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.