Thursday, October 04, 2012

Here We Go Again

I'm back in Bulgaria.  Are you surprised?  Sometimes I feel as if I’ve never left.  California and New York feel years and miles away – and yet happening all at the same time.  It’s as if my life is made up of a bunch of multicolored crayons left out for hours in the sun.
This time, I’m working with Peace Corps Response.  I’ve been assigned to an organization called National Alliance for Volunteer Action (NAVA) in Plovdiv.  I’ll be here for six months.  As Plovdiv is my favorite city in Bulgaria, I’m excited to be here.  Interestingly enough, however, I’ve been missing my small town in the mountains.  Rakitovo felt more accessible somehow.  Plovdiv feels so big – which is certainly weird for someone coming from New York City.  I miss being able to just walk wherever I needed to go.
I got to Bulgaria last Thursday and went in to the Peace Corps office in Sofia on Friday for training.  As Peace Corps is wrapping up next year in Bulgaria, there were fewer staff members in the office.  It felt a little empty, but the warmth still radiated from everyone there.  They were very welcoming and all excited to see me.  After a brief swearing-in ceremony, I ran around to the different departments for an updated training on PC Bulgaria policies.  Before long, I was on a bus to Plovdiv.
Once in Plovdiv, I was met by Vera, my counterpart, and a young volunteer from NAVA.  They took me to my apartment, which is quite simple and nice, but far from the center of town.  (I’m still figuring out the bus system.)  Vera has been very sweet and pleasant.  She seems to have boundless energy and greets everyone with great enthusiasm.
On Saturday, I went out for a tour of Old Plovdiv with a bunch of young volunteers from NAVA and P.U.L.S., a sister organization in Pernik.  It has been a wonderful surprise to meet so many motivated young people here.  Plovdiv has changed a little bit in that they’ve opened an archaeological site in the center of town.  Considering it’s been covered ever since I first came here seven years ago, it’s been a pleasant surprise to sit it open.  Sofia has done the same.  It’s opened up extensive ruins from the Roman era in the town center, and it’s absolutely amazing.
Later that day, I was able to meet up with my host sister, Vili, and we went to visit the family in Trud.  On Sunday, other than picking up some things for the apartment, I slept. 
There’s a new ambassador in town, and she invited Peace Corps staff and volunteers to her residence in Sofia on Monday evening.  It was nice to see some of the staff that have moved on and the volunteers that are still hanging around from when I last worked for PC in 2009.  On Tuesday, there was a Peace Corps Legacy celebration – heralding over 20 years of successful work in Bulgaria, along with recognizing the fact that its work is coming to an end.  Several organizations, some headed by former Peace Corps staff, are looking to take over the work.  It’s inspiring to see how Peace Corps has positively affected almost everyone it’s touched.
Yesterday was my first full day in the office.  I was asked to update the website with an article about Peace Corps’ Legacy Celebration.  I was also asked to translate some project guidelines.  It looks like I haven’t quite forgotten Bulgarian yet.  Afterwards, there was a meeting with the young volunteers.  We then went to the center of town, where the Move Week campaign was happening.  I guess like I looked like I wanted to be involved, because I was immediately given a t-shirt and cards to pass out.  A little later, there was Zumba.  I have never done Zumba, and I never expected to see it for the first time in the center of Plovdiv – with a bunch of Bulgarians following along.  It was amazing.  I don’t know if I’ve just been living in small-town Bulgaria, or if Bulgaria has really changed.  I’m hoping it’s the latter.
This morning, I was on a local morning show.  I’ve done television interviews before, and I always leave wishing my Bulgarian were better.  I go back in my mind and think about all the mistakes I’ve made.  I should get over it.  It’s the message that’s important.  Bulgarians are very forgiving because they know how challenging the language can be.
Anyway, here we go again….

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