Thursday, April 18, 2013

Another Bulgarian Birthday

A week ago, I passed my fourth (nonconsecutive) birthday in Bulgaria.  At this point in my life, that means that 1/8th of all my birthdays have been celebrated here.

I never imagined this.  Even this time around, I figured I'd be back in the states in time to celebrate with family and friends stateside.  But life never takes you where you expect to go.

I can't complain.  As birthdays go, this one was pretty awesome.  My colleagues pitched in and got me fitness classes at a local studio.  Angel showed up at my office with a rose.  Vili surprised me at the office with a bouquet and a shirt picked just for me.  My colleagues had left by then, so the three of us chatted, laughed, and took a bunch of pictures.  I had been given a coupon for a detox massage about a month and a half before, so I took the opportunity to schedule the appointment on my birthday.   It was an hour-long full body massage followed by half an hour under some heated blankets.  Afterwards, I felt pretty weak, and I couldn't get enough water.  Even throughout the night, I would wake up to drink water.  I also took the opportunity to spoil myself and order Mexican food.

Birthday celebrations continued as the next day I went out to Mexican food with some other Peace Corps Volunteers.  I also went to Rakitovo for the weekend.  It was great to see old friends, play baseball with kids, and just be up in my mountain town.

Work has been stressing me out, but the upside of this is that I have been praying a lot.  I've listened to this sermon three or four times, and I've been finding a lot of comfort in reading my Bible.  I've spent moments recalling all the times that God has pulled me through before, and I remind myself that I believe that I'm exactly where He wants me to be.  It's tough because I can be a little obsessive and neurotic, but I remind myself that God made me this way and He doesn't condemn me when I come to Him with my tics.  I pray my weaknesses glorify Him.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Still in Bulgaria

I can't believe it's been about three months since I've posted. 

Living in Bulgaria used to incite this *need* to write.  It was like a catharsis - like if I didn't get it all out and write it down, it didn't really happen.  Maybe that's what it was like to live in Rakitovo.  Life was more relaxed.  It moved more slowly.  I had more time to observe, reflect, and write.  Living in Plovdiv is completely different.  I don't know if it's the reality of living in a city that's becoming increasingly more westernized or I've just gotten used to living in Bulgaria.  I think it's a combination.

How is Plovdiv (and by extension Bulgaria) becoming more westernized?  I think I used to have a better example I stored in the back of my mind, but now it's long gone.  It was probably how I get Mexican food delivered to my apartment.  I give you something I saw last night. 

Sunday was Easter in the states.  While some Bulgarian Christians celebrated on Saturday, Orthodox Easter isn't until May 5th.  So, traditional Easter (even for those who aren't observant) is May 5th.  A lot of the traditions are the same.  Eggs are colored (while not necessarily hidden).  Family gets together for a big meal - sometimes consisting of lamb.  Something that's different, however, is the Easter Bunny.  In fact, I was talking to some of our volunteers here on Sunday about Easter, and they were telling me how interesting it is that we associate Easter with rabbits and eat ones made of chocolate on that day.  Well, later, at the store, guess what I saw.  Chocolate rabbits (and other animals) wrapped in colorful foil and promoted on giant billboards around the parking lot.  When is Easter again?  What do chocolate rabbits have to do with an Orthodox Easter that is still over a month away?

Sometimes I wish there were Bulgarian traditions that would make their way into Western Europe and across the pond.  Baba Marta is one of them.  I've talked about Baba Marta before, as it's my favorite holiday.  On the first of March, you pass out red and white bracelets and pins to your family, friends, and colleagues.  These items supposedly carry health and luck.  When you see a stork or a flowering tree, you're supposed to tie the items to the tree or bury them under a rock.  This supposedly ensures health, luck, and happiness in the coming year.  Right now, the trees are blooming all around Plovdiv.  Not only are they naturally gorgeous, but they are filled with these red and white ties.  It's beautiful.

I was supposed to leave March 18th.  Sometime around mid-January, my boss began asking me if I would consider staying.  Honestly, it was a tough decision.  It took a while to get started here, and I felt a bit like I was spinning my wheels.  When I prayed about it, God gave me a dream in which I found myself visiting friends in the states.  I was in a panic, however, because I had to get back to Bulgaria.  I took that as a sign that I should stay.  After that, the decision wasn't so hard.  For now, I'll be here until July.

One of the reasons I was asked to stay was to help out with NAVA's GlobalGiving campaign.  (If you don't know, NAVA means National Alliance for Volunteer Action, and it's the organization I work for.)  GlobalGiving is one of the largest crowdfunding platforms in the world that caters exclusively to NGOs, and NAVA has the opportunity to become a permanent member, which means it would be able to put a variety of causes up on their site for support.   

What is crowdfunding?  Crowdfunding is the act of obtaining small amounts of capital from a large network of people.  So, say you have a great cause.  You don't know many people who are independently wealthy who would fully support it, but you know a network of caring individuals who could donate a few dollars here and there to help make the cause a reality. 

NAVA has a great cause.  There is a home for adults with intellectual disabilities - St. Vrach - on the outskirts of Plovdiv.  I've been there.  It's a pretty cool place.  All the men there (it's all men) just want to come up and talk to you, see what you're doing, and hug you - which can be unnerving if you're not prepared for it.  The men frequently pass the time by coloring, drawing, painting, and working in the garden when the weather permits.  They also have a weight room where they can work out.  Still, these men are pretty isolated.  They don't get many visitors from the outside world, and they don't have many opportunities to contribute to society.

So NAVA plans to start an occupational therapy workshop for 15 men at St. Vrach.  Young volunteers will come into the institution to train the men to make arts and crafts from corn husks.  These Bulgarian crafts are gaining popularity due to their consideration for inclusion in UNESCO.  The plan is to sell these items and then reinvest the funds into the workshop and the men.  So, not only is the project sustainable, but the men will get the social interaction from the outside world that they so desperately need. It's a win-win!

This project has pretty much consumed my time as of late.  But life isn't all work.  I've been going to shows, hanging out with friends, and trying to enjoy sporadic warm weather.  The one thing I haven't done much is leave Plovdiv.  I'm thinking of getting away for some tulip-viewing in Istanbul.  It's my favorite time of year to go, it's so close by, and it could be a nice break.