*Note*Today the water came out of my faucet brownish black with chunks of who knows what splattering about. Whereas most of you would be mortified at the sight of such a thing, I was actually very excited and upon seeing this disconcerting filth my first thought was, “Yes! Now I am really in the Peace Corps!” Granted most people (as well as PCVs) associate service with no electricity, digging wells, wearing traditional African garb, and living in villages with no communication where a two hour walk is required to reach a market. I too made this association before my invitation to Bulgaria and was attempting to fathom the idea of sleeping on some mat in a net without two pillows. Yet here in Bulgaria we are referred to by other PCVs as the “Posh Corps” – yes, I am sitting with my Macbook in my well-tiled house, can shop at the Mango in Sofia, have most of the modern conveniences and appliances I was previously accustomed to and can find wireless internet in the town center. This experience was certainly not what I expected and admittedly feeling guilty after hearing of others’ rustic and roughing it experiences in different PC countries, I feel slightly more authentic when I am scrubbing my laundry by hand, dodging poo in the road from donkey carts or witnessing Willy Wonka’s chocolate river springing forth from my faucet. However, it is important to remember that every place has specific needs and Bulgaria is no exception. Thankfully for my own personal comfort, this country’s need is not electricity, plumbing, condom distribution, HIV shots or water sanitation (although the water is frequently out or fritzy and some of the bathroom facilities I have visited might and the unfortunate splash and splatter of waste may as well have necessitated those HIV shots). But as a post-communist, developing Eastern European country, Bulgaria is desperately searching for its identity and sense of place in a developed and heavily globalized world. And kids in the education system are in need of understanding how they can become an influential part of this exciting transformation, develop the necessary skills and with confidence, overcome the Bulgaria old-world complaciveness and become the leaders of their own lives. So call me posh (although I always had to play Ginger Spice in that game – red hair, large chest…), but I think I am okay with this.
I have uploaded some videos from some of the previous events:
Kirol and Methodii Day
and posted July pictures here
I have uploaded some videos from some of the previous events:
Kirol and Methodii Day
and posted July pictures here
Although I am very much a part of the so-called Posh Corps, this experience is not lacking in difficulty. They say that in the PC you have the highest highs and lowest lows, and in only three and a half months, I have certainly found this to be true. I have never laughed so hard and had as much fun or felt so lonely and wanted to cry as much as I have in Bulgaria. Although many of my blogs have contained stories of bizarrity, randomness and adventure, my time in Samokov so far has not been easy. Don’t get me wrong, I find the craziness that will undoubtedly come each and every day and it certainly brings a smile to my face. But the concept of community integration stressed so much in training is not one that comes quickly. I have realized how easy it is to just hole myself up in my house with my internet and not come out. And when I don’t have much to do (which I don’t – at least until school starts), I am even less motivated to do anything. I still don’t really speak great Bulgarian, haven’t read many books or written anything great and certainly haven’t made many friends or figured out what my place in this town will be. At times I feel swallowed up by Samokov because it is so much bigger than Bobo. I am not a novelty anymore. I essentially blend in with the rest. I think I might die my hair blue just to start getting some stares again (the good kind – like the kind that is pondering where you came from and what you are doing here rather than the skeezy stares which are still very abundant). The days come and go, alternating between up and down and after the biggest event of two weeks ago was chasing a bird inside my house for an hour, swatting fruitlessly with a broom and scooping unsuccessfully with a bucket until the little terror realized I was only trying to save his life and would allow me to pick him up and after giving me bird flu, send him out the window, I decided it was time to get out of town and rejuvenate.
What do you do to rejuvenate in Bulgaria? Why you go to camp of course! Now there is a special love in my heart for camp – as a kid I went to water skiing camp, sailing camp, girl scout camp, day camp and tied all the crazy knots, made all the crazy crafts and sang all the crazy songs that go along with it. I play a mean game of big booty as many of you know. So when I got an email from another volunteer asking for helpers at summer camp in his small town of Zavet, I hopped on that seven hour bus ride with Janel and Kai and rode my way into South Dakota. Well, not really but that is what the Zavet region of Bulgaria looked like, which surprised me because it is practically Colorado in Samokov being so beautiful and mountainous. The entire week was the Janel and Amy show being the only two girls shacking up with about twelve boys. With the important responsibility of representing Bobo style, we constantly wore spandex and headbands, sang and composed musical genius, ran like scared children from bugs and icky gross things and (if you are me) constantly missed catching or hitting any of the balls intended to result in actual contact. The first day of camp included an excursion to the nearby tractor factory where a good game of let’s spot the Americans was played while we posed shamelessly by every piece of machinery and eyed incredulously outdated equipments in a massive factory, which I think is the closest mental image to communism I have had to this date. A nice treat for the kids was scrap pieces of sheet metal that would probably give them some long lasting metal-borne disease, but have no fear, only one girl’s foot got cut up. After helping Joe, the PCV in Zavet, organize his first baseball practice and remembering why Genelle and I picked clovers in the outfield during my softball days, I decided to stick to the inside activities. I spent the rest of the week teaching kids Old McDonald, weaving macramé, sewing patchwork and creating more artistic genius with random crafts. Near the end of the week, after getting to know some of the kids and losing any timidness (or sense of dignity) we had, Janel and I shifted into ultra-goofy counselor mode and broke out into random dance parties wherever we went. We had kids teach us new horos (folk dances), which we shamelessly practiced everywhere. The children then decided that patchwork was lame and we were cooler so they joined us on the stage (where lets be honest, I am at my best) and put on some song that featured clucking and squawking chickens to a pounding techno beat. With about 25+ kids in tow, Janel and I led the group through various chicken moves and squawking exercises. Chanting “cakushka tants” (chicken dance) each time the song ended, the kids put that sucker on repeat and with sweat dripping from our faces and calves hurting from the chicken squat, we were clucked out after about five renditions. So in addition to big booty, I now do a mean chicken.
Outside of camp, the time in Zavet was wonderful because we got to basically have a week long party with the great company of PCVs. With poker, gin rummy, apples to apples, swimming and trampolines – it was definitely a good summer party! One night (ladies dressed in spandex of course), we ventured to the stadium for a game of late night baseball to find about 20+ boys already there. This baseball game turned huge and Janel and I were the main attractions as we battled constant questions of “are you married” and “do you have a boyfriend” from each and every one of them. After saying, “I love you” to Janel, one of the older boys was responded to with a “that was quick.” I had to pretend another PCV was my boyfriend after a boy no older than fifteen trying to convince me he was twenty came up and whispered “Iskash li da hoydesh s mene? (would you like to go (home) with me?).” I still have yet to figure out if these people are serious. Is it normal in Bulgaria for this situation to end positively for him? Do they have no sense of age gap or respect for elders/professionals? I could have been this kids teacher for heaven’s sake! I don’t really get it. My picture is constantly taken, my number constantly asked for, reciprocated interest constantly inquired about, and my relationship status constantly extracted – all after about thirty seconds of meeting and by men aged 9 to death. Flattering I suppose it should be, but I am REALLY sick of it. That rant aside, we spent the last day of camp face painting and visiting some ancient Thracian tombs, which were really interesting and well preserved. It is still amazing to realize that in the country I now live in such profound pieces of history are everywhere. The hill next to my house is probably not really a hill, but instead, a Thracian tomb, underground monastery or sunken Roman ruins!
After camp Janel and I discoed it up at our first big-girl disco (although we have yet to get to some clubs in Sofia where the real big-girl party can be found) and then headed east with some of the boys and another PCV Cassie for a day trip to Varna. Now Varna is essentially like a different country – its expensive, full of amenities and next to a beautiful body of water called the Black Sea. The water was beautiful, warm, much better than the Los Angeles Pacific, but us girls were having major self-confidence issues as we looked around and realized we were the only people wearing bathing suit tops. There were topless, tan, beautiful and wafer-thin Bulgarian women everywhere, and then there was us, red and white beached whales with bathing suits on. After watching and commenting on this for most of the day, we gathered our towels, headed up the beach away from anyone we knew (the boys), and “integrated.” It was another game of lets spot the Americans and after pure mortification, we headed back just about as quick as we came. But hey, we can now say we did it.
After our Varna trip sadly came to a close, we got on a night bus and arrived in Sofia just in time for church. Luckily for me, making it to church has been a much easier feat since I arrived in site than it was in Bobo. Although expensive, I ride an hour each way to Sofia where I have plenty of times and locations to choose from. This important personal activity has proven to be the one thing keeping me sane here, for whenever everything is out of wack, unfamiliar or just kind of depressing, church is the one thing I can be sure about and comfortable with. Although I don’t know exactly what is being said in words, I know what is going on. Plus I am guaranteed to have something in common with each person I meet, which have been many. Already I’ve been invited to a number of activities and was recruited to join the greenie language class. And seeing as how I come into contact with Mormon missionaries (and a lot of them) just about everywhere I go in this country, I have a great newfound respect for them. Even though it was not something I chose, they are simply amazing for doing what they do.
Back at site after the week-long Zavet party, I was determined to put into practice the things I learned and plug in the energy I had gained to shape up and hop on the integration train I feel has been slow to come in. I went back to teaching, which worked out really well and was quite fun as I learned to be more comfortable with the kids and them in turn with me. Sometimes I wonder if they understand or care about anything I say, but one day after teaching the kids about occupations, I ran into one of the little ones at the supermarket who came up to me saying “Miss, you forgot some jobs!!” At first I did not understand what he was trying to say until he said triumphantly proclaimed, “policeman and fireman! I want to be a fireman!” My heart kind of warmed and I realized it is moments like these where you find purpose in what you are doing and discover the energy to keep on. I have also made it a point to get out of my house, so I now study Bulgarian everyday on the benches under the trees in the center. I figure no one is going to stare and question who I am when they cannot see me, so I am taking my ignorant-with-no-friends show public. I definitely get the stares and perhaps if I make this routine, someone will actually come speak to me (or I will get enough studying in to know what to say to them). I also made it a goal to meet at least one person a day, which began when I went running (another goal) in the woods but unfortunately underestimated how quickly it would get dark, a situation exacerbated by the thickness of trees. By my lonesome in the forest nearing 10p, I started running faster through the final stretch when I saw two baba’s (grandma’s) tottering arm in arm down the road. I slowed to make friends, which I think they thought was slightly strange, but after their initial shock that I was alone wore, they took me in, giving me advice such as “there are bad people up here.” I figured I would listen to the grandmas. Even better for integration was that I went na gosti (a term that doesn’t translate, but essentially means going to visit as a guest) to a Samokovian host family’s house. They seem to want to take me in and I am all for this. They asked me “do you like rock music?” I respond, “OF COURSE!” to which they said “well, you will come with us to our village for the rock music holiday.” I walked home from their house on Friday night past every café, bar and club in town where the parties were just beginning and I was wistfully thinking, if only I had friends - someday though, because things are looking up. Little by little.
In other news of note, I now have long hair. This does not seem like great news, but I have not experienced this since 9th grade and I am very proud of my ability not to chop. Also, I have taken to cooking and baking. I hate the cooking because to actually make good stuff its expensive and I have to spend an hour in the store trying to translate Bulgarian words or approach a worker with my dictionary to figure out where chicken broth is. The baking however, seems to be going well but is a big problem because for every meal this week I ate peach cobbler or no-bake cookies (which I guess indicates the extent of my “baking”). Also, for those following all my Bulgarian boyfriend drama, Foxy still calls me every single day, even though I never answer. I suppose persistence is a quality I can attribute to him. But this just proves my ways never really change. I also have another concert coming up – this one being the big chalga concert in Dupnitsa. Chalga is basically sexed out Britney Spears circa 2000/2001 gone Bulgarian pop folk. It is terrible but we love it. Chalga is no Michael Bolton, but in a country with limited music supply, this will have to do.
Big BIG big thanks to all that have contributed to my teaching fund. I am sure most of you received my mass email (if you did not, please let me know) that gave a brief update and informed you all of my collection efforts for school, but if not, I have set up a paypal account (www.paypal.com, send money to firstname.lastname@example.org) to take your donations for teaching supplies and resources for the upcoming school year. Why am I asking for this? I will just repost that little bit from the email to remind you:
I want each of you to think back to your education. You probably had books, notebooks, pens, glue sticks, markers, crayons and all sorts of personal supplies to use at any given moment. This made school fun, because glue and markers meant cool stuff right? You also probably had a teacher who gave you worksheets, provided art supplies for an excellent project or came up with interesting games and activities that really allowed you to learn. Perhaps you even had books in the classroom that triggered your imagination and satisfied your curiosity. But most importantly, you probably went to a school in a country that provided resources to the teacher that gave them the freedom to be innovative, creative and effective. Most of this does not exist in Bulgaria. At my school I have a chalkboard and chalk and only that. Everything I do for these kids - every project I create, every supply I have - comes out of my own pocket. I shall emphasize the shallowness of these pockets - this is the Peace Corps. I have enough to live and only to live. Should you be interested in helping these Bulgarian schools, kids and families, you can toss me some dinero to buy them books, supplies and other fine things which will help them learn. You can also send me things, but paypalling is more effective because I can just give my mom the project of shopping (thanks mom!).
Lastly, I decided that since I have a good readership going here, I must make it my duty to inform you all of a fabulous artist who finally has a product out you can buy (that’s right, buy, not download!)! I have followed Miss Sara Bareilles for about 5 years, since her a cappella days in college, and have loved every single thing she has done. She put out her debut album on Epic about two weeks ago that floored the world being the #1 album seller on iTunes so if you haven’t heard this wonderful girl, please check out her album “Little Voice” for some jazzy, bluesy song-driven music sprinkled with some sincerely fabulous pipes. www.sarabmusic.com
Hope each and every one of you is well! Come out of lurking and shoot me an email or CALL MY SKYPE PHONE (on the right). Remember, this is free for you guys so I better be getting some more calls! Love and miss you all!