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.

No comments: