Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I’ve forgotten how Bulgaria can do this to me.  You would think, after almost four years of working here, I would understand this environment well enough to maintain emotional stability.  This is not to say that I have recently had strong, emotional outbursts.  I just find my feelings rapidly jumping from joy to sadness to anger with seemingly little provocation in seemingly short periods of time – something that rarely happens in the states.  Honestly, it’s not like it happened all the time in Bulgaria (that would be too emotionally exhausting), but it’s been about four years since I’ve been in a situation like this one – working exclusively with Bulgarians in a grassroots environment.  Here’s what I think is tripping me up.

  1. I don’t speak Bulgarian as well as I thought.
Don’t get me wrong.  I speak Bulgarian very well, and I know it.  I can be almost egotistical about it.  But I find myself still tripping up over hard to pronounce words and terms that I have simply forgotten.  My grammar has fallen apart a bit, and I get easily frustrated over it because I question myself and get tripped up.  Explaining abstract concepts is extremely challenging.  Sometimes I get the impression that some people don’t have the patience to listen to me, and that drives me absolutely crazy.  Not only do I get frustrated with the person for not listening, but I get frustrated with myself because I feel like it’s my failing that I can’t get the words out fast enough.  The other thing that drives me absolutely mad is that, when I ask, “What?” people seem to assume that I literally didn’t understand.  Nine times out of ten, I just didn’t hear them. 
  1. It’s taking a little longer to figure out my role than I thought.
My colleagues have been pretty busy and are probably waiting for me to figure out a lot of things on my own.  There have been only a couple of meetings where we have sat down and discussed where they need assistance and how those needs might match up to my experience and strengths.  In fact, since starting this post, I have had a meeting with my program officer from Peace Corps and a couple of my colleagues.  That was especially helpful in giving me some perspective.  I really should be more patient, but then I think about how I only have five more months here.  Time is short.

  1. I don’t work with Roma.
After having worked almost exclusively with Roma minorities for three years in Bulgaria, I’m extremely disappointed that not one person I’m working with is Roma.  I have asked my colleagues about it, but so far I basically get shrugged shoulders as an answer.  It is true that there are probably few Roma around that fit the target group of the organization, but I’m frustrated that there’s not a more concerted effort to go out and find Roma that might fit the bill – whether it’s for volunteer activities or for trainings.  I’m going to see if I can help in this area.

  1. I hate feeling useless – even when other people tell me I’m not.
I have been out on a couple of trainings with my organization to develop leadership skills in young people.  One of the newest initiatives in Bulgaria is that of student mediators.  That is, training students to help in the process of resolving problems which frequently come up among their peers.  I have been asked to be a co-leader of these groups.  Obviously, I can’t lead sessions.  I was mostly there to help pass out materials and lead out in some games.  Even with that, I felt underutilized.  I wasn’t really needed.  My colleagues obviously appreciated my assistance – and frequently said so – but I still felt fairly useless.  I hate feeling that way, but the only answer is to be more patient with myself.  I’m never going to speak Bulgarian to the point where I can lead out a training session on such complex issues.
At this point, I help out where I can.  My colleagues sung my praises when Peace Corps was here, but I wanted to bang my head on the table.  

  1. I haven’t had time to go to Rakitovo, or really anywhere – even around Plovdiv.  
I hate feeling like I do so little, and yet having it take up all my time.

Things have been pretty good otherwise.  It’s getting colder here, and my colleagues frequently scold me for having blue lips.  I went to the circus with my sister one evening last week.  I hope to go to a jazz concert with her later this week.  (There are advantages to living in the city.)  I was able to go to Trud to visit the host family and came home with leftovers of my favorite Bulgarian meal, fresh tomatoes from the garden, and an awesome haircut.  I just need an attitude adjustment.   

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