Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Turning Points

So, I met the new volunteer last week. Her name is Emily, and she's great. She seems pretty laid back, and I hope that she and Rakitovo will make a good fit. I had her over for dinner on Wednesday, and Angel came over later to meet her. The next day, she met her new colleagues (besides Yanko and me), and then we went to the Thursday bazaar and then up to the segregated, Roma school for a meeting with the teaching staff. After a break, we took a walk around the town with Yanko. That evening, after coffee with my colleagues, she came with me to an English class and baseball. There were tons of kids along with four Americans (plus one American baby), and it was chaos, but it was fun. After that, we went to dinner. It worked out that we ended up at the same restaurant as "guy who didn't bother to learn my name" and some of his friends, so we ate with them. That was a little odd, but I spent most of my time talking to Emily and ignoring the stares of the boys who wished they knew what we were talking about.
The following day, we took her to meet one of the pre-school directors and the director of the main, integrated school. We then took her for a walk around the Roma mahala. After a quick break for lunch, we went to a cafe with a couple English-speaking girls who've been active in the town. We then took a walk up to the local park. After a break, she went to Yanko's house for dinner. I decided to leave her with them since I'd been by her side almost non-stop since she got there. I wanted her to hang out with them alone - be the center of attention. I found out later that Ani had made my favorite dish (peppers stuffed with seasoned rice) and even marked the veggie ones with toothpicks just for me.
On Saturday, we took her on a basic tour of Velingrad. Then, I went with her to Sofia so that she could be sure to find her bus back to her training site. I also managed to show her the location of the Peace Corps office while we were there, so it worked out well. Hopefully, she'll remember how to get around if she needs to get to the office and NOT take two years to find the best way like I did. I feel like such a dolt when I think about the way-out-of-the-way route I used to take to Peace Corps Bulgaria headquarters. Silly girl.
Anyway, I like Emily. She was a trooper to say the least. You can see from the above program that we dragged that poor girl everywhere - introducing her to all sorts of people that she could barely communicate with. It must have been exhausting for her. Many times, I thought back to my first visit to Rakitovo. How much did I really understand? How much did I rely on the few people who spoke English to clue me in on things? Looking back, it's easy to believe that you understood more than you really did - that you spoke the language better than you really did. Hindsight is pretty much always skewed. I remember a lot of things, but mostly I remember doing a lot of walking around with Angel. Plus, our visit was shorter. I only had one full day in Rakitovo. Emily had two.
What else can I say about it? My emotions were a rollercoaster all the time. I had a good time - especially on Thursday when we were all running around doing various activities with the kids. Seeing Emily reminded me of how far I've come in the past three years, and it was a good feeling. Playing interpreter was tiring at times, but it also reminded me that my language skills are more than just "decent." There were also times when I was struck by the transition, and I felt sad. Explaining to people (especially kids) was difficult. Kids take it to heart and sometimes react with anger. You feel like you're betraying them in a way. All the way to baseball, some of the kids were singing songs in English that I'd taught them, and it made me feel good to know that they still remembered a thing or two from me. Kids surprise me with what they remember.
This weekend, I went to Plovdiv and Trud. September 6th was Bulgarian Unification Day, and the president gave a speech at Unification Square in Plovdiv. I told my "sister" about my interesting week. She said, "But that doesn't mean you're leaving, right?" "November 10th." She got tears in her eyes, and I gave her a hug. "I'm sorry. I should have waited until later to tell you." I can't cry yet. I'm flattered when others are affected so strongly, but it still hasn't hit me in a way that incites tears. I know the day will come when I will shed tears as well, but September 6th, 2008 was just not that day. Later that evening, we ended up running into another group of volunteers, and we followed them to a local discotheque. We were having such a fun time, that we were the last of the group to leave. I don't get the opportunity to hang out with large groups of volunteers very often these days, and I was reminded how crazy they are. I love them. I got hugs and kind words from the lot of them. It was a good ego-boost - especially since they're from other volunteer groups, and I don't get to spend much time with them. I feel like I did a good job inspiring "the next generations" or something. Hahaha.
The next day, I hung out with the volunteer in Trud. Patty is COS-ing (do you know the acronyms now?) soon, and I wanted to see her before she went. It was funny 'cause they were having a cultural fair, and I ran into a group there from Rakitovo. I surprised them when I went up to the front of the stage while they were singing and playing. The accordion player almost lost track of his fingering. "What are you doing here, Apryl?" Afterwards, Patty and I listened to people from Trud and Rakitovo go back and forth saying, "This is our girl." "And this is our girl." Plus, I ran into a few others from Trud who still remember me, and that's always great.
My sister treated me to a manicure and a haircut, but we mostly spent the day lazing around and recovering from the night before. We went out with Patty that night, and Patty and I did a good job keeping the conversation in Bulgarian to make sure that my "sister" was included. The next morning, I got up unreasonably early to accompany my "mom" on the van into Plovdiv so that I could catch a few buses back to site. My "mom" also began crying when I told her I was leaving soon. At first, I didn't think she was going to cry. She said, "Well, we knew this was coming. It's time for you to go back and be with your family there." She said all this with dry eyes. I was surprised 'cause she's an emotional women. I mean, she started crying when she met me for the first time, and I stuttered out, "My name is Apryl. Good afternoon. It's nice to meet you." But, I turned around, and there they were - the tears. Yikes. I can't deal with this yet.
Yesterday, Valia's daughter, Janette, had a birthday. I went to Velingrad with Ani to eat some food and take part in some of the festivities. I bought her a princess set that came with a crown, a mirror, a comb, a wand, and some sparkley shoes. She walked around in the shoes and the crown, waving her wand everywhere. She made the perfect little princess. After over-eating, I ended up taking a nap. It wasn't bad, considering I'd been up at 5 that morning to catch transport back to my town.
I also stopped at the bank yesterday. Yanko wanted me to check on the status of a bank account we have for a project that's supposed to start any day now (and has been that way for the past eight months). I went with the account number, and stuttered something to the woman at the window about needing to check on the balance. She looked it up and asked me, "Is this your bank account?" "No. It's for a foundation I work for." "Well, there's 18,020 leva inside." "Wha? Eighteen-thousand and twenty leva?" She smiled. I'm thinking, "Is it too late to try and make up some story about it really being my account?" Anyway, it's time to get cracking. The monster project is starting with the Ministry of Education and Science. We also received word today that another (much smaller) project has been approved, and that means even more work. I'm glad my colleagues will be busy. They need to be busy. Busy is good. Yanko and I spent the day trying to calculate the activities that need to happen before the end of the year. Believe me, taking activities that were supposed to run for 12 months and cut them down to four, is not so fun. That's just on paper. What about fulfilling them? I do not envy my colleagues.
This evening, I went to a cafe with one of my favorite women in Rakitovo. She works at the photocopy place, and I see her once or more a week. Honestly, I've only really gotten to know her recently, and this is the first time that we've gone out, but I absolutely love her. She's great. It makes me sad that we're just now getting to know each other. She's leaving for Pakistan soon, but hopefully she'll be back just as soon, and we'll get some more time to hang out. As we said good-bye, she gave me a bunch of kisses. "You have to get used to that if you're going to live in France, and I'm going to come visit you." She's awesome.
Otherwise, this whole "coming to the end" thing has been good for my ego. Ever since Yanko went to the Peace Corps training to meet Emily, he's been talking about the good things Peace Corps staff has said about me there. Plus, he keeps sharing good examples of things he's learned from me that he apparently related there. Today, I sat in the office as he sang my praises to a guy who used to help out in the organization, but now lives in Spain. The guy had asked me to weigh in about why I think Bulgarians are so patient to deal with a bunch of the nonsense that goes on in the country. This was followed by a discussion about how great I am. My head must have swelled two times its size, I swear. I'm brave, responsible, smart, helpful, and I speak the language like a rock star. There will be no bringing me back to earth after this.
If Yanko's had negative things to share, he's been staying pretty mum about them. The only thing he says is, "We made a lot of mistakes in regard to our behavior toward you, and I want to make sure we do it better this time." He lamented not being more direct with me when there was some kind of problem I was causing or something. Of course this makes me think, "Okay, so what kind of problems?" But, he's right. If something was wrong, they should have taken a direct approach. I can't be a mind-reader. That's their problem.
It looks like Yanko is going to be Emily's counterpart. It's good for him 'cause he'll be privy to a lot of things that he may have never known about working with a volunteer. I have had no complaints about Angel as a counterpart. He's been absolutely amazing from a volunteer's perspective. Otherwise, Yanko has gotten it in his head that Angel should have been more communicative with the organization about some things he figures they should have known. I have no idea what he's talking about, but now he has a handbook to reference if he needs to. Angel made things up as he went along, and I honestly think I've had the best counterpart in the history of Peace Corps. Problem is, Angel thinks this as well. His head is almost as big as mine!

No comments: