Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Costuming Bulgaria

Housekeeping first:
1) Sorry this took so long. I know lots of you have been checking the site to find nothing. I will get better. I promise.
2) Prom Pre Party Pictures here
3) 80's Prom Pictures here

A few months ago I embarked on a creative spree and decided to make my house more of a home. I had some pictures developed and sat for hours with a never-ending pile of Newsweek magazines (you know you are in the Peace Corps when this is the only English mag you own) and the lone Budget Travel another volunteer had passed my way. I cut out words and phrases that would serve as captions to my photos, which I then pasted onto some colored paper to make a jovial wall hanging that would remind me I had friends. One picture was of Sarah, Elyse, Anna, Warren, Jason and me from a goodbye party, which featured Sarah in the bee costume we found at Jet Rag in LA (the same place I found my beloved furby costume) for Halloween 2004 and me in a 70’s leopard print one-piece that I picked up back in high school at Buffalo Exchange. Underneath, the cutout phrase reads, “pretending that there is no more urgent question than what to wear to the costume party.” Combined with the Vogue Eyewear advert I saw at a bus stop in Greece that says, “Vintage: Play Everyday,” I believe I have found the slogans for my life.

I love costumes. I always have. My best friend Genelle and I used to spend our afternoons playing dress-up after first arguing over who got to wear her grandma’s old yellow gown. She also had a sweet collection of hats. Once dressed and ready, we role-played something probably ridiculous that highlighted our Oklahoma accents to get the most out of the costume. Sometimes we let our siblings play with us, but Nel probably just made her little brother paint her toenails while the most my little sister got to do was be the groom when we played dress-up wedding using my staircase as the aisle. My love of costume only strengthened from those old days over the years as I savored the spandex and sparkles from dance teams and recitals, carefully planned Halloween, dressed myself in a giant piece of cheese as the school mascot, gave my high school classmates a reason to be in costume by organizing school-wide spirit days, and scoured thrift and vintage stores for hidden gems as an intense hobby since I was about twelve. I think the allure of the costume is the ability to escape into a different time and become a different person with what you put on the outside. To express the more hidden parts of personality with clothing. To play a game with the world. To be ridiculous. But mostly, to wear something with a story to tell a story.

Anyway, what I do not understand is how there can be people who don’t love this! Now what this has to do with Bulgaria? Well, after my birthday, plans were well underway to create the greatest costume party Bulgaria has ever seen in honor of the May/June birthdays. With the help of my Bobos and some other fabulous volunteers, we came up with an 80’s prom to relive the decade most of us came from. Many people were super excited like us but others were reluctant or hesitant to partake in such fun. During a phone call with Day discussing those who declined to come because they did not want to dress up, she said something along the lines of “I don’t understand why this is something everyone isn’t dying to come to!?! But this is something we love. I guess others don’t.” I too share her sentiments and am unsure why everyone isn’t jumping for joy at the thought of dressing up. Who doesn’t love that?! Whereas some volunteers flat-out declined, others let our convincing ways get the best of them. We had to coax many into getting into the spirit of the festivity, like my site-mate Kevin. In the thrift store he was like a fish out of water and taking it too personally when after holding a woman’s shirt up to his chest the shopkeeper would look at us ridiculously and comment that wasn’t the men’s section. She did not understand. Anyhow, Kevin was a serious flight risk but mostly a good sport at something he totally doesn’t do. He is lucky he has me otherwise he wouldn’t have been named prom king ☺ But although his costume came easy, mine was less so. A few trips to Sofia and millions of thrift stores later, I was left disappointed at the lack of frilly and fantastically ugly stock. I suppose this is because all the people here are still wearing them or storing them in closets. However, in a last ditch effort, Janel and I stumbled upon a wedding dress selection. We found a gown that was basically Ariel’s from The Little Mermaid and giggled it up while we both tried to fit ourselves into two very fluffy dresses in a single dressing room, which was more like a curtained off space in the middle of the store that two people with wedding dresses should not try to fit into. Needless to say, we attracted the attention of the entire store as we had white fluff seeping through the edges and made an Olympic sport out of zipping them up. One girl came up to me with a disconcerted look on her face asking if this was my abitorenski ball (prom) gown and telling me there were prettier ones. Like the thrift store lady before, she also thought we were serious. Then another man said it was ugly and it looked like I was pregnant. A rouched satin / taffeta combo doesn’t do much for the figure... He received a mean scowl. Despite the negative comments, we figured once we tore off the bottom a brilliant 80’s prom gown would be born. And it was.

Prom weekend (click for pictures) kicked off with my first ever appearance at the local disco with Krista, Janel and some of the English folk. It should have been the last upon the sighting of an 8th grader but to date, I have upped the count to three. We got no sleep because after returning home around 3am, we played dress-up for a few hours with the wild assortment of 80’s gear the three of us had collected. This ended when Janel got the strap of her heel stuck on some fishnet socks and took a tumble in the kitchen. And though it warranted a good set of laughter-induced convulsions, I admit, I have done this far too many times then I wish to admit. Usually on the stairs…. Anyhow, the next day we went to the lake where most of the volunteers met up for some prom pre-partying. The real adventure here was getting back home, because after standing next to a dead cat on the highway trying to hitchhike or catch passing busses for about an hour with no luck, a man with about four kids and a big van stopped to take us back. I don’t think they knew what they were getting themselves into when ten American volunteers shoved themselves in the back. After about five minutes we all started to smell a very foul scent emanating from a large barrel they were transporting. At first I thought this was full of rakia (Bulgarian alcohol) or something, but Day and I snuck a peak and found it to be full of rotting cabbage, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables floating in a questionable liquid substance. We quickly closed it and forgot we even looked. The whole experience was quite amusing and one volunteer commented, “It has been a while since I have had a real PC adventure like this.” We all agreed and were glad.

Finally 80’s Prom: A Night Under the Bulgarian Stars began (click for pictures). About thirty-five of us made our way to the beautiful nearby village of Govedartsi and to my friend Jan’ bed and breakfast where we stayed. The prom getting ready revealed some fantastic get ups and I was very impressed with my fellow volunteers’ costuming abilities. The prom itself was at a local restaurant and after parading through the village on a twenty-minute walk in ridiculous outfits, the entire town was paying attention. Welcome to American culture people! We had a great night full of dancing, drinking, dining and destroying the dance floor to the tune of only the greatest 80’s songs ever made. Halfway through the night the time came when Janel and Day announced the prom court, which was possibly the most dramatic and amusing revelation ever. A first dance followed. Day even made a prom backdrop, which we hung to get the traditional prom shots. It was the scene of some great moments. After the party, the owner of the restaurant asked if she could buy it she liked it so much. After a laugh, Day told her she could just have it, which she was real excited about. But the best story of the night came when Maggie stumbled into the bathroom and heard a large plop and splash into the toilet topped off with a white flash, which she realized was her camera falling out of her pocket and into the Turkish toilet (basically a hole in the ground for those unfamiliar). After this horror story like event happening, it got worse when her coach wallet fell out too. She then had to dig into the deep dark abyss of questionable and disgusting contents to get both out. I cannot imagine anything worse. But apparently the camera was still in working condition because her pictures showed up on facebook a few days later!

80s Prom Court Announcement! from amy williams on Vimeo.

It's Tricky from amy williams on Vimeo.

All in all a great time was had and I think I brought the costuming spirit to Bulgaria. Kevin even enjoyed his sweet outfit and tight pants. After prom, all of us traveled to Dupnitsa for our mid-service conference, which marks our halfway point of service as a Peace Corps volunteer. It is absolutely insane to believe time has flown as quickly as it has and that we are already less than a year from coming “home” or wherever the next place will be. But it was a good time to reflect on challenges and triumphs, as well as get advice and ideas for tackling the next year and really making this experience worth it. Lord knows I need them. We all have such a camaraderie going through this experience together and its nice to have everyone supporting each other and making it happen. It was also great to meet the new group of TEFLs that are just beginning their adventure here and see all the other volunteers in our group. And with business aside, whereas in previous conferences and trainings we all partied together, during MST it seemed we had a girl boy split going. While the girls partied with gossip mags, scrabble, Reese’s cups and High School Musical in our room, the boys were having their own special party with man chats. But the next day we joined forces and played a rousing game of charades for hours. Overall it was a good time and a pleasant and needed refresher before going back and tackling the last two weeks of school.


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