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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's for real.

I've officially been back in the country for three weeks - back at site for two. But I spent four days of that time back with the 24th group of PC Volunteers in Bulgaria at our Mid-Service Conference. Well, THEIR mid-service conference, and my "Congratulations on returning and continuing your service" conference. It was so great to see everyone, despite the fact that I have missed out on so much of the last year. I've missed it, and them, and feel a little displaced from the group dynamic, even though everyone has been fantastic to me (even WHILE seizing every opportunity to throw a jab at the "bionic woman." But if it wasn't me, I'd be in on it too. Nicely done, guys).

But it still feels strange to be back. Some moments I feel like I never left, and other times it feels like I haven't been here for years. Or ever.

Most days with the kids are fantastic. They obviously feel comfortable with me still, and I've been at ease for the most part.

But then there are days like today, where everything is just... well.... "off."

I'm thinking maybe the reality hit me this afternoon. On one hand, I'm still getting settled back in, but on the other, I feel as though I should just have picked up where I left off and be sprinting forward. So that's what I tried to do today after game time with the kids (Which was crazy overwhelming - tons of kids showed up, and all of the sudden I lost my remaining scraps of Bulgarian, and I kind of panicked. Didn't go well....). I tried to recover my frustration from my time at the center and get to work. I went through some of the old projects my organization has done, and essentially lost it.

I feel like I have a lot of ideas, and a lot to offer in general, but I was looking over this project the last volunteer wrote with my colleagues, and found the detail (basically planned an entire two years of sessions, workshops, cultural excursions, etc) incredibly overwhelming. I have some project/grant ideas, but they all seem undeniably inadequate after looking over these goals and objectives.

Oy ve. I have so much work to do - but where to start?

Not to mention I woke up today and could tell that the weather is about to turn. I could feel it in my bones. Quite literally, actually.... Ouch.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Always keeping things interesting....

In addition to getting me back to Bulgaria before winter in the cold Rila mountains set in (there is already snow on the mountain!), the goal was also to get me back before my team's Mid-Service Conference!

Success - today I am leaving to meet up with all of the B24s to celebrate one year of service! Haha, kind of humorous, considering I have missed the last 9 months of our first year, but I am thrilled to reconnect with everyone.

I am very thankful I get to "stay" a member of the 24th group of PCVs in Bulgaria, even though I am more closely aligned with the new 25th group, but the staff here is essentially going to treat me like I am extending. I will go through Close Of Service Conference with everyone, and then watch as they all leave next October to travel the world before starting "real life" wherever that leads them.

As crazy surreal as it seems sometimes, I can't express how thankful I am for how this has all worked out.

REAL WORK starts next week!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I found out today that plans for a photography contest for my kids next month coincides with the National Geographic International KIDS photography contest!!

My kids will have the opportunity to submit photos not only to our little Svetlina contest, but if we submit photos to the NG office here in Sofia by October 31st, they will be judged and the best will be entered into the international contest. The winner wins a trip for four to DC! How incredible would it be to send one of my Samokov kids on a tour of the most powerful city in the world?

If I teach them anything in the next year and a half, I want them to know that they ARE worth it, and that someone does care, and they can be ANYTHING they want to be.

Each one will get an hour of my undivided attention and use of my Nikon DSLR, and I get to live in their world for awhile. After that, the possibilities are endless.

How sweet is this?

Abby - you're a God send. Can't wait to see you! Thanks for being such a blessing. And for GETTING IT.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

This "Take 2" thing has been pretty exciting. Not that I would wish a broken leg or this last year on anyone, but it is crazy to think about everything that has happened since I left the first time in July of 2008, but here I am.

For the most part, I am settled back into my cozy little one bedroom [Soviet style] block apartment, and have jumped back into my work. I went into the office two days this week after having arrived on Tuesday afternoon, and feel grounded enough to hit the ground "running" (or as much so as possible in Bulgaria) after Bulgarian Independence day and a Peace Corps conference this week.

I have also settled back into the overactive mind disorder I seem to frequently struggle with. My weeks, for the most part, will resemble my previous schedule, but instead of returning to "Trust Me" (the day center for kids with disabilities), where they are well staffed and well-resourced, I will focus my time at my host organization - Svetlina. My main goal will be to help push projects and grants through, but I have my daily activities with the kiddos as well:
  • Mondays: English sessions
  • Tuesdays: Arts and Crafts (ideas, anyone?!??!)
  • Wednesdays: Sports and relays
  • Thursdays: Games and Lifeskills

For accountability sake, PLEASE constantly pester me about how the following things are going:

  • Monthly art contests - starting with a photography contest. In theory, the kids will each get one on one time with me and my camera. They will be allotted about 45 minutes to an hour of a photo shoot session, where with my supervision, they will be encouraged to photo their homes, family, friends, etc. They will submit their top two photos for the contest. Not only will this serve as a creative outlet, but it will give me one on one time with each of them, as well as be my "in" into the Roma neighborhood where they will get to show me their lives. After October, we will have found-art, painting, drawing, sculpture, etc, contests.
  • Basketball clinic and tournament - I started pushing this through last fall, but now I have a new sitemate who works at the sports arena for a Sports NGO! I want this to be an integration project with half Roma/half Bulgarian participants.
  • (I'm constantly told that this ISN'T a priority, but...) - renovation of my school. Photos and explanation to follow...

And that's what life looks like right now! I am not going into the office on Fridays so I can focus on research and internet time in my apartment, as well as find other opportuntities to serve in Samokov, even if that involves designated time to throw around the football with some neighbor kids.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Аз съм Доброволка!!! Ами.... ПАК!!

The first time I got on the plane for Bulgaria, it was a climax of months and months of anticipation. This time, however, I couldn't help but feel this incrediblly conflicting surge of excitement, fear, (insanity?), peace, and unreadiness. I mean, for so long I was told to basically forget my dreams of being a Peace Corps Volunteer and settled for my three months as a Trainess and (barely... not really even...) three months as an actual volunteer.

I started job and apartment hunting when my surgeon told me that, "if we don't see any signs of healing 6 months after the injury, we'll start considering other options." I found myself indescribably addicted to's puppy listings. I'd made my decision - I was going to stay.

Then I traveled to Bulgaria with my parents in April to say my last goodbyes to the country and people I had grown to love so very much.

And everything changed.

My heart. My optimism. My mindset.

And low and behold, my HEALING process.

It was a miracle, really. To go from not healing at all to MINIMAL signs of healing to about 90% healed in about 6 weeks? Nothing short of a miracle. God definitely had His hand in this whole thing.

Many administrative and bureacratic headaches later, I found myself on a plane strapped next to a guy who had a story for everything. At least he warned me about how loud and persistent his snoring was before he fell asleep for the last 6 hours of our trip.

I said goodbye to the family and friends I had grown to appreciate more than ever, but only to finish the journey I was blessed to have started over a year before.

Now I am sitting back in the same apartment struggling with a tad bit of deva ju, thankful for a incredibly painful broken leg (weeelllllll....) and everything God taught me in the last year about surrending who I want to be to be the person he created me to be.

And when the days are long and frustrating, lonely and cold, monotonous or crazily insane, I'll just remember the hugs and greetings from the Bulgarians and children here who's lives I get to be a part of everyday, and the family and friends I miss more than anything.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Tomorrow is the big day, and wow. I haven't felt such a mixed rush of emotions since my painfully eventful medical evacuation back to the US this past December when I explored the marvel that is laughing and crying... simultaneously. Over the last week or so I have been saying goodbye to so many people who mean the world to me, and a place I was so desperate to walk away from a year ago. One of the things I craved like never before as I sat in my freezing block apartment this fall was community, and for the first time in my life I feel like I have begun to it. No, it's not exactly what I picture "home" to be someday when I truly stumble upon it, but the familiarity and the fellowship the last couple months has filled a space in my life I have been trying to fill for some time now. I've reconnected with people from the past, spent "bonus" time with family, and established myself in an environment that has, personally, been stagnantly unprogressive since my arrival in my "adult" years. 

But here I go, on a wing and a prayer, ready to humble myself, and let the Master Potter have control of His clay again. It's going to be a wild ride - I don't seem to know how to live my life any other way - but with His help, I think I'm ready. 

Good bye everyone, but know "Kushtata na Katie" will be open for anyone who finds themselves in the Balkans in the next year and a half or so. I have a spare bedroom... errr... kitchen. With a bed. Very first class. 

Just don't ask me to go skiing. Won't happen.