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.

Monday, September 26, 2011

When will I learn that the only thing - the only person - I can count on in this world is Jesus?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

America. Land of the free. Home of the brave. And lots of bacon.

Maybe it was the 9 month "sabbatical" I took only 6 months into my service. Maybe it was the 18 countries I visited, or 33 beds I occupied within a 3 month period, but I felt pretty prepared to tackle this foreign land of "AMERICA."

Culture shock?

BRING IT ON.

Until mom sent me to the grocery store unaccompanied.

Looking for "normal" bacon.

Whatever that is.

In fact, I'm still not sure.

Cause you know what?

America has A LOT of bacon.

Hickory smoked

Sugar cured

Thick cut

Turkey

TWO CASES.

Of bacon.

Really????

"Honey, do you need help?" Says the unsuspecting supermarket attendee.

YES. What am I doing here? I forgot what I was looking for. I'm blinded… by BACON.

I lasted about a week before I was planning the next adventure. I promised myself I would take July "off." I'd seen the world.

Fallen in love with a country (Bulgaria… lipsvate mi).

Romanced my sojourner tendencies. And returned home. And found it horribly overwhelming. So I found a way to pack my bags again, and did just that.

On Friday, I took another leap of faith. You say, "already?" I say, "it's been awhile."

Too long, actually.

So I moved to Baltimore. Sans job. "Baltimore? But WHY?"

I'll tell you why.

God is moving here.

I don't know how or why or what I expect to do here, but I have faith that God will provide, and that He'll do big things through these two calloused hands of mine. And I can't wait to see how he does so. It's been my dream to live in the city and serve God here. To experience life and love on people and exist in "the gutter" in a way that's new and exciting and raw and deliberate.

So here I am. Waiting to hear back on a full-time opportunity to serve God in this city. To love and be loved. To build community. To grow and mature. Radically.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

HOME.... Two weeks from TOMORROW!!!

Leaving in the morning for a couple days in Romania (original PC travel goal of hitting all 5 bordering countries will be complete!!), then finally meeting up with mom and dad on the sea on Monday! Few days on the beach, few days in Instanbul, then.... SAMOKOV!!!

And final goodbyes. :(

Monday, April 25, 2011

Not enough consistent internet at this point in my travels to keep this updated... But track my whereabouts on Facebook if you are interested!! 

Thus far: Sofia, Bulgaria -> Belgrade, Serbia -> Sarajevo, Bosnia -> Mostar, Bosnia -> Dubrovnik, Croatia

And I am writing this to you from Korcula, Croatia before I move on in the morning via Adriatic water taxi!

I am loving the freedom and independence I have to move at my own pace, plan my own interests, and combine wanderlust with forethought.

I may never be able to vacation ever again after this...

SO HAPPY AND CONTENT.

God is good and faithful.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

And so it begins.

Next stop - Belgrade, Serbia.

Katie

(Sent from my Palm Pre on AT&T)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

And so begins...

... my last week as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer. In just a few short days, I close my service and will board a bus to explore the rest of the Balkans before meeting up with my brother and sister in law in ITALY in less than a month. For those of you that keep in touch, I'll have access to my email whenever I can pick up wifi, so don't be strangers!! I'll probably not be posting lengthy updates on here or posting pictures for awhile since I won't be traveling with my laptop, but I intend to keep people apprised to where in the world I am - so stay tuned to my adventures! 

Until then, more goodbyes and lots of emotions to deal with... Bulgaria? Ve4e mi lipsva6. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I HATE goodbyes...

And I've certainly never been very good at them, despite the fact that I think I've had more than my fair share of practice. But seriously, other than excitement revolving around the next step, who really likes to say goodbye to people they care about? Until my dad retired from the Navy, I moved every 2-3 years growing up, and I remember how awful it was each time we left "home" to move to another. I never quite caught on to the fact that "Home" was a feeling that developed very quickly for me. But still... this time things feel different. My investment and relationships here are deep and grounded, and I've been dreading these goodbyes.

Even though I had my last day teaching in the kindergarten last week, I went back yesterday for what I thought was a celebration of International Roma Culture Day. I knew it was also going to serve as a pointed platform for goodbyes, but I had no idea how amazing the morning was going to be! The teacher I've been working with opened with an address for me, then the kids sang songs and did a couple of poem repetitions before singing a few Roma songs. Then I was presented with a certificate and some gifts (2 Samokov folklore cds and some little keepsakes :)) and a whooolllleee lot of hugs. I nearly fell over a few times when my knees would get attacked by my fav kinders. :)


Singing during the program. :) So cute!
I can't get over how adorably sweet these little ones are.
Katie-Kinder pile! I'm down there somewhere... I LOVE this photo.
Me, the chickens, Iskra (on the left - the teacher I work with most directly), and then the director of all of the kindergartens in Samokov of Lili, the other teacher for my class.
This was probably taken about 30 seconds before I almost capsized.
**sigh**


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

T Minus 7 days

In exactly one week, I'll be on a bus to Belgrade, Serbia for the first stop on the whirlwind tour of Europe I've been saving for since the beginning of high school. It also means that I'll no longer be a Peace Corps Volunteer, and will be soon facing goodbyes to the people who have become my family and the place that has become my home.

Never were there more mixed feelings... 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hey Look!!

Actual photos with ME in them! I had an "order" from both my mom and Katya that I needed a photo in the new computer lab with the kids. There are VERY few photos of me during my time here... a few from various trips with friends, but I can almost count on two hands the number of photos I've had taken of me and my work here. Most of that is because I absolutely hate having my picture taken, and partially because after I broke my leg I splurged on a pity gift for myself - a Nikon D60 DSLR. And... very few people feel comfortable enough actually using it.
"The woman behind the camera."
I like it that way. And with almost 4,000 pictures representing almost three years of Peace Corps service, my time here is well documented. I just have very little proof that I was actually a part of any of it... So here you go. For all you "doubting Thomas's" out there who question my Bulgarian existence...
I can't believe that the tiny, shy, timid 6th graders I met 2 and a half years ago are the mature, confident, vibrant kids in this photo!

My last day with the kinderbabies. I can't express how much I'll miss these little guys. And if I'm still single in 20 years, you better believe I'm returning for the little stud in the blue under my right cheek.



Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Computer Lab!

Many, MANY thanks to former US Ambassador to Bulgaria Mr. Sol Polansky, and the Bulgarian American Society!

As a result of their amazingly generous donation and continuous support, we were able to bring a brand new computer lab to Association Svetlina!

Equipped with 4 desktop computers, a new printer/scanner/copier, internet, and a selection of educational software, the Svetlina team and a newly contracted IT teacher will work with the kids to incorporate the computers as a learning tool for our after school program, as well as a mechanism for starting to build some professional skills that will hopefully give these kids an edge when they are ready for the work field.

"This computer lab was generously donated by Sol Polansky and the Bulgarian American Society"
The finished product!
We were able to purchase the computer desks as well from the project budget.
I think Katya is most excited about this beauty!
Some of our 8th graders- our initial target group for the project (with a push for earning their diplomas next year) - checking out their new tools.

Скъпи хора от BAS - Много благодарим от децата и екипа на Сдружение Светлина в Самоков!

Monday, March 28, 2011

I walked into the kindergarten this morning (my second to last visit with them...), and was immediately greeted with a whole lot of yelling. As soon as I got them to speak one at a time, I realized that they were all shouting that their parents had given them permission to accompany me to America. 

Adorable.

Not so adorable when they all started laughing at me later when my eyes got a little misty....

Gonna miss my chickens! 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kid's got talent!!

One of my 5th graders showing off his beat box talent:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When we quote Jeremiah 29:11 ("For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope"), why do we always stop there?

 I find such great comfort in the part that follows (v12-13): 
"Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Happy Birthday, Peace Corps!!!

President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, by executive order. All month, the PC worldwide is celebrating their 50th anniversary. It's a very exciting time to be a volunteer, especially when you consider the fact that during the last half a century, more than 200,000 Americans have served as volunteers to promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of 139 host countries. Today, 8,655 volunteers are working with local communities in 77 host countries.

Even more impressively, Peace Corps Bulgaria is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year! Nearly 1,250 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Bulgaria since the program was established in 1991. Currently, 166 volunteers are serving here. We work as English teachers and change agents in the realms of youth and community development.

Last week, I went into Sofia for an afternoon celebrating the last two decades of development work here in Bulgaria, as well as the opening of an awesome photo exhibit in the park in front of the National Theater which showcases our presence in country as volunteers.


The photos all turned out great. A member of my volunteer group took this one, and it was so great seeing my B24s represented!


My sitemate Ursula and I got to hold the birthday banner during the ribbon cutting for the photo exhibit. :)
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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Favorite word in Bulgarian

I've got a few favorite words in Bulgarian, but "глупости" (pronounced glue + po + stee) is one that I've always especially appreciated. I've often found it creeping up even into conversations I have in English. In general, I'd use it in circumstances/exclamations where "nonsense" or "ridiculousness" would come in handy. Since I love that this word seems to appropriate so frequently, I wanted to go ahead and post the laundry list of definitions that Google Translate provides, because it makes me giggle:

глупости:
  1. noun
    1. nonsense (the definition I give most often)
    2. crap
    3. shit
    4. bullshit (this is the definition Bulgarians give most often)
    5. rubbish
    6. guff
    7. baloney
    8. rhubarb
    9. drivel
    10. junk
    11. fudge (hehe)
    12. gup
    13. blah
    14. bull
    15. applesauce (ten bucks to a person who can actually make this one work!)
    16. monkey business
    17. blether
    18. humbug
    19. fiddlesticks
    20. jiggery-pokery (love it....)
    21. fiddle-faddle (mom, this one makes me think of you! Although its usually just "fiddle," right? :))
    22. balderdash
    23. boloney
    24. flapdoodle
    25. poppycock
    26. tommy-rot
    27. footle
    28. tack
    29. bleat
    30. cod
    31. eyewash (hmmmmm)
    32. truck
    33. buncombe
    34. bosh
    35. punk
    36. rot
    37. blague
    38. hokum
    39. piffle
    40. kibosh
    41. slush
    42. trumpery

interjection
  1. nonsense
  2. nuts
  3. shucks
  4. stuff and nonsense
  1. phrase
    1. all my eye (what does this even mean????)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My big brother and sister-in-law have their plane tickets and plans are set to see them in Rome on the 7th of May! We've got a lot of ground to cover via European railway until mid-June, at which point we'll meet up with my parents on the Black Sea in Bulgaria (verdict to come in regards to camp...)! A week on the beach, a few days in Istanbul, hiking the Rila 7 Lakes as a family (most beautiful place on earth), saying my final goodbyes... and then the grand finale: landing on American soil on July 2nd!! 

Which just so happens to be my quarter of a century birthday. 

All 5 of us will take our jet-lagged selves to Sweetwater Tavern for my first meal back - Ossie rolls, an ice cold microbrew, smoked salmon with garlic mashed potatoes, and a delicious flourless chocolate waffle for dessert. I don't care if I'm that predictable - my mouth is already watering! 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

As gorgeous as I think my little country in the Balkans is, it doesn't seem to hold up very well aesthetically during the winter. The gray communist block buildings and even grayer sky often lends to being more than just mildly depressing. No wonder a good ratio of us PCVs seem to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

It's just depressing....

UNLESS, it is covered in the beautifully soft snow that just so happened to blanket my town in the mountains yesterday. It has been a pretty cold winter and I've been consistently bundled up for months, but I am confused as to how we severely lacked the pretty white stuff that finally arrived yesterday. A couple months too late.

As much as I love snow, I am tired of the cold and the mad dash from the unheated bathroom on chilly mornings to my poorly heated bedroom.

BRRRRR.

You may be from Alaska and Canada or somewhere else with a constantly snowy tundra, but you'll never understand cold - true cold - until you understand Eastern Bloc cold. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Habakkuk 1:5

"Look among the nations, and see;
   wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
   that you would not believe if told."
I've been informed that perhaps I've been slacking a little bit on here. It is true that over the last few months, I have posted more pictures than actual narrative posts, but такъв е живот. :) Besides, how can you not fall absolutely head over heels in love with my kids after I've posted so many awesome photos of them? If I've said it once, I'll say it again: I want the world to see them the way I do.

That being said, this particular update is long over due... the day after I said goodbye to all of my beloved B24s this past fall, the last two of us left in Sofia took a bus up to another town where a tattoo artist I'd read a lot about had a studio. I'd known for much of the last year that I was ready for my third (and most likely final) tattoo, and I had a design in mind that would capture the essence of my Peace Corps service and the person that I am, and highlight my love for the country that has come to mean so much to me.

This isn't such a great picture (the ink is on my left inner wrist and its a little distorted from the angle my wrist was in when I took the photo), but it says "Faith : Hope" and "Love" (which is the biggest word: "the greatest of these is love") in Bulgarian across the top, with the celtic trinity knot that I've been fascinated with for as long as I can remember. My life verse (1 Thess 2:8 - we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well) is referenced on the bottom as well.

I absolutely love it! It turned out great, and I love that it serves as a constant reminder about my priorites and why I am where I am - especially right now.

I also wanted to share with you the story about the 4 Orthodox saints that gave my ink even more meaning: there were three sisters named Vyara, Nadezhda, and Lyubov (faith hope and love).Their mom Sophia and the three girls appeared as a group before the judgment of the pagan court, which offered to release the entire family providing that the mother would deny the Saviour and raise her children as pagans. All three daughters looked up to their mother to assure her that they would remain as steadfast Christians with her and that she should feel no guilt should they be put to death. The agonized Sophia was torn between the love for her children and the love for Jesus Christ. She turned to the court to plead that her children be released, and they could inflict their tortures upon her. The three sisters cried out to their mother that they would rather join her in death to be reunited in the Kingdom of God, than to remain behind without her. Sophia's glance at the magistrate told her the next move was his. Incredibly the magistrate was unmoved and ordered the first of the girls, Faith, to be put to torture before the eyes of her mother. When this failed to bring the mother to pleas for mercy but instead the praises of the Lord, Faith was put to the sword. Hope followed her sister in death, as did her sister Love, three innocents whose horrified mother was dragged to the side of their bodies, over which she continued to pray as she herself also died for the Lord.

How cool is that???
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Thursday, March 3, 2011

4estit Praznik na vsi4ki Bulgari!

Честит Ден на Освобождението България!! 


Happy Liberation Day Bulgaria!!



It can't be news to anyone who has ever stumbled upon this blog even briefly that I absolutely love my job and the kids I get to work with and advocate for on a daily basis. Because of this, however, I don't often broach the "touchy" areas of Roma issues in this forum. I would rather post pictures and stories that show these kids in the light that I see them, so anyone out there in the internet world can appreciate these kids for who they really are - not who the world wants, expects, or tells them to be. 

I'm going to break that rule today, because I think it IS important to shed some light to the real situation at hand, even though I know that whatever I say here will not do true justice to the reality faced on a day to day basis. 

Since the moment I opened the Peace Corps Welcome Book for Bulgaria back in the spring of 2008, I knew that God was bringing me to Bulgaria to work with the Roma/gypsy youth population. Despite Peace Corps best efforts to prepare me for my work here during Pre-Service Training, though, it wasn't until I actually moved to Samokov and started working that I truly started to see the disdain, disgust, and all-around racism towards Roma. To be honest, though, I have yet to truly understand where this resentment comes from, even though everyone you meet has their own theory. 

A few weeks ago I mentioned that a friend of mine was reading Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. Griffin was a white Texan, and the book describes his 6 week experience traveling the deep south on greyhound busses and hitchhiking in 1959, all while passing himself (undisputed) as a black man. I've often heard people comparing modern day Roma issues to the Civil Rights Era in the United States not so long ago, but it wasn't until I felt inclined to pick up my own copy and found myself unable to put down Griffin's story that I began to realize how true that comparison must be. I don't have page numbers because I read this on my Kindle, but one of the quotes that made me think of the life my children have been dealt here is this: "When all the talk, all the propaganda has been cut away, the criterion is nothing but the color of skin. My experience proved that. They judged me by no quality. My skin was dark." I've seen Roma kids get chased away from vendor stands because they are all automatically labeled as thieves due to their darker hair, eyes, and skin. I've seen paying adults from the same community denied rides on public transportation even though there was plenty of room for them. I've seen Roma families approach a table with a 'reserved' sign in a restaurant, only to be turned away because the table is reserved only for suitable (read white/Bulgarian) patrons. 

It breaks my heart to see such a beautiful, loving, generous, community-based demographic deemed void of all of these positive attributes, and be judged by their skin color or the sins of a minuscule minority. It also makes me proud to be serving in the role I do here - to be working alongside determined, passionate advocates for the Roma population in Samokov - but unlike the start of the Civil Rights movement in America, I wonder if there are enough enraged individuals out there willing to take a stand for population that has been denied their own voices.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Just bought my InterRail Global Pass!! And wow... also realized that my verbiage needs to be updated to correspond with reality: I will be leaving Bulgaria, entering the world of RPCVs, and embarking on the 17 country trip I've been saving for since high school... NEXT MONTH. I am officially a basket case of mixed emotions.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"Less than 6 Months Left" Syndrome

There are, of course, lots of things that I have missed over the last couple of years during my time here in Bulgaria. For the most part, though, the absence of these luxuries and conveniences have all been a part of the adventure (except the intense food cravings... those I could have done without!!). I can honestly say I have enjoyed the simpler lifestyle that I take part in here, and a big part of me dreads going back to the "land of plenty."

Lately, however, the list of things I am anticipating upon arrival on American soil is growing. At the top of the list... a washing machine!! And DRYER SHEETS (and obviously the correlating dryer - although line drying my clothes is NOT a part of the process that I have grown to resent)!! I would say that a great number of volunteers in country have access to washing machines, and to be honest, I technically have one (shhhh - don't tell). When I asked my landlord when the last time it worked was, she laughed at me, and I deemed the archaic thing worthy enough for counter space and nothing else. At this point, I suppose I could have found someone to try and fix it (Bulgarians are incredibly resourceful), but I... just... never got around to it. Washing clothes in an unheated bathroom in an Eastern European winter is nothing short of brutal, but truly - it never bothered me. Until lately. Its gotten so bad that my laundry pile is just growing and growing. So really, I'm just making my life MORE difficult by neglecting my household chores (you can only wash so much at a time when you do so in a small plastic bin), because at some point, I will need to catch up! And sheesh, I was helping a friend with a dryer (the only one I've seen here - but she has 6 kids!) the other day fold her laundry, and I think I sat there smelling a used dryer sheet for a good 5 minutes. Heavenly. 

A couch. Oh my goodness. I love my little peach, purple, and red one-room apartment.... it IS wonderful. But I'm a reader. I miss curling up in the corner of the couch with a giant mug of tea and being all cozy for a bit. There is a time and a place for reading in bed (usually before bed or early in the morning), but I can't wait to snuggle up on my parents couch with a good book and just be absorbed into a page turner. Or watching an edge of your seat film on said couch. Again, watching a movie in bed can be nice... but my tush is looking for a change in scenery. One of the hotels up in the ski resort has this nice big lobby with leather couches and cheap coffee.... I've been frequenting there just for some prime couch sitting and productivity (more sitting, less productivity). 

My car. Not for transportation purposes. I like being able to walk everywhere. And in recent years I've had a hard time justifying the insane gas money to just get behind the wheel and drive, but that is EXACTLY what I want to do right now. 

I'm sure there are more things I could add to this list, but these are the ones I've been thinking of lately. And I'm certainly not going to get into all of the food I'm craving, but I suppose I need to not throw away all of the pants that are too big for me now, because I am certain that after a few weeks of indulging my ICE CREAM, Mexican, Thai, cheeseburger, pizza, Chinese food cravings... I'll be needing them again. And ya know what? As much as I want to get back to my pre-accident active lifestyle, I'll sacrifice it a little while longer in order to indulge. ;)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vday with the 8th grade and Katya's birthday

Making Valentine's afterschool



Katya's birthday is on the 14th, so like last year, we were able to celebrate the two together with the kids after school in the program.
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Valentine's Day toothbrushes

Last year, my dentist in the US donated a very generous amount of toothpaste samples and floss. Oral hygiene over here is widely overlooked among both Bulgarian and Roma communities, so we purchased some toothbrushes and taught the middle schoolers at camp this summer the importance of keeping your mouth happy.

I had been wanting to do the same lesson with the kinders for awhile now, so when I was putting together their Valentine's goody bag, I dropped a toothbrush and toothpaste in each bag. After enjoying our cupcakes, we marched the little chickens to the bathroom to practice! NONE of the kids own a toothbrush, so they were excited about their gift. I'd never get away with throwing a holiday party in the US and seizing the cupcake opportunity to teach about brushing those germs away. It'd be like the grouchy old lady who gives out apples on Halloween. But they loved it.



Svetlo back their cheesing over his new skill, and the others greatly concentrating.

Iskra giving the Do's and Don'ts of brushing your pearly whites.

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Introduction to cupcakes

So I guess if I'd thought about it, I should have realized these kids have never seen a cupcake. If I'd realized that, I would have handed them out with a warning to not eat the paper wrapper.... haha. Don't worry though, as soon as I saw the first kid try, I quickly put an end to that and "demonstrated" paper removal.

My mom had sent me these cute little sets of Valentine's cupcake wrappers and toothpicks with hearts on them. I definitely got a kick out of the kids trying to eat the cupcakes using the toothpicks as a utensil... hahaha. I gathered them up, and they were thrilled to learn that I was not only giving them permission to eat with their hands, but making it so they had to!! Too cute.



Lots of concentration involved when trying to eat a cupcake... with a toothpick.
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Valentine's Day with the Kinders

Or should I say, "Day of Saint Valentine," or... even better... "Day of the Lovers." ;) In Bulgaria, Valentine's Day is only just starting to commercialize as a holiday. Last year, actually, I remember only the flower shops selling balloons, and then the activities I did with the kids. Other than that, you saw only Name Day parties as people named after the actual saint celebrated, and then whatever I pulled off with the kids. This year, however, while out to eat with a couple of friends, I was surprised to see the restaurant completely decked out with balloons and streamers and candles on every table.

I started my day with my "pileta" (chickens), and had a blast! We talked about how we celebrate the holiday in America, made some Valentine's, ate some cupcakes (hysterical, pic to follow), and then I got away with something I never would have gotten away with in the US! Haha, that story to come too...



My buddy Hristo! He's really mastered his balloon drawing lately! One of my biggest regrets over the last couple of years is not spending enough time with this little guy... he has Down Syndrome, and its really neat to see him "mainstreamed" into the kindergarten. The staff and other kids really look out for him, but he kind of does his own thing. I'd like to see him get a little more individualized attention to address his needs. He's a smart kid and absolutely hysterical, but no verbal communication.


Goshko made his Valentine for his girlfriend. ;)


Nicollete - She's so pretty...
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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Another fav photo


Hiking in Maliovitsa, Summer 2010
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Go ahead - diagnose me with temporary Bi-Polar Disorder. At this point, I've come to terms with the fact that I'm going to be an emotional wreck for the next two months, because as of today, you can officially start the TWO MONTH countdown! 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mission Impossible

I'm pretty sure I'm the only PC Bulgaria volunteer in the world (bold statement - I still stand by it) who has managed to take a photo with EVERY child in it smiling. It took two and a half years, but here is proof that I managed the impossible:



And look at their faces! No bribery involved!

Add to it the fact that I almost got every single one of them looking in my direction, and wow.... haha
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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

After my last two months here (how is it possible that this time is arriving too quickly, and at the same time, not fast enough??), I have a lot of ground to cover in the Euro Trip I've been saving for since early high school.... very exciting. But can it be true that I am MOST excited about summer camp 2011 with my Svetlina kiddos and my family on the Black Sea in June???? 

:D

Kinders

Today we reviewed out weather words from last week, then started learning some classroom words. These kids are absolutely amazing. So eager to learn. I wish there was a way to make everyone see them the way I do...


Love.

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AMAZING weather!

So much for the "coldest winter in a 1,000 years!!" Pretty sure its been record high temps lately... Although I was hoping for some serious snow this year, I'm not complaining!! All of the cafe's have set up tables outside, people are out and about (loved the 30minute walk to the kindergarten this morning), the ice rink was melting the other day, and... I was able to play outside with the boys today after school!

It took coming all the way to Bulgaria - where soccer is football and American football doesn't even exist - to perfect my football spiral. I've gotten pretty good, if I do say so myself. ;) But its definitely more fun to teach the kids how to throw.


It makes me nervous, but the boys have really gotten into boxing lately, and have been asking me to use the gloves on a regular basis. It makes me nervous... especially when one of the kids is an amateur boxer (the tall one - at least 6'4"!!!!) - ranked in Bulgaria. Also, all of the kids in this picture are in 7th grade except for two on the far right...
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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Things in Bulgaria have a tendency to be on the [ridiculously] inefficient side. I can honestly say that in general, it doesn't bother me. I almost appreciate it. I like that it keeps me on my toes. Sure, the fact that you have to fill out paperwork to apply in order to be able to apply for a residency card is a bit crazy, and I was a little confused why a bank representative had to drive all the way from Sofia to Samokov to retrieve the bank card that the ATM decided to eat, drove with it BACK to Sofia, all to just mail it to me in Samokov a few days later in a package with the other cards the machine devoured from Samokov residents.... but its all a part of the excitement and fun of living in a foreign country, right? ;)

The day to day craziness also allows you to especially appreciate when things turn out to be surprisingly EASY - which does, believe it or not, happen from time to time. 

Last month, I developed a nasty sinus infection. Eventually, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to kick the crud in my head without a little assistance, so I finally emailed Peace Corps - PRAYING that they wouldn't make me come all the way into the capital for a doctor's appointment. To my relief, after speaking with our doctor about the symptoms, he confirmed it was some sort of sinus infection and wrote me a prescription, which he then emailed to me. Now, I don't own a printer, but I DO live three floors above a pharmacy. I unplugged my laptop, walked downstairs in my slippers, penguin pajama paints, winter hat,  and down coat - looking about as pathetic as possible (and not intentionally....), showed the pharmacist my computer, and she filled my prescription within about 4 minutes of me leaving my front door. I was back in bed what seemed like moments later. 

I'll take the ridiculous stories of infficiency any day if it means that some things go even easier than I expected. 

Monday, January 31, 2011

In exactly 5 months, I will have finished the last few months of my PC service; traveled to Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Turkey; helped put on a ten day summer camp for my kiddos; gone completely broke; and be ready to celebrate my 25th birthday... on AMERICAN SOIL!!!!

With my family. :)


Life is oh, so good!
I want to start posting some of my fav pics from the last two and a half years... starting with this impromtu dance party caught on film down in the Roma mahala:

love it.
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Sunday, January 30, 2011

I realized something tonight over too much greqna rakia, a lot of laughs, and entirely too much food with my colleagues... I'm not ready to leave here. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

DAYCATION

To say that I'm a bit of homebody is a more than just a mild understatement... and over the last two and a half years my little one room apartment in this lovely commie block building has definitely become Home to me. When I travel, I look forward to returning to my peach walls and purple furniture, and there have been many a' day where I'm hard-pressed to even leave my bank-vaulted front door. 

Every once in awhile, however, I just need to get away! Especially now when I've been an emotional spaz lately and don't see that ending any time soon as I anticipate the end of this phase of my life here in the Bulg...

Enter one of my new and perfectly appropriate invented words - "daycation." During any season other than the current one, this act usually involves a little day trip to Sofia to go see a movie at the mall and eat a McD's cheeseburger, but during this lovely winter period, I like to hop the bus up the mountain to the beautiful winter wonderland of Borovets. I'll be the first to admit that I'm a bit spoiled having this place only 15 minutes up away from Samokov. Not only are there restaurants, coffee shops and bars with good music and ENGLISH speaking people, but the snow-covered Rila mountains simply cannot be rivaled in my opinion.  

Today I loaded up my bag with my Kindle, a notebook, my iPod (its working again!), and my Eastern European travel guide, and set off for a much needed "daycation." It was so nice. At first I just walked around under the low-hanging, snow-covered trees, and allowed my stomach to turn as I watched people dart down the visible ski runs (I don't think that sick feeling or leg-throbbing will ever go away long enough for me to actually try strapping ski boots to my leg ever again...). Then I curled up on a leather couch in one of the big hotel lobby's and spent the next hour and a half people watching and planning an entire week in Croatia on the Dalmation Coast for this April (woot!). Then I packed up my books and relocated to a little Bulgarian restaurant with a cozy fireplace that I like to frequent when I'm up in the ski resort area. I came in here the first time early last spring season with two colleagues of mine. Now, every time I go in I get the "local" (read BULGARIAN) price on everything. Which actually makes my hot cocoa, french fries, or mulled wine quite reasonable for a resort locale! And it makes me like the owner so much that I usually end up tipping him the difference anyway. ;) We have a great, unspoken agreement, and I love the huge smile I get when I walk in. 

I took my time with my tea and cheeseburger (note - just because it looks like a cheeseburger and they call it a cheeseburger, does NOT mean that it is in fact a cheeseburger), and then relocated to a different hotel lobby for a little more reading while I waited for the bus. When the bus came, I opened the door and crawled in, only to be greeted by the driver and his son - two friends of mine! The driver is married to the nurse at my school, and with their son, Sasho, all three spent the entire ten days with us at camp on the sea as an NGO last summer! I caught up with Emil for a bit, got a free ride, and a HUGE smile from my buddy Sasho. :)

All in all, a good mental health day, and a perfect daycation. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

They closed my school for the whole week in efforts to contain the flu epidemic that is quickly spreading across the country.

The down time is nice to get stuff done around my apartment, but I have less than three months left with my kiddos.

I miss them already. 
Me talking to "the ladies" - "How am I going to live without Bulgarian yogurt, rakia, cirene, good honey, lutenitsa, homemade vino, and BG tomatoes???"

Katya - "You'll live just like you did before you moved here - before you even tried all those things."



Well ok then!! Hahahaha. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

**UPDATE**

Please add my lifesaving non-stick pan (no longer actually nonstick) and.... my ipod... to the list below. Boo.


Although, hahaha, I do actually find it all funny. Especially when Within 36 hours last week 3 light bulbs in my apartment burned out. 

I love my life. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

A desperate plea...

Dear STUFF,

I have less than 3 months left in Bulgaria. Please STOP FALLING APART (in case you need individual finger-pointing, I'm referring to YOU - my winter coat with the broken zipper, my stretched out underwear, my threadbare socks, my no-longer-waterproof boots, and especially you - my flaming/smoking hair dryer). 

At least until April 14th 

Although, to the rest of my things, if you wouldn't mind hanging on until July and going the extra mile, I'd be eternally grateful.

Love,
Katie - your adventure partner since July 2008

Oh Taxi, My Taxi

If you know me at all, you probably know that I am considerably better at sticking up for other people than I am at sticking up for myself... and as any relatively consistent reader of this blog would know, I've had a smattering of memorable taxi experiences in this country - both good and bad ones.

Today, I accompanied a good friend of mine to Sofia with his baggage to point him in the right direction of the Black Sea Coast. Because he had a bunch of bags with him, we opted to take a cab from the bus stop on the highway to the bus station instead of navigating the already tricky bus system. I opted to sit in the front seat instead of giving my 7foot friend the more ample leg room next to the driver in order to ensure that driver didn't try and take advantage of us. He seemed a little "too" eager to offer us his services (including jumping out to put J's bags in the trunk), so I was a little cautious. He immediately started driving when we got situated, and told me that he'd give us the cheap price of 20leva to the bus station. "Hold it!!" I exclaimed, "I have never paid more than 6lv to get to the bus station from here. Please turn on the meter." At this point, the look of, "crap, she actually speaks my language" painstakingly shocked across his face, and then he told me it was broken. So I countered (in Bulgarian that came across so confidently that even I was surprised), "ok, then please pull over and let us out. We'll find a cab with a working meter." He then, sooo graciously offered to give us a one time deal of 15lv to take us to the bus station. "Six." I told him. At this point, I was almost enjoying myself. As I said, I'm not very good at standing up for myself in ENGLISH, let along in this crazy foreign language that continues to waft somewhere above my head all too often, even too years later.... but it felt good. Even though we were pretty much arguing at this point (another thing I often avoid).

I told him we'd give him 10lv, since all the bags were already in the car and we were running late at this point for J's bus across the country. His next point was that J had a lot of bags, so the lowest he would go was 12lv. We're still sitting on the side of the highway at this point, so I told him that if the fare should be more because we had a lot of luggage (woot! Go integration and acquired language skills!), then it should be listed on his fare chart with the other fees. But it didn't matter because his meter wasn't working anyway, and there was nothing listed about baggage. In reality, we would have had enough time to switch cabs, but we were in an awkward place on the highway, so there weren't any other cabs around. I told him 10lv was our final offer. No more, since any other cab with a meter would charge us six. Finally, he sighed and said, "fine, since you're a fine girl, I'll give you a 10lv price." He starts the engine, pulls back into traffic, and goes, "and then when we get there, you give me 2 more leva."

Sigh. He pestered me with questions and nonsense about my work here and acted generally sketchy and sleezy, and then I explained the whole conversation to J so his usual generous self wouldn't counter all of my progress with this guy with a good tip. I told him that since the fare would normally be 6lv, the 4 extra lev was already too much... we agreed we'd stick to our guns with the 10lv price, even though on principle, my skin was still crawling at being taken advantage of (don't get me wrong, it could have been MUCH worse! I've heard of friends who get 60-80leva cab fares... usually not when you have the language skills tho).

When we pull up to the bus station, I stealthily reach into my wallet and pray I have a 10leva bill in my wallet and didn't need change - I knew he wouldn't have given it to me. Praise God - I did. He again asked for at least another 2 leva - "I know you have it."

I get out of the car, and... low and behold... the guy won't open the trunk. I ask him. Nothing. I knock on the back. Nothing. At this point, J is getting ready to grab the bag he had on the back seat to come around and help me with the bigger bags, and I tell him to get back in - we're not leaving until his bags are out and we make sure that this guy doesn't race of with J's luggage. So my 7ft friend climbs back in the cab with his bag and I start beating on the trunk harder. Finally, it opens. I hurriedly pull out the two bags back there, and tell J we're good to go. The driver doesn't even close the passenger door I'd left open before he peels out onto the main road.

Call me a glutton for punishment, but despite sacrificing 4leva, I felt accomplished and proud of myself for sticking up for the situation, and for doing it all in Bulgarian.

And its another fun transport story from my crazy life in my beloved BG. ;)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

video

Friday, January 21, 2011

The teenage son of good friends of mine in Sofia is a senior year in high school, and is furiously prepping for college in the fall back in the US. For his senior project, Jeremi was instructed to read "Black Like Me" by John Howard Griffin, and was to explore the idea of white privilege. Late this summer, I was visiting his family in Sofia, and the two of us got to talking about how maybe he could come up with a project to get to know my kid's a bit better here in Samokov, use them as inspiration for his capstone project, and serve them in some way. Jeremi is passionate about photography, so he managed to get his hands on some disposable/one time use cameras, and has been coming to Samokov over the last couple of months to hang out with the kids, teach them about taking photos and capturing images and emotions, and learn about the world in which they come from.

The original idea was that the photos the kids took will turn into some sort of photo-essay for Jeremi's class, but on a whim, he also wrote to the Sofia Echo - the biggest English news organization in Sofia - and asked if he could write an article on the project for the paper. They were really open to the idea and asked him to write something up and submit it!

Jeremi had given each kid a list for basically a photo scavenger hunt, and then had the pics printed. In the following pics, Jeremi invited all of the kids back to see their photos, but to also interview them for the article. Whenever its printed I'll be sure to share it on here!




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