Sunday, July 12, 2009

Turnabout

The rain has been crazy. It stopped for a couple of days to do some sweltering. Then it started up again just in time for the weekend. Two of the Youth Development training groups were supposed to have day camps over Saturday and today. Both have been postponed. So instead of running around and playing with kids, I've been cooped up indoors. Yesterday wasn't so bad. The rain just spit for a while, and I was able to go out. I called my mom and talked for a long time. I joked with the lady at the phone place and said, "My mom talks a lot." (It's not true.) She had heard me speaking English and replied, "Oh, so you're not completely Bulgarian?" I just smiled and nodded in negation. Today, I think I'll end up going stir crazy. Wind, rain, and it doesn't look like it's going to let up soon.
This week we had feedback interviews. Program staff and I went around to each of the satellites and talked individually with the trainees. The next two days, we had HUBs. It was exhausting for both the trainees and for staff. I liked HUB, though. There were a lot of currently-serving volunteers around, and the Bulgarian staff had a great (optional) session on Communism. I learned so many new and fascinating things. It was terribly interesting.
It's also nice because we've been able to hang out with the volunteers and trainees after the sessions. I've had some fun and some interesting conversations. One current volunteer told me, "Your blog is famous for being long-winded." "What? People read my blog?" Many of the trainees asked me what I'd be doing after this little experiment. One expressed surprise that I wasn't here full-time. She then offered to contact some people to give me a job/place to live. I thought that was really generous. I basically have been telling people that this is my second chance at reintegration into the United States. I hope I'll be better about it this time.
I think I've mentioned this before, but it's interesting how quickly time can change everything - outlooks, opinions, loyalties, etc. For example, I was a volunteer just eight months ago, but the trainees don't see me that way. Sure, I was a volunteer once, but now I'm "staff," and they'd much rather hear something from the mouth of a currently-serving PCV than they would from me. Also, on my end, I've become a lot more sympathetic to staff. I can see and understand some of the frustrations that they have with volunteers and trainees.
Overall, in my opinion, the training has been going well. Sure, people are exhausted. Sure, there are some frustrations and petty arguments. Sure, there are sessions that could have probably been left out of the program. Sure, it's good that swearing-in is coming up, and they'll be able to actually go to their sites and get out on their own. But I'm happy with training. I've appreciated these guys, and they seem to be comfortable with Program Staff. That's one of the most important things to me. Develop a good rapport with staff now, because they will be the ones who have your back if you get into a sticky situation in site.
On Friday, some of the trainees were exposed to Roma culture firsthand. Some leaders from the local, Roma community came by to talk to them about the Roma. Then, they went outside and played various sports with a bunch of Roma kids. There were hula hoops, jump ropes, frisbees, soccer balls, playing cards, etc., and it looked as if everyone were having a great time. Afterward, we saw some traditional dances and heard some singing. Then we all got in the action and started dancing.
After this, a bunch of us took a walk to the Roma neighborhood. The idea was for the trainees to see how some Roma live. First, we were taken to a very nice house. Then we were taken to a slightly poorer family's house. Finally, we were shown a house of the poorest of the poor. Some of the trainees had been taking pictures, and, when we got to this final house, one of the women standing nearby became enraged, "Why are they taking all these pictures? Have they come to a zoo? Do they think they're in a jungle looking at animals?" Our hosts and some of PC staff tried to diffuse the situation, but she would not be calmed down. I could see her perspective, and I thought that she was right. Who were we to come into her neighborhood as tourists? I would hate it, too. She asked, "Why don't you actually help us?"
What struck me as interesting, was that while this was going on, someone turned on some music, and there were kids dancing in the street. Some of the trainees soon joined them - shaking their hips and limbs in arrhythmic attempts to do the local dance. It was honestly hysterical. Soon, the local people started whipping out their cell phones and taking pictures. Turnabout is fair play. The only thing is, we get to go back to our privileged lives after having invaded theirs. She's right. It doesn't quite seem fair.

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