Thursday, May 25, 2006

Workin girl

So as some of you may know, I have a new job in Peace corps!!

My former job sitauation was pretty insane; no coworkers, no director of my organization, no youth... Things were kinda okay back in January, but still pretty iffy. I used to joke with friends that I had promoted myself to "director of the NGO." One girl even suggested that I start all sentences with "As the director of this NGO.." it was pretty funny. Finally, after 4 months of my counterpart (peer coworker) driving taxis all day, Peace Corps agreed that it was time to find me a new organization.

So now, I work in the Palace of Culture (dvoretsa na kyltyrata)! They are really eager to work with me, AND they show up to work!! My new counterpart is named Desi, and she is about the same age as me, and seems like she'll be fun to work with. I share an office with a few people, one of which is an author who is totally crazy!! he has a really good time trying to tell me jokes in bulgarian, and giving me books about the bible and the koran to read in english ( I understand them).

I think things will be going a lot better for me from now on, and I look forward to writing some grants and finally getting to be a volunteer!!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Beautiful Bulgaria

This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to one of Bulgaria's famed cities. Veliko Turnavo, a city located in the center of the country and north of the Balkans, was the former capital of Bulgaria, and remains one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen! Like several cities in bulgaria, VT has an old city, and a new city. The old parts of these cities are always the most interesting; with their cobblestoned streets, homemade jellies, and architecture you won't find anywhere else in the world, you can almost transport yourself back 100 years. The streets are lined with domashni stoki (homemade goods) and shopkeepers who are usually not only glad that you are willing to spend your american wealth on their handy-work, but are so very proud that you can utter a few sentences in bulgarian. at the very end of the old city, there is a fortress. These remains remind us of the bulgaria that was- a place where much of modern civilization was born and fought for.

But what was I doing, exactly, in VT? Well, I was singing! Back in february, I joined a women's choral ensemble in pernik. we aren't really that good, but after a small introductory concert in pernik, we were invited to perform in VT's annual Folklore Festival. Early saturday morning, the choir joined pernik's youth dance group, and we loaded the bus, and headed for VT!! Our concert was held in a beautiful cathedral which is reminiscent of the Alexander Hevski Cathedral in sofia (when you visit me, you'll see!). I had envisioned a normal concert, but instead, our performance was more like an event at the state-fair. We were scheduled for a certain time, and when that time came around, visitors and folk-lore-goers came to watch. It was pretty cool because we were also filmed!! so now, this moment is forever captured in bulgarian folk-lore history. After our concert, we received several awards- one for participating, one for my solo, and one for our director. I think it was a good experience over-all, and I was especially happy because BEN and JEN of Shumen came to the concert! I was so happy to see familiar faces!

after roaming about town with Ben and Jen, I jumped on a Bus to sliven. my good friend Christin is a PCV from my group (b18s) lives in sliven, and works for an environmental branch of the local municipality. a big plus about her town, is that is it directly south of the Balkans. So when she looks out her windows, she sees a stunning backdrop of mountains and foresty things (contrast this to my view...old communist style apartments (which are falling apart), and factories...something isn't fair here!). We decided to go hiking..for 6 hours!! I definitely got tired and I'm surprised I didn't pass out on the mountain somewhere!! One of the funniest things was that we took a ski-style lift back DOWN the mountain. Oh, Bulgaria... But in general, good times were had in sliven- hiking, making pizza, watching grey's anatomy, and just seeing the sites.

oh my trip down to sliven, i had a small "layover" in VT. While waiting for the bus, a Roma lady decided to strike up a conversation with me. She has asked me a question about the bus (she also was traveling to sliven), and after identifying my accent as one of a foreigner, became increasingly interested in me and my life here. She was a really nice lady, and even offered to let me stay at her family's home, to go 'na gosti,' and in general, to pledge life-long friendship to eachother. She saved me a seat on the full-house bus, and merrily chatted with me the entire bus ride about my work, my opinions of bulgaria, and some of the differences between my country and hers. Though it may not seem like a big deal to most people, these are some of the moments that are most valuable to us as peace corps volunteers. Sure, some people write projects with 300,000 euro budgets, some people open movie theaters, some people get married to bulgarians... but for those average PCVs among us, its these everyday conversations we have with bulgarian citizens that makes our time here worth-while. America is a totally foreign land- people only know America from the movies. Anytime we have the opportunity to tell about people about America- that we have problems, that not everyone drives a BMW, that kids like to read books- we have an opportunity to show someone a piece of america thorugh a very different lense than that of a hollywood camera. and from a non-egotistical american's standpoint, its always good for bulgarians to see foreigners treat Roma people with respect. One girl on the bus was so rude as to deliberately change seats on the bus, simply because she was sitting next to a Roma person. I always hope, that on some level, people reconsider their opinion on Roma citizens when they see foreigners speaking with this minority group. I know that's really too much to hope, but sometimes I think it makes people think twice.

okay, here is a picture of me on the hike in the mountains!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

two things I forgot

okay, so BILLA opened up in pernik on thursday! this means nothing to America, but we europeans know that BILLA is the german's answer to kroger (or, for non-southern educated folks: safeway, albertsons, HiVee, etc)!!!! it is quite lovely to browse around shopping- picking up packages, comparing prices, thinking in english... Anyway, its been really fun watching this building get constructed and wonder about the glory day when it finally opened. I passed by the construction site everyday on the bus, so i've been able to keep excellent watch on the operation. I've been curious to observe how people traffic changes at the adjacent bus stops (which are typically empty), what will happen with the near-by run down cafes, and how people's shopping patterns in general will change. yes, i have a boring life and I'm well aware! On the second day of bussiness, I braved the lines. I found some great stuff (westernish cheese, wheat bread) and observed some funny things. On of my favorite moments was an older lady walking with her grown daughter, commenting on whether or not the prices were any better, and then on the fervrent shopping of her fellow countryment.

which leads me to my next point...eavesdropping. genearlly, i would say this is a VERY bad thing, and that people shouldn't do it. Unfortunately, I've also discovered that its an extremely useful language learning tool for me here in bulgaria! i find myself listening to all sorts of conversations in order to increase my comprehension of the language and observe usage of words, etc. Eavesdropping is now second nature for me, so hopefully I can rid myself of this habit when i'm in the US!

alright, so i really forgot 3 things! last sunday, a fellow volunteer (lincoln) and I went to mass. We thought we were going to the latin mass, but it turned out to be a children's mass! This has never been on the schedule before, and it was SOO fun! first off, everything was designed for children, which meant that the words and sentences were much easier. The lesson had something to do with how we know that jesus is a real person (or something like that...). It was hilarious though, because the priest started asking all the kids why people lie. Then he asked one specific child why she lies...and when she wouldn't answer, he simply said "don't worry! we all lie! just tell us why you do it!" it was pretty cute and definately funny. We're hoping to catch more of these we comprehend more and they are at 11:30am. two good things!

the last month or so

Okay, so now that May is upon us, I thought it was time for an update!

I've been spending an increaseing amount of my work time at home. Why? because I have internet in my apartment, and my organization barely has money to cover the office rent, let alone pay for a computer and internet! This week, after spending a morning researching grant options and reading the local news, I headed for my bus stop. I was a bit early, so I was spacing out while waiting for the bus to arrive. Suddenly, my attention refocused on Bulgaria when a car and "float" passed by FULL of face-painted and coutume clad adults. Between the happy music pumping cheerfully from the stereo and the colorful getups from the paraders, it took me a minute to realize...THE CICRUS IS IN TOWN! about 1 minute later, my bus finally comes...leaving the circus parade in the dusk. now, i've seen a lot of weird things in bulgaria, but for some reason, this one is WAAAY out there for me. something about the circus wagon arriving before my bus made me crack up all day...

Condi Rice was here. She was on a tour of the region, talking about the EU, Cyprus and NATO. Bulgaria joined NATO a while back, and an informal meeting was held at Sofia's national palace of culture (NDK). Traffick was a mess, people were outraged that trafic was a mess, and a local political group - Ataka- was outraged that Bulgaria had just signed a bill allowing more US bases to be built in Bulgaria. This winter (?), it was discovred that several American bases in eastern european countries were actually being used to torture people, so there was big of controversy over whether or not Bulgaria should take these bases. Ataka staged huge rallies, but thankfully, the Bulgarian officials did a MUCH better job controlling oppositional forces that the government of say, Greece. There were much more violent protests in Athens, 3 days before Condi came to bulgaria. We were a little worried that we would encounter some anti-american violence, but everything turned out well...and i got a lovely picture out of the whole deal!

On of my students, Eli, is applying for a journalism competition. This program is designed specifically for Roma youth, and would include a 10- week training on becoming a journalist. Unfortunately, she doesn't know how to type, so she came over to my apartment on monday (bulgarian labor day) and we worked on her resume and motivation statement. It was pretty funny recieving a dictation in bulgarian, espeically since I didn't know all the words! It was even funnier when she asked me for my input...thankfully, those were during times when I understood what I was writting! but mostly, i feel really good about what we were able to do together. It might not seem like a lot to those of you back in the states, but when its all said and done, these are the kind of moments that make our peace corps service feel rewarding. Eli's friends don't have computers, don't know how to type, and don't have access to the internet- luckily, I do- and I was able to help her. Now, I hope she gets the chance to go!!

finally, i would like to request that no packages or mail be sent to me for a short time. The mail address is- as it seems- currently not the most accurate...I will post here when its all cleared up!

happy bulgarian labor day, cinco da mayo, and george's day (bulgaria)!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Condi at the Embassy