it's hundreds of thousands of Euros for that operation here in Europe. A hospital in Pakistan will do it for tens of thousands of dollars. She says that other Bulgarians have gone and returned alive and well. Pakistan? Can you imagine? I've heard of North Americans going to South America to save money on medical expenses. Apparently Europeans go to places like Pakistan if need be. Nuts. She really is a sweet woman, and I think she's fantastic. I hope it all goes well for them.
We've had some interesting weather over the weekend. I went to Batak, a nearby town on the other side of the reservoir near us. In spite of the fact that it's so close, I've only been once. I decided that I needed to go again and check out the famous church that was one of the last strongholds against the Ottoman Turks during the April Uprising. There are still skulls in the ground and bullet holes in the walls. It was a disturbing sight. Afterwards, I visited the historical museum. Then, I just walked around the town and read until I was able to catch a bus back to Rakitovo. The clouds were rumbling over the mountains all afternoon, but fortunately it didn't rain until late into the night when I was already safe in my house. There was thunder and lightning and rain all night long, but I was snug in my bed. I love summer storms!
In Batak, I ran into a woman who works at Peace Corps. She seemed surprised that I would travel around alone. It's not always great to be alone when you're traveling. I like it about 45% of the time. I would prefer to have company, but I've decided that if I want to see the places I really want to see, I have to get out and go see them alone. I want to travel after my COS, but chances are that I would be alone. There are people that can do it for months on end. I admire them. Many are extroverts who are able to make friends on the road. I'm not quite as confident. I think I would mostly keep to myself and become very lonely after a short amount of time. We'll see. Do I let the fact that I'm alone hold me back from the things I really want to see/do?
I went and saw Enyo and Milka (the former landlords) when I got back from Batak. Enyo had met a Russian and brought him home to drink some rakia. They spoke to him in halting Russian, and I spoke to him in English. I understood most of what they were saying to him because Russian is very similar to Bulgarian. Plus, Olympic Women's Volleyball was being shown on the television at the time, and we were cheering on the American team. It was a wonderful, cultural experience. He turned to me and said, "I think this is the first time I'm cheering for an American team." It turns out that he speaks Hindi 'cause he worked in India as a diplomat for many years. I told him that diplomacy is my dream. He said I should go to India if I get a chance. It's definitely on my list of places to go one day.
Sunday was a lazy day that I needed. I eventually got bored and demanded that a friend of mine come over and visit me while I cooked dinner. We had a great conversation and I gave her a few of my recipes. Having company and being in my home cured the boredom. I hang out with people here, but I find myself enjoying it more when I can do it in the comfort of my own home. Otherwise, even when I'm out with people and enjoying myself, I find myself wishing I could just go home and be alone. It doesn't make much sense to me. Maybe I need my head examined.
Baseball has been going well. The crowd changes pretty regularly. I mean, I have some consistent regulars, but there's also a big portion of people who come and play once - seem to really enjoy themselves - and then they don't come back. I'm getting tired of getting stopped by people who ask when I'm going to be playing baseball 'cause a majority of these people honestly have no intention of coming. I feel like I'm wasting my breath. Why stop and ask me when you have no intention of coming to play? I see myself doing it in other situations, and I hate that I've taken on that quality as well. Ah well. The crowd always changes, but we always have fun. Maybe it's good. That way a larger number of kids get exposed to "America's Favorite Past Time." It's still a shame I wasn't able to work harder on finding funding to develop a team and play some serious games. It would have been a great, unforgettable experience for these kids, but I can't do everything. Maybe someone else can do everything. Hehe. On a side note together with baseball, I swear my name never gets said so much as it does in that stadium. "Apryl! Apryl! Apryl!" Everyone's demanding my attention all the time. Meh.
I wanted to share something a friend of mine wrote me, 'cause I thought it was really great:
What I meant to say was: I admire your tenacity, your willingness (even need) to help others, and I'm personally overwhelmed by your many accomplishments. Your mom was telling me that your recent posts (My link stopped working for some reason, and I have to admit using the busy excuse to prevent trying harder) seem to bemoan the partially completed projects and missed opportunities that have been left behind. Trust me, I know how easy it is to belittle the worth of things we have done, especially when we dig through our past searching for something to validate our life spent/left behind. I just wanted to let you know that (especially in a world where most people never venture far from the path between the fridge and the couch) you're a super-cool travelin' hero!
It's wonderful when you get pick-me-ups like that. I have a lot of people in my life that tell me I'm doing great things and that they're proud of me. Who can ever say how much impact we have on the lives of those around us? By the grace of God, let it be for the good. It only takes a second to drop a bomb and ruin someone's life forever. I find doing sustainable good is actually more difficult. I don't know if others would agree with that statement, but I find it saddening.
Onto another random topic: You know what else is interesting here in the Bulg? Change. No one ever seems to have enough of it. Sometimes, when you present a 20-leva bill at a cafe where your check was only a few leva, the waitress will look at you as if you've lost your mind. "Don't you have anything smaller?" Here in Rakitovo, I get the comment without the look - probably because they know me. I try to look apologetic. Sometimes I'm told to come and pay another time if they honestly can't break my bill, and I only owe a little. I make sure I do 'cause I think that's an awesome tradition here, and I don't want to ruin that trust. The other thing is when you're in the grocery store, and they're supposed to give you five or ten cents. Sometimes they'll ask if they can just stick a piece of gum or a small candy in with your groceries to compensate for the fact that they can't give you the change. I get irritated when it's for bigger things. Last week, when we were at that isolated hija in the mountains, I first got cut off in line by some guy who wanted a free refill on his pitcher of tea. (Like because you've already paid for it and the refills are free - you can just cut in a whole line of people.) Then, the lady didn't have change when I paid for my coffee, so she made me buy a sweet cake for another 50+ stotinki (cents). The previous night, one of my friends just left her change with her 'cause she didn't want anything else. Sheesh. It's so rare in the states not to have change at such establishments. I'm probably going to apologize there for paying for gum with a 20, and they'll probably look at me like I've lost my mind.
Here's a sad topic, but I wanted to talk about funerals in Bulgaria. I think I mentioned before that I went to the funeral of the grandmother of a colleague of mine. Fortunately, that's the only funeral that I've attended, and I haven't actually known anyone who has died. I don't think I described it in detail. We always know when a Bulgarian Christian dies because the bell at the church tolls a sad, lonely clang. It happens more often than I'd like to hear, but those are the breaks of living in a small town. At the funeral that I went to, we laid flowers in the coffin of the woman before she was covered. Usually, the dead are kept at home and prepared for burial the day after they die. Visitors come and pay their respects. Then, we walked behind the coffin as it was led by horse to the cemetery. Once at the grave, those who have loved ones who have died (nearly everyone) brings some kind of snack and passes it out to people there in honor of those who've died. In a sense they're "feeding" and taking care of those who have passed on. They will also bring some water and pour it on the grave of their loved one - even if they've passed away many years before. This also shows that they are taking care of this person. Afterwards, the men take turns pitching shovels of dirt on the grave of the person who has recently died. This is the last show of "good" or respect that they give to this person.
In the Orthodox tradition here, the spirit of the dead remain in their house forty days after their actual death. There is a ceremony to mark the fortieth day, when the spirit is finally free to continue to the world beyond. Some people talk about being visited in dreams by that person until they finally "leave." It's fascinating to me. My beliefs are quite different, but it makes me wonder where such ideas come from. Many would say that it's in the Bible, but I've never read anything to lead me to believe that the spirit hangs around on the earth for forty days. Of course, the Bible isn't the easiest book to interpret. Now I'm rambling....
I'm sure that there's more that I wanted to share, but it's getting time for me to suck it up and call Hungary, then teach a Spanish class, then go and play some baseball with whoever decides to show up.


Anonymous said...

The water is not just poured onto the grave. You draw a cross by holding the bottle pointing outward from your body. Than you do the same thing with wine.

That's why you should never pour a drink with a bottle facing outward ("да наливаш през ръка") - you might get scolded, as it is a bad omen.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous: really? I never heard of that :/ But it's probably true.

Otherwise - IMHO it's got little to do with religion and a whole lot with superstition. Bulgarians definately have their own nationally recognized superstitions. Like for example if you dream about a person who died recently and he/she looks you in the eye, then you are supposed to die too. Kinda creepy, but then again, most people don't really believe that cr ap.

p.s. Darn it, come to think about it, there's definitely a huge number of superstitions in Bulgaria. Prolly more than in any other country. I personally think this is a problem, and people should be a lot more rational. But then again, it takes time... Maybe 100 years :)

Apryl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Apryl said...

Wow! Thanks for the information above about pouring the water. I meant to mention also the number of flowers given for funerals. For example, unless someone has died, you never give them even numbers of flowers. To give someone a dozen roses (or sometimes even a dozen anything) would be to wish them death. If you want to give someone flowers, you should always send an odd number. Also, I wanted to mention the fliers and pictures posted around town. Usually, when someone dies, the family prints up a page announcing that this person has died. It features their picture, their date of death, and also some words about how much they are missed. This is posted on the front of the home, at the cemetery, at the church, around town, wherever.... This is repeated on various milestones after their death, i.e. 40 days, six months, one year, five years, etc. I'd be happy to see anyone add to these 'cause I certainly don't know all of the various traditions.

Anonymous said...

Well I have to admit, we're quite superstitious indeed. It's hard to get a consistent religion at a crossroad of so many cultures. But than again, most of those beliefs are of no use for you once you leave BG, so probably the best will be to live with what you already know.

Like... never EVER light a cigarette from a candle - a seaman will die.