Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Winding Up & Winding Down

It's been busy. I thought I'd get a break with the trainees at their permanent sites, but no such luck. The trainees came back from their permanent site visits, and then we've had a couple of all-day sessions pretty much back-to-back. On Thursday, I went to a nearby town to meet up with all the Youth Development trainees. The preparation was stressful because I made it so. I'm a sort of neurotic personality. I'm a control freak. I really like having things my way. I'm also a people-pleaser. I want it my way, and I want everyone to be happy about that. Umm... this is just not possible. You see where the problem lies? This is where the neurosis starts. Let's not dwell on that. The sessions went well. We played some games. I think the Trainees liked it. Of course, you never know what people are really thinking until you see evaluation forms, but I've decided I don't care about those anymore. I know how much hard work I put into these sessions, and I'm not going to let some low (or even high) evaluation change the value of my efforts. I still love the trainees. No problems there. And I'm still enjoying my job.
I did take Friday off though... except for that hour when I was in the office. This weekend, I was in Rakitovo. I decided to go because Angel took off for a conference in Turkey for a month. I wanted to see him before he left. Otherwise, I was scheduled to go to Plovdiv to see the host family. I'm going to try and go next weekend. Rakitovo was nice. It rained a bit, and I kept to myself a lot of the time. I didn't feel like running around and going "na gosti" at people's houses the whole weekend. I did see my former landlady, and I was pleased to meet her elder daughter whom I've heard so much about. She lives in Canada, and I wasn't sure that I would ever get the chance to meet her. I was glad I pulled myself out of my funk to make the visit. I also got to see a couple of other people that I hadn't seen yet, so that was good.
On Monday, we had another session for about half of the day. I wasn't scheduled to lead out any of the sessions this time, but one of the volunteers who was got sick at the last minute. Fortunately, she had sent me all her ideas, so I got someone to let me into the office in the middle of the night so I could retrieve the e-mail she sent me. It was a team building session, so we ended up playing a lot of games. I think the trainees had fun. The session was repeated twice, and there was a good-sized groups for both times. I spent a lot of time running around in my high-heels, so my thighs are killing me today.
Afterward, some of us went on a field trip to a resource center. A resource center is a facility which works toward the integration of special needs kids into regular schools. It's a new concept to Bulgaria, but it's a good one. Hopefully, they will have much success. It was a field trip that had been requested by one of the YD trainees, so it wasn't scheduled from the beginning. I had to make a special trip to meet the staff and arrange it beforehand. I think it went well though. The staff seem really nice. They're wanting to apply for a volunteer.
We're getting here towards the end. I mean, there's a little less than four weeks left of training. A lot of the trainees have been asking me what I'll be doing after this. They always look disappointed when I tell them that I'm going back to the states. I appreciate the sentiment. They are a great group of "kids." Several members of PC staff have tried to encourage me to try to find work here. Even my grandmother is saying it might be a good option - due to the financial crisis. I joke that my grandmothers used to tell me that I couldn't find a husband here, work, etc. - anything that would jeopardize my return to the states. Now I have one saying that I might be better off if I just stayed here. I find that hilarious - of course in a sad sort of way.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Halfway Through

The trainees have left for their permanent sites for the next three days, and we are officially halfway through pre-service training. I hope their visits go well. I have the duty phone today, but I haven't heard from anyone yet, so I'm hoping for the best.
It's nice to finally get a break. Yesterday was a full day. I had to lead out in a couple sessions and they had me do some interpretation from Bulgarian to English. I love interpretation though. It doesn't feel like work. The only thing that's hard is that I don't have much of a poker face. I never have. If you start to prattle on and on, my face will show a bit of terror. I start to wonder if I'll remember everything. Also, when the speaker starts to say something interesting - or something I don't necessarily agree with - my expression will change. Some of the trainees have commented on this, and one of them told me, "I always think, I wonder what Apryl will say now." Sometimes the jokes don't always translate either. We'll all laugh when the Bulgarian speaks. Then, the trainees will look at me expectantly. But, sometimes it just doesn't translate. I have become rather entertaining to one of the trainees it seems. We have a good time together, and she tells me that she has a hard time looking at me during the sessions without laughing. Great. She's also pretty hilarious. I love the Youth Development (YD) Trainees, though. They're so cool. Some of us play frisbee together. We have fun together.
The YD Program Assistant gave me another compliment. He says that my interpretation is awesome. I'm not so sure about that, but he's encouraging me to take a university exam to measure my Bulgarian and get a certificate if possible. And they've been encouraging me to translate from Bulgarian to English because, while I'm definitely no better than the rest, I'm a bit faster. We went to visit a nearby cave called "Ledenika" (I've visited it before on a trip during my service), and they wanted me to interpret what the guide was saying. Problem was, he was speaking very quickly and running all his words together. Plus, he was using some terminology that I didn't know. So, that didn't last long, and I begged them to take over for me. Oh well.
Vratsa has been an interesting place recently. Local elections are coming up, and a bunch of political parties have been putting on concerts. We've had some pretty famous names roll into town. It's always the same: flashy music, political banners, propaganda, etc. You think someone would try something different. Am I really supposed to vote for you because you brought DJ "X" into town? I just don't understand. It's the copy and paste methodology. Meanwhile, we get to enjoy some concerts.
I had a nice day today. I slept a ton and read some. I also went on a hike with a couple of my colleagues to visit the place where Hristo Botev (huge poet and revolutionary hero) was killed. The area was beautiful, and we took a lot of pictures. Then, we went to a secluded restaurant, and I ate fruit salad and drank hot chocolate while watching the impromptu soft, summer rain fall. It was a pretty great break. It's back to work tomorrow. I might be able to take a day off this week. We'll see. It depends on how well I get everything else covered.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Disconnected Ramblings

I'm still busy. Today was a good day, though. All days have been good days, but today I mostly got to hang out. The trainees have now found out where they'll be living for the next two years, and they've met their counterparts. Good stuff. They seem fairly happy thus far. It takes me back to the days when I found out my site and met my counterpart. Ah, nostalgia. It's pretty cool looking at it from the other side now, though.
A couple of organizations from Rakitovo applied for a volunteer. Only one was seriously considered, but it was decided that they would be encouraged to apply again next year. Rakitovo already has a volunteer at my former organization, and there just aren't enough volunteers to go around.
The past few days have been long days. Tomorrow will be one as well. The trainees are staying in hotels (by program) with their counterparts. The Youth Development trainees are in an absolutely beautiful place, and we've been taking the time to get some frisbee in. I have been eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them - and then I go back home. It's really nice to be with them, but it's a long day. Today, I didn't have a specific role for any of the sessions, so I got to kick back a bit. That was nice. Tomorrow I will have to lead out in a couple of sessions. This is the norm anyway, so it's not a big deal. I need to take a day off here soon to compensate for the extra time that I've been working, but I don't know when that will happen. As soon as you get one event knocked down, another one comes up. The trainees will be leaving to visit all their permanent sites, but I have to prepare for the next round of sessions. It never stops. I'm loving it.
I talked to my colleagues yesterday. They finally got some money that was six (or more) months overdue to them. They were able to take two months of salary - otherwise the rest went to pay off loans and compensate other workers. This is from a European Union project, and it seems "coincidental" that the money should come through right after parliamentary elections. I wasn't paid my first month here in Bulgaria, and I was feeling the strain. I can't imagine six months. Makes you grateful for what you have.
Apparently the mayor of Rakitovo died yesterday. No one expected that one. Also, I wanted to take a moment to express my sadness at hearing that we lost a former volunteer from my B-18 group. Fredy was such an interesting cat, and apparently he passed away in a traffic accident in Ukiah. He was working in Mendocino at the time. I feel it for two reasons: this was a former colleague of mine; he passed away in a place I know well. It's hard to swallow.
Yanko keeps asking when I'll come to Rakitovo again for a visit, but I was just there. It's a long trip, and the only reason that I'm able to go at all is because of my wonderful colleague who lives nearby. It's time to make a trip out to Trud to see the host family. I miss my "sister" terribly.
I'm feeling very far away and disconnected from home. I'm so busy here; there's rarely time to think about the states. I'm with my colleagues here all the time. It's a good thing that I like them. And I certainly hope that they're not sick of me yet. We work together. We eat together. We live together. It's been working out really well so far. I hope it continues.
It's good to know that I haven't lost the Bulgarian. I've been learning a lot of knew words and terminology this time around. I'm in a new setting with a bunch of different organizations that are converging at the moment, and my vocabulary is growing. This is terribly exciting for me. I can't even tell you. Still, it's a bit daunting when a trainee is going on and on about their work with children who are mentally challenged or with women in domestic violence shelters or how they've been assistants to occupational therapists. Your mental "dictionary" doesn't always extend far enough. I become more and more impressed with those who work at Peace Corps for their command of the English language. It's rather inspiring. Still, I'm giddily confident in my Bulgarian. I don't like making mistakes, but I put up with them for the reward that comes from conveying ideas in another language.
I'd better end this rambling. Another long day awaits me tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

No Rest for the Weary

I’m still a very busy girl. I’m going to try and catch you all up on what’s been happening, but I’ll probably miss some things, and I’ll only hit the bigger things that I remember. A couple of Fridays ago, the Youth Development Trainees and I went to visit a home for children with mental disabilities and a boarding school for delinquents. It was a long day, but most of the trainees seemed to like it. The boarding school was pretty modern and the children seemed well cared for. The director of the place was very nice. I think she might even be younger than I! The Trainees asked a lot of good questions, and we got to see how donors (like the largest mobile operator in the country) have taken care of the place. Most of the Trainees were really active and loving with the kids. That was nice to see. The boarding school was an informative visit, but only in theory. We didn’t get much time to interact with the kids. The staff was nice enough to answer all our questions, but it would have been more useful to see and talk to the kids as well. The best part was the bus that half of us took to the nearby village where the boarding school resides. It looked like an old, Russian, war-era van. I don’t even know how to describe it, but it would have been pretty scary were it able to go over 30 mph. Fun times!
Over the weekend, I decided to go to Rakitovo. Yanko had been calling and asking when I’d be coming. “How can you work so much? Don’t they know that you need a break? We need to see you.” So, I went. Fortunately, I think I mentioned that I have a colleague from the next town over, so I caught a ride with her. It was a good visit. There’s never enough time to see all the people that you want to see, and there are always others who complain that you never stay long enough, but… it’s good to feel loved. It was a good break. Vratsa is a great town, but I love my Rhodope mountains.
Last week was exhausting. We had sessions all day at HUB on Monday. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Program Staff and I traveled around each of the satellite sites to do Feedback and Permanent Site Placement Interviews. I had to go to two community meetings in two different satellites on Wednesday evening. I even interpreted for one of them. I then had another community meeting in a distant satellite on Thursday after working at the office all day. On Friday, I had to go to Sofia for the Permanent Site Placement meeting. Then, the driver raced back so that I could attend another community meeting. On Saturday, I hit my wall. We had more sessions during something we call “Clusters.” I was supposed to talk about Project Design and Management. I didn’t even know what I was talking about anymore – I was so tired. The Trainees all had a glazed-over look. They said that they were tired. The volunteer who was helping out saved the day. He did a good job. Otherwise, I think the session was almost a bust. We’re all just so tired. There’s only so much working from sun up to sundown that I can do.
After the session, I went out to lunch and did some shopping with some of the Trainees. I like hanging out with them in that atmosphere. I can’t always play the role of “Trainer” and feel so distant from them. I think they sometimes forget that I was once a volunteer myself. They’re a great group of kids, but the best compliment that I’ve gotten so far is the following: They thought that I was here for the next two years, but I informed some of them that my contract ends and I leave after training. Some of them were visibly disappointed. “Aw, that sucks,” said one. Makes me feel good.
Program Staff has been pretty good about letting me know that I’m doing a good job. I have an ongoing joke with the Program Assistant because we’ve just known each other for so long. He started out by kidding with me about how disappointed he was that I was given the job of Technical Trainer and how he didn’t like working with me. A few weeks later, he was saying in mixed company how I should apply for a job with Peace Corps somewhere as a Program Training Officer. I laughed about that and told him that I could neither believe one or the other. I must fall somewhere in the middle. Others have suggested that I start thinking about working for Peace Corps. I’m not really looking to do that at the moment, but… maybe someday.
I was on the news again. A local journalist wanted to cover one of the community meetings. It went well – except that I blanked out a couple times. She thought it was great, and I guess it was broadcast on some network. Some of the Trainees saw it, but I haven’t seen it. I joked with them and asked if I looked good. Apparently I did.
On Saturday, my friend Greg called to inform me that he’s going back to the states this week. I thought that he would be staying to the end of July. We even had tentative plans to travel together after my contract ends. It turns out that there was a bunch of misunderstandings with the school he works for, and he’s going back this week. I hopped on a train to Sofia and spent Sunday with him. I can’t believe he’s going. I’m going to miss him.
Angel was supposed to come help out with some of the sessions regarding Roma, but he’s going to Turkey for a month to study English. It sounds crazy, but it sounds like a lot of fun. I’m happy for him.
The Trainees find out their permanent sites, i.e. where they will be living for the next two years, on Thursday. I already know, and I’ve known since last Friday. They know that I know, and some of them have been teasing me about it – trying to figure out a way to get it out of me. I just hold it over their heads and relish the information I have. Knowledge is power.
And that’s about it. I’m still very busy, but I’m happy. I like my job. It can be a bit overwhelming at times and I certainly wish I had some more free time. But hey… at least I love my job.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

How to Keep a Technical Trainer Busy

I have been pretty busy lately. Yanko keeps asking me when I’ll be able to come to Rakitovo, and I just don’t know what to tell them. Even if my weekends are free, it’s a long trip. The job is going well, though. I still like the trainees, and we’re having a good time.
On Friday, the Youth Development trainees and I went to an orphanage in one of the training sites. I had arranged transportation for some of them from a couple of the sites, so I got up early and went to pick them up. The visit itself was great. The orphanage obviously had made sure that everything was in its place because they wanted to impress us. Even the stuffed animals on the beds were all in a specific layout. We got to see some of the kids, but only the young ones because the older ones were in school.
The trainees seemed to enjoy the visit, and they asked a lot of questions. We have another field trip to a home for kids with disabilities and to a boarding school for truants on Friday. Hopefully that will go as well and be just as interesting.
Over the past couple of days we have had HUB sessions. HUBs are basically a time for a large group of volunteers to get together and have general training sessions on a variety of topics. Since there are 62 volunteers, we decided to split them up and have our first HUB session with them over the course of two days. Two different groups came in, but the sessions were pretty much identical for both days. The topics were on Bulgarian history, key organizations in the country, the volunteer in development, PACA tools, and a dating panel. I was asked to assist with a couple of the sessions, and I did my best. The days were long, and I think today went better than yesterday. I hope the trainees liked it and found it useful.
Training is in full swing, and I am super busy. I can’t wait to get back into the office tomorrow so I can get some actual work done. I was glad to help out with HUB and interact with the trainees, but I feel like I lost some time because I have so many other things that I need to be doing.
There isn’t really anything as far as story-wise to share. I have snippets of information that I would like to convey, but that’s about it. I will talk about them here-on out.
I finally got paid for the first time since I’ve been here. That’s a relief. Drawing from my bank account in the states was lame for two reasons: 1. watching your savings dwindle sucks. 2. my bank charges me five dollars plus a currency conversion fee every time. So, it’s nice to have money.
I have been hanging out a bit with some Bulgarians that I’ve met here in Vratsa. They’re all men, so it’s been interesting. They told me that I have a nice smile and asked if my teeth are real. I appreciated the compliment.
One of my flat mates cooks good food, so I have been enjoying when she cooks for us. Other PC staff have come over and enjoyed as well, so we have good conversations over tasty food and wine.
I also eat out a lot. This is nice as well.
It’s interesting because one is constantly comparing the difference between Americans and Bulgarians. One of the comparisons that invariably comes up is direct vs. indirect communication. It’s pretty much understood that Bulgarians use a lot of indirect communication to try and convey a point. This is true for the most part. Of course, there are always the exceptions to the rule that leave you flabbergasted – like when someone tells you that you’ve been getting fatter or someone from staff informs you in no uncertain terms that a session you were involved in was flat out “boring.”
Training has been going well so far, but there are, of course, always ways to improve. The format is new for everyone, and some of the colleagues are new. It’s hard to fit everyone’s expectations. The meetings are endless. Lunch and after work aren’t even sacred. At the end of some days, we can’t even see straight. It’s stressful, but I’m liking it. The trainees are great, but we’re also up for evaluation. The tide could change at any moment.
Vratsa has been buzzing with a holiday celebration honoring one of the national heroes, Hristo Botev, who was killed nearby. During one of the sessions, sirens went off to commemorate those who died for Bulgarian freedom. It was oddly inspiring to see a room full of Americans and Bulgarians – standing in silence for a few minutes to commemorate the heroes of Bulgaria. I absolutely loved it.
My dress has come under scrutiny. I’ve been told that I need to make sure that I dress more professionally. I don’t have a problem with my dress. It’s just that they consider jeans appropriate. Flip-flops are not. I started thinking sneakers were allowed as well. Apparently not. It depends on what you’re doing/who you’re seeing that day. You get mixed signals. So now, all I have are high heels. I don’t have to wear them every day, but I’ll have to wear them often. That’s fine, ‘cause when I do dress professionally, I get a lot of compliments on my style.
During the HUBs, they gave the trainees a brochure with the staff pictures inside. They spelled my name wrong, and they didn’t have a current picture of me. So, they used a picture they have on file that they had taken of me four years ago – when I was getting my first Bulgarian ID. Problem: This picture is absolutely awful. I was told not to smile because Bulgarians don’t smile for professional documents. When I don’t smile, I look angry. So, of course, this picture of me makes me look like I’m a serial killer who will cut you if you cross me in a dark alley. At least the trainees find it amusing. I’m glad they’ve already gotten to hang around me a bit and see me before they saw this picture – otherwise they’d probably avoid me like the plague.
That’s about it. I work. I eat. I sleep. Sometimes I hang out in the amazing town of Vratsa. I’m loving it, but it’s stressful. More later.