Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Built Apryl Tough

I've been playing with the Advertising Slogan Generator again. I just got this one that I'm using as the title. This one is also good: "Eight out of ten owners who expressed a preference said their cats preferred Apryl." How about this one? "Nobody better lay a finger on my Apryl." Ah, Random Slogan Generator, you make me smile.
I'm posting again 'cause I wanted to be random. I've got a lot of thoughts bumping around in my head. I thought it'd be great to get some of them out of my head and write them down.
1. I'm really going to miss Bulgarian fruits and vegetables. Have I mentioned before how wonderful, delicious, and natural they are? I'm going to miss being able to walk to the local fruit stands and any of the various grocery stores near me to pick up one or two items. The thought of getting in a car just to go get salt or something is going to appall me to no end. I can start cooking now, and if something is missing, I can leave the food on the stove and make a quick trip to the store. I'm going to miss that.
2. Future Foundation is really privileged to be getting another volunteer. I talked to a bunch of other volunteers who are not getting replaced. Fewer volunteers came this time around, and competition was tough. Rakitovo was lucky to get one. Maybe it's good they didn't pass this one up and wait until next May.
3. Yesterday was September 9th. On this date in 1944, the Bulgarian government fell under Soviet influence. Talking to Bulgarians about communism is almost always interesting. I remember very little of the Cold War, but I definitely recall a time when we were diametrically opposed to many of the countries in this part of the world. I remember the jubilance and hope that surrounded the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember being told how awful and scary the Soviet Union was. Of course, they were being told the same things about the United States on this side of the world. Many people here remember those times fondly. Others long for the stability of those times while embracing a capitalist system. Of course, a generation is now coming into adulthood who have no way of making the comparison. Many times I've heard Bulgarians make the comparison to Moses wandering around the desert with the Israelites for 40 years: "Well, the old generation had to die out in order to raise up a new generation that was ready for the promised land." I don't know what I think of that per se, but there is definitely something to be said about being raised to think one way all your life. All of the sudden, you're told that this way is "wrong," and we're going to try something else. How quickly do you think you would adapt?
4. I notice so many thoughts that bump around in my head and are typical American: "Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. Don't just stand there. Do something! I am in control of my life. If something goes wrong, it's not due to outside forces - it's something wrong with me." I've been reading through the Peace Corps handbook about working together with volunteers. There are many good tips on how a majority of Americans think. They've got us "pegged" pretty well. In addition to those mentioned above, they share that we tend to look down on inherited wealth. We're more of an "I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps" kind of people. We love "rags-to-riches" stories. Of course, if you take the "pull myself up by my own bootstraps" mentality, it's total nonsense. I, along with other Americans, admire those who aspire and achieve material success, and there are some great stories out there, but no one could possibly "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps." Somewhere along the way, someone helped you out. No man is an island. Along with our other various sayings, I really have come to appreciate one of Kennedy's while I've been here: "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
5. Many times during my service here in Bulgaria, I have had the overwhelming urge to call up family members and former teachers to just scream, "THANK YOU!" I'm far from perfect. My life hasn't been ideal. It's still been pretty great considering the alternatives out there. I'm so thankful that I've been instilled with the "You can be anything you want if you put your mind to it" mentality. It's just so much easier to get through life if you feel like the system is designed for you to succeed. It might be blind idealism, but I'd rather be built to take risks and believe in the "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" mentality.
6. Many times my mom has said, "If you complain about America, I think you should be required to live in another country for a while." I agree with her to a point. I think we are required, not only to complain about oversights within our government, but also to take action to change them. This is active citizenship. Bulgaria is slowly moving beyond the complaining stage to the "what are we going to do to change it?" stage. But my mom is right. Americans (not all, but many) have it good. We're perpetual consumers, and we have a standard of living that is envied in many parts of the world. I haven't lived in the states for the past three years, but I remember having it good. As I said before, the system is designed to help me succeed... or at least help me out. Social services, for one example, may not be perfect, but they exist and are developed. I'm now grateful for so many things that I always took for granted. Angel has said many times, "If you want to love America more, come to Rakitovo." I love both, but I'm grateful for what Rakitovo has taught me about living in the U.S.
7. I'm going to miss small town trust. A number of times I have happened to be somewhere where I forgot my wallet, or they couldn't give me change. "Come by later today, tomorrow, or even next week to pay me." Awesome. I'm always sure that I do 'cause I don't want to lose that trust. Plus, you gotta pay for a service. There's also another saying here that I like, "C'mon. Neither you nor I are going to get any richer or any poorer." I hear this when I can't give a friend or an acquaintance a few stotinki (cents) for exact change - or even when I had to tell my former landlady that I had already paid her for a previous electric bill and needed her to return the 40 leva I'd given her a few days before. I see Bulgarians as materialists, but they're definitely not stingy.
8. I still get a lot of people trying to convince me to stay. "You're so used to it here. You already know the language. All you have to do is find a husband. Don't you like it here? What will the foundation do without you?" The last question is particularly frustrating. I have given a lot of myself to my work here, but to insinuate that I've raised the foundation up to great heights is just ridiculous. I think it's people's own blindness to how things really are. I mentioned in a previous post that the foundation won a huge project with the Ministry of Education and Science for European structural funds. We also received a certificate for writing the "best developed project" out of hundreds of candidates. My role in this was small, but still significant. However, I doubt my presence mattered to a degree where the outcome would have been any different. They still would have won the project. Most likely, they still would have taken "first place." Talking to people around town though, you would think that it had everything to do with me. I tell them it was a team effort, but they brush it off. "Yeah, yeah, but...." Maybe people are enamored with this idea of "the American - who just knows how to do everything 'better,'" or maybe people honestly still have a hard time seeing a Roma organization take the lead. I wish they realized just how competent my colleagues really are.
9. I have taken some pretty great strides since I've been here - mostly in regard to the language. I feel blessed that God has given me the ability to learn languages. I'm definitely not the best out there, but my talent makes me lazy. The idea of sitting down and studying a language out of a book while I'm alone is not appealing at all. People here compliment me on my language as if I had everything to do with it. More like it's just a mix of things: I have a natural knack. I listen and try to parrot people. I spend a lot of my day in the target language. This more has to do with what God has handed to me than any "pulling of the bootstraps" that I've done. I'm actually pretty lazy by nature. It would be like taking credit for having blue eyes or two legs. What I am pretty proud of is that I've learned to type in Bulgarian. I've memorized the placement of the cyrillic letters on the keyboard, and I can type at a decent rate without looking at my fingers. I can type dictated letters almost as well as any of my colleagues. That's pretty cool. I have a cyrillic option on my keyboard laptop, but I don't have cyrillic letters on my keys. I have to work by memorization. There's also a phoenetic option where the cyrillic letters match up, more or less, with their latin counterparts. This, however, only confuses me. I have a hard time typing Bulgarian quickly with latin substitutes even though I have our QWERTY down. Weird, huh? I've had both Americans and Bulgarians complain about trying to type Bulgarian on my keyboard. Suckers.
10. I made peppers stuffed with rice again tonight. This time I made them with my landlady. I'm hoping I can replicate them once I get back stateside. They really are yummy.
11. I know that there are other thoughts bubbling in my head, but they're not coming to the surface at the moment. As I think of them, I'm sure I'll be back to share.

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