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."


Anonymous said...

You're fabulous, Apryl! Congratulations on your three years of Peace Corps service and on finally getting your painting all documented for's been a long, arduous process. Thanks for being loyal to your blog. Reading it definitely makes me miss being in Bulgaria, for better or worse!

Anonymous said...

You're fabulous, Apryl! Congratulations on 3 years of PC service and on finally getting all the documentation needed to send your painting...what an ordeal! Thanks for being so loyal to your blog...I definitely enjoy reading it. It makes me miss being in BUlgaria, for better or worse. Enjoy your final days with your friends,

vassi said...

Oops...guess i sent you that twice...i didn´t think it had worked the first time. Guess it did! Do you have any thoughts about what the next step for you may be?