Tuesday, September 27, 2005

visit from the ambassador!

I can't honestly remember the last time I updated, so I'm just going to fill you in on today-

There is a new American Ambassador in Bulgaria, and he stopped by our training in Pazardjik today! He sat with us for a little bit more than an hour, and spoke very openly and honestly with us about the state of affairs in Bulgaria, what the US Embassy's (in Bulgaria) role and missions are, and how he foresees the future of Bulgaria. We were unbelievable lucky to have this meeting with him (I don't think Q&A sessions are a normal part of PC training...) and ever luckier to have such a valuable conversation with him. He served in Bulgaria before in the mid 80's when Bulgaria was an ENTIRELY different county, and had definitely one of the most loyal governments towards the USSR. He was previously the second in command in Russia, and has been in BG exactly one month today. Bulgarians like him very much, and he speaks excellent Bulgarian!

in other news, last Friday I had my mid-point language interview! This was a verbal and written test (2 parts oral, 1 part written) administered by the person who will give us our final test in about 3 weeks. I have very good news about the progress of my language, which I am not allowed to share, but I am able to tell you that I passed the examination and next week, will start additional studies outside of the formal classroom!!

I got a letter from Michael Robie! Maybe I mentioned this, maybe I didn't, but it certainly made my day to get his letter, which was filled with advice and memories of VUCC and general Vandy-ness. Thanks Michael!!

okay, that's it! hope that all is well back west- keep sending me emails! :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Toni makes a return!

For the next two years, I will be residing in the lovely city of Pernick, Bulgaria! I spent wed., thurs., and friday in this city, and it should be a lot of fun! I'm pretty excited about my job, the city, and the people i'm going to work both for and with...but let me back up a little

two saturdays ago, I attended a workshop on acquiring funding from the EU in Plovdiv. This was a day long workshop full of gorey details on the EU and how Bulgaria with be affected with accession into the Union. Though it was sometimes mindnumbing, it was very valuable information. For example, before BG joins the EU, the EU will provide 70% of the funding for proposed projects, while BG will foot the other 30% of the bill. After BG is part of the EU, the funding burden is flipped- that means I had better start writing projects ASAP! ;) just kidding!

Last monday (not the 19th), permenate sites were revealed to the 49 PC trainees. We all gathered in a gym and waited expectantly around a map of bulgaria on the floor which was constructed entirely out of masking tape! people's names were drawn at random, and then their sites were announced. Luckily, I was one of the first people (maybe 15th or so) so I didn't have to get too nervous! anyway, once we heard our site, we found it on the big map and waited there while other sites were announced. My city is about 20km from the capital city of Sophia, which is great, but unfortunately, most of my friends from training were placed in the eastern part of the country! I guess that will make for some great vacation days, especially since the eastern part of BG is a BEAUTIFUL beach!!!!

In Pernick, I will be working in an NGO for Roma people. This NGO is focused on increasing the standard of living for Roma people in the town, and specifically, on school retention. In BG, many of the Roma youth stop going to school after 5th or 6th grade, and as the poverty cycle goes, the Roma have a challenging time trying to create a happy and healthy life for themselves. I will tell you more details about my job as they come, but one of the things people are most excited about is that I will organize some youth clubs and some after-school english clubs. People were so excited, in fact, that I was interviewed three times; once by the city paper, once by another local paper, and once on the TV news! this was DEFINITELY overwhelming but also exciting! the tv news interview was quite stressful though, because the reported repeatedly asked me questions about the problems that face Roma (and all minorities worldwide) and what I think the biggest problems are, and what I think the solutions are. WHEW! Luckily, since I had a translator, I was able to understand what they were asking me, and I also was able to be very politically correct- afterall- how terrible would it be to offend your community before you are even living there?!?!?!?!

okay, more later, but this is only a short break

oh, AND i DO have a GSM, and I'll be emailing that number out later!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

okay, one small update

In Bulgaria, there is one day that's even more important than your birthday- your name day! In the Catholic faith, each saint has their own day, or "feast." well, in Bulgaria, almost everyone is Orthodox, and they take these days seriously! Today is "Cbeta Mary" or Saint Mary (as in, gave-birth-to-Jesus, Mary), and anyone who is named Mary/Maria gets the day off! okay, that's not official, but it is observed!

so last night, festivities for Cbeta Mary began in a neighbooring town. EVERYONE went to church (cirk-vah) and then headed out to cafes and...a CARNIVAL! that's right, I went to a bulgarian carnival this week and it was awesome! I had some cotton candy, but I was a bit scared of the rides- afterall, people in bulgaria don't think they need seatbelts, so what kind of safety standards do they have for carnival rides??!??!?!!?

I had my BIG interview for site placement today- I think it went well. My guess is that I will be working in a Roma Minority community doing integration work, leadership development, volunteer recruiting, and fundraising. but that's just a guess...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

My schedule for next week

side note-

friday, we are visiting an orphanage with the other youth development (YD) trainees, so we'll be out of town.
Saturday, we are going to a seminar on BG's accession into the EU. I'M SO EXCITED for this day-long seminar- you have no idea. anyway, its in plovdiv, so we'll be gone all day.

monday, we have another HUB session in Pazardjik. this is a VERY important day, because I find out my permenant site in BG!!!!!!! we stay in p-town until wed. morning, when we travel TO our permenant site. I think we will return to Ceptemvri on friday evening, and hopefully recuperate from an entire week of travel! needless to say, i probably won't have phone/email access during this time.

okay, have a great week!

weekend update- nearly 4 days later..

this weekend, my training class took a trip across bulgaria! our language teacher and her family accompanied us in a small rental van to two of the countries biggest attractions- the ampitheatre in Plovdiv (third largest city in Bulgaria) and the Bachcov monastery which was nearby in the mountains. we parked our bus about 2km from the monastery and walked up a small hill that was filled with vendors selling everything from freshly canned jellies (blueberry...yum!) to turkish candies and pottery. Unfortunately, we were not able to take pictures in the monastery. :( the monastery itself was built in 1300 as a tribute to the virgin Mary, and the building was quite interesting. the outside was very old, but inside, the decor was very ornate with many gold encrusted articles. on the way to plovdiv, we stopped at an old fortress that had been converted into a church but now serves as a national landmark. we trudged up an old, rocky path, and once we reached the top, we could see several villages and the many, many mountains. I have pictures of this one- i promise to find a computer that supports american flash drives soon!

Plovdiv has two main sections- old city ("star graht") and, well, not old city! Within the old city is an ampitheatre! you can see that the theater was abandoned at somepoint in time, but now it is used for operas and plays in the summer months. as we got ready to leave, we ran into fellow volunteers! they lived very close to plovdiv, and so had decided to make a trip into the city for some second hand shopping and a glass of wine. We were suprised and excited to see them, but with nearly 200 volunteers in such a small country, I am guessing this ocurrance was not highly unusual...

other exciting news this week includes my host sister's trip to the capital, Sophia. Sophia is about 100km from Cemptembri and you have to take a bus- no fun! BUT when I went home for lunch, she had a new car! so this week has been filled with impromptu visits to neighboring villages- because afterall, now that we have a car, why not??? We went swimming in mineral water pools, visited other cafes, and went to the "kroger" style grocery store (called Billa).

I can't remember if i've mentioned it or not, but my training group has an amazing relationship with the local police. last thursday we had a coffee date with the inspector and one of the other officers, and tomorrow, we are making a safety video for PC bulgaria with our beloved police! we're going to be smalltime movie stars! in addition, the inspector, Ivan, has promised to take us "fishing" some weekend ( "fishing"in bulgaria is the smalltown USA equvilant of fishing, just incase you were wondering!).

in other news, this weekend also marked Cemtemvri day! okay, so it probably isn't called Ceptemvri day, but my bulgarian is still progressing...we don't know the name of the holiday yet! Since bulgaria is a MUCH older country than the US, nearly every town has a holiday to commemorate a battle of some sort- so Sept. 2nd was our day. the town put on a concert and a national dancing/singing folk troup performed as well. afterwards, there were fireworks. this was all very fun, except the fireworks were a bit scary- they were lit within 20m of the general public, and as my "cousin" Nicky and I walked back to our house, smoldering lumps landed right next to us!! that was a little weird, but its just an example of how life in the US is highly regulated, and in places like BG, people are more carefree about risks.

Ceptemvri day also coincided with a national holiday, so my host family's relatives from Pazardjik and sophia spent the weekend with us. The weekend was partially work-filled too-Checho Petco (uncle petco) brought nearly 100 kg of a sqaush-like vegetable with him that the whole family cut up and fried in oil. the slices were then put in smaller bags (about 1kg) so that local stores can sell them. His daughter, Yanna, was also there. she works in bulgaria for wal-mart canada, and she only speaks english in the workplace! Again, it was nice to have an english speaker in the house, especially so that I could ask all of my burning gramatical questions! (you think I'm joking...)

okay, that's a lot of nothing...its been hard to get to the internet lately so I'm sorry that i crammed a lot of boring stories together. I promise that when they happen they are very fun!

Monday, September 05, 2005

quick update- more tomorrow

hello from pazardjik! i am the home of my "cousin" right now, waiting for pizza! okay, so its not quite the same as americanized pizza- but I can successfully pronounce the name of what i'm eating...so I like that a lot! :)

I had another amazing weekend- one that included travel and hiking- more on that later.

today, i had an evaluation meeting. this evaluation was very important for my site placement in bulgaria, and my teacher says that I did very well. hooray!! in addition, my teacher stopped by my home to see how I am getting along and to speak with my family/aunt. this was basically a 2 hour meeting that closely resembled a parent-teacher conference. eeep! it turned out quite well though, and i'm pleased to say that my family likes me very much. that's good, because I like them too!

I had to update- its free internet!