Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

13 September, 2009

My Peace Corps adventure is coming to a close.

It is hard to believe that two years can fly by so fast, and yet, crawl so slowly. In the past few weeks, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect over what I have done and my decision to join the Peace Corps and how that decision has impacted my life. Clearly, I am no longer the same person- I now consider a country that I previously only had an idea where it was located on a map as my second home.

I came with only one goal in mind (despite being told to have have no goals or expectations)–to make a difference. Have I achieved this goal? In ways I never suspected I could.  Have I changed? Irreversibly. I now see the world in a much different light, I’ve seen how so many can do with so little, what true oppression and hardship look like and most of all, the influence the allure the United States really has on the world. I was so impressed with how closely my Bulgarian friends followed the US Presidential elections. On female teacher told me that Hillary Clinton was her greatest inspiration because she showed what women can achieve.

But before I learned all of this, I had to go through training.  As part of my 11 weeks of training, I lived with a family of Bulgarians. When I first meet this kind family, I could only tell tell them that I loved cucumbers (which isn’t true) and could ask if there was hot water.

My host family, the Kamzholivis

My host family in Rila

Extreme cultural sensitivity on both sides bridged the language barrier and I quickly found myself a part of their family; traveling six to seven hours to spend Christmases and Easter with them.

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner

This acceptance wasn’t limited to a single family who took care of me during my training. There were many many people and families that helped this hapless American in the first frightening months of service (and it should be noted, those months fall on one of the coldest winters in recent memory). Their kindness and generosity were gave me the strength I needed to get through the winter and gave me confidence that I can to it.

My dance team and I

Me with my kindergarten class, Christmas 2008

Me with my kindergarten class, Christmas 2008

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Back

22 May, 2009

Sorry for the lack of posts; I was in the US for 17 days due to a family emergency and my brother’s graduation.

Friends

12 February, 2009

I’ve been a Peace Corps Volunteer living in Chirpan for almost 16 months. Chirpan isn’t a large city, and it’s not a small one either-the perfect size to think you know everything and then get surprised. One such surprise is meeting some awesome people who are involved in the community, but have never heard of them before now.

Video. Yep, that’s his real name. I met him through his wife, a new dancer at my dance troupe. His English is perfect and he’s the Bulgarian representative for a farm supply company. He’s lived in England and spent some time in Texas. He’s often out of town travelling and has invited me to join him on one of his Bulgarian business trips when he’ll be meeting other English speakers. He’s very keen on introducing me to his English speaking son. I look forward to hang out with more people closer to my age!

Mikhal. He’s the son of one of my friends who works at the cashier’s office in the municipality. He recently finished his PhD in biology and as part of his docotrial work, he discovered several new species of insects and fauna. He’s a wonderful guys and speaks some English. I’m meeting with him on a weekly basis to help him with his English.

Petar. OK, this is an interesting story that happened today. I met Mikhal for coffee this morning, but he couldn’t stay long. We were speaking in English and this old man walks passed where we’re sitting and gives a funny look. This tends to happen when people hear a foreign language here. He leaves and Mikhal follows shortly. I turn to my note book and work on my Bulgarian homework. The old dude returns and askes me if the seat in front of me is free. I say yes, expecting him to just take it to another table. (more…)

Back in Bulgaria

9 December, 2008

Coming back home was a much needed vacation and it felt absolutely fantastic to my family again. It also gave me an opportunity to see America from a new perspective and understand how much I’ve changed (as well as much I’ve missed certain foods. Never would have guessed pancakes and bacon would have been so high on that list).
An American breakfast institution (more…)

Fluency

19 November, 2008

My biggest concern when I first joined the Peace Corps was learning another language. It was a reasonable fear seeing that I took six years of Spanish and still had trouble navigating a menu in a Mexican restaurant. Bulgarian is much (much) tougher than Spanish. For starters, it’s a different alphabet. A “P” in English and Spanish is actually an “R” in Bulgarian. And then you’ve got dudes like this: “Ю”. Having 16 months under my belt makes the Cyrillic alphabet a cinch. It’s actually much easier than the Latin alphabet-everything is straight up phonetic. “You spell it with a “P”, as in “Psychology”. That joke doesn’t work in Bulgarian.

Can I speak, read and write Bulgarian? Absolutly. However, I only write it for my tutor and I rarely read it extensively. But speaking, yet. My vocabulary isn’t where I’d like it to be but my pronouciation and grammar has lead people to confuse me for a Bulgarian. Though they haven’t told me if it’s a slow Bulgarian who says things like “something you put high in a room to make light” (нещо която слагиш нагори в стая да прави светлина) or “a light bulb” (електрическа крушка). Yea, I get lots of weird looks. But not as often as I once did.

Can I communicate? Yes I can. Am I confident when communicating? Ususally. I think that’s the key to learning a new language, powering through your obvious mistakes to get your point across. And not only do that, but do it with a smile. Can I understand what’s going on around me? Yes. Usually if it’s on a topic I don’t have much vocabulary, it takes more energy. But I can usually form an opinion on the subject and convey it.

So where do I stand on fluency? I, by no means, can speak like a native. I can’t put up a newspaper and understand all the front page stories. Or listen to the radio and understand everything. I’m also horrible at Bulgarian riddles (why some people aske them, I have no idea). However, I’m going to define it as “being able to overhear things and understand what people are talking about when you don’t want to”. Listening to people talk about the Roma, people with dark skin and sometimes the President-Elect all fall into this category. It’s also getting harder to fake ignorance on the language. It comes with the territory, I guess. I’ll take that any day to prove my junior high Spanish teacher wrong. 🙂

A trip to the doctor

18 November, 2008

Over the past six weeks, I’ve had a nagging cough. It’s come and gone so much that I haven’t really thought about how long I’d had it. However, this week it’s gotten worse and I finally broke down and called the Peace Corps Medical Officer. She told me to make an appointment with a local doctor and to relay the diagnosis. I called her on the way to dance practice and once I got there, I told my counterpart what I had to do. You can imagine what telling this type of news to a room full of middle aged and older women does when they find out the token American is going to the hospital. My dance teacher came up to me and asked me, very seriously, why I didn’t follow her advice (note: look at the date of that entry. Creepy) She then kissed me on both cheeks and sent me home.

Today, as soon as I got into the office, I headed straight out with my counterpart. We walked to the hospital in the center of town. I think it’s more of a medical center, but for the purposes of the story, I’ll call it the hospital. I had never been in there before and was amazed at the number of gates. It seemed every single room and several hall ways could be locked shut with a gate if need be. We made it to the doctor’s office and walked straight in. I’m not sure if it’s because there was no line, if he is a friend of my counterpart or because I got special treatment. I felt a little bit embarrassed since it seemed everyone on the floor was a minority, several with small children, waiting for their doctor and I stuck out with my gortex jacket. (Later, I would find out it was just lucky timing).

I sat down on the exam table and was handed a thermometer. I started to stick it under my tongue out of habit. Everyone in the room-two doctors, my counterpart and a random lady- saw me start to do it and all shouted “NO!” at the same time. “This is NOT an American thermometer!”. I sat there, blinking and stuck it under my arm. That was a bit crazy how in unison they were. After my temperature was taken, I took off my shirt and let an elderly, semi-retired doctor check my breathing with a stethoscope. He kept asking me to breath deeper. I did. “Deeper”. I tried. “Deeper“. At this point I thought I was going to pass out with how deep and frequently he wanted me to breath. I just pictured the headlines in the paper the next day: Local doctor with poor hearing asphyxiates American volunteer.

The doctor told me to walk down the hall to the radiology department. I walked into the x-ray room and was a bit worried. I’d heard stories from other volunteers who have had x-rays in Bulgarian hospitals. I won’t tell them because it wasn’t the case here. Though seeing an x-ray machine that seemed really old gave me some pause. I took off my shirt once again and with my back to the machine, arms akimbo. No lead vest or lead anything. She left the room and I heard the machine turn on and my chest started to burn (just kidding!). The lady came back into the room and tried her English on me. “Come back in one horse”. I stood there, puzzled, in a giant cold room with my shirt off. “Um…in an hour?” “No, fifteen minutes” and then she promptly left. I just stared at the door closed behind her wondering what had just happened.

Armed with a chest x-ray and a diagnosis written in Bulgarian, I waited outside in the hallway for the doctor again. When I saw the doctor again, he looked at the x-ray and asked me to call the Peace Corps Medical Officer. She and the doctor had a long conversation and then he wrote me a prescription. The PCMO told me what he was prescribing me and was going to check to see if they were FDA approved. She called me again to tell me which ones to buy. It was at this point, I asked what was wrong with me. Everyone had forgotten to inform me! The diagnosis: Acute Bronchitis. I’ve had it before, about six years ago. It wasn’t that bad. Actually, I rather enjoyed it since the day I found out what I had was the same day my swim team in high school had to swim five kilometers in practice. 😉 I was told by my counterpart to take the rest of the week off. I’m not too thrilled about that part since I’m going on vacation back to the States to visit my family next week for Thanksgiving and I don’t want to absent from work for two and a half weeks. Especially since I feel fine.

The bottom line is: I just have a nagging cough, I stayed home today and kept warm but I’ll see if I can return to work tomorrow. So far, all my colleagues are against this idea but I feel fine. I don’t think it’s contiguous.

President-elect Barack Obama

7 November, 2008

I get teary eyed every time I watch it.

People here have been asking me all kinds of questions leading up to this moment. What I thought about the candidates, how the American political system works, etc. It’s hard enough to explain our asinine primary system in English! People have given me their input and their predictions. Living abroad throughout the whole election season has really shown me how much the world looks to America. Granted, we’ve lost a large amount of our moral authority over the last eight years. But people still held their breath, hoping we’d make the right choice. And we proved that we’re not complete idiots. Fucking up soooo badly, giving the opportunity for black man, whose  middle name is Hussein, whose father was Muslin, and admitted to using cocaine, to run and become president. THAT will be Bush’s greatest legacy.

Personal political ramblings after the jump with some Bulgarian insights.

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Quote of the day

3 November, 2008

“We have McDonald’s in Bulgaria and we’re now members of the European Union. But we still have to wait five minutes to drink our coffee [since it’s heated by molten lava in every cafe across Bulgaria]”

So far, so good

29 October, 2008

Today has been a good day so far. First, I got a new shower head. I’ve been having problems with itrecently. The top of it has been cracked and very time I use it, I’ve been losing water pressure as the water squirts through the cracks at the top all over my ceiling. Lo and behold this morning the municipality sent two repairmen and replaced it! It was so nice to take a hot shower with full water pressure. While drying off I received a phone call from my counterpart. She wanted to know what I’ll be doing tomorrow evening. I told her that I didn’t have any plans. Great news! she said. She wanted to let me know that the mayor had invited me to a concert in Sofia. Apparently, the mayor is good friends with a famous folksinger who gave him tickets to her show tomorrow evening in the national concert hall. And HE invited ME to go with him! I’ll be going with a few other people from the office. I can’t wait!

And lastly, the Office of External Resources in the Municipality of Chirpan now has AC/Heat. You never appreciate air conditioning until you’ve gone without it for such a long time.

And it’s not even 14:00!

How to charm me

29 October, 2008

Sit next to me and smell like smoked sausage.