The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of Elon University, the U.S. government, or the Peace Corps.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thursday, August 28th

I feel like reality is finally setting in, and lets be honest, its been a rough week...
  • Not one but TWO B-24s have decided to go home... :(
  • My Bulgarian language anxieties are finally catching up with me again...
  • I am about as covered in flea bites as I possibly could be.
  • I'm constantly exhausted (and getting sick?).
  • Its been a real long time since I've felt this spiritually exhausted.
  • My frustrations about everything - big and small - are running wild.
  • I'd give the world to be there for a few close friends right now... and well, I'm HERE.

Welcome to the toughest job you'll ever love.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

We may be almost half way through training (when did that happen!?!?!), but I finally milked the goat tonight!!

Oh ye's of little faith… ;)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I'm going to be completely honest… weekends are tough.

You would think that after a busy week full of overwhelming Bulgarian lessons and technical training a weekend would be a welcome reprieve.

In actuality though, by the time I hit Friday afternoon, I'm downright exhausted. Then you throw in the only night of the work week that the other volunteers and I truly get to hang out, and….

I love my life here, I really do. And although learning the language isn't as scary as I thought it would be, it still takes a lot out of me, and the weekends are the most concentrated time I spend in an all-Bulgarian, all the time environment. During the week, my time is broken up nicely with language in the morning, lunch (and if I'm lucky – a nap or quality reading time!) with my host parents, and then either back to the training center for technical sessions or self-study, homework, or working on technical assignments. As much as I love my family here and I know that my time with them is paying off, I come of the week tired already, and then my Saturdays are relaxing, but they are long and tiring trying to process as much Bulgarian as possible (read – not much). Even with my self-mandated mini-breaks conveniently inserted throughout my day, I go to be every night so tired (but really early!) and on mental overload.

Every past and currently volunteer I have talked to has said "I wish I took advantage of training more" or "I wish I spent more time studying," so that is what I am trying to do: make every effort to spend as much time with my host family and babas across the street as possible, because I know that is what training is for – to totally immerse myself in my new culture. The more work I put into it now, the easier my adjustment will be to my permanent site in a couple of months. (In theory J)

But I am TIRED.

And I have no words to explain to most host parents that my personality just requires ME time – time to process and reenergize. They don't seem to mind me disappearing periodically throughout the day though…

To make light of my current exhaustive state… there is an old-school Backstreet Boys music video marathon on right now… yay Bulgarian cable!

And I walked home from the store last night with two cows.


Monday, August 18, 2008

And let it be known, that Bulgarians are NOTHING, if not the most loyal people on the face of this planet… I have this serious "in" with local village gossip between the baba's across the street and my host mom, and although I can't understand anything, I knew something was going on with the little shop a couple doors down from my house. This is where both of my host parents, a few babas, a diado, and a few other of my neighbors meet EVERY night to chat and drink beer after dinner to wait for the goats to come home. I love just sitting with them as the sun falls in the sky listening to them chat. I like to think that one night everything they say is just suddenly going to make sense, but I may be feeling myself there… I also like the idea of waiting for the goats to come home. Every night. Seriously, who gets to do that?

Anyway, back to the point of this story… I went into the city today for all day sessions with all of the B-24s, and when I was walking back from the bus stop in my village for dinner and was about 20 feet away from the little shop, I noticed huge piles of rocks in front of Ivan's store/house. Then I realized the front was boarded up, and well… it had no roof. And with less than 3 weeks of Bulgarian under my belt I realize I may never really know what happened. (My host dad used a word I think I translated into "renovation," but my host mom got all hush-hush and spewed what I can only interpret as gossip when I asked in front of my baba across the street. So, when I come back and visit for Christmas, maybe I'll have the vocabulary to actually ask what happen to Ivan's store). After dinner, when it would normally be time to take up residence in front of Ivan's store and wait for the goats, I sat outside with Baba Zenka on her bench and my host parents, Baba Pasa, the diado across the street, and whoever else happened to pass by. Even though there is another little shop equidistance from where we were sitting to Ivan's place, no one would go. We'll see what happens when everyone needs a refill on bread or beer (both are essentially the essence of Bulgarian life)… I'll keep you posted. J

At least it explains why Ivan didn't have ice cream the other night when I was craving some chocolate…



BUT, on a completely different note… this evening was one of small victories… and it was BEAUTIFUL.

After dinner, my host mom asked me if I wanted to go with her to her friends garden to help pick apples. Of course I went! (FYI, Bulgarian produce will change your life… I dread the day I eat my last tomato of the season). I thought I was helping Kalina by picking the apples higher in the tree while they were picking apples off the ground (not really sure why), and then my host mom goes, "Katie, Stiga!" (basically means stop, or enough). So apparently I was picking apples for ME. Let's just say I now have a ridiculous amount of apples to eat… but again. Bulgarian apples. YUM.

So, bag full of freshly picked apples – small victory one!

Later, I joined Baba Zenka outside on her bench, and per usual, she took my hand and we exhausted the only 30 second conversation I am capable of having, and then she brought me another bag of apples out of her garden, and a WATERMELON!!! Yessssss, my first gift from a Baba!!

And I'm not sure, but I think she apologized that my host mom doesn't make Banitsa (ridiculously delicious pastry very popular here in Bulgaria and is usually perfected by the local babas), and said she would make me some!!

Basically gifts of food from Babas are victories in and of themselves….

And now, a little more time in 1 Peter and off to bed…

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I will forever be amazed at how time passes here… On one hand, this week was so busy that it flew by. On the other, I have a hard time believing we have been in Bulgaria for 3 weeks tomorrow. I also can't believe I haven't stopped to update on life here in Bulgaria (and let me tell you, my personal journal is looking rather sparse as well)!

Last Sunday the 5 of us Trainees in my village packed up and joined Jenna's host sister Daniela for a hike up into the Rila Mountains to see the Ovchartsi Waterfall (ОВЧАРТСИ ВОДОПОД – yessss J). We walked the few miles to the town below the waterfall to wait for a couple of Daniela's friends, when we ran into the host mom of a volunteer who lived in that village. Next thing we know, we are walking up a hill to the village training center, and joining all 4 Trainees that lived there to celebrate one of their birthdays! It was an awesome afternoon of hanging out, exchanging stories from our first week, and just relaxing. We did make it up to the waterfall before heading back to our village by dinner. I just can't get over how beautiful it is here… and am so excited that no matter where my permanent site placement is, the mountains will be relatively close!

This week was kind of a blur: on Monday we had our first HUB in the city with all 30 members of our training class. We had a brief Bulgarian History lesson from a local college professor ("schools, textbooks, and most Bulgarians will tell you [this]… but I can affirm that it is not true!"), a YD session about UNICEF and local support for kids, and a session on food, nutrition, and health.

Tuesday was definitely my favorite day this week… all of the Youth Development Trainees met at the Training Center in the city where a PC van picked us up and drove us about an hour to visit a youth services NGO where a Peace Corps volunteer has been serving for the last few years. We got to hear about her role in the organization, what the NGO does, and then ask her questions. After that, we visited a HUGE cultural center (called a Chitalishte – every village, no matter how big or small, has one). There, we met with one of the youth leaders and a bunch of kids, and got to hear about their role in the community. It was extremely interesting to hear, especially since at least a handful of us B-24's will be placed at Chitalishte's, so it was great to hear about how extensive their potential can be. They are mainly in charge of all cultural events and holidays in a community, but PCV's who are placed there can be free to start all sorts of youth clubs, sports, classes, etc. Basically, as long as you figure out what will keep the community engaged, you can't go wrong…

After the visit to the Chitalishte, we loaded back up into the vans and drove a little ways into the mountains to an orphanage. In Bulgaria, orphanages aren't exactly what we always envision as Americans… many of the kids at orphanages in Bulgaria do have parents, but for one reason or another they can't afford to take care of them. This particular orphanage is up in the mountains because the kids who live there (but not during the summer when they go home to be with their families) have respiratory diseases. Even though there were no kids, as soon as we walked through the gates of the institution, I felt as though this was the type of placement I would love. I joined the Peace Corps thinking I wanted to basically transfer my skills and experiences from the US and do a similar job to what I had been doing in Burlington, NC and Washington DC with youth at camps and the Boys and Girls Club. Now I see, however, that the Peace Corps is an experience I will probably never get to do again, and chances are, I will return to the US in a couple of years and begin searching for a job similar to what I had been doing pre-PC. THIS is the time to stretch myself and try an experience unique to my PC experience. The orphanage staff was absolutely incredible. Even though many of the kids are terminally ill, their budget only allows for 2 nurses for over 50 kids. They can no longer afford the doctors they used to have on staff, and this winter they couldn't afford heating (even though they live in the mountains and not all of the bedrooms had windows until this summer!) until the new mayor somehow scrounged enough money out of his own budget to heat the children's dormitory's. Because the staff work at an establishment for kids with illnesses, they each receive an extra 4% in their paychecks compared to other workers at institutions around the country. The staff has pledged that extra 4% (and keep in mind their salaries aren't sufficient as it is, I'm sure) to a "fun fund" for the children. They try to take the kids down into the city for a movie or fun outing as often as funds allow it. The kids have no play equipment, and their 2 hours a day of free time are unstructured and without many resources. The staff very obviously does [WAY MORE THAN] what they can for the children there, but in addition to caring for each child's physical needs, they are the one in charge of building repairs, schooling, cooking, and any grounds keeping that needs to be done. As the staff member told us on our way out, you don't do this job if you don't love kids… As hard as it was to see this, and would be even harder to work somewhere similar for 2 years, I would love to work alongside a staff of people who would do anything for a group of kids that has been dealt the short stick every day of their lives…

On Thursday we were joined by 3 other training groups from surrounding villages, and after a day of various sessions and a lot of anticipation, we received the demographics list of the sites that will be opening. I was extremely excited to see that there will be 4 orphanage positions open, and 5 at Roma NGO's (my second choice placement). The Roma population accounts for the largest education drop out and early pregnancy rates in all of Bulgaria, and a PC's role in Roma communities is to promote racial integration and appreciation. The list also gave VERY broad geographic ranges, and I am content to report that as much as I would love to live in the mountains, again, all of Bulgaria has access to good hiking!! I also thought NYC had turned me into an ultimate city girl, but I love the small village life here with the goats as well. So, the moral of that story is, I'm ready for wherever God is calling me. I continue to be immensely amazed at how he has orchestrated everything up until this point, so I can't wait for my placement interview next week, and site unveilings the following week! As I said, it's crazy how fast time is moving, although it feels like I've been here forever…




"Praise the God of open skies, everything breathing praisin' God, in the company of all who love the King."
- David Crowder -

Monday, August 11, 2008

I can't get to the internet very often to post updates... but I have my computer in the city today for our HUB team meeting, so check back the last four posts and see what life  is like in my world right now!

Thursday, August 7th

In case I had ever doubted that I'm where I'm supposed to be:

I've been neglecting to take the time to thank the One who got me here in the first place…

Thanks for the reminder. 


With my most recent "monumental life experiences" taking place in relation to big cities, I had recently decided that I was a city girl. I absolutely LOVED living in New York, and my summer at camp last year with kids out of inner city DC secured the fact that I wanted to make a difference in lives of children who live in a world so rich and prosperous, and yet cannot seem benefit from the wealth and resources around them.

In my Peace Corps aspiration statement for the Youth Development Program here in Bulgaria and my pre-placement interview, I repeatedly stressed that I had more experience in an urban environment, and would prefer a permanent placement in a bigger town or city. Actually, I almost gave up Peace Corps altogether for the chance to stay in New York City doing a job I loved. While God calls people to "go," too often we forget that he often calls people to "stay" as well. I thought I was one of those people.

Until I hunted down the FedEx truck all day in Brooklyn.

And until I accepted an invitation to serve with PC-Bulgaria.

And until I got to my village. 

The buzz word for all Peace Corps Volunteers is "integration." As trainees, we often tease about the emphasis on this concept, but it's a noble goal and an obvious one. After all, the PC mission is to offer ourselves to a community, invest in it, become a part of it, and then work together to create a sustainable project that works towards sustainability and self-reliance.

True integration is hours of language lessons and months or training away (and then will back step a few places when we reach our permanent sites), but it's so validating to walk to school and greet one of the town elders or babas with "zdraveyte" (formal 'hello') or "dobre den" (good day – also formal) and have them counter with "zdravey" or "zdrasti" (both informal greetings). It kind of feels like you've made it to have them respond with the more personal greeting. J

Each day, we have spent time playing with the kindergarteners who go to school in the building where we have our training lessons. The first day, some of the kids immediately welcomed us. Of course, I was drawn to kids who ran away from the "big, scary Americans." Who knew I liked a challenge?

One little boy (about 2, and only has his canine teeth, which kind of look like fangs J), seemed to want to play, but when I approached him, he ran to his teacher. With a little teasing, I got him to give me a few toothy grins while hiding behind his teacher's leg.

Tuesday, he got a little closer.

Wednesday, even closer.

Today, I crouched down in front of him, and he DIDN'T run away! I promise, I wasn't torturing him. I wouldn't have allowed any permanent damage to be done to his psyche. J

When I said "Az sum Katie. Kak se kazvash?" he told me his name is Ethan (I think… his accent was hard to understand, and that's not a very Bulgarian name. It might have been Ivan… which is VERY likely), and gave me his toothy grin and showed off his fangs.

Then, he took my hand and led me to the slide.


I've arrived.

Well… almost.

When I get him to smile on CAMERA, then we'll really know I've done why I came here to do.

Wed, August 6th

This may be fun....

But THIS, is why I'm here: :)

We are half way through our first week of Satellite Training as Youth Development Volunteers in the 24th group to train here in Bulgaria. All 30 volunteers (of both YD and Community Development programs) are split up into groups of 4 or 5 and spread out throughout small villages in South-West Bulgaria. My village currently has 5 of us YD Trainees, and we meet every day with our Language Trainer for language, cultural, health and safety, and technical training. Even though I had a blast with the other 25 members of B-24 our first week with Peace Corps, I really like the intimate feel of working in such a small group. We're definitely all in this together…

Every morning, I wake up around 7:30 am (just after midnight for you US East-Coasters!!) and get ready for my day before joining my host parents outside for breakfast. After toast, cheese, instant coffee made entirely with goats milk (I can't decide if I'm a fan or not… but it's my one good shot at calcium and vitamins all day!), and grabbing a handful of fresh fruit from the backyard, I begin to walk to the kindergarten building where our lessons are held – making sure I say good morning to every baba (grandmother) I see on my way. J

The next few hours before lunch are spent on language lessons, and if we're lucky, time in the kindergarten class with the cutest little kids! There is a PC volunteer currently serving in our town, and she helps out with the kindergarten classes during the summer. Today, we taught them the English for "duck" and "goose" before trying to get them to play the game with us!

In the afternoons we work on projects or homework, and sometimes one on one tutoring lessons. Today, we went and spent time reconnecting with our stateside lives at the internet, before taking a break from Bulgarian and watching TV together. I then make sure I get home to eat dinner and catch up with my host parents (or as best I can on my minimal Bulgarian (yes I like this, no I don't like that, yes its hot, I'm tired, etc), before meeting the other volunteers at the soccer field for a nightly game of futbol with as many local boys (apparently girls don't play soccer here… its strange. We're going to try and fix that J) as we can scrounge up. Word of mouth is definitely working in our favor!! Unfortunately, I had forgotten how bad I am… J

It's been another busy, but fun day. Yet again, I can't seem to turn my brain off, but I want to read some (I'm slowly working my way through the Chronicles of Narnia again amidst the studying… J) before crawling into bed. Leka nosht!

Tuesday, August 5 - Believe it or not, but I get to live HERE!!

We cook and eat all of our meals outside in the "summer kitchen."

Seriously, I don't know how I landed such a BEAUTIFUL house, but I LOVE sitting outside under the grapevines studying Bulgarian or working on my culture homework... its amazing. :)

In addition to two my only-Bulgarian speaking host parents (its awesome, but exhausting!), I live with a whole lotta animals (including the goats that come home at 8:30pm… EVERY night). Malcho and Harry Potter (the kittens – and yes, Harry) are my favorite though!! Whenever things get awkward, or my parents won’t let me help with dinner or clean-up, or I don’t know what to talk about, or I get too tired to translate everything in my head, or they are just too cute to resist, I play with them. Shown here at 7:30 this morning curled up next to an empty bottle of Pirinsko Beer (brewed only a few towns over). So cute...

Monday, August 4th

Well, I survived my first weekend! On Friday afternoon, all 30 of us new Trainees piled onto a charter bus and departed to the main training center about an hour away from the mountain resort where we had been staying for preliminary Bulgarian lessons, policies and procedures, and a brief chance to recover from our travel.

At the Training Center, we met our host families and then piled into cars and dispersed throughout South-West Bulgaria. After that, we were totally and completely on our own until we met up with our Language Trainers this morning.

About 2 weeks before I finally left for Bulgaria, I endured a couple moments of borderline panic and doubts. Mostly, the fear was about learning the language. My one semester of college Spanish was a complete bust (even though all those conjugations seem to be making sense now that I try to approach a language with an entirely new alphabet and set of rules), and learning sign language would have been just as visual if it wasn't for the visual reliance of the language. I feared that I wouldn't be able to integrate (ooh, PC's favorite word!) because my language acquisition isn't the keenest. As soon as I got the panic out of my system, I spent the next couple of weeks growing more excited and less nervous. Even packing was easier than I expected (other than having to put away everything I decided NOT to bring!!). On Friday, when we were scheduled to meet our host families, I only felt a few sporadic pangs of nervous anticipation. But, I knew I had Help on my side, and everything was going to be okay.

Svetla, my host mom, and her daughter Didi picked me up from the training center. While Didi's English is fairly reliable, it didn't really set me at ease because she wasn't really translating for her parents (actually, PC requested that even if our families know English, that they refrain from using it as to allow us to immerse ourselves in Bulgarian. I spent the rest of the weekend (Didi left early Saturday morning) repeating "ne razbirem" (no I don't understand) over and over and over and over.

I can already tell that immersion tactics for language learning is essential, but it's tiring!!

When I previously learned a language, there was always the opportunity to clarify something when you had absolutely no clue. After class, I would ask the teacher to explain something again or explain on the spot. Here, my host mom can say the same thing over and over again, and maybe even use some new vocabulary, but if I don't understand, that's probably it. Unless one of us can successfully refer back to what we volunteers like to call the "longest game of charades EVER." When sitting in on a conversation when I was learning Spanish, if something came up I didn't understand, usually there was someone there to explain it later. Here, when the moments gone, it's usually looonggg gone. Even if I could remember a topic or a word long enough to write it down, my auditory interpretation of words into Cyrillic leaves a lot to be desired… BUT, I am actually starting to pick out familiar words, and I am beginning to recognize that the Bulgarian language DOES in fact consist of different words and phrases, and it's NOT as fast as it sounds when it rapidly releases itself from someone's mouth… J

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dob’re dosh’li v Bulgaria!

“Ooooh, heaven is a place on earth!”

I FINALLY got a good night sleep last night (first time since landing in Bulgaria. Jet lag – yuck!), and when I came outside around 10am after a shower, one of my host mom’s friends was over for ‘na gosti.’ Bulgarians are amazingly hospitable people, and ‘na gosti’ can mean anything from neighbors socializing to a huge party. People drop by all the time (especially when they are curious about the new American!), and this song was playing on the radio when I joined the table. It’s kind of embarrassing how much here is in English or imported from America… I watched some Gilmore Girls last night dubbed into Bulgarian…

And it’s true! This place does really make heaven look like a place on earth! After a week up in the beautiful Bulgarian mountains going over Peace Corps policies and procedures, expectations, and some basic Bulgarian, I am now living in the most beautiful little Bulgarian town in the South-West part of the country. I’ve never seen anything more gorgeous! I live with my non-English speaking host parents (it’s actually really fun!), a cat, two kittens (one named Harry Potter – go figure), about a dozen chickens, a few ducks, a dog, a bunny, a couple goats (who come down from the mountains at night to sleep) and the biggest pig I’ve ever seen! Everyone in town has an incredible garden, and for the next three months I am going to be spoiled with fresh apples, pears, plums (sort of – what they are doesn’t exactly translate into English), tomatoes (YUM), cucumbers, and cirene (feta-ish type cheese, but sooo much better than US feta!) compliments of my host parents. Each meal is prepared primarily outside with exception of an indoor stove in a building entirely separate from the sleeping area of the house, and eaten under a ceiling of grapes. The sky is gorgeously blue, and the breeze doesn’t make me miss the NOVA humidity at all. Last night, right at 8:30 dozens of village goats strutted down the main town road and walked into their respective yards, where their owners let them in and immediately milked them before returning to the Cafe for na gosti. Haha, I'm not going to get through this alive without milking a goat...

There are five of us from PC B-24 living in my little Bulgarian town at the foot of the mountains; each of us with a different family. On Monday we begin everyday language lessons (can’t wait! This miming thing is only getting me so far, but it’s funny how much I can kind of understand) and our technical assignments for our Youth Development track. Every other week we meet up with the other 25 members of B-24. In about 10 weeks, prayerfully, all 30 of us will travel to Sofia to swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers, and then jump on buses to move to our permanent sites all around Bulgaria to begin our projects.

I’ve been asked repeatedly since I began this process – “why Peace Corps?” Some want to know why I chose PC over a ministry or mission presented at Urbana ’06 (wow, that was almost 2 years ago?), and others want to know why I would give up the comforts of home to do something in some country I’ve never been to (and had to look up on a map). Others don’t think I’m cut out for hand-washing my clothes (actually, my host mom has a washing machine and I get to dry them on my very own balcony off my room overlooking the mountains) and walking past the neighbor’s donkey (each neighbor has one – tied up to the front yard fence like we would tether a dog back home) every day on my way to work. And, yes, I am [almost entirely] sure that my heart is ultimately back home in urban America. And NO WHERE in Bulgaria looks like NYC or DC, but that’s why I wanted to do this. How do you follow your heart when you’ve boxed yourself into what you think those dreams might be? God is continually surprising me with my hearts desires, and I need to fully explore His will for my life before I surrender to just one dream. I am one of those people that merely desires to serve, and I believe God will use me anywhere, but I also want to see His world. As much of it as humanly possible.
The mission of Peace Corps is three fold – to offer my technical skills in an environment that needs them is the first part of mission, and the assumed one. However, the other two points are equally as important: to share with another culture the real picture of America (not the one they see on VH1 and imported movies), and to bring the Bulgarian culture back to America someday. That’s what I love about Peace Corps – my job is to utilize local resources while working on a sustainable project in some area of Youth Development before I come home, but also to create a reciprocal appreciation of both my culture and the culture of my new home before I return to the states. I recognize that that not all mission’s organizations are the same, but I want to stretch my faith while still reflecting 1 Thess. 2:8, which says: “We were delighted to share not ONLY the Gospel of God, but our LIVES as well.” I want people to see the love of Christ through my actions and words, but not by just fulfilling a need or two and then going on my way. I want to become a part of the Bulgarian culture, and work together with the local community here to help the accomplish redevelopment. When I return to the US, I want to be able to share how God has moved in my life, and stretched me in so many ways, in addition to how I was able to offer my experiences working with kids to the youth here.

For now, that’s all… back to shelling some beans with my host mom! Ciao. J

P.S. I have access to internet in the town center, and if you email me ( we can keep in touch that way, or I can give you a mailing address.