Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Beginning of Bulgarian Fall Without the College Football

Housekeeping business first:
1) Visit my Facebook for pictures of August adventures and the Veliko Turnovo trip.
2) Forgive me for the only one space between the period and the start of the next sentence. Blogger screwed up and copy and paste and I am SURE it bugs you as much as it bugs me.

And on to it...

Fall has arrived in Bulgaria, but unfortunately for me, it is comparable to winter in Los Angeles and Phoenix and without college football (although thanks to Mitch and I can view all USC games). I look out my windows to see snow on the runs in Borovets and whereas on one hand this excites me, on the other it is terrifying. Throughout the summer with little to do I often found it difficult to leave the house. With snow, I might never find the motivation. But as this has yet to occur in Samokov, I will cross this bridge when I get there (and hopefully in some waterproof shoes wherever I can find them). As for now, I have bigger problems: like what to wear. I certainly came ill equipped to this land of cold and colder. I remember perusing PCV’s blogs before I arrived to get an idea of what the winter was like and after reading those from volunteers in the south, I guess I just banked on being somewhere city like and mild. I had no guess they would place me in the highest elevated and coldest place in Bulgaria. My English friends laugh when I show up in something completely unacceptable for cold and some of my Bobos (Sehee who went to school in Mass and Janel from Indiana) mock and give me a hard time when I admire a beautiful red pea coat at Mango and inquire as to whether it would be a good winter purchase. Previously unaware, I quickly learned that there exists such a thing as a fall coat. This week I have also come to know that my knit gloves from H&M, cute hound’s-tooth print coat and every shoe I have are problematic: they are not snow proof. Granted I lived in Oklahoma as a child and did experience snow. However in these days I simply layered every pant I owned and after about a half an hour tore one soaking layer off and ran back outside. I still remember how excited I would get to count how many layers I could pack on and still fit into the shoe and jacket. Simple pleasures. Anyhow, with snow I either did this or got into a car. Here I have two (very cold) legs, not four wheels. It surely will not be as easy.

Not expecting fall/winter to arrive so quickly, I have been forced to endure a few winter clothing-shopping expeditions. As much as I try to tell myself that practicality is key, I am finding it very difficult to ignore my attraction to colorful, flashy in a retrolike way or style. There were some things I was willing to give up in the Peace Corps, but style was not one of them (and I am about five minutes away from starting my own in Bulgaria given the fashion atrocities that are committed here). As ridiculous as this might sound, I have taken it personally upon myself to redefine the Peace Corps Volunteer ☺. No longer married to the stereotype of crunchy, granola (yes Kevs! I thought of you), bandana wearing, cargo short/pant sporting and with a love of dominating mountaintops and surviving eating wild rabbits and bears. No, no, I am here to prove to the world that the PCV can be something else and yet still a good and effective volunteer. However, this does not mean I am high maintenance – I slept on the ground without a tent every night last summer eating cheetos and tuna for every meal, showering in creeks and finding toilets in wildflower groves for heaven’s sake. BUT, the point I am making here is that it was all do-able without having to give up the artsiness or visual and aural creativity that makes me who I am (both inside and out). That aside, yesterday I went to Borovets to find the real deal heavy-duty winter stuff, which was not easy because I don’t do multicolored jackets. Eventually I dropped quite a bit on a North Face winter coat, some earmuff-like head strappy thing, a ski vest and a durable fleece. I felt very accomplished with my big girl shopping, and Janel commented that I had made quite a commitment with the coat. It means I have made an agreement to make it through a Bulgarian winter and cannot go home. I joked that even if I somehow wound up back in the states, the coat really just means I have to sacrifice and end up in a terribly cold place to get my money’s worth. But do not worry, I am staying. Kevin and I have to help each other get our warm-blooded selves through this impending monster.

Now that I got the weather talk out of the way (in pure English fashion – I am slowly becoming more and more English. And Meg and Katy, I remember this from your Kate Fox book that if you ever want to lend to a Bulgarian friend, you know where to find me ☺), on to what I have actually been doing. The day after my bee-killing adventure (see, there’s practicality!) and last post, I headed back to Bobo for the town praznick (holiday). This was CRAZY as the entire town and I think everyone who might have left it in the last fifteen years showed back up so it was hopping. It was also crawling with Americans and PC associated people as everyone either returned to their host families or just to join the party. And what a party it was as Janel’s host family had a bunch of volunteers over for lunch and with the drinking of strong rakia and wine beginning at like 11am, many fell off the wagon by mid-afternoon. We headed down to the center for the holiday around 8 and with everyone pretty drunk by that point, the town holiday turned more into a celebration of PCV craziness. We danced, sang, and danced more like our lives depended upon it. It did not really matter who was around, for they were grabbed and danced with. (click there for a video). And with plenty of horo (traditional Bulgarian dancing) and chalga, it was all good fun. We had a large Bulgarian audience that found amusement in taking pictures of what were no doubt the craziest people they had ever seen. However, the rain came and forced everyone to the disco quite early to begin the potentially most insane disco night to date, which is difficult to imagine given some of our earlier exploits at that grand venue. Overall, the holiday was wonderful fun, and I was reminded once again how much I love Boboshevo.

I returned from Bobo to in theory start school, which I was really excited about believing it would be an opportunity to finally hop on the integration train and meet colleagues, make friends and figure out this city and its people. Easier said than done. My blog is not the venue for many of the rants, complaints and curse words that should be inserted here, but I will just say it was potentially one of the most frustrating weeks of my life. I have never felt like crying so many times. And it really just comes from two things 1) the difference between my wants and desires here and the agendas of other people I feel like should be on my side and 2) the difference between my American-minded organization, methodology and determination and that of Bulgarians. Anyhow, the week just proved to me once again that this would not be as easy for me as it is for some. And slowly but surely, I am learning to be okay with that. The challenge is continually inspiring and overcoming the challenge to decide to overcome the challenge is important.

Just as quickly as it began, work at school ended because there were a few holidays. It seems there is always a holiday here in Bulgaria and I never know what they are for, but I do know they mean a good party. Without much of a plan, I told Janel to meet me in Sofia the next day with bags packed and we would find some place to go. That ended up being Veliko Turnovo and a fabulous choice. However, being the Amy and Janel show, nothing is as easy as it should be. We learned that the four volunteers we invited ourselves to meet up with were a couply crew so we needed to get a boy on board and fast. That ended up being Craig, but he is an honorary member of the A&J show so that was okay. Heading out to meet up in his town, the bus we nearly missed was full and we were forced to sit in the back. However, this back of the bus was unlike any other, for it was complete with a table circled by places to sit. This is where speaking English not knowing there are English speakers around can be a real amusing thing. Janel walks back and says, “Yes! Party Bus! I’ve got cards” in response to the table/chair arrangement and to an audience of blank-faced Bulgarian young people. I sat next to a nice, young woman who I knew spoke English as she was trying to hide her laughter when Janel was inquiring as to whether this bus had outlets so she could plug her phone in (clearly it did not). And the boy Janel was sitting next to certainly new English when he tried to hide his laughter at her phone conversation with a friend from home as she described the absurdity and strangeness of Bulgarian (because really, that’s what Americans back home are interested in. Not the normal, mundane stuff). Anyhow, I took some Dramamine and passed out and the next thing we know its dark, rainy and we are in some unknown town. At this point the boy revealed himself as an English speaker to tell us the road to the town we were destined for was not working. Serious problem. Yet nicely, he spoke to the driver for us at who said he would drop us off 7km outside of the town at a gas station. Well, better than nothing. We get off in the rain in the dark in some strange place and head to the gas station to figure out what to do next with our lives. We were told there might be a bus, but no one was sure. We figured now was as good a time as any to make a friend and get a ride in, but the one man who seemed interested in our debacle was heading the other way. Eventually we saw a minibus and ran towards it, hopped on and lucky for us, it was heading into the city. We finally make it back to Craig’s where he had a fantastic feast complete with a lemon meringue pie waiting. This was also the beginning of no sleep for about two weeks, because Janel is a bad sleepoverer – you know, the kind who’s mom never let them sleep in so they had to be up at 7am at the sleepover and woke everyone else up because they were bored (I recall this being the twins! Yes you Kath and Lib). Plus I was drugged out on Dramanine and not coherent in any form, passing out here and there in whatever position the chair, floor or bed afforded (Mom, this is why I cannot take it. I get really loopy).

The next morning we attempted to leave for Veliko Turnovo but Craig rarely leaves his apartment so he had no idea when the buses were. We tried to hitchhike in many different ways and after hanging thumbs out for a while, we learned from some old man there was a train. The train station was good fun, because bathrooms reminiscent of western saloons and thereby a photo op were found. Finally we get on a train and play cards to pass the time, but the fellow trainspeople were not amused by our adaptation of Go Fish where we take on different personas and accents. The southern black woman round got a little loud and boisterous and the next thing we knew umbrellas were being beaten on our bench and the row behind us was up in arms at our decibel level. After retorting back that we were on a public train in 3rd class, a scene was definitely created. Upon arrival in VT, we were bombarded by hostel solicitors, but since we needed a ride into the city, we a man up on his offer. After working bargaining skills, we agreed to stay in his somewhat sketchy hostel. We then met up with the other volunteers to enjoy the beauty and serenity (daytime serenity I clarify) that is Veliko Turnovo. I believe it once was the capital/center of Bulgaria during various periods – Roman, Byzantine, Turk – and has a giant and beautifully well-preserved fortress. The entire city is built into huge cliffs/hills and reminds me of pictures of Greek Isles or Italian seacoast towns. There is no sea or ocean, but the town is built around a river. VT is probably one of the most touristy towns in Bulgaria and Jeff seemed a little embarrassed with how well we were perpetuating the loud American tourist stereotype, but I think he eventually got over it ☺

The nights proved to be the most fun (and sleepless!) with the first one spent watching the sound and light show at Tsaravets (the fortress) that reminds me of Fantasia meets the crazy water show in the Ozarks of Branson, MO. We then headed out to a few bars/clubs but parted ways as Craig, Janel and I were staying at a different hostel (remember, we needed a free ride. That came with a price.). In the street we ran into the seven Australian boys who were staying at with the others and regretted our choice. They had bought an ambulance and were driving across Europe in it. Eventually we arrived back to find out how sketchy our hostel really was. None of the keys worked and no ringing, banging, key turning or attempting to get McGyver and climb outside up the building to our balcony worked. Craig in a smart attempt to open the door kicked it and broke the key, which left us with a larger problem. Eventually someone came to the door, but unwilling to open it probably believing that Hostel the movie was unfolding in front of their eyes made us beg and try to convince in broken Bulgarian that we were not killers or rapists. The door is finally opened and we locked ourselves in our sketchy room, which we committed a ditch and run with the next day. We figure it was the guy’s own fault for not registering us and trying to lock us out.

After this death-by-mold-on-hostel-wall experience we went with the other kids, who were staying in a hostel by a former PCV who still lives in VT with her boyfriend. Sadly the Australians had left, but we made a new friend Mariana who stumbled in from Barcelona en route to Istanbul, so she joined our insanity for two days. We all basically turned this hostel into home (or a Rent set) and the next few nights felt like a combination of summer camp, freshman year of college and spring break with the craziness that found its way in. Between teaching boys to use eyelash curlers, the constant song and dance, the number of male barge-ins on girl nakedness (a problem with hostels), peeing pants experiences and SMILES, we barely found the energy to leave. Day Two we headed to the wondrously amazing Tsaravets and spent the night discoing it as we do. Day Three was spent walking all over the beautiful city and climbing a million steps with all seven of us singing songs together to stumble upon the best view of the city. A sweet jungle gym was also found where Day, Janel and I had to perform a rendition of Hot Sundae’s Get Down and Go For It from the Saved by the Bell episode where Jessie is on painkillers. The highlight of that night was my rough and tumble experience of slipping on nothing as I do and saving myself from falling into the splits in a skirt by landing not so gracefully on my knee and sprawled on the ground in front of two large groups of Bulgarian men. Laughing hysterically at this, Janel and I were received by the Bulgarians practicing the little English they knew. “Sex Machine” and other similar comments were given in a gesture of sympathy. I believe that is their way of asking if I was okay. The trip finally came to an end, but not without adventure, for there were no buses so we were forced to take a train, which landed Day, Janel and I in Sofia long after the buses to our respective towns. We hosteled, KFCed and Dunkin Donutted it up for an unexpected extra night of vacation.

I thought I was going to get some sleep to recover from my vacation in the final week before real school started, but the English friends made that difficult with all their partying and good times. Plus this week of “work” did not go any better than the week before, which was scaring me given that school was to start on Saturday. The day finally came, which was really just a big holiday and assembly-like meeting with all the kids bringing students flowers, singing songs, and sporting new hairdos and backpacks as they do on the first day of school. I was not really included, which was not something specifically new for me. The day itself was quite an emotional tug of war as things went from bad to worse to great to bad again. Still dealing with problems with school and my impending teaching, I started to doubt if this was ever going to happen. Generally when people are being ridiculous and irrational, I inform them of this and write them off as unworthy of my time or attention as I don’t tolerate stupidity or any such related behavior. However, I have had to humble myself so much here in Bulgaria, which I suppose can be considered a good thing, but one difficult one nonetheless. In the situation I am dealing with here, my first inclinations and reaction would not be wise so despite all difficulty, I find it inside of myself day after day to forgive, forget and love like I never have before. Despite all of the ignorance I have experienced over the last few weeks, in a gesture of great kindness after witnessing an explosive moment between my counterpart, my assistant director took five minutes of her busy time to introduce me to some colleagues who took me to lunch and ended up creating a fabulous afternoon for me. In a matter of hours I knew of a place or person from who to take piano and guitar lessons, ballet class, or find fancy cakes. A little kindness goes a long way with me and I am very grateful for those few people who have truly been fabulous to me here. It is a slow process, but it gets better everyday.

After a rough and tough work week, the first day of class came and actually went very well. I think I just needed to stop having to rely on someone else and once I had my own stage, I could really perform on it. And luckily for me, many of the problems from the weeks before panned out to pave the way for me to actually teach. I have 5th through 8th grade, which is a challenge, but one I am up for. The first day my 5th graders said I was the best teacher in the whole school which made me wonder what kind of teachers they’ve previously had for me to be considered the best. But I figure if you jump around, do crazy things, and talk about that which they are interested in, they will love you. And they do. My 8th graders are a little too cool for school and give me a hard time here and there, but they are hilarious. I remember that age very vividly and although they seem much older than when I was 14, I get them. The first few days were also quite funny as everywhere I went I heard people whispering and pointing at me wondering who I am and where I came from. Clearly I look young and not so teacher-like, which I think this is throwing them off, but I have garnered enormous interest. Random kids pop by my classroom just to get a look at me and I often have children ask me if they can come to my class even though they do not study English. After a great first day, the week made me realize how much work this is actually going to be. I went from bored with nothing to do to overwhelmed and crazy busy in a matter of a day, but I am certainly not complaining. If I were to complain of something, I would speak of the injustices with the Bulgarian education system and all the problems I see each and every day. Or I would rant about the challenges the Bulgarian system and attitude presents for me as a teacher coming from an American viewpoint and understanding. But I won’t. This is not the place and I am not here to insult. For now, I am just tired from an exhausting week of teaching, trying to play hardball with the kids and get the point across that calling each other “asshole” is unacceptable in a classroom situation.

As a side note to the school thing, I bought these alphabet cards from the states before I came to hang up in my classroom. Unfortunately some kid already stole the L, but that is not what I wanted to talk about. As things are in the United States, the alphabet cards are very politically correct. Perhaps too politically correct. They feature children of all different races holding up letters - we have the two Asians, the two African-Americans, the perhaps Latino and one little white boy, but he only gets a few letters. After looking at the arrangement on my wall a few times I wondered why type of reaction these would actually get from my Bulgarian kids. They have probably never seen a black person outside of a rap video. Probably even less a Latino person, who they would probably just think is Roma. But I decided this was okay, because I am all about accepting others and openmindendess here so if they think the Latino boy on my alphabet card is Roma boy, this is great. If accepting others and knowing they are out there starts with alphabet cards, then thank you Lakeshore Learning.

All school and vacation things aside, to accompany the world’s largest cucumber, this week I found the world’s largest carrot, complete with wart-like carroty appendages. I also received profound declarations of love by the sound guy at Rock in Rila I made my friend (or so I thought). After our brief meeting and a two-minute Skype conversation in broken Bulgarian, he reappeared two weeks later to send me an English song with the following chorus:

You make me dream
By the look in your eyes
You give me the feel, I've been longing for
I wanna give you my soul
All my life
Cause you are the one I've been waiting for
I've been waiting for so long

When you came into my life
It took my breath away
And the world stopped turnin' round
For your love
When you came into my life
It took my breath away
Cause your love has found it's way
To my heart
Into my heart

Just forever in love

The proposals and declarations of love that are so abundant here certainly never occurred at home. I would like to think that this attention will follow me home so that my disastrous and far too dramatic dating life could really flourish, but then I lose the key attractant: the American in me. So hopefully in the next year and half I find some other mojo that can work in the states. Send suggestions my way ☺

All and all life is starting to set in as normal. I say that every time, but it gets more and more true. It has been nearly six months here in Bulgaria and I honestly cannot believe that. On one hand time has flown, but on the other, besides intangible self-growth (which for me is invaluable) I have little to show for it. Regardless, day-by-day life gets better here in Samokov and I am beginning to become accustomed to the ups and downs. And Amidst it all, the haze is surrounding my life and its ultimate direction is beginning to lift and for that I am incredibly grateful.

Finally, some quick shoutouts because I suck at replying to anything these days: Genelle: good luck with that new baby! I love you and call me at whatever time. Jamie and Candice: congrats to the engagements. Love you both and am sad I won’t be able to be with you to celebrate the greatness of your lives. Jas: Happy Birthday again. Please keep Eugene safe and entertained. Shan and Cara: Happy Birthday again as well. Colin: you owe me a phone call back, I miss you Coash and good luck to your Bucks! Cecile: congrats on the new baby!! Jen: I did get your message about the eclipse but I was more interested in singing the song that going out in this early winter cold to find out if it was really happening. Adrienne: I am glad we chatted and keep me updated! Kayla: you better call. Chels: I know you lurk and I love you. Casey: you and that baby are beautiful. Meg: I hope your leg is still attached some hobble to a computer and let me know. Kev: I better get a wedding invite here in Bulgaria so get yourself out of the library and to a phone or post office. Elyse, Sarah, Mitch and Hagop: I miss you guys and our adventures and please U-Turn in honor of me! And Eric: glad to hear of some craziness in your life. The good kind.

To everyone else, I love and miss you. Keep the calls, emails and love coming.

*DISCLAIMER* Nothing on this blog or out of my mouth represents the views, thoughts or ideas of the United States Government or the Peace Corps. They represent me.

No comments: