Posts Tagged ‘Toughest job you’ll ever love’

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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Football Tournament

17 April, 2009

Last weekend was Chirpan’s Fourth Annual Charity Football (soccer) Tournament. The even had a lower turnout than last year. This is largely due to the fact that it was during spring break and most volunteers and students were on vacation. But it was the only time the stadium was available so, I’ll take what I can get.

We had four teams: a semi-professional team from a village (the Rangers), a group of Turkish medical students from Plovdiv, children from the Center and Peace Corps Volunteers.

The tournament started out with an exhibition match between the Rangers and PCVs with most of the water being carried by the med students.

The final score was 4-1, Rangers. The med students weren’t too happy about the outcome, but in my book, not getting shut out was a victory in it’s self.

The tournament began with the med students taking on the Rangers and the PCVs taking on the kids from the Center. The med students won and and so did the kids. The PCVs were left fighting for third against the rangers and the kids for first.

The end result was: Med students, kids from the Center, Rangers with the PCVs falling dead last.

But winning wasn’t important; it was all about having a good time, raising some money for the Center as well as their profile in town. After the game, we enjoyed a beer on the field and the PCVs taught the Turks how to play American football. Later that day, we went to the Center to take a tour of the facilities.

All in all, a good day; despite the low turn out. Hopefully this will become a sustainable tradition.

From Football Tournament
Football Tournament

Kliment Halloween party

7 November, 2008

Wow, I’m late posting this.

I was asked to help organize the school’s Halloween party. I eagerly agreed. My job was to come up with game ideas and find marshmellows. I came up with a guessing game (how much candy is in the jar), pin the nose on the pumpkin, musical chairs (but passing a stuft animal around instead of walking around the chairs) and some relay races. The whole party went off without a hitch and I was asked to be a judge for the costume and pumpkin carving contests. I was also asked to give a short speech in front of all the students and their parents. It’s amazing how fast a year+ of language training can leave you… 😉

My kindergarten class


Musical…ghost?


pin the nose on the pumpkin


awesome jack-o-laterns

A year in

24 October, 2008

I’m a bit late with this. Actually, I’m pretty late. On the 18th of October last year, I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and moved to Chirpan, Bulgaria.

Time has flown by so fast. I can’t believe that I now have less than a year in my service. As I look back on the last year, I can see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown. Looking forward, I see how far I have to go and how much I will still change. As far as changes go, I’ve noticed that I am more comfortable with ambiguity, carry myself more confidently and look at the world in a far more “human” perspective. A more human perspective? you say. Well, living and working in the poorest country in Europe where the hope that a single person can make a difference is like a candle in the rain, you see who people truly are, not masked by “stuff”. This isn’t to say that there aren’t materialistic people, just a lot less.

What I’ve learned (in easy to read list form):

  • Being poor is only an economic condition. Having had the incredible fortune of growing up in middle class America (an upbringing I appreciate more and more every day), I’ve had very little daily contact with people struggling to survive. In my experiences here, these seem to be the happiest and most content people I’ve come across.

More after the jump–

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Stripped and Social Commentary

24 July, 2008

Bulgaria has been stripped of it’s EU funding and PHARE has been suspended. None of this is good news for the people that need the money (the average Bulgarian).

From Trud, via the Daily Press Brief:

The daily leads with a report on the issuance of the EC reports on Bulgaria’s progress on the mechanisms of cooperation and verification and the absorption of the EU funds by emphasizing on what it considered to be the highlights in the reports:

  • EUR 500 m has been frozen, but Bulgaria is not required to return the funds that have already been absorbed;
  • The billions of euro under the cohesion funds are not at risk;
  • Brussels is still waiting to see conviction against corruption and mafia but DANS seems to be working.

Selected reaction from the executive branch (via the DPB):

Deputy PM Miglena Plugchieve is quoted as saying that the EC report conclusion don’t come as a surprise to her but she feels disappointed that the EC has failed to report on what Bulgaria has done in the last few months.

Selected reaction from an opposition party (via the DPB):

DSB’s Ivan Kostov: The expectations that the EC will tone down its criticism were not met. The situation is worse than expected an the only way out of it is the resignation of the whole cabinet.

Selected reactions from EU representatives (via the DPB):

Geoffry van Orden: This is a tremendous disappointment. We treated Bulgaria like a friend and supported is accession although we were well aware that a lot of work still had to be done. That’s why this lack progress is so deeply disappointing to us.

Joseph Daul, Chairman of the EPP-ED Group: Bulgaria has failed to honor its commitments toward Europe to successfully eradicate corruption and organized crime. It is high time now to untangle the web of conflicts of interests and prove to the rest of Europe, that national policy-makers are not synonymous with corrupt criminals.

Ouch. Those are some stinging criticisms. Though I have to say some of them are justified. In the end, as is the case with all corruption, the people in need of the money will be the one’s most impacted by the freeze.

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To the 24s

16 July, 2008

I guess you’re pretty excited. Hell, I remember being ecstatic; I remember the weeks before leaving for staging being anxious and ready to go. To finally go! This was the moment I had be waiting for for almost a year! I decided to apply to the Peace Corps after meeting a recruiter while interning in DC. 30 minutes later, I started my application. I was amped. May the following year, in the middle of finals week, I finally knew what I’d be doing post-undergrad. It was a great feeling. However, I remember being scared shitless as well. What the hellam I doing!? I’m about to leave everything and everyone I know to move to a foreign country-where I can’t read the alphabet, let alone speak the language-to preform an ambiguous task. Let me reassure you this feeling is fleeting. Everyone is in the same boat. And that comforted me. We’re all in this together. There is a strong sense of camaraderie and it certainly helps getting though tough times. I’m sure you’ve been scouring the internet looking for an idea of what service is like or the timeless question of: “what do I pack?” so I decided to write this post to help you out.

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From “горе-долу” to “много добре”

6 June, 2008

From “so-so” to “very well!”

I’ve been kinda gloomy recently about my work and purpose here. It hasn’t helped reading the 2006 Audit of Peace Corps Bulgaria, especially when it recommends that my program, Community and Organizational Development (COD), be shut down. However, I’ve soldiered on and been making my own work. This has boosted my morale. I discover more often how high the highs are and how low the lows are. It’s not called “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love” for nothing.
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Project Updates

28 May, 2008

Kindergarten English Class: I sat in on my sitemate’s class yesterday. It’s the class I’ll inherit next year. I had a blast and got to see first hand how to handle them, resonable expectations, and ideas for lessons. The class ended with coloring houses and I was given several multicolor drawings. I’ll be putting them up in my aparment. (Sadly, I have no fridge magnets). I’ll be sitting in again today.

Computer Class: I’m still the computer teacher at the school (same as the kindergarten). Tomorrow is the last day I’ll teach it until the next school year. School ends at my school this Friday.

Translation: I’ll be doing some more translation work for the At-Risk Youth Center later this week.

Student English group: After months of uncertainty, ideas and brainstorming, the student English group is a go! I’m meeting several students, ranged from 8th to 12th grade tomorrow at a cafe. I’m excited! This spurred me to arrange my co-workers English discussion. That will take place this Friday.

Day Camp: One of the PCVs in the neighboring city of Plovdiv emailed me asking if I could help her in a day camp she’s organizing. I eagerly agreed. This camp is for students from the 5th to 8th grades and will take place towards the end of next month. The camp will last for a week.

As you can see, my work is going to be picking up soon!

What I’m Reading

20 May, 2008

For the third year, on the 12th of April, the Municipality of Chirpan came together with James Wall – a Peace Corps Volunteer with the Municipality of Chirpan, and organized a charity football tournament with participants from volunteers around Bulgaria, Chirpan teams and students from the village of Dragodanovo, Sliven (pictured). The tournament was opened with a welcoming speech by the mayor, Vasil Donev, and afterwards there was an exhibition match between Chirpan and Peace Corps Volunteers. After the match, the tournament continued with matched between the 10 teams who entered the tournament

The final winner was one of the teams from Chirpan, “Yavorov”, which was made up of fire fighters. The second place team was from the Peace Corps, “The Manly Volunteers”, third place was the students team from Dragon. The fourth place team was formed of Peace Corps Volunteers, “Team America”. All of the winners received medals provided by the municipality and according to tournament tradition, was closed with the American custom of drinking beer at the stadium.

The 520 Leva raised went to the Charity Fund which gave the money to the At-Risk Children’s Center. They manager of the center, Ms. Milena Andonova, thanked everyone and most of all, James Wall. She said that the money will buy rehabilitation equipment for the children.