Sunday, February 10, 2008

Buggies and Bad Children

Parental Guidance Notice second:

The following entry is PG-14 or PG-readthroughitfirstandthendecide if you are my Aunt Janet or Uncle Greg.
See mom - looking out for the cousins :)

The following is a message that appeared on the back desk of my classroom some time back. For those unable to decipher the jibberish, some child who is probably still laughing himself to sleep for this little piece of inerasable vandalism wrote “skaipamye za sex.” Based on Bulgarian grammar this could mean “Skype Amy for sex” meaning this little child is trying to convince fellow desk sitters that Miss Amy has a skype name which she will publicize in the form of desk graffiti for sex, though whether in cyber or actual form is not directly implied. On the other hand, it is possibly a terribly constructed and written English expression meant to say, “My skype is for sex.” Either way, the culprit is surely not one of my students because I am quite positive I have 1) instilled enough fear about vandalizing the room to prevent such messages from appearing on desks and 2) given them the English skills that would allow this exchange to at least be written in a grammatically correct form.

I am quite amazed at the inappropriate and sex-driven and defined nature of Bulgarian youth. Yet they are not even youth, they are children. My 5th graders are only eleven years old with my 8th graders approaching the devilish age of fifteen. In my 8th grade class, which is the bain of my existence these days, we had a unit on festivals and holidays where we studied Christmas. Many of them are very creative and energetic so I gave them the exercise of writing their own 12 Days of Christmas, thinking this would be an interesting assignment. Slow to start, I tried to elicit something amusing and funny to be the first day of Christmas. One group came up with “my true love gave to me a button in a condom.” To begin with, I am unsure how a button (or condom for that matter) got associated with Christmas, but why the heck would you stick it in a condom? And how is this the first thing my 13/14 year-old children come up with? It makes me wonder exactly how much experience these children are having with condoms… I simply shook my head with a side laugh and urged them to come of with something more practical for the second day and made my way to the other group. Things were not any better here. Their first day was an empty bag under a bridge, which is certainly more appropriate but by day six the true love was into the habit of giving a snake’s clitoris. This fascinated me in a few ways. First of all, how did they know this word in English? What television shows are they watching? I know in high school Spanish class we asked Mrs. Thue for not-so-kosher words, but I don’t remember clitoris being one of those. We stuck to like boobies and ass – you know, the basics. Secondly, how do these students know exactly what this is and the significance behind it? I think back to being thirteen and I am pretty positive I did not actually know what this was - at least certainly not its name. Sex education in Oklahoma was most assuredly lacking – I think the most we had in 5th grade was when they took boys and girls to different rooms to awkwardly explained that “your bodies will be going through some changes” or in Girl Scouts on Mom and Daughter Puberty Day where the girls walked out with little paper bags filled with tampons and Always pamphlets that diagrammed armpit hair and fallopian tubes. Things got a little better in 6th grade when we officially learned that sperm and eggs existed, and I remember watching the Miracle Of Life, which dramatized the short life and journey of a sperm concluding with a live birth. No one was particularly pleased to be witnessing this and the whole thing warranted immature giggles whenever someone played with Silly Putty and pulled two sides apart to create two sperm looking silly putty blobs, complete with tails. By the time 7th grade rolled around we just learned that abstinence was the only way and HIV was the most Satan-inspired thing on this earth so the thought of sex better not cross your mind because the virus was so contagious you will get the disease from simply thinking about it (I grew up in a red state). There was never education on how sex actually happens or how to have it safe, so you wonder why Oklahoma has so many teen pregnancies and a rising AIDS rate. But most relevant to the issue at hand, there was definitely no education as to what the clitoris was. Furthermore, my parents were not exactly a throe of information when it came to sex and sexual terms and certainly did not set me down with charts and diagrams when I was six excited to explain it to me like Miss Meghan Priest’s mom. No, these were things you learned from other more “learned” students. You know, the “scandalous” kind or those who read their sisters diaries or had brothers who sat them down and gave them Sexual Terminology and Explicitness 101 or found their dads’ Playboy. Despite all of this, I certainly had no idea exactly what a clitoris was – I mean yes I knew that anatomically such a thing existed but I did not know its name or what it could accomplish in any way. And I sure did not know how to use it colloquially to make me sound cool and in the know or have the audacity to loosely use it in the presence of an adult or in a school assignment. No no, my proper introduction to that part of the female body probably came from getting the health class textbook sometime early high school and ashamedly and secretly scanning the index for “clitoris” to brush up on my reading as to what is was so when it came up in conversation I would not have to be the idiot who asked “what is that?” and could nod my head like I had been talking about it for years. Anyway, the point here is questioning whether sexual knowledge and explicitness at such a young age is a trend around the world or just in Bulgaria? What do I do about this? Part of me is simply pleased that these children are speaking English and happy to do so. These kids would never do this in front of a Bulgarian teacher so that unfortunately says something about respect level I have achieved, or not as it goes. Considering my own experience, I decided to embrace this subject as a learning opportunity rather then scold, so I calmly asked my students “How do you know that a snake has a clit? I mean, human females do but why would you assume that a snake does? Snakes reproduce from eggs so no doubt their sexual relations are not exactly comparable to those of humans. They do not have intercourse the same way. And I believe that humans and dolphins are the only living creatures that receive pleasure from sex so why would a snake need a clit to begin with?” I was met with the open-mouthed stares of shock of those who understood and under-the-breath whispers from those who did not, anxious to get a translation from their friends. Martin, the culprit of the ninth day stumbled for a response, clearly embarrassed. I guess my reaction was new for them. Regardless, on the tenth day of Christmas their true love gave rat balls.

In addition to the rapidly escalating rate of Bulgarian children far to young to be understanding and experimenting with sexual issues, I have another bone to pick with Bulgarian society. Buggies. That’s right – buggies. And I am not talking about the horse drawn kind, although those are plentiful albeit usually accompanied by a donkey in these parts. I am referring to a shopping cart…or trolley, depending on where you come from. And as previously mentioned, I come from Oklahoma so this is known only by buggy and despite my years away from that middle American place, I have been so far unable to eliminate the word from my vocabulary or find a replacement to be instinctive when searching for the word to describe this vital part of grocery shopping. Regardless, Samokov recently got a Billa – this is an Austrian run supermarket, but embellished with some Bulgarian quirks which I will soon describe. Although not exactly comparable to Ralphs or Safeway in size, Billa certainly rivals anything in Eastern Europe with selection of food and ability to find items such as peanut butter, cornstarch and blue cheese. It was a grand day for all and despite being a bit too far to shop at regularly, I make the trek when my kitchen is crying out.

A while back I entered the store after school with my tote bag, which was stuffed to its maximum capacity with a number of items, but most valuably my laptop. A security guard policing the entrance attempted to make me leave it in a cubby hole at the front of the store, to which I played the ne razbiram card (I don’t understand) so he would quit trying, fearing I would never see my computer, wallet, ipod or 6th grade textbook again. Clearly there was no room in my bag to steal anything. I have a difficult time understanding the point of this rule since you have to pay 50 stotinki #1 to leave your items with Billa, which inconveniences everyone as wallets are usually left in purses that are then stored in cubbies. The people who are not sneaking their bags in and are willing to pay that 50 stotinki are not the ones who are going to steal! You are weeding out the wrong people, Billa - and putting them at risk to be robbed. Once inside the store after grabbing a few items, I realized I needed a little carrying basket, which was nowhere to be found after many clueless wanders around the store. Strange. Where is the sense in this? If I run in for a few items, I am more inclined to buy more from your store if you provide me with a basket, right? After eyeing a buggy near the produce lady who is tossing curious glances, I realize it is out of commission and ask her if I can stash my handful with her while I find one of my own. She is certainly not amused, but I concentrate on finding the buggy. Walking out of the store past the security guard who is eyeing me suspiciously, I find them lined against the side of the store but chain locked together and decorated with coin depository boxes. Hmmm. Turning around I find some giant, plastic kiddy carts that resemble playskool playhouses free from the restrictive binds of Billa being quickly picked up by old grandpas unwilling to pay the 50 stotinki #2 it costs to obtain the buggy. This also makes no sense, because it’s those little children and sneaky grandpas you have to worry about snatching something! And they escape the buggy bill! Now, although I avoided the requirement of leaving my bag in the cubby, how would an unassuming first time shopper deal with this situation now that their money to pay for the buggy has been locked up? At this point the most pressing of an accumulating list of problems is that I do not have a 50 stotinki coin. Great. Walk back into the store past the suspicious security guard, past the lady holding my items who is still quizzically staring at me, past the number of workers who have seen me wandering cluelessly for quite some time and over to the cashier whom I ask for change for my 50 stotinki in smaller coins because luckily I still have my wallet with me. Walk back out. Unfortunately, I now cannot figure out exactly how this whole coin depository for the chained up buggy mess works. Walk back in, past security guard, produce lady, Billa staff, change giving cashier and over to the exit door security guard where I again play the ne razbiram card but in a different way. He takes me back out past front door security guard and shows me how to insert my 50 stotinki. Finally! I have a shopping cart. By now I am wishing I had the guts to steal the kiddie cart with no kid. All and all I am not pleased with this troublesome and stressful process and certainly do not like having to pay to shop. I am giving you people business dammit! At the end of the day and after paying another 30 stotinki to have the change-giving cashier wave her magic wand to allow an oh-so-valuable plastic bag that she is basically guarding with her life to be given to an honest customer, which I pack myself, I walk out past back door security guard to return my buggy. At this point in a long shopping journey I discover the irony of the entire situation – after warding off a swarm of hovering old Bulgarian ladies trying to get their hands on the buggy I paid 50 stotinki for so they would not have to, my buggy bill comes back out of the coin depository after I reinstate the chains! So at the end of the day, it would cost me 50 stotinki to steal a shopping cart. Before I was complaining about the 50 stotinki but now I am finding it to be the greatest deal ever! In Los Angeles they attached those electronic monitoring devices to buggies that probably tasered people in order to prevent homeless people from jacking them from Ralphs, but somehow I doubt the same investment was made here in Bulgaria. Since I paid for that cart, no one would be able to reprimand me or throw me to jail if I decided to take it home, right? You don’t have to pay the buggy bill in America, but that is why taking it home or to your cardboard box near the entrance of I-10 on Vermont is considered stealing. There was no sign laying out my rights or fine print I did not read when I put my 50 stotinki into that depository. Trust me, I looked. No one told me I could not take it home. So after all of the precautions Billa took to make sure I did not steal food, shopping baskets or plastic bags and did not enjoy the shopping experience in any way, shape or form, they are basically giving me a buggy for 50 stotinki. Perhaps next time I will take my honestly paid for buggy home with me – then it will be worth all the pain. Welcome to Bulgaria

Switching the subject from Billa rantings, a few weeks ago Day and I held Janel and Sehee’s birthday bash in Blagoevgrad and invited all of our lovely ladies to join the festivities. It cannot be a Bobo party without some hint of ridiculousness so we came up with a theme – Girls Brite Out. Basically, everyone had to dress from head to toe in a single color, the tackier the better and with nasty hair to boot. I took my day-glo yellow spandex pants I found at the thrift store in Sofia meant for the Seven Rila Lakes hike back during training which was ditched last minute by Janel and I to spend a scandalous weekend in Bobo at the disco by ourselves out of the closest and paired it with everything yellow I own. All and all, the nine of us came up with some fabulous outfits that to be honest, were probably considered stylish by the fashion lagging Bulgarians and headed out to karaoke bar to show these dressed-in-black-while- acting-quiet-and-demure Bulgarian 20-somethings what an American theme party was all about. We stuck out like a sore thumb (or sour lemon as it is) and probably entertained the entire bar with how loud we can become when songs from Footloose find their way through the speakers. Karaoke had not officially started, but we gave everyone a bit of a sampler. The night was becoming late and many returned to the hotel, but after ripping her tights and busting her leg while falling down the stairs into the arms of a new Bulgarian friend who was holding a mic, Janel initiated a new chapter in the evening. Apparently the man who helped her up was a puppetmaster, an odd occupation for anyone but certainly for a Bulgarian. He bought two bottles of wine so the night only became more insane as the four last ladies standing took turns performing history-making renditions of Queen and Chili Peppers for the bar. Apparently we crashed a birthday party so we even got free cake out of the adventure.

And in other less important news, I have taken to cutting my own hair. No, I do not prefer to do such a thing, but the avant-garde hair haircutting friend in Istanbul gave me was hard to pass as normal and acceptable in Bulgaria. That and it did not agree with me most mornings. For about a week I found myself in front of my mirror cutting more and more of my bangs trying to at least let them look fringy and not like I was heading out for an American Apparel photo shoot. It brings back memories of my childhood where at various moments I decided to play hairstylist. When I was in 3rd grade I cut off a chunk of my ponytail my mom made me keep long and hid the lump of hair in the cabinet thing attached to the giant fish tank in the family room. I am not sure why I did not simply deposit the evidence outside or in the trash. I am still not sure if my parents ever discovered it. Did you guys? The summer before 7th grade I let Sara Peterson cut my hair at girls camp because she said she was good at it. I ended up with chin-length hair on one side and shoulder length on the other. I wore a Texas Rangers baseball cap for the rest of the week to keep my mom, who was a cook at camp from discovering it. She did anyway. Later that year I tried break free from the flip bangs I was previously sporting and cut and cut and cut and kept cutting trying because I could not get them even until eventually they were about one inch long. My school picture from that year gives proof of the terror of this and if I had it with me, I would post it for all to enjoy. I was never particularly good at cutting hair, as my Barbies will tell you after my sister Allison and I gave them some pretty awful hairstyles, though I am not sure if we realized the hair was not coming back. Anyhow, despite all of this experience, I am still not very good. But I went from this:

To this:

So I think I did society some good.

Basically these days I am trying to find the humor and lightness in a very difficult and trying situation. School is not easy. In fact, it is probably the most difficult thing I have ever done and drains every ounce of energy, goodness and remaining piece of optimism from my life. I am not proud to say this is the case and do feel like a failure in many ways. Every day is a struggle. However, every day is also a new day so I try to look at it from that perspective. Despite wanting to give up every night, I remember there was some reason I was sent here so I owe it to whatever that reason is to give it a clean shot. The other day I was reading a part of a letter I wrote to a friend about a year ago where the energy with which I embraced the idea of this being the hardest and most challenging situation and experience in my life was explosive. I was so excited then to have such an experience and navigate my way through the hard times – to prove to myself I could become something fabulous and ultimately, the leader of my own life that was such a focus of MDA 365 (thanks Sadie and Bennis). That is certainly easier said than done and I stumble and falter all the time in this process, but I am grateful for the things that ground me and bring meaning in my life. It is times like these where you really remember what is important.

So, we will see how things go. I am sorry if I have been neglecting many of you recently or not being my normal communicative self, but this is one of those chapters where I drown out the difficulties on my heated tiled floor and with the drugs of choice – episodes of Days of Our Lives, Project Runway and Gossip Girl instead of being eager to send the not-so-good news back home. Despite this, I still love you all massively. And I really want Mr. Josh Decker to know that because you make me laugh when I need it the most – even though you don’t really know it! And thanks for being a sneaky missionary at Christmas, because you made my month. Happy Birthday to Mr. Colin “Coash” Noonan next week. I love you more than life and miss you just as much! Have a great one. Also the warmest of warm birthday wishes to the fabulous Garret Pierson, intern Warren (still holding on the bitterness of you not letting me drop you off at your fraternity sophomore year), the beautiful Sara Collins (don’t let tax season eat you), “box” Katie McCollum (I really hope you are doing well!), London buddy Brett (take your travels to Eastern Europe next!) and my fellow PCVs Ali, Cassie and Janel who make this whole experience more beautiful and enriching because great people like yourselves are here to go through it with. Congratulations to Mrs. Jamie Boyd Sohn for the nuptials, my girl Casey for the upcoming baby and my bestest Genelle for your four year anniversary (give little Addie a belated Happy Birthday kiss from Aunt Amy!)! Good luck to Kevs in the MCAT studying. A meaningful thank you must go out to my Bobos Sehee, Day and Janel for the listening ears and supportive words – I love you more than you know and am so grateful to have you here with me. Ditto for Kevin, you know what you do – I cannot tell you enough. Also Will for listening to me be dramatic and not posting the throw up pictures and Bradford for slowing down the lesson-planning process by providing an always interesting conversation. And lastly, thanks to all the wonderful people at home loving, caring for, being interested in what is going on with and taking the time to laugh, cry and intellectualize with me. Particularly mom and dad. You get me through this and you know who you are.


Justin said...

Wow, that's alot to marinate on. Just wanted to comment and show some support.

Take care

Jessica said...

hey amy! you should update more often because this post is incredibly long, but still enjoyable. i like hearing about your adventures and I was reminded of being absent on the Miracle of Life day in Mrs. House's class. Too bad. Also, 10 years ago today you moved to AZ...isn't that crazy? I really don't know why I remember the date except that I remember dates really well for no reason and I skipped school that day to go see Spice World with you.....sorry I just put that on the internet for all to see.

Renee said...

I feel you on the buggy situation. There was once this gigantic french grocery store that opened in Denver when I was a kid...appropriately named "biggs" that had a similar buggy system. You'd have a put a quarter in it to get the buggy but would get the quarter back when you returned it. I always loved to offer to return the cart for my parents, in hopes they would forget about the quarter and let me keep it...which they often did.

Grocery shopping happens to be one of my favorite activities and I'm sorry that your experience has been tainted with all of the "security" precautions that not only serve to make life difficult, but also not much safer.

Nice response to the snake clitoris...well done!!

Anonymous said...

I love Love LOVE reading your blog! Thank you so much! Keep ip up over there. I love your guts - Ann Walker

Genelle Powell said...

Amy! Have you learned nothing from your best friend? We don't cut our own hair.. not even I do that! Athough maybe I should be taking classes from you.. because it actually looks cute :) I miss you so much! Anyway, enjoyed the blog.. it took me back to those girl scout days.. (chandra mcgeechi, or however you spell it, and her mom) and i remember the sex talk, and the bag of tampons.. it was after that day that I decided it was time for a bra. haha. and that was 4th grade, by the way. Love you!

Dave&Casey said...

Thanks for the shout out chica! As always I love reading your blog. You are so very missed! I'm sure you think my life is as rough as I think yours is, so lets agree we won't exchange lives! Okay? Ha ha! :o) Keep up the updates on your experiences, if only to let us all know you're still alive! :o) Your hair is way cute BTW! :o) Love ya! :o)