Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Psych...Sike?

Okay. Due to popular demand (thanks for the three of you who spoke up), I'm back with a Bulgaria-related post that I need to process. I just received word that a friend of mine lost her husband. I mentioned them before. They were the ones who went to Pakistan so he could receive some medical treatment. He came back about a month before I left and was apparently fine. I'd only met him once, but she became a good friend of mine - one of those people I befriended shortly before leaving. I'm dumbfounded. He was so young. My head is filled with the conversations she and I had about her love for him. All that time he was sick... all that hope in the possibility of a cure.... I miss her so much. I've never been good with consoling people, but at least I could be there.
I was going through some boxes, and I came across some possible Peace Corps assignments my recruiter had written down for me when I went for my interview. During the application process, you go and interview with a recruiter, who in turn nominates you for a program that they think you would be a good match for. My recruiter was gung-ho about sending me to teach English in Eastern Europe. I think it was mostly because that's what she had done, but she said it was because she couldn't see me having any other viable skills (You're a Spanish major? What can you do with that other than teach?). I was a bit skeptical, but I really wanted to do Peace Corps - even if that meant being an English teacher. I pressed her to give me some other options, and this is what she wrote down:
English Teaching - Central Europe - April 2005; Community development projects, clubs, summer camps
Water Sanitation - Central/South America - May 2005; Construct H2O systems, wells, pumps, latrines, waste disposal
Health - Central/South America (indigenous?) - June 2005; Train health promoters in basic nutrition, vaccines, HIV/AIDS, rural, no electricity
Well, we all know how that one turned out. I ended up not taking any of those assignments, but my assignment turned out to be most like the English teaching. Actually, my first assignment was that English teaching one in April. (Did I share this story already?) I would have been with the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) group that arrived a few months before us. It was the middle of March, and I received a call at the place where I was working, and I tried to be calm. Peace Corps is on the phone offering me another job - there's nothing out of the ordinary. The woman on the other line was asking if I'd leave in a month to go to Bulgaria and teach young children English.
Apryl: A month is... wow... it's soon.
Woman: Yeah. Well, there's another opening in August. You'd be doing basically the same thing, but you'd be working with older kids.
Apryl: Hmm.... I'm better with smaller kids, but a month is really soon. Would I be going to Bulgaria for that one?
Woman: I can't say specifically, but it'd be in that part of the world.
Apryl: Can I think about it and let you know?
Woman: I'll call you tomorrow, and you can give me your answer then. But please know that this first group could really use you.
I took the evening and thought about it, prayed about it, hemmed and hawed about it. I took the second option, and the rest, as they say, is history. I don't know what would have happened had I taken the first option, but I think I made the right choice.
I have my first French class tomorrow. It's an intermediate class, and I'm a bit nervous. I'm also signed up for a beginners class. I signed up for that one first since it's been six years since I took French in college. My mom convinced me that I should go for the intermediate since she has such great faith in me. We'll see. If all goes well tomorrow, I'll drop the beginners class. If not, I'll drop the intermediate.
I've also heard from a family in France about coming and being an au pair. I was really excited about the prospect of doing that, but I'm becoming less and less excited the more I think about it. I don't think that I would thrive in that situation. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that I should just pay my own way to take an intensive course. Either that, or I should try and find another form of employment in France to subsidize my classes. I talk to my friends about the offer, and they throw their hands up in the air, "That's it. She's leaving again."
My karate class is going well. I'm signed up for a free month. I really enjoy it, but it will be cost-prohibitive to continue to attend. I'll shell out hundreds of dollars to travel and learn languages, but karate doesn't hold the same lure for me. I don't want to spend hundreds of dollars a month for just a few classes. Isn't it strange what we decide is cost-effective and what we decide to let go? What vices we will rationalize and what others we will give up?
So, this is me trying to readjust - trying to get into a fairly solid routine without engaging in employment. I talk to people in Bulgaria, and they ask, "Have you found a job yet?" One has to ease into these things - especially one who has the luxury of doing so.
So is the blog back? I don't know. I just don't know.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The "End"

I don't know if anyone is still reading, but this will be my "final" post. As you know, I'm no longer in Bulgaria. The adventure was the basis for the blog, and I'm no longer living that adventure anymore. Words like "end" and "final" are in quotation marks because I'd like to give myself some breathing room in case I think of something Bulgaria-related that I'd still like to post on my blog and share. This includes the stories of the Irishman who complimented my English* and the Irish president** that I forgot to include in previous posts.
Not much has been going on since I've been back. The holidays have been fun. I spent Christmas with my relatives and the New Year with friends. Both were great fun. As far as telling my story, I'm always happy to answer the questions of anyone who asks. I find people are a bit more curious this time around. Someone did make the mistake of calling it a "trip" though, and I looked at him for a few, delayed seconds while I figured out how to respond. I can't allow myself to be offended by people who are genuinely taking an interest in what I did.
My days are pretty mundane. I hang out with friends when I get the chance, and I enjoy being around people - which is good. I've gone through a few boxes to try and get my room in order, but I find that I lose interest easily and want to move onto something else. I spend quite a bit of time on the internet and watching TV.
On the job front, I have a few, vague prospects. I went into my old place of work last week, and my former co-workers were excited to see me. Job offers were hinted at me, but I feel as though I would be taking a step back if I went there. The money would be good, but it's not what I want to do. It would just prolong my search in looking for the next step. I'm signed up to take the Foreign Service Officer Exam in February, but the practice tests have been pretty challenging, and the process is extremely competitive. I mostly just want to see how well I do. I'm studying, but I'm cautiously optimistic. I also contacted a travel guide publisher who's looking for returned Peace Corps Volunteers. I got a response back. They'd like to see something put together, but I'm not sure if I want to go back to Bulgaria just yet. I haven't even begun to check in on the thing that I really want to do, which is go to France. I don't know. It's just so easy to distract myself.
As for reverse culture shock, I haven't noticed it too much. I definitely miss Bulgaria, and there are times that I wish I could just pop over for a visit, but I don't feel like I'm in shock here or anything. Being in Target or Wal-Mart is weird and overwhelming at times (too many choices, too little personal touch), but it's been something I can handle. Maybe this lethargy is how I deal with shock. I was talking to an RPCV friend of mine, and she said that she only noticed her culture shock in hind-sight. "Yeah, I was really weird last year," she said to herself... after the fact. I wonder if that's what's going on with me. My mom says she thinks I'm normal though. Bummer. I'd almost feel better if I were bouncing off the walls or something. Then it would make sense. C'mon! When is the breakdown coming? My RPCV friends say it will hit me eventually.
Oh wait! There are a few things that are really weird here and are messing with me. Let me just post them quickly. Er, not so quickly.
1. The sounds. It's never ever really quiet here. I can always hear some distant noise on the freeway, a far-off train whistling down the tracks, or a plane flying overhead. Plus, my neighborhood is ghetto. There's a siren going by at least once a day in the area, or a helicopter flying over head. A few weeks ago, we actually were awoken by a SWAT team raiding our neighbor's house. They literally said, "We know you're in there. Come out with your hands up." Full gear, armored vehicles.... It was like some television drama.
2. The food. I don't eat as fresh as I used to. I see all the crazy crap that's listed on the boxes of the food I eat, and I think, "Why am I eating this? I should go to the store and get all new food." And let's not even mention restaurants. In Bulgaria, everything was so fresh. You felt like it took the shortest route possible to get on your plate. Here you have no idea where your food came from or what happened to it in the meantime. My bowel movements have even changed. It's enough to give you the heebie-jeebies.
3. I'm overwhelmed by too much information. In grocery stores and on TV, I'm constantly being targeted by ads. Weight loss programs, celebrity gossip, credit consolidators, reality issues, anti-aging tactics, etc. It's starting to turn me a little neurotic. You know what gets me? All the ads for drugs on TV. It's enough to make me think I have PAD, RA, Alzheimer's, diabetes, asthma, depression, and erectile dysfunction. I'm really starting to think that I'm going to succumb to illness if I happen to do the wrong thing. Should I be using this plastic? Are my electronics slowly destroying my cells? Is the very air poisoning me? I'm slowly dying, aren't I? The above-mentioned food is doing nothing to help. A little more ignorance would be more helpful.
4. I no longer feel special. Okay, I know I'm special, but let me just explain. In my small town, I was "the American." I know I complained about lack of anonymity at times and sometimes I craved to fade into the background, but I've faded too much here - to the point where I don't have any more color. In Bulgaria, I felt different: confident, intelligent, interesting, and beautiful. Even though I was surrounded by hundreds of gorgeous Bulgarian girls, I didn't feel inadequate because I was "exotic." I do not feel the least bit exotic here. I don't feel like a unique individual 'cause I'm swallowed by all the people around me. I think this might be the hardest to deal with. An RPCV friend identified with this and said, "Yeah, it's the fish in the pond syndrome. It's great to be a big fish in a little pond, but it sucks to be a little fish in a big pond."
I keep in contact with friends and acquaintances in Bulgaria through Skype. They seem to be doing well. They miss me like I miss them. My former colleagues informed me that they bought a camera (with a bunch of extras) with the money I raised for them by teaching English. Apparently, they've named the camera "Apryl." That's nice, but who names their camera? They also received a package of holiday goodies my Grandma and I baked. They seem to be doing well. One of them, Fatme, got married, but there's nothing else to report it seems. It's good that I still get to practice my Bulgarian. I also met a Bulgarian man and a Colombian woman at my church. They're the perfect couple for me to practice my languages with, and I'm determined to make them my new best friends. Other than that, I still listen to Bulgarian music. Oh that Chalga - it never dies.
Well, here we are at the "end." I want to thank all of those that followed through this journey with me. Two hundred fifty-three posts are not easy to get through, so I want to thank those of you who made the attempt. As I've stated many times before, this blog has been mostly for me - as part of my digestion process. Writing helps me analyze and understand what happens in my life. It was extremely useful in Bulgaria, but I have no desire to continue it or start a new one here in the states. Someday I will read through this blog again - and others' blogs - and I'll smile. For now, I'm saying "farewell." And thanks again.
Oh yeah, I delayed so long in getting this post up because I also wanted to share my last round of pictures with you. There are so many, I doubt you'd care to see them all, but pick and peruse. I promise there are some good ones. There are five albums there - in no particular sense or order.

* I actually did include this story, but I didn't write it the way I wanted. After I finished translating at the church ceremony for the Bulgarian/Irish wedding back in May, I was approached by a young Irishman. "You speak English really well," he complimented me. I smirked. "You must have studied in an English academy or something." I smiled at him, "I'm American." His mouth opened in disbelief. I smiled and got into a cab to the reception. I've never been complimented on my English by an Irishman before. I must speak pretty well. Now, if only a Bulgarian would compliment me on my English, I'd be set!
** My mom and I were actually on the same plane as the Irish president, Mary McAleese. The cabin crew made sure to point her out and delay us while she debarked. It makes you wonder: Do I want to be on a plane with an important dignitary?