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.