Tuesday, May 25, 2010

random ramblings in May

This month..much like last month has gone by way too quickly..but, on the good side, there are lots of projects and ideas on the table, and I have a great Bulgarian colleague to work with. This month, I finished teaching the younger students English..yeah! I loved teaching them, but it’s one less stressor, so that I focus more on projects. Next month I finish teaching the high school business class..yeah again! And the adult class on Saturday (this is my favorite group..but I really am excited to have entire weekends off at a time!)..we’ve already talked about meeting during the week, I just need a place to sleep since the bus doesn’t run from the village in the evenings

So..this has been a month of na gosti’s..many, many interesting visits. They are always different. We discuss European history (going back to the Roman and Byzantine empires)..minorities within Bulgaria, the environment, Bulgarian, European and American politics, etc.. And time and again, it amazes me that we can have these discussions in Bulgarian language..they are very patient helping me understand their language. They are also very honest about their thoughts on politics and minorities..as am I.
Some of the events that took place this month: A sports holiday for kids, where the students from the villages in the Municipality were invited to a day of sports. We had a relay race, na rodna topka (the closest thing we have to this is Dodgeball), treats, and awards. There’re a few pictures from this event on the new link at the bottom of this page.
Also..yesterday was a big day in a nearby village where I teach. First, it was a national holiday celebrating the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet..it’s actually a 2-da y holiday for all the schools. But, it was also a town holiday for one of the villages I visit. These celebrations always consist of lots and lots of food, and rakia. I saw my first cooked head of a lamb. I’ve heard many volunteers talk about this, but this was my first..and I basically visited people around the village eating and drinking the entire day..that might be why I’m a little tired today. They had games and rides and a bazaar set up in the center of town.

I have a feeling this summer is going to fly by just as quickly, but also hopefully it will be very productive.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The mountains in SW Bulgaria

What a difference a long weekend and a new counterpart can make.

Because of a holiday last week, we had a 4-day weekend. So I headed to the mountains in SW Bulgaria, near the bordering countries of Macedonia and Greece. In fact, after the first day of our 8-hr hike to the summit of Mt. Ruen, we were stopped by the border control police on our way back down the mountain, and had to hive them our names and EIN numbers.

Now, let me tell you..Bulgarians, are very different when they go hiking from when they take a stroll through town. I mean they move..and fast up those mountains. Most of the time I was in the middle to back of the pack, walking a good pace, chatting with other members and taking pictures. I tell you, they only took one real break at the summit the entire 8 hours..and they eat and drink so little when they hike, and afterwards they don’t appear nearly as tired as I did. And..after every hike, we pack up and head to a new city to see for an hour or two..then head to the next hija (hut) for the night and leave at 5:30 the next morning for a 10-hr hike..of course, this is always after a fun-filled evening of eating, drinking (home-made rakia and/or wine), and dancing. So, all in all they did one 8-hr hike (Mt. Ruen and Mt Shapka), and two 10-hr hikes (Mt. Radomir and Mt. Slavyanka); visited the cities Kyustendil, Petrich, Melnik, and 2 others I can’t remember; and visited 2 monasteris (Zemen and Rupite – a temple to Baba Vanga, a clairvoyant). I say they went on these hikes, because (I never thought this before, but I guess I’m a wimp), after the first 8-hr hike, I didn’t do the next two 10-hr hikes.

Bulgarians are honestly the friendliest people I have met, and the ones on this hiking trip only enforced these thoughts. I spoke pretty much Bulgarian the entire 4-day weekend..and they patiently listened and taught me much about the Bulgarian language, culture, and people.

So..since I was so tired after the first hike, I woke up a little later and went with a second group I had chatted with the day before..it was only a 5-hr hike, with lots of jokes, lots of talking and very relaxed. So..I swore I was going to hike the final day..but woke up at 4:30 a.m. to lightening and pouring rain. I turned to my counterpart across the room and said I wasn’t going. Turns out, all the rain stopped before they left and it was a beautiful day..but that’s ok, because again, we gathered a smaller group and finished another 5-hr hike.

I’ve posted a new link for pictures at the bottom of the web page..because the old location had reached capacity; you should check out the pics.

Oh, and did I mention my new counterpart (yes..new counterpart!!) was there as well. She has only been my counterpart for a week and already we have made more progress together in the first week than I did in the previous 9 months with the other ?**. It feels nice to have an actual counter-part to work with!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ups and downs..they said when we arrived here, that our lives would be a series of ups and downs, and that’s exactly how I feel. As you may or may not know, I don’t exactly get along that well with my counter-part here..and last weeks intense conversation I am of the belief that this is soon to change (my fingers are crossed). After having a rough two weeks, I am feeling ready to try again..that is, to get my ideas heard.
Last week had a nice start. I went back to visit my host family (Spas and Petra) in the small village and also visited friends in Vratsa. I like going to the village (for only visits)..it is very relaxed there, and I am well taken care of..and for a change I could understand most of what they talked about..and it was lots and lots of gossip. While I was there we had guests visit for dinner who work in Cypress.
Earth Day – helped with an NGO to have Earth Day celebration in the Center of the park. The children used many recyclable mateials to make purses, vases, flowers, pictures..and decorated the park very prettily.
I had a surprisingly decent week teaching all my classes last week..the week before last was torture; no one wanted to learn or listen last week (they had just gotten back from spring break). This week we covered new material and they were ready to learn and practice. I did have to set some ground rules before the class. And we had a fun walk to the river this week to test the water there..it was very challenging..me with this group of 17 kids, but they seemed to enjoy the outing
I have a few favorite restaurants in the city..and living in Bulgaria, I meet many types of peope; from Erasmus college students in other countries, many babas, many friends my own age, people all ages who like to dance Horo’s and Salsa, people interested in sports, or interested in speaking English, and over the last couple weeks I’ve been chatting with a group of construction workers that work in a nearby city..so they finally finished there job there, and invited me to their farewell dinner. I tell you, I don’t think you will find construction workers in America doing the many exciting traditional dances that these guys were doing. It started out with them buying lamb (I think it was)..but anyways, the lamb gets slaughtered and a delicious soup was made and the meat cooked in a large outdoor oven..was absolutely delicious. So the owner of the hotel-restaurant complex is a good guy, and actually brings a small band (3 guys – 1 plays the clarinet and sings, 1 plays the accordion, and 1 plays the drum) to wish them farewell also. These guys definitely have personality, and they were pretty amazing dancers to top it off.
I also had a fun couple weekends with my older English students from the village. Last weekend we had a yummy grilled meal outside at my friends house..her house and garden overlook part of the city and she has a large, large garden with so many vegetables and fruit trees and flowers. So we grilled there and carried it with us up to the hilly fields where the pretty flowers had all bloomed. I forgot my camera..but the views from up there are quite beautiful..there are so many colors in different fields from a distance, and we watched the cows being shepherded..it was nice relax after having that rough week at work. And then, we made ‘Korabi’..a Bulgarian form of cookies this week. We made ones with sugar on the outside slightly resembling peaches
I learn so much about myself in Bulgaria..one of the things I have been learning is about the many foods I never thought I would eat, that I actually kinda like; such as: radishes (raw, right after washing), garlic (also fresh from the garden), tripe soup, chicken drops (sounds appetizing right), chicken livers with onions.
Anyways..I haven’t posted much this month because it was just a difficult month, and it may be a while before I get the chance to post again..May and June are pretty busy months. But—thank goodness, a break from teaching after June. The months nowadays are so packed with events, that time flies by..but at the same time it’s odd because I look at the calendar and feel like I’ve already lived here longer than a year.
My friends reminded me, it was this time last year that I was riding cross country on my motorcycle saying my final good-byes to my friends and family before leaving for the Peace Corps!