Sunday, January 29, 2006

A feeling of accomplishment

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, all of the b18s (that is- bulgaria, group 18) PCVs had some additional training in a resort town called bankia. We met up for an "in-service" in order to regenerate our enthusiasm, grab some new ideas for working in our communities, and catch up with one another!! Most of us hadn't seen eachother since the end of October, so it was definately fun to catch up with them and see how VERY different each of our assignments are. While some PCVs are so busy that they barely have a moment to themselves, others have a more relaxed work environment are are working to find their work-place niche. We had a lot of interesting sessions on youth empowerment, character buliding, leadership development, grant writting, and of course, the health and safety sessions which are designed to keep us happy, healthy and safe. those last ones were kind of a snooze! the last day, we attended 6 language classes!!! It was pretty exciting to be back in "formal" classrooms with the Peace Corps language instructors!! These teachers are some of the best i have EVER encountered in my life, so in addition to learning a lot, we a had a bunch of fun.

but the most important thing that happened at IST, for myself, was a meeting for all PCVs with minority-related assignments. There are a handfull of us working with Roma or Turkish communities throughout bulgaria, and I thought it was time that we became connected in order to share our ideas, successes, and failures. So, I organized a meeting with PCVs and the Bulgarian counterparts (basically, our bosses) to talk about what kind of a network people were interested in establishing, how they thought their needs could be served, and what kind of information and services we will provide. Everyone was really excited and enthusiastic, and contributed to the creation of this new committee. We decided that we are going to begin as a network of information for each other, and will eventually branch out to include ALL PCVs in bulgaria working with minorities, and after that, to become a resource center for all the OTHER PCVs looking for information on working with minorities. I basically came up with this idea after conversations with my friends increased my curiousity for their jobs, their communities, and their successes. Each person had a different community (big, small, rich, poor, isolated, etc), and yet everyone was having successes in their community. My idea was to bring together all of these experiences, so that we can learn from eachother, and then share our knowledge with other volunteers in the country. and Since bulgarian wil be the primary language used in our communications, when volunteers return to the united states, their bulgarian coworkers will STILL have access to all the information, in addition to contacts all around the country!!

i am really excited for the potential for this group!! We have already discussed creating a newspaper and organizing multi-ethnic summer camps. I will definately keep you all posted on this!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More holidays!

So, those of you who are more astute (like my sitemate, Lincoln) will recognize that the bazar/market I explained is much like a farmer's market!!! I foolishly forgot that we had anything in the US that resembled our marketplace. But as my language faulters, and I forget what life was like in the US- don't worry, because I promise I remember all of you!

Happy name day to me (tues 17th)!!! Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, happens to share something in common with me- our name!!! In the bulgarian orthodox church (which oddly celebrates things according to the gregorian calandar, and not e orthodox...), the feast of each saint, as they would be called in the Catholic Chuch, is CELEBRATED! I mean, this is a big deal!!! So for anyone named Tony, Toni, Anthony, Antoinette, Antonia, etc, yesterday was a party day! in some cases, we Tones aren't even expected to go to work! we are supposed to drink a lot of rakia, eat chocolates, and have a party in a restaurant that night. Its also a day when the similarly named person pays for everything- you "treat" your friends to food, coffee, candy, etc because of your good fortune of sharing a name with a saint. People have all kinds of wishes for you- including those of long life, good health, and lots of love! Too bad someone didn't wish me luck in the bulgarian language.... :) I celebrated by bringing chocolates into work, and then took my english class to coffee after class.

Oh yeah, so I'm teaching an english class now :) I am phenomonaly happy to be teaching this class- in fact, I am so pleased with this bi-weekly activity that I have definately suprised myself. I was extremely resistant to teaching an english class for myriad reasons, perhaps one of the least flattering that "I didn't go to university to teach English!" However snobby that was(and I don't really care that it is, which is probably telling of my haughty character and my notoriously dominating work-style), I truely felt that my time would be better spent writting grants and building connections with other organization- after all, that was WHY I was placed with my organization- they wanted a grant writter, and PC thought I showed potential. Needless to say, with a crappy attitude like this, I thought class would be terrible. Man was I wrong!!!! Though I have only taught 3 classes so far, I have had a TON of fun with my students, and I think they get a kick out of my attempts to explain MY language while speaking in THEIRS. I have about 8-9 students, which is small, but they are incredibly bright and have great energy and enthusiasm to learn english. SO far, they can introduce themselves, ask you who you are/where you are from, use the verbs "to be" and "to like" with questions, positive statements, and negative statements, and identify basic food items in english. I am really proud of them, and this has become the highlight of my week!

Also last week, I celebrated the Roma New Year!!! I attended the event with my coworkers, local Romi people, and another volunteer from a near by (and TERRIBLY small) town. We ate a ton, danced even more, and for the most part, had a really great time! the only negative thing was that my boss got in a fight! Clearly, this was no good, espeically since the bulgarian version on National PBS was at our party!! whoops!!!! Actaully, the reasons he got in a fight was partially because of me. There was a guy from another Roma NGO who came up and introduced himself to me during the course of the party, and he had obviously read about me in the newspapers or watched the interviews on the local news, because he knew that I had done work for the Dem. party and that I was a Peace Corps volunteer. SO the converstation started out fine, but then he asked me how I had become a volunteer for my specific organization. As I began to explain the application and interview process, he interrupted me and began telling me that I was a liar! Then he said that all Americans are liars, that the embassy is full of liars, etc- and to make matters worse, he then told the TV reporters that i was a liar, a bad person, and A SECRET AGENT sent from the US to spy on the Romi people in my town!!!!!!!!! what?!?!?!?!?!? well, as it turns out, this guy was really drunk, but in general, is known for antics such as this. So Isai, my boss, basically had enough, and started a fight with him!!! Thankfully though, no one was arrested, the mean guy was escorted out of the party, and nobody got hurt!!!

okay, so that is MY update- I'd love to hear yours!!!!! please send me some emails!!!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Food, food everywhere!!

Okay, so in one of my recent posts, I knocked bulgarian cookies. Now, before you go thinking that there is no good food to eat around here, i have to take a little time today and fill you in on how I find food here in the BG-

Remember being in elementary school? Middle school? high school? do you remember days when the lunch hall food was so appalling that you opted to go hungry instead? do you remember days when you ate the food anyway, only to find yourself hungry a few hours later? Well write to your congress(wo)men folks, because right here in the BG is the very solution you were searching for as a child!! Instead of having cafeterias in the schools that serve meals, snack stands exist within the school itself, and directly surrounding the school grounds. These snack stands are awesome, and feature a full range of breakfast foods, warm lunchy-type foods, to juice, water, pretzels, chocolate candies, "little debbie" style snacks, etc. Whatever kind of snack food exists here in bulgaria, it can be found right here! Think of this as a reved up version of a consession stand, but with selection beyond your imagination, and competative prices!!! So for a mere 50 stotinki, or about 35-37 cents, I can happily munch on a 50 gram bag of pretzels, drink a bottle of mineral water, or delight in a FRESH chocolate croissant! its pretty amazing- between the affordablity of these 1 portion-sized snacks, the selection, and the availablity- i'm definately sold!!

Okay Toni, so we know that you are getting adaquet snacking time in your life, but what about food that provides nutrients? you know, nourishing foods like fruits and vegetables? Enter the bulgarian market-place. Every town has "market day," called a пазар, or in bigger towns like mine, the markets run every day. If you have ever visited chinatown in new york, this is what the bulgarian market looks like. Up and down several street blocks, venders set up tables filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, honey, homemade wine and rakia (brandy), clothing, housewares, tools, and almost anything that a person could possibly need! (note the almost... :) ) These venders have spaces that are about 5 ft X 5 ft on which they display their products. There are always tons of venders selling the exact same product (wheither it be pair of mittens or a piece of fruit), so competition results in outstanding product display (the best venders will cut an orange in half so you can see the quality of the fruit), encouraging kindness (I in fact, only buy from the venders who try to entice my attention), and the guarentee that if you wander through the entire pazar, you can find exactly what you are looking for, at exactly the right price. A typical trip to the pazar in my case usually results in 1/2 kilo of tangerines, a few apples and bananas, some potatoes or tomatoes, and the occasional article of winter-weather clothing-ie, gloves, hat, etc.

But sometimes the marketplace isn't a viable option after dark, so I have to get food somehow, right? After work, I have two options for securing food- what i'd like to call "american" style stores, and "point" stores. The "american" style stores are what we are used to (hence the name, right?), where you grab a shopping cart or a basket, and wander around the aisles, making decisions between brand x and brand y, and at your leisure, shop and check out. Then there are the "point" stores. If, as volunteers, our "foreignness" is more noticable anywhere else than in these "point" stores, I'd very much like to see this place! Stores are much smaller here, and have limited space, so things are often squeezed right next to the next item, and the shop keeper has an excellent knowledge of each product's location. In these stores, you go to the counter and list off everything that you want- so if you don't know the name of the product you think looks tasty, this is where the "pointing" comes in!!! This can be either frustrating or comical experience for both the volunteer and/or the shopkeeper, and hopefully more of the latter!

so next time you are wondering around a grocery store trying to decide wheither to buy store brand frootloops or the real kind, think about how much tougher the decision would be if you didn't know the name for either!!!!!

happy shopping!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Christmas, new years, and everything in between

okay, welcome back to my life in bulgaria! Happy new years ! (belated!) merry christmas (extremely belated!)

So in the days before christmas, everyone asked me how we celebrated christmas in the US, and how it was different from how it is celebrated in the BG...some what of a challenging question to answer, considering i hadn't seen a bulgarian christmas! but here are some of the differences and similarities;

*orthodox calandar, which means we celebrate christmas on the same day as bulgarians
*days off of work!

*Santa Clause's helpers aren't elves, its a beautiful girl in a tiarra and white dress named "Snow White," or снежанка (sneh zhan ka)
*Stockings are NOT hung by the chimney with care...bulgarians hadn't heard that we did this, and now think that I/we are strange
*Christmas Eve, бъдни вечер (buhd nee vecher) is considered the most family oriented holiday. No one can eat meat or meat products, and an ODD number of food items must be on the table
*one of these food items is a big round loaf of bread with a coin in it. each person takes a portion of the bread, and then searches for the coin- whoever finds it, has luck for the next year!
*presents are put under the Christmas tree, елха (elha)- but elha doesn't mean christmas tree- it means something entirely different, which I can't figure out

but perhaps one of the most glaring differences is that a lot of people don't get THAT excited about christmas. My host sister told me that traditionally, new years is a much more important holiday than christmas, and it hasn't been until recently that christmas has become more important. why, you might be asking yourself??? well again, thank you Communism. Under Communism, people weren't really allowed to practice their religions (even though most people were Christians, and Catholics at its not like bulgarian religion was crazy or something), and in fact, a lot of people were persecuted for practicing. Comminists were big time athiests, so for about 50 years, people didn't celebrate christmas with much gusto, but rather, new years. Santa Clause was called "Grandfather frost" and presents were exchanged during the new year. so there you go...

another interesting thing about the holiday season is that you get to see Bulgarian superstition in action!! Bulgarians are highly superstitious (hence the odd number of food items on christmas eve and the coin in the bread). Another example is in holiday wishes. In the states, we say thinks like "happy holidays" "merry christmas" and "happy new year!" but that's all I think of. Here, however, there is a very specific and LONG wish that you extend to everyone- its this very set and formal response, and I believe that if you fail to recite these wishes, you are wishing bad luck on yourself, or something. so here, what you say is "I wish you health, luck, love and love." okay, so maybe that's not really so long or strange, but it is strange that every person tells you this, regardless of their affiliation with you!!!

okay, so other than that, I have recently been hanging with a girl here named Ogi who works for the local TV station. She used to speak really great english when she was in school, (and in fact, still does pretty well, i think) and she wants to learn more- so we've been hanging out, talking in some combination of english and bulgarian together. she's really cool, and we definately have a good time! Yesterday I met her family, which was also nice. I think her dad really took a shining to me b/c (a) I was excited to hear him play the accordian and (b) because my last name is german, and he in fact, speaks great german. anyway, I think i was adopted into the family because they kept talkinga bout all the things we are going to do in the summer!!!

alright, so i'm sure that's enough for everyone!!!!! I want to say a big THANKS!!!!! to david and jessica for their wonderful package that they sent to me- I had such a good time playing with all the random things you sent me!!!