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Monday, November 30, 2009

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that even though I've only seen my Svetlina kids 4 days in the last month (for various reasons... many of which are out of our control, and the other reasons we're trying to reconcile with grant applications and program strengthening), this time around I find the work infinitely more emotionally draining. The reality of the situation and circumstance with my kids wears on me in the worst way, but I just want to express how much I LOVE my work here. No matter how tired or worn out I am (or frustrated!), the kids make me smile and remind me why I'm here.

Lately, my joy has come from these little kiddos - my Detska Gradina (Kindergarten) boys (don't ask why the whole class is boys... no clue... there are technically girls, but I rarely see them, and certainly never all three at the same time!).

Little Ivo! SUCH a sweetheart... 

Boicho - "Katie, why do you have to work with OTHER kids? Why can't you stay here with us?" Love... :)

SO CUTE!! I love watching some of the older boys help the younger ones with their lettering practice. 

[Big] Ivo... a little high maintenance, but always the first one to yell my name when I walk in the classroom. 
I know you aren't supposed to have a favorite when you work with kids... but look at him!! And he's always sooo excited about our English lessons. 

And last, but CERTAINLY not least, HRISTO!!! A very special little boy and my one on one buddy. :) Look at the smile! I just ignore the fact that the pic I took 3 seconds before this featured him sticking his tongue out at me... haha.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkey Day from Bulgaria!

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
Frederick Buechner

This year I'm thankful for second chances... and families that come in so many different forms. :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Last week was one of the more emotionally trying weeks I've had since I've been back in country. Although the work is easier this go around (but only because during my time at home I found my passion and drive for where God has called me), the reality of the situation here and the nature of my job is on the draining side. It's funny, in the grand scheme of things, I spend very little time with my kids. In fact, today was the first day in more than three weeks I even SAW them. When you combine the swine flu that knocked out about two and a half weeks of work with last week's "incident," its been a little slow in these parts.

Last weekend I was invited to the in-service training for the newest group of volunteers to give a brief choice session on working with Roma. Since I am one of the few volunteers who works solely with the Roma population (more on that later), I was asked to go over my experiences and plans, and share the struggles I have encountered along the way. Because of the timing, I missed the kid's first day back to school after two weeks of official swine flu "vacation" (we also lost kid's attendence in the days leading up to the mandated closure). On Wednesday, I headed over to the office to prep for the day's game with the kids, and encountered a HUGE crowd of seemingly angry people, and an entire fleet of police cars (well... 6... but thats more than I have ever seen here!) at the Tourism magnet school directly across the street from my school.

As soon as I got to the office, I called my counterpart to see if she knew what was going on, because there were no kids in site. From the little I understood, I gathered that there was a stabbing, and one of the students from our school was hurt, but I didn't get any more details (my ability to understand Bulgarian on the phone without visual cues is limited). Later, I asked a couple Bulgarians at the basketball game what had happened, and got so many conflicting reports. One person said a man stabbed a young child, another said that a teenage Bulgarian boy stabbed a young Roma student and he was dead (???), and still another person gave a different story. Nothing lined up, so I vowed to remain indifferent until I got real details.

Before I go further, read this:

This was the article I got in the morning. The "school across the street" is where I work. Samokov is known for these "alleged" racial issues... in 2007 a Roma teenager was beaten to death in the town center while people essentially watched it happen. Roma all over the country protested and rallied, so when this incident happened, even though it was a group of Bulgarian students fighting a group of Roma students, people were angry.

They immediately closed my school and the kids were sent home. The boy who was stabbed (9th grader who used to be in our program... i met him last year a couple of times but don't work with him now) suffered a fairly extensive abdominal wound and immediately went into surgery (as far as I know he is still at the hospital), but is going to be ok. The mayor and police chief were called out to the school to try and calm the maddening crowds, and the next day parents came to the school without their kids to demand answers, and a Ministry representative from Sofia was called in to try and "diffuse" the situation.

Later on, this article was written:

Needless to say, its a hard reality to deal with. Regardless of whether racial issues are "artificially" created or not, there are HERE. Parents already don't understand the value of their kids education, since 9th grade is the last stop for most of them anyway (if they get that far). So now I am tasked with trying to find a way to reach the parents, and MORE kids than just the ones who are already a part of our program. It's tiring. And emotionally draining, and many days I'm not sure what direction to head in...

I was asked the other day if I regret coming back, the answer is still NO. I'm just thankful to know what I'm fighting for, even though I don't know how to quite yet.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On the 22nd of November, exactly a year ago, I woke up to 6 inches of snow on the ground, and it continued to come down all day. This year, we've already seen snow a couple of days, but today, its in the 60s outside.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I've always heard people say that God has a sense of humor, and I tend to believe that claim. On Sunday I arrived to the bus station early to wait in line for the 4pm bus to Plovdiv. It was super crowded, so I was glad I had allowed the time to make sure I was at the front of the line. About 15 minutes before the bus was schedule to leave (don't forget - this is Europe... a bus will leave early, but never late), I was proudly standing at the front of the line when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I had to interupt the conversation as the Bulgarians in front of me muscled there way to the front of the line. I lost my place, and by the time I fought my way to the front, the bus was full. Completely. And I was out of luck since the next bus wasn't until the next morning...

While I was trying to figure out what to do (didn't even have enough time to try and go through Sofia), I threw out the cliche hail mary prayer, "alright God... you know how important this is!"

Next thing I know, the bus driver is waving me towards him. Again, he told me there was no room, to which I replied that I had understood, I was just trying to figure out what to do. He looked at the ticket collector, who looked at me, looked back at the driver, then grabbed a newspaper, spread it out on the stairs of the double decker bus, and emphatically said, "sit!"

And there I sat - for the next hour.

I may have gotten a tad car sick on the windy mountain roads while watching the window at my feet whip through the scenery, but thanks. I got there. :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

While I seem to be able to navigate my way almost anywhere in this country, I am utterly incapable of returning home in anything that might resemble an efficient fashion (case in point - getting locked on a bus because i took it in the wrong direction once, and remember that loooonnngg trip back home to the US with a broken leg and without a passport? yeah...).

So, here is a shout out to the 26 (and a half) Bulgarians in Plovdiv who helped me navigate my incredibly painful route back to Samokov yesterday.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Awkwardly comfortable...

Comfortably awkward?

I'm pretty sure that exactly sums up what PC Volunteers all around the world are striving for during their service. You know how you sometimes put things off because it stresses you out, but all along you know the longer you wait, the harder the task will be? Well, that is how I felt about calling my host parents from Pre-Service Training... until I finally called them on Thursday, they didn't even know I was back in the country. So, yesterday I went for a little lunch time "na gosti" (basically having guests or being a guest in someones home) with Svetla and Kiril.

The whole day was interesting... I only live about 30 minutes (+ a 2km walk from the highway) from my training village from my town now, so its an easy trek and very doable to spend the day with them before returning on the 5pm bus. Last fall, when I would come, Kiril would meet me out by the highway and we would walk in together. I loved seeing him waiting for me when I got off the bus!! Then we would go back, make lunch together, drink coffee, and catch up. This time, however, I walk to their house and into the yard, and no one is home. I was really confused. I called ahead of time to make sure they would be home, so I started to replay my phone convo with Kiril to make sure we had both understood everything! I didn't understand where I went wrong... finally I walk out through the garden to the field and he is back there working. He comes out to greet me, apologizes for working, hands me a magazine and said he would be back in a little while and Svetla was on her way. Turns out their daughter had just had her baby, and Svetla was in Sofia helping, and should have been back that morning. So, my host dad and I spend an entire "awkwardly comfortable" day talking about everything and nothing in particular, while playing with the new kitten! (who, by the way... would have come home with me if we could figure out a way to transport him on the bus...). Anyway, Svetla finally came home later, and I hated to tell her I only had another hour before the last bus from town, so we drank a quick cup of coffee and ate my mom's famous (and heavily adapted here in the Bulg) coffee cake before I was showered with apples, potatoes, and homemade wine to take back with me. Then Svetla walked me to the bus and made me promise to come back soon when everyone had more time. Not how I expected things to go, but a good day. :)

PS - when dealing with farm animals and live stock, don't ask questions you don't want to know the answer to. And most importantly, don't make friends with any of them.

But kittens, are not livestock!!! Misho!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veteran's Day!

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy

"Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matt 5:9)

Regardless of your stance on war and politics, remember the men and women who have sacrificed for your freedoms, and are continuing to do so everday. Let's prove to them we're a generation who hasn't forgotten their bravery - thank a veteran! And those continuing to serve now.

Happy Veterans Day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2 Months

If I've said it before, I'll say it again: passage of time here baffles me. As of today, I've been back in the Bulg for two months. Some days being here feels so right and so normal, and other days leave me feeling like it could all be taken away again at any moment. When someone reminds me I haven't actually been here working for the majority of the last year, it almost catches me off guard, but at the same time, the time I spent at home felt like an eternity and a lifetime ago. Hard to believe winter is here, I'm settled in, and I'm ready and waiting to tackle the frigid cold here in the Balkans.

I think I still have to process the journey I've been on the last couple of years. Much of it is surreal, then I remember how amazingly blessed I've been with such incredible opportunities!! How many 23 year olds have spent the time since their 21st birthday working as a gang unit intern with the police department (including a couple - small - undercover assignments and a missing person turned murder case!), and then finding their calling on the streets of NYC living and loving like Christ for 4 months before embarking on the adventure of a life time in Bulgaria with the Peace Corps... then sitting on a plane [unmedicated] alternating between tears and fits of laughter... and realizing it was all being taken away.... for 9 months.... possibly indefinitely... and then ultimately realizing how much it was worth fighting for... and then FIGHTING for it? Now if that doesn't exhaust you but make you super excited, then I don't know what will.

But here I am, missing my friends and family and the life that awaits me back home in a year and a half... but blessed beyond measure and thrilled for the second chance to be here.

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner natuer is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." - 2 Cor. 4:16-18

Thursday, November 5, 2009

It's cold outside... but there is enough sun that I decided to take a chance on drying my bedsheets outside (I mean, I should have a couple more weeks before they immediately freeze, right?). Well, I think it was drying well enough that I should have been able to bring it in by the end of the day.

But a little bird... just decided to relieve itself... on my freshly clean bedsheet.

Oh le le.

"Svinski Grip"

The news is estimating that within the next week, Bulgaria will officially be in a "national crisis" for swine flu. My school closed this past Monday, and will remain closed until at least this coming Tuesday. Apparently there is a law in Bulgaria that if 30% of the student body is absent for whatever reason, then the school is required to close. On Monday I was substitute teaching for the English classes at my school (and if you know ANYTHING about me, you know I had been dreading this since I "volunteered" to do it for the day), and no kids showed up to my first period. I had two children for second period, third and fourth off, three kids in 5th, and then before I ever got to the last class, we were closed for "Swine Flu Vacation." Schools and towns along the Eastern part of the country were closing pretty quickly, but Samokov was the first Western municipality to declare an "epidemic." The news article estimates that 100,000 Bulgarians are sick with the "new flu," and once we hit 200 sick for every 10,000 Bulgarians, we'll officially be in a national crisis. Kind of scary, and definitely contributing to a panic mode! I walk by the hospital every day on my way to work, and it has been soooo crowded over the last couple of weeks. I even heard that some hospitals nationwide are having to turn people away because they are ill-equipped to handle everyone seeking medical attention.

On another note... I've been taking "my week off" as an opportunity to catch up on some of the administrative work I have to do. My organization has zero cash flow at the moment, and in dire need of some fuel for our operating costs. The last couple of days I have been weeding through old projects and trying to find pieces we can utilize for new grant proposals. One I've been working on in particular is focused on capacity building and social skills building for the kids. It's pretty awesome sounding, but trying to understand parts of it (it is in English, but you can tell at parts its been translated and retranslated back and forth between Bulgarian and English multiple times) well enough to formulate new ideas has been a challenge. But, I think as soon as I can work with my colleagues and decide on a dollar amount, it should be ready to go. Of course, this is just the letter... if we get approved to submit the full project, we are no where near being done!! :)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Starting a whole week...

Of essentially nothing but project brainstorming/writing and studying, because its official - my school is on a "flu vacation" until next Tuesday.

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