Saturday, January 23, 2010

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Introducing Hoot!

Whenever I get to the end of something, I wished I used all the time doing something useless, like watching non-stop episodes of Gossip Girl, more efficiently. I have been so busy the last few weeks party planning, yearbook making, school finishing, packing, saying goodbye, seeing friends etc etc that I have had no had time to just sit down and reflect, let alone write this blog.

It is crazy that 27 months has come and gone, but here I am at the end of what previously seemed like forever amazed that it seems no time has passed at all. I also stand in a good place, knowing that I have loved and been loved and grown more than I could possibly explain. I have met some of the most amazing people and created friendships that will continue into the eternities. I have seen some of the most fascinating and beautiful places and experienced some of the craziest, most mind-boggling things. And I have loved every second of it – even when I hated it. I am honestly sad to go. I would not have said the same eight months ago, but things have been going very well recently, and I feel that Bulgaria has truly become home. And just recently, I have met some of the best people and had some of the best times. To be honest, I am not ready. I feel like I have to be ready only because the time is up, but I guess I will really figure that out when I am in the states. Who knows, maybe I will hate it and be on the first plane back to Bulg.

I am taking off Tuesday with Sehee and Ljudmil to Venice/Slovenia/Croatia for the beginning of six weeks of travel. It will be a whirlwind ride so I am hoping that upon arrival in Phoenix on August 7th that I will be able to finally take those quiet moments to just sit, think and reflect on this amazing journey. Those writings will eventually come.

But for now, I very excitedly announce my new project:

I have taken two loves and weaved them together to form my new venture Hoot! The ideas are still bouncing around full-speed, but they are taking the shape of street fashion/urban culture journalism joined with a vintage clothing store and styling project. After the Southeastern Europe portion of my trip with Seh, I take off solo for four more weeks in Western Europe, finding and documenting street fashion and style, as well as unique, alternative elements in urban art and culture. Essentially, my routing is this: Venice – Ljubljana – Zagreb – Split – Dubrovnik – Amsterdam – Rotterdam – Antwerp – Brugge – Brussels – Paris – Munich – Bamberg and Berlin. If any of you have any tips or hookups, please pass them on.

You can be a part of Hoot! and follow my journey at my new blog:

You can also follow me on Twitter:
Hoot! on Twitter

After I get back to the states, I pretty much plan on being a free spirit for a while, road-tripping the USA to find vintage inventory and see the many of you I haven’t in so long. Please let me know if your floor is available for crashing! And if anyone wants to jump in the car for a while, companions are welcome!

Many of you have been on this grand journey with me, many not, yet as I nervously prepare to re-enter American society as a completely different person and figure out the next chapter in my life, I hope you will be a part of it. Also, I’m looking for the following things so if you are feeling giving, helpful or in the know, do tell:
  • car
  • phone + cheap contract
  • law school ins
  • event-planning opportunities
  • graphic/web design help
  • photoshop lessons
  • sewing assistance
  • travel buddies
  • job and/or freelance work
Hope everyone is well. Until next time, spread the word of Hoot!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Getting Ready. Or Not.

Too Late to Be Ready from amy williams on Vimeo.

Things have been crazy hectic around here trying to finish school, get packed, party plan and execute, yearbook finalize and other random things I get myself involved in. For now I just have a vlog for everyone, but hopefully soon I will find some time to catch you up to speed and introduce my next phase in life!

Also, here are some links to the photo albums of our awesome:
Coming to America party and Bobo Bachelorette.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Every year I experience serious anxiety and depression during the days leading up to my birthday. Refer to the May 2008 blog for why this is if you do not remember. Last year’s bout was particularly bad, but I believe that was due largely to the fact that for the three weeks prior, a bad Easter egg had ruined my digestive system and thereby my life. Even so, I dread the day. This year with so many things going on both in my life and in my head in the preparation to leave Bulgaria and seeing the days and weeks zoom right past me, I did not have nearly as much time or energy to wallow in my birthday hatred. I more just wished it would come so it could go. However, all my worry always seems to be for nothing, for my birthdays in Bulgaria have never been bad.

This year was no exception as spring/summer finally came, blessing us all with the ability to wear tank tops and sandals. I met some of my favorite people in Sofia, for a day so low key that it was great. The Bobos plus Ljudmil (Sehee’s boy), Maria, Teddy and Billy spent the day with me shopping, eating, lounging in the park reading magazines and criticizing what passer-bys were wearing. The most amusing part of the day came when we went to Billy’s amazing hotel room his parents got for him and played the Ben Kramer game and contact spoons. Now the Bobos are fans of spoons. We have been known to play this with whatever materials are available – sugar packets, straws, you name it. This year it was my bracelets (because let’s be honest, I wear enough for the whole of Sofia to play spoons). The contact part of this game came up when Billy suggested we place them on the bed so that a race and dogpile were necessary to come up victorious. By the end of the night I was bruised, sore and wearing bracelets that were oval instead of round. It was great fun, however, and I am glad I was able to spend my 25th birthday with such fun and fantastic people. The ones sticking around will be greatly missed.

The following Monday at school my kids were super cute and remembered my birthday. Each class pooled their money and bought me flowers and gifts of jewelry. I was really touched. I do not think I realize how hard and sad it is really going to be to leave them. I do not know how ordinary teachers do it year after year. Every day a lot of them beg me to stay for one more year and ask me why I have to go. My only answer is that it is time for me to move on to something new – I am young and have a lot of the world to see. They do not understand this. I am also really terrible with goodbyes – I always have been. Rather than make a big deal out of it, I prefer to just slip out and move on. This method only covers up actually dealing with situations or getting closure, so I am probably going to have a real thick dose of not-ready-to-be-in-America-yet when I come back. I am not expecting the transition to be easy. In fact, I am coming up with every possible way to avoid the process all together. I am refusing to commit to anything. Even something insignificant like getting a phone means I have to stay in America, and that idea frightens me. I mean no offense to any of you by it, but I am not sure American life is ever going to really fully suit me again. I do not feel a burning desire to come back to the states, perhaps because if I do, I feel like the life of adventure is over. Maybe I just need to get over this. Anyhow, for all of you who will be around when I return, I ask for your patience and understanding. Things are not going to be the same – I have changed in every way you can and might be like a stranger to many of you. But I am going to try and make the best of it.

I should also back up and give a very public thank you to Miss Sarah Kesselman for scoring us Kenny G tickets. Truly an only in Bulgaria moment, Janel and I had 5th row seats to admire those curly locks and swoon to easy listening jams. We had two extra tickets so our original plan was to find some hotties on the street who wanted to join us for this special night, but I think the hilarity of Kenny G might have been lost on them. We ran into Billy outside who was attending with his colleagues so he invited Ashley and Neil to take our extra tickets. However, after the show and in order to document that this great occasion really happened, everyone wanted to get a picture with Kenny. I was certainly onboard, but quite hesitant as Sarah’s boss, the agent who got us the tickets, was actually there and I knew this news would get back. When I worked in the industry I learned that the trick was to appear like you belonged, not that you wanted to be there. This was the thing that bugged me the most – that you could never legitimately be a fan – and why I hid loving Hanson from the management group I worked with for a year and a half. Granted I am not a fan of Kenny G and if he knew the real reason we stuck around like dorks to get a photo with him, he would probably be offended. However, the action is within the same context. The others were dismissing my hesitation, but less than 48 hours later Sarah tells me the first thing her boss tells her when he gets back is how her friends waited to snap a picture with Kenny. My fears were not unfounded and now my reputation is ruined! Regardless, the evening was fantastic and I can boast with chuckles that I have now seen Michael Bolton AND Kenny G in concert… in Bulgaria no less.

Anyway, I am not feeling super insightful or particularly funny right now to make the rest of this very interesting. I am busy doing mundane things like planning for a huge party I am throwing for a lot of the volunteers in a few weeks and working on the yearbook we decided to put together. Student council-y things that suit me well. School ends in 3.5 weeks, but it seems like we are barely there anyhow. I am also trying to get a dance ready for the kids to perform for the last day of school and finish planning my summer adventures.

I hope everyone is well. I love and miss you all.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Unholy Sunday Best

Bad Bulgarian Haircuts Look Like This. from amy williams on Vimeo.

I go to church in Sofia. Not as regularly as I would prefer, but regularly enough to know that 70% of the attendees are what I would classify as abnormal. Such abnormalities range from crazy prostitute makeup, chatting on skype with a laptop during Sunday School, unwarranted screaming fits in the middle of meetings, creepy skeezy staring, asking the unsuspecting American if she can talk about God in your psychic friends network group, answering and conversing on phones in the middle of what is supposed to be quiet and the list goes on. I am not sure what it is about the church in places where it is young that causes it to attract the strange ones. Perhaps it is just the lack of established culture and practice. Only the young members really seem to decently normal, and I suspect this is because they are better educated and more traveled. Each Sunday I am guaranteed to walk away with not necessarily a spiritual uplift, but ammunition for my blog and a good story to tell. Last Sunday was did not disappoint.

As everyone was preparing for and sitting down for Sunday School, my marvelous American friend Susan came up to me and explained that it was vital I look at our teacher’s shirt. This teacher is the piano player in meetings and I previously saw the backside, which was just a long-sleeved orange t-shirt with a counterfeit Dolce and Gabbana logo on the back. I looked as she was writing on the board with her back turned to us and saw nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but Susan said “oh you just wait.” A missionary behind us overheard and commented, “Yes, I noticed this too.” Now if a nineteen-year-old boy’s attention was grabbed by fashion or a fashion mishap, this was guaranteed to be good. Finally the woman turned around and the great reveal happened. I had the great privilege of witnessing in English, “Sex is my favorite business” on the front of her t-shirt. Yes people, it is true. Next to pictures of Jesus, behind stack of scriptures and in front of explanations of the gathering of Israel, Sister Sunday School teacher had the audacity to wear such a treasure. Now maybe sex is her favorite business. I am sure it is the favorite business of quite a few people in that room, but is this not something you keep to yourself? At least on Sunday while at church of all places?? After I saw it, we all had a little meltdown and the 7th grade immaturity was ignited within us all as we snickered, giggled and passed on the awareness to every other American in the room. The next forty minutes of class then became dedicated to plotting how were going to get a picture of this. We tried some secret snaps and involving the elders in a little scheme, but at the end of the day, this was the best we got.
I commented to Susan, “we are so going to hell”, but she responded, “I don’t think the irony is lost on Jesus.”

Now I have not only been making fun of unsuspecting church members on Sundays over the long duration of time I have not written a blog. The last two months have been quite busy, full of travels and holidays. I back up to the end of March, where all of us B21 volunteers headed to Bankia for our close of service conference, which was great and terrible at the same time. It was wonderful to see our group, share our experiences and gain new perspectives on Peace Corps service while evaluating our own. However, I had very intentionally tried not to think about the next step in my life 1) in efforts to concentrate on being here – really being here and not checking out early and 2) making plans is not in accordance with my new philosophy of living life.

I will rant on #2 for a bit here. This is very different from the person I used to be – I always had a plan and more importantly, I usually made exactly what I wanted happen. I used to talk about my life plans with such confidence – the kind that made me seem very ambitious and the goals quite impressive. At the end of the day, that speech was rehearsed, lacking the passion required to make the ideas embedded in those plans actually come to fruition and reach their full potential. The ideas I had certainly did not lack value, but the plan that evolved from them only existed because it was something I thought I needed to have. Something I believed completed me as a person. Something that gave me purpose, value and worth. That speech, or more precisely those plans, are what is expected of an educated, smart, ambitious and well-brought up person. Or at least that is what society conspires to make us believe. I think a lot of people feel safe in such a speech. Safe in those life plans. Because if you know, or think you know, exactly what you are going to do, life becomes easy. You are granted entry into the “I know what I am doing with my life” club, which is very prestigious considering a good portion of society will instantly judge if you are a worthwhile person based upon mere membership of this farce of an organization. Then once in, you are allowed access to the pool of friends and potential relationships that also have this so-called life plan. Like it is mutually exclusive or something. Furthermore, you are deemed to have “focus”, a qualifying characteristic, but focus can very easily turn into blindness. When we are young this focus is very linear – college, grad school, job, rising in the career, building a financial portfolio, buying a house, marriage, children etc etc. Well, it has been a long journey for me, but I now subscribe to the view that it is all complete ridiculousness. The plan, the focus, the club, all of it. How many people reach fifty are say, "what the hell was I thinking? I have not done anything I have really wanted to do. I have lived without a passionate purpose." How many think, "I have been content, but never completely happy?" Well, I believe there is a way to synthesize it all in a way that makes it real. Life is not about the plan – its spontaneous. There can be no plan. I find that plans just get screwed up, so it is better to have ideas, concentrate on really wanting them to happen and wait for the universe to give what is meant to be. What will really make you live. Life is about happiness. The journey. Faith in something greater than what we can control.

Anyhow and back to where I started, COS was very unpleasant in that it forced me to start thinking about things not in accordance with my beliefs above. Money, resumes, jobs, health insurance, grad school etc etc - things that are supposed to happen if they should versus be forced. It completely stressed me out, because once I start worrying about one thing, I worry about them all. The way people the material at the conference was presented, I was reverting back to thinking I needed to do things traditionally. It is very easy to get sucked in, which prepared me a little bit for how difficult it is actually going to be to live freely when I return to the states. That fear is what makes the states a very undesirable place for me right now, but the world will point me in whatever direction I am supposed to go.

In a great breath of fresh air, right after the conference was spring break. A good chance to forget about everything from the week before. Janel and I headed to my friend Maria’s in Sofia to participate in Earth Hour, a global awareness initiative about saving energy and living more green. Basically, a few buildings in Sofia pledged their support to shut off their lights for an hour. We went to the National Theater where there was a congregation of young, progressive-minded people hanging around and participating. Such people do exist here, just not so obviously. Lit by candlelight, there were musicians, fire dancers and all sorts of performers entertaining the crowds.

Janel and I left early the next morning for Rome, where we met the fabulous Sarah Kesselman to begin our Italian vacay. We couchsurfed the entire time, which gave us the amazing opportunity to meet locals and eat local food! Our first host in Rome, Alex, was a complete nutcase, but so fantastic. I thought I was going to die on numerous occasions as he whizzed us around Rome in his car singing the Indiana Jones theme, dodging cars and pedestrians like a video game and completely ignoring any attempt at traffic regulation in the form of signs, lanes or lights. Rome was great, but there is so much to see that it can kind of be stressful. The days were so long, intense and sleepless that we all got sick or suffered from some form of physical ailment. We kept trudging though through ancient ruins and endless churches, up bell towers and along narrow streets full of things I wanted to buy and hoards of tourists and high school groups. My favorite part of Rome had to be the Spanish Steps, because I love public spaces like that where people just congregate. We do not have too many of these in the states and in Bulgaria, people are scared of sitting on anything but a chair so they definitely do not exist. Such places are the breeding ground of youth culture and street fashion and we just sat there for a couple hours watching people from all over the world come together and interact.

After Rome we headed to Siena, which was a bit of a nightmare at first because it was pouring rain and our host Levante lived atop the highest hill in the entire city. The hike was outrageous and I had to hold on to the fence just to make sure that my overloaded pack did not send me back down the mountain. However, the next day the weather was in our favor and we saw an unbelievable medieval city. Of all the million churches we went into, the one in Siena was certainly the most beautiful. We went up to the bell-tower and enjoyed an unbelievable view completely alone! Siena also had the Campo, which is one of the first public spaces of its kind. Like the Spanish Steps, it just attracted the life and breath of the city with people spread all over the place.

Florence was the next stop and the bus ride from Siena blessed us with the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. We really were under the Tuscan sun ☺ The trip just kept getting better and better as Florence was amazing. Unlike Rome, it is a walkable city, which made the experience a whole lot more enjoyable. Our host Francesco and his roommate Carmen were awesome and cooked us some fantastic Italian food. They suggested the sunset on top of the hill Michelangelo, which was unbelievable and certainly a highlight. In Florence there seemed to be more of an arts culture as compared to Rome and the number of students and young people definitely made it livelier. That could have also been its drawback as the number of American sorority girls abroad was too many. One of the nights we went out to a bar, met some Italian guys who seemed not skeezy who took us to a club full of American abroad kids where they turned skeezy and had to be dealt with. This club was like a meat-market and the closest thing comparable was Walkabout in London, but even that was way more fun because they would play Hanson and cheesy europop. Being hit on by so many skeezy people, the night became a game to see how fast we could piss these potential suitors off by our bitchiness and game-playing. I brought out my fake name Nadia. Eventually it was time to go and when I got my coat from the coat check and subsequently lost my ladies, the high point of the evening came when I met Remy, my new coat-checking friend. He was the least trashy thing about that entire evening so we exchanged numbers. After our next morning at the Uffizi immaturely making up dialogues for the naked sculptures and finding the greatest second-hand treasure trove in the history of the world nearby, we met him the next afternoon for a personalized tour of Florence. He was great fun, a good time and full of laughs.

After Florence and no sleep, we headed up to the Italian Riveria to Cinque Terre – five villages carved into the rocky coastline. They are famous for the hiking trails between them, which we were blessed with great weather to explore. I think at one point this area was the secret gem of Italy, but it had so many tourists for even April and the natural beauty was kind of spoiled by the number of people you could tell had been there. Graffiti was everywhere, even on the plants. The restaurants and buildings were also so tourist-oriented, and there were Americans everywhere. The days were buzzing with people, but we stayed in Vernazza, the smallest of the villages, which died after the national park closed. As such, it was a much needed relaxing environment where we finally got the sleep we all desperately needed. In beds too! We went out to the one open bar and met some random locals and travelers, which was a good time, but we mainly stuck around because Janel was trying to make the moves on the obviously gay bartender.

All in all, Italy was unbelievable. I have loved a lot of the places I have been able to travel to, but there is something really special about Italy. I guess that is why everyone loves it so much. It is progressive and developed at the same time as being untainted and quaint. The food is amazing, and I wanted to purchase everything I saw. Thanks to Sarah for coming all the way from LA to meet me, because she is just that fabulous. I love you!

Back in Bulgaria, Janel and I were dealing with Italy withdraw by watching Only You, Under the Tuscan Sun and La Dolce Vida. Outside of this however, it was time to get back in the swing of things. In late February my school had a change in administration, which definitely changed the attitude and atmosphere at work. The previous director was so fantastic. This new one is less so, and I have not been getting the support needed from her and her cohorts or getting along with my colleagues very well. It is not that we have problems, but more that they cannot be bothered with me so I have finally given up being bothered with them. I also know I am not going to be replaced by a new volunteer so I am kind of waiting to stick it to them for taking me for granted and not being very helpful when I have major problems. For example, before spring break and as a result of the carelessness of other teachers, those dreaded 8th graders broke into my room and stole a lot of my things. The administration did not seem to care, and the teachers involved just became defensive when I tried to solve the problem myself. However, other than directors and colleagues things at school have been quite good. My students and I have reached a nice, comfortable place. I think they are appreciating me more now that they know I am leaving soon. It will certainly be sad, and I will miss how they make me laugh every single day. Also, for the most part dance classes have been going okay, except for the typical drop off in attendance. Bulgarian kids are notorious for not sticking with things, but for those that do come, we have a good time. It is good to do something that I love.

Tomorrow we start another vacation for St. Georgie’s Day. Refer to a May 2007 blog entry for the horror that is this holiday. Sarah K scored us Kenny G tickets so Janel and I are going to kick it easy listening style again before heading down to Blagoevgrad for spa weekend with the girls and Boboshevo for a host family reunion. Then it is back to Sofia for my birthday celebration on the 9th with the girls. I am not a fan of my birthday, but it will be good to have a low-key celebration with those I love most. Kevin will be the only person missing! The big celebration happens in June when I will be throwing another huge costume extravaganza. Anyhow, I know I have not been doing a very good job at keeping in touch, but the street runs both ways! I hope all of you are well and know I love and miss you. Keep me informed about your lives and give me a ring! 213.985.2877.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Finding My Footing in the Climb.

Winter Wandering Pics - Jan-March 2009
Mardi Gras Pictures - Feb. 2009
Kukeri One - March 2009
Kukeri Two - March 2009

I am not sure if it is because spring is approaching or that the end is near, but I have been on a really good path recently. Very content, very happy. Ever since I returned to Bulgaria from my American holiday vacay, things have been on the up. Of course there are bad days here and there, but I have been focused on changing my way of thinking, approaching my situation and work differently and opening my heart to receive what the world wants to tell me. I have been on a journey and it has been a great one. For some reason, I always feel as though I reach this particular point at the end of an era. I have three and a half months left in Bulgaria and only now after twenty-three of them do I feel comfortable enough to really get over myself and seriously give selflessly. I think every Peace Corps volunteer has an idea of what service is about before they begin – an opportunity to completely forget about themselves and be immersed in serving others. That ideal quickly evaporates when the reality of living in a different culture and trying to make it work exposes some serious trials and difficulties. I have struggled with what my service meant for pretty much the entire time – never entirely being comfortable. I think a fear of some sort held me back. Perhaps of failure? But at the end of the day, the Peace Corps is a journey of self-exploration. Every volunteer’s day comes at a different time - the day where the fear and inadequacy have been conquered and you are comfortable enough to really be who you are and make the most of what is in front of you. It is not even an identifiable moment – it certainly is a process, but one-day everything just seemed to come together. Many volunteers will agree, but this always seems to happen at the end of service when time is nearly up. Only now am I comfortable enough in my town, speak good enough Bulgarian and have gotten over thinking about myself all the time to really focus all my time and energy on my work and community. And not just do it, but want to do it. And so, I am happy to be here. I am happy to go to work everyday, and I feel I engage in it a lot more. Every night before I go to bed I pray that I will love my students and treat them with kindness and respect, and I have really felt the difference. I like them a lot more. I feel we are rebuilding some burnt bridges. I can laugh and have fun with them. I have started teaching dance classes again, which has been a main ingredient in my recipe for happiness. It is something I love and can pass on to the kids. I have also been helping some colleagues write a grant proposal for funding to build their NGO. And even though I will not, I could honestly stay here longer and be fine with that when maybe six months ago I could not get out of here fast enough.

As always, my kids are the main recipients of my attention these days, so there is always a good funny story to tell. In 6th grade we are working on future tense so I put a take on tarot cards on the board and made them partner up to tell each other’s futures. There were different categories like love, family, work, pets, toys etc etc. Here is what Dimitur had to say:

“Moni won’t marry because she will be a horse. She won’t have any kids because she is a tramp, but she will be very rich because she makes a lot of money at her job. Her toys will be a vibrator.”

Unfortunately, I did not understand his last sentence when he read it and asked him to repeat, which upon hearing realized he mentioned vibrators, decided was not the best idea. I also decided that teaching them tramp was probably not in anyone’s best interest, but a few days before when most of the kids were absent we got to talking about slang. That came after one of my kids Bobby raised his hand and said, “Miss Amy, I have to ask you something but I am kind of embarrassed.” At that point all of the other kids tried to coax it out of him so he just came out and said it, “Miss Amy, what is a blowjob?’ I just burst out into laughing and luckily did not have to take care of that one as the other boys in the class did. This child was obviously unlike the others in not knowing everything bad or all things slang because afterwards he asked, “Miss Amy, you know how boys and girls have different things? What is the name for what the boys have? You know, the thing hanging between their legs?” I deferred to Kristian who jumped at the chance to say penis in class. I asked him where he even heard blowjob and he said some song. Someone needs to pay attention to what these kids are listening to.

Anyway, back to the futures, in one of the classes after we finished everyone’s futures, the kids asked me if they could tell mine. I agreed and this is what I got from Sisi:

“Miss Amy will marry Kevin and they will have 5 kids. 2 girls named Miss Amy and 3 boys named Kevin. They will live at the school. Miss Amy will be a teacher and Kevin will invent video games.”

I tried to clarify if indeed I was to have two children with the same name as me and she said yes. Then Phillip said:

“Miss Amy will be an astronaut and will travel to Mars. There she will meet an alien and they will fall in love and have 50 mutant babies.”

Sisi then piped in and said 20 of them would be named Miss Amy and 30 of them would be named Kevin. Note to any female PCV out there: do not have your male site-mate substitute for you unless you are prepared to deal with the fallout and constant conversation about you being in love for the rest of your days.

Outside of school, I have had a few pretty tiring weekends. The end of February brought Mardi Gras where a ton of us volunteers landed in Sofia for a night at the Irish Pub and then the disco. It was a fantastic time where somehow despite very little sleep and a bad haircut, I ended up being on the wagon ALL NIGHT as one of the last standing at that disco. When I am on, I am on. The embarrassing part of the evening came at four a.m. when I was perched in front of the hostel TV with a plate of Chinese food and some guy came out in the room in front of me while I was flipping the channels. I got a bit startled and dropped the remote, had a five-minute conversation with the guy and as he crossed the path of the TV to head to the bathroom, realized I had dropped the remote without noticing the TV was on some hard-core porn. I flipped to the BBC and tried to make it look like I had not touched that remote in forever when he came back around.

The next weekend was Martenitsa and Bulgarian Liberation Day (from the Turks). Martenitsa is definitely my favorite Bulgarian holiday (details in video above) mainly because it means spring is coming around. We headed down to the Rhodopi Mountains in southern Bulgaria to the village of Shiroka Luka to see the famous Kukeri festival. Basically, Kukeri is where people dress up in CRAZY scary costumes and do interesting dances and sketches in efforts to scare off winter. It was the last must-see thing I had left to do in Bulgaria so it was well worth the long travel. There were sooo many volunteers down there, which made the whole event a lot of fun. The masks and costumes were incredibly interesting and the colors were unbelievable. They were also selling traditional Bulgarian crafts, which were to die for. I have been in the market for some awesome rugs and tapestries for a while, ever since I saw the Rhodpi style in front of a tourist trap in Sofia. I have been holding out for exactly what I wanted, and luckily I found a million of the exact thing at this festival. I spent about two hours total haggling with the sellers and pitting them all against each other to score some amazing deals. In the end I bought two rugs, a tapestry and two pairs of socks. Just enough for another suitcase home… One of the sellers told me, “You sure know how to bargain.” I guess she can credit my mother, though never in a million years will I wish to adopt my mother’s buying, selling, returning or eating in restaurants methods. Sorry mom. Anyhow, after the festival we went to Smolyan, which was a beautiful town, but the most interesting thing there was the amazing thrift store near the hotel we stayed at. I went in two separate times, coming out with some gems all for 50% off! Even though I told myself I needed to save money for Italy in a few weeks and stop increasing the baggage load, I just cannot help myself. Thrift stores literally drag me in. I think “thrift store” is a word I need to know in every language. I have an eye for втора употреба.

Click for my facebook albums one and two to see the great Kukeri pictures and here are some of the Kukeri videos. Sorry some of them are on Google video (which sucks) but Vimeo was being problematic this week. Also, one is upside down, which is sad.

Gypsy Parade at the Kukeri from amy williams on Vimeo.

Horo at the Kukeri from amy williams on Vimeo.

Scary Costumes at the Kukeri from amy williams on Vimeo.

In closing, I am going to share with you someone I have been loving. Like many who jumped on her train, I heard of Elisa a while back when she was the song on the So You Think You Can Dance Season 3 with Lacey and Kameron. Anyway, I googled her and loved all of what she did. It definitely will not be everyone's cup of tea, but she is a very diverse and interesting artist. She is Italian but writes her music in English. Here is a video of her at the Vatican Christmas concert a few years back. The beginning is a little more shaky than she normal performs, but she has an unbelievable voice.

Love and miss you call. CALL ME!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Losing Sense of Senses

Happy Valentines Day! Like most other western-world celebrated holidays, this one is close to non-existent here in Bulgaria. Unless, of course, you count the pink balloons the lady at the cosmetics store tried to give me for purchasing some eye cream or the cheap V-Day trinkety things sold at the school store next to rulers and pencils. When did I become old enough to need eye cream? Anyway, in honor of Saint Valentine and love, I want to say how thankful I am for all of you wonderful people in my life. I think about you every day and treasure your love, support and friendship. And I pray that every day you can feel mine, even across the oceans or lands or wherever you are. I still laugh at our good times, cry at the sad times, and see your beautiful faces smiling all the time. And I love you tremendously.

I have reached the point where I have been here too long. I think it is a good when I can walk down the street and everything that was previously bizarre, ugly, nonsensical and foreign now just seems normal. I believe they call this integration and I think adaptation to a new place is a beautiful thing – no longer approaching things from an American perspective, but from the perspective of a girl who has had the wonderful experience of seeing a lot of things in a lot of places and finding the beauty and good in it all. However, I do wonder where the line can be drawn between this and just simply becoming used to something. And in becoming used to something, lowering or abolishing the previous expectations that made that thing strange or undesirable in the first place. And is changing those expectations a good or a bad thing? Is the bad becoming good? At the end of the day, my senses might be in a state of complete dysfunction, but how do I really know? The judgments coming from my sensings came from some specific point of view – a force in the world that tells me what the things interpreted by my senses should mean. I believe that some things are intrinsic - they simply exist as a natural state of the world. But then again, I also know that things have meaning attached to them simply because someone or something decided and expected that is what they should mean. Is the sun rising because it is a law of the natural world? Or because someone decided to label what the sun does every day as rising? And does this happen every day only because we expect it to? Furthermore, the sun is bright only because someone decided the word for what the sun looks like was going to be called bright. It could be dark or green or rain. The sun can be good or bad. So really, what does anything really mean?

I think about this all the time in Bulgaria. For example, when I first arrived in this country everything smelled disgustingly awful. The stench of cigarettes densely woven into people’s clothing, plastered on their breath and emanating from their pores. The frightful aroma radiating from the streets – piles of animal waste, slow-moving and ill-functioning sewage systems, trash going up in flames and drunken men rotting in the smell of alcohol and the lack of bathing. Somehow I reached the point where things which were once repulsive have become almost good. Comforting in a way. I walk down my street passing over the sewer where I would have once nearly puked and do not ignore it, but consider it a friendly smell. A normal one. A man with the aforementioned cigarette smell sits next to me on the bus and the thought of how I might hold my breakfast no longer comes. When it came to men, the girls and I called this Bobo goggles - we had not seen an attractive man for so long that we started to convince ourselves that the men we were around were somehow suitable, acceptable and even good looking. That only got us into trouble, which brings me back to my original question. I wonder if this entire phenomenon, becoming used to something or integrating or whatever it might be called, is a problem. Furthermore, what does this mean for my next step in life, whether that be going back to where I came from or finding somewhere new? How will I adjust? How can I depend on my ability to judge and discern anymore? I expressed this problem to Janel and she just told me to stop opening my fridge, which is known for its rotten smells.

This problem with my senses losing their senses is manifesting itself in another way. I would like to think that I hold a uniquely specific perspective when it comes to art, beauty, fashion and aesthetic. I know that it does not match others’ and I have never been particularly concerned about that. I suppose that is why I could wear shirts that looked like curtains and mariachi pants in high school. Or how I can wear things considered unfashionable here in Bulgaria. The only aesthetic eye I need to please is my own. But I often wonder where that eye comes from? Who is telling me what is good versus bad looking? Is it coming from within? Am I unconsciously inspired by the things I see around me? Or things I think I should see around me? Where are those things I think I should see coming from? Am I really listening to those people in the world that dictate the trends and determining what is art and beauty? Anyway, you are all probably very aware of my hatred of harem pants – dumpy pants as I affectionately call them. I wrote a blog about them back in September after my summer travels where to my surprise they often appeared in fashion-forward cities. Unfortunately, by now they have penetrated the world, come to the US, been appropriated into mainstream fashion and can officially be declared a trend. I read a lot of fashion and street style blogs, considering it to be research for the day when I open my own store. Plus I am fascinated with alternative styles and street culture. The point is, I am seeing harem pants on a daily basis now. I see them in the fashion scenes I love. I see them styled in a way that is daring and ambitious. I see them out of the Bulgarian context. I see them so much that I fear that I am close to liking the dumpy pants. This scares me. I cannot imagine why this would happen, considering I have hated them since the day I arrived here and saw them. Are they just less offensive because I see them all the time? Or because everyone else likes them so I think I should like them? Am I that easily influenced? Is this like the sewer smell phenomenon? More problematic, what does this say about Bulgaria in terms of being clued into trends? I stand by my assessment that Bulgaria is behind ten years on the fashion timetable and not setting any themselves so I question what cheap manufacturer made these children believe they were cool? The Italians? The Turkish? It is all very mind-boggling now nothing is making any sense. Kill me now before I think Crocs or exposed bra straps are acceptable or even cool.

My kids have taken to teaching me about their style, so I am helping them with the translations. After Christmas we had speaking exercises where the students had to tell me what their favorite Christmas present was and a 6th grader Mihaela said she liked her G-pants. G-pants? Never heard of them. I asked the class what these were and was met with open-mouthed gasps and admonishments. Apparently they are saggy jeans that have the top of boxers sewn in to peek out the top. Do we have a name for these things in English? I immediately thought of Tupac, which fit right along with where Bulgaria is at on the fashion timeline – reveling in 1994 gangsta or slut style. I taught them the words "saggy" and "to sag", which nicely, they have used since. I did some poking on the internet and apparently G-pants stands for gangsta pants. The look these G-pants are trying to emulate is this, though in the second the dude has True Religion jeans and designer denim-wear is way ahead of where we are at here.

Earlier this week another 6th grader Bobby asked me, “Miss Amy, do you know about M-style?” M-style? Never heard of it. What is with these acronyms? He told me that M-style is where boys wear hair like this (demonstrating a sweeping, eye-covering effect) and the kids cut themselves. I could not help bursting out in laughter and told him I did know this style and it was called emo in English. He asked me if I knew people like this and told him yes, but that this style became popular in the states in the late nineties/early 2000’s. He seemed confused but went on to say that he hated these people but loved the hair. Bobby, I am with you. I too love the emo hair in the indie-rocker-over-the-age-of-21-not-goth-or-shops-at-hot-topic kind of way. Perhaps hope for Bulgaria’s hairstyle future lies with this child. Sweepy will always be in. At least in my mind. Again I did some poking on the internet and died a little inside and laughed an enourmous amout with what I found. First, did you know that emo was recommended to the Russian government as a dangerous teen trend according to Wikipedia? Then we have emo haircuts so please tell me if YOU can tell the difference between scene hair and emo hair! And if you do not know about scenesters, do not fret. You can learn to be one here!!!

Other than thinking about these mild amusements, I have been doing a lot of reading, primarily The Alchemist. Thank you to Janaina for suggesting the book to me. The read came at a good time, as I am approaching the end of the road here in Bulgaria and need to make some decisions about my next step in discovering my personal legend. I feel very close to the story, because my senior year of college I had a plan for my life, which I was very comfortable with. Akin to Santiago’s sheep herding if you will. By a stroke of luck, which at the time seemed to tear my world apart, everything changed as the world conspired to help me realize that I was not on the path to finding my personal legend. The signs were sent and thankfully I listened to them and from then on I have been on a wild journey that has sent me to great places. I am really glad I started it. Most people I know at home are either awed or surprised that I am here or wistfully say something akin to “I could never do that.” Or they think it is a phase I am going through and will one day return to the life of “normalcy” and “settle” down. Well my friends, I have always had big dreams. And when I say I am going to do something, I will. I do not believe in “I wish”, “one day” or “when I am older”, because that is just prolonging happiness and exploring and learning about the world. I find a way to make it happen. Maybe my treasures lies exactly where I came form, but like Santiago, I have to take the journey to discover what I want that treasure to be. It is not the destination that matters, but the journey. And it is hard as hell, but I am sure when all is said and done, I would have had it no other way. Anyway, as I said before, I have been thinking about the next plan in efforts to align it with my personal legend. Moreover, I am trying to really define what it is I really want. This changes daily but my options now seem to be opening a vintage store or travelling the world in Asia. I will accept thoughts and opinions ☺!

I hope everyone is well. Happy Birthday to Colin Noonan. I absolutely love you Coash and hope it is fantastic! Also to MDAer Allie Anderson, London roomie Andrea Hughes, the beautiful and fun Emily Winnie, the ever fabulous Ryan Hale, my good Bulg buddy Toli and Aunt Carol and Uncle Tim – hope your days are (were) amazing.