Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Back in Bulgaria

Surprise! I've come back to Bulgaria. This time I'm actually working for the Peace Corps - not as a volunteer, but as a free agent. I'm not contracted by any government. I'm self-employed as a contractor, but my official title is "Technical Trainer." Crazy.
I'm going to help with the next PST (Pre-Service Training). Sixty-five volunteers will be coming through at once for all programs: Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Youth Development, and Community and Organizational Development. It's going to be chaos. Today is my second day on the job, and I'm starting to learn the ropes of the process and what I will be doing exactly.
I'm living in a town called Vratsa. It's fairly small as far as big cities go, but it's still a good size. It's definitely more populous than Rakitovo. Our training center will be at a local language school, and they recently renovated some rooms for our use. I have my own computer and work station. Plus, the view is of some high, beautiful mountains in the near distance. It's absolutely gorgeous. I've been to Vratsa twice before, and I love these mountains.
I live in an apartment with a couple other technical trainers. They are Bulgarian women, and I'm hoping that the living situation will work out well for all of us. The apartment is nice, but there's really only one real bed. One is a pull-out from a couch, and the one that I'm sleeping on at the moment doesn't have a real mattress and kind of just sags. I slept okay last night, but PC said that I would be getting a real mattress soon. We might have to find new apartments for some other people, however, as their living arrangements sound even worse than ours. I could go into some length about some of the oddities of our apartment, but I'll just share this: our landlady had covered just about all the bedroom windows with paper. We asked if we could take this down. She thought that odd as the sun apparently comes in strong, and she figured it would bug us. "What do you need to look at?" she asked. "You'll just be at work all day anyway." Still, we insisted. She was very nice about it. The thing that got me, however, is that the master bedroom has a view of the street and some ugly apartment buildings. The other "bedroom," which had never been used and is now my room, has a wonderful view of the mountains. I don't get it.
So far, it's been awesome. I got into Sofia on Friday, and my friend, Greg, met me at the airport. He took me to his place, and I informed him that I wanted to stay awake until nightfall. This was at about six o'clock. He suggested either going for a walk or playing a video game. I chose the latter. It turned out that this video game was kind of complicated, so he had to explain quite a few things to me. I could feel myself nodding off. At one point he asked, "Apryl, are you okay?" I opened my eyes. I had fallen asleep. I set down the controller and said, "I'm sorry. I just can't do this." I turned over on the couch and promptly fell asleep.
My luggage showed up in the middle of the night. As it was, I ran to catch the plane to Sofia in Munich. My bags didn't make it. The luggage service was so good about coming around and delivering my bags.
The next day, I went to Rakitovo. Oh man, was that awesome. Only four people knew that I was coming, and I'd only informed one of them. The other three were informed by Peace Corps. My former colleagues didn't know. I was walking up the street, and it was interesting. People were stopping and talking to me, and you could tell that some of them just thought they hadn't seen me in a while. "When are you coming to my house to visit?" Word spread quickly, and people thought their informants were lying to them. "How can Apryl be here? You must be confused." My colleagues were all so happy. Yanko couldn't stop hugging me. He actually cried and said, "There's a God." They all kept looking at me and touching me to make sure that I was real. Almost everyone commented that I was fatter. I love Bulgarians. There's no hop-scotching around the issue. You've gotten fatter. Some thought I had lost weight, but that's definitely not true.
I had a good day going around and showing up on people's doorsteps. Everyone was surprised, and all the reactions were good. I haven't drank so much liquid in a long time. Everyone insists that you come in, and they all have to offer you something. The hospitality is fabulous. Enyo insisted that I have a glass of wine with him. I downed it as I was late to my next meeting. In the evening, my colleagues and I got together to eat french fries and drink beer. The celebration went late into the night, and I faded, but it was good.
The next day, I went to Plovdiv and Trud to visit my host family. I walked into the living room, and my host dad was shocked. "What are you doing here? You came back." My sister was so happy that I was back, and she wouldn't let go of me. My host mom cried, but she always does that. She's so sentimental. Unfortunately, our meeting took place at the hospital in Plovdiv. She's in for some tests, and we're all really hoping that she's going to be okay. You can see the toll that it's taking on her family. They're so worried about her. Now that I know about it, I'm worried about her as well.
So anyway, I'm back in the BG. It's good to be back. I've been reminded of a couple of cultural things that were so sorely missed.
1. Buses. In general, there is assigned seating. Every seat is numbered, and you're given a number with your ticket. Depending on a variety of variables, which I don't fully understand myself (I think it has to do with the number of people riding the bus taken in relation to the number of people who just insist on riding up front), people choose to either follow or disregard these seating placements. I usually just head for the back and figure that no one who actually cares where they're sitting will get all the way to me. Of course, there are always those who disregard the seating and sit towards the front. They then get into disputes with those in whose seat they've occupied. These disputes usually end with the "rightful" owners having to find another seat. Meanwhile, both parties are muttering about how unreasonable the other is being, and I'm just sitting there wishing the bus would leave already.
2. Nothing gets done the same day. Okay, almost nothing. Today, the one other American technical trainer and I needed to get to the police to get registered. The man on duty was very nice, but we couldn't register because we needed signatures from our apartment lessors. Tomorrow. I went to re-activate my phone with M-Tel. It turns out that I'm still on contract. I wish I weren't still on contract with them, but I'm back online with my old number. Done. Yes! Then, we went to the bank to try and open a bank account. The bank didn't want to help us out because we weren't registered with the police for the address at which we're staying. Tomorrow? Getting things done in Bulgaria usually takes more than one day - especially if you're relying on the help of other institutions. Maybe that's just a foreigner thing, but I remember it from my service as well.
So, I'm back in the Bulge. Being home was nice, but I wasn't sure of what to do with myself. Instead of really integrating and getting back into things, I decided to apply for a job with the Peace Corps and interview to come back. I'll be here for the next three months. Home was great: Family, friends, French, and karate. There were also tough times. There were plenty of surprises - both good and bad. For now, I'm glad to be back. And I'm glad the blog is back. I hope that you're glad as well.