One of the most important elements of pre-service training (PST) with the Peace Corps is community integration. As a volunteer I am constantly trying to adopt the habits and culture of my community and shed the Americanisms that could cause alienation or set me apart from my Bulgarian community, making it more difficult to be an effective agent of change. This is a very difficult thing to do – sometimes I don’t want to take off my shoes to walk into a house (which is essentially made out of dirt). Or wear socks and three sweaters when its 80 degrees outside (I haven’t yet figured this one out but I think they fear coldness of any kind and prevent it at all costs). Or be expected to accept a million times a day vafla (think nutty bar minus the deliciousness of peanut butter) when I don’t like chocolate or sok (which is supposed to be juice but think Shasta cola with a hell of a lot of sugar) when I don’t like sugared drinks or carbonation. However, I have learned to just suck it up and get over it – I am not here for me, so I can get over having to drink some nasty juice if that means I can help someone. Overall, I am quite proud with how well I have done and feel great progress has been made. Unfortunately, this week was St. Giorgi’s Day.
St. Giorgi’s Day is a big holiday here in Bulgaria. At one point I knew why it was celebrated, but I have since forgot. Regardless, much of the town goes to the church in the morning and in the afternoon, the big feast takes place at some little shrine/chapel thing up in the hills. I went with my host family and met one of my site-mates Janel (which was good because I could not have gone through this alone). Beforehand I knew that we eat lamb and all each person was to do was bring a bowl and spoon. Soup came first and thankfully, Janel forgot a bowl so we got away with sharing a small one. It was at this point my willingness to integrate into the community was completely relinquished (for a short time at least). I would like to think I am tough and can handle anything, but I completely disregarded my respect for the culture and desire to integrate while Janel and I poked, probed, dumped grease out, and forced each other to such down whatever the hell that stuff was. The soup was chopped up pieces of skin, liver, brain, noodles and most awfully, aorta. I just swallowed quickly hoping that when it was gone I didn’t have to eat more. Janel and I were probably the objects of everyone’s amusement while we inspected each little piece with incredulous expressions on our face. We even brought out the camera to document the awfulness. This was most likely very rude, but we didn’t care. All the while MamaVanya was asking me if it was delicious. I wanted to die – I drew the line so many times that day. I thought we were home free after a while, but then the main course came, which was the bulk of the lamb meat on uncooked rice. Janel’s had a fat piece of vertebrae and I am pretty sure mine had brain.
Later that day we met up with Day and Sarah (my other 2 site mates) who both had equally awful lamb experiences. Sarah went to do her laundry to find a lamb’s head soaking in blood in the tub she is supposed to wash her clothes in. Her host mom just dumped it out and told her to use it. She drew the line. She also found the lamb’s skin with hooves still attached dangling like a flag from the balcony. Day had to help sew up the lamb for her family’s feast. MamaLily didn’t have a big enough pan to fit the tail so she told Day to shove it up the lamb’s ass. I found this amusing.
Aside from the idiosyncrasies that seem foreign and unimaginable to us Americans, Boboshevo is day-by-day becoming more home to us. The other day we were sitting at the café playing cards and all a sudden a giant bull and 2 goats came running through the center of town. As bizarre as it seems to us, we are learning to become less surprised by such events. The people here are generally really accepting and the kids most especially, are really great. My 23rd birthday was Wednesday and I was given flowers and gifts everywhere I went. The 2nd and 3rd graders sang Happy Birthday in English to me. It was great. This little village will be an experience I will never forget. I find out in 3 days where my site will be, which is really exciting, but I am sure I will miss Boboshevo and all of its insanity.
Things I am really glad I brought with me:
A flashlight (for when the city’s power frequently goes out)
Cotton circles and astringent (for when the city’s water frequently stops)
My ipod speakers
Things I really wish I brought more of:
Hand Sanitizer (mom, this goes on the list of stuff to send me)
Shout wipes (washing by hand is just not cutting it)
A flea collar (for me) and insect repellent: Yes, we have fleas. It sucks. We are being eaten alive by blood sucking beasts. We seem to be the only ones. The locals don’t have this problem. I think the fleas know American blood. Sarah counted over 100 bites on her yesterday. Luckily my skin isn’t reacting to the 20 or so I have gotten. I don’t itch. It just sucks to know I am like the dog you don’t want to touch.