I go to church in Sofia. Not as regularly as I would prefer, but regularly enough to know that 70% of the attendees are what I would classify as abnormal. Such abnormalities range from crazy prostitute makeup, chatting on skype with a laptop during Sunday School, unwarranted screaming fits in the middle of meetings, creepy skeezy staring, asking the unsuspecting American if she can talk about God in your psychic friends network group, answering and conversing on phones in the middle of what is supposed to be quiet and the list goes on. I am not sure what it is about the church in places where it is young that causes it to attract the strange ones. Perhaps it is just the lack of established culture and practice. Only the young members really seem to decently normal, and I suspect this is because they are better educated and more traveled. Each Sunday I am guaranteed to walk away with not necessarily a spiritual uplift, but ammunition for my blog and a good story to tell. Last Sunday was did not disappoint.
As everyone was preparing for and sitting down for Sunday School, my marvelous American friend Susan came up to me and explained that it was vital I look at our teacher’s shirt. This teacher is the piano player in meetings and I previously saw the backside, which was just a long-sleeved orange t-shirt with a counterfeit Dolce and Gabbana logo on the back. I looked as she was writing on the board with her back turned to us and saw nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but Susan said “oh you just wait.” A missionary behind us overheard and commented, “Yes, I noticed this too.” Now if a nineteen-year-old boy’s attention was grabbed by fashion or a fashion mishap, this was guaranteed to be good. Finally the woman turned around and the great reveal happened. I had the great privilege of witnessing in English, “Sex is my favorite business” on the front of her t-shirt. Yes people, it is true. Next to pictures of Jesus, behind stack of scriptures and in front of explanations of the gathering of Israel, Sister Sunday School teacher had the audacity to wear such a treasure. Now maybe sex is her favorite business. I am sure it is the favorite business of quite a few people in that room, but is this not something you keep to yourself? At least on Sunday while at church of all places?? After I saw it, we all had a little meltdown and the 7th grade immaturity was ignited within us all as we snickered, giggled and passed on the awareness to every other American in the room. The next forty minutes of class then became dedicated to plotting how were going to get a picture of this. We tried some secret snaps and involving the elders in a little scheme, but at the end of the day, this was the best we got.
I commented to Susan, “we are so going to hell”, but she responded, “I don’t think the irony is lost on Jesus.”
Now I have not only been making fun of unsuspecting church members on Sundays over the long duration of time I have not written a blog. The last two months have been quite busy, full of travels and holidays. I back up to the end of March, where all of us B21 volunteers headed to Bankia for our close of service conference, which was great and terrible at the same time. It was wonderful to see our group, share our experiences and gain new perspectives on Peace Corps service while evaluating our own. However, I had very intentionally tried not to think about the next step in my life 1) in efforts to concentrate on being here – really being here and not checking out early and 2) making plans is not in accordance with my new philosophy of living life.
I will rant on #2 for a bit here. This is very different from the person I used to be – I always had a plan and more importantly, I usually made exactly what I wanted happen. I used to talk about my life plans with such confidence – the kind that made me seem very ambitious and the goals quite impressive. At the end of the day, that speech was rehearsed, lacking the passion required to make the ideas embedded in those plans actually come to fruition and reach their full potential. The ideas I had certainly did not lack value, but the plan that evolved from them only existed because it was something I thought I needed to have. Something I believed completed me as a person. Something that gave me purpose, value and worth. That speech, or more precisely those plans, are what is expected of an educated, smart, ambitious and well-brought up person. Or at least that is what society conspires to make us believe. I think a lot of people feel safe in such a speech. Safe in those life plans. Because if you know, or think you know, exactly what you are going to do, life becomes easy. You are granted entry into the “I know what I am doing with my life” club, which is very prestigious considering a good portion of society will instantly judge if you are a worthwhile person based upon mere membership of this farce of an organization. Then once in, you are allowed access to the pool of friends and potential relationships that also have this so-called life plan. Like it is mutually exclusive or something. Furthermore, you are deemed to have “focus”, a qualifying characteristic, but focus can very easily turn into blindness. When we are young this focus is very linear – college, grad school, job, rising in the career, building a financial portfolio, buying a house, marriage, children etc etc. Well, it has been a long journey for me, but I now subscribe to the view that it is all complete ridiculousness. The plan, the focus, the club, all of it. How many people reach fifty are say, "what the hell was I thinking? I have not done anything I have really wanted to do. I have lived without a passionate purpose." How many think, "I have been content, but never completely happy?" Well, I believe there is a way to synthesize it all in a way that makes it real. Life is not about the plan – its spontaneous. There can be no plan. I find that plans just get screwed up, so it is better to have ideas, concentrate on really wanting them to happen and wait for the universe to give what is meant to be. What will really make you live. Life is about happiness. The journey. Faith in something greater than what we can control.
Anyhow and back to where I started, COS was very unpleasant in that it forced me to start thinking about things not in accordance with my beliefs above. Money, resumes, jobs, health insurance, grad school etc etc - things that are supposed to happen if they should versus be forced. It completely stressed me out, because once I start worrying about one thing, I worry about them all. The way people the material at the conference was presented, I was reverting back to thinking I needed to do things traditionally. It is very easy to get sucked in, which prepared me a little bit for how difficult it is actually going to be to live freely when I return to the states. That fear is what makes the states a very undesirable place for me right now, but the world will point me in whatever direction I am supposed to go.
In a great breath of fresh air, right after the conference was spring break. A good chance to forget about everything from the week before. Janel and I headed to my friend Maria’s in Sofia to participate in Earth Hour, a global awareness initiative about saving energy and living more green. Basically, a few buildings in Sofia pledged their support to shut off their lights for an hour. We went to the National Theater where there was a congregation of young, progressive-minded people hanging around and participating. Such people do exist here, just not so obviously. Lit by candlelight, there were musicians, fire dancers and all sorts of performers entertaining the crowds.
Janel and I left early the next morning for Rome, where we met the fabulous Sarah Kesselman to begin our Italian vacay. We couchsurfed the entire time, which gave us the amazing opportunity to meet locals and eat local food! Our first host in Rome, Alex, was a complete nutcase, but so fantastic. I thought I was going to die on numerous occasions as he whizzed us around Rome in his car singing the Indiana Jones theme, dodging cars and pedestrians like a video game and completely ignoring any attempt at traffic regulation in the form of signs, lanes or lights. Rome was great, but there is so much to see that it can kind of be stressful. The days were so long, intense and sleepless that we all got sick or suffered from some form of physical ailment. We kept trudging though through ancient ruins and endless churches, up bell towers and along narrow streets full of things I wanted to buy and hoards of tourists and high school groups. My favorite part of Rome had to be the Spanish Steps, because I love public spaces like that where people just congregate. We do not have too many of these in the states and in Bulgaria, people are scared of sitting on anything but a chair so they definitely do not exist. Such places are the breeding ground of youth culture and street fashion and we just sat there for a couple hours watching people from all over the world come together and interact.
After Rome we headed to Siena, which was a bit of a nightmare at first because it was pouring rain and our host Levante lived atop the highest hill in the entire city. The hike was outrageous and I had to hold on to the fence just to make sure that my overloaded pack did not send me back down the mountain. However, the next day the weather was in our favor and we saw an unbelievable medieval city. Of all the million churches we went into, the one in Siena was certainly the most beautiful. We went up to the bell-tower and enjoyed an unbelievable view completely alone! Siena also had the Campo, which is one of the first public spaces of its kind. Like the Spanish Steps, it just attracted the life and breath of the city with people spread all over the place.
Florence was the next stop and the bus ride from Siena blessed us with the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. We really were under the Tuscan sun ☺ The trip just kept getting better and better as Florence was amazing. Unlike Rome, it is a walkable city, which made the experience a whole lot more enjoyable. Our host Francesco and his roommate Carmen were awesome and cooked us some fantastic Italian food. They suggested the sunset on top of the hill Michelangelo, which was unbelievable and certainly a highlight. In Florence there seemed to be more of an arts culture as compared to Rome and the number of students and young people definitely made it livelier. That could have also been its drawback as the number of American sorority girls abroad was too many. One of the nights we went out to a bar, met some Italian guys who seemed not skeezy who took us to a club full of American abroad kids where they turned skeezy and had to be dealt with. This club was like a meat-market and the closest thing comparable was Walkabout in London, but even that was way more fun because they would play Hanson and cheesy europop. Being hit on by so many skeezy people, the night became a game to see how fast we could piss these potential suitors off by our bitchiness and game-playing. I brought out my fake name Nadia. Eventually it was time to go and when I got my coat from the coat check and subsequently lost my ladies, the high point of the evening came when I met Remy, my new coat-checking friend. He was the least trashy thing about that entire evening so we exchanged numbers. After our next morning at the Uffizi immaturely making up dialogues for the naked sculptures and finding the greatest second-hand treasure trove in the history of the world nearby, we met him the next afternoon for a personalized tour of Florence. He was great fun, a good time and full of laughs.
After Florence and no sleep, we headed up to the Italian Riveria to Cinque Terre – five villages carved into the rocky coastline. They are famous for the hiking trails between them, which we were blessed with great weather to explore. I think at one point this area was the secret gem of Italy, but it had so many tourists for even April and the natural beauty was kind of spoiled by the number of people you could tell had been there. Graffiti was everywhere, even on the plants. The restaurants and buildings were also so tourist-oriented, and there were Americans everywhere. The days were buzzing with people, but we stayed in Vernazza, the smallest of the villages, which died after the national park closed. As such, it was a much needed relaxing environment where we finally got the sleep we all desperately needed. In beds too! We went out to the one open bar and met some random locals and travelers, which was a good time, but we mainly stuck around because Janel was trying to make the moves on the obviously gay bartender.
All in all, Italy was unbelievable. I have loved a lot of the places I have been able to travel to, but there is something really special about Italy. I guess that is why everyone loves it so much. It is progressive and developed at the same time as being untainted and quaint. The food is amazing, and I wanted to purchase everything I saw. Thanks to Sarah for coming all the way from LA to meet me, because she is just that fabulous. I love you!
Rome Pictures - Set 1
Rome Pictures - Set 2 + Siena + Florence - Set 1
Florence - Set 2 + Cinque Terre
Rome Pictures - Set 2 + Siena + Florence - Set 1
Florence - Set 2 + Cinque Terre
Back in Bulgaria, Janel and I were dealing with Italy withdraw by watching Only You, Under the Tuscan Sun and La Dolce Vida. Outside of this however, it was time to get back in the swing of things. In late February my school had a change in administration, which definitely changed the attitude and atmosphere at work. The previous director was so fantastic. This new one is less so, and I have not been getting the support needed from her and her cohorts or getting along with my colleagues very well. It is not that we have problems, but more that they cannot be bothered with me so I have finally given up being bothered with them. I also know I am not going to be replaced by a new volunteer so I am kind of waiting to stick it to them for taking me for granted and not being very helpful when I have major problems. For example, before spring break and as a result of the carelessness of other teachers, those dreaded 8th graders broke into my room and stole a lot of my things. The administration did not seem to care, and the teachers involved just became defensive when I tried to solve the problem myself. However, other than directors and colleagues things at school have been quite good. My students and I have reached a nice, comfortable place. I think they are appreciating me more now that they know I am leaving soon. It will certainly be sad, and I will miss how they make me laugh every single day. Also, for the most part dance classes have been going okay, except for the typical drop off in attendance. Bulgarian kids are notorious for not sticking with things, but for those that do come, we have a good time. It is good to do something that I love.
Tomorrow we start another vacation for St. Georgie’s Day. Refer to a May 2007 blog entry for the horror that is this holiday. Sarah K scored us Kenny G tickets so Janel and I are going to kick it easy listening style again before heading down to Blagoevgrad for spa weekend with the girls and Boboshevo for a host family reunion. Then it is back to Sofia for my birthday celebration on the 9th with the girls. I am not a fan of my birthday, but it will be good to have a low-key celebration with those I love most. Kevin will be the only person missing! The big celebration happens in June when I will be throwing another huge costume extravaganza. Anyhow, I know I have not been doing a very good job at keeping in touch, but the street runs both ways! I hope all of you are well and know I love and miss you. Keep me informed about your lives and give me a ring! 213.985.2877.