Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New Year's part 3! The one in which I go to the Wild West!

Zdraveytey Everyone!

This is the third and theoretically final installment of my New Year’s Eve stuff. Today I’ve decided to write as little as possible and just post a bunch of pictures cataloging my day. A picture is worth a thousand words so I’ve got like a novella over here. It was just Me, Anna and Sasha for most of the day because Suzie and Jared never made it. Boo to you guys!

These are Anna and Sasha. We hung out all day today:

After leaving the hostel we went for a walk through the park:

This is a statue of what I believe to be revolutionaries:

And this was made on the side of it:

The girls wanted to go ice skating so after a big loop around the park we came upon the biggest ice skating rink in the Balkans:

It's pretty big, right?

Too bad it’s not:

It was pretty underwhelming so we went off in search of the Book Fair! But we got marginally side tracked by the concert preparations. Anna and I would be here later that night.

Then something crazy happened… We found Chinatown:

Anyways, we eventually found the Book Fair:

As you can see, Anna was pretty excited about this thing:

I just wanted to show you guys how to spell McDonalds in Cyrillic:

Shortly after that, we came back to the hostel

Here’s the inside of the lobby:

I want to say here that this place is super hard to find if you don’t know want you’re looking for:

Here we just kind of chilled out for a couple hours.

[picture missing]

Then there were more PCV’s!

[picture missing]

Then we fought dragons!!!

[picture missing]

Then we went to see Avatar.

[picture not worth taking]

In the near future, I’m going to go off on Avatar because I’m angry at that movie. That awful, awful movie. But after that we went to an Indian restaurant. Even more after that, we wandered around the city trying to see what other events were taking place other than the one at the concert area. We did not find a place, so we perched ourselves on a wall in a conveniently escapable point. Anna got pudding for dessert:

But there were a TON of people there:

Including this awesome guy:

The concert was pretty great. They had a big Bulgarian pop star and a big Bulgarian folk group performing and it was amazing to see the crowd react better to the folk group. To be fair, though, the folk group WAS the better performance. Anyways, there were of course fireworks.

A little after this, we struggled through the crowd and arrived back in the hostel for a well deserved rest because we had a morning train the next day. Here’s the last photo of the trip:

So I’ll catch you guys later and hopefully this thing will upload properly.

This is the Peace Corps and writing over 25000 words isn’t so hard apparently.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Year's Eve Part 2

Zdraveytey again everyone!

It’s time for part two of the New Years thing. We’ll start from the evening before the 30th because this is where we introduce another character that will prove important to the next day. As a bit of a heads-up, this entry will be like the middle installment in a trilogy: things happen of no consequence. Tomorrow’s entry will be much more interesting. Promise!

So I got back to the Hostel around 9:30ish. I went up to my room and figured that I’d get to bed. Who would I see, other than a familiar face? Actually, I only sort of recognized the face. I met her at the Halloween Party… that didn’t happen. I mean that I could’ve met her at the Halloween Party? So how could I have recognized her if the party never happened… I’ll just go with: I met her at some Peace Corps event.

Anyways, after realizing that we were in the same hostel, we started talking and I found out (for a second time) that her name is Sasha. She’s part of the group of volunteers from before mine. I also met a couple guys from Singapore backpacking across the Middle-East/Eastern Europe. I also met a man from Germany doing something in Bulgaria, but he’s been here enough times to have been to my town at least twice. There was also a high-school senior from America who was vacationing in Bulgaria for one reason or another.

As a side note, here’s a picture of the hostel I stayed in. It’s called Hostel Mostel and it’s apparently one of the best in the world.

I know that seems underwhelming but it IS super freaking nice inside.

Sasha was waiting for a few more people from her group to show up for New Year’s Eve and she was meeting a friend that evening for dinner. She had nothing else to do so I suggested that she come with me and Anna to do whatever it was we were going to do. Too bad we didn’t really have a plan.

So after Anna arrived the next morning, we figured out the plan as follows: First to the PC HQ for medical stuff and reading material. Next to the mall for lunch and the chance to walk around that side of town. Then to see Shelock Holmes (great movie btw). Then to meet Sasha’s friend for dinner.

All except the last part are pretty self-explanatory. Because of this, I’ll just skip to the real adventure: dinner. Somehow, we came to the decision that we wanted Thai food. Remember how I told you about that curse of mine a couple months ago? Well it turns out it might have played a part in us wandering around the south end of Sofia for 2 hours without ever finding this restaurant. Yeah. We walked up and down and went into at least 3 different hotels to figure out where the restaurant is. We also got lost a couple times (one of which was most certainly my fault). There were fire dancers. It was almost a good time.

Eventually we did come upon a restaurant that could’ve been the place. Too bad it was too expensive for our lifestyles. Or something like that. I don’t really remember why we left. Instead we went across the street to the mall and went to a nice Italian place. I also saw kids playing Rock Band. It occurred to me I haven’t played video games on a TV screen in about 7 months. That’s 8 months now. It’s been a while for me. Maybe my hands will actually develop into people hands rather than grabbing claws made to fit a Nintendo control. (One more side note: I just typed Nintendo in lower case and MSWord capitalized the ‘N’ for me. That’s pretty great.)

So my New Year’s Eve Eve was pretty fun. A lot of walking around in a city I haven’t had any experience in. A lot of meeting new people. A lot of me not taking pictures. I remedied that on the next day. So that means catch me tomorrow when I'll show you a bunch of pictures.

This is the Peace Corps and we don’t have the money to sit in your crazy expensive Middle-Eastern restaurant you crazy people.


Monday, January 25, 2010

New Year's Eve Part 1

Zdraveytey everyone!

So let’s talk about New Year’s week. I wanted to take a bunch of pictures but it turns out I forgot my camera for everyday except the last one. But when you think about it, it’s the day that counts, right? The idea for these next few posts is to put out 3 on consecutive days because each day was pretty packed with stuff. So here’s how it went down starting with the 29th…

December 29

I got up for the first convenient train out of town. I had to pick up the tickets for the ballet we were going to attend. That last sentence requires me to back up a couple weeks I guess.

So the couple weeks leading up to New Years were a bit of a confusing time. I was teaching small children everyday, I had tests from my regular classes to correct, I had to do traveling, I had an injured ankle, and my Christmas plans were suddenly (but understandably) changed… Lots of stuff was happening. That’s why I’m pretty thankful Anna, another volunteer from my group, was able to take the reins on the whole New Years thing. She suggested we hang out in Sofia for a few days and take in the sights. One of those ‘sights’ included the National Bulgarian Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker, or, if you’re Bulgarian, Leshnikotroshachkata. (A quick aside, that word sucks to read for the first time. It’s 17 Cyrillic letters and 7 syllables with accents tossed in there seemingly willy-nilly.) It was the Christmas season so we decided that it was all or nothing with the tickets. We bought the 40 leva tickets for 5th row seats. It. Was. Awesome. But more on that in a minute. (Another quick aside: I had McDonalds for the first time in a few months. It was pretty great. Well the fries were. I apparently missed fast food.)

So first I needed to pick up the tickets. After checking in at the hostel, I got directions to go to the ticket vendor, which wasn’t the theatre in case you were wondering. In fact, this place was in the garage area of another building on the other side of the city. It was so on the other side of the city that the tram I was on went up a hill and through a forest. Seeing as Sofia is the most populated and urban city in Bulgaria, you can imagine the confusion of having to go through the woods on the edge of town. I did manage to pick up the tickets rather easily. Once I got there it wasn’t a big problem.

After that, I went back to the hostel to meet up with Anna. Her mom had been visiting for a few days and they were sightseeing and shopping. I was intrigued by the former but definitely wary of the latter. I went with them anyway. Turns out, their “Sightseeing” was closer to “Looking for boots while conveniently turning up in pretty places”. It was a long afternoon. Anyways, after a few hours of… this… I went back to the hostel to change because there’s no way in hell I’m going to the opera’s 5th row and not dress in at least a jacket and tie, especially for the National ballet of an Eastern European country. You may think otherwise, but this is how I show my respect to the dancers/musicians. I’d also expect that my music teachers back at home would cringe at the site of me in blue jeans sitting 5th row, center at a ballet. Regardless, we were early so we had dinner at the restaurant next door. I had the squid ink spaghetti. It was pretty freaking awesome.

The ballet itself was great but I forgot that there were characters conceived as “Chinese Doll” and “Indian Doll”. The costumes quickly reminded me of that. Another quick aside: do we Asians walk around everywhere with one finger in the air? I don’t remember ever doing that but for some reason the choreographers decided that Chinese people stand idly as such. Maybe it’s the symbolize us counting stuff. I have no idea. Back to the topic: the dancing was fantastic. There was a moment at the beginning when I realized I was watching the National Ballet (I will be bringing this point up several times, possibly just to brag) of a foreign country in prime seats. I was pretty psyched about that. The music was great and everything was about as I expected. Except that the nutcracker changed dancers about a third through the program. There was the dancer for the nutcracker doll, and another for the nutcracker person. We could tell because they were different genders. Anna and I both agreed that the reaction was along the lines of “Huh. Those weren’t there before.” But whatever. Two thumbs up for The Nutcracker!

One final quick story before the 30th: walking through the streets of Sofia alone in the dark is marginally scary. I don’t have anything else to say on that manner I think.

This is the Peace Corps and there will be opportunities for awesome!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Christmas '09

Zdraveytey everyone!

Storytime again folks. I'm sorry about the somewhat repetitive consistency of the posts but the 3 day New Year's post will be at least a little different.

Today, I want to talk about Christmas. It’s been one, let me tell you. I guess the real question here is what sorts of things Bulgarians do during the holiday. Either that, or what I did over the holiday. I guess I can talk about both.

One thing to note, though, is that Christmas is a 3-day celebration in Bulgaria. Not some pansy go-to-sleep-then-wake-up-and-open-presents-then-complain-then-go-back-to-sleep-then-wake-up-and-go-to-work sort of deal. It’s more like go-to-sleep-then-wake-up-and-open-presents-then-complain-then-go-back-to-sleep-then-wake-up-and-continue-eating-and-drinking sorts of holiday. So first I’ll present what Bulgarian traditions are then I’ll write about what I did. I spent the Christmas with my counterpart so I suspect that a lot of it will be “Yup. Did that.” Also, I’m very much abbreviating what Bulgarians do. Mainly because I can’t bother looking for the research I did regarding the Bulgarian Christmas traditions.

Dec. 24th

Bulgaria: They eat only vegetarian this day. It’s a lot of rice, stuffed peppers and cabbage. Then they leave the food out for their visiting ancestral spirits. They also bake this giant dinner roll in which there is a coin. They break off pieces from the main roll and whoever gets the coin will have a lucky year. I think it might be fiscally lucky but don’t quote me on that.

Zack: Yup. Did that. Well really everything except that part with leaving the food out. I don’t really know if they did that. I also watched Home Alone. It’s really weird to think it’s been 20 years since the movie first came out. Holy crap. I feel kinda old now. I also drank homemade wine.

Dec. 25th

Bulgaria: Bring on the meat! Yeah there are presents and whatever, and holiday cheer but there’s meat after a vegetarian meal! As a side note, Santa Clause is called ‘Dyado Kolada’ or Father Christmas here.

Zack: Yup. Did that too. We had roast turkey and turkey with cabbage and blood sausage (which was pretty good) and other good foods. We also watched Home Alone 2. Macaulay Culkin (sp?) was a cute little kid and he looked like a bunch of the kids I taught the month before. I also drank more homemade wine. OH! And I got peed on by a little girl. 

Dec. 26th

Bulgaria: Another big meal. Sadly I don’t really know the lore behind the 26th but who’s going to turn down a good meal?

Zack: Changing it up here: Did that. Yup. But seriously, I had dinner at another colleague’s house. I didn’t know it before, but I taught her son in my 2nd grade class. But more good food, I suspect leftovers from the night before (not that there’s anything wrong with more turkey and blood sausage). I drank even more homemade wine. And homemade rakia. You may remember me telling you about that months ago. Strong stuff there. I also watched some movie with a young Lindsay Lohan and Tyra Banks. Something about a Barbie doll coming to life.

Dec. 27th

This isn’t part of the 3 days of Christmas but I wanted to put it out there because it was spent with my counterpart. It was her birthday and she invited me over for dinner. We all sat ate, drank and talked. There was also cake. Not much more to say about it except that there was more homemade wine.

So as you can see, my Christmas was pretty great. Lots of food and wine. I wanted to have a traditional Christmas holiday before I left. I never expected that it would be the first Christmas here. Next time it’ll be about New Year’s and there’s nothing traditional about what I did.

This is the Peace Corps and we love our holidays. I mean, we ARE a government organization, right?


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thanksgiving '09!

Zdraveytey everyone!

So this time I’ll be taking a few steps back to tell you all about what I did for Thanksgiving. I wanted to write this post way long ago but I got sidetracked by the whole primary teaching thing and put it off. I think if I put it off anymore then I might just forget everything about the holiday altogether. That being said, my memory is not completely flawless. I tend to make things up and take them as truth vehemently. But if someone who was there reads this and wants to make a correction then please call me out. I’d appreciate that.

I spent the Thanksgiving with a married couple Mike and Lynn in a nearby big city. They are in a pretty central location so they invited a whole bunch of us to their apartment for turkey and whatever else is served during Thanksgiving. They had a great day planned ahead for us and once we all gathered it was time to go crazy. By crazy I just mean that we climbed a hill. This was crazy for me because if you think back this was a couple weeks after falling out of a bathtub. My ankle hadn’t completely recovered. I still went though even though everyone was more or less concerned about my lack of concern. I thought to myself, “This is a beautiful day and I’ll be damned if I don’t go on this walk. In fact, I expect my ankle to be the size of a grapefruit by the time I’m done here.” I might be a masochist.

Regardless, the walk to the top of the hill was easy and beautiful. From the top you could see almost the entire city and you would’ve been able to if there hadn’t been a haze of smog in the distance. You could also see the other hilltops scattered around the city. It was pretty awesome. I’ll need to upload those pictures some other time. We also came to the conclusion that a little snack stand at the top of the hill would be very well placed. The trip up was nice and easy with only a couple steep slopes to worry about. It was the trip down that became a great adventure. We started taking little shortcuts in the paths to get to the bottom a little quicker. The shortcuts were basically little paths trod out by people who didn’t want to walk around and around the hill. Then we found another little path that seemed to be one of these shortcuts. It was not. It was merely a space in between bushes that descended slowly at first. That slow descent quickly degraded into a slope that the safest way down could be described as “Sliding on your ass” but it was really fun. My ankle took a couple hits here and there but for the most part it was pretty exciting trying to not tumble down a rocky incline. After this, we took an alternate trip back to their apartment that let us see other parts of the city.

Let me take this opportunity to talk about their apartment now. They have a terrible, awful apartment. It has stupid stuff like a full-sized fridge and washing machine. The apartment is marred by crap like a dishwasher and it certainly loses points for having climate control. I hate their apartment so much. It was too comfortable. It made me forget I was in Bulgaria. Damn their apartment. Damn it to hell.

Back to the story now. After we returned from our trip we all settled in their living room and played games and helped cook. I didn’t help cook. I’m not good at that sort of thing and there were at least 5 people in there. Also, their kitchen looked like something out of a Skymall catalog. I hate Skymall. That evening, the thirteen of us sat around their table and enjoyed a pretty good meal with two turkeys. It seems that we were bad at the whole eating thing so we were only able to effectively consume one of the turkeys. Shame on us. Even afterer, we played a very rousing game of Uno. I don’t think I’m remembering this properly but I recall it getting violent and that people started shouting and a sword was involved. The more I reread that sentence, the more incorrect it looks. Oh well, I’m leaving it in.

We then watched a movie, and had a big sleepover in their terrible living room. I mean, it could barely hold all five of us on the ground! (My apartment looks sad whenever I think about their apartment.) I left about midday after that because I had a bunch of tests to correct but it was a damn good Thanksgiving. Biggest thanks to Mike and Lynn.

So that more or less concludes my kinda abbreviated account of my Thanksgiving. The next couple posts will be in the same vein, discussing the Christmas and New Years and what I did.

This is the Peace Corps and Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated normally where you serve.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Where the hell was I?

Oh wait...

Zdraveytey everyone!

Sorry about the lack of posts the last month and a half. I’ve been pretty busy with, really, everything. But on the bright side, I have at least 4 posts (including this one) to share (and write) with you and I’ll hopefully be able to get them out every week or so. With the apologies out of the way, let me get on with the excuses…

I’m not going to lie: the last month was one of the hardest, but most fulfilling months since I’ve been here. Let me rephrase that. The first week of the last month was one of the hardest weeks since I’ve been here and that’s led to one of the most fulfilling. Essentially, a lot of stuff happened and I flaked on writing blog posts. Sorry about that. Anyways, last week was the first time I properly felt like a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been teaching since I’ve gotten here but a lot of the time it’s been with one of my colleagues and it isn’t often that I get to take the reins with a single class. Last month I got to teach all of the 2nd through 4th graders English.

The primary teacher for English in one of my towns got very sick and the doctor told her to take some time off. I happen to be the designated pinch hitter in these situations so I was given all of the English classes that she taught. There were 6 of them (2 each from 2nd to 4th) and there were around 20 kids in each class. It is safe to say that they were not the best behaved students I’ve seen. Certainly not the worst, though. I’d have to say that my 3rd grade class that got a teacher to quit due to a chemical imbalance in her head may have been the worst. In case you didn’t understand, that’s the 3rd grade class I was in when I was whatever age you’re in when you’re in 3rd grade in Jamaica. She went craaaazy. But I digress. I was essentially teaching them all the back half of the unit they working on so it was pretty rewarding when I gave them a test at the end of it and they seemed to understand at least half of the material. I couldn’t tell you which half was mine, but none of the kids failed the tests. Or at least failed in the Bulgarian sense. I’ll need to discuss the grading system here at a later date.

So, the kids were completely psyched that they had the American (or Englishman depending on how much they knew about me) and they loved getting little sticker rewards. Kept them in control and kept me a little saner. The kids also had the great habit of boosting my self-esteem by telling me that I’m a great teacher and that they would like me to teach them more. One little girl found me yesterday as I was walking home and said that she missed me. That was adorable. But all good things must come to an end and their teacher has recovered and is now teaching them again. I’m not wishing anyone ill but I wouldn’t mind teaching half of those classes because really only half of those classes gave me any problems.

Well that was my month. I spent it teaching small children via stickers and pantomime. That last part was a lot of improvisation. Got me pretty tired at the end of the day but it was fun. I’m also pretty tired right now. It might be from the teaching, it might be from the vacation. It’s probably from the vacation going into the teaching. You guys know what I’m talking about. Next time you see a post, it'll be a really late one on a certain holiday that Americans celebrate with turkey. Which holiday you ask? Why Columbus Day, of course!

This is the Peace Corps and upon reaching your site your job description means nothing.