Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A few unanswered questions

Andrea asked me some questions, so here they are!

Do your colleagues much speak English, if any?
This is an excellent question! not really!! Occasionally, I hear an array of English vocab such as "pig" (when describing what I was about to order at a restaurant) "when is your 'happy birthday'" (in reference to my birthday, obviously) to "ok," to "how are you." These are pretty basic phrases that most any bulgarian can utter. Yesterday I was lucky enough to hear "I'm going to go smoke some pot!" which I am pretty sure was gleaned from the TV, given the high influx of American programming. On the other hand, there is a woman who works in the local government who speaks perfect British English. Basically, it depends.

How many people do you work with?
Again, this depends! I was told that I would be working alongside 15 volunteers. My first week, I was accompanied everywhere, from the pizza stand to the post office to the bus stop, with a hand-ful of Roma youth. As time has past, however, I find myself working with only one woman. All volunteers have a "counterpart" in their organization who is Bulgarian. Mine studies at a university in another town, and I've only met her once. The boys that I used to work with have secured jobs. So while I'd like to say that I work with more people, the number of people I work with is typically indicative of the local unemployment rate.

Do you have your own office, or will you? If not, do you have your own desk?
I do have my own office, but I don't work there because its in an isolated building. Rightfully so, the director of my NGO thought it would be best if I worked in his wife's office, so that I don't suffer from complete human withdrawal. She (Valia) is the regional expert on minority questions, and she works for the local government. Its actually really good that I work in her office (sit in a chair in her office) because I get to see everyday Roma people that I will eventually be working with, and because she and I work hard together to create new ideas and plans of action.

Do you work in a big building with lots of other people?
I work in the administrative side of the municipal government building, so there are always loads of people about, since my town is about 85,ooo people. There are security guards at the front door, secretaries, and then our office. I used to be really scared of the security guards given that my bulgarian was pretty pathetic in the beginning, but after a month here and a batch of cookies, I have more friends at the office! There is also an kitchen/restaurant thing here too- so each day we receive a menu and choose what we want (reasonably priced!) for soup, main course, and dessert. how cool is that!?!?!? one meal that I don't have to cook for myself! I usually go for the rice with peppers and either pork or chicken. trust me, this stuff is good!

How far is work from your apartment?
As best I can figure, its about 7 or 8 km from where I live, to where I work. Everyday I take a bus (they come about every 12 minutes, depending on if its the top of the hour or not) for the equivalent of $0.35, and the trip is about 13 minutes long. and yes, i really did time it. I also work in the center of town, so on the weekends that I don't go to sofia, I'll come into the center to browse or eat in a restaurant.

What are your work hours going to be?
again, this depends! some volunteers (like the english teachers) only work about 15 hours a week, while there are others (like the community development volunteers) who work closer to 40. I usually come in around 9:30am and leave at 5:30, but as of late, Valia realizes that there isn't much to do at the moment, so she sometimes encourages me to leave around 5pm. And anytime another volunteer comes into town, i get to take a coffee break! this means I get to be AWOL for as long as I want! well, i guess AWOL isnt correct, but i get to wonder around without leaving a detailed itinerary- so that rocks.

Is there stuff you will have to take home to work on, or can you leave work at work?
my first week- I wrote a grant. I took it home with me over the weekend because I was so excited about the work. Now that we are waiting to hear about the financing of the project, I have less to do. Most of my work is on the internet, so I can't take that home with me.

Who are you working with to write the grant?
Three people at work collaborated to write our project, which we are proposing to the Dem. Commission through the US Embassy and USAID. I went to a consultation session about 10 days ago. It went pretty well, but right now I have to convey the meaning of "sustainable" and a few things like that to my Bulgarian coworkers. this idea is pretty foreign (thank you, communism), and most NGOs just want a sponsor to give them money for a year-round project. then, when the project is up, they want to find a new sponsor to give them the same money again. I think my biggest goal will be to get my coworkers thinking in the mentality of "how will the program replicate at the end of the year?" instead of "okay, so who's next in line to dabat pari (give us money)."

do you enjoy metric conversions?
I do! its kind of disgusting. BUT as it was one of the few things my public education afforded me well, I run with it. I even use my ability to do conversions in my head as a party trick. okay, that's not true- but I do have to convert everything! ewww. thank goodness I brought american measuring spoons!

stay tuned for more adventures in my refridgerator-less and limited-income life!!!!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Address clarification

so I don't really know my address in english b/c some of the words don't translate. SO to appease the US side- under the BG address, you can just write
Republic of Bulgaria
and with the so-called zipcode (2300) everything should be peachy.

small post offices will ask you STUPID questions like "Is that a country? are you sure?" just insist that bulgaria is infact a country, and that you happen to know someone right now in desperate need of this package full of candy/cookies/dvds/gold jewelry/first-season of magnum p.i./etc.

my name is the very last thing in bulgarian тони шнайдер - so for those of you wondering about that, my name is there!

ciao ciao!

My trip to American Jurisdiction!

Last tuesday, I was in America. Yup, I sure was, and I didn't call any of you so we could meet up!! I mean, I would have, but you were all sleeping- and I hate international calling!!! wha?!?!!? you maybe be asking yourself? okay, I WAS technically within the jurisdiction of the US goverment for about 3 hours, but I was still "in" bulgaria at the US Embassy! I was there to present my grant/project to the Democracy Commission, and get feedback on where the idea was headed, what they were looking for, etc. Well, it went well for the project, and really well for me!! I wound up spending the afternoon networking, and by the end of the day I had even been offered a job with us-aid. this is the amazing thing about living near sofia and working with the peace corps, you never know when opportunity is going to show its head!

breaking news for bulgaria: NO EU accession for 2007. this is pretty big, as most people were counting on the accession. BG is tentatively set to join the EU in 2008. laundering of money and organized crime were sited as reasons for the delay.

also last week, I saw my first ballet and ate indian food for the first time! Two of my favorite volunteers were in town (this means sofia in my world) for a conference on the economic implications of bulgaria joining the EU. After work, I hopped on the bus, met up with Ben and Jenn (of shoumen, buglaria) and watched the national ballet perform Hans Christian Anderson's "The Red Shoes" and "The Emperor's New clothing." it was a fantastic night!

This weekend, I was back in sofia (yup, three times in one week!) to meet back up with Ben and to watch Lincoln, my sitemate, play rugby. along the way, while speaking english on the streets of sofia, by chance we ran into two other volunteers from our group- Andrea and Boudreaux! They heard people speaking english behind them, and lo and behold- it was people that they knew! its a small world, i tell ya!

In other news- its cold here! that means that after I wash my clothes (by hand, mind washing machine in my apartment, and no laundramats in the country!), they go out on the clothes line. this morning, I awoke to frozen clothing. Thankfully I was amused, rather than annoyed.

today I had an interview with the local TV news. I think this is actaully the third time i've been on the local news. its pretty crazy, because occassionally they get wrapped up in the interview, and ask me questions that we didn't discuss before the interview sometimes I look like a huge idiot. other times, only mildly so...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

not a terrorist!

I am the proud owner of a lichna carta.

"Lichna carta? what is that?" you might be asking. well, this single card is possibly more important for bulgarians than a cell phone is to a notorious gossip. This card serves multiple functions; you must have it to work, to check into hotels, to enter the US embassy, to have a legal address- essetially, its a suped-up version of the marriage of a US driver's license and Social security card. Without this card, a person can't really do anything except order coffee at a cafe. Needeless to say, my life with this card will be much improved (especially because it means I can leave my passport at home!), but they can be tricky to aquire! Some PCVs spend as many as 5 weeks trying to get their card- luckily, I got mine in a week. The last step of the process, however, was definately something I was not prepared for! I had to be interviewed by the local authorities to determine wheither or not I was a terrorist, in the country with malicious intent, or anything else vile or presenting a threat to the state. This interview would be challenging enough, given that I'm a single female working with an NGO that works on minority issues (very, very strange here in the BG), but throw in the fact that I only understood about 30% of the questions I was being asked...well, lets just say that a few times, I just answered "yes" and hoped for the best. hahaha.

In other extremely exciting news, the central heating system in my apartment starting working on sunday night and i have a TV! this marked the official end of my sleeping while wearing a stocking cap and socks! Granted I don't really understand what's going on on the TV, but it also means that there will be a serious decrease in the number of mildly depressing nights where I made feeble attempts to stay warm while singing various english songs that I still remember...

okay, just wanted to post this while I could! andrea asked some really great questions, and next time, i'm answering them!!!!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

гр. Перник 2300
Областна Администрация
Площад "Св. Иван Рилски" 1 б
Валентина Сандева
/ Эа Тони Шнайдер/

its my address!!! print it out and copy it (maybe bigger?) and SEND ME MAIL! LOTS OF IT!! please!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The return of toni!

no, not to the states- to the Internet!!! Oddly enough, I now live in a city 10 times the size of my last one, yet have a harder time getting internet time. ah, bulgaria...

first off, THANKS to everyone who sent me birthday greetings either via email, SMS(text messages) the facebook, or other- it made me feel wonderful!

secondly, i have an address! but believe it or not, not every computer supports the bulgarian alphabet (how odd!!!!) so I have to wait until monday to get on my boss' computer. SORRY!

Well, this week marked the first work week for the new PCVs, which in most cases, means for the next 3 months the PCVs just sit around and try to learn Bulgarian. Well, either through a pure stroke of luck or blind-fate, that's not my story!!! On tuesday I went to work, and by Wednesday afternoon we were writting a grant to the US Embassy! It was a little frustrating at first, and since some of you have mentioned that I seem to be peachy-keen here 95% of the time, I'll let you in on a little secret here- I thought I was gonna cry about 5 times on Wed!! My organization "O Romano Drom" is so excited to have me here, but they sometimes get carried away in their expectations of me AND of my language skills. I got pretty overwhealmed quite a few times, but now I have a pretty darn good idea of what they want, and since the grant has to be in English- its a good thing I feel this way!!!!! :) anyway, the grant is for up to $24000 (a literal fortune in BG) and we're going for it- I'm pretty pumped. On the 8th and 15th of November,the Embassy (its actaully the Democratic Commission) is holding help sessions for the grant in Sofia, so I'm gonna make a little trip there and figure out how to improve our odds!

last night I went to a Bulgarian party (in a restaurant) with my colleuges and had a blast! In Bulgaria, your colleuges aren't thought of the same way as we think of them in the states. You become close friends with your coworkers, and if you don't, its basically considered an insult. The good thing is that I like them all, and they do a great job taking care of me. Dancing is a really big part of the culture, especially the Roma culture, and so the whole evening was spent dancing to the band. Now, when i say "dancing,"what I really mean is "shaking our asses" except that its totally culturally apporpriate! The dance is called the kuchek, and is essentailly the bulgarian roma equivilant of belly-dancing. So there you go-

Did I mention that I have a sitemate??? i DO and his name is Lincoln and he's fabulous. Through odd twists of fate, we weren't able to meet up on my first trip to Pernik, but monday night we met up for drinks and introductions and hit it off pretty well. Since they aren't privy to the "peacecorps way, "my colleuges thought that I was insane for meeting some guy that I'd never known before- now they are really excited taht I have someone to speak english to, and they can't wait to meet him. Lincoln has been in BG since mid-April, and he's a TEFL (or, english as a foreign language) volunteer. Right now he's teaching students that want to go to the US or England for school, so he speaks English in the workplace. Personally, I think that would be hard, but hey, he's still alive! Other than that, we both enjoy movies with litte-to-no plot, american football (although damnit, he went to U. of Co at boulder- he's a buff!!! eeeewww!), and drinking beer. Also, he likes peanut m&ms, so next time you send me a package, make sure you throw in a little bag for me :)

okay, well its getting cold in BG and all I have is the fleece columbia coat that I bought the night before I left the I'mgonna go hit up the second hand store and scope out the goods!!!