Sunday, July 23, 2006

Multi-ethnic Youth Camp

On friday, I returned to pernik from a wonderful week at the beach! I spent 8 days working with multi-ethnic youth from across bulgaria on the lovely Black Sea.

Though this camp was not the first multi-ethnic camp in Bulgaria (it was the second), it hold promise for one that will continue as long as there is interest from the youth. The camp was organized by an NGO that works with Roma youth in the city of Pazardjik. This NGO also hosts a Peace Corps Volunteer, and together they planned the camp "Zaedno Napred" (Forward together). This NGO has organized summer camps on the Sea for active and motivated Roma youth for the past 5 years, and after 5 years of success, the director was able to realize his dream of holding a multi-ethnic youth camp.

There were 5 ethnic groups represented at the camp; Bulgarians, Bulgarian Muslims, Turkish, Roma, and Jewish. Each ethnic group had atleast 5 open-mided, motivated and exhuberant representatives. during the day, the campers participated in different team building activities, fun games, and lectures on topics related to different ethnic groups. Nearly every afternoon we managed to squeeze in a little time for the beach, time to walk around the center, or just hang out with new friends.

One of the coolest things that happened during the camp were nightly presentations of each groups culture. each group chose rituals, ceremonies, holidays, music and dances that represented the most important (or most basic) aspects of their culture, and presented these for the entire group. Each and every person present was engaged by these presentations, and everyone learned something new about the different groups- even from the groups (like the roma) that that other campers felt there were already familiar with.

going into this camp, we were all a bit worried that the youth might fight with each other, not want to talk to eachother, not respect eachother and their cultures, and that they might demand to go home. Cultural differences and intolerance in bulgaria can run high. but we were nothing but suprised, pleased and impressed with the group of youth that participated in this camp. By the time camp had finished and the bus pulled up to take the students away, their were tears, promises of emails, and exhanges of cell phone numbers.

I have participated in many different types of camps before, but this one was by far the best! we had our fair share of misommunications, troubles, etc...but the youth were some of the best that I have encoutnered in both the US and Bulgaria.

I've got to run (time's running out at the internet cafe!) but I promise to post pictures soon!!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Weddings and Bulgaria

So in the last extremely brief post I mentioned how AWESOME it was to see my sister and Jason get married!! Well, incase you somehow didn't pick up the vibe, it was incredible to be home, and especially for such a momentous occasion!!!

Concerning other weddings, two of my favorite people in Bulgaria - randy(pcv) and petya- we married this sunday! I had the honor of serving as one of their witnesses, the best man as it were, for the ceremony. As a witness, I had to confirm that Randy and Petya were a good match and that I would always be there to give them good advice and such things... of course I said the equivilent of "I will!" As soon as I can, I will also post pictures from their wedding. We did lots of fun and zanny things, including making Petya's bouquet ourselves, and buying silly gifts after the ceremony.

Jumping back in time, I want to share with you a brief summary of my return trip to bulgaria. Let's put it this was LOOOONG!! I started out my travels at 6am in SD, and about 60 hours (approx. 2:30am bulgaria time) later I made it to my apartment! The day(s) that I traveled happened to be the same as the big rainstorms out in the east. When I got to Chicago, my flight was already delayed, and as the day wore on the delays continued to increase. After 5 hours of waiting (around 11pm), we boarded the plane- mintues later we learned our plane had failed safety tests, and that our new flight would depart the following day at 3pm!!! United put us all up in various hotels around the city, so in groups of 6 or so, the passengers all started to become aquainted with one another. I expected a lot of german people to be on my Germany-bound flight, but instead, most people were US citizens returning to their home countries in Eastern Europe to grab a few weeks vacation. I met several families from other Balkan countires, and we had a good time comparing the similiarities of our languages, I met a lovely greek couple who live in Athens, and quite a few Bulgarians!! The bulgarian families that I met were really nice to me, and as we dealt with all the delays and such that we faced, it was nice to speak freely in BULGARIAN rather than ENGLISH infront of the customer service ppl! Well, by the time we finally arrived in Munich, everyone had missed their connecting flights by more than 16 hours and almost no-one would find a seat to their final destination unless they took additional connections or stayed another night in Munich!!!! I wound up being re-routed through Frankfurt and arrived in Sofia at midnight on friday, about 36 hours later than estimated arrival. As luck would have it, one of the bulgarian families were not only traveling to my city, but they also lived on the same street as me!!!! I was exteremly lucky, as I otherwise would have spent the next 7 hours inthe train station, waiting for first train to my town! So, after a crazy long trip, I was extremely glad to have met loads of new and interesting people, but mostly, to have arrived to my apartment!

It was also been great to be back in bulgaria! I have been busy catching up with friends, "remembering" Bulgarian, and planning for several youth camps that I'm participating in, and celebrating coworkers' birthdays!

okay, well we have to go run and catch a night bus, but I will write about this mutli-ethnic youth camp when I get back!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

WOW!! after a 60 hour trip (it was supposed to be half of that...), I've finally arrived in Bulgaria!! This is just a quick note to let everyone know that things are good. Please check out my pictures from the wedding.

all I can say was that my sister and jason's wedding was pretty darn cool. thanks to everyone who helped out!!

promise to write soon, but until I do...

only in europe will you see shorter shorts on the men than the women... wow.