Monday, April 24, 2006

Orthodox Easter!!

Luck, health, and anything else a person could wish for...its all mine!!!

atleast, according to a Bulgarian Easter tradition, that is.

Bulgarian Christians celebrate Christmas on the western calendar, but Easter according to the eastern calender. This year, easter fell one week after the western celebration, so I got to celebrate twice!

On the 24th, I took a city bus to go to my friend Ogi's house. She lives about 3 miles away, but a quick 15 minutes bus ride. Her family is mega cool, and they are pretty much my adopted family. They enjoy feeding me (i really like that too!), asking my questions about my work, my family, or america, and I like hanging out with them and getting little history lessons on the sly (Ogi's dad looooves to talk to me about communism. However, no one else in the family appreciates these stories- so he can only tell me about it when no one is looking!).

As soon as I got to their house, I was greeted by lunch, 3 puppies and an inviation to go to the famed mountain of "vitosha!" I was pretty pumped to say the least. They had been waiting for the weather to warm up so that they could show me this mountain, and Ogi's mom Nadia decided that we "should use the moment and the weather" for my initaition.

One old-school russian car ride later (oh yeah, there's a picture), we were breathing clean air and setting up a mini-picnic. We ate "kazanlak," which is a bread that is made only for easter. Back in the day, people made it at home, and it took ALL DAY LONG! we didn't eat "domashna"(homemade) kazanlak on the mountain, but it was still really fanstatic! Then the family brought out a basket of colored eggs. Now, as most americans have been dying eggs for generations, this doesn't seem to irregular. But here in bulgaria, instead of hiding the eggs, we SMASH them!

each family member takes an egg, and one by one, cracks their egg on someone else's. If your egg cracks- sorry! no health and luck for you- just a tasty runner-up prize. If your opponent's egg cracks, you advance to the next level to smash someone else's egg. Well, between pure luck and being a guest- I won! Provided that I guard this egg ALL YEAR LONG, its said that i will have a lot of luck this year. For the rest of the day, i was sort of suspecting that i'd break the egg doing something foolish- but 24 hours later- the egg is still intact!

The rest of the day was spent romping around in the mountains, snapping pictures, grabbing naps, and discussion books (nadia (ogi's mom) reads all the time and loves french and american authors) and exploring nature. Ogi's dad even made me eat grass. No joke. he picked it, ate some himself, and then gave me the rest as a mid-afternoon snack. now THAT is cross-cultural.

So all in all, it was pretty darned fantastic. the weather was gorgeous, the company was unbeatable, and my luck is only going to get better.

pretty cool easter, huh?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

some good news

For the past two months, 90% of my time has been focused on creating a committee on ethnic issues and tolerance within Peace Corps. there have a been a lot of struggles, a few false moves, but mostly, success! So with a lot of passion behind the issue and a good internet connection, i've been working to drive memebership and generate support, while other volunteers have been looking for funding option, creating support in the administration and in their communities.

One of our goals is to help keep a minority-youth camp running and sustainable. This camp, called "Zaedno Napred," (Together, forward) has been going on for several summers, and this year, they are adding a multi-ethnic camp. We are invited applicants from all ethinic background in bulgaria to participate in an informative, educational, and FUN week on the black sea- learning about each other, and how to help groups interact better in their home communities. So back to how the minority committee is helping. This year, the camp is short about $1000, and we need a way to raise it. Instead of asking wealthy Americans or brits who live in bulgaria, we are turning to the "grassroots" level by asking local governments for help. we are also applying for various grants in the area.

and we got one! today I just got word that we recieved our first grant for 500 leva! This is about $320, but its a big deal! some of you may recall that myself and another volunteer used "skype" to help write this project about a month back...thank goodness for technology!

and in other good news, one of my best friends from Vanderbilt just got into the peace corps! her interview was on thursday, and normally, the waiting game would take up to a month. However, they offered her a nomination right on the spot! i have NEVER heard of this in my life, and infact, her interviewer said he'd never done that before! So, Cindy is going to become a teacher in either eastern europe or asia, and will leave in august. WOW! i was really impressed.

so that's what's going on here! send me an email and let me know about you!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Celebrating Outer space

Today we mark the first successful manned flight into outer space!!!!

in 1961 Yori Gagarin, a soviet pilot turned cosmonaut, made civilization's first trip out into the big blue sky.

After he returned, Gagarin became something of an international hero; touring at home, to other bloc countries, and even abroad. He is so well loved that its impossible to enter a former soviet stronghold without finding remnants of his accomplishment. Streets, schools, public places- they all bear his name. Here in Bulgarian, you'd think he was one of their own- atleast, I certainly thought so until today.

I think one of the most remarkable things I encounter here is a doorway into history. Sometimes I wonder if Bulgaria has entered the newest millennium or not, but there is still something admirable about the memory for its past.

In an area of the world breaking new ground yet mired in the past, who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Wikipedia- an addiction

The internet can be used for either good or evil. But if one has an addiction to the internet, I am pretty sure only evil can ensure.

my most recent addiction? Wikipedia- the clientele edited online encyclopedia. Here, you can find information on your hometown from the 2002 census, which supreme court cases are dependent on the 14th amendment (my favorite amendment!) to the name sake of your street...

Who knew that my address was tied to communism? Not me! Anyway, wikipedia away- I recommend it!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Silence and 2 #2 pencils

Every peace corps volunteer has a secret.

from the moment we start filling in bubble sheets with our social security numbers to the day we conclude our service and return to the United States, we keep this secret tucked away- only to share it with the closest of volunteer friends.

each of us secretly hopes for a fabulous international career with the foreign service. With a life that promises travel languages culture and movie-like scenes where we advise the Host Country's President on how to save civilization from impending doom, life as a foreign service officer seems our path to happiness.

Today, hundreds of us around the world drug ourselves out of bed at 5am and while wiping the sleep from our eyes, began memorizing the address of the American embassies. Why? Today, April 8th, was the international test date for the Foreign Service Written exam- a test composed of grammatical know-how, essay savvy, political and historical knowledge, and a specific career track exam. This 6 hour test is the first of 3 steps required before a candidate can become a Foreign Service Officer (FSO). The exam is so daunting that more than HALF of those registered to take the test fail to report to the test facility.

1 down, 2 to go!

so there, that's our little peace corps secret.