Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Saga Continues....

So, it looks like I spoke too soon in proclaiming the happy end of the saga of "the painting I want to send to the states." It was stopped at migration. Apparently I have to fill out some kind of document. The lady at the courier service here was able to obtain one - otherwise I would have had to have gone to Pazardjik to get it. I just hope it doesn't involve spending more money. Meh.
I had my last English class today. Crazy. Last English class in Rakitovo, Bulgaria. No more teaching English. No more reasons to use the Educational Center. Otherwise, I'm still packing up and giving things away. I helped with decorating for the Halloween party tomorrow. I think I'm going to be a cowgirl. Apparently my colleagues found an appropriate hat for me. In other news, I made an excellent "kitchen sink" soup tonight - as in it had everything in it but the....

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lagging Tenacity

There's this funny, little bug flying around my room. It has this armored body in the shape of a shield and a tiny, little head. I used to flick bugs like this off my clothes all the time in the last couple places that I lived. I don't think I've seen them before coming to Bulgaria. I think I might even miss the little buggers. They were always good for an unexpected scream.
The past few days have entailed a lot of looking around my house and not knowing where to begin, or doing a couple things and then not knowing where to go next. The "saga of the painting I want to send to the states" has come to an end. I have done all the steps to send it there. Whether it will get there or not is another question entirely. No. I have faith.
I think Yanko is more excited about this painting than I am. My colleagues are all impressed with the lengths I went to to get it sent. Nevermind that shipping it cost me three times the price I actually paid for the painting.... I just had to get it stateside. When I saw that painting, I saw my dad. Yanko said he wishes he had a daughter as "tenacious" as I am. Yeah, well, I know my dad will enjoy the painting... as long as it makes it through customs.
I've been going through my books, papers, and documents. I'm super-excited that there's a canister near me in which to recycle paper. You have no idea how liberating it is to dispose of Peace Corps Manuals as green waste. :) Today, I got up and got rid of over three-fourths of my clothes. I didn't even hem and haw about giving them away. Usually I'm a pack-rat who's attached to her clothes - especially shirts tied to a particular event. It was time to let go of some things, and I'm proud of myself for doing it.
This afternoon, I had a farewell lunch with some of the teachers that I've been teaching English to over the past year. We've had a lot of fun and many good memories together. They gave me a small souvenir - saying they were keeping in mind the amount of luggage I probably have. That was really considerate. They had a lot of nice things to say. One of the women didn't know any English when she started with me, and now she puts basic sentences together rather beautifully. She said that she would always remember me for helping her get to this point. These women are amazing, and we had a fun, final class with them yesterday. I will miss them, and I will never forget them. Fortunately, Emily is going to continue with them for the time that she is here. I would love to come back after that and see the progression that they've made.
I also packed up all my Spanish materials and a few English ones that I had borrowed from my colleagues. I added some lotions and candles that I had hanging around, and I headed for the office. I tried to give Ani back a Bulgarian book that she had loaned me, but she said that I could keep it. It was a really sweet gesture. She's had that book since she was in sixth grade. I just wasn't able to get around to reading it, but I want to. I have to. I started to try and explain to them what was in the bags and what they could take, and Ani just started crying. Then I started crying. Then I changed the subject.
This weekend is probably going to be filled with a lot of tears. There's a lot going on, and it's honestly overwhelming. Some of the high schoolers are doing a Halloween project. Let me take that back. Calling it "Halloween" is apparently "too American" for some people here in town. These same suggested calling it a "Pumpkin Holiday." The kids decided to call it an "Autumn Ball." It's still Halloween. There will be candy and kids dressing up in costumes. I have no idea what I'm going to wear, but I'm looking forward to it. I just hope there are a lot of people there. The kids in charge have worked hard on this one.
My colleagues are planning a party for us this weekend. One of my colleagues will be leaving the foundation next week as well, and another will be getting married soon. It's time to have a party. I'm sure I'll cry. There will be alcohol. I'll be crying for sure.
You never know what kind of impression you're going to leave people - especially people you don't know. Yesterday, I was walking by this beautiful yard that I admired all through the summer because of its gorgeous varieties of flowers. I noticed that most of the flowers had been uprooted, and it made me sad because I'd always told myself that I would eventually take a picture of these flowers. This older women in the yard called out to me, "We're neighbors." I smiled and said, "Yep." We live right across the street from each other. She then went on to tell me that her granddaughter used to go to the stadium to play baseball, and she said that her granddaughter really loved it - said I explained things well to the kids. That made me feel really good.
Not three hours later, I was dumping a bunch of paper into a recycle bin in town, when I caught a lady looking at me. I smiled. She smiled back. Then she asked, "Why don't you play baseball in the stadium anymore with the kids?" Nevermind that the time has changed, it gets dark much earlier, and it's gotten a little bit colder, I told her that I was leaving soon and that I needed to get things together. Oh, really? We then got into a quick conversation about where I'm from and how long I've been here. I don't remember ever seeing this woman before, but I'm guessing she must have seen me somewhere with my baseball stars. It makes me wonder what other impressions I'm leaving people. I imagine that for every handful of people who think well of me, there must be at least one who's not so enthused. Oh well. As Elbert Hubbard once said, "To escape criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing." So true.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Two Weeks Notice

I officially have two weeks until I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer. I can’t believe it. It still hasn’t sunk in. How will I define myself? What will I do now? I feel as though I’m going through the motions – preparing for something that isn’t really going to happen. It’s hard to feel motivated when you’re neither excited by it – nor do you feel that it’s real. Don’t get me wrong. I’m looking forward to going back to the states. I certainly don’t want to stay in Bulgaria indefinitely. I just…. It’s sad, and it hasn’t really hit me. I don’t know how to tell myself that this is really happening.
Milka, my former landlady, asked me tonight if I had felt this way when I was coming to Bulgaria. “No,” I said. The awesomeness of a new adventure and the profound change that it would bring to my life was too big to ignore. Now, I’m returning to something familiar, and it’s hard to be adventurous about it. I know it will be an adventure, but it will be familiar territory that might terrify me if I’m unable to navigate it as before. Does this make any sense? Meh.
I was gone all last week, and I went into the office this morning for a bit. My colleagues told me that they missed me, and that it would be hard when we said our last good-byes. Yanko wanted me to pass on a lot of information to Emily about the things that I’m involved in for the organization, and so I took her to my house for a few hours today to do that. I still have a lot to do/decisions to make before I get out of here, so I’m starting to limit my time in the office, and I’m ending my classes this week. It’s just hard ‘cause I still want to hang out with my colleagues and be involved in the things they’ve got going on. This feeling doesn’t help me be productive at home. I just want to curl up and watch things like fake news commentary like “The Daily Show” instead of actually dealing with “the end.” Today, Valia commented that we would have “a lot of crying to do,” and then she started tearing up. Then I started tearing up ‘cause she started tearing up, and… sigh. I’m not ready for this. It’s good that it’s coming whether I’m ready or not.
Last week was a nice week. It was a trip away from reality. I touched on it a bit in my last blog post. I had my pre-COS, which basically meant medical appointments, site evaluations, writing a Description of Service, and an exit interview. I think I was tired in my last post, and I didn’t get into some of the details of that, but there are still some things that I want to share.
I’m in good health. I caught a cold on Wednesday, but I’m fine other than that. The doctor wanted me to show her where I had fallen on my leg (a little over a month ago), and I warned her that I hadn’t shaved my legs in a while. She said, “That’s okay. We don’t check for that.” I had to laugh. My weight is down. She didn’t seem concerned. It’s better than where it was at mid-service, but it’s lower than it was last year. I’m concerned. I have a barrier that I don’t like to fall under. After my physical, I met up with Greg and couldn’t get enough to eat. First, I had chicken and rice, broccoli, and leftover “shopska” salad at his place. Then, when we were out later, we got gelato. Afterwards, I was hungry again, so we went to a restaurant where I got pizza. Then, I made Greg come back with me to the gelato place to get some chocolate mousse. After eating the mousse on the way back to Greg’s place, I picked up a bag of chips. The only reason that I stopped eating was because it was time to go to sleep. I just couldn’t get full. I wonder if I’ve put on any pounds.
I saw the dentist on Tuesday, and the hygienist said that she liked the color of my teeth. “Do you bleach them? What do you use? You’ve achieved a good color, here.” I get a lot of compliments about my teeth here in Bulgaria. Thanks, Mom, for the braces. Thanks, Colgate®, for the whitening strips. Thanks, God, for the good genes. As far as I know, whitening strips haven’t caught on yet here in Bulgaria, and bleaching is prohibitively expensive. Only a few people get braces. I get the impression that the dentist is someone to be feared. Some people have said to me that they’d rather have their teeth fall out than go see the dentist. I feel fortunate for the oral care which the contracted dentist gives us – generally supported by your taxpayer dollars. In three years, I’ve only received cleanings. My fillings are so good, he thought he had done them. Healthy teeth, healthy smiles.
The exit interview was an interesting experience. I sat down with the Country Director (CD) and answered a few questions about how I feel with regard to my service and my close of service. She asked, looking back on my service, would I see Peace Corps service in Bulgaria as a “blip” in my life, or as a major stepping stone to the rest of my career. A “blip” in my life?! How can I call this fresh, crazy ride that has been one-ninth of my existence-so-far a “blip?” As I mentioned before, we had a discussion on whether the U.S. Peace Corps should be viewed as a development agency or as a goodwill organization. Two of the three goals of the agency would point to more of a “friendship/ambassador” role. One goal, however, is related to development. We Americans really hone in on this goal. We want to get things done. It’s how we fill out our reports and evaluations. It’s how we show that we have value. It’s how we justify our investment as taxpayers. Anyway, the CD also told me to keep in mind the new volunteer training for next year. Peace Corps Bulgaria might encourage me to apply for a job position as a technical trainer. Hey, I’d do it for three months if I hadn’t found my next adventure by then. My ten year high school reunion is coming up, and I’d like to be able to add, “…but I’m going back to Bulgaria to train new volunteers next month,” if I have to confess to everyone that I’m unmarried, unemployed, and still living at home.
I went and talked to my Program Managers at Peace Corps – Ivan and Zhana. Ivan always likes to give me a hard time, and this last conversation was no exception. I was telling them that people in my town were lamenting the fact that they were unable to find a Bulgarian for me over the course of three years. Ivan said, “But you lost two of those years with an American.” I corrected him by telling him that it was one year – and I didn’t “lose” any time with him. He then proceeded to give me advice. “You want to meet someone? Stop scaring men. And stop wearing those shoes.” I looked at my ratty, old sneakers with paint stains on them. Scaring men? More like men scare me. “Go out to the discotheques,” he continued. I rebutted, “Well, I can’t imagine meeting the guy I’m looking for at a discotheque.” He wasn’t fazed, “Then go hang out at the library. Go to the art museum.” I could do nothing but laugh.
On Thursday, I took off on a mini-adventure. I wanted to go and see the Russian church in a village called Shipka. It’s beautifully ornate with golden, mushroom-like tops. I loved getting a look at it. I then wanted to take a hike up the mountain beside the church to visit a monument that was built in honor of the partnership forged between Bulgaria and Russia to drive out the Ottomans. I asked a woman at an over-priced food stand how long it might take to get there. “Well, that depends,” she answered. “Worst-case scenario?” She told me that it would take about half an hour. I don’t know if she understood that I wanted to hike to the monument, but I was encouraged by her answer. It was almost three-thirty when I set out.
An hour and a half later, I had lost the path and was fighting brush and thorns to try and bust my way to the top of the mountain. I constantly thought that the monument would be “just around the corner.” I eventually turned around and found the trail again. It was probably another half hour before I caught sight of the monument again – on a distant hilltop. The sky was starting to turn to evening. “Okay,“ I thought. “I’m not going to get there, but I want to get closer to an open clearing where I can get a good shot to take a picture.” Another half hour or so, and I was suddenly next to the hill where the monument stands. I couldn’t turn back then. The clouds were getting menacing, however, and that blue cloak of dusk was starting to settle around me. I still couldn’t turn back. I saw the monument. I saw some other monuments. I had to walk up the hill to be next to the monument.
No one else was around, but a security guard soon drove up. “Looks like no one else is around,” I told him. “Yeah,” he said. “Everyone has gone home for the day.” It was a little after six, and the monument closed at five. The guard then proceeded to ask me a bunch of questions like, “Where are you coming from? Shipka? The village? Wow. Bravo. Where are you from? How are you going to get back down?” He followed me while I snapped some more pictures. Then, he invited me into a room that had obviously been set up for personnel – couches, sink, coffee-maker, TV, ashtray. I thought that he would eventually offer to give me a ride back to the village, but he just kept asking me questions. “You’re an American? How old are you? You want a cigarette? You like chalga music?” I could see that this was getting me nowhere, and I was starting to get increasingly uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the sky was getting darker. I abruptly stood up and announced that I was leaving. I had to get to the village before dark. “I wouldn’t risk it,” he said. “The forest can be dangerous at night. I can see that you’re not scared, but you can stay in a hotel here.” He then walked me outside and pointed to two hotels several hundred meters away. He suggested that I stay in the more expensive of the two. I pondered it for about two seconds and then turned and ran down the mountain.
As I was running, I thought, “I’m stupid. This is stupid. I’m an idiot. If my colleagues knew what I was doing, they’d freak. If my mom knew how stupid I am, she’d freak.” I just kept running – stopping only when the terrain was too rough to safely take at that speed. I slipped a few times; fell once. I didn’t injure myself. I am an idiot. I made it down the mountain in half an hour and basically got back to the village five minutes before the sky went irrevocably black. Then I caught a bus to Kazanlak and stayed with the volunteer there.
The next day, I went with the volunteer to the orphanage/children’s hospital where she works. The facility was nice, but the cases were sad. We went into a playroom with several workers there. Handicapped children would lie motionless on their backs and stare with vacant eyes rolled back into their heads. Children suffering from Down’s Syndrome would drool and bite their hands and tongues. There were those who opened their mouths in silent screams; those who lay curled in awkward, twisted positions; those who hit themselves, those who made strange, insect-like noises; those who were unable to walk, and one whose legs were entirely useless. He propelled himself around the room by moving his torso with his hands. He also liked to be touched and hugged. There were also healthy, bouncy children. It was hard not to focus all of my attention on them. I don’t have much of a maternal instinct. I’m even worse around children with special needs because I’m afraid that I’m going to do something to make their situation even worse. Apparently a lot of the more handicapped had, until recently, spent long periods of time in their beds with minimal interaction. Since an independent, American missionary has come to the facility, that has changed. It’s now the policy that every child get out of bed on a daily basis. More needs to be done. The people there aren’t bad people. They’re just not trained to work with these kids. The volunteer and I spent a lot of time touching kids, holding babies, playing and talking to those who could respond. I admire the volunteer, the missionary, and the staff there. I don’t know if I could be in such a place day-in and day-out.
Afterwards, the volunteer took another American and myself up to see a Thracian megalith. Basically, the ancient peoples of Bulgaria had set up a pile of rocks in such a way as to view the summer and winter solstice. It was an easy hike (I was still sore from my run down Shipka peak the night before), and it was really cool to see. We had great views of the valley below and the towns scattered across its surface.
After that, I caught a bus to Shumen. I’ve wanted to visit Shumen for quite some time. The volunteer there from my group had told me that I needed to see a monument visible from space. He was exaggerating, of course, but it was a huge marvel. The currently serving volunteer took me around. We walked up to the statue (1300 steps), but there was so much fog. It was a little hard to see. It gave the place an eerie, mysterious feeling though, and that was pretty cool. We also visited the largest mosque in Bulgaria. We went bowling, hung out, ate good food. It was a good weekend.
The next day, the time changed in Bulgaria. We “fell back” an hour. My host and I knew this, but we couldn’t figure out if the electronic clocks we were using on our cell phones automatically updated or not. It was 4:30 a.m. She called a cab for me. When I found out the real time, I wanted to tell him to come back in an hour, but he got all weird and frustrated on me. He readily agreed when I kiddingly suggested he take me at that moment, and I would just wait at the bus station. On the way there though, he kept asking what I would do for an hour since it was dark and nothing was open. I wasn’t amused. He asked me if I wanted to pass the time by accompanying him to buy a bottle of whiskey for a friend. No, thank you. I spent about nine hours getting back to my site. It was a long day, but it could have been worse. I was just happy to be back home.
Tonight, Emily and I were invited to have dinner with the young missionary couple in Velingrad. We had a good time chatting and sharing stories about living here in Bulgaria. I talked a lot ‘cause I get verbose when other service providers ask about my experience here. Today I was reading a comical list entitled “You know you’re Bulgarian when….” I was laughing and nodding my head at a lot of things that are included in that list, but the last thing I read stopped me dead in my tracks: “You prefer your neighbors’ suffering more than your own happiness.” It was so truly profound. Let me preface this by saying that Bulgarians are lovely people who will always hold a place in my heart. I am eternally indebted to them for this experience. But this statement is so true. Let’s think of society as a ladder. The higher up you are, the more you know, and the more you can turn around and help up the person behind you. In Bulgaria, it seems as though the person “behind” you is constantly trying to pull you back down. Forget about helping me up later. I’d better pull you back down here with me just in case. If I’m going to be down here on this level. You’re going to be here, too. Do you think you’re better than me? It’s very, very sad. Yanko has told me the following many times: Picture that we’re all in Hell, and we’re separated by countries. Each country has its own cauldron. A devil has been posted at each pot to make sure no one gets out. In the “Bulgaria cauldron,” however, no guard is needed. You know why? The people themselves fulfill the job by pulling down anyone who attempts to escape.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Few Steps Closer....

I'm in Sofia at the moment doing Pre-Close of Service responsibilities. It mostly involves some paperwork, some medical check-ups, and an exit interview. I came in on Monday and went through a physical. Yesterday, the dental hygenist scraped all the plaque off my teeth, and I got a clean bill of dental health from the exuberant dentist with shiny gems in his teeth. I also met an acquaintance for a magazine interview. I was rather trepidatious considering the last time I offered to do an interview, but it was fairly painless. There weren't many questions. I honestly wonder if the guy will have enough material to do a story. Maybe one day I'll actually get to see the articles.
Today I had my exit interview with the Country Director. The most interesting thing that came out of that was a debate on how to look at the Peace Corps. Should we market it as a development organization or a diplomatic organization which promotes peace and friendship? Other than actually being here for pre-Close of Service, nothing is really helping me figure out that I'm actually leaving Bulgaria in a few, short weeks. I'm the worst procrastinator. Unless I'm being forced to figure something out, I won't deal with it.
Other than these visits, I've had to fill out my Final Site Evaluation and my Description of Service. As for the Description of Service, it's a little difficult to sum up three years of service in two pages. How many people did I impact with this activity? What were the results? Is it worth mentioning? It's almost sad to see three years come down to two pieces of paper. It will be the only official, written record of my Peace Corps service.
Administrative stuff aside, it's fun being here in Sofia. I can get away from my site for a bit, hang out with my friend Greg, and eat good, ethnic foods. That's basically what I look forward to the most while I'm here in Sofia. Greg and I have been playing a Star Wars video game with Lego characters. We've been having fun. The days have been relaxed - with really only one or two things needing to get done per day. Of course, I could have been more productive had I wanted, and I did get some other things done, but I've mostly been knocking small things down one by one.
This weekend, I took a fun trip with my landlady, Margarita, and her daughter, Katia. On Saturday, we went to this amazing cave called Ledenika. The interior had tons of stalagtites and stalagmites. It was beautiful. We then continued on to a town in northeastern Bulgaria called Belogradchik. Ever since I saw pictures of the rock formations in Belogradchik, I knew that I wanted to go and see them for myself. It was great. We visited a fortress there and saw the rock formations. I also ran into other Peace Corps Volunteers who were visiting as well. The next day, we visited a nearby cave called Magura. Magura was very different in design from Ledenika, but it was no less beautiful. Afterwards, we went up to the town of Vidin, which is on the Danube River next to Romania. We visited Baba Vida - a fortress on the banks of the Danube. We looked over at Romania and then made our way back to Rakitovo. I was grateful to have been able to make the trip. These are things I probably would have never seen otherwise.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rockin' Frustrating Quasi-Sagas

Life here is a bit frustrating. I feel like I've turned into some sort of ghost in limbo. I've got one foot in, and I've got one foot out. I'm here, but I'm not really here. I'm trying to wrap up my life here, but I can't seem to get anything finalized. My COS (close of service) date looms ever closer, and I haven't done much to prepare for it. Yet, in a way, it feels like I'm already gone.
I've been trying to end my classes, but either they don't all show up so I can inform them that we will no longer be meeting, or I can't bring myself to bring down the hatchet. In the meantime, I find myself cancelling a lot of commitments to try and finish up other commitments - which only get half-done. It's all so discouraging.
I have gotten something rather monumental done, however. I mentioned before the "saga of the painting I want to send to the states." It turns out that the most recent portion of the saga has been fairly painless but a bit of a hassle. So, I mentioned that I had to go to the National Art Gallery to get a seal of approval that basically said that I wasn't stealing Bulgaria's precious art.
My colleagues and I were going to Sofia anyway for a meeting with C.E.G.A., one of our partners. I hauled the painting along with me. Before the meeting, Yanko and I swung by the National Art Gallery. A woman basically asked me a few questions about my painting, then I got a certificate and a stamp. Afterwards, I paid three leva. The whole process took about five minutes. The most annoying part was just carting the painting around with me everywhere I went.
The past couple days, as I mentioned, we've been in Sofia having meetings with C.E.G.A. Basically, we gave an account of what we've accomplished over the last few months and what we still have to do before the end of the year. I found it fairly interesting and participated in the session fairly actively. Plus, we went out and ate some fairly delicious Chinese food. I think Emily had a pretty good time as well, but it's difficult when you're still at the beginning stages. I imagine she must have been pretty bored throughout the meetings, and I'm sure she zoned out. I did the same thing three years ago. Five minutes have gone by, and I don't know what you're talking about? Yeah, I'm going to go somewhere else in my mind.
We got back yesterday and Yanko, Emily, and I went straight to the "chitalishte" (cultural center) to discuss a library project that's being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Basically, the idea is to make the library an attractive and informative place for people to visit. Also, the goal is to get the community to really invest in the chitalishte and help it to flourish. In other towns, the chitalishte is an active,thriving part of the community. In Rakitovo, unfortunately, the chitalishte is fairly inactive. It would be super-fantastic if that could change, but it's going to take everyone working together instead of taking the time to try and finger-point to lay the blame. Blame me. I'm leaving in a few weeks anyway. Now that you've found a scapegoat, what can you do to make it better?
Again, I was able to participate fairly actively by sharing one idea that I had to get kids to read. In fact, one of the other participants spoke up and said that she didn't agree with my idea. That's how you know that it's a provocative thought! Basically, I suggested a reading rewards system. She didn't like the idea of giving rewards to kids who, in her words, are already spoiled. The facilitator followed it up by sharing some basic psychology: Most kids don't have a natural, internal desire to read. The idea is to offer external stimulation until the external becomes internal. How you decide to do that is the debate. Discussion! Thought! Disagreement! Psychology 101! I love it! Now I'm waiting for... action!
This morning, Yanko and I had an informal discussion with the project facilitators to try and reach some sort of conclusions about how the project could work. Basically, the Gates Foundation would provide funding for computers, software, and training. These computers could be used to access the internet for information or contact other libraries for inter-library loans. The municipality would be responsible for remodeling the library to make room for these computers - along with making the library a more attractive and inviting place to visit. The community would be responsible for finding people to be trained to use these computers and help others find the information their looking for. It's also the responsibility of the community to work on programs to revitalize the library and give everyone a greater access to information. These members/partners would also be responsible for pushing the municipality to pay more attention to cultural activities - thereby securing more funding for the chitalishte. If everyone works together, it should be a win-win-win situation. If not, there will just be twelve more computers sitting abandoned in a room.
Today, we went to start the process of getting Emily's "lichna karta." A "lichna karta" is a personal, Bulgarian ID. Every citizen of a certain age has one, and foreigners residing long-term are also required to get one. We Peace Corps Volunteers have to renew ours every year. We wish we could just get one for two years, but I think someone somewhere likes torturing us with bureaucracy. The United States is certainly guilty of such things as well.
Yanko and I dragged that poor girl around Velingrad. It wasn't our fault, but it still must have sucked for her. She was a good sport. We went between the police station and a couple banks three times, and she had to fill out the same document three times. There was always a mistake to be found somewhere, so... yeah. It didn't get done today. We'll have to go back tomorrow to present all the documentation and then, in about a month, she will finally have her "lichna karta." Once we get done with her, I will have to do the same as well. (sigh) I have to go through the same process to stay in the country for ten days 'cause my card expires at the end of this month. (double sigh) I don't even want to talk about it anymore.
How about rocks in your beans? Rice? Flour? In Bulgaria, you gotta sift through these staples to make sure there aren't any in your packages - ones you've bought in the store. I'm not complaining. It's really not that difficult to sift through and search for foreign objects. My problem is that I'm lazy. I made beans the other day. Before I cooked them, I found a tiny rock, which I duly threw out. The problem is, I didn't look too hard. I ate beans for a few days 'cause I made a lot. Boy, were they yummy. On the last day that I ate beans, I chomped down on a rock in my last bite. Crack! What a way to ruin the last morsel!
On the topic of rocks, check out what a friend recently wrote to me:
Your blogs rock!
Seriously. There's always something in there that makes any reader feel they're a part of what's going on, and there's always parts in there that just makes me laugh and to not take the world so seriously. You really have accomplished so much there. Just thought I'd mention that.

Thanks, Tom. I'll credit you when I try to convince editors to publish my forthcoming book - based on my blog.
P.S. In spite of allusions made in my previous post (okay, outright declarations), we did not get drunk out of our skulls the other night. Two of the women went to bed without even having a drink, Yanko monitored his alcohol intake, and the rest of us nursed a glass of wine. We're lame. Or we're really smart. Take your pick.
P.S.S. I have yet another reason why I want to work for an embassy abroad. Holidays. Not only do you get to take of American holidays, but you get the ones of the country that you're serving as well. For example, I got a memo here from the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. They have 16 holidays this year, and that doesn't even count the four that fall on weekends. I'm going to take a survey of all U.S. embassies. I'm going to find the one with the most holidays, and then I'm going to scratch and claw my way in so that I can have the most days off. It's an ingenious plan.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gimpy Gibson

I've just come back from coffee with a friend who recently returned from Pakistan. She told me about her experience there, and I was fascinated. I don't know if I'll ever visit Pakistan, so I was happy to get her impressions. Most interesting impression: how decorative and sexy burqas can be. Mostly, I'm just happy that she's back. I hadn't heard from her in a while, and I was getting worried about her.
Emily joined our ranks on Thursday. She and Yanko met me up in the Roma mahala, and then we went to dinner. She came into the office on Friday, and we put her to work right away. She helped clean out the new office. Afterwards, we had a festival for the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. I was in charge of dressing our helpers in theme t-shirts and getting them to pass out brochures. A lot of kids came to help, and that was great. We didn't need 15 people passing out brochures, however, but I was impressed by their enthusiasm. Some even took the message to the streets.

Unfortunately, not people showed up for the event. Honestly, I think our PR was lacking. I made a couple posters, and they along with some small fliers were put up the day before. Oh, how we fought about that festival. I don't want to go into specifics, but I was so over it before it had begun. The lack of people in the chitalishte (cultural center) made it all the more disheartening.
Afterwards, Emily and I walked around the streets of Rakitovo - just talking. There wasn't much else to do. We heard some music in the distance, and after I dropped her off, I met up with Angel to see my thirtieth Roma wedding. Okay, I don't know how many I've actually dropped in on, but it feels like at least that many.
The next day, we had a workshop on Gender Equality with the informal women's group that's supported by the organization. Attendance was good. The discussion was interesting. The topics ranged from dolls to gender discrimination in the university application process to domestic violence. I was ecstatic to take part in such enlightened conversation. Poor Emily didn't understand much of what was going on, but that's normal for a new volunteer. I remember sitting in meetings and workshops and thinking, "I have no idea what's going on here. I wonder how long this is going to last." Everyone goes through it. We all went to lunch together, and we also took part in a couple of interactive exercises which were fun. One was facilitated by yours truly, and the women seemed to really enjoy it. Well, I enjoyed it. There was a lot of discussion.
Later that evening, Emily and I met up with Angel, and we went to a cafe. Emily had already made lemon bars. That girl's smart. She's got a lot of qualities that are going to make poeple here love her. One of them is the ability to bake. I wasn't really in the mood to interact at the moment. I listened to them work to understand each other and tell each other riddles. It's interesting watching the new volunteer interact with my counterpart. I try to remember what it was like when I had no idea what was going on, but it's been so long. I worry that I don't have enough empathy for Emily's situation - even though I've been through it myself.
Today, Emily and I met up with a couple guys from a hiking club I've been associating with lately, and we went to Belmeken. Belmeken is a beautiful location with a beautiful reservoir. It's not too far from Velingrad. We hiked up a nearby peak and got a view of Musala - the highest peak in the Balkans. We were actually supposed to hike Musala, but it didn't work out. We had planned to take the lift part way up, and the lift isn't working at the moment. But the day was still nice. There were a few snow drifts, but the sun was out, and it was warm. We had a nice picnic while taking shelter behind a pile of rocks.

We're leaving for Sofia early tomorrow morning. We have a working meeting with C.E.G.A. over the next couple days, and the plan is to get sloppy drunk. I don't think I've ever really been drunk. My colleagues and I have shared so many good times, but we've never sat down and drunk ourselves under the table. We all in. We're doing it because Fatme, one of my colleagues, will be getting married in a month or so. We're also doing it because we've never done it, and, for some reason, we think we should. I'm a little nervous. I don't know what I'm like drunk. I've definitely drunk enough to feel like it's oozing out of my pores while I sleep. I'm not looking forward to vomiting - if it comes to that. Look how ridiculous that is, and yet I'm planning on doing it. I love and trust my colleagues.
In the past, they've hinted that I should do something to remember them by. Their big thing is that they want me to get my ears pierced. I have declined. I don't know. I have no desire to put holes in my ears. I think it's because just about everyone does it, and I want to be unique. Plus, I have just never felt like wearing earrings. They're pretty on other women, but they seem pointless in my own ears. I told them that I'll get a tattoo with the name of the organization across my back, but we know I'm not doing that.
My colleagues are starting to get a little sad that I'll be going soon. Ani asked if she could lock her arm in mine, and I told her that she could. Ani's not usually a touchy-feely person. Valia mentioned that the realiztion was sinking in that I would be leaving soon, and she was feeling a bit sad about it. A few weeks ago, they made it clear that I should come to them if I needed anything - even money. I almost fell over. I told them how grateful I was at the gesture, because money is something that they can't afford to give.
I have a lot of acquaintances here in Rakitovo. Yanko pointed that out to me the other day. A lot of people know me here. A pastor commented, "A lot of people love you here." I get a lot of comments like, "We're really going to miss you here." I'm grateful for these. Sometimes I tell myself, "So people know me. What's that? Has it changed their lives for the better?" I tend to be pessimistic about this, but I hope I'm wrong.
I try and smile a lot. I can't smile to everyone. It would get tiresome and even be a little two-faced in some cases, but the smiling experiment is an interesting one. Sometimes I smile at babas (older women) that I don't know, and they figure that they must know me from somewhere. I've gotten a few of, "Aren't you the daughter of...?" questions in my time here. So yes, people know me. In fact, I was just informed by an acquaintance that he met a woman in Stara Zagora (a town in the center of Bulgaria) who had read an interview I had given. She wanted him to tell me that she was impressed with the interview, and she said "hello." Small world. Apparently, I'm also known in Peace Corps as "the one who speaks Bulgarian well." Emily told me this, and I had to laugh. I told her that it's better than being known as the "slut" or the "slacker."
Telling kids that I'll be leaving soon has proven to be a little complicated. When I tell them, many think that it means I'm leaving that very day. I get disappointed looks, huge hugs, and declarations that they don't want me to go. I did some special tutoring for a girl recently, and I've been getting a lot of kids coming up and asking if they can sign up for English classes. I try and explain the situation, but they don't really understand. I imagine it will make sense to them when I actually go. For some of them, I've been here for a significant portion of their lives. My not being here anymore... ever, at least in the same capacity, is not something they can really wrap their minds around. "Okay," they say, "but then you're coming back, right?"
On an offhand topic, I wanted to go back to some comments I'd made in the last post about health care culture here in Bulgaria. My perceptions are not the end-all of truth about Bulgaria. They are just that: perceptions. In fact, if I could go back to my earlier posts, I would probably change several things that I wrote - just because I've been here longer and now feel differently about them.
Anyway, I wanted to share something that I find a bit disturbing here in Bulgaria: bribing. Average people bribe police officers here, and the officers take the bribes. Average people bribe doctors here, and the doctors take the bribes. In fact, I've heard that some doctors have come to expect money or gifts on the side. When we were at the eye clinic, I finally saw it first-hand. An elderly couple brought a beautiful cake in with them and presented it to the doctor. "There's no need to do that," said the doctor, but she took the cake. I'm not saying she did it because she felt like she was entitled to it (or even agreed with what they were doing). She might have felt that it would be rude to refuse, but she took the cake. I don't know if that changed their level of care. I certainly didn't witness that. However, I was still a bit frustrated. It propogates this broken-down system. I couldn't imagine bringing my doctor gifts. I couldn't imagine slipping him ten bucks after the visit was over. I would be angry with people who did because they would be setting a precedent that I should as well. Listen, medical care is expensive enough as it is. If I have to start bringing my doctor chocolates for her to pay more attention to me, I think I'd rather ignore whatever was ailing me.
Speaking of ailing me, I am a klutz as of late. I mentioned that I fell and injured my knee pretty badly. Well, I pulled a dumb stunt in the chitalishte during the festival, and I reinjured it. Man, did that hurt for a few hours. Then, yesterday, I missed a step while walking down the stairs in my home, and I messed up my foot. It's still a bit sore. I'm falling apart. I look in the mirror, and I'm getting older. Some of you are probably rolling your eyes 'cause I'm still a young woman, but I see myself aging, and it freaks me out. Okay, I'm going 'cause I need some serious beauty sleep.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Neapolitan AmeriCAN Dreams

It's been a week and a half since I've updated. This means that it should be a long post. However, it's late here at night 'cause I've been catching up on the latest presidential debate. As an aside, you know what I like about these debates? I like when the candidates say things like, "Americans can do anything they put their minds to." That really resonates with me these days. I think a lot of our view of the world lies within our own minds. Anyway, some look at the affluence of America and feel disgusted. We're far from perfect, and we have been exploiters at times, but I look at the affluence of America and feel incredibly blessed. Anyway, I'm getting tired, but I really wanted to get a post out. A lot of things have happened this past week. It actually feels like it's been over two weeks.
A week ago Monday, I was hanging out in our foyer with my colleagues when a local pastor came up and asked me, "Are you ready to go?" Now, I'll have to give you just a bit of background. A few months ago, a group of evangelists were here visiting Rakitovo to host a working meetings and theological discussions. Apparently a young couple fell in love with a Roma girl here in Rakitovo. This girl suffered an accident a few years ago and has lost vision in one of her eyes. The young couple offered to help. It was decided that this girl should visit an eye specialist to see if anything could be done for her. I was asked to go along to listen to the doctor's verdict on the eye and relay the information to those who had agreed to help.
So, I went to Sofia that Monday. It was a long, tiring day, but I was glad to be a part of it. The girl really is a beauty, and she has a winning smile. I could see why this young couple fell in love with her. For the sake of confidentiality, I'm not going to share the outcomes of this doctor's visit, but I can tell you that it was just one of those days where I came home exhausted and sad.
What was interesting to me was the way things were handled in this eye clinic. It was obviously a newly-remodeled, well-functioning facility. It was just run a bit differently than what I'm used to in the states. I want to stress that this is not criticism of how it was run. I just want to point out differences that I found interesting... even if my observations may not be 100% correct.
First, there wasn't exactly a waiting room. There was a waiting hall - where all the medical personnel were walking through and coming in and out of doors. There was a constant flurry of activity - as there should be in such a workplace. It's just that those who were waiting were all privy to this activity and to the conversations the medical staff was having. In the states, patients are kept in a separate room apart from the medical staff until someone calls their name.
Secondly, the chart stayed with the patient. Medical personnel would come to fill in sections and notes on the chart, but the chart was ultimately left in the hands of the patient to carry to the next doctor. This was also true of medical records. Previous decisions regarding illnesses and treatments were typed up on official documentation and left in the hands of the patient. It's up to the patient to hold onto their medical records and take them to another doctor - even years later if need be. I believe that medical records in the states are faxed to other institutions if need be. I also believe, however, that I will be responsible for bringing my own medical record from Bulgaria back to the states with me - well, the x-rays at least.
We spent a lot of time going back and forth - waiting in the hall until we could go on to the next step. Visiting the doctor in the states is definitely not the most time-efficient activity one can partake in. However, once you're in your white room with your dressing gown and your magazines (no dressing gown was necessary for this visit), you're in for the count. You may have to visit other rooms and wait for the doctor to come back to you, but you're always holding onto your own room. Here we were sent back out into the hallway to wait. I'm not saying our method makes it go any faster. Psychologically, however, you don't feel like you're starting back at square one.
But the thing that made the biggest impression on me was that confidentiality didn't seem to be an issue. Medical personnel, while they spoke in hushed tones, still carried on conversations about patient care in the hallway with other patients sitting nearby. Once we were ushered in to see the doctor, we found ourselves in a room with three or four other patients while she performed examinations on them. We were privy to their complaints and treatment, and they to ours.
The doctor was quite knowledgeable. I was impressed by her, but I was also a bit uncomfortable with the situation. She took a keen interest to me when she found out that I'm from the states. She began speaking to me in English and called me over to see an example of a glass eye on another patient. Later, she mentioned that she needed funding for a new microscope. She again called me over to look into the eyes of another patient to show me what was plaguing him. I'm not a doctor. I didn't understand, and I don't feel that I should be privy to others' ailments. I should have declined. All I did was hesitate, which made her more insistent. Of course, I must admit that curiosity and a desire to be agreeable won out.
Patient confidentiality is a huge issue for many in the United States. We don't even want our most benign illnesses shared with others unless we choose to do the sharing. In fact, Peace Corps Volunteers fought to get our pictures taken off of the outside of our medical charts. We didn't even want our likenesses attached in a visible location to our patient files. There are still issues with the soundproofing of the examination rooms at Peace Corps, but anyway.... I wonder how these people felt. What would they say if they were asked, "How would you feel about having some strange girl, who isn't a doctor, stare into your eyes right now while you're sitting in an examination chair?" However, they weren't asked. I felt quite voyeuristic.
Tuesday was an interesting day. It was Bairam - an important Muslim holiday. A couple of the girls from my office took the day off. I went to a couple of schools in nearby towns (Kostandovo and Dorkovo) with my colleagues. (*As a huge, pointless sidenote, I'd like to say that the pronunciation of the town of Dorkovo is exactly how it looks, and I think we need to send a volunteer there so we can tease this person relentlessly. Also, I'd like this volunteer to be named Bob.) The thing was, my boss was mistaken about when the bus leaves for these towns. I tried to catch the bus five minutes after it had already left. I ended up having to take a taxi to meet up with them. It was either that or go back home and sleep. I should have gone back home and slept.
We visited schools in our municipality because we're hoping to apply for a project (I say "we," but I'll probably be gone by then) which will need to include inter-school activities. Basically, we were going around presenting our ideas and asking the schools to become active partners for our project. Yanko did most of the talking, so my other colleagues and I felt like decoration. We don't like feeling that way. You can learn a lot from observation, however.
After the meetings, Valia, Ani, and I went to their sister's house in Kostandovo. I basically sat there the whole time and wished that I had made more of an effort to learn the local Roma language. Afterwards, we went to Velingrad and walked around in circles - trying to get stuff done. We all had a lot of things we wanted to do there. I was there because I needed to pay my phone bill and figure out if I can get Thomas' phone to work in the U.S. for him. I also wanted to find out if I could get a courier service to send a painting home for me. Thus begins the saga of "the painting I want to send to the states."
The Saga of the Painting I Want to Send to the States is the not-so-compelling story of a girl trying to send her dad a painting she bought for him three years ago. Problem is, this girl has to get formal documentation and a stamp showing that she is not trying to steal a cultural object/Bulgaria's heritage, otherwise this painting will be stopped at customs. She agrees with this practice. She just wishes that it weren't so difficult. She went to three different agencies in Velingrad before she got the response that a call would be made to find out what needed to be done - then she could come back the next day and find out what this was. Long day.
So, I went back to Velingrad the next day, and I was told that I would definitely need this documentation - even though it was a painting from the street and obviously not some priceless work of art. Problem was, no one was giving me a clear answer about what I needed to do and where I needed to go. I finally called the National Gallery of Art today, and a very helpful person told me exactly what I need to do: bring the painting to the gallery in Sofia along with two postcard-sized photographs of said painting. A commission which meets for two hours, three times a week, will consider my painting and render their verdict. I'm just wondering if the cost of getting it certified and sending it to the states will be more than the cost of the painting itself. I wouldn't be surprised if it is.
Let me digress about phone conversations. I have had some very pleasant phone/e-mail conversations here in Bulgaria when I have needed to get information. I have had some that were downright nasty, however. I am always impressed when Bulgarians are courteous and prompt with me because I get the feeling that customer service isn't always a priority here (not that all customer service representatives are angels in the states). I think the worst is with transportation - especially on the phone. I almost always feel like the tone that I'm getting is, "How dare you call to interrupt whatever I'm doing to ask me a question?" It's especially painful when I have a complicated question. I once asked about train schedules from Sofia to Septemvri and then from Septemvri to Velingrad. The lady asked me rather nastily, "Why didn't you just ask me about trains from Sofia to Velingrad?" I calmly replied, "Because I need to know both train schedules."
On the other hand, I have to commend Bulgarians for their treatment of me on the phone when it's obvious that Bulgarian is not my first language. I have never been admonished for my broken Bulgarian. I feel like we're always quick to jump on people and say, "Why don't they learn English," even when they speak English well enough to be understood. I think we are a bit snobby when it comes to English being spoken in our country. Okay, I think we are a lot snobby about that. I think people should learn English as well as they can in the United States, but I don't think we should belittle those who speak it well enough to be understood. Many Americans only speak one language, and I think it's silly to try and feel like we're somehow superior to those who speak two or more - just because our English might be a little better than theirs.
On Wednesday, I went to visit a local pastor's family. I've only been to their house once before, but being there again reminded me that I wish I had invited myself over more often. His wife speaks perfect English, but we spoke Bulgarian to each other because her four children are still learning. Four beautiful children. And the youngest, a little less than a year old, has the same winning smile as everyone else in the family coupled with some fairly serious health problems. My being a frequent guest to this household probably would have caused more stress than good, but they're a fantastic family. I was well-fed, there was good conversation, and the children had to show me everything that they were into - including their favorite books which include classics like "Little Women." At the end of the evening, I was asked to read a continuation of Disney's take on Sleeping Beauty. I muddled through it somehow, but I still don't read Bulgarian with confidence. My fault completely.
One of our computers in the office caught a virus. Yanko clicked on something he shouldn't have clicked on, and we found ourselves with a trojan virus. The first two days of the week, I was away from the office on other business, so I couldn't take a look at it. They asked our local "specialist" to have a look. (I like the guy, but you're going to see in a second why I put "specialist" in quotes.) He fiddled around and then ended up telling Yanko to back up all our files on CD and then call him back to reformat the hard drive. Boo. When I came back to the office, I sat down and used pretty much the only weapon I have for such situations. It's called "System Restore," and I think it's the greatest thing that Windows has come up with for non-specialists like me. It basically takes your computer back to a previous point in time - getting rid of possibly troublesome programs like viruses while saving files. I figured this would have been the first thing that the "specialist" would have done, but he must not have. Doubting it would work, I told the computer to go back to a point right before it caught the virus. It rebooted and then informed me that it had recovered from a serious error. Yanko informed me that he loves me even more now than he did before.
We acquired the other office that resides on the same floor as ours. It used to be occupied by a couple of elderly accountants. They hadn't used that office, however, in about a year. Yanko was pressuring the renter to give it up to us. We finally got it. So, we spent Friday painting it. At first the consensus was that it should be white. I didn't agree with that, but I'm not super-ecstatic about how it turned out either. Two of the walls and the ceiling are white. One wall is mint green, and one is a dusty rose. All we need is a dark brown color, and we could have a neapolitan office. Yanko asked my opinion several times about the colors on the walls. All I told him was, "Don't ask me, 'cause I won't be working there." This would be followed by him hugging me and telling me that I was "bad."
I'm more excited about the office itself as in space. This means that not all my colleagues will be jammed in a small office with two computers. Of course, computers still have to be acquired for the new office, but we're going in the right direction. We have some ugly furniture and some ugly chairs that will do for now. Beggars can't be choosers. This is good stuff for the foundation. Growth is good. We've now taken over an entire floor.
This weekend, I went to Blagoevgrad to visit a friend of mine who studies at one of the universities there. Blagoevgrad is definitely a student town - with apparently over a third of the population comprised of students. I had been once, briefly, as a trainee. I had always wanted to go again, and I wanted to visit my friend, Fanka. I wasn't able to get to her as early as I had hoped. Transporation to that part of the country from our part of the country is decent but also not always convenient. Still, I'm glad that I was able to stay and hang out with her and a couple of her friends. I'd been wanting to visit since she started attending school there last year.
The weekend was good, and then I came back to Rakitovo Monday morning. Yanko was excited about the office. He and a friend had stayed to paint over the weekend. He couldn't stop smiling, and he couldn't stop hugging me about it. He insisted that I go home and rest, and I took him up on it. I had gotten up way too early to catch a bus back, and sleep sounded good. I had crawled into bed and had just about dozed off when Enyo, my former landlord, called. Peace Corps was supposed to come that morning to check on the apartment for Emily, the next volunteer, but there was no word from them yet. He wanted to go back to work - which would require him to go to Velingrad. I called Yanko. Sure enough, no word from Peace Corps. I told Enyo to go to Velingrad, and I would call him when I had word. I was about to nod off again when my phone rang. It was one of my program managers from Peace Corps. A representative had been there for twenty minutes, but they hadn't made contact with anyone from my organization. Could I get ahold of someone? I called Yanko, threw on some clothes, called Enyo, and ran to the center. Somehow, in the span of twenty minutes, Yanko and this representative had missed each other. The rep was on a tight schedule, and Enyo was already on his way to Velingrad. Milka, his wife, was stuck in a meeting. After an awkward delay, we went to see my old apartment. It was weird being there again. It's going to be even weirder seeing Emily living there. Anyway, I got an e-mail from the program manager thanking me for helping with the apartment and apologizing for having woken me up. How do they know?
Yanko has sure been hugging me a lot lately. I'm used to it by now. It weirded me out the first time he did it. It was the same week that I came to the organization, and I remember that I froze and pulled back. He understands that it's based on a cultural difference, but there's no problem with him hugging me now. It's never a frontal hug. It's a side hug. Anyway, he's always hugged me in general, but the hugs have increased exponentially over the past few days. I think it's hitting him that I'm leaving. Emily has her swearing-in ceremony, and then she moves to Rakitovo tomorrow. It hasn't hit me yet. I think it'll hit me when she's actually sitting in the office with us.
This week has been a busy one for my colleagues. Ani has been up in the mahala because a well-equipped ambulance, financed by the European Union, has been in our town this week. They're giving free gynecological exams to women, and they're also giving free, overall check-ups to children. It's great, but part of the battle is just in convincing people to go. Hello! Free health exams! Why wouldn't you want to go? Well, a lot of reasons: fear, shame, laziness. There are also free condoms available. Unfortunately, in the mahala, taking a bunch of condoms is like saying, "I'm a slut who sleeps around and cheats on my husband." The idea is that faithful women shouldn't be worried about STDs, and husbands don't like using condoms. Abortion is an appropriate method of birth control. Again, cultural differences exacerbated by a lack of, and unwillingness to learn, new information.
We also have a festival on Friday to celebrate the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. I'm in charge of rounding up some high schoolers, dressing them up in theme t-shirts, and having them hand out brochures. I'm also supposed to take pictures during the actual festival. Then, once it's over, I'm taking down the art and essay exhibition that we'll be showing in connection with the theme. The media should be coming, and Emily will be here. It's kind of interesting. My first day on the job also included a foundation-organized festival which took place in the town's cultural center. History repeats itself.
I've been annoyed this week. Two weeks ago, on a hike, I met this guy. He was nice enough, and we chatted a bit. I thought he might like me, but I wasn't sure. I mostly ignored it 'cause he's 15 years older than I, and I wasn't interested. A few days later, over coffee, he got my number, my e-mail, and my Skype 'cause he wanted to keep in touch and send me pictures from the hike. He works for a magazine in Sofia, and he called me a few days later to try and arrange an interview. I didn't answer my phone 'cause I was in a meeting at the time. A few minutes later, by the time I got out of the meeting, two other people got ahold of me to let me know that he had been looking for me.
Later, on Skype, he started flattering me with all this talk about how charming I am, how much he likes me, and how he doesn't want me to go back to the states. He was going to find a way to keep me here in Bulgaria. He told me that he would take me for a wife. I had no response to that. The next day, he called me. I was busy and told him that I would talk to him later. Later, on Skype, he asked, "Since you don't want to stay in Bulgaria, do you want me to come to America?" I was floored. Really? Two weeks? You want to follow me halfway across the world 'cause you like me? Right.... Get. In. Line. He's not the first to ask me such a question. I'm cute and charming, but I'm not that cute and charming. I am beyond annoyed.
Fortunately, I was able to leave that conversation and meet another guy for coffee. I think this one might have a mild crush on me as well, but at least there has been no talk about following me to another continent. He's a talented artist, and he showed me some of his art. He even ended up giving me a couple pencil drawings. One was of a valkyrie on a horse. A mutual acquaintance of ours has said this valkyrie is a likeness of me. It honestly doesn't look much like me. I just hope I won't have to get special certificates for these drawings.
I'm certain that there's more that I wanted to write, but it's past my bedtime. I just wanted to post before the world changes tomorrow.