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.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas, и весели празници!

And the first time
That You opened Your eyes, did You realize that You would be my Savior?
And the first breath that left Your lips,
Did You know that it would change this world forever?

I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas from Coca-Cola... and Bulgaria!!!

There may not be any of the Coke polar bears that I love so dearly in this year's Coca-Cola Christmas commercial, but it was filmed here in my beloved Bulgaria!

The entire cast is Bulgarian - even Santa! - and it's set to Train's new song, "Shake Up Christmas."

Very cool! Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas program with the kinders! #3

Seriously... how could you not love these kids??? If I've said it once, I'll say it again, these little ones keep me going. I'm going to miss their high fives and hugs after these last few months.

The woman on the left is the teacher I am partnered with, and then the other two women also work with my class on the days Iskra is off.

This might be mildly inappropriate, but I still laugh when I think about this photo... Yanitsa and this little boy - the grandson of one of the teachers - became fast friends today... we all caught them snuggling up to one another when Iskra yells, "Look! That's full integration!" They are adorable together...

There was a man there this morning to take "professional" photos and make a video of the kids program. I seized the opportunity to ask him to take a photo with me and all the kids with my camera... since I am never in any of the photos I take (no one knows how to use my camera!)... as has been pointed out to me on multiple occassions! (yes, I realize that of the 1100 photos I took at camp this summer, I was in 2 of them... shameful).

I like it. :)
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Christmas program with the kinders! #2

Dqdo Koleda/Santa arrives!

Dance of the snezhinki

Malkite (the little ones) watching on... and in one case, totally cheesing for the camera. ;)

The kids singing one last song with our purple haired accordian player...
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Christmas program with the kinders!

I had an absolute blast this morning with the kinders at their Christmas program! They've been practicing their repetitions, songs, and dances for the last few weeks, so it was nice to be able to see it all come together today. Not to mention seeing the look on their faces when "Grandfather Christmas" arrived... and the fact that I literally got bowled over by 20 of the cutest munchkins MULTIPLE times when they all charged at me for hugs didn't hurt either.

Our little "snezhinki" (basically snowflake princesses) - too cute

Such studs.

Showing off the character masks I made them for their little play/program

Going to see Santa!!
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Monday, December 20, 2010

American friends from Sofia - Ellee and Jeremi - teaching the kids how to make balloon animals and swords.

I still love how everything we introduce to the kids over here is so new and exciting and novel! There is no way balloon animals, musical chairs, pin the tail on the donkey, or "duck duck goose" with the average American teen would fly in an after school program like this, but these kids love all the new games and activities! Makes my job a little bit more fun, and a lot less stressful as I can easily pull from the vault of ideas that is my brain.

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I absolutely cannot stand how adorable these kids are... kidnapping is still, and probably always will be, illegal, right??????

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3rd Year in a Row!

That has to constitute a tradition, right? It also might mean its time to spend Christmas with my family in the US here soon...

I spent all day yesterday rolling out cookie dough, and although we had a small turnout (always frustrating to plan over here - I don't know why I still try!), the girls that did come seemed to have an absolute blast. And the cookies turned out really well!

The 5 "Katie originals" that Katya requested... I love the snowman. :)

Jeremi and some of the ladies with their creations.
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

"You know they sell rolling pins in Bulgaria, right?"

Why bother purchasing one for a whole 3 leva when my Nalgene water bottle can roll out some Christmas cookies like nobody's business? ;)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My journey here in the BG began well over two years ago now. It's hard to believe how far I've come, and how much I've grown to love this country and the people here. Then again, maybe its not so hard to believe - I've managed to surround myself by passionate and driven people with huge hearts, who have - in many cases - moved mountains to support and encourage me in my role here. 

Yesterday I spent the day in Sofia to run some errands and see a few friends. At the end of the day, I managed to miss my bus back to Samokov by 5 minutes, and then the next bus a half an hour later never came. Sometime during my one hour on the side of the highway in the freezing snow and wind, I struck up a conversation with a woman also waiting to head to Samokov.  The usual battery of questions began withbthe predicted: "how old are you?" "Are you single?" "How much money do you make?" "Do you not like your family in America?" "What do you think of Bulgarian food?" "Are you crazy?" "Do you like it here?" That last one, upon my affirmation that yes, I do love it here, usually spurs some depressing tirade about all the problems in Bulgaria and how unhappy people are here. 

In fact, according to a recent article from the Economist, Bulgaria is THE least happy country in the world.

And that breaks my heart. But then again, I didn't grow up here. I'm not "stuck" here. It's easy to waltz in for two years with a plan and a focus, and know that I have an expiration on my commitment to live here.  With that perspective, its easy to see the beauty here - the dedicated and loyal people, the delicious and fresh food, the gorgeous scenery, the passionate minority groups, and the relaxed lifestyle - and remain blissfully ignorant (to an extent), of the deeper issues. 

But again - I'm American. I have the freedom to move on when I please, travel where I like, and obtain goals I set for myself. I consider myself immensely blessed, but what about everyone else?

Sent from my Palm Pre on AT&T

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The best/worst part about working out is the 4 flights of stairs up to my apartment afterwards!!  ;)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Haven't had the energy to sort photos and truly reflect on this last week of vacation in ISTANBUL, but before I go to bed after just returning from a friend's birthday party this evening, I wanted to share with you this amazing photo taken from the balcony of my hostel's roof top terrace this past monday during breakfast:

That, my internet friends, is my amazing big brother navigating his US naval ship out of the Bosphorus Straight in Istanbul!

I can't express to you how GOOD God is, and how awesome he was to coordinate our independent trips to Istanbul this past week.

A few months ago, I started planning another rendezvous in Turkey with one of the best friends a girl could ask for. Abby just finished up her two years of PC service in Turkmenistan, so we planned a fun and baklava-filled week in the city we had discovered together last spring. There are plenty of stories to share and I will get to those laters, but the highlight was definitely getting to see my bro for the first time in nearly a year and a half. Last month, Ryan sent me a cryptic email saying that he would be in "my neck of the woods." Not-so-much decyfering later, it turned out that the Filkins sibs would BOTH be in Istanbul at the same time! And I already had a hotel booked in order to make this happen.

This past Sunday, I was able to meet up with Ryan and a couple of his buddies from the ship for sightseeing, good eats, some shopping, and... a cold draft brew and REDSKINS football - all halfway across the world. It was GREAT to see Ryan and hang out like that, and I am so thankful that God cared enough about me in order to coorinate this just when I needed it most - a few weeks before my third Christmas away from home and family.

The next morning I was able to actually SEE his ship pull away from the peer and pass right in front of my hostel's view of the Bosphorus.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

I fully intend to gain 20 pounds this week doing THIS:

And hang out with this girl:

Spending the week with two of my favorite people in the world - Abby and my big brother!!
Be back soon. :)
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

So I'll admit it - I am in the absolute worst shape of my LIFE. At some point I need to stop blaming the bone shard and titanium rod in my shin and do something about it. I have had the legitimate excuses that my bike was stolen (from INSIDE my apartment by a "friend," I might add) and the only gyms in Samokov are in private hotels and very expensive, but today I discovered a BRAND NEW GYM near my apartment! It may be tiny (which only means I need to find a time when no one else is there), but its got sparkling equipment... and... its for women only! Woohoo! Go Samokov. So I just painfully worked out for the first time since I threw myself down a mountain. It was brief and certainly not pretty... but it was a start, I guess! 

On another note, I'm pretty sure you can finally consider me "Officially Integrated" into Bulgarian culture. In the last month, about 4 different people have called me at least half Bulgarian, and today, the clocksmith who put the new battery in my watch called me a "Samokovka." He also asked me if I had drank water from the fountain and found my Bulgarian man yet... oh bozhe. ;)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A very Bulgarian Thanksgiving!

Right at this moment, I am very content. On Thursday I was so incredibly blessed to have celebrated Thanksgiving surrounded by a fantastic group of people in Sofia, and then today I was able to share a little bit of American tradition to two of the ladies who mean the world to me over here in Bulgaria - Katya and Mariana (my closest colleagues). Sometime last month I had a site visit from a new PC staff member, and she commented on how refreshing it was to see my solid relationship with these two women, and how comfortable I was in my role here. I thank God for my situation here every day! So it was great to celebrate on Thursday with some of the Americans that have adopted me over here, and then to be able to recreate the meal [to some extent] with my Bulgarian family and the other two rockstar Americans in town.

I had to get kind of creative, but the meal turned out great, and I'm stuffed! Katya cooked the meze appetizers, chicken, and mashed potatoes (mmm), and I covered the green beans, pumpkin casserole, cranberry sauce (thanks, mom!), and dessert. Add all that to some homemade rakia and vino and a whole ton of laughs, and it was quite the amazing feast!!! Delicious, and so much fun.

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NEXT week, I get to see the amazing Abby, and....


No more than 20 minutes after checking in with my field supervisor on my very first day as an intern with the local police gang unit a years ago, I heard a call come over the radio in the Vice office. Just five minutes after that, I was giving short-cut directions to an address I knew all too well - the after school program where I'd been working for the past two years. Next thing I knew, I was on the scene of an execution-style murder on the grass only 30 yards from where I parked my car everyday looking at my first dead body. 

The victim? The mother of two of my children from my program. 

The suspect? Their father. 

Less than an hour before, he had chased her down the block after a domestic dispute, shoved her to her knees, shot her at point blank in the back of the head, then drove straight to the police station, laid his gun on the table, and turned himself in. Then they called all detectives on board.

What happened the rest of the day was a bit of a blur- perhaps because it was a bit of an out of body experience as I felt like I was living my own episode of CSI or Law and Order. I don't think it was until we were sitting in the conference room later in the day that I really began to put the pieces together that I actually knew this family. In fact, I knew them fairly well - just the week before all this,  little Josh and I had been working on his ABCs together before I handed his backpack over to his mother. The scary thing, though? Was that I couldn't make myself truly connect with this nightmare. And that, had never happened me before. 

In general, and for as long as I can remember, I have felt everything. I see everything. I experience everything. 

I remember feeling scared. But not for the reason that you might think. I was scared because I figured there was something wrong with me. I had just witnessed a dead-on-arrival murder scene where a family I had known for a couple of years had been involved on both the victim and suspect level, and on a more disconnected, elementary level I had also seen my first dead body (and a messy one on my very first morning of work, for that matter), and I felt nothing. I don't believe I was in shock. I was convinced I must be sick. Really morbidly sick. 

It didn't take me long to figure out, though, that I was being protected from the situation. Under normal circumstances, this would have torn me apart. But because at the time I was truly discovering, and I still believe, that God is calling me into a field where I will be required to see and experience the very best and very worst of people, I believe He put his hand over me to guard my heart. 

Now, just a few years later, I'm sitting here in my little apartment in Bulgaria two eventful years into my Peace Corps experience, and I am so very tired. Exhausted, really. I have loved and appreciated almost every moment of my service (oddly enough, even the [literally] bone-shattering ones), and if I thought I had the emotional stamina after two years here to invest a little longer, than you better believe that I'd extend my time here in a heartbeat. I may be disillusioned about some American expectations (24 hour Walmart!), I'm definitely not expecting my life in America to be "easy." It certainly wasn't when I worked for a camp in Maryland, or the after school program in NC, or leading groups in urban ministry in NYC, but throughout every trial or hiccup or emotional incident, I had been closer and supported by the people that invested in me and kept me going. The people that reminded me that yes, things happen, but Jesus has his hand in it all and he WILL redeem the situation. 

When my campus supervisor came to talk to me about my internship with the police department, she asked me if I thought I'd be interested in making a career in the police work. At that point, the prospect was fun and exciting, but I did have a feeling that it wouldn't stick (I loved certain aspects of a the job thrilled me - carrying/pulling a weapon did NOT). I did tell her, though, that I took the internship for the insight and experience with the "worst case" scenario. We then talked about my fear that one of two things was sure to happen - either I'd continue to feel every case to my very core so deeply that I'd burn out prematurely, or I'd grow numb and immune to the things that had always penetrated me to my very core. That is a scary thought. Seeing families dig through the dumpsters all day every day makes my heart break. So does knowing my kids don't come to school when its cold because they don't have the proper footwear. So does being asked every week for money so that the baba can buy her grandson breakfast. So does watching another get married. But I wouldn't trade all of that. Feeling things - experiencing them - is what allows me empathize in a constructive way. Or at least try. 

Leaving Samokov is going to be one of the hardest things I ever have to do. I'm ready to go home and be home - to be near my support system and start building my future more tangibly - but I dread the day I have to say goodbye to my life and loved ones here, but what waits for me back home is what has kept me going for two years, and will keep me strong and on my game for these last few (when did that happen?) months. I just hope, that as draining and it is and as much as it hurts, that I never lose the heartache. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I can't express how much I wish I could be back in virginia with my family right now, but I am thrilled tp be able to celebrate with the Gill family again this year, and then share some traditions with my Bulgarian family on sunday!

It's sad to not be spending the holiday with the B24s (although I won't miss traveling on three public busses with a frozen turkey!!)... Miss you guys! Glad you're all home safe. :)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Field trip - 10/20/2010

Bat cave... ostrich farm... onboard bus disco.

The not-so-tough parts of the "toughest job I'll ever love..."

All in a days work:

This was basically the theme song to our camp this summer, and always a favorite! There is always plenty of shrieking when this one gets turned on. Catchy, no? ;)
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Field Trip - 10/20/2010

The random (I don't know if it was last minute or not) stop of the day was to an... [drum roll please].... ostrich farm! Its funny, there was an ostrich farm just 5 minutes or so away from where I went to college and although I had the intention to stop for about 4 years, I never did. But leave it to Bulgaria to make sure I got to one eventually!!

I'm pretty sure the kids were speechless... and I will never live down the fact that one of these two lovely birds in this photo shares a name with yours truly. ;)

I've seen them before at a zoo, but never this close. I think I was pretty shocked at how huge they are. Especially when they are all stretched out like this one.

"The Blue Ostriches"
(The name of the farm)

All in all, definitely another productive field trip! This one was probably our most... diverse... as far as trip highlights and destinations is concerned.
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Field Trip - 10/20/2010

Again, no offense intended for Teteven, but the three hour bus ride totally redeemed itself when we drove to Peshtera next and found ourselves at the Peshtera Cave! The cave was huge and beautiful... and the kids mouths were dropped in astonishment the entire time. I was really impressed with how intently they listed as the guide pointed out different "landmarks" and told different stories.

Beginning the decent into the cave.

GORGEOUS. I was impressed with how well my pics turned out... even though some of them are still a bit blurry.

Haha, as I said, I've never seen the kids so quiet and attentive...

The whole group (minus me... per usual ;)) underground.
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Field Trip - 10/21/2010

The Svetlina kids have gotten to go on a pretty good number of field trips since last June. We have great success with these trips because not only are the kids getting the chance to see the world outside of Samokov, but they LOVE THEM. In and of themselves, the trips serve as an incentive for school attendence and participation, because the kids have to actually attend class in order to be allowed to go.

Yesterday, we had a smaller group than normal (there is that attendance thing again...), but in the end it was a great day. For some reason, though, I was exhausted going into it, with a bit of a headache, and just a little "off" in general. Not a good start to the day... Our first stop was a small village called Teteven in the Lovech region a couple hours north of Sofia. I did a little wikipedia-ing before we left, and still had trouble figuring out what warranted a special trip. It was little village along the Vit river in the Stara Planina mountains, and it WAS pretty, but we only stopped for lunch and then in the history museum for an hour and a half or so before our next stop on the trip.

The girls... posing... as usual. ;)

All the kids posing in front of the museum.

Getting the "schpeal" before the kids were unleashed in the museum.

Nothing was in English and I'm usually too lazy to pick through and read long informative signs in Bulgarian, but I picked up on a long drawn battle for ownership of Teteven between the Bulgarians and the Turks. In fact, the whole village was burned down at one point and had to be rebuilt in its entirety.

The village, like much of Bulgaria, had pretty impressive craftmaship. I'll never get tired of woodwork like this one:
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