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.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Summer of Dreams

It's interesting how much your perspective will change on things when they are taken away for a time, and you have to fight to get them back. My first few months in Bulgaria, I struggled with finding my drive and passion to do my job here. I prayed for a clear vision on my purpose here. Just when I found my confidence and footing in my role as a Peace Corps Volunteer working with intense racial segregation, I found myself on an airplane back to the United States with a badly broken leg, facing months of grim healing reports from my doctor.

For a long time, I struggled to see the purpose in my accident. I was bitter at God for taking something I loved away from me (and doing it in a rather painful fashion!). It wasn't until months later that I learned that he took my dream away only to push me to fight for it, and earn it back, so that I had more of an ownership in my experiences. The perspective I received after this whole ordeal has better equipped me to serve these kids, be an advocate for them, and fight for their own plight in life, while pushing forward in my own.

This summer, Association Svetlina in Samokov will be holding our annual summer camp at the Black Sea in Kiten, Bulgaria. Many of you back home and around the world have asked how you can support me in my mission here, and I would invite you to check out this website giving an overview of our camp mission, and consider being a part of our quest to unify Roma youth with their Bulgarian peers. Most of these children have never seen the sea (and may never have the chance again), but the location also provides the perfect neutral territory to facilitate trust and understanding among the participants.

Please check out our website:

And let me know if you have any questions or you would like to know about our plans!

In advance, and on behalf of my colleagues and some amazing kids here in Samokov, THANK YOU!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Happiness in a Youtube video...

Since first hearing "King Without a Crown" by Matisyahu, I've always been intrigued by this Hasidic Jew who sings reggae. His latest work featuring Akon (played throughout the winter Olympics) does not disappoint!


So other than a few straggling weeks of fall, I've never seen another season other than winter in Samokov. And if today is an indication of how beautiful my home truly is, then WOW.

It's the most beautiful day I've ever seen in Bulgaria, I just completed my month of substitute teaching, municipal funds for camp AND our first set of PC Partnership Program funds finally came through today, I'm headed to Istanbul next week, and ABBY gets into Sofia in the morning for our first reunion since we met and an entire week of unbridled fun.... Could today get any better????


I think not. ;)

Monday, March 15, 2010

The best thing you can do is tell them they're beautiful.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Just about two years ago, I was in the middle of one of the greatest life experiences I can imagine. I was a city host for the Center for Student Missions in NYC, and I fell in love. I fell in love with New York, the people there, and the work I was doing. Not only did I get to experience God's presence first hand in the Big Apple, but I got to work with high school and college students and help them see Love in a whole new way.

I truly heard my calling for street level ministry for the first time.

In addition to living and loving in NYC, I got to meet some incredible people. I loved that the job as a city host is basically 100% urban ministry and 100% youth ministry. At first, as I realized that many of the college groups were my age (and in some cases, older), I was nervous about taking a leadership position. As it turned out, though, I got to help these groups see the city through Jesus' eyes, while actually being a part of these groups and serving alongside them.

One week, my co-worker Michael was the main host for a college group from Michigan. I came in and out to help on certain days throughout the week, so I didn't get to be around the entire time, but this group definitely had a fire about them that was unmistakable and ridiculously encouraging. They served with passion and excitement, and it was contagious.

After they served at Kid Zone with Father's Heart NYC on Tuesday night, I met up with the group for Polish food at delicious Neptune (mmm, perogies). I hadn't spent any time with the group yet, so I grabbed a seat and started meeting people. To be honest, I always kinda hated that first night. I felt awkward answering the same questions about myself over and over (I hate being the center of attention). This group was different though. We really just dove in. Sitting diagonally across from me, was a college senior named Abby.

We quickly discovered we were both Social Work (ish – I'm Human Services… almost the same thing) majors, and… in the middle of the of the rigorous application process for the United States Peace Corps.

From that moment on, it was basically like finding your kindred spirit. We stayed in touch throughout that Spring and Summer, and Abby was one of the first people to find out that I was invited to serve in Bulgaria a couple months later. She got bounced out a little bit more than I did, and eventually changed nomination regions before being invited for Turkmenistan.

Since then, we've shared war stories (the good, the bad… and the hilarious) and dreamed about a rendezvous in Istanbul.

A rendezvous that is happening IN ONE WEEK!!!

Next Saturday, Abby will be arriving in Sofia for a few days in my world, before we head to experience Istanbul together, and I CAN'T WAIT! It's hard to believe how quickly we connected for one week two years ago, and how we haven't seen each other since.

It's all definitely been divinely orchestrated. :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Yesterday I held a few kids after class. I told them, "If you waste my time, I'll waste yours." I thought I was making my point until one kid offered to pay me to change my mind.

He literally wanted to buy his freedom.

I wasn't in a laughing mood when this whole situation occurred, but now that I'm outside of the moment, I'll admit that it's pretty darn funny.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I can't be who I want to be when I am this uncomfortable in my own skin…

2 weeks and 2 days down… 3 days and one week to go!!

Then, back to doing what I do best (without the emotional exhaustion and related inadequacies): NOT teaching and giving my all to the kinderbabies and Svetlina!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I absolutely love living in Samokov. Honestly, I can't imagine living anywhere else. The people I want to work with live here, and my skill set, past experiences, and future aspirations compliment my my current job description with at-risk youth in a more "urban" town perfectly. Not to mention my love for the Rila mountains and the ability to go into the capital a mere hour away when I want to be surrounded by people who love Jesus.

I do, however, sometimes feel like I am getting jilted out of the true PC experience. My city is small, but I live in a block neighborhood and the pace of life is a bit faster than it was during my 3 months with my host family in the village.

This weekend, I had an incredible opportunity to travel up to North Western Bulgaria near the Serbian border to a small village known for hand-woven carpets. The art, although sadly losing popularity among the newest generations, creates absolutely BEAUTIFUL works.

A group of us were able to stay at a guest house in Chiprovtsi and spend a couple of days learning the craft from a woman who learned from her mother, who learned from hers, who... you get the point! At the end of the weekend we were able to place orders for rugs that will be created just for us, in the size and colors we requested. I'm very excited to see the finished product (everything from the wool to the dyes is all hand made/spun and natural) in a few months! In addition to the course on weaving, we ate delicious Bulgarian meals, and even learned how make Chiprovtsi style Banitsa (a very popular phyllo dough breakfast made throughout the country) and had some great girl time.

Yulka teaching Andrea how to set your loom up.

Yulka showing us the loom used for large area rugs... this was where we worked on our bookmarks.

Haha, our finished "book marks!" And no... none of us plan on quitting our day jobs.
Leave it to the professionals... SO EXCITED!!! The rug I ordered will basically be based off of this one. I absolutely LOVE it. 
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Thursday, March 4, 2010

God bless middle of the week national holidays! Having a Wednesday off is fantastic (Happy Liberation Day, Bulgaria!), but let me tell you, getting up on Thursday morning is borderline impossible.

Thank goodness tomorrow is Friday. I am, however, racking up the war stories from substitute teaching. Almost quite literally…

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

While I do not miss being reminded on a daily basis that I NEED to find a Samokovets (a Bulgarian man from our town) and that if I don't do it myself, they will find one for me, I certainly miss these little ones. Especially yesterday for Baba Marta! Would have been so fun to celebrate with them, but alas, my life revolves around Middle Schoolers at the moment.




The whole class... ignore the fact that they all look miserable. I still don't understand why you're not supposed to smile for pictures here.
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I suppose there are more than just a few token occupations on the list of what most kids want to be when they grow up. These dreams change often over the course of our most imaginative years, but among the wanna-be ballerinas, veterinarians, and presidents, are countless "someday" teachers. That was never the case for me. Sure, I dabbled in special ed for awhile, but even then my aspirations revolved mostly around developmental therapy and aide work. I have just never had the desire to stand in front of a classroom and instill knowledge. That's probably because it terrifies me, just a little bit.

From time to time, I am called upon to substitute for the English classes at our middle school when my colleague is sick or away for a conference or training. Those sporadic days are enough to send me into a nervous wreck. As of right now, however, I am into my second (only? Sheesh) week of full-time teaching for all of the 7th and 8th grade English classes as my school, because my colleague is away on sick leave (possibly until further notice).

I wish I could say I loved the opportunity to meet new kids in the school and recruit for our after school programming, but the truth is, I'm not meant to be a teacher, and by the time I teach three to six classes during the day, I'm so worn out that I'm not very effective afterschool.

The beginning of last week was horrible. I was finding myself in some very uncomfortable positions with some of the older boys. The problem was that I was teaching in the annex classroom where my NGO is housed. It is behind the school in a completely separate entrance, so when older boys cut class, they were lurking around or IN my classroom, and I was incapable of handling these situations on my own. I was also constantly nervous and self-conscious. NOT a good recipe for success as a substitute teacher.

Those issues are resolved now, as I have moved inside the school to the third floor. I switched classrooms with another colleague, so in addition to plenty of foot traffic and other teachers in close proximity, most of the older kids in the school don't even know where I am. So, while I wouldn't say I am comfortable in my new role, I am definitely less nervous. :)

And, to be honest, ALMOST ;) enjoying some classes.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chestita Baba Marta!!

My Martenitsi from kids and colleagues. :)

Today, March 1st, marks the day of my favorite Bulgarian holiday! It's certainly something else to be here and enjoy it in person, but the follow info taken in part from Wikipedia (yeah, yeah, I know ;)) helps explain all.

On the first day of March and few days afterwards, Bulgarians exchange and wear white and red tassels or small dolls called "Пижо и Пенда" (Pizho and Penda). In Bulgarian folklore the name Baba Marta (in Bulgarian баба Марта meaning Grandma March) is related to a grumpy old lady whose mood swings change very rapidly.

This is an old pagan tradition and remains almost unchanged today. The common belief is that by wearing the red and white colours of the martenitsa people ask Baba Marta for mercy. They hope that it will make winter pass faster and bring spring. Many people wear more than one martenitsa. They receive them as presents from relatives, close friends and colleagues. Martenitsa is usually worn pinned on the clothes, near the collar, or tied around the wrist. The tradition calls for wearing the martenitsa until the person sees a stork or a blooming tree. The stork is considered a harbinger of spring and as evidence that Baba Marta is in a good mood and is about to retire.

The red and white woven threads symbolize the wish for good health. They are the heralds of the coming of spring in Bulgaria and life in general. While white as a color symbolizes purity, red is a symbol of life and passion, thus some ethnologists have proposed that in its very origins the custom might have reminded people of the constant cycle of life and death, the balance of good and evil, and of the sorrow and happiness in human life.

The ritual of finally taking off the martenitsa may be different in the different parts of Bulgaria. Most people, at the siting of their first stork or budding tree, will tie their martenitsa on a nearby branch, thus giving the tree health and luck, which the person wearing the martenitsa has enjoyed himself while wearing it.

The martenitsa is also a stylized symbol of Mother Nature. At that early-spring/late-winter time of the year, Nature seems full of hopes and expectations. The white symbolizes the purity of the melting white snow and the red symbolizes the setting of the sun which becomes more and more intense as spring progresses. These two natural resources are the source of life.
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