28 July 2009

a funny thing happened on the way to my permanent site...

hey-o! so, i've made it all the way out here to northeastern bulgaria, left my host family behind in a trail of tears and banitsa (i'll get to that later) and am now the proud occupier of a quaint stand alone house with a huge garden, and am soon to be english language teacher.
on friday i officially became a volunteer in the united states peace corps. our ceremony was in vratsa, and i was accompanied by my host mother and brother in law, gencho, who knows that he is one of my favorite members of the family. it was already 90 degrees by 10:30 when the event started, and all sixty-some of us sat on stage of the municipal concert hall fanning ourselves with the programs and listening as the proceedings went on in english and bulgarian. emmy had smartly packed a pocket sized coleman fan, and every time applause started she would turn it on and try to cool off those around her.
while i couldn't help but feel like i was at graduation (somewhat bittersweet considering my choice to not walk at my own this past may), i also felt that this experience was distinctly different. we sat facing the audience, which was full of our staff and our host families, and when it came time to thank them we gave a standing ovation. the friendships we made there are indellible, i should hope, and i personally already have plans to make it back to my village for my first christmas here.
the speeches from our country director, the mayor, and the lady from the embassy were all great, but boy if we weren't blown out of the water by our fellow volunteers whom we'd elected to speak for us at the end. the first was surprisingly simplistic but wholly funny; his thesis played off of the common love of bulgarian homemade cheese that americans and bulgarians share. this kid's timing was perfect, and he even managed to work in some pretty briliant inside jokes that rippled through the crowd of volunteers so much so that he had to stop 30 seconds after the delivery because we were all laughing so hard. the second speech was slightly more serious, and struck a perfect balance between poignancy and eloquence and hope. when he was done speaking, we all looked around at each other without saying a word, letting his sink into our hearts and ruminate there.
after the ceremony people were milling about, running around, eating fingerfoods and catching trains, we all hurriedly said goodbye and promised to write and call and visit. that night back in my village i went na gosti to a neighbors and we chatted about nothing, about gossip, about my mother and the village where i'd be moving the next day. i had sat at that the table the first week i was there, my head hurting from not understanding a word, and then there i was again, full circle, laughing and joking as if i had always understood these women, their lives.
the next day i woke up with a sour stomach and a headache, a direct result of the actions of the night before, and i still had to pack in again what felt like 80 degrees by 730. each article of clothes was shoved into whatever bag was closest, i started to cry as i looked at the empty room. i went into the kitchen to get some water and i noticed the table cleared except for a snapshot of me and my american mother smiling on her birthday, on disply as if in memoriam. baba was sitting next to it crying. i sat with her until it was time to go, relunctantly accepting the last fatty, greasy and delicious banitchka that i will eat in a long time, and the hugs and kisses of a family i will never forget.
the bus ride to rasgrad would have been a nightmare if not for my fellow travel companion, kari. we laughed together through the front right axel of the bus having problems, relieving ourselves behind trees while we were stuck on the side of the road for 40 minutes, another 40 minute stop at a gas station, a change of busses (unscheduled), the weirest pitstop ever in velicko tarnovo, getting stopped by the police for 15 minutes (during which we see the busdrivers bringing the police officers two cold bottles of iced tea, and then they let us go) and finally arriving two hours later than expected.

now we are all settling into the life we will have for the next two years. there is no more directed bulgarian language, just self study, no one making me go hang out in the community, just my own conscience, and no one cooking for me anymore (or at least, not on a regular basis). i'm an adult now. jeez. wish me luck.

with love from the bg,

20 July 2009

among other things, i don't like chalga

i figure it's time for a pop culture update. bg is a pretty small country, so it makes sense that the variety of music that i've found on tv and on the radio is somewhat lacking. most of it is centered around a newer pop-folk sound called chalga, which uses some standard melodies of traditional bg songs, the sounds of reed instrments like clarinets and oboes, and mixes them with synthesized beats and a touch too much silicone for me. here is one song which i hear frequently: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHTRIf8CRCI
i'll be the first to admit that when i moved to chile i hated reggeaton and now i can't get enough of it, but i'm just not sure i'll get used to this. on rare occaisions my ears have been pleased to hear some older songs with a lot less techno and a lot more brass, which remind me of a scene in the film "everything is illuminated" in which the characters drive through the sunflower fields of ukraine and that style of music plays in the background. theres something more traditional about it, something a little bit more honest.
then there's every once in a while when my ears get a real treat: american pop music. just for posterity, whenever "jai ho" comes on the tv i make a point to turn it up in honor of drew rosensweig.

cherish your musical choices folks, not all of us are so lucky.

10 July 2009

the two week countdown begins. on the 24th of this month i'll be sworn in as an official peace corps volunteer and will head off to the northeast quadrant to start my new life as english teacher/ american cultural attache to bulgaria.
also, my sister just sent me a new pair of rainbow flipflops and i am besides myself with excitement. i still remember the first pair i ever had, when i was still in high school, and how before i had them i used to try to steal hers because they were so darn comfortable. yesterday another volunteer asked me if my sister liked me, and i just laughed and said pretty assertively, "SHE LOVES ME". and i love her, so much. thanks little baby bonny, thanks for making my life a little brighter each and every day.

01 July 2009

since i've been gone

today is july 1st, i'm posting from my school. i just finished skyping with mom, which happened in spite of the fact that i couldn't figure out the day difference, and asked her to skype me on wednesday. well, it's wednesday here but there it is still just tuesday. i guess i have two years to get used to that.
in the past few weeks a lot of things have happened; i found out my permanent site will be on the other side of bulgaria, a lot closer to the black sea but very far from sofia, from my host family, from all the things to which i am accustomed now. the village is mostly turkish bulgarians, which is something that i had not anticipated. the first night during my visit there i heard a muslim call to prayer for the first time. it was beautiful, and i was informed that it was being sung live, which is unusual. i felt sort of upset with myself for my ignorance of this part of the country, of this culture, but grateful at the same time to have the opportunity to learn more about this particular slice of the population.
the village is not so different than my own, except that by the end of this thing i will probably be speaking a bulgarian dialect that includes a lot of turkish words. here's the first one i learned: ana in turkish means mother.

once i returned i realized how much i had missed my little village, my baba and her facial expressions that i still can't decipher, my host father's jokes and my host mother's compassion. of the four volunteers in my current site, we were all pretty much placed at extremes within the country, as far as distance from each other goes. if bulgaria was pennsylvania, we were placed (by permanenet sites, i mean) in philadelphia, gettysburg, eerie and scranton (that's me, of course, my life references to The Office never end). i have to keep reminding myself of the relativity of it all; one can cross pennsylvania in less than a day.

there are so many small pleasures that i see every day that escape my usual summaries, but here are a few: we now have 27 baby birds. 13 are turkeys for sure, but the rest are too little for me to distinguish. they look like chicken biddies to me, but what do i know? i grew up driving next to chicken trucks and had friends with chicken houses, but still can't tell the difference at all. we are sponsoring a model school for english this week, and the barman at our local cafe hung up our large and brightly colored poster without a minute of hesitation. yesterday 24 students showed up to participate, we were blown away by their enthusiasm.
there's an election coming up, on the fifth, and all the political propaganda is entertaining and interesting. my family supports the gerb, a newer democratic party, and every time they're on the tv everyone gets quiet and listens attentively. i'm still looking up words on the screen in the dictionary, the one i looked up yesterday translated to "withdrawal", as in
"USA Withdrawals from Iraq". is this true? the whole world around me seems to have stopped spinning, the news trickles down slowly and i never really know what's going on back in the states.

all the best to you, and happy fourth of july.