Thursday, November 19, 2009

In Which I Discover My Curse

Zdraveytey everyone!

I’m pretty relaxed right now, gang! “But why, Zack?” you may ask. “You are a stranger in a strange land with strange people talking a strange language! I would be freaking out!” Well I got to admit that this was most certainly the case when I first arrived. But this has nothing to do with culture. In fact, I blame my lowered shoulders and dazed look on the swine flu. You know what? Let me backtrack a little bit.

So as you all probably know, there’s something of a problem going on with the whole flu thing. In Bulgaria it’s more of the same. We have officially classed it as an epidemic. It’s something of a big thing here. We call it Svinsky Grip (or pig flu). Well this last week the government had us do something called a Gripa Vacancia. It is exactly as it sounds. The pig flu has gotten to the point where the government has to close down all the schools. Because of that, I had an entire week where I got to do nothing. I feel for the children with flu all over the country but I have to admit that a week-long break felt pretty good. Did some sleeping, did some traveling, did some studying… Good times were had by most. I say ‘most’ because small children were sick with the flu. After that, I then had to attend a conference in Plovdiv (one of the largest cities in Bulgaria) for a conference debriefing us on our first 6 months (HOLY CRAP IT’S BEEN 6 MONTHS!). That was another 3 days of my virtual vacation. It was great to see all my friends and get in touch with the gossip. As it turns out, however, I might have developed something of a reputation within a select portion of our group. My reputation: cursed.

So I have unknowingly garnered a small amount of attention regarding my somewhat (read: very) eventful experiences. I guess it started with my tales about my host site where I was the only one in my group to have a Turkish toilet in the chicken coop. I spent many afternoons staring at them through the holes in the door. And they spent the same number (if not more) staring back. You can’t see me doing it, but I’m shaking my fist in their direction. Next came my journey to Sofia for my TEFL refresher. You can read that here: . Good times. Next I had a bit of a trip when I was returning home from my Warden training (I’ll return to this topic at a later date when I figure out how to make it interesting). Essentially, I got on a 3 hour late train to Serbia. That sentence seems rather absurd to me when I reread it. “I got on a 3 hour late train to Serbia.” Next would’ve been my apparent hunger strike on my way to the town of [town name withheld] and back for the Halloween Party THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN! Finally, on Monday night, I nearly killed myself.

Well maybe not ‘nearly killed myself’. I don’t know for sure if I’d have died. I know that I would’ve had the equivalent impact of a 180 lb guy hitting his head on a toilet, though. So here’s what happened. The conference in Plovdiv took place from Sunday to Wednesday morning and hosted as many of the volunteers and counterparts (the local partners to the volunteers) as could come. Monday night, a whole bunch of us, I think the final count was 50 volunteers and counterparts, got together to go bowling. The bowling alley was actually more like a club with bowling lanes in it. There was even a scantily clad lady dancing in a cage in the middle of the room amongst a laser light show. It was pretty awesome. Anyways, I had a couple drinks (I’m a total lightweight when it comes to alcohol) and around 12 me and my roommate headed back to the hotel. When we returned, I decided to take a shower to get the cigarette smoke smell off of my body. I turn the shower on, and realized that I left the shampoo by the sink. I step out and my right ankle rotates violently due to my slight lack of balance and my wetness. The next thing I know, there’s a sharp, intense pain coming from my ankle and I’m staring at my reflection in the trash can. I might have also cursed very loudly. As it turns out, my head was about a few inches away from the wall, toilet and trash can. If I had gotten out of the tub (which was inexplicably at least 6 inches off the ground as well) in any other spot, I would’ve hit my head on something and almost certainly had a concussion. I looked something like this except with much more naked on.

It would not have been a fun night. Anyways, after assessing whatever damage my body might’ve taken, I took one more look into the trash can to see my pathetic body lying there, then finished taking a shower. I stepped outside and my roommate was on his computer watching the Eagles game from the Sunday before. “Did you fall inside there?” he asked nonchalantly. “Why yes. Yes, I did indeed fall.” I replied matter-of-factly. Chris, if you're reading this, we're still friends and this in no way will affect that. :)

No worries, though, my friends. Since I missed every distinctly cornered surface with my body, I merely twisted my ankle, pulled a muscle in my shoulder from the way I landed on it, and pulled a muscle in neck because my head made a very non-safe jerking motion when I hit the ground. That last one actually scares me a little. I showed the doctors my ankle and they gave me a bandage and some painkillers. They also told me not to run for a few weeks. That might be funny for a few of you because, as you may know, I lead a very relaxed and slow-paced life. I love not running. To be fair, though, it does stop me from walking up and down unnecessary hills. I am a little bummed out by this one. I might need to sit out the Thanksgiving hike. We’ll see where my ankle is in a week. Anyways, that was how I spent my flu vacation. I hope the rest of you are doing well.

This is the Peace Corps and there was a chance that the previous post could’ve been the last one.


Edit: For all intents and purposes, I'm still not convinced I'm cursed. Instead, I'd like to say I'm super lucky that I didn't die/found my way to the PC office/didn't go to Serbia.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween Story

Zdraveytey everyone!

I apologize for the lack of posts the last couple weeks but I have got a pretty good one for you. I’m about to tell you all a story about a real place but of an event that may or may not have happened: Something fitting, if not a little late, for Halloween.

The story takes place in the Bulgarian town of [town name withheld]. The town has a unique energy about it due to it being built underneath an ancient fortress that can be dated to back before the Turkish rule. Also, [town name withheld] is a central point in the Northern Central region in Bulgaria. So we could say that if one were to hold a Halloween party here it would be a reasonably simple (if not easy) journey to undertake for most of the volunteers we have in Bulgaria. But we don’t hold parties there. We would never do that. It would be irresponsible of us to do that. What I posit before you now, however, is what I believe my weekend would be like if I decided to spend it at a party on that end of Bulgaria.

First I’d be worried about going alone. By nature I’m not much of a partygoer. So it would certainly be a help if someone were to go with me. Perhaps two very good friends in the area could suggest that they were going and that I should tag along. That would be reason enough to go. So since it was their idea, I guess it would also be their itinerary as well. As it turns out, all of us in this region were pretty busy this week so if we went it would have been the first thing on the morning of the party and we would return on the first train back out of [town name withheld]. Now of course this sort schedule would be insanely taxing but I would (hopefully) figure that I might as well go now so that could help the B-26’s coming in next year if they ever wanted to head up that end. Not to mention this would be a great time to see as many of my friends in costumes and potentially compromising positions as possible.

So as it turns out, this trip from here to [town name withheld] is about 6-7 hours long by train if you’re lucky. It would certainly be a great idea to bring some snacks for the trip if at all possible. Too bad my fantasy is particularly cruel here and I forgot to bring any substantial food. Luckily, I like to assume the best of my companions, so in this case my friends have both baked cookies and cake for the trip. Optimistic, I know, but miracles can happen. Another friend would also join us halfway down the road making us a pretty solid foursome. Unfortunately, I think it would be a pretty safe bet to say that cookies and cake does not a meal make. I think it wouldn’t be a particularly far stretch to imagine that we’d getting pretty hungry around this time. I was told, once, that there is a great restaurant in [town name withheld] called St. Georges and that they have actual beef burgers. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is a bit of a commodity so if something unfortunate happened, like partygoers who have been there from the morning before eating all of their beef, we’d be stuck with the normal ground pork. Let’s take this one step further and say that there were no more buns either. We could substitute that with a pita. So really, you’d have a soft shell taco.

I was talking with my friends and they said that one great place to hold a party in [town name withheld] is in this particularly attractive hostel. Of course, if the party is held at a hostel that means that you could just stay at this hostel overnight. Too bad my pessimism won’t let that be so easy. I’m going to say that there are no more beds left so I’m stuck sleeping on a couch, in the living room, on the second floor, in the room with all of the table games. My brain is being particularly cruel right now. Not a problem though because it’s a party. I can worry about sleeping some other time. So I would probably start meeting old and new friends at the hostel and you know what could be fun? Something super American like American Football. But there’s no place in this fantasy for a field of reasonable size. Instead, I’ll replace green grass with asphalt, and the large grassy knoll on the side of the field with a large pile of rubble from what was probably some arbitrary building in the distant past. It doesn’t matter to me though. I’m the photographer! After about an hour of football, we retire back to the hostel where we get ready for the party.

You know what would be funny? If I put on a Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts and went around acting as stereotypically and offensively Japanese as I could be. Like that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer houses all of the Japanese tourists in his apartment. I would be a Japanese tourist. That was a good episode. Of course my costume wouldn’t be particularly difficult. Perhaps you could call it creative, perhaps you could call it mildly inspired, but in the end it’s just me in a Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts with a camera. Or I could pick up a ukulele and be a Samoan. God knows I could be an offensively portrayed Samoan if I tried.

But let’s postulate on the party now. You know what would be cool? Several cases of beer. You know what would be awesome? A fridge specifically filled with only the several cases of beer AND an equal amount on the sidelines for when the first enormous batch were depleted. Whoever arranged this party could be considered brilliant if he could pull off both of these things. Also if he were able to estimate enough pizza to feed all those mouths he would be amazing. Hell, if he could just collect the money from all of the partygoers that would be amazing. That damn overachiever.

So I’m going to be optimistic here when I estimate that we could draw at least 60-80 of the volunteers from all over Bulgaria to this hostel. That means that there are at least 60-80 unique costumes to see. I bet I could see all sorts of awesome there like a guy who made the pajamas from Where the Wild Things Are out of a carpet, or a set of four guys who came in matching Ghostbusters outfits, or even the entire cast of Mad Men. It would also be a testament to the nerdiness of our group if I saw a pair dressed as Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer or Chip and Dale from the Rescue Rangers cartoon.

So I see myself doing the usual party stuff. Drinking a little, talking a little hanging out a little… but then I also see myself getting this enormous headache shortly before the majority of the people arrive. That means that if I take the pain killer then I wouldn’t be able to drink for some time. I’d probably do it. I’d rather be sober and in a good mood than drunk with a headache. Still though, after a few hours, I’d take my chances and drink a little more. But regardless, the night would need to end. Between my tiredness from travel and the early train trip home I’d need somewhere ELSE to stay because the hostel is most definitely going to have people till the wee hours. As it turns out, [town name withheld] has a ton of hostels because of the historical value and incredibly scenic placement. Hell, even if the room were completely occupied, I’d just sleep on the floor with my conveniently remembered, inconvenient sleeping bag. It can’t be a simple sleeping bag. My sleeping bag is really warm but the damn thing is nigh impossible to roll up properly without a physics major and a male masseuse. No matter though. I just need to find a nook to sleep in. I’d slide into my sleeping bag and use my heavy jacket wrapped up in my extra bedroll as a pillow. Too bad the jacket will be lumpy thus giving me terrible shoulder aches in the morning.

The trip back home would most certainly be a somber ride with reflections of the night before. And hunger. I bet that we’d be hungry again. I’m going to be SUPER optimistic and believe that my friend would have just enough cake left to give each of us one piece to keep us from starving before reaching home. Too bad my optimism will be repelled by pessimism. The train would probably have comfortable seats (as is the norm) but the heat will be turned up way too high making it nearly unbearable in there. I also bet that I’d have a pounding headache for at least 4 hours of the 6 hour trip home. But I’d get home and then write a blog post about it.

So I hope you enjoyed my narrative on a party that could happen in [town name withheld]. Just remember that this was all hypothetical and that while it could happen, I’m not saying that it did. I’m just saying that one time is enough.

This is the Peace Corps and traveling 8 hours for a party is a norm if there actually were any.


Thursday, October 1, 2009


Zdraveytey everyone!

So I’m sorry that it’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been trying to figure out what to talk about. But first I want to say that the photo albums have been updated and there are a bunch of old and new pictures in the private and public galleries. If you want to see the private gallery, just send me an email and we’ll do some talkin’.

So this week, I want to tell you all what I’ve been doing for the last two weeks. I’ve been teaching. When school started, the directors of both schools thought it prudent to have me team teaching the main courses for the day while I solo teach the after school lessons in the afternoon. I was a little frustrated at first because I was looking forward to solo teaching, but as I participated in the first week of classes, I’d be lying if I didn’t find myself a little overwhelmed by the amount of Bulgarian I would’ve needed. So my heartfelt thanks go out to Galya and Nina. As for what I do in class, I tend to teach a portion of the lesson for the day. Usually this deals with going over the homework or the recitals of the vocabulary for the sake of pronunciation. The kids generally take to this pretty well and I have a pretty bright bunch of students. In Town 1, I’m teaching the 6th, 8th and 9th grades and in Town 2 I’m teaching 4th through 7th. As it sounds, I have a lot of work but at the same time, I have a lot of tiring fun. One thing to note, though, is that next Tuesday, I might have a very busy day where I’ll be solo teaching 5 classes. It’s going to either be a whole ton of fun, or simply hell. Who knows? One of the classes hasn’t even met me officially. At the least, I’m sure it’ll be a very long day.

So I know it’s not much compared to the last couple entries I’ve made but it’s a pretty good summary of the last two weeks. I’ve been spending my free time relaxing and hand-washing my laundry. That last part has worn out its novelty. Anyways that’s it for today. Remember: I’ve updated both private and public photo galleries. Talk to me for access to the private. The link to the public is right in the top right of my blog. Also, I figure it’d be a good time for any questions. If I get enough, I can make an entire post out of those and you guys would be doing most of my work.

This is the Peace Corps and you can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time you’ll find you get what you need.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Bulgarian Birthday Blog... Bost?

Zdraveytey everyone!

(Sorry about that last title word. I so wanted an alliteration.)

So as many of you know, last Friday was my birthday. Because of that, I’ve decided that this post will be about my birthday and Bulgarian birthdays in general. But first, I’d like to say that Jill said that there would be a chair lift. More on that in a few minutes.

So in Bulgaria, there is a bit of a reversal of roles. Instead of everyone giving the birthday person presents, the birthday person gives away things. I spent that day walking around my school in Town #2 handing out little pieces of chocolate from a box I had purchased that morning. It’s a much more fulfilling experience, actually. It’s like Christmas-lite. There’s also the potential of a nice dinner at your home with friends or out at a restaurant. But if you go to a restaurant, be ready to pay for all of the meals there. Finally, one other thing of note about a Bulgarian birthday is that they don’t fuck around with their birthday candles. I don’t know if it’s regional (as in Bulgarian or Eastern European or just European) but the candles are literally stationary fireworks set into a cake. It’s like two fountains of sparks erupting out of a couple sticks. So in Bulgaria, you light use Roman candles instead of those piddly little wax ones in America.

As for my own birthday, that Friday was pretty uneventful compared to my Saturday. On Friday, I went to work, gave out chocolates and came back to my apartment. That evening, my counterpart in Town #1 invited me over to her house for dinner. I played with her 3-year old daughter who also had a birthday that week. My counterpart gave me a nice photo album and a picture frame as a gift. I’m currently in the process of figuring out which photos I want to put in them.

Saturday, however, was a much different story. I would go as far as calling it a cross-cultural adventure at risk of sounding particularly corny. So the idea was to visit Sofia and take a trip to the Vitosha mountains. When it was suggested, I thought it was a pretty good idea and Jill mentioned something about a chair lift to the top. So when I arrived in Sofia, Jill, Carolyn, Whitney and I started on a long series of tram rides to the base of the mountain. During the tram rides, we met a small child who after watching and listening to us jabber along in English shouted to us, “You’re American and I’m American too!” As it turns out, his mother is Bulgarian but she had a job in Los Angeles for some time where her son was born. We all had a good laugh and exchanged phone numbers. It took another 10 minutes to reach what we didn’t know was our stop but we realized after the tram a 180 degree turn. After a short climb to a restaurant, we discovered that there was no chair lift that Jill had previously mentioned. Instead, we decided to attempt to make the long trek to the top. I would like to mention at this point that I am very out of shape. A decently long gentle slope is enough to send me packing. Thankfully, after I generously estimated about 20 minutes of climbing we found a small campsite with benches that had a used campfire pit. I called it a day and I decided to stop. Whitney also made the wise decision that the climb was beyond her power and together we set up a base camp for our troupe. Before they left, we made sure to mention that we’d have joined them if there had been a chair lift. Some 10-15 minutes later, a group of 3 high school students from Sofia came down the path and met us at the camp site. We spoke a little and they asked if they could start a fire. It seemed to be the appropriate thing to do as we were not utilizing the given resources. We helped them gather some dry branches and sticks and what have you and after we got a fire going, they pulled out some pork steaks. To cook them, they found a big flat rock a little further into the forest and used that as their makeshift frying pan. They didn’t even wash it. After they were finally set up, they began to offer us their extra food. They had some potato salad-esque side dish, a large baguette and an extra steak that Whitney and I split. We spent the next 2 hours chatting with these kids as we waited for Jill and Carolyn to descend. That it actually took 2 hours makes me really really glad that I didn’t go. The kids spoke really great English. They mentioned that they were part of some kind of summer camp in England outside of London. Anyways, after the girls had come back, the boys literally skulked off the path and into the forest. I don’t know if I was the only one that noticed that, but it certainly freaked me out just a little on the inside. After that, we wandered around Sofia trying to find a restaurant. We eventually decided on the restaurant Olive’s. It’s an American themed restaurant with retro posters on the walls. The food went from cheap to expensive but the service was super fast. I would recommend it if you find it.

Anyways. That was my day: a failed attempt at hiking directly followed by an impromptu barbecue on a rock followed by a double veal burger. Good deal.

This is the Peace Corps and your birthday will always be an unexpected adventure.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Free Association

Zdraveytey everyone!

Today I wish to do something a little different. I usually take my time to write my blogs and I usually re-read them, and do a little spot editing along the way. This time, however, I want to do some Free Association. Essentially I'm going to just write and jump from topic to topic every once in a while. To help me do this, however, I've employed the use of a timer. Each paragraph you read is the product of 3 minutes of off the top of my head writing. At the end of the 3 minutes, I'll finish my sentence then change the topic based on something in that last sentence. The reason I'm doing this is because I know that there are things I haven't gotten around to talking about since I've started this blog. I wanted to see if this could help jog my memory around. So to start it off, I've decided to start by using the closing line of my last blog post:

"This is the Peace Corps and even though they prep you over and over about the fucking 4 leva/km taxis, you will always jump in one no matter what. *shakes fist*"

And here we go.


So I’m shaking my ambiguously aimed fist in the direction of the Taxi drivers not the Peace Corps. In fact, we had a 45 minutes session during training where the biggest message from them was “DON’T GET IN THE WRONG TAXI OR YOU’LL BE PAYING THROUGH THE NOSE!” Of course, as I said before, that was most certainly not on my mind when I went into the parking lot of the train station. I just jumped into a taxi and took off. During that session, we were shown pictures of the legit taxi companies and their logos. Then we were shown the logos of the terrible, wallet-pillaging taxis. To the untrained eye, they were more or less the same. You change a C to an O and you’ve got yourself a fake freaking taxi. Fortunately this was only the case in Sofia.

Sofia is a big city much like New York and another stereotypically big city that you would find in America. I’d like to use another good example but that’s really my problem: I’m a suburbs sort of guy. My house in Miami was in the suburbs. My house in Kingston was more or less in a suburbs-esque Jamaican environment. My university was it’s own corner of the city and might as well have been considered a suburban type of area considering that the community that a college provides. So when I got there I was more or less lost and overwhelmed by the amount of people and the hustle and/or bustle of the environment.

At my satellite site, Not-Amsterdam, the normal course of the day was get up, eat breakfast, go to school or Bulgarian lessons, hang out afterwards, go to the gas station bathroom 10-15 minutes away (depending on how fast I walked) then home again for dinner. It sounds rather relaxed but 4 hours of language lessons added on top of the 3-4 hours of English teaching came up to a pretty full day. And N-A was a town where nothing happened. I described it before but the area was mostly broken houses and farms. I wasn’t really sure what to make of it all as I arrived. I tried to figure out why they would put me here. My language trainer said something about us being survivors but the only survival experience I had was living behind a large automatic gate with spiked fencing on top.

My language trainer, Elitsa, was one of the most helpful people I had the pleasure of working with. She was well-versed in Bulgarian culture, her English was excellent, and she had been working with the Peace Corps for several years so she was able to impart wisdom onto us as in the form of stories a lot of the time. I am not sure if I’m at liberty to talk about these stories but I’ll just say that they were certainly pretty helpful. She was also a great counselor for our group as we had several in-house related problems concerning our living situations which I KNOW that if I mentioned those on the internet I’d be breaching some sort of code of trust with my other sitemates.

Here’s something I haven’t gotten around to talking about yet. The site mates that I had at the satellite site were certainly 2 of the best people I could have had to experience N-A with. They were incredibly intelligent and they were both very outgoing in their own ways. Especially in a group of 3, I think we had a pretty solid construction. Kay was the encouraging one. She was always there to push us on when we were had lower energy levels (which, if I may add, was a lot of the time). Tyler was the one with great vocabulary and creativity as he would always remember that one word you would forget and be able to use it in a context that would stick.

My training in Linguistics counted mostly for two things: Phonology (essentially the study of sounds we make) and Grammar. When it came to learning the language, I was confident at the pronunciation and the sentence structure. Unfortunately I hadn’t taken a single class in Morphology (the way phonology creates words) or Semantics. What these courses might’ve helped me in was the memorization of the words that we were learning during training. Even now, I feel like I can’t remember anywhere from 50-75% of the words we learned during training. I’m sure that this isn’t true but at times it seems like that I just can’t find the word that I need at the right moments.

With that being said, I can't seem to find another paragraph in that last line.


That was surprisingly taxing even though it took all of 20ish minutes to write. I promise to you that I didn't edit a single paragraph after the 3 minutes were up. I'm also glad with the results. The experiment got me talking about my Language Trainer and my site mates at Not-Amsterdam. I certainly had fun with it. If you guys liked it I can try it again in a few months to see what else surfaces to the top of my head.

This is the Peace Corps and so much crap happens that I can't document it all.


Monday, August 31, 2009

My worst morning

Zdraveytey everyone!

Now last week I told you that I wanted to post my journal entries for the summer camp. Well unforuntately I have a much better story to replace that with. So I won't be mentioning anymore of the camp, you can ask me about that in the comments or personally if you feel intrigued however. Instead, today I'll be talking about my worst morning I might have ever had in a long time.

As a point of reference, 1 BGN = 0.73 USD.

Last week Monday, I the B25's in my general region (that is in the bottom left side of Bulgaria) were invited to a refresher course on English teaching at the PC headquarters in Sofia. We would be going over different aspects of the Bulgarian classroom and what have you. I was most excited to going because I'd be seeing some of my friends that I hadn't seen in about a month. Also, my town was on the same train line as a couple of my friends so it was a no-brainer that I'd be trying to get on the same train. I went to bed that Sunday night with the intention of getting up 6am to get ready to leave my apartment at 730am for a train ride at 8am to arrive at 10am for the training session at 11am. It was a great plan.

So I woke up at 130am the next morning and I found myself staring at my ceiling. After going back to bed, I woke up an hour later at 230am. Then again at 330am, then at 4am, then at 530am, then I said "fuck this". It seemed my body refused to let me rest. I thought of punishing it later with a diuner. I got up and ate some leftovers for breakfast giving me the boost of energy that i needed to get out of the apartment at the proposed 730am. On the way, I met an old lady who seemed to recognize me. She started to speak in Bulgarian which I could only barely follow but it contained the words for 'train', 'there is no-' and 'major accident'. That last one I learned on the spot because in Bulgarian that word is "catastrophe". So of course I had to go look. I got to the train station to find that there were around 100+ people hanging out in the station and in the trains in the yard. None of them were moving and it seemed that I would not be making it on a train at the proper time. I texted ahead to my friends down the line and they rushed down to their station to catch the train that was leaving one hour earlier than before. I hung out at the station for another hour when I noticed that the people in the station started piling onto a train after an announcement. Then the people from one train started boarding the first and then I saw what was to be the worst train ride I might take in Bulgaria. I rushed inside, bought a ticket and boarded the train to see that my fears were not unfounded. Every single seat was full from the front to the back by people who were going to Sofia on both trains. So I found a nice window to lean on and stuck my head out of it. We left the station at 9am. At least this would probably be the express so that the train system could get back on track, right? Hell no. This was the train that stopped at every Podunk between my town and Sofia. Alright! 3+ hour train ride on my feet!

The ride itself was really pretty. I stuck my head out the window several times just to feel the refreshing mountain breeze. Seriously. It was really nice. Except that I was standing in the same position. My legs slowly became sapped of energy and I might have gone crazy if I hadn't brought my ipod. 3ish hours later, legs burning, eyes heavy, we arrive at the station in Sofia. It is now 12pm. I am going to be late. I head out to the parking lot and grab a taxi. We converse as to where we are going and then I fall asleep. I wake a little later to find that I'm to get out here. I'm not totally sure where I am but I'm sure it's on the right road. Well before I could think about that, I had to pay the bastard 40 leva for the taxi ride. Imagine paying 40 dollars for a 10 mile ride. You'd be angry as hell. Well I wasn't. I was sleepy. But I paid him (no tip of course) and got out of the cab and looked around. That son of a bitch didn't drop me off on the right road. I started asking random people on the road and they had no idea where PC hq was. So I started off in one direction. It seemed like the wrong way for some reason, so I went in the other and met the main road. Looking up and down it, I came to the realization that I was let off 2 or so blocks away from my road. So in the end, I had to walk ANOTHER km to get to the PC hq. I arrived at 1230pm. Just in time for lunch. As I walked into the conference room, everyone cheered. It was like I was Fonzie. I love that feeling.

I spent the rest of the day hanging out with friends, and with Jill in particular, who showed me the Mall of Sofia where I bought spices for more cooking experiments. In the end, Sofia itself was fun and on the trip back, I had my own 6 seat compartment on the train. It was like night and day. All in all, the afternoon was good enough that it balanced out to a solid zero. No negative or positive aftertaste. After that shitty beginning, that was most certainly the best I could ask for.

This is the Peace Corps and even though they prep you over and over about the fucking 4 leva/km taxis, you will always jump in one no matter what. *shakes fist*


Sunday, August 23, 2009

My Summer Camp Experience Part 1

Zdraveytey everyone!

Sorry about the long delay but here's the first post of 2 or 3 (I haven't quite decided yet) about my summer camp experience with the kids from my school. The following paragraph is an actual entry from my 'journal' that I wanted to keep. It's essentially me writing on my observations of the first day and what happened. I would also like to stress that the last two sentences do not actually describe how I feel about the kids now as it was merely the first day. They WERE, however, the feelings I had the morning after. Also, I grew to like the camp after a few days. I just felt that the first day was the most sensationalist of my entries. I also wish for you guys to understand that the kids don't have many other places to go for vacation, if anywhere else at all. And it wasn't just a big party, like I may imply. There were facilities for sports like badminton and tennis as well as a nice table tennis table. There was also a nice pool to swim in nearby. And as for the alcohol, it wasn't as bad as I make it out to be. I just want to stress that what you see written here were my feelings by the morning of Day 2.


Day 1

What the hell am I doing here? I started the camp off by standing in the middle of the driveway alone for 30 minutes because I had no idea what was going on. The kids are all in their own little cliques and I’m just off to the side confused. Then I was moved into a room with 4 other guys. I expected this. I just didn’t expect one guy to drag one bed out into another room and another to be a dickface. There’s a certain satisfaction from calling him a dickface. Probably because this is the best thing to call him... The food isn’t bad. Nothing outstanding but it’s better than the food we got in Panichishte. The problem is that there is no option for seconds. At least not one which doesn’t make me feel marginally guilty inside. We went into town shortly after. The entire place is on a hill and so when I realized the entire trip into town was downhill, I dreaded the trip back up. It wasn’t so bad actually but more on that in a minute. When we got to the center it was boring. Nothing to do because the only people I knew were my counterpart and her sister. I was actually falling asleep at their table because a bunch of them were speaking in Bulgarian and after a long period of listening to another language it turns into a hypnotizing droning noise. Anyways, as I was saying the trip uphill wasn’t so bad. I was able to talk to the first really curious kids here: a group of 5th grade girls I might be teaching in September. They asked me a whole bunch of good questions and since there were like 5 of them they were able to do a sort of hive mind English recollection. It was quite entertaining to watch them chatting amongst themselves trying to remember words like ‘pool’ or ‘England’. When I arrived back I was accosted by another young boy and his friend. I think they were older but I couldn’t tell. Regardless, he seems rather interested in me and while I can appreciate the company, he’s always coming into my room. At least that’s something. Dinner was good. Bedtime was a completely different story. The days here are like a giant party. This place is less of a summer camp rather than a summer house, if you know what I’m saying. The loud music was playing deep into the night and all the kids (I stress the word kids) were drinking beer and vodka. Then when my roommates/charges returned to the room they saw me getting ready for bed and wouldn’t stop talking in their normal voices regardless. Then they started shouting and people started coming into the room. I am starting to hate them all. That night sucked.


So you get the idea. I apologize for the short-ish entry this week but the last two were unusually long so I'll just give you guys a nice little break. I'm working on posting some of the pictures to the galleries. Look back here later this week to see if I've actually followed up on that.

This is the Peace Corps and I think I might like my students. Well maybe except the one guy.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Jared's Speech

Zdraveytey everyone!

If you are reading this then the system works and I'm posting to the people of the FUUUUTURE!!!

A few things before I post Jared's speech.

1) If you plan on posting a comment on the speeches at the end of this (I doubt you guys will due to the near utter lack of comments from last week) please do not compare the speeches. At all. We have parents reading this. Last thing we want is to offend a family member and they get back to one of our authors and they get back to me with a crowbar.

2)On the right are the blogs of some of my fellow PCV's from my group. If there is a blog on that list I'm missing (and I'm positive there are a ton) please get back to me so I can post it up there next week.

3) Finally, I said this last week but I'll be going away for a few days to hang out at a summer camp. It'll be a good time. You'll hear from me whenever I get back.

Okay! Here is the next speech! It was written by Jared Golub. The Bulgarian was part of a separate document so Jared sent me the English half. I can assure you that it is easier to read :)

All you need to know is that 'Az obicham sirene' means 'I love sirene'. 'Sirene' will be defined in this speech better than I could ever articulate.


Az obicham sirene. As we all began our individual adventures in Bulgaria two months ago, we learned this simple yet essential, three-word statement to convey our unverified love of a diary product composed milk, butter, and—probably—mayonnaise. This is the sentence that shaped the entirety of our future experiences in the Peace Corps, that goaded us with an unfamiliar tongue, that promised us future obsessions and delicacies beyond our combined collective consciousness.

Az obicham sirene—I can't think of a better phrase to sum up my pre-service training in Peace Corps Bulgaria. Az—I, you, he, she, anyone with the cognitive ability to refer to himself in the first person, together we share this word; in a land that discarded communism decades ago, we remain vigilant in our use of a single pronoun that transgresses language, nationality, and gender. Obicham—love, another word present in every language, because despite mankind's vast history of violence we will always have that innate ability to love; whether it be our fellow volunteers and the Bulgarians who have opened their hearts to us or the urban and natural beauty of this land itself or even just a funny-tasting cheese, we will always love. Sirene—I can't think of a deeper meaning for “sirene,” but, boy, does that stuff taste good.

For the past two months we've been bombarded with acronyms, handouts, and fleas. We've milked goats and decapitated chickens. We've been discriminated against and done some discriminating ourselves. We've made fools of ourselves trying to dance the Bulgarian horo, only to make bigger fools of ourselves teaching the American Hokey Pokey. We've eaten sirene, and other foods from other animals, animals we never knew could be food. We've made the day of a five year old simply by asking if he wanted to play frisbee. And we finally understand what Matthew McConnaughey meant when he promised, “Peace Corps—the toughest job you'll ever love.”

We've appreciated the immeasurable kindness from our host families, our Bulgarian neighbors and colleagues, our fellow trainees, and our Peace Corps staff. We've appreciated all of you and hope to return your kindness with our own. We hope to remain the diverse individuals we came here as with our various histories and personalities. Individuals predisposed to loving every food, culture, and person in Bulgaria. Individuals, but still one, mixed together, pasteurized, and chilled. Az obicham sirene.


Thanks so much Jared for letting me post your speech. It was an honor to be able to do this with both yours and Nat's.

I'll see you all next week.

This is the Peace Corps and nie obichame sirene.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Swearing in speeches

Zdraveytey once again!

Now this last week has been very quiet. I've been taking my time trying to get in the groove of the town and whatever. So as for myself, I don't have much to say other than Jim Henson was a genius.

Now what I do have, are the speeches that Nat and Jared made on the day we swore in. Both of them were incredibly moving and thought provoking and they both summed up our experience quite succinctly. Because of that, today I'll be sharing with you the first of two speeches. For both of them, they decided to alternate between the use of Bulgarian and English languages and I want to preserve that template so you'll be seeing some Cyrillic jibba-jabba every other paragraph. It's safe to say that the Bulgarian and the English are more or less the same. Perhaps some of the humor may not transcend the language barrier but the message is there.

Anyways, I've spoken more than enough about that. Here we go, the speech by Nathaniel Broekman:



Благодаря, Jared.

Дължим много благодарности на хората, които ни помогнаха да стигнем днес до тук.

There are many thanks owed to the various people who have gotten us where we are today. I would like to give those out now.

На нашите приемни семейства: Благодарим ви за всяко ястие, с което ни хранихте, за всяка чаша, която пълнихте и безчетените часове, които ни отделихте, за да разберем вашата страна по-добре. Посланикът ни, който си заминава, в едно от последните си интервюта каза, че най-важното нещо, когато посещаваш България, е да отидеш в българска къща, да седнеш с домакините на чаша ракия и просто да си поговориш. Виe ни дадохте тази възможност и дори много повече, и то по най-любезния начин. Вие бяхте и ще бъдете най-добрите източници които можем да имаме, и аз знам, че ние всички сме изключително благодарни, че ни приехте във вашите домове и на вашата трапеза. Ние също очакваме да бъдете наши гости в бъдеще.

To our host families: Thank you for every meal we were fed, every glass that was filled, and the countless hours you've devoted to helping us understand your country. Our currently departing ambassador said in a recent interview that to sit in a Bulgarian home, share stories and a glass of rakia is by far the most important thing to do when visiting Bulgaria. You have given us this opportunity and much more, and in the most gracious way. You have been and will continue to be one of the best resources we have here, and I know that we are all extremely thankful for being let into your homes and to your table. We eagerly await your visit На Гости.

На нашите учители по-български: търпението, което всички вие показахте е огромно. Вие работиxте шест дена в седмицата и дори повече - включително времето за подготовка, сложната ни програма, и особено ние - обучаемите: мрънкащи и уморени. Вашето виждане за животa в България е също толкова жизненоважно за нашето разбиране на тази страна и животa ни в бъдеще тук. Всеки път когато чуем «Заповядайте», ще си спомняме онези първи, мъчителни часове, в които се опитвахме да произнасяме тази дума заедно с вас.

To our language trainers: The amount of patience you all have displayed is tremendous - you've been putting in 6 days a week as we all have and more, including preparation time, scheduling nightmares, and especially: whiny, tired trainees. Your insights into Bulgarian life are equally vital to our understanding of this country and our future here, and every time we hear the word «Заповядайте», we'll remember those first painful hours trying to pronounce it with you.

На служителите на Корпус на мира: Благодарим ви за времето, което отделихте нa всеки един от нас. Индивидуалната грижа и внимание, които ни дадохте са изключителни, и мога да кажа, че сме безкрайно впечатлени от вашите умения, опитa който имате, профeсионализма и желанието да ни помогнете. Щастливи сме, че ще работим с всеки един от вас през следващите години.

To our Peace Corps and training staff: Thank you for all the time you have put into each and every one of us. The personal care and attention you've given us is exceptional, and I can say that we are infinitely impressed with what you're able to do, the experience you have, your professionalism and desire to help us at all costs. We're excited to work with each of you in these years ahead of us.

На България: Ние сме готови за теб. Благодарим ти за шопската салата и кюфтетата. Благодарим ти за това, че ни приемаш в твоите градове и села, училища, сиропиталища, НПОта, и читалища. Все още има много неща, които можем да научим от теб, а също и да ти дадем. И бих искал да добавя, че който е решил да сложи пържени картофки в дюнера, е гений.

To Bulgaria: We're ready for you. Thank you for shopska salata and кюфтета. Thank you for letting us into your cities, your towns and villages, schools, orphanages, ngo's and читалища. We have a lot to learn from you and plenty to give. And can I add that whoever decided to put french fries in Дюнер was a genius.

Като доброволци, ние сме тук за да служим, да обучаваме, и може би най-важното - да се учим от българите. Някои от нас се научиха как да играят право хоро, какво точно е шкембе чорба, и почти се научиха как да отказват още ракия. Обаче, по-важно от тези неща е да се учим взаимно, че всички сме хора, че всички имаме желание за по-добро бъдеще за нас и за света. В това отношение ще трябва се работи постоянно. И въпреки, че високо цененото традиционно схващане за развитие е подобрение на инфраструкурата и икономиката, аз вярвам, че личните контакти, които ще реализираме, ще са най-важният аспект от нашата бъдеща работа. Колкото и идеалистично да звучи, има много добра причина нашата организация да се нарича Корпус на мира; основите на нашата мисия се крият в името ни.

As volunteers, we are here to serve, to teach, and perhaps most importantly to learn from the Bulgarian people. Some of us have learned to dance Pravo Horo, what exactly Shkembe Chorba is, and almost learned how to refuse more rakia. But more important than these specifics is to teach each other about our shared humanity, our shared desires for good in the world and in ourselves, our hopes for equality among all peoples and a better future for the generations to come. Our work here will be constant. And while the traditional notion of development as being improvement of infrastructure and economy is highly valuable, I believe the personal connections we will form between everyone in this building and outside of it, and the empowerment we will leave between each other are the most important aspects of our time here. Idealistic though it may be, there is a very good reason our organisation is known as the Peace Corps; the basis of our mission is in our name.

Бих искал да завърша с нещо малко, но значително.

I'd like to finish with a small, but significant moment I've had here.

Преди няколко седмици, обучаемите от програма «Oбразование» бяха събрани в село Баница за обучителни сесии в училището там. По време на обедната почивка, част от нас стояха пред местното кафене и си говореха. Един човек, който правеше ремонт в училището се приближи до нас, и ни каза, че иска да ни покаже нещо наблизо и да ни обясни нещо за България. Аз и един приятел го придружихме до ъгъла на училищния двор.

A few weeks ago the education program trainees were all gathered in Banitsa, having training sessions at the school there. While on lunch break, a group of us stood out in front of the local café killing time. There was a man doing repairs at the school who came over to us, and announced that he wanted to show us something nearby, to explain a little something about Bulgaria. A friend and I accompanied him to the far corner of the schoolyard.

Там имаше скромен паметник на българските войници, които са се били рамо до рамо с америкаските срещу нацистите през Втората световна война. Името на неговия дядо беше написано на него.

There stands a simple monument to the Bulgarian soldiers who fought alongside American forces in world war II, against the Nazis. His grandfather is listed on the monument.

Той искаше да ни покаже период от миналото в който България и Америка са се борили заедно за една добра кауза.

He wanted to show us a time that Bulgaria and America fought side by side for a good cause.

Той ни стисна ръка и просто каза, «да живее нашият съюз», съюзът между България и Америка.

And he shook our hands and simply said, «long live our union, between Bulgaria and America».

Това са най-добрите думи, които бих могъл да кажа в този знаменателен ден.

Those are the best words that I could possibly think up for this day.

Благодаря ви, и късмет на всички.

Thank you, and good luck to us all.


I'd like to thank Nat for letting me post his speech on my blog. It's been a real pleasure to experience it once more.

Anyways, next week I'll be in the mountains near my town to attend a summer camp with some 40+ kids from my school. I'm going to see if I can postdate a blog so it'll come up when I want it to but if you don't see the next post by next Monday, you'll certainly see the speech the week after.

This is the Peace Corps and those were the some of the best words any of us could think up.


Monday, July 27, 2009


Zdraveytey, everyone!

I'm at my permanent site finally and I have a solid piece of internet! No wifi, sadly, but I can certainly use it from anywhere in my living room. I have also set up a Skype account and you can chat with me whenever i'm awake and online. My screen name is [redacted in case random people find me] and I'll be on as often as I can.

Now before I go into some announcements, I'd like to address a few questions that arose from the last post. Firstly: In case you didn't read the comments, the field that we built the football field on is very slanted. It is slanted in the direction of one of the corners of the field. This means that one team has a very big advantage over the others. Doesn't matter though because the town has a freaking football field :)

As for the other outstanding thing... Here's what we're swearing:

I, [state your name], do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, domestic and foreign, that I take this obligation freely and without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge my duties in the Peace Corps by working with the people of [the host country] as partners in friendship and in peace.

That's the general gist...

The entire ceremony was about one and a half hours long. We got a speech from our country director then from a representative of the Embassy and then a representative from the government had a speech. After that, all 62 of us swore in using that above speech. Or some variation of it. I can't find the original script of what we did... Please don't fire me, Leslie. To end the ceremony Jared and Nat had two exceptional speeches in Bulgarian and English. I'll have to post those sometime. After the ceremony we had a nice little lunch of american things... I said good-bye to my host mom. She cried. I cried. She left. I cried some more. Then I started to punch a wall all manly like so it looked like I was crying because my hand hurt and not that my host mother was leaving me :'(

Buuuuuut... Pretend you didn't read that...

Final announcement: The public and private galleries got an update as well. A bunch of new pictures. If you want to look at the private pictures I have, then email me and you know the drill.

This is the Peace Corps. I swear it is.



To the right of the blog I put up two links. The first is to my public photos. The second is to Valerie's blog. She linked to mine so I figured why the hell not, right?

Have fun

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My last week

Zdraveytey, Everyone!

Sorry about the super long delay in updating my blog. As it turns out, the last week has been one of the busiest I’ve had in a long time. Essentially this was finals week and our projects were due, not to mention our final exams.

Let’s start with the exam because it’s shorter to explain. During each volunteer’s training period they undertake two Language Proficiency Interviews (LPI). The first time they take around the halfway point, it’s really more of a warm up for the real thing with lower expectations and easier questions like what you eat for breakfast and perhaps your daily schedule. The second time they bring in the real thing. They’ll ask you questions based on what you used to do in your hometown, they’ll ask what you will do at your permanent site and the bar they set is significantly higher making much more difficult to prepare for the questions. My interviewer said that she was going to be asking questions such that the memorized answers that I made for the standard questions would be useless. If you failed the LPI, you were given one more chance six months from that date. I think I did pretty well even though it feels like I did minimal studying. Which is probably true. And by probably I mean very. And by very I could mean totally…

Now each training group (there’s one in several different towns in my region) is to arrange and perform a final community project. Some groups painted bus stops. Some groups painted walls. Our group built a freaking soccer field. To be fair, most of the work was done by the community but that was the point of the project. We were to get the community members involved in every step of the process. The idea we had was to get the children, for whom the field was meant for, to help as much as possible resulting in them having a stronger emotional connection and thus a less likely chance of marring the field… or stealing the goal nets. The field, however, was a huge problem. It was covered in weeds that the most dangerous lawn mower I have ever seen could not handle. That’s why the three of us took to the field with the rusty tools that the mayor’s office provided. It was a great time. We were chopping weeds, turning over the dirt so the chalk had somewhere to go that wouldn’t blow away and picking up broken pieces of glass. I forgot to mention. This field is where the locals go to burn their trash. There was a lot of garbage in the corners of the field. Also, this was done in the middle of the day. In other words, we were tired as hell. The end result, however, was actually pretty impressive. The soccer field looks like something out of Thunderdome or a terrible fantasy setting with small tree stumps growing out of a single region of the field, burn marks all over the place where the piles of grass and garbage were incinerated, and it was on a hill. We placed a soccer field on the side of a slope. It turned out really well. That Saturday we held a bunch of games for the kids where they played each other. Then we went to the local store and got them all ice cream. It was a good time.

So that’s how I spent my last week. Today, however, I don’t have anything to do so I’m just sitting in my room writing a blog post that will be posted whenever I find a wifi hub. This Friday is my swearing in and by Saturday afternoon I'll be at my own apartment at my permanent site. I'm gonna sleep real well.

This is the Peace Corps and we can play soccer anywhere we want, dammit.


Saturday, July 11, 2009


Zdraveytey again! I have a treat for you all today but first I’d like to begin with a little explanation of what I’m trying to do.

When anyone tells a story, there is a need to tell the events that surround the story. Usually this includes phrases such as, “So there was this time when I was at this place and…” or “Did ever mention that…” and these phrases are followed up by the a short hint of story and then the context. In general, context is good but sometimes it tends to be long-winded and completely irrelevant to the story. In fact the story can be summed up in about one or two lines. Take the entire Harry Potter series, for instance. As a summary, we can say “Harry and his friends go to school and kill the Dark Lord”. Obviously I’m not giving the entire series enough justice but the idea is there. Sometimes, though, one or two sentences are all you need to tell a really good story. The following lines are the experiences of me and a few of my friends taken in and placed into one or two sentences. Each is done in the 1st person and a few can be summed up by something said during the event. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed collecting them. I’ve added a comment in parentheses to help you understand a couple of them. Let’s begin with mine:

1) I’ve stared down a chicken while squatting on a toilet.

2) I’ve received chocolate from a Mahmoud Achmandinejad lookalike

3) I’ve toasted to the death of communism.


I once watched my host dad shave his chest and belly in the living room while his son played on the ground in his shavings.


1) I quit smoking because a sixth grader lit up beside me.
2) My host brother wants to be me so much that he came to dinner with my toothbrush in his mouth.


I’ve ran for my life from packs of dogs - more than once.


1) I killed a chicken and ate some bees in the same day.
2) One dark night, I was led home by the hand by a six-year old girl.


I think my neighbor is the ghost of the lady who died across the hall.


I once received a love letter that said, “Jesse sexy. Kiss kiss. Sorry brothers.”


My host mom wouldn’t let me leave my house because my hair was wet and trapped me on my porch to dry my hair.


“My vagina doesn’t smell- I don’t need a douche” (the word pronounced like douche means ‘shower’)

Anna T:

My host mom invites boys over for dinner for me to marry. We argued for two hours over and it is still an issue.


At a school, I once pulled the squatter toilet flush lever too hard and all of my shit went all over the stall of the bathroom.


That’s all I have for now but I plan on collecting more and using them for another blog post in the future. To clarify, each of these stories came from the last 8-9 weeks that we’ve been here and I was only able to ask a small fraction of the 62 of us. I didn’t get a chance to ask a few. Some of the trainees couldn’t think of a story immediately. Some claimed that they had no stories at all. If any of these trainees are reading this blog, you have stories. I can assure you that you do. The easiest thing to do is to picture the things you have done in Bulgaria that you would never have done otherwise and please send them to me or tell me the next time we meet up.

This is the Peace Corps and it regrettably cannot be summarized into a sound bite.


Friday, July 3, 2009

You guys are terrible

So from your resounding silence, I've decided to let you look at some of the pictures on the open gallery. I can't show you all of them due to security reasons but I will put one up every few weeks or so. There are also some pictures which can never be shown to you guys because of the possible risks that they might entail.

You can find the pictures at

I'm still leaving up the rest of the pictures on the other account on the chance that you will want to look at all of them. Just email me and you can see the rest of the 400+ photos.

This is the Peace Corps so you may need to make some inconvenient concessions. (see what I did there? I turned it around to include you guys.)


Friday, June 26, 2009

Quick update with an important announcement

Hey everyone.

So I want to post more pictures of what I've been doing and I want to comment on as many of them as possible. The problem is that it is probably a security risk if I do that. So I've decided to create a sort of hybrid blog. Essentially a public blog with private pictures. I'm creating a brand new google account and I'll be using it mainly for posting my pictures. Email me your name (so I know who you are) and I can send you the account name and password so you can access it. The public one I put up earlier will always be up. Think of it as an appetizer. You can find the link to it several entries back. It's a short one I believe but don't take my word for it.

This is the Peace Corps and I was almost a security risk.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Hey everyone,

Today I wish I to touch on the subject of the PC training. I realized that I havent explained to you all how exactly I got to where I am. It's a pretty long process spanning 9 1/2 weeks so I better get to it.

THings start almost immediately when you get to your staging hotel in a selected city. I've heard stories that DC isn't the only place but I'm not sure. Once you get there you have one or two days where the American staff walks you through the in and outs of the PC protocol. Essentially, it's a huge security lecture where you are told you can be separated from the PC if you do anything stupid.

The next step is to get on a 12 hour plane ride to Sofia then get on a 2ish hour bus ride to the first training site: A hotel in the mountains. There you get acclimitized to the weather and you work off the jet lag. I've found that jet lag is most easily taken care of by making yourself so tired that you might actually collapse in the spot you're standing. The next morning you're still tired. But in a I-came-back-from-work-really-late-and-now-I-need-to-go-back-like-right-now kind of tired.

At this point, you get more security lectures as well as medical and cultural stuff. It's not as interesting as it sounds, however. What IS interesting is that we started learning the language not 4 hours after waking up on the second day. We learned about fruits and vegetables. In Bulgaria, fruits and vegetables are so important that they are lesson one. Not verb conjugation. Not sentence structure. Not even the fact that there is gender. Nope. You learn about fruits and vegetables. And I guess saying hello and nice to meet you. But that's irrelevant. I like saying Apple. Yabulka! Yabulka!

After 3-4 days of language and lectures, we learn where we get placed for our Pre Service Training. I was placed in Alt... Amsterdam. I'll tell you the real name after I swear in. We spend the rest of the 9 weeks there training with our Language Trainers and going to Hubs/clusters where larger groups of trainees meet.

What's happening right now is that I'm visiting my permanent site where I'll be working for the next 2 years after I swear in. I'll live here, go to work here and call this my headquarters. After this, I will return to Amsterdam where I will complete my training.

One thing to note, is that I've been signed on for Septemvri AND Varvara. The two towns are about 4-5 km apart and are divided by a short road. It's a quick bus ride from either town to the other. What is interesting is that I'm the only person in my Bulgaria group, that is of all 61 of us, that was assigned to two different towns. There about 5 or 6 of us assigned to 2 different schools but my situation requires I travel.

Septemvri is the larger town, about 10k people, and that is where I'm living. It's very comfortable there and I have an apartment with a really nice living room and a kitchen. I sleep in the kitchen. That might take some explaining but I have photos to show that off. I have access to everything I might need in Septemvri. There are a lot of stores and I'm in the middle of town so I have access to most things.

Varvara, on the other hand, is a much smaller town on the bottom of the Rhodope mountain range. It's a very beautiful place and it boasts spas and hot springs. It's consistently about 4 degrees F cooler than Septemvri thanks to the mountain breeze.

I'll be teaching grades 5-10 for the first year in the area. This was a surprise to me since I was nominated to the PC as a Secondary School teacher. My assignment, however, has me teaching mainly primary school students with a single grade 10 class. I hope I can handle it.

That'll be all for now. Leave questions if you got 'em. I have pictures that I'll be uploading once I return home. I'm currently working from a computer in a lab at the school in Varvara. Also, I've begun leaving comments on the photos so you'll get to see how I summarize 1000 words every time.

This is the Peace Corps and I love it in my towns.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Small, Tiny Update

Zdraveytey everyone,

Just a quick update. I've arrived in Septemvri for my 3 day visit and I'm having lunch with my counterpart. I'll tell you folks more about the situation when I get some time.

This is the Peace Corps and it's no longer Easy Mode.



I'll be talking about here later. Right now I'm using my counterpart's computer and I have no internet at my apartment. Spokoino, folks. Relax. :D

Friday, June 19, 2009

Permanent Site!

So I found out where we will be spending my next 2 years!

I figure I won't need to hide this from you guys.

I am working in the towns of Septemvri and Varvara.

I'll tell you all more when I have more time.

This is the Peace Corps and they think I'm competent. Joke might be on them


EDIT 6/20: I've got about 400-500 pictures ready to release to you guys slowly. I'll let you guys see them once I get to each point. I'm publicizing the first picture of my satellite site Not-Amsterdam now.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Deliciousness Follows!

Zdraveytey once again, everyone!

By popular demand, the topic for today will be FOOD. One quick linguistic digression before I begin: my greeting ‘zdraveytey’ is a common formal/plural greeting and the pronunciation (if you can do the IPA) is [zdravete]. In other words, it’s pronounced essentially just as I typed it. Of course it looks completely different in cyrilic: ЗДРАВЕЙТЕ. If the spelling is wrong, please correct me, my Bulgarian friends.

Onto the food. Deliciousness follows:

The first piece of food I wish to share with you is called Banitsa. This dessert is a traditional Bulgarian recipe (at least that’s what the Peace Corps wants us to believe) and every household tends to have a different recipe much like rakia. (If rakia sounds unfamiliar to you, look back a couple entries where I tell you how drunk it gets you. And by you I mean me.) It’s essentially a rolled pastry that contains fruit or cheese inside. You start by getting some very thin, read paper thin, bread. These are pretty similar to the kind you could get in an Ethiopian restaurant, I believe. Next, cover one sheet with a small layer of oil. In the household I learned this, we then placed another layer of bread on top and used a little more oil. Next we added the fruit (apple or pumpkin in this case) and spooned some crushed nuts mixed with cinnamon on top. Then we added two spoons of sugar for flavor enhancement. Finally we rolled it up and placed it into a baking pan. After about 8-10 rolls, the pan was filled and we tossed it into the oven for a while. It came out crispy and delicious. Imagine the thinnest and crispiest soft taco shell wrapped around fruit, nuts and cinnamon and when you bite into it, the damn thing feels like it melts in your mouth because it’s so fragile feeling. It’s pretty damn great.

The next one is another wrapped treat. This one is a lunch entrée that I’ve only found in the nearby city of… Budapest… This food is called a Diuner (or Dyuner depending on how you want to phoneticize it. Yeah. I verbed phonetics.) Start with a pita, preferably on the thick side. Fry one side of it to heat it up. Next add cucumbers, shredded lettuce or cabbage, and some kind of yogurt based sauce. This next part blows my mind. You place French fries and grilled chicken on top of all that. Add mayonnaise, ketchup, more yogurt sauce or chili powder as preferred, roll and serve wrapped in a napkin. I’m feeling pretty hungry just thinking about it. Best part: the small (yet very filling) size at the café I eat at sells them fresh for only 2 leva (the Bulgarian Currency). According to my ipod, in America-world that’s only $1.40. And the larger, much more luxurious and delicious size is still less than 2 bucks. I love Bulgaria.

One last thing to note, by request from someone who I believe to be Al Brown, I have begun brainstorming the story for Peace Corpse. It will be a romantic comedy set in the African wilderness. Once again, if you have anything else you wish to hear about, leave requests. Next week I’ll be finding out my permanent site and I think I’ll have more frequent updates.

This is the Peace Corps and I think I’m gaining weight.


Friday, June 5, 2009

The Town!

Zdraveytey again, folks!

I’m assuming from the lack of responses to my last post that my poo was not as interesting as I thought it was so let’s move on to a different topic. So last time I basically spoke about my home. I’ll also make this post a little shorter so it’s easier to digest. Now let’s talk about Amsterdam and what’s in it.

First, I’d like to say that have photos that prove that I’m actually in the Peace Corps rather than just chilling out at home or something faking it. I do. I just need to upload them to the internetz. That may take some time if the internet trips out like it’s doing right now. Not a big deal.

Well it’s certainly beautiful. I’m currently writing from outside the town center where there is a decent wifi connection. It trips out more than occasionally but it’s reasonably fast. I’m writing from under a tree on the grounds and it is wonderful. To the right of me there are 2 large columns dedicated to the heroes of the town. Across from me is the town municipality containing the mayor’s office, the post office and a couple mini-markets. If you go down either main road, you’ll find farms and animals. Off of these roads you’ll find other not so main roads probably made of either cobblestone remains or dirt. Sometimes the roads are just paths that have two small trenches that the carts will just roll through. Along these paths are more farms and animals. Amsterdam is a town with nothing. No banks, atms or movie theaters, either. It’s a very old fashioned town. The best way to picture this town is to imagine the opening to Beauty and The Beast. The little French town is very similar. I see the same people every morning and they all poke their heads over their fence to say Bonjour. Well Dobro Ootro, anyway. I like it here. I like it and its bazillion tiny farms.

Eventually I plan on making a photo album using one of those online programs so you can see my pictures. I’ll do so once I get an internet connection that I can rely on.

One last thing before I go, I’m going to be touching on a lot of subjects but I want to know what you guys want to read. If you care to, leave a comment with a request and I’ll try to comply.

This is the Peace Corps. It’s like I’m in a Disney musical… or a horror movie.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

What it looks like!

Zdraveytey, everybody!

It’s time for a proper update concerning Bulgaria. As I said last time, this has been the longest and hardest (laugh it up) week I’ve ever had. At the same time, I’ve never had such a fulfilling experience. I was going to talk about my four days in Paris but instead I want to tell you all about my training site, Amsterdam, first.

Amsterdam is a small village at the north end of the country. There are only about 1200 people here and most of them are on the older side of the spectrum. When I say most of them, one of the saddest things about Amsterdam is that the local school is closing after this summer because there are only about 17 or so registered school-age residents in the town. All of the young people leave the town when they get the chance so it would be safe to say that this is an aging and declining population. Regardless, this is one of the most beautiful towns I have ever visited. Almost everyone here has their own garden in which they grow their own fruits and vegetables. Everyone also has their own collection of farm animals. My host family, for instance, has a chicken pen with about 30-40 chickens of all ages. Also, Amsterdam is only one of two towns where the PC stationed 3 trainee volunteers.

Now I’m not sure if I can give names but I can tell you about the people I’m staying with. I live with a host mother and her son. Let’s call them Agnes and Seymour. Like the place names, these names are not descriptive of the people except perhaps the relationship. Seymour teaches priests in the city closest to here, our HUB city Venice. Agnes grows tomatoes, cucumbers, cherries and has her own vineyard from which she makes her own wine.

While I’m on the subject of alcohol, let me talk about the local moonshine. Each house that grows fruit will have their own version of the moonshine, Rakia. To quote one of the trainers back in Paris, “It’s about 75-80% alcohol and it goes down like firewater.” That sentence is 100% correct. Just smelling the Rakia will make you want to pass out. That being said, my meal a couple nights ago was a delicious salad made from cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions and radishes (I suspect that they were all grown right here) with a salt, apple vinegar and vegetable oil dressing, a chicken dish with chopped up potatoes and leg quarters. As for the alcohol I set up but forgot to mention, it was about half a shot of Rakia and a glass of red wine mixed with lemonade. I got a little drunk that night.

Concerning my actual living situation, it’s absolutely wonderful. Essentially, they have a guest house on the second floor (either that or I’m displacing Seymour from his normal quarters) and I have it all to myself. It consists of a living room, bedroom and dining room. The bedroom is larger than any other bedroom I have ever had to myself with an approach on the bedroom I shared with my sister many years ago. I have set up my office for studying and whatever in the dining room as well as making that my tech center, so to speak, with all the adapters and junk I use being put in that room.

And now to burst the beautiful bubble that you may be imagining, I have a squat toilet. I’ve done some pretty crazy things in context with myself over the last few days. I’ve joined hands and danced Horol with about 100 other people. I’ve learned how to hand wash my clothes. I’ve walked 30 minutes to a bus stop. I’ve helped create a trellis for cucumber plants to grow up when they come into season. I’ve taken a shower in near freezing temperature water. The most amazing part of them all, however, is the squat toilet. For a little background, Bulgaria has a different toilet system. To describe it from my experience, when we flush all the water that was in the toilet ideally leaves and is replaced with a new basin of water. In Bulgaria the toilets don’t really flush, as it’s more of a dilution. Water is added to the tank while the same amount is drained at the same time but the tank is never empty. So your urine would still be in smaller volumes at the end of a flush while the fecal matter gets whisked away. Because of this, the toilet paper is almost never flushed down but is instead discarded in a nearby trash bin. That’s something else you can add to that list of awesome things I’ve done (no seriously, it’s really hard to imagine this but it’s a very amazing thing to be okay with that). Now that I’ve given you the idea, let me reiterate for a third time: There is a squat toilet outhouse on my little farm. There are actually two toilets here, one in the shower area which is an actual toilet, and the outhouse. The former is for the liquid waste, the latter is for the solid. I would describe for you the reason why I know the differences in uses but it would be rather obscene because it was done via gesture. My family is awesome. I’ve needed to go to the outhouse twice and each time it’s a terrifying experience. I’d go into more reasons why but it would get gross and I’ve just realized I’ve spent more than double the time describing the Bulgarian waste management system than anything else I’ve written about so far.

I’ve more to say about Amsterdam but I’ll leave it be for now and let you all take in my vivid description of my method of pooping. The outhouse is in the chicken pen, by the way. At first I thought they were fucking with me.

This is the Peace Corps. I’m totally okay with this and I haven’t had this much fun almost ever.


Monday, May 25, 2009


So this is a quick update to tell you all that I'm alright and that I've settled in my host town of Amsterdam (remember no real place names). It's been the longest week of my life and you'll all be hearing more of it later. Even later than that if the nearest internet is this cafe in the city after a 20-30 min. bus ride.



Monday, May 18, 2009


A bunch of things but first a disclaimer:


Okay. With that out of the way, I can continue the blog.

I am currently writing from the bar at the Holiday Inn at Georgetown. Spent the weekend walking around the Mall and am exhausted as hell. I got to see Lydia, Flannery, Dawn and Donnie though. That was a whole lot of fun. We had dinner.

So today was the very long staging orientation. It was very long. The first two hours were about icebreaking and PC common knowledge. We went around answering questions about the PC: What are the three goals of the Peace Corps? When was the Peace Corps founded? Who is the current head? There were also questions about ourselves such as: What skills do you bring to the table? (Not in those words but close enough)

Then we made posters and did Public Service Announcements. All in all, a standard day in my life.

Tomorrow I head out into the world. It'll be fucking great. I've met a good chunk of the rest of the volunteers and they all seem really cool. I had dinner with a bunch of them at a Thai restaurant near the hotel. Decent enough end to my time here.

Now referring back to my heading, I have a bunch of things I should explain. Due to security reasons I cannot tell you that the 60ish of us are heading to small town called [redacted] for [undiscloseable] days. There we will be doing [stuff]. I can, however, give the names of the towns other things. For instance, I could tell you that we're all going to Paris. That is a bold-faced lie but I'm sticking to it. I'll also be attempting to keep the names of the other volunteers secret as well as the people in these towns.

One last thing: This may be the last time I'm updating the blog for at least a week. Please keep checking back just in case and leave a comment if you can. It lets me know people are reading my blog.

Maybe you guys can come visit me in a few months.



Saturday, May 16, 2009

Another quick update

Quick update for tonight. Just wanted to let you all know that I’m in DC right now and you can reach me at 305-987-2390.

Also, there may be word in the next few days about my apparent obsession with the concept of time. I’d just like to say that Lydia is a damn dirty liar and that Time is a wonderful thing that processes along with or without us and deserves our total and utter appreciation to the ravages it can wage upon any given place. In fact, I find myself looking at the clock sometimes just to see the seconds tick away while I helplessly watch. While I helplessly experience. While I helplessly ‘be’... In conclusion Lydia is an awful, terrible liar and she should never be trusted.

On Monday/Tuesday I'm going to make an attempt at updating to tell you all how the orientation went and, perhaps, showing off some of my other volunteers. It'll be fun.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Last Day

A quick update. So Mother's Day is my last proper day in Jamaica. I've eaten lots of food that I won't be taking in for the next couple years, more than likely. As a result, I've gained more weight than I'd have liked. Buuuut I'm willing to say that it was worth it :D

I leave for Miami tomorrow morning on the first flight out then spend the night there to pick some stuff that I ordered. Then it's off to NC to do the last of the shopping. Then to finish it off, I head to DC Saturday afternoon. It'll be some fun stuff going on.

I think I still have my final freakout to go through and it'll probably be while I'm trying to fall asleep. Actually, it might be happening right now... Raised heart rate, shallow breathing, anxious feeling... I think a freakout is about right. Crap. This does not feel good at all.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Schedule for the first week

Hey everyone,

I just wanted you all to hear how the first week of my Peace Corps service will be. For the record, I can't give you exact locations. I'll probably be vaguer than I need to be because at this moment I'm not sure how much I can tell you.

5/18: We check in to the hotel in Georgetown at noon and the afternoon is 5 hours of pre-pre-training orientation. Turns out this is to prep us for the preparation for the preparation for our service. I wish that was being confused about that.

5/19: We leave for the airport where we board a plane to Frankfurt then to Sofia. From the estimations, it'll be around 12 hours on and off of the planes so I guess I'll be listening to a lot of:

I love those guys.

5/20?: At this point, I'll have no idea where I am both physically and mentally as 12 hours of plane travel is enough to make anyone assume that they've died and gone to a confined diseased, collicky baby hell. In fact, the more I think about it the more I believe that the previous video may be prophetic. But hey. It's a free flight. I can't ask for more than that.

5/20 pt2: So as we land, they take our most of our luggage from us to store somewhere someplace. We're not going to need it though because immediately after that we get trucked to a town called Pani- wait I don't know if I can tell you that. Instead, I'll just replace the name of the town with the name of another well known place with the same first letter. So we get bussed to Paris. There we have 4 days of pre-training orientation. I don't know what's going on there. All I know is that it's beautiful and there is no internet OR proper phones. It'll be fun?

5/twenty-whatever: This is where things get hazy. We get placed in groups and then the groups get sent to different stations where the groups get split up to house with host families. I said on my form that I would not be totally uncomfortable with a family that spoke no English. Half of me is excited about that possibility. The other half wants to kick me in the nuts. At that point, I'll be able to update the blog again with something. I have no idea.

This probably won't be the last update before I leave. The hotel in Georgetown has internetz. Also, I'll be arriving in DC 2 days early to hang with Lydia, Flannery, Dawn and possibly Donny and/or Mike depending on how things go.

It's going to be a fun weekend.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why I joined the Peace Corps

I guess this will be one of the big questions regarding my trip to Bulgaria. The truth is that there are several why I did it. The first one would have to be that I couldn't get a job anywhere else. Let's be honest: I loved my major, but a bachelor's degree in linguistics without a minor, much less a double major, is not a good starting place.

Next, I have student loans. The PC was a convenient way to defer my loans as they may also pay for 15% per year I serve which means that should I make it to the end (fingers crossed) I'll have 30% of my federal loan crossed out which comes up to more than $3000 I think... It might be closer to $6000...

That brings me to my next reason: Grad School. The Peace Corps has a program where they will pay for a part of your grad school tuition if you enter one of their participating schools. It's not much but I like any help I can get.

Finally (well maybe I might find some other reason later on), I get to travel to Europe! I'm looking forward to all the great stuff from traveling. The jet lag, the cabin fever, the potential Montezuma's Revenge. Don't try to correct me on that last one. That son of a bitch is everywhere. If I could have explosive diarrhea anywhere, it would be somewhere that has a window onto a beautiful green meadow-like vista. That would be awesome and irreverent. Buuuut in Bulgaria, I have expectations of a Communist town house, so to speak. One room studio with a window facing another building. I foresee hanging underwear outside. In fact right now I'm picturing Italian communities in Brooklyn during the 30's with the clotheslines just draped across the alleyways. Please don't try to correct me on that part either. I've never been to Brooklyn.

I plan on posting whatever I can, that is stories, pictures, maybe videos... I'll also be attempting some basic language stuff if at all possible. I'll need all the practice I can get. I hope to hear from you in my comments or via email.