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.

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