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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Enjoy! Greetings from the West Coast!