Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Real Deal, Down & Dirty, Nitty Gritty Peace Corps: mineral water swimming pools, golden arches, Michael Bolton and glorified camping trips.

Check out some housekeeping stuff (picture links and my new US phone # !!!) at the bottom of this blog entry.

Apologies to all of those who have been checking for blog updates just to discover none. I know you all are just foaming at the mouth to hear of my super exciting Bulgarian life (As Meghan P. says, my blog is her new gossip magazine. Watch out Perez Hilton), but the rather lengthy lapse of non-blogging time was due to the fact that some very momentous events happened: I left Bobo, officially became a Peace Corps Volunteer, moved to my new home of Samokov, and saw Michael Bolton. But before I give you the skinny on all things Samokov, I must settle all things Bobo:

I am obliged to start off with a little vent. The Bulgarian language and I have been fighting recently. Yes, we have fought since the beginning and have had our numerous ups and downs, but throughout the last three weeks our problems have intensified. My biggest beef with the Bulgarian language is not that it uses a different alphabet, has the most complicated system of prepositions ever encountered, or even that it is quite difficult. These things can be forgiven and I can look past. Instead, the most serious problem in our relationship boils down to one word: priyatel. To me and the dictionary, this means “friend.” Sounds nice right? However, to everyone else it has two meanings: “friend” and “boyfriend.” I understand that ezik means both language and tongue, for these things are related. I even understand that samo is defined as both only and alone. But I will never be able to understand why friend ALSO means boyfriend!

At first I did not realize the problems this was causing me. Week one in Bobo as I sat down with MamaVanya and showed her pictures from home and describing each person as my priyatel, I just assumed she understood they were my friends. I suppose she could think that I have a ton of boyfriends back at home, but I would like to believe she understood. However, as time went on, this flaw with the Bulgarian language has come up from under to bite me real hard. Each evening of the last month, I encountered problems as I prepared to leave the house and told MamaVanya we would meet our “priyateli” at the café, disco, swimming pool or one of the other hot spots in Bobo. Eyes widen and my arms arms grabbed as she asks with a horrified expression on her face “Are Daniel and Methodii your boyfriends??!” I shake my head, laugh as though this is the most absurd thing I have ever heard and explain to her they are only our friends. I feel really uncomfortable, because clearly she doesn’t believe this (and probably has some right not too), and I am certain she thinks I am either a liar, scandalous American or both. Heaven FORBID we have friends that are boys and not be their girlfriends! Despite my attempts to persuade her of simple plutonic-ness, she is clearly unconvinced and horrified at the thought of my leaving her sheltering (and somewhat binding) arms. However, since she lacks the confrontational audacity that would prevent my outing, I depart for a night out on the village and have fun chasing fireflies, teaching these boys what the word “skeezy” means or enjoying whatever else the night brings. I sneak back in during the wee hours and arise the next morning to find myself having the same awkward exchange (and to learn she had been on the balcony all night spying). She will never be convinced.

The problem with this retched word does not simply lie with MamaVanya, but Foxy as well. A little background to catch those who are not frequent readers of the blog up: Foxy is the least skeezy boy in Boboshevo and we hang out with him frequently. He is nice, doesn’t drink too much, plays on the local soccer team, wears a sweet purple sweatshirt from 1988 that says “jogging time”, and leads Janel and I on excursions through Bobo – perfect friend for us Bobocitas. However, it is from Foxy that I learned the most important lesson of my time in Bulgaria the hard way: after a hug dance at the disco and a walk home with a Bulgarian boy, one will find themselves in a serious, committed relationship! How was I to know this?! Things started to get out of hand when the entire town seemed to think I had a boyfriend, neighbors were spreading rumors, Mario’s heart was visibly breaking and Foxy was starting to smother and annoy. When three days later I got an “I love you” via text, I knew that serious action was necessary - it was time to take to break up with the boyfriend I didn’t know I had. After hibernating in my house for a few days to avoid Foxy and prepare my Bulgarian language skills for this impending arduous task, I made the trip out of the house to confront the man whose heart I would break. Janel tried to help by explaining to Foxy that in America we don’t say I love you until we are married (when you are speaking in Bulgarian, you just say what you can. Clearly this isn’t true, but it got the point across). She also tried to help me out with this breakup by doing it for me in true middle school fashion, but he wasn’t convinced and spent the rest of the evening trying to assert to me and everyone else I was his. Finally it was time – he walked me home and the conversation went a little like this:

Me: Foxy, you are not my boyfriend.
Foxy: huh?
Me: And I am not your girlfriend.
Foxy: Zashto!!?? (Why!!??)
Me (incredulously): Because we cannot even speak!
Foxy: But I will study English and you will study Bulgarian
Me: I am moving in 2 days!
Foxy: But I will na gosti (visit) in Samokov and you will come na gosti to Boboshevo and we will go to the disco!
Me: No, no. I am not allowed at the disco in Samokov. You don’t even know me!
Foxy: Yes I do. I like you! Do you not like me?
Me (desperate times call for desperate measures – it was time to turn into a great actress and start working off a script. I need a story now): Well, I don’t have a boyfriend right now in America, but there is a boy I like. I thought I was ready to have a new boyfriend, but I am not ready now [weep weep! This is getting good. I should move to Hollywood (oh wait – I already did that.)]
Foxy (hanging his head low): You just want an American boyfriend. You don’t want a Bulgarian boyfriend. When will you want a Bulgarian boyfriend?
Me: No, No. It doesn’t matter if they are Bulgarian or American. You and I are friends. We will hang out when I na gosti.
Foxy (like a sad puppy): Dovizhdane (goodbye) Amy (and sullenly whimpers away).

So that’s it – I broke the best heart in Boboshevo. I thought I was home free and “single” again, but since I left Bobo I have been receiving texts and calls from him constantly. Apparently breaking up doesn’t translate well. The lessons I learn here in Bulgaria…

After solving (or not solving as it goes) things with Foxy, the ladies and I prepared to leave and become official Peace Corps Volunteers at the upcoming swearing-in ceremony. We spent a few more golden hours at the pool, ate purzheni cartofi at the flea café, and played gin rummy at the flealess café before we had packed all our things up and went with all our families to the banquet at the benzinostanzia (gas station). It was a good time full of pictures and sad faces and afterwards us ladies enjoyed our last evening in Bobo. The next morning our families drove us to Dupnitsa, said their sad goodbyes and left us to become big girls!! It was very sad to leave Bobo and my family who as bizarre as they are really became my own, and I love and appreciate them an incredible amount. However, after the drama with Foxy, I was really ready to start this Peace Corps experience and be on my own. After a final training and last night on the town with all the PCV’s, we were driven to Sofia to attend our grand swearing-in ceremony, complete with the ambassador and various other diplomats. The entire experience was strange because it meant that the forty of us trainees, who have become quite close and share an unexplainable kinship, would soon split apart and go to our separate cities all across Bulgaria, possibly not to see each other for months. It was sad and exciting at the same time and after manning the food table with Janel, my time of departure came. I said my goodbyes and began the adventure to my home for the next two years: Samokov.

Now I had imagined that my summer in Samokov would be boring, full of solitude and very difficult. I planned on using the plethora of time to study Bulgarian, read, write, take pictures and do all the things that my social life in Bobo prevented. I was actually looking forward to having nothing to do so I could start creating things to do. However, I speak too quickly because right away my time in Samokov was filled with just as much bizarrity! Kevin, my new site-mate and BFF picked me up at the bus station and the Samokovian era began. We dragged my stuff to my new home, which is the 3rd floor of a house. As attic-like and small as my place is, I am grateful to have a family living beneath me. They are super nice and although they don’t have any obligation to me other than to rent a place, I am trying to work my way down into their family ☺ They have a son my age who is main contender in the contest to be my friend and a younger one who speaks perfect English. Being in Bulgaria has definitely helped me realize how important it is to have people and a support system in my life. I always thought I was fine and dandy on my own and being independent, but I have been struck with how much other people really bring out the best in me, as well as how much I need them in my life since my arrival in this country. This aside, Kevin and I went out with another volunteer Thea that night for dinner and somehow I got tricked into joining them for their “little” hike the next day.

Now lets back up again: I do not hike. I should and granted I had mentioned to Kevin (who is super in shape and enjoys a mighty physical challenge) that I would be interested in trying more outdoorsy things, but what was to happen the next day was NOT what I had in mind. Everything about hiking gives me a self-esteem complex – I am slow, I don't have hiking clothes, I can be pretty clumsy and I enjoy doing physical activities by myself. Armed with impending self-confidence issues and my rainbow fanny-pack fastened over my spandex, I met what was now more volunteers on the bus towards Borovets, the most popular winter resort here in Bulgaria and only 10k from Samokov. Everything about the day was underestimated – from the gondola it was thought to be 1.5 hours up to Musala (the highest peak in Bulgaria) and 1.5 hours down, all with easy hiking. WRONG. Potentially the most strenuous physical activity I have ever engaged in, this feat was four hours up, the last hour being pure upward climbing, and having missed the gondola for the return, six hours down, the entire time being either through Bulgarian jungle or at 60 degree angles. The first portion of the descent was on the ridge, which admittedly, was fun until I saw the poles (the only things keeping me alive) swaying vehemently as though they would soon be dislodged from the rocks that held them and exist no longer. Despite a few tumbles, aching calves and bathroom trips in the most disgusting facilities ever seen, my little body held up and I was able to enjoy one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever encountered. I was very proud of myself and with a tiny bit of my self-esteem left (and this only because I did not die), I might try something of this nature again.

After this adventure, Kevin left for the week so for the time being I was spared from further life-threatening activities. I was imagining a nice, relaxing day of unpacking until Bubo, the 16-year-old downstairs, came up and asked me if I would like to go to the swimming pool. How can I say no? I venture down, very happy I am being included in family activities, but soon learn that this will just be me and the boys… around 10 to be precise. In Bobo it was me and the girls, which I enjoyed and got very used to, but apparently in now in Samokov, its me and the boys!! I met all the older son’s friends at the pool (which is actually a mineral water pool that smells like sulfur) and was quickly asked to go to the disco. It was then I knew that Samokov was not to be any tamer than Bobo.

I started my real job during the week where I lead a “camp.” The only description I was given is to “show up and teach English.” This is proving to be very difficult because I have skill levels from 8 years old and never taken English to 9th grade at a language school with excellent speaking. The first day I thought it would be an hour, which is what I had prepared for, but I soon learned it would be four. Regardless of its difficulty, each day is a new opportunity to learn, grow and hopefully, become a better teacher. I am finding that I really love teaching because there is such a tangible measure of success, or better yet, improvement. Each lesson and each day is an opportunity to try something new and see if it works. I never imagined I would be a teacher (the only time I really thought about it was when I was in school and said that if I ever became one I would never allow gum), but I am grateful for this opportunity and am growing to love it.

Aside from the moving in, mountain climbing and teaching, the BIG event of the week was Michael Bolton. Lets make sure we do not underestimate the importance of this event. I made the trek into Sofia to meet Janel and Sehee with whom I would share this amazing experience, but had NO idea where I was going. Kevin told me to get off the bus at the Golden Arches, which I could find but after that and having no idea where I was, I just hopped on a random bus and hoped for the best. I thought about it later and decided that if globalization brought those golden arches that allowed me to get off the bus in the right spot simply because I know them and what they stand for, then I consider globalization a good thing. Plus I figure there is not that big of a hamburger market in Bulgaria to push smaller businesses out. Anyway, after a few hits and misses, I made it to the venue where my Bobo girls and I had a wonderful reunion. After dinner and a run in with the Mormon missionaries, it was time for MB. We were on the guest list and figured this would be a feat, which it was. No one had any clue what we were talking about and we figured out that the trick to cracking Bulgarian concert security is show up with an email in English and name drop. The guards just let us in because they had no idea what to do and we ended up on the press stage with a fabulous view of Michael. We were singing and swaying in the true easy listening way and while the rest of the crowd mostly sat in silence, we screamed the words to every Michael Bolton song. Time, Love and Tenderness came on and I swooned. Michael even unbuttoned his shirt ::faint:: Afterwards we tried to milk it for all it was worth and get passes, but Michael peaced out so we met the promoter, got a set-list for Sehee and hit the road. On the way home I was determined to take one of the giant adverts for the show with me and eventually found one where Michael’s head was sort of intact. I carried this around for a while but eventually decided traveling with a roll-up Michael was too difficult. I took a picture, made the memory and said my goodbyes.

Returning back to Samokov I was preparing for a yet-to-come relaxing weekend, but no, Kevin got his claws in me again. We spent Saturday in the woods near the close-by village of Govedartsi with a jolly bunch of English people who were great company. Apparently there is a small portion of Britain that resides here in Bulgaria and they are all a pretty tight-knit bunch. I am excited for this. After this all-day event, Kevin and I were dropped off in Samokov when he got a call from some Bulgarian friends from his training site who were spending the evening at a nearby lake. We jumped in a cab to join them for what I thought would be drinks at a restaurant, but after waiting at the restaurant for quite some time, a windowless white van that looked as though it could be trafficking people picked us up and drove us through a locked lakeside driveway. We were then led through the pitch black woods in horror movie fashion where all I could see was water on one side to eventually arrive at a full on campsite, complete with tents, fishing poles, campfire and seven other boys. It was me and the boys again as the party intensified and I was the target of all sorts of craziness and absurdity. Considering the amounts of alcohol consumed by the others, I began to wonder how Kevin and I were going to make it back to Samokov, but these thoughts were thwarted when Tony, the leader of the group, said: “You sleep here.” Well.. that solves it. Long and insanely funny story short (email me for real details), I ended up camping and sharing a tent made for two with three other boys - all unplanned. How is that for community integration? Needless to say, I slept little as I was dodging snores, breathing tent lining, and freezing to death all night. The next morning Kevin and I finally made it back home, but with plans to meet some other volunteers for lunch two hours later, he would not allow me to return to my house knowing that I would not make it back. So what do we do? Sleep on a bench. Now in the US, sleeping and relaxing in public places is normal, but in Bulgaria, you might as well be from Mars if you do this. Indeed we received a few stares as we slept head to head with feet dangling on a bench in front of a museum. I felt homeless for two hours, but it was wonderful.

In conclusion, although I was looking forward to Samokov being a place of serenity and with tons of time to pay attention to all the things I came to Bulgaria to fix and pay attention to, I cannot complain about all the adventures and fun I have had thus far. Kevin is an amazing site-mate and person with whom I am incredibly lucky to be spending the next year with. Plus as a respectable boy, he keeps me safe from potential skeezies in tents. I think of my Peace Corps experience to this point and am floored that three months has already passed and more amazed by all of the things I have learned, challenges I have met, and growth I have experienced. Though being in Bulgaria is not easy, I am still waiting to feel as though I am sacrificing a lot to be here. For that I am grateful!

Much love to my family and friends who I miss tremendously! You will all receive an email from me shortly that will include some updated contact information! Make sure to drop me a line, even if real short, to let me know how you are doing. And I know that I have some lurkers who check out this page so lurk no longer, say hi, and let me know you exist!

I am now using Facebook for the photos because of Flickr problems, so links to the albums will appear on the right side of this page. I have added three new albums so be sure to check them out.

ALSO, I am switching the blogging day to Wednesdays because the weekends are way too out of control now. So check on Wednesdays! Now that I have internet in the home, these will be on time.

AND LASTLY (and most exciting!) is that I have SkypeIn phone number. This is a Los Angeles based number that should you call from the states, should be free if you have free long distance and will connect you to me… IN BULGARIA! It costs you and me nothing so you better call all the time! Otherwise, Skype is the best way to get me and the info is on the side of the page.


(213) 985 - 2877

DISCLAIMER: Does this blog represent the views of the Peace Corps or United States Government??? OF COURSE NOT! Silly...


Anonymous said...

Amy, quit giving your mom and dad heart attacks!!! Please stay safe and give us your new mailing address so we can send a package.

Love mom

p.s. What's with Michael Bolten? I don't even care for him.

Renee said...

whoo hoo!! I'm so happy to know that you are alive! I had these crazy fears that you were dead in a ditch somewhere in bobo, never to be heard from again!

Michelle said...

you dirty little heart breaker! poor dude cried himself to sleep every nite since you left. man it sounds like you're having fun!

Genelle said...

Hey thanks for calling on my birthday! Although I didn't catch most of what you said. I will call you soon, hopefully it's a better connection! Glad to see you are enjoying yourself. Stay out of trouble!! Zane comes home in like 4 days!! Love you!! ~Genelle

Ali said...

haha you're the ho of Bulgaria :) yeah and I agree with mom, what's with Michael Bolton, no more Hanson???

new mama on the block said...

ah, the wonders of languages... French has the same friend/boyfriend issue, you'll pick up on ways to clarify things!
Stay safe!