Thursday, October 26, 2006

suprises in bulgaria

The theme of this blog is; unexpected friendships, ridiculously funny stories, and the hipster factor of Sofia.

Today I took a little break at work to read the newest copy of Newsweek’s international edition. Newsweek distributes this free to all Peace Corps volunteers. We're really lucky to have some connection to the outside world, especially at the low low price of free. I sometimes don't have the greatest things to say about Peace Corps as an organization, and I generally hate corporate sponsorship or advertising...but this time PC got it right!!!! Anyway, I was reading some article about North Korea and there was a moment in the article where the author mentions how wide spread a feeling is by mentioning two far-flung cities. I read the sentence "...from Tokyo to Sofia..." and then I backtracked. I kept staring at the word "Sofia," trying desperately to understand why this word looked so foreign and familiar all at the same time. That's when I realized it was about the first time I'd read "Sofia" in English in a print article! haha. So, now that Sofia is posh enough to be mentioned without reference to its country, I've decided we're a city of hipsters. Back off (!) kids from Hendersonville, TN!!! I call Sofia for my own!! I found it first and I wanna be a hipster of Europe!

so this blog won't be serious at all, in case you haven't noticed...

A lesson I've learned on my way here in Bulgaria is that, as a young female foreigner, any time someone asks me, "Toni, do you know what x is?" the best answer is always "I don't care." Some days, I'm not always able to exercise that discretion, and I hear quite a variety of "interesting" stories. Yesterday, my coworker Sasho asked this very question.

"Toni, do you know what a 'Russian 3' is?"

Now, I knew better than to pursue this question, but I was kinda bored and went with it. Sasho began my telling me a story about life under socialism, and that during this time, pants and jeans were very scarce. To this day, wearing jeans in Bulgarian society often signifies that you are wealthier than others. Then he continued"

"A Russian 3 is when two people have sex and the third person guards your pants!"

here's the moment of seriousness in the ol blog...

Bulgaria recently had primary elections for president. The two candidates who will face each other on Sunday are from perhaps the two most polar ends of the spectrum. The incumbent, Purvanov (a pernik citizen) is a big time socialist, and in his youth he was some type of leader for the communist party in Bulgaria. The other candidate, Sederov, is something beyond a nationalist. A large part of his party's platform advocates the removal of elements of turkey and Turkish lifestyles from the Bulgarian society. We’re not really allowed to make political commentary, so I have to stop there with the description of Sederov. (If you want to know more, send me an email!)

Well, many Bulgarians are not happy with the choices, and have come to a dilemma of sorts. People don't want to vote for Sederov because they don't agree with his party's platform, but at the same time, they aren't happy with Purvanov. In America, lots of people would probably choose not to vote, or do a "lesser of the two evils" type vote (note: see election 2004. Kerry v. bush). Since democracy is so new, lots of people realize how lucky they are to have the right to vote. However, some people are so disappointed with both candidates that they are deciding between not voting, or voting for the non-incumbent just to show that they aren't happy with Purvanov. Purvanov is expected to win by quite a landslide, but you see a dissatisfaction here that isn't entirely different than our election in 2004. The difference is that we had a choice between two middle of the road candidates and here, it is between two extremists. Anyway, it’s actually really affected some of my coworkers' ability to come to work and function, and for others it’s a constant source of concern. In a country that is often full of apathy and pessimism, there is something heartening about seeing people so passionate about democracy.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My 1st Vandy Homecoming

Friday evening, when you were restlessly sleeping in anticipation of Vandy vs. South Carolina, I was restlessly tossing too.

while some of you were anxiously anticipating every move made by those courageous 'dores, I was fighting off a terrible chill whilst trying to get comfy on a steel bench in macedonia.


I missed my first homecoming last year, and with the prospect of missing NEXT year's homecoming as well, there was NO WAY I was going to miss this one! So I packed my bags for the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia to see the fabulous Cindy Wasserman! In order to make this trip even more exciting, David Marbury was also part of this little band of VUCCers looking for a fellow choirite with whom to share our love of the 'dores.

after a great few days in Bulgaria, David and I packed our backpacks, grabbed our passports, and headed to Sofia to catch a midnight bus to Skopje, the captial city of Macedonia. Though I'd only travled to macedonia once, a quick perusal of bus schedules seemed to indicate that our 6am arrival in Skopje would give us plenty of time to catch a bus to Cindy's city, get a place in a hotel, and spend a few hours with Cindy before returning to Bulgaria the next day. I had no clear idea of how long a bus ride to her city, Negotino, would take...but I was confidant that my lingustical skillz and our die-hard love for Cindy would get the job done!

so how exactly did I wind up shivering to death on a metal bench in skopje? was it a communication breakdown? did David lose his passport? did we forget Cindy's phone number? Did we get kicked out of our bus at customs? NO!!!!! whew...wouldn't that have been scary?

So after several hours of (im)patiently waiting for our bus to skopje, David and I were looking forward to our 6 hour bus snooze fest to macedonia. 12am came and went...we were starting to get worried when a tiny little red "marshrutka" pulled up to our bus sector. Judging by the number of people waiting in the bus station and the number of buses at the station, we made a quick judgement call and RAN to the little minibus. We were able to secure two cramped spots in the back of this little over-sold van. There was so little room that the entire "walkway" of the bus was covered in bags and suitcases...we were SO thankful that our little backpacks fit above our seats, and that we weren't going to stand for the next 6 hours.

Now a big downside of these little buses is that you feel EVERY bump in the road. This particular road was so bad that most of the passengers were flying out of their seats every minute of so. sleep had clearly been ruled out at this point... a quick 3 1/2 hours, I reckognized the skopje bus station. WHAT?! our 6 hour trip had suddenly ended 2 1/3 hours earlier...meaning that our bus to cindy's town wasn't leaving for 5 hours and that the only open building in the city was this very bus station!!! So after a few mintues of trying to convince david that this trip had, in fact, been a good idea, I slowly gave into the fate that the only sleep i'd get in the next 20 hours was on the steely cold benches within the bus station. I spent the next 5 hours either camped out on this bench with my hood pulled tight around my face, in the smokers room (theere was a heater!), or roaming around the top floor (until the employees yelled at us and made us go back downstairs) until it was time for our bus.

okay, this blog is ridiculous. Long story short, I got to see two of my favorite vandy grads, and we were able to celebrate our "first" homecoming (abroad) together! Cindy is doing amazing in macedonia...everyone from macedonians to fellow PCVs love and adore her. (of course!) Her Macedonian skills are BEYOND amazing for 4 weeks...she actually speaks macedonian better than lots of volunteers from my group speak Bulgarian...after 4 weeks people! This quick trip was incredibly refreshing to me, as its always amazing to be surrounded by people who know you so well, and with whom you've shared amazing moments in your life. i am so thankful that david was able to come and visit, and that we made our crazy trip to macedonia. I love my friends!!!! GO 'DORES!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

little dreams and big dreamers

I've never been very good at remembering my dreams. And with the exception of recurring dreams and those others which i've recently dreamed, within the last week I've found my dreaming patterns to be quite opposite! Last night I had a dream that I found atleast 4 delightfully furry cats! The night before, I dreamt that I had found a 'KMart' in Bulgaria- at which point I ran in to buy PowerBars and instant brown rice. ???? If its true that your dreams are trying to tell you something from your inner concious...then how funny is it that my biggest wants are brown rice, cats, and powerbars!? food for thought...

this post will continue as more of a brag than an update;

The Vanderbilt Commodores UPSET #16 Georgia last night in last-play field goal. This victory ended some 11 years of losses to the Bulldogs....go 'Dores!

In other Vanderbilt news, we're nearly a top 50 university...internationally!! I recently agreed to do alumni interviewing for Vandy here in Bulgaria, and I was shocked at how high the admissions standards are today. Mom & Dad- good think i was born in 1982 and not 1986/7! I never wouldn't have made it to college! haha. But anyway, its nice to see Vanderbilt getting some of the respect it deserves. As one of the few top 20 universities in the states which has never heard alligations of professors handing out top marks (our current chancellor is said to have left Brown in part because he thought professors gave too many high marks), its sometimes hard to fight your way to the top, but we're getting there!

as a dabbler in Economics and social policy, I've always been nothing but facsinated, intrigued and flat out in love with the Grameen Bank. This weekend, an esteemed Vandy alum -whose believe in giving even the poorest people a chance at living a decent life- was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Yunus has flat out changed the lives of millions of impoverished people through the micro-credit lending system of the Grameen bank. Is this kind of belief and this kind of daring that makes me want to keep giving to society in any way that I can. This is not a success story of several people or of one man, it is the success of more than 6.5 million people- and counting. In Spring 2005, Dr. Yunus spoke at Vanderbilt and it was an amazing experience for me. I still sharply remember the day, where I was sitting in Wilson 101...

speaking about his idea, he says;

"So I made a list of people who needed just a little bit of money. And when the list was complete, there were 42 names. The total amount of money they needed was $27. I was shocked. Here we were talking about economic development, about investing billions of dollars in various programmes, and I could see it was not billions of dollars people needed right away. They needed a tiny amount of money. That was in 1976."

okay, so i was going to brag a lot about other stupid stuff, but i am just so impressed and ecouraged by someone like Dr. Yunas that with that last quote in mind I say, "here's to the ones who challenge the status quo."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

running running!

Hi Everyone!

As I am writing this post, there are 34 days, 16 hours, and some amount of minutes until the start of the Athens marathon! I can't believe its getting so close, and infact, some days I just want the marathon to happen tomorrow! today I ran 18 miles, and I'm pretty proud of that! I had to take a few breaks for water and re-fueling (after all, that was about 1800 calories I burned!), but I generally feel prepared to do all of this!

I recently met a PC trainee (someone who will become a volunteer after successfully completing the 3 month training) who has ran several marathons, and he loaned me this book by an "ultramarathoner," Dean Karnazes. This book is interesting, and its amazing the things he's done! he's run 100 mile races through mountainous terrain in less than 24 hours, won the 130ish mile ultramarathon through death valley, run 262 miles straight without stopping or sleeping, and run a marathon in the south pole! this dude is amazing! he's currently trying to run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days...

So this got me to thinking about the sport, and of course I wikipedia-ed it. Turns out that there is a woman named Rosie Swale-Pope who is RUNNING around the WORLD! not only that, but she runs while carrying a little cart behind her...much like the ones bikes carry! she was born in 1946, so she's older than both my parents and doing this insane thing!

Another woman, Pam Reed, ran the same ultramarathon as Karnazes through death valley...and she won it twice! one time, she beat her nearest competitor by FIVE HOURS! she wrote a book called "the extra mile," and currently orchestrates the Tuson Marathon.

so though I have found my 18 miles to be somewhat of a success...its been both humbling and amazing to read about the trials, struggles, and accopmlishments of these super athletes!