Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Wedding party!

what a weekend!

this weekend, the PC trainees in Ceptemvri were invited to a bulgarian wedding! it was held at the nicest restaurant in town (nice by american standards, I think) which is very near to my house. the party started at 6:30pm, and we finally made it home just before midnight. when we arrived, there was a cultural ceremony following the church wedding. the bride and groom drank from sepearate glasses, and then threw them over their shoulders. Then, someone tied a ribbon around them, and the two of them walked around a table together (this is very Greek, I believe). Finally, then kicked a giant loaf of bread called "peta" and the dancing began! there was a DJ at the party, and most of the music we heard was actaully american music. at one point during the night, the DJ came to speak with "the americans" and since his english was not very good, and our bulgarian was even worse, he spoke to one of the trainees (Alex) in german! in the end, Alex does not, apparently, understand German all that well, because we wound up ALONE on the dance floor for an entire song- the DJ played a song that was just for us. In america, we have songs that are just for the new couple, but that night in Ceptemvri, we americans had our own "first song." as the night went on and we recovered from our embaressing dancing event, we enjoyed bulgarian foods, gave our gift to the bride, took a picture with the bride, and each of us recieved little white flowers to pin on our clothes. what a great introduction to bulgarian culture!

after all of THAT excitment, myself and my fellow volunteers had additional entertainment as we traveled to our HUB city of Pazardjik to be reuined with the 45 other volunteers!!! The official purpose was to receive more training and information on health and safety, but we managed to have a lot of fun too! we stayed in a local hotel, and my roommate and I were supremely lucky and got a TWO room apartment-style room that we were able to use for entertaining our fellow trainees. :) we met a TON of volunteers who came to visit us and have panel discussion- they are such a valuable resource because they can tell us what works, what doesn't work, and general tips for surviving in Bulgaria.

I want to remind everyone how minimal our bulgarian skills are. keeping that in mind, we spent two full days in a large city full of Bulgarian speakers...what great exposure! I felt really bad for all of the restaurants who dealt with our shakey bulgarian, but it was sure a relief for the Ceptemvri trainees to find out that we were HELPING most of the other volunteers. So, I guess, even if we're all bad, Ceptemvri is the best of the worst!

I also found out that there is another nashvillian in PC Bulgaria! one of the volunteers, Anna, who served on a panel this week told me about this guy. His name is Chris, and he is in the same program as me, but he has been here for a year. I can't remember if he was a Vandy or UT/Knoxville grad though. Apparently, there are a lot of TN volunteers in Bulgaria.

the final exciting thing (that I can think of) is that *potential* permenant sites were revealed this week! for the 19 YD (youth development) trainees, there are 25 potential sites. We have a few days to look them over, and next week we are interviewing for our spots, and at the start of week 5 (two weeks from now) we'll know our permenant sites! how exciting!!! I really hope to be placed in an NGO that is looking for assistance with grant writting, and also one that is working on integration between the minority groups and the "bulgarian" majority.

the only sad news I have is that Lisa, one of the other trainees, decided to ET. an ET is an "early termination" from the program. she decided PC wasn't her thing, and she actaully left after her first weekend with her host family. we were ALL quite shocked about this, especially those of us who had made good friends with her. in addition, she was the first person to ET in our group of 50 (now 49). She was one of the people I was really looking forward to seeing at HUB, and I would never have picked her as a person to leave. hopefully, things are going well for her back in washington state.

hope that all is well!!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Would you like to see my badge?

Yesterday, as part of our peacecorps (PC) assignment, the volunteers visited the local police inspector and his deputies. They told us about crime in ceptemvri (almost none), where it was safe to run, what to expect from local people, etc. This was, however, much less interesting than the ambiance that surrounded our visit. One of the things that is so striking to me is the reminants of communism and soviet influence. Each building lacks the aesethetic exterior that we, as americans, are so acoustomed to seeing- the paint is chipping and where there is color, that too is faded with age. the buildings are largely square and efficient, looking sturdy and stern, seeming to communicate that each building has a purpose; that when one passes by, you are reminded of its stately presense, and nothing more. i refrainn from labeling the buildings as "dilapitated" or "run-down," but I can't explain why. The police officers, in their uniforms that exude "soviet issue," seem to come straight out of a movie. their small box-like office is congested with smoke, local newspapers and a single picture of a man who is wanted (for embezzlement) in the area. maybe, afterall, its not so different from smalltown, USA? The inspector and his deputies were quite happy to see us, however, and we were even given an inviattion to utilize the private community fitness center (really nothing more than a tiny room filled with free weights and walls plastered with picutres of famous fitness models (govenor arnie and the like...)) with them. They told us that we should feel safe in ceptemvri and to stop by and chat every now and then.

one thing that is challenging to adjust to is constantly being on dislay. as forieners not only to the country but to the city, and especially as americans, people are concious of what we do. if we visit a tavern or a restaurant, its certain that someone in our host family will have heard about it by the next day. when we walk places, people are curious to see who the new people are, and they want to know what we are up to. they mean no harm, but its a little disconcerting to know that every move you make is recorded in the town's history. the impressions we leave of americans are impressions that will not fade easily.

i've realized that this is a really depressing update! I had meant for some of those things to be humorous, but alas, apparently i've had a need to cleanse my mind- that seems to happen when you spend only 4 hours a day with english speakers.

my bulgarian is getting better! i think my family was starting to get frustrated with how little bulgarian i am able to speak, but hopefully i've am over the initial learning curve. I know how to say "pimp" in bulgarian, and I even know a swear word or two...:) word on the street is that this monday, the PC will distribute a list of bad words to all the volunteers...just so we can be in the know! this monday and tuesday we are meeting up at the hub city, so that should be fun! this weekend we are going to a wedding party and visiting a boy who was in a terrible bike accident a few years ago. he is parapalegic, so we are going to visit him occasionally and keep him company.

here are two interesting/humorous (i hope) items for you;
*bulgarian beer costs roughly $.60 for 32 oz, and a heineken costs a mere $1.50!
*Mr. clean (the bald detergent man) has a commerical here too, except he's "mr. proper." go figure.

stravete! leave me a comment!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Hello again!

We finally found an internet cafe that is closer to our training center...hooray! many of us typed up some emails on our flashdrives, but we can't get these bulgarian computers to reckognize them. hopefully soon...

looks like I gave you a false alarm on the GSM (cell phone). we just got word that a new provider will start serving bulgaria in september/october, so those of us who've taken econ classes know that the marginal benefit of buying a phone now will be less than that of one purchased in a month's time. you know, assuming that both cell phones and money give you happiness- but hey, this is the peace corps, I guess I shouldn't care about those things anymore????

i have been eating many new and wonderful things! last night, I had some tasty bread with cooked/broiled eggs (e-yite-zay) and feta cheese (cerini, say it with me now "sea-rah-nay") and you guessed it...more fresh tomatoes! after dinner, I had a visit with "malko tony" (little tony), the neighbor boy who lives across the street. he's about 2 years old, and its mildly discouraging that his bulgarian is leaps and bounds ahead of mine. of course, one of the trainees pointed out, he's had 2 years to learn the language and i've not had but 2 weeks...but still!

i had many wonderful stories to tell you, but they are locked up in my flashdrive!

Ceptembvri is a BEAUTIFUL city in a valley. the horizen is filled with mountain-goodness, and I will send pictures as soon as we resolve the flashdrive compatibility thing. my family owns four rows of a vineyard, and the view from there is spectacular. I live very near to the training center- I literally walk out of my front door and cross the street. its very nice, especailly considering that two of the trainees have to walk 30 minutes each way! I also get to go home for lunch (which is 90 minutes long! I LOVE bulgaria!) and lela vanya always has something warm and fresh for me to eat. Sasha works each weekday from 3pm-midnight, so I only see her at breakfast and at lunch. during the evening hours, lela vanya and I try hard to understand each other. sometimes, its quite frustrating since no one speaks english in my home. peacecorps' language program is designed for trainees that have atleast one english speaker in the house, so there are times when I feel completely helpless.

today we've taken many fieldtrips and class was very informal. we went to a supermarket to see all the traditional bulgarian foods (and also the non-tradition ones like macaroni!) and learn how to ask for them, and how to ask for the bill. we also visited the train station and later this afternoon, we are going to meet the police chief! Ceptemvri is so small (about 5000) that crime is not really a problem, but still, he seems like a good guy to know! everyday, there is an interesting mix of people and vechicles driving by- people with horses and cart, people with BMWs, audis...all kinds of cars.

since lela vanya is retired, she watches a lot of TV. last night, i saw a direct rip-off of america's "friends!" The characters seemed to be mirror images of the ones we are familiar with, and even the music accompanying the opening credits had a similar theme. ha! The only american tv channel that we get is the animal planet, but it doesn't matter since i've had much more fun trying to decipher the news or gameshows in bulgarian!!

yesterday our techinical and community trainers made a trip from Pazardjik (our HUB location for the 10 satallite cities) to Ceptembvri and reviewed our training schedule. its slightly overwhealming to see how the next nine weeks will play out! we are going to be very busy, and there's a lot to accomplish. each trainee in Ceptemvri has a project to manage, and mine is the community meeting next week. we have to assemble a group of youth and find out what their needs are, etc. i'm very excited to be heading up this project!

okay, this is probably enough for now. hopefully, this hasn't bored you to tears!


Sunday, August 21, 2005

okay, a few more things!

bulgaria is gorgeous- did i mention that before? we spent our first few days in a ski resort about an elevation of about 4,000 feet. most of the country is mountainous (is that a word?) terrain, so those hiking boots will come in quite handy!

bulgaria was having a small confusion with the parliament, but this weekend it was finally settled, and the former majority party is now the minority party, and no one has a majority. people seem to like their president, but i'm not sure about the prime minister. bulgaria sent troops to Iraq, so most people also like our president.

the currency here is called the lev. the exchange rate is currently near 1.66 leva for 1 dollar, so things are not so bad, but a few years back, the dollar was equal to roughly 4 leva. as bulgaria nears accession to the EU (jan 1 2007), i'm sure the exchange rate will reflect the presence of invincible euro.

I think one of the interesting things about bulgaria (as if i could quantify that...) is that it seems to be very modern. my house has a computer and tv, but no fridge- there are hardly any trashcans to be found either. that was very inarticulate, but if you forgive me, i try my best to think in bulgaria (which means i have a vocabulary roughly the size of a 2 year old child- if that!)

across the street, we have a neighbor named tony!! he, however, is only 3 years old- so he's not much for talking. i gave him some american candy though, and seemed to break the ice! :) hopefully he and i can visit more, and I can learn more about basic sentence structure from him. you may laugh, but i'm serious! today we saw a baby that was a few weeks old, and i joked with my fellow trainees that the baby probably knew more bulgarian that i do!

this week, my family will probably be invited to a 'na gosti.' this is a big dinner party where we eat a lot, drink rakia (like brandy, only, you MUST sip or your might pass out...) and talk for hours and hour. na gosti can last for 6 or 7 hours! anyway, a fellow trainee (alex) is staying with my host family's niece...and since THEY are english teachers, i will be able to understand a little!

more often than not, i've found that when i'm confused about what to say in bulgarian, instead of using english i use italian! i thought i had forgotten it all, but in desperation, my mind is trying of so very hard to help me communicate!!! dear brain...if only italiano was helpful...

okay, i'm sure that was boring, but ce'la vie! obviously, my french is as good as my bulgarian! ;)

stravete ot bulgaria!!!!!!

Strave, strave strave!!

hello, hello, hello!!!!

my address changed, so i put that at the bottom-SORRY!

i hope everyone is well, and i'm alive enough to tell you that i am mnogo dobre (that means, very good)!! i have many, many funny stories after only cedam (7) days in bulgaria- but in time, in time...

first off, let me tell you about my host family! I'm living in a two story house with about 8 rooms, and i have a room all to myself with two beds and a two windows for nice breezes. my host mom is "lela vanya" and her daughter is 'alex' but called 'sasha.' i think this must be because her uncle is named alex- but i don't know for sure...i can say so little in bulgarian! sasha is 23, so that is very nice, and she also speaks malko engelski (a little english)- so that is helpful!! lela vanya speaks NO english, but she is kind and warm. she is an EXCELLENT cook and feeds me waaaaaay too much! I am so full each day, that when the next meal comes, I am still very full. now let me tell you about the food!!!! it is also mnogo dobre- lots of veggies, esp. cucumbers and tomatoes...TONS of tomatoes...and not just any tomates, tomates from a dream!!!! they are larger than a softball, and since they are mainly organic, they are also very red and quite tasty. dad, you would be extremely jealous! there is a salad called "shopska" which is cucumberx, tomatoes, and 'sea-ree-nay" which is basically feta cheese. YUM! also, lots of chicken and pork. today, for breakfast was coffee, tea, assorted meats (cold, sort of deli-like), bread (whobava), cheese (the feta kind) and some kind of cookie. so as you can see, though I don't get to eat frosted mini-wheats, the food is still good!!!

I am in the town of Septemvri, which in english, you can see is named after the month of september. there are about 7000 people who live here, so its quite small and very safe...with one exception! there is no such thing as speed limits in bulgaria (as far as we can tell!) and people don't wear seatbelts because its considered an insult to the driver's abilities...all i can say is YIKES!!! my first day in septemvri, Sasha (host sister) was driving a million km/hr while dodge herds of sheep and people. let's just say i wide awake after that!

Lots of things are "backwards" in bulgaria, for example, 'up' on a lightswitch turns lights off, and down turns them on. heres the kicker though...nodding your head means NO (ne) and shaking it means yes (da)! what's a girl to do!! with our limited language skills, we defniately have a hard time not sending a mixed message! oh well- it has been fun to try!

over the next 10 weeks, i will be training in Septemvri with 4 other trainees (not volunteers yet...we have to go through training first!). here are their names, so that you can keep up to date :)
Alex (boy)
Vessi- language trainer

other good names to know- Vassi was my roommate in DC and in Borovtz (intial city we were in-bulgarian ski resort) and she is quite fun! she's from montana, but grew up in sophia (capital city of bulgaria) her bulgarian is good, but not perfect. she will actaully be learning turkish and working with a turkish minority population. Sarah Beth- from maryland ( I think) and is also fun, Lisa is from the deserts of washington, ben is from all over the place, ah, i think of more names later- right now i am drawing a blank! anyway, there were 50 of us to start with, but now we are in groups of 4-6 all around a center city called Pazardjik (Pah-zh-are-gee-k). every two weeks, we make trips to pazardjik to catch up and learn more technical skils, etc.

Official training starts tomorrow, and its from 9:30 until 5. i'm very excietd because our language teacher is GREAT and because I'll be able to communicate better each day!!!!!

one final addres changed again!!!! argh!
TONI SCHNEIDER (caps, underlined)
PO box 178
Central Post Office
Pazardjik, 4400

let me warn you that its EXPENSIVE to send, a letter many cost you several i guess...send me the bill!!! lol. however, if someone is feel VERY nice, i would LOVE some know, the bali hai ones with fish on them...this would be excellent, and seriously, i have a checkbook and will mail you the expenses.

OH and i'm probably getting a phone the 1st of september, and incoming calls are free for me (but sadly, not for you. i'm an expensive friend!)- so stay tuned for the number.

please leave comments--- i love them (oh-beach-um comments!)

dovezhdane! (doe-vee-zh-da-nay (good-bye))

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Time change and departure!

Bulgaria is 8 hours ahead of central time- so all and all- not too bad for trying to keep in touch!

Staging has been okay. Thankfully, we were not subjected to gruelling icebreakers, so that has definately made the experience better! there are 50 total trainees in the group, and I think that after 26 hours of knowing them, I can name them all! Three trainees are from montana, and we even have a U of Minn. grad amongst us! my roommate (from montana) has been FANTASTIC. Her name is Vassi, and she was actaully born in Bulgaria, but has been living in the states for quite awhile. She's a ton of fun and has certainly livened up the group! during training, some diplomats from the Bulgarian Embassy made a suprise visit- how exciting! this does not happen often, so we were quite fortunate.

Once I arrive in BG, we will stay at a modest hotel for one week (nearly) before meeting our host families. after that, most of our training will be in groups of 5 or6 and will take place in the village that our host family calls home.

I'm sure some of you are really sick of updates, as most of them are mundane and non-descriptive, but I wanted to say hi again before I leave the states!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Greetings from Washington DC

of course, it merely took my credit card to sniff out an internet cafe, and while the georgetown holiday inn is hardly bulgaria, how could I resist an update?

Today's travels bring me from the less-than-lovely south dakota in a 6 hour jaunt across the US. After flight delays and a mixup at my hotel, I failed to make the highly anticipated newyork city leg of my trip. SORRY CINDY!!!! how am I going to face two years without that kid? cinday- you had better be saving your pennies for a plane ticket to sofia b/c i am sure you are 10x the friend I am!

other recent debacles; there have been three, count 'em, THREE failed attempts to secure printouts of digital pictures of my friends and family to show to my new friends and family in Bulgaria. I think its some kind of omen...

OH and I called Michael Robie (for all you VUCCer's) on wednesday and he's doing well!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Address and Countdown!

whew- only a few more days until BULGARIA! soooo excited! I'm pleased to say that my luggage has easily met weight restrictions (100lbs total. that's right, total), and the only thing left to do now is wait!

My address has changed, so here's the update;

Toni R. Schneider
PO Box 15
Peace Cops
Sofia 1680, BULGARIA

I'm keeping my current cellphone number because verizon has a nifty little perk for people working with the gov. overseas- they are essentially placing hold on my account until I'm back. pretty cool, huh? so keep my number on file, and starting in November 2007, you can call me again!! GET EXCITED. :)

Thanks to everyone who came out to the party tonight- it was great to see you!!

Also, at this point in time, I think its only fair to warn you that this blog may or may not be used to comment on any current events/political turmoil in Bulgaria. So just in case its not your thing, I will include some type of header or subject indicating your pending bordem.

64 hours!