Two weeks ago I received an email from my sister that said:
“Good luck with all the “work” you are doing.”
And when talking to my mother this week she mentioned:
“Amy, it seems from your blogs that you are not doing any work. You are just partying all the time. People ask me, “well what is it she is doing over there?” Maybe you should write something that says you have not started school yet so people will know…”
Well, my mother is right. I am not doing any work. This is not to say that during my stay in Bulgaria thus far that I have never done any work (for training was a different story), but since my summer project of teaching English for a few hours each day ended nearly a month ago, I have had nothing to do. And let me tell you how much it sucks… A LOT. I don’t exactly know why, but us TEFL volunteers arrive in site just after summer vacation has begun so there is no infrastructure in place or anyone in town in order for us to do anything. But despite this, I have certainly not been partying all the time despite the ridiculousness of my blogs (and this one will be no exception). But I figure all you people are not interested in how I am bored as hell, feeling like a failure as I sit in my apartment most of the time reading perezhilton.com and more interested in the few crazy things that do happen. Plus I live for the story. And I am slowly finding mine.
As I ponder this reality, I am struck by how different this experience actually is than what I envisioned it would be. As a go-getter, type-A girl with a typical American fast-paced life and big goals and dreams, I imagined I would come to Bulgaria and bulldoze immediately creating projects, involving the community, and really having the chance to make a difference. I foresaw such beauty in pure service and selfless love. And I also dreamt of the amazing changes and growth that I would personally experience throughout all this. Well, easier said than done. Integration in Samokov has been a slow process and one that is constantly ongoing. It has taken a lot of humility to admit to myself that becoming really effective here and able to truly engage is going to take a considerable amount of time. It might be a year before I get to know people, gain their trust and know the community and my students well enough to accomplish anything. And this certainly does not make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Honestly, I feel like a failure of a volunteer that the most exciting thing I could communicate to you last week was a dance party at Technopolis. And it is even harder when I compare myself to other volunteers who arrived at site to find solid structures and great counterparts and immediately got to work doing amazing things. Or when I read a beautifully haunting piece of writing by Mr. Sam Thomas at the halfway mark of his LDS mission in Cambodia and wonder if my perspective will be shaped in any way comparable to his or if I will be able to grow, selflessly serve and commit myself even a fraction of the amount he and others doing the same have. I think to myself, what more can I be doing? Am I just being lazy or giving up by accepting patience? And after this, I just feel like a failure of a person. It is a bitter and unpleasant argument I have with myself all the time, but at the end of the day when I sit back and find a moment of peace, I realize this Bulgarian experience is not about my sister, my mother, the other volunteers, Sam or all of you. This journey in Samokov is about me, my Bulgarian community and my God that blessed me with this incredible experience.
So my week of “not working” (and by “not working” I actually mean studying Bulgarian all day every day) was actually quite eventful compared to other such weeks. It started on Sunday when the churchgoing Janel and I arrived in Sofia far from on time. Deciding to attend church later rather than be late, I made my first appearance at the corner restaurant I pass every week. Immediately I was greeted with a nice smelling, slightly sweepy and dental-hygiene-attentive- and-perhaps-former-braces-wearer waiter. It might be considered the best service ever received (which is saying a lot coming from Bulgaria where service is infrequent), for I am not sure that anywhere else when you accidentally send the highlighter you are using while studying Bulgarian skidding across the restaurant will your waiter run immediately to your rescue, climbing under tables and chairs to retrieve your otherwise unimportant writing utensil. Love at first highlighter skid? Perhaps not, but I gave it a second shot two days later “nonchalantly” bringing my Bobo ladies and Sarah Fink to the same restaurant for Day’s birthday lunch. Now the only real conversation Waiter Boyfriend and I had was when he said “govorish bulgarski mnogo dobre” (you speak Bulgarian very well) to which I responded retardedly “Blagardarya, ucha siga” (thank you, I am studying now). Clearly this fact was obvious after the highlighter chase. Whereas I had previously thought I would go for obvious (an end certainly achieved with four loud American ladies rubbernecking and discussing my find in a nowhere near discreet manner), I had nothing to back it up with when I lost any and all nerve that might have existed. With my loud, giggly counterparts disrupting normal business, he was not exactly jumping in line to chase my highlighter again. It did not help matters that zone conference for the LDS mission brought in about eight missionaries totaling the English speaking Americans to thirteen, two sitting at our table with us. And I cannot exactly skeeze on some guy or work my flirting magic (or poison as it is) with missionaries in the vicinity. My mom made me uncomfortable enough around them when I was sixteen by constantly telling me to pull up my shirt so I am only now beginning to not be scared of the white shirt and nametag. The girls told me we were not allowed to leave until I worked my skeezmatism, but clearly since Bulgarian Flirting Basics was not included in our Peace Corps training, I failed and we eventually left.
After the love attempt disaster, I went on to experience one of the worst bus rides of my life. Sometimes when lucky I arrive at the bus station to find to find a large, clean, air-conditioned and with-room-for-baggage bus. Such a situation helps my unbalanced equilibrium significantly and when zipping around the death-will-be-imminent curves on what should be considered the path to Sofia, I can generally keep my previous meal where it belongs – in my intestines. However, often and on this particular night, I was shoved into a minivan, basically a vehicle smaller than a family soccer fan but attempting to fit three times the amount of people. During trips in these I wish we would just fly off one of the many steep cliffs so my grave would have something cooler to say than “death by motion sickness.” Anyhow, this particular evening the driver packed us in so tight that a man had to crouch in tiny baggage area behind the back seat. The amount of personal space I had to try and balance my ever-weakening equilibrium was half of a butt cheek on a bench. Needless to say it was horrible.
If the end of mortality did not arrive while in that minivan, it briefly appeared when a good scare was given that night and the next day in Samokov with a terrible incident. Because I do not have a television, I did not see the news to know that a Roma teenage boy was beat to death by Bulgarian skinheads with brass knuckles right in the center of my very town – a center I live incredibly close to. The next day Kevin said “I think there is a fight between the Roma and Bulgarians – don’t go near the Mahala. The skinheads hate Americans too.” I had not planned on going there anyway so I figured whatever, no big deal. But when we learned after the fact that a kid had actually died and Roma people numbering up to a thousand from Samokov and nearby villages gathered together to protest in the center, reality set in. Because the tensions between these two racial groups are ripe, the town essentially shut down for the week with no one allowing their children out and all of the businesses closing. It is surreal that something of this terrible nature and magnitude could happen right under my nose without my knowing and definitely puts things into perspective as I think about the differences (and similarities for that matter) between Bulgarian and home. Most of the time Bulgaria seems civilized and normal, but every now and then something reeking of hatred and evil arises and I am forced to reevaluate and wonder where I fit in.
On a happier note, on Wednesday Kevin and I went up to the nearby village of Govedartsi to attend the birthday party of our English friend Skye. It was a grand ole time as around forty Brits either living in this country or on holiday at their Bulgarian holiday homes partied the night away. And with The Jackson’s Can You Feel It on rotation, I was on the floor singing and dancing from the very beginning. Not exactly a well known Jackson’s song, but it is my favorite and memories of being a little kid, putting that record on the phonograph that my parents rudely got rid of later and dancing around the house came flooding back. It is difficult to resist the urge to dance with any music, but with MJ it is impossible (and I still hold by the oujii board’s declaration when I was seventeen with Janaina, Ashley, Saleemah and Katie that he is not guilty). Overall, it was a great evening for integration and I met a lot of wonderful people, even if they were English speakers. Unfortunately, the downer of the night came on the ride back to town when Harry, one of the Englishmen, discovered that the Govedartsi mafia had stolen his Jeep Waz. We had seen the mafiosos hanging around the restaurant early in the evening and it was mentioned that because they knew all the Brits were out of their homes, such was prime opportunity to vandal. Well, they did and the Waz has still not been found.
After a long night and morning, I traveled to Bobov Dol to meet up with a bunch of other volunteers who were hanging around the area. We went to Dupnitsa for dinner where we ran into the newbies, the community/youth development group that just arrived in Bulgaria. For the most part we kept our distance, not wanting to be those volunteers that have nothing better to do with their time than creep on the new folk. We got a taxi back to BD keeping in mind the rule Janel and I instituted a while back that we are not allowed to talk or be ridiculous in taxis because when our American leaks, we get ripped off. Unfortunately, most everyone had a few drinks and that grand Nina Sky/Whitney Houston I Wanna Dance With Somebody mash reappeared so when Janel asked the cabbie to turn it up and another impromptu dance party took place in the back of a taxi, I knew we were in trouble. We left Jeff to fight with the driver about the extra ten leva he was trying to charge us who eventually succeeded and all was well.
The actual purpose of traveling that direction was to hit up Boboshevo for our official homecoming. It was splendid and I am surprised by how much I missed it. To be in a place that was so comfortable where I knew everyone and could show up at a café and find friends was reassuring, but also a bit depressing when comparing to Samokov. The town was booming as summer brought in for holiday all the younger people who live in Italy or England during the year. Seeing the family was fantastic, and right away I jumped into the car to go back to Dupnitsa to join Neli, MamaVanya and Deni for a trip to the dentist. This ended up being the dentist trip from hell, for after the dentist drilled the hole for the cavity Deni was getting filled in the wrong place, a lot of time was spent drying massive amounts of tears. Remind me never to go near Bulgarian dental care. Later and because it was Bobo, a disco trip was necessary. This was a little different not just being the four Bobos minus Sehee, but adding to our craziness the four new trainees plus two other older volunteers. Since the summer brought in a whole batch of new faces, we found ourselves in a familiar situation - surrounded by a million boys with declarations of love and proposals accompanied with inappropriate touching and uncomfortable closeness and loudness abundant. Foxy was certainly jealous and tried his bit at holding my hand or draping himself around me. I had to call him on this a few times and when he said, “Janel asks why you and I are not boyfriend and girlfriend,” I thought she was up to her old drunken tricks again. Not so and apparently Foxy gained a little facetiousness during my absence. He told Janel she was his wingwoman – “Pomagash mi c zenhi” (you help me with girls). We were all trying to hold back our laughter when he would throw out “Az sum loot za tebe” (I am crazy for you) or “Sunoovai na mene povecher” (dream of me tonight). The next day I ran into him on the street where I encountered another barrage of “Do you have a boyfriend in Samokov? Why can’t I be your boyfriend? Can I come visit you? blah blah blah…” After my constantly repetition of “I do not want to” was met with a refusal to relent, I went on my way. I never knew a boy could be so persistent! Perhaps I should be flattered, but I more amused than anything else.
After Bobo the ladies and I headed over to Samokov for Rock in Rila (go to the link to see a video), the rock festival in the village of Beli Iskar right outside of my town to begin a night that proved to be crazy. I am not sure at which point my little Bobos got so drunk but between the jumping, screaming and groupie like behavior, a number of trips to the porta potty were necessary. This was not so bad as it ended up being the place where we made a number of friends, one being the sound guy who I figured was a good person to know. We exchanged digits and I met his boss who told me he wanted private English lessons – not exactly sure how I feel about that because my skeeze radar went off a little, but hey, we were networking. There was also a band that had a few sweepy-haired members and dancing around during their set was fantastic fun. Oddly enough, there was an 85-year-old diado (grandpa) standing next to us so Janel took to giving him the night of his life by swinging him about the crowd. This attracted the attention of all the photographers and videographers so perhaps we showed up in the news somehow. After the full-of-hot-boys band’s set was over Janel wanted to make an entrance backstage and say hello, but I had to draw the line. For with as long as I worked in the music industry, I cannot do groupie. Granted I night have done it when I was eleven with Hanson or with Something Corporate my freshman year of college, but those days are long gone. I would prefer to stay out of that club (take note Patrick! ha).
The rest of the weekend/beginning of the week consisted of church going, chickening out on stalking Waiter Boyfriend again, getting sick, joining some of the English folk for an adventure day in the forest near the river and bee keeping. Now this last item deserves some explanation because it is potentially one of the most amusing things that has happened to me thus far. On Tuesday Kevin was coming over for dinner and because it was a nice day, I decided we could sit outside so I set up the table on my balcony. A few weeks ago when hanging laundry I discovered I have bees – not just one or two, but four large hives. Kevin is quite allergic to them so after assembling the table I figured the time to get rid of them had come. I researched on the internet all these crazy time-consuming methods for killing them, but I did not have the patience. Instead, I figured I would just disturb the hell out of them and their homes so they would disappear. Perhaps not the smartest idea, but I was on a time crunch. The most important requirement for this venture was the armor – I put on my Christmas tree pajama pants, USC t-shirt, tennis shoes, patterned raincoat and to top it all off, winter gloves and a hat. Clearly none of these matched, but my intention was to not meet my death the way Macaulay Culkin in My Girl did, not to look cool. With the biokill and a stick in hand, I headed out to the balcony to battle the enemy. I opened the grill to be greeted with about forty bees unleashing their wrath. Just as I was squatting, spraying and poking their home (with sight limited with my hat falling into my eyes), I startled to death by Vesko, the boy who lives downstairs. I am like a deer caught in headlights as I turn to see him wide-eyed and mortifyingly laughing at this disgusting excuse for a crazy American who is engaging in DIY bee killing activities. At first speechless, I tried to explain what I was doing but did not know the word for bee. I said “ima mnogo zhult i cheren” (there are a lot of yellow and black…) and start buzzing and imitating a bee. This did not help the comedy of the situation. Amidst laughter, Vesko understands and decides he will help me, but I only feel more retarded as he is only wearing a t-shirt and shorts while I have my entire coat closet on. It was a team effort as he chased the bees out and I stomped on them or pounded them with my stick until they died. His dad hears us from below and asks what we are doing and at this moment I hear the doorbell ringing. Oops! Kevin – I forgot about him. I run down to meet both the dad and Kevin staring at me incredulously in this ridiculous get-up. Kevin comes up and becomes the bee-killing spectator, laughing and joining Vesko in a session of making fun of Amy in Bulgarian. Vesko tells Kevin. “I came upstairs and see something in a crazy hat crawling around.” My life was over. No doubt he is going to tell his family and the whole town what a crazy tenant they have. Anyhow, eventually the four hives were destroyed and close to forty bees stomped on so in the end, I was successful.
All in all, it has been a fun and eventful week. I am looking forward to school beginning for teachers on the 3rd, but from what I am told it is a lot of sitting around drinking coffee and eating chocolate. But more so, I anxiously and nervously await the 15th when I embark on my teaching adventure, at which point I believe the real experience will begin.
I miss and love all of you a ton and thank you for your thoughts, calls, emails and facebook pokes ☺ Thank you for hanging on to this with me.
*DISCLAIMER* This blog and any of my thoughts and ideas in no way represent the Peace Corps or United States Government. You would be silly to think they do!