Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Starting a New Year!

The holidays were relaxing and enjoyable. I spent Christmas relaxing in the village where I trained for my Peace Corps service. I celebrated with my host mother and her family in traditional Bulgarian style. Christmas eve is most important. We ate a large vegetarian dinner, blessed the home with incense and exchanged gifts. After Christmas I went to the capital to watch the Nutcracker for the first time. What made it more special was that it was performed by the National Russian Ballet. New Years was a bit more calmer this year. I hiked up the mountains through the Balkan National Park and stayed in a cabin for four days enjoying the quiet winter nature.
My Fall and Winter projects have kept me quite busy. December first was national AIDS awareness day. My site mate and I we were able to organize a week long, two part event with the youth center and our local municipality. Professionals made presentations about how views about sex vary gender, decision making and learning the facts about HIV and AIDS. We even arranged for the local youth to interact in games that would help them to become more comfortable talking about sex and AIDS. In addition to this, the rest of my time has been spent teaching English and Environmental Education to elementary school students. The idea is to demonstrate how they can be active in protecting their environment and to gain a sense of pride and responsibility for it. This isn't stressed in school or in the community.Life on the whole is going very well.
I also teach life skills classes once a month. Last week on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we discussed the importance to respect people who seem "different than us." This was intended to open their minds to accepting people of all cultures, languages, dissability and religion. There are several groups of people in this country who are not accepted into the core community and their prejudices begin at home. Before I had this lesson with my fourth graders I disscussed a similar subject with my debate group. These students are older and were able to give their own oppinions regarding the minority populations living in this country. They agreed that it needs to be a joint effort between the Bulgarians and the other cultures to work together, come to an understanding and to have the same requirements regarding work, schooling and government assistance.
The weather is improving currently. We have rain now and then and I have the chance to sport my rain boots I purchased in the local market. These are only worn by older women and men so when I wear them with a red umbrella that has ears I guess I'm asking for people to stare.
I have been communicating with Peace Corps and my local municipality for three months regarding the horrible mold problem I have in my apartment. The decision is finally that I will be moving to a new apartment. This is located in a new complex, closer to the center and it is a little bigger than my current living space. I'm really looking forward to living there. I will finally have a balcony and I wont have to walk a half hour or more to work. I'll take pictures as soon as I see the updates on the remodeling. I will be moving in at the latest the second week in February.
In March, look for a blog post about my trip to Turkey. I will be going there for 4 days at the beginning of the month with another volunteer. I'm really looking forward to traveing and seeing more of the world.
As far my town interaction, I'm making more friends, fostering stronger relationships with the community members and really enjoying my work with the students. Everyday is challenging but each one provides an opportunity to fall down, laugh and grow from each experience.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

End of Summer and new opportunities

It has been abnormally long since my last post......due to personal and Peace Corps related trips and pure laziness. I am a bit older (maybe wiser) then my last post and I have recently acquired a very energetic kitten from a volunteer in the Radopi mountain region of Bulgaria. My recent activities include an exciting week long vacation in Austria and Slovenia with a side trip to see my Baba in Boboshevo . As far as work opportunities go, they seem to be increasing as the school year draws closer.

I have been living with a kitten since late July, who I lovingly call Lou Lou. He is about 3 months old and sometimes I think he is possibly the spawn of the devil...........young and curious is more like it. Sometimes I feel bad that such a little cat is living alone with me in a studio apartment. He keeps me entertained and I think just about everything I own has become his toy. I haven't decided what I will do with him when it comes time to leave Bulgaria, I have plenty of time to figure out some options but I think its best to leave him with a local youth that would have more time with him and not scar him forever by spending 15 hrs in the darkness of a airplane luggage compartment.

In August I spent a week in Vienna Austria and Ljubljana Slovenia. In Austria went to Palaces of the Hapsburg family, ate apple strudel and sausage and then lazed about on the rolling green lawns in front of art museums. Slovenia is a bit smaller but just as quaint. I enjoyed ancient castles refurbished into local art galleries, riding down the river in a tour boat and spending the day walking around the lake in Bled. The trip was great, full of new experiences and happy moments. I am happy to say I was able to find a perfect hole in the wall sushi restaurant that I ate at, TWICE! :)

When I came back to Bulgaria from my vacation, I had a side trip to my Peace Corps training town, Boboshevo. I spent an evening with my Baba, telling her about my trip, work and answering questions about why I have not found a husband and have not started to have kids yet. This is still baffling to her that I am 24, not married and without children. It was great being back in my old stomping grounds. I saw all my old neighbors and even went with my baba to get her goats with the rest of the neighborhood. Just like old times. Our closest neighbor and fellow goat owner, made me another pair of knitted booties and said if I come back for Christmas that I would get another pair. I have at least 8 pairs at this point. All different colors and patterns. All to keep me toasty warm this winter.

Work lately has been a mixture of local town initiatives and working with the newly arrived trainees. I have been selected to be a Resource Volunteer for the group of volunteers training in Ovchartsi. This is a small village close to Dupnitsa, similar to my village where I spent my training. I will be a resource for them not only for their small group project but also for guidance as they become accustomed to this new lifestyle and after training when they move to their permanent sites. Something like a mentor. I have a great group. Two boys and two girls from all regions of the United States. Currently they are working on a great project proposal to have a day for the local youth in their village where the kids will take part in a photography scavenger hunt (the kids take pictures of different objects / elements in town) and then the pictures will be installed in the town library. The idea is to promote youth action and increase youth interest in the local library. This can also increase tourism and other types of local involvement.
As far as work in my town, I have several initiatives that I am working on. After attending a seminar on how to implement HIV and AIDS educational activities and events in site, I am working with my site mate and two youth to create a program for our local High Schools, private English school and art galleries. Each of these organizations will play a different role in reaching out to the local youth and the community about the issues of HIV and AIDS and how knowledge can lead to prevention.

My main title as a volunteer is "Environmental Education." This is something that I feel is very important for youth. Not only is it important for them to have respect and a connection to the environment but also to be taught about it with active learning. They must be in nature interacting with it to learn about it. I have a connection to a local elementary school who helped to me to hold a meeting with the teachers of this school and discuss my ideas of how to incorporate EE into their programs. They applaud the idea and look forward to having me working with their students after the beginning of the the school year. Recently I organized a meeting with the director of the local orphanage. Many youth volunteers have already been working with this type of institution in their town, but for me I see that the majority of my efforts in the information center (my current host organization) can now be focused elsewhere till the next tourist season. I will be meeting with the director next Thursday in order to discuss what are the needs of the institution and how I can help meet those needs. Ideally I would like to go to the orphanage several times a week, playing with the children, working with them on English, Math, Arts and anything they would be excited to learn about. My Bulgarian tutor is currently writing a project to give these children some school supplies and provide them with an opportunity to interact with the students of the local English School........something like an exchange.

As far as me and how I'm doing. Everyday I feel a little more like I live here.......which is about time because I only have one more year :) I'm making more acquaintances in my apartment building and around town. My Bulgarian language is improving more and more, slowly! And gradually I feel as if my work here is having a greater purpose, which certainly helps me to feel more at peace here and connected to my town.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Travels to a Българска Сватба

I had been invited to Dupnitsa for the resource fair of the new TEFL volunteers (B23s). I was asked to present environmental education materials since most of the work I have done in site has been teaching local youth about recycling, animal habitats and respecting the local environment. I Traveled to Dupnitsa through Plovdiv and Sofia. It was very nice meeting the new trainees and soon to be volunteers. It was the day before they were sworn in and I had the opportunity to speak with them and see some of their last minute jitters. They seemed very excited and ready to head to their new homes.

The next morning I woke up very early to head back towards Sofia and then onto Plovdiv to meet with other volunteers who were traveling with me down south almost to Greece for a Wedding. The wedding was in a small Bulgarian village named Slashten. A volunteer and a Bulgarian tied the knot in Bulgarian tradition.

Before the wedding I decided to take a shower..............should have thought twice. This bathroom had a clogged drain and I was unaware of the flood of water flowing out of the door. By the time I was finished, all the floor outside the bathroom was covered in standing water and confused Bulgarians. I apologized over and over and tried to help clean it up but they just smiled and seemed to say that it has happened before................the floor was tile making it easy for cleaning.
Early in the morning we met outside the home where the bride had been since midnight. It is tradition for the bride to hide so that her groom cannot see her the day of the wedding before she comes out in her dress. We all waited outside patiently for the bride and groom to make their appearance. When they came out a baba sprinkled them with herb water, local musicians played music and candy was thrown as we all walked through the village into the square.
Later came dancing and then signing of the marriage documents. We spent the rest of the day eating and dancing, eating and dancing until we were just about stuffed. At one point the dance group the bride danced with in Chirpan became the even entertainment. The bride changed out of her dress into a traditional Bulgarian costume along with her sitemate and those from the group who made the trip. Late we took a small break, then went to a small cafe where the other volunteers, the bride's family and the groom ate left overs from the wedding feast.

We sent the new couplke off with wishes of luck and happiness.
The next morning started early. Time to head back to site.........seems easy enough right? Well all the volunteers who came to the wedding and I hopped onto a little micro bus headed to the next large town where we would get on another bus to Sofia. On the trip, a group of men got on the bus but had not closed the door to the luggage bin correctly. The bag of one volunteer fell out and is believed to have been stolen by a passing car. After almost an hour talking about it outside the bus we got back on and headed to our destination. We took the driver to the local police station where Peace Corps (on the phone) , the police and the driver spent an hour or so discussing the next steps. The volunteer probably wont get his bag and belongings back but thankfully will be able to have the bus company reimburse him for the majority of his lost items.

Now that I'm back to work after a long and expensive trip (Bus fare is a killer) I have been meeting soo many foreigners who are hiking and traveling through Karlovo. I work at a tourism center so when they walk in I have to assume they are Bulgarian (this is Bulgaria) so I begin speaking in Bulgarian. When I get the awkward face I used to give when I didn't understand, I switch to English and that tends to be more productive. Just yesterday I met a young French boy who had been hiking from Italy and wanted to travel over the Balkans through Karlovo. I provided him with a map and took him to the beginning of the train up to peak Botev and then up and over.
The weather is hot and sweltering. Had to buy a fan so that I could sleep at night. Work is going well and my projects and ideas are rolling along. It may be warm but I'm staying busy and that's what makes a good day.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Smell the Roses

This past weekend was the Festival of the Rose in Karlovo. Two volunteers came for the event; Jim and Emma. I had never been to the rose festival before and wasn't sure if it would be very entertaining..........turns out there was nothing to worry about. When they arrived Friday night, we went for dinner at a local restaurant and talked about Peace Corps experiences and did a little catching up. After dinner we walked through the center. We were met by a local doctor from Soput outside Restaurant Karlovo. He and I are working on a project together to get medical supplies for the local hospitals. This evening was apparently an auction to raise money for children. It was a lavish event with banquet style seating, flowers and lots of food and drink. The doctor invited us to join and paraded us into the restaurant passed the front tables telling everyone we were Americans from the Peace Corps and lead us into the back where all the municipal leadership was say the least we were all surprised to see each other. The night continued with a few awkward hellos and introductions. The waiter brought us out cake and poured us water in wine glasses. The doctor, who was very drunk at this point in the night kept coming over with wine for our glasses. The entertainment for the night began not much after we arrived. There were women in Vegas style costumes dancing to Broadway music and a man who swallowed fire and had Jim step on his chest while laying on a bed of nails. Emma described it as what she expected to happen if she was ever tripping on Acid. I was pretty sure that no matter how much fun the next few days were this evening would be hard to top.

The next morning we woke up early and met the past volunteer and my dance group to go to the outside of town to the rose fields. Here we saw the tradition of the rose queen and her court, traditional dancing, singing and drank rose rakia......which honestly was more like cool aid with rose flavoring.
After the events in the rose fields there was a presentation in the center with the rose queen and the mayor. This was followed by kukeri dancing and singing. We decided to go for a walk around Karlovo to see the waterfall and a local rakia distillery. This distillery made rose rakia and rose water. They were giving demonstrations and tasting. Later that night, there was a concert in the center. It was an early 90's hair band. They played alot of covers and at one point played the first 3 or 4 minutes of several popular rock ballads which was a bit confusing but that might have been all the knew for those songs. At one point we only heard the drummer playing, this was because the other group members decided to take a smoke break in the middle of the concert.
Emma headed back to her town Sunday morning and Jim and I enjoyed a lazy afternoon. We made french toast and attempted to make banana bread in my testy oven. We made a crazy decision to go to Plovdiv for McDonalds. I spent almost 10 leva on food and it was worth every stutinki.
Yesterday I had an Eco club project with the kids I went with on excursion a few weeks ago. There was a presentation from a volunteer who lives in Gabrovo (just over the mountains) and we played a game about food chains then they made masks with natural and recyclable materials and finished the event with two films; one about hedgehogs and the other about lady bugs. At one point in each movie the animals were getting a bit physical.......the kids were giggling and we had to explain that is what happens in nature so there can be more hedgehogs and ladybugs. Hehe!
The class and their teacher had brought me a bouquet of really made me feel special and welcome. After the event I was given some startling news. Thankfully the visiting volunteer had better Bulgarian skills then I and was able to clue me in on what she was saying. He just had this look on him that something was wrong. I understood that she was talking about a student and a mom but it wasn't until she used the work "monkey" in Bulgarian that I was able to piece the puzzle together. The problem was that there was a student in her class who did not come to the event because he was upset. After our trip around Bulgaria he went home crying saying that apparently I had called him a monkey. This of course was not true and not something I would ever do to anyone let alone a 10 year old child. He has a complex about his larger ears. I was told that he tends to think people are always talking about him and his ears. I assume he heard me say something to the other kids, or misunderstood something I said thinking it was related to him and his ears. I don't know where he would have come up with this idea. The teacher explained that she knew this was not in my character and even the students explained it had not happened. The mother of this student was upset as I can imagine and had contacted the teacher about the incident. I offered to speak with the mother if it would help. Even though the accusations were completely off the wall and false it certainly put a damper in my day to think that not only one of the students but also their parents thought I was capable of this.
Today was back to the real world. I started work in the information center. They have been itching for an English speaker to be working here for all of the foreign tourists asking for information regarding the town and the mountains. There has already been a man in today from Switzerland. he wants to make a film about the rose festivals in Karlovo and Kazanlak. I was sorry to say that he had missed the festival in Karlovo but had all week to enjoy the festivities in Kazanluk. I also put him in contact with the volunteer in that town.
It is a beautiful day on Waterfall street.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Hanging with the kiddos

On Friday I returned to Karlovo after a five day excursion with twenty-five third graders, all of which were nine or ten years old. The trip was an opportunity for the children to take learning outside of the classroom. We visited history museums, churches, historic monuments and caves. The name of this little excursion translates into Green School. Not only did the students learn about the history and culture of Bulgaria but also its amazing environmental beauty.

I was asked to serve as another shaperone for the students and since I speak was thought that I could teach the children English while we were traveling around the country. I had prepared flash cards and pictures in English and Bulgarian but the kids were also happy playing 20 questions all day long in order to learn any word they could think of. It was very humorus and I enjoyed every moment of it. I helped them with their English and I had 25 ready and willing Bulgarian language teachers.

At first they didnt seem very interested in me traveling with them. Every now and then they would walk to the front of the bus where I was sitting and ask me a question; "Where are you from?", "How old are you?", "Do you speak Bulgarian?" :) (that one always makes me laugh because I've already answered the first few questions in Bulgarian), "How long have you been in Bulgaria?" ........and so on. This went on just about the entire first day until we got to our hotel and we had more time to joke and have fun. It wasnt long before we were all good friends........But the questions continued :) They wanted to know absolutly everything about the United States and how it was different from Bulgaria. It was difficult conveying to them the size of the US because they wanted a response that pertained to the whole country. They didnt understand how there could be so many differences in one country. I did my best. I did have one student who asked me what life was like in England. I explained I was from the US, and not only is it far from England but also different in many ways. She didnt seem to care much about my her, they were two English speaking countries and basicly one in the same.

There was one student who turned out to be more curious then the others. One day he put his arm around me and asked me with a smile "Are you married?" Not too bad for a nine year old. Every night we had a little disco in the resturant of the hotel.....only problem was all the boys I could dance with were missing fifteen years and three feet. It was fun just goofing around and dancing around with the kids not worring how bad I dance.

The moms and other shaperones were just as interesting. The day was spent with the kids and in the evening the older women and I spent the evening with Bulgarian snacks, Gin and tonics and Music Idol. The questions at this time of day were geared more toward what I was doing before I moved to Bulgaria, my family and my personal life. It was interesting to them that I was twenty three years old, living very far from my parents and without a ring or kids. One had been married since she was 16, but never regreted a moment of it.

Before I left on the trip I began planning an Eco Club for these students. We will play games focused on food chains, have a mask making competition with materials from the outside and recyclables, and also a film and a presentation about the animals in the Balkan Region. I will be getting help from local volunteers in Gabrovo for the presentaions and well........... the crowd control (entertaining 25 youngins is no easy task).

I hope to have the opportunity to work with more youth in the future of my service regarding environmental education in ways such as eco clubs, projects, hikes and outtings.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Life behind the scenes

Well its only a matter of time before you have to write something personal in your blog. For some of us, life as a volunteer includes more then butchering the language, nagosti and coffee at the local cafe. A few of us have attempted to have a personal life during our service.......arent we optamistic.
This brings with it many challenges, sacrafices and the need for alot of strengh and understanding. The biggest challenge is balancing your commitment to your work and community (your reason for coming here and dedicating two years of your life) while finding time and giving enough of yourself to your personal commitments. Sometimes I find myself asking if it is appropriate to be spending time on anything other then my work, however we are all entitiled to a life as long as you keep your priorities in mind at all times.

Hope! This is something I have been holding onto everyday. Hope that all your effort and time spent is going to prove worthy of all the difficulty. Hope that one day you will have more then weekends. Hope that one day you will really learn who this person is.

Just as in our service, this must be taken one day at a time and with the least amount of expectations as possible.

TIME: Do your best to spend your time wisly; its limited.

TALK: Communication is so important, because you spend 80% of your relationship on skype or sending emails if your lucky.

BE CAREFUL: Your emotions cant be paraded around town and your best friend on the other side of the world isnt always going to be awake when you need someone to talk to.

PATIENCE: Be willing to put your needs on hold

UNDERSTANDING: The first priority is your purpose for being here.......Don't lose site of that.

Take a deep breath and take each step with care and consideration. Maybe it doesnt work for everyone but for me it also takes alot of prayer; all of my blessings did not come from my work alone, so why would I think I could face my challenges and survive them alone?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."
- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

"Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who forgives you out of love takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrafice."
-Dag Hjalmar

"Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it."
-Mark Twain