Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mac Attack

I just got back today from a fantastic trip to Macedonia. I started out by catching an afternoon bus to Skopje. The border crossing was a bit interesting as a guard on the Macedonian side informed me that the medical insurance cards that I presented to him were unacceptable, and I would be needing to purchase insurance for my stay. It sounded like a scam to get three euro out of me, but I didn't give the money directly to him. Rather, I gave it to a sleepy guy in another building, and I received a few papers saying I now had health insurance for six days in Macedonia. Whatever.
The rest of the journey went without incident, and I arrived in Skopje around 9:00 p.m. I tried to send a text to the guy I was staying with only to find that my cell phone refused to work, so I set about trying to get some funds and use a pay phone. It turned out that the pay phone only accepted a certain kind of phone card, so I had to go and find one of those. It's a good thing that Macedonian and Bulgarian languages are so similar. I was finally able to contact my host and then take an overpriced, but entertaining, cab ride to his place.
My host, Igor, was my first couchsurfing experience. The idea of couchsurfing is to connect travelers with local communities, which will hopefully lead to an increase in cultural understanding. In basic terms, however, it's a chance to crash on a stranger's couch. It sounds a little scary, but I had only heard good things about couchsurfing. The site tries to minimize risk to its users, but one just never knows. I was nervous for several reasons. That being said, Igor was a fantastic host. I started asking him right away about former Yugoslavia and tried to figure out how Macedonia and Bulgaria were similar. He patiently answered my questions to the best of his ability. His mom made macaroni for me and put a spicy ketchup and oregano on top. They also gave me juice, coffee, and some chocolate wafers. I gave them a bottle of Bulgarian wine.
The next day, sleet was falling, but that didn't keep Igor from showing me around Skopje. We went to the old part of town, saw some mosques, saw some bazaars, saw some cultural objects, saw some malls, etc. We had some lunch, and I ate some beans in a traditional, Macedonian dish. We were kind of at a loss for things to do, but we didn't want to give up and go back. We tried to go bowling, but they were closed. We ended up going to an art gallery. Then we went for coffee. While at coffee, we ran into another friend of his who was having coffee with a Canadian couchsurfer. We then walked around with them. We had an interesting tour of a mosque and stumbled on a Macedonian wedding at an Orthodox Church.
Wet and cold, we retreated back to his place where I had a lovely conversation with his father. As I mentioned, Macedonian and Bulgarian are very similar. At first, the father thought I was Bulgarian. There were only a few sentences that I had to ask him to repeat so as to understand them. He shared his wine with me, and there was pizza to eat as well. I sat and warmed myself by the stove while Igor tried drying our sneakers by rotating them around in the oven.
Later that night, we went out again for a meeting with The Hospitality Club, which is basically the same concept as couchsurfing. There were drinks and people dancing tango. I met a lot of interesting people (there was a sweet, Hungarian girl who latched onto me for a bit) who spoke amazing English, and I enviously observed the tango dancers. We were invited out to a dance club, but Igor had other plans for the evening, and I tagged along with him.
We ended up going to a rock club and meeting up with the friend we had run into earlier in the day. We didn't stay there long, however, because Igor had some other friends that he wanted to hang out with, so we left and went to a club with harder rock. Igor's friends were friendly and great. They seemed to have a lot of Macedonian pride. I was told that it was better to speak English with them, and I was asked which was better: Bulgaria or Macedonia? I responded by saying I'd spent the last three years in Bulgaria and the last day in Macedonia. "Okay, okay, but we have better beer, right?" I conceded that their beer was better. I don't care much for beer anyway. They responded by getting us three rounds of tequila shots. "I think your friends are trying to get me drunk," I told Igor. He just laughed.
It was a long day. We got back to his place at about 3:30 a.m., and then we stayed up talking until about 6 a.m.
Four hours later, we were up and eating breakfast. Igor asked me if I'd like to go and check out an aqueduct nearby. I agreed, and we walked a few kilometers out to go see it. I walked on top of the aqueduct, but Igor was a bit more cautious. We chatted there a bit longer, and then we went back to his place. I told him that I wanted to catch the 3:30 p.m. bus to Ohrid, but he convinced me to take a later one. I stayed and ate with his family, and then it turned out that he took me to the bus station right after the 4:30 had left. I ended up having to wait until 6:30 to catch the last bus to Ohrid. I wasn't too happy about that, but it could have been worse.
Ohrid was awesome. Once I got into town, I caught a taxi to my next couchsurfing destination: a Peace Corps Volunteer's residence. The only problem was, I wasn't exactly sure where I was going. I gave the taxi driver the directions that I had, but I couldn't figure out where her house was from there. He didn't want me to get stuck somewhere, so we ended up calling her. She appeared within a few minutes and even covered my fare when I didn't have small change.
I hung out that evening with her and another PCV. We stayed up late comparing PC Macedonia and PC Bulgaria stories. The next day, I got up and Karen, my host, made me coffee. She also gave me a detailed itinerary of what to see while in Ohrid. I grabbed my things and set out for some alone time.
Ohrid was absolutely beautiful. First, there's the gorgeous, clear lake that's shared by Albania. In addition to this, you can run into historical beauty just about every five minutes. I saw many beautiful churches, an amphitheater, a fortress, and old city walls. I snuck into the "closed" fortress when no one was around, and I even walked through an excavation site. There were lush trees and snow-covered mountains. It was amazing. I'm including a picture here, but I wish I could include tons more. There were so many beautiful sights.
In the afternoon, I went for a fabulous lunch with the two PCVs. The waiter kept bringing us traditional food to sample - telling us that it was on him. We also met a friendly English couple who had recently moved to Ohrid. After a few hours of conversation in the restaurant, Karen and I went to get some coffee. We then went back to her place so she could get some work done, and I could watch CNN.
The next morning, I got up and hit a few more sites in Ohrid. Then Karen and I went to another town on the lake called Struga. She wanted to pick up some items from a COS-ing volunteer there, and she had a meeting with a colleague. I had planned to visit some cave churches and then continue on to another town where I could catch a bus back to Sofia. All those plans fell through. Her colleague was busy with another project, and I found out that the bus schedules weren't conducive to my plans. We ended up getting some lunch and walking around Struga. We then went back to Ohrid. She and her colleague did some project development while I was happy to read/doze on the couch.
That evening I caught an overnight bus back to Sofia. There were no problems at the border, and I arrived here at about 6:00 a.m. this morning. I was able to get back to Greg's before he left for school, and I crashed for several hours on the couch. It was snowing today in Sofia, and I made a few calls to my former colleagues. Ani had a birthday the other day, and Reneta's birthday was today. I might be seeing Yanko on Friday. My former landlady, Margarita, asked if I would be coming back for a visit while I was here. Angel's supposed to be coming out to Sofia tomorrow. I miss those guys. Otherwise, part of me still wishes I were in Macedonia.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Progressing & Raising the Bar

It has been an interesting week. I've figured some things out, but a lot has been lost as well. I've spent much of my time sitting in my friend Greg's apartment while he's been away at work all day. Greg gets up early and comes home late. He works 11-12 hour days. I've asked him if it's a recipe for burnout. Every day, when I ask him how his day was, he answers, "Long." Who can keep up that pace?
Anyway, Greg goes to work, and I stay in the apartment alone. I'm so grateful for the place to stay, and the freedom to "readjust," but I get lonely. On Monday night, I took him out to dinner and we went bowling with a couple of his colleagues. On Tuesday, he and his girlfriend went out with some of their friends, and I stayed in. Yesterday, we went out to dinner again. Tonight we stayed in and had dinner. Sometimes we play video games. Other than that, I haven't been getting out much. The weather hasn't been enticing. Today was sunny, so I decided to go and buy a bus ticket to Macedonia (a neighboring country for those who may have missed a recent geography lesson). Actually, the technical name is Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), but that's a history lesson for another day. Afterward, I walked around a bit, but I felt pretty lonely.
Originally, I was going to take a solo trip up to Romania, Hungary, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. I bailed for three reasons: 1. I took another look at my financial situation and decided that it would be a stretch. 2. I was pushing it on time. 3. Winter in these places wasn't particularly appealing. There is a fourth reason, which is a little harder to admit: I'm scared. I'm not scared of other people or striking out on my own. I'm scared of being lonely. I wish it didn't bother me, but I know how I am. I would have a hard time making friends with other travelers, and I'd be experiencing a lot of things alone. I don't really enjoy traveling alone. I tell myself that it shouldn't stop me from visiting these places, but it's just who I am. I have intense respect and admiration for those who strike out on their own (one guy from my group traveled alone for almost a year after his COS), and I wish I could be like them. I'm not. I think of myself as pretty brave. I don't mind going out on my own when I have a specific objective to accomplish. In fact, sometimes I even prefer being alone in those cases. When it comes to sightseeing, however, I don't really like to be alone. So I decided to back out. I'm not too surprised, but I'm a bit disappointed in myself.
I have to get out of Sofia, though. I'm planning on taking a trip to Macedonia for a few days. Then I'll come back for a couple days. My "sister" and I are going on a trip to Perperikon next weekend. Then I'll be flying out to Ireland the following week to meet up with my mom. It's nice to have a plan after a week of drifting. I appreciate Greg's patience. He's basically said that I can stay here as long as I need. It's good to have friends like that.
I've thought about going back to Rakitovo to visit, but that would be pretty much pointless. I had to pull myself away from there. Plus, I've said "good-bye" to everyone. How lame would it be to go back? "Yeah, I know we hugged and had this tearful good-bye. I still haven't left yet." I think that would just mess with people. It's no less awkward when they call, "Where are you now?" "I'm still in Sofia...." Seeing my "sister" again wasn't something I was planning, but we're both excited that it's going to work out.
A year ago today, I got on a plane and flew back to the states for about six weeks. I eagerly got on the plane because I was dying to see everyone there again. That and Mexican food was waiting for me. I had a fabulous time. I also knew that I was coming back to Bulgaria. This time, I'm dragging my feet. I have no desire to leave Bulgaria. Leaving does not guarantee a return this time. I'm terrified. It's not something I consciously think about. It's just there in the back of my mind. It's for the best that I now have a plane ticket which will take me away. Inevitability needs to consume me.
I had a dream the other night. I dreamt that I was back in the states. I remember thinking about Bulgaria and experiencing this heart-wrenching feeling that she was so far away from me. I could literally feel the distance. It made me sad. I haven't been feeling that way about the states, but that's probably because I know the states are waiting for me with open arms.
My luggage is the new saga of my life (although no word yet on whether the painting made it to my dad safe and sound), and I don't know whether to ship it or to try and take it on the plane with me. Originally, I was going to send it on ahead while I was traveling. Now that those plans have fallen through, I'm wondering if it would be cheaper to check it as excess baggage on the plane?
On a tangent, I have to brag about this: Peace Corps pays for the flight home. The volunteer can either take a ticket outright to the nearest airport to their home-of-record, or HOR as us acronym-happy people refer to it, or they can take cash-in-lieu. Peace Corps calculates the current cost of a ticket home and then give that to the volunteer if they choose the second option. I probably should have changed my HOR to my dad's place in Hawai'i. I could have taken you taxpayers for all you're worth. (Actually, I'm looking at airfare, and it's about the same as to Sacramento. Oh, well.) Anyway, I'm spending about a fourth of the amount they gave me to get back to the states. I wonder if this is a record or something.
So, yeah. You've probably understood that I've been frustrated with myself for still being here - for stalling while trying to figure out how to function again. I've been assured that this is normal. I've appreciated the words of encouragement that I've gotten from my fellow RPCVs. I know that it's normal. I think I just wish I dealt with it in a different way than holing myself up in a friend's apartment. Why can't I be the person who deals with it by drinking and partying every night? Haha. If I did that, I'd definitely want a different way of dealing. Well, there went one week. It could have been a bit more productive, but it wasn't a waste. Next week will be filled with Macedonia, more Sofia and non-Sofia Bulgaria, and then Ireland will be soon behind followed closely by the U.S.A. It's good to be on track, but I'm also still nervous. It's been nice to observe the United States from several thousand kilometers away. I've been simultaneously proud of and frustrated with her while sitting on my perch. Now I have to be a part of her. Meh.
Thanksgiving is coming up next week.. I've been trying not to think about it because I might actually be alone. Let's continue not to think about it, shall we? I'll figure something out.
I'm not sure what to do with this blog after I get back stateside. I'll probably read it just to digest, laugh at my naïveté, and reminisce. I think I might also write down a few things as I remember them - part of the process of digestion. I think I'll have a hard time letting go of this blog as well. It's been a very cathartic method of processing my experiences. Basically it's been a good friend.
I wanted to write down something Yanko said to me as we were driving to Sofia. He kept grabbing and squeezing my shoulders. He didn't want to let me go. "Apryl, you really raised the bar. You accomplished things in Rakitovo that I would never have imagined possible before I met you. It would be hard for anyone to fill your shoes." High praise. "Raising the bar" was a phrase Angel had used the day before, but for entirely different reasons. By the grace of God, I have affected people. They have affected and blessed me more.
Many people have told me that I will be missed - that I was really loved in Rakitovo. I was talking with a friend of mine who told me, "It's going to be hard. We're really going to miss you here." "Yeah," I said, "but you all get to just miss one person. I have to miss all of you. I think it's going to be harder on me." Her answer was, "I don't know about that. We're really going to miss you." I still think I'm going to miss them more.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Aftermath

This post will consist of chaotic ramblings. I blame in on the Coca-Cola Blak. More on that later. I am still in Bulgaria. I've made it out of Rakitovo, but I've only made it so far as Sofia, and there's no definite date for departure. Basically, I've got to hit that magic number of days between getting done what I need to get done and not wearing out my welcome. It's a bit difficult falling in that role between house guest and "squatter." I am slowly trying to get out of here, and it honestly sucks. Getting questions like, "So, when are you leaving Bulgaria?" from my friends in Rakitovo are difficult (like Maria just asked me on Skype.) Everyone asks me - whether it's on the phone or Skype - and I just don't know. Maybe they wonder why I'm dragging my feet. Maybe they wonder why I'm not with them. I just don't know. Argh!
I was in Rakitovo until Friday of last week. It took me that long to get all my stuff together, clean up the apartment, and say final good-byes. The weirdest/most awkward part was running into people I had told that I would be leaving on Monday. "Oh, Apryl. You're still here." That look of confusion was something I just didn't want to deal with. The explanation was that I needed to be home in my apartment and get my stuff together. I just couldn't do it in those weeks leading up to my COS. I was too busy running around doing other stuff and trying to get my "good-byes" out of the way. Then, after saying good-bye, I was still there. (sigh)
My colleagues said that they would help me pack, but I just couldn't figure out how exactly they could help. Yanko got mad at me that I wasn't calling him for more help, but I just didn't know how they could help me out exactly. I did call him a few times to help me get rid of items I no longer wanted. I gave away tons of stuff, and then I still had too much stuff. I looked at everything and got mad. But then I realized that all this stuff was an accumulation of things people had sent me because they cared about me. I didn't want to let it go. I still have way too much stuff.
Angel did come and help me clean on Friday. I was so grateful to have someone vacuum my apartment/clean my fridge/make me brunch. It was a huge load off my shoulders while I was trying to get other stuff done. Those are good friends.
A few more coffees, a few more dinners, a bunch more hugs and kisses, a few more gifts, and then I was finally able to say, "Okay. I'm leaving on Friday." Yanko arranged some type of transportation with Enyo. We used his taxi, and my luggage and I caught a free ride to Greg's apartment. Before leaving Rakitovo, however, I was driven up to the Educational Center for last hugs with my colleagues and some of my girls. Breath-taking hugs, tears, promises of return. Ужас! Several people have told me that they have a feeling that we'll see each other again. I have that feeling, too. It's hard to deal with it, however, when I'm still in Bulgaria.
So, I've come to Sofia, and my bags are still too big. I'm waiting for Greg to get another bag for me so that I can repack my belongings - maybe give some more stuff away. It's going to be expensive to ship home. Why do I have to be so attached to stuff? Other than that, I've been trying to plan out my route for travel after I finally do get my act together. For now, I'm drinking a Coca-Cola Blak - which is basically Coke mixed with coffee. It's awful. Ah, Bulgaria. I just can't leave you, can I? Every couple hours or so, I get a call or a message on Skype, "Where are you? When are you leaving Bulgaria?" Augh!
Have I ever felt so lost? I'm not sure. I was talking to a friend the other night, and she said, "I envy you. You are a free-floater with no obligations." She's right. I need to see the bright side of this. They also have other terms for such people: "slacker" and "bum" are a few that come to mind.
Other images are coming to the mind that I want to share with you. Bulgaria has been good to me. I'd just like to leave so that I can appreciate her a bit more. Maybe I should just leave my luggage here with Greg and buy a ticket for the next train out of the country. Grow up, Apryl. Stop whining. Anyway, as I was saying, I will never forget some of the images of Bulgaria that are burned in my mind. Along with the people and the warm memories, I will remember trucks spilling over with cabbage, horses and carts running down the middle of the road, donkeys bathing in dirty rivers, and old man dragging an old refrigerator down the street - he was pulling it along by a rope tied around its middle, and it was making the most horrible scraping sound, getting caught in the middle of a herd of goats.... These are the images that might come to mind when people think of Eastern Europe, but I hope you've gotten a more "accurate" picture of Bulgaria from my blog. This is part of the reason why the address is "aprylsbulgaria." It's not your Bulgaria. It's not even an accurate view of this beautiful country. It's my view of things here.
Living in Bulgaria has given me a clearer picture of life in my native homeland. I will always be grateful for the good and bad. I've grown, I've learned, I've experienced a wide range of emotions. I wonder who I would have been had I never come. There's no way of knowing that girl anymore.
I'm rambling. I'm going to go. I'm just frustrated with my circumstances right now, but I have no one to be frustrated with except for myself.
P.S. Oh yeah. We had an earthquake the other day. Well, either we had a couple earthquakes, or we had an earthquake with an aftershock. I didn't feel the first one, but I woke up in the middle of the night when the earth shook again. Greg lives on the eighth floor, so the couch I was sleeping on was bouncing when it hit. Whew! I've never felt an earthquake in Bulgaria before. That'll give you goosebumps.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Вече не съм доброволка от корпус на мира (I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer)

I am a free agent. I can't believe it. In about an hour and a half yesterday, I was able to finish up all the paperwork that tied me to Peace Corps. I feel like a lost kitten. I'm back in my town - finishing up packing and basically avoiding the inevitable. Sometime over the next week, I'm going to have to leave. Again, I can't quite believe it. I feel so lost.
I'm in the internet cafe 'cause I no longer have internet in my home. I have been spoiled having internet at home. I can surf the net in peace and quiet - and in my pj's! Now I'm surrounded by a bunch of boys playing various video games and yelling the few curse words they know in English. I miss my internet.
I went and visited my host family over the weekend. Vili had work on Saturday, so I hid out in her room - watching movies and sleeping. That night we went out with an acquaintance of hers in Plovdiv. We got home at a reasonable time and then slept late into the next morning. My "mom" made my favorite meals for me, and we spent a lot of time hanging out. The next day, Vili spoiled me buy getting me a bunch of souvenirs from Plovdiv. I bought her a necklace. We went to eat. Then we had an almost-tearful good-bye at the bus station.
When I got home - late. Some of my colleagues were waiting for me. They fed me (I've been doing a lot of eating) and gave me gifts. Reneta was mad that I had shown up late. She thought that I had flaked on them. She perked up once I showed up. It's interesting to see how much Reneta has changed. When she was younger, she used to cry when I didn't show up when she thought I should. Now she gets angry. My colleagues were happy to hear that I wasn't ready to leave right away. I don't think they really want to deal with it either. Ani even offered to let me live with them for a month! What would I do, though? Until now, I've been living like a volunteer. Now what? I should live like a cat?
Closing my service (COS-ing) was easier than I expected. I had to fill out some documentation, see some people, and get some signatures. Considering how chaotic my life has been recently, I wasn't expecting it to go so smoothly. I guess I was better-prepared than I had expected. I thought I would have to spend the night in Sofia, but I was able to come home.
Today, I spent most of the day inside. I've gone "na-gosti" (visiting people) a few times. There are still people I need to spend time with. I still expect someone to see me accidentally and to call me out for saying that I was leaving on Monday. Mostly, this time is for me. With everyone wanting to see me, I couldn't pack and get my things in order. Now I'm able to do that. Only I'm still having a hard time 'cause people have felt the need to give me large, breakable gifts. I'm not complaining that people love me. I just can't figure out how to get these "symbols of their affection" home.
Meh. I'm in limbo. I don't know when I'm actually leaving, but it's going to have to be sometime soon. People who do know that I'm still here ask when I'm going, and I know it sucks to be telling them, "Maybe tomorrow... maybe the day after...." They can't get closure that way. I feel like a ghost walking around town. I have to get moving on.
In more entertaining news, I was offered a marriage deal yesterday. He said I could stay in Bulgaria and live in his nice apartment in Sofia while he goes to America and lives in California. I could even have lovers! This would fall in line pretty well with my goal to become a trophy wife. If only it weren't a joke, I'd have to give it some more thought....

Saturday, November 08, 2008

This Might Be It. What If This Is It?

I'm nowhere near ready to get out of Bulgaria. I know that Monday is my last day as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but I just can't believe it. This week has been rather exhausting, but I'm running on adrenaline, so I'm good. I don't think I'll actually be getting out of Rakitovo on Monday. Whether I'm ready for it or not, I'll no longer be a PCV come Monday at midnight. This doesn't mean that I have to be out of my site by then. I don't think I'll have my stuff together by then.
After a long week, I got a lot of stuff done today, and I'm feeling really accomplished at the moment. Every single day has been a chore, however. Let's start with something that I did that wasn't so smart. I don't know where my head was, but sometimes I do things that really go against good common sense.
This last Saturday, when I was waiting for a bus to take me to Velingrad to meet up with my colleagues, I was approached by a guy here that I know. I've talked to him a few times, but he's a few cards short of a deck, if you know what I mean, and I've maintained my distance. He asked me when the bus was coming, and I said it should arrive any minute. Well, the bus never came, and the only taxi left for Velingrad. He said, "Come on. I'll give you a ride." I mulled it over for a half-second before I agreed. The bus obviously wasn't coming.
Once I was in his car, and we were driving to Velingrad, I thought, "That was really stupid, Apryl. What are you doing in this guy's car? Why was he just hanging out at the bus stop?" It turned out that he was waiting for a friend and had nothing better to do. He was driving pretty slowly, and he started to ask me, "How is it that you trust me?" He then started talking about how I know his sister and his nephews, and for this reason he could never do anything to me. He then insinuated that, did I not have this relationship with close family members, he would have... what? Taken me out back and beaten me? I tried to get him to stop talking about it and tell him that he couldn't do bad things - even to a girl he didn't know, but he just kept bringing it up. Fortunately, he drove me to the hotel without incident. I'm an idiot.
I had a good time with the colleagues. We ate, talked, listened to music, drank, danced, and laughed. I don't think I've ever drank so much, so I figured that I'd be struggling the next day - or even during the night. I had a headache when I woke up, but that was it. Maybe I wasn't as "mermeloskena" as I thought.
I went home at a reasonable time the next day, and I started getting some stuff together. I cleaned a bit since I was planning on having guests over, and then I went to meet up with some kids to play baseball for the last time. It was fun, but it was also a little frustrating. I have a hard time dealing with bad sportsmanship, but I think we're all programmed to be bad sports - especially when we're kids. We also played a bit of frisbee. As a final gesture, I told the boys there that they could have my frisbee. That was a mistake. They couldn't agree on who should be in charge of holding onto the frisbee, and I heard the next day that they pratically "broke" it. Nice. I'd actually like to see how they could accomplish that.
That evening, Emily, Reneta, Petya, and Jeina came over to make Mexican food. I was annoyed that Maria didn't show up, but what could I do? We had a great time. I mostly delegated and made sure that everything was going smoothly. The others played the role of sous-chefs. We talked, laughed, and ate good food. It was fantastic, and I'm glad that we were able to do that one last time.
On Monday, I spent the whole day in Pazardjik for nothing. Enter the continuing saga of the painting. I went because I was informed that I would have to go to the customs office there and get a customs declaration. I wasn't informed, however, that I would be needing any sort of documentation when I went. I was just told to go. So I went and checked on my "lichna karta," or personal ID card. It wasn't ready yet. Big surprise. "Come back on Friday - after lunch." I kind of don't understand how your ID card can expire, and you don't get a new one right away (even when you applied over two weeks before its expiration), but who am I to judge? This will be important later, however.
So, I walked across Pazardjik to get to the customs office. They were really helpful, but they couldn't do anything for me because they wanted to see the document I had obtained from the National Art Gallery stating that it wasn't a cultural object. Nice. That document was attached to the painting - which was somewhere in Sofia. One of the men talked to the woman in my town that works for the courier firm, and they came to an understanding. He told me, "Nothing will get done today, though." By then, that was obvious. "So, how much is this painting worth?" When I told them, they were incredulous. "You're going through all of this nonsense for some run-of-the-mill, inexpensive painting?" I hung my head, "I know. I know."
I was irritated. I had gone to Pazardjik for nothing, and I lost the whole day. On top of this, I received a super-disappointing phone call about an unrelated issue. I grabbed some food and then went to a bus stop to wait for my bus back to Velingrad - except that the bus never came. It turns out that the bus no longer passes through the street where I was waiting. Nice. I walked to the bus station to wait for the next bus - which would leave an hour and a half later.
The bus station was crowded, so I decided to go to the train station to try and find a place to sit down. The train station was crowded, so I went and just sat on some cement near the train station. Worst. Most. Pointless. Day. Ever.
I was soon approached by a young, Roma boy. "Do you have the time?" I just wanted to be left alone, so I told him that I didn't. He soon came back and asked if he could sit with me. It's a free country. He sat down and started talking to me, but I was aware of his entire family looking at me with amused expressions. I pretty much gave him one-word answers. Honestly, I was very aware of my belongings. I couldn't figure out his agenda. He seemed like a nice boy, however, and it seemed like he just wanted to chat and entertain his family. I finally told him, "I'm sorry. I've just had the worst day, and I don't feel like talking to anyone." He was quiet for a bit, then his train came and he offered me his hand, "You never know. We could see each other again."
I got home, and I called the lady from the courier firm. I was beyond frustrated, and she was embarrassed by the situation. She would have to get the certifcate from the National Art Gallery, and then I could go back to customs. That would probably take another couple days. I asked her if I could go to the customs office in Sofia - since I would be there on Wednesday and Thursday anyway. Meanwhile, I was thinking, "Why am I still dealing with this? Why am I not being told exactly where I need to go and exactly what I need to do? Honestly, why am I being asked to run around - losing time, money, and nerves?" This is the part in the story where I tell people to never use the courier firm "Citi Express" - if anyone cares. I don't know what their deal is, but I'm extremely irritated with their service. I only dealt with the lady in my town, but she's representative of a firm that had me running around like a chicken with my head cut off.
That evening, however, Maria invited me to her birthday party. Plus, the women of our informal women's group had a party to send me off. There was so much food, and they all chipped in to get me a great gift. We laughed and had a good time. They really saved the day. Otherwise it would have probably gone down in history as one of my "lost" days in Bulgaria.
Anyway, I was waiting for documentation to be sent back to me on Tuesday, so I decided to go to Velingrad. I went there to get four things done. Only one did I actually succeed in accomplishing. First, I went to the bank to try and close my bank account. The lady who ended up helping me wasn't so bad, but she was kind of cold to me in the beginning. "Why do you want to close your bank account?" she asked in a flat, cold tone. Um... because I want to. Because it's my bank account and I can do whatever I want with it? I responded that I would be leaving Bulgaria. "Oh, well, in that case...." In the end, however, I couldn't close my bank account because I didn't have a valid "lichna carta." Nice. "Come back on Friday when you get your 'lichna karta.'"
I then went to the mobile operator M-Tel and tried to close my account with them. "You can't close your account because your contract isn't up." Okay. I had figured they would just make me pay the tax for those months until my contract expired, but she told me to leave money with someone to cover the next couple of months - and then my contract would expire anyway from lack of use. At least, that's what I understood. I was 0-2. Meh. I then had to go to a bank and pay a tax. The hardest part was finding the bank, otherwise they were eager to take my money. 1-2. I then went to a local phone service. I am trying to get the programmed M-Tel network off the phone that Thomas sent me so that he can use it in the states. But the guy wasn't in the office. 1-3. Grrr....
I met a friend later that evening for coffee. I've been frustrated because, instead of meeting people for coffee and saying my good-byes, I'm running around trying to get the smallest details done. However, it's probably good that I'm running around like this. Otherwise, I'd probably be pretty sad.
On Wednesday, I went to Sofia. I had been asked to participate in an event including various volunteer organizations here in Bulgaria for European Youth Week. I went with pictures and brochures - to represent the Peace Corps. Three other volunteers and one of my program managers were there, and we had a pretty good time. I even got to talk for a few seconds to present Peace Corps Bulgaria.
Before that, however, I met up for coffee with a friend of mine who's studying at a university in Sofia. Rumen is a young, cute, guy who likes to walk around holding my hand. He dropped me off at the event - giving me a huge hug and multiple kisses on my cheeks. "Who was that?" asked my program manager. Arm candy can be fun sometimes.
After crashing for the night, I tried to get a few things done in Sofia. I went and dropped off some materials at the Peace Corps office. I also had a good conversation with the staff there. Then, I went to customs office at the airport to try and figure out how to obtain a customs declaration. The girl at the agency I was told to visit really couldn't grasp what I was talking about. She took me to a colleague at another agency. They couldn't believe that I was filling out a declaration for such an invaluable piece of art. Yeah. By that point, I couldn't believe it myself, but it was necessary. Anything with material value over 22 Euro needs a customs declaration. My painting fell right above that range because I arbitrarily assigned it the value for which I had actually paid for it three years ago. "Bravo na men," as they say here. Plus, I got the impression that the mere fact that I was trying to send it to the states was another reason for the required declaration. I don't know if that's really true.
Finally, after a lunch break, I was able to find someone who would fill out the declaration for me. Enter the next problem. Yanko's name was actually on the certificate I took from the National Art Gallery. The migration declaration would ahve to be in his name as well. Plus, only he would be able to submit the documentation once it was filled out. Otherwise, I could approve this guy to do it - for 70 leva. What? I was already paying 20 for the declaration itself. Why would I want to give this guy another 70 leva for five minutes work? No. If Yanko had to submit the documentation, then Yanko would be submitting the documentation. He suggested I go ahead and try it saying, "No one ever really pays much attention to these things anyway." I went to customs and tried to submit the documentation to a woman who was already looking at me rather sourly. It didn't take long for her to ask, "Where's Yanko? His name is on this declaration, and it's obvious that you're not him - nor do you have the authority to submit it on his behalf." "Fine. Give me my papers back." I started tearing up then and there. I was reaching my threshold for this lunacy.
I came back to Rakitovo, and I had dinner with my landlady. I then had dinner with my ex-landlords. It's all part of my campaign to get everyone in while I can. While I was getting my documentation taken care of in Sofia, a guy from Rakitovo called, "Apryl. Are you free tomorrow night? A group of us want to get together with you." I started to get frustrated because I had wanted to make other plans, and I hate promising people that I'll be able to squeeze them in. He started to get pushy on the other end of the line, and I told him that I had to go. He insisted that I keep a couple hours open the next evening. Fine. Okay. I'll see what I can do. I was turning into a brat. It's not that I don't want to see people. It's just that it's all very stressful for me. I thought I had taken my leave of this group of people when, before I left for Sofia, we had coffee with the other Americans in the region. They had a bigger surprise in store for me.
I asked Yanko to come with me to the customs office in Pazardjik today. I figured that we could leave the declaration there. Another problem reared its ugly head, however. Since Yanko's name was on the certificate and the declaration, his name needed to be on the invoice as well. In essence, Yanko needed to be the one who was sending this painting. Because the invoice would change, the number on the invoice would change, and the number on the customs declaration would change. I needed to get a new customs declaration. My work in Sofia was all for naught. I lost it. I started stamping my foot and thrashing around like I'd gone mad. This was the last straw. I started throwing documents around. Yanko was trying to calm me down, while everyone else in the office just looked at me like I'd lost my mind.
To make things worse, I had just introduced myself to the latest employee to join the organization. We were having a pleasant conversation, when it was ruined by a ringing phone informing me that I would have to pay another fee/lose more time getting a new customs declaration. This employee, however, said that she had heard really good things about me. She wouldn't let this side of me damage her impressions of me - which apparently she had received from others. Plus, she understood what it's like to be frustrated by Bulgarian bureaucracy. Right. I know she'll always think of me as the crazy girl who lost it five minutes after we met - especially since I'll probably never see her again. Good job, Apryl.
Yanko and I went to Pazardjik, and things got better from there. We finished some work he had to do, and then we went to the customs office. "Hi. Do you remember me?" Of course they did. I explained the situation to them, and they said that it wasn't necessary to get a new declaration. They would correct the already-existing one. And they did it for free. Yanko and I were floored. After getting a bunch of stamps and convincing the agent there to give me back the certificate from the National Art Gallery, "Um... I'm no expert, but I think I'm going to need that...," we went and grabbed some coffee. Then I went and picked up my "lichna karta" without a hitch. Our bus back to Velingrad was late, so I was unable to get the telephone situation taken care of, but I was able to close my bank account. They even went out of their way to bend the rules and shut down my debit card as well. Otherwise, it's not protocol to do both on the same day. Man, is it weird to be cut off financially from Peace Corps. I officially have no more income coming in - even if it's just a living allowance which covers my basic expenses. That money is gone, and it's a scary feeling. I then made an imporant phone call and was treated with respect by the person on the other end. Honestly, I expect people here (from whom I'm trying to extract information) to be rude to me on the phone. Many people in customer service positions aren't actually that pleasant. How dare you call them and ask them your "trivial" questions. People who are nice to me - especially on the phone - have made great impressions on me. I appreciate those who answer my questions patiently and clearly. They deserve a special place in Heaven.
Today I got things done. It felt so good. I left the documentation for the painting at the rep's house, and she says the painting should travel on Monday. I told her to not take it personally, but I hope that I never see again before I leave Rakitovo. I've been at her house nearly every night this week - trying to figure out what the next step is - after several missteps.
I then met up with some friends for dinner tonight. They went all-out. We had delicious food and drinks. Plus, they gave me a giant gift, which I have no idea how I'm going to transport. We talked about history, rakia recipes, and sang songs. It's nice to be appreciated. What can I say?
Obviously, Bulgaria has been frustrating me recently. I still love her. There are some great people here who make me feel special and who definitely go out of their way to help me out. Yanko is taking care of my telephone situation tomorrow so that I can go to Trud and visit my "family." He even switched his shiny, new phone for mine so that I wouldn't be without a phone while I'm away for the weekend.
Yanko and Angel have both said something to me that struck me this week. "Apryl, through you, America came and lived with us for three years. America is no longer an abstract concept for us - something you read in storybooks about heroes. America came to us and gave us something to aspire to." I can't imagine a more flattering compliment. Even when I'm losing my mind, and I'm at my wit's end, I'm fulfilling the second goal of Peace Corps.
Anyway, this might be my last, official post before I'm no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer. I still don't know, however, how long it will be before I actually get out of Bulgaria. I can feel her pulling me back - trying to keep me here with her. I once had a friend talk about Bulgaria - how there wasn't much about her to really fall in love with. At the time I agreed. Bulgaria wasn't like Spain, for example. I fell for Spain the moment I met her. Bulgaria took her time while trapping me in her clutches, but she's done it. Now that she's done it, "escaping" her won't be easy. I don't think I'll every really "escape."

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Plot Thickens....

It seems like every time I get things together and wrap up something, there's always one more thing left to do. One more stamp to get. One more signature to obtain. I HATE IT! I'm so over this painting. Dad, I love you, but no one should have to go through this much red tape to send some brush strokes to the other side of the world. It turns out that now I have to go to Pazardjik to get a migration declaration with a stamp on it. I just asked the lady, who works with the courier firm, if I need to have the painting with me, and she doesn't know, but she believes that I can show up without the painting. I'm not doing so well with "belief" right now. I want an answer. Doesn't really matter 'cause the painting is apparently just sitting somewhere in Sofia. I'm so irritated. Why can no one tell me the correct process from beginning to end? Why do I have to go to five different sources to get the correct answer, and even then I still need a stamp, a signature, maybe I'll have to dance some horo. Argh!
I'm sitting here at home updating the blog when I should really be on a bus to Velingrad to meet my colleagues for a party we're having tonight. I had a lot to do today. Yanko sounded irritated when I told him that I'd be lagging another hour to get on the bus, but that's what happens. I have things that have to get done. Parties can wait.
The Halloween party last night was a smashing success. I'm attaching a picture of my cowgirl outfit.
There was a rock band, a DJ, and food enough to feed a small nation. Some of the costumes were pretty awesome. It was basically put together by a small band of students at the school - led by a couple of girls. I'm intensely proud of them. Plus, I had a blast. I hope they will continue to be responsible for student life activities such as these. They could make that school a really fun place to be.
I had my last English class the other day. We had a good time, and people are starting to give me gifts. Meh. I don't really want to transport the breakable things that they give me, but I'm overwhelmed by the gesture. Most people don't want to say "good-bye" at this point 'cause they think they'll still run into me over the next week. I can't promise my time to anyone these days.
I'm starting to feel pretty stretched. People need me to be in five places at once, and I'm having to decide which things I can just ditch out on all-together and which things I'll just have to show up to a few hours late. I'm feeling the time weigh down on me. I could talk more about this, but I really need to get ready to go.