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, 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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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Other than my one "adventure splurge" with hiking in Switzerland in September, I reinstated as a PCV after my accident and promisrf myself that I would lower my risk factor... no skiing for me this winter! I intend to make it to April 13th unscathed...

Yesterday we took the kids ice skating after school. The municipality has given us three free one-hour sessions this season on the rink in the town center, and it was a blast! All the kids were asking me why I didn't get on the ice, but the idea of strapping myself into skates that looked an awful lot like ski boots definitely made my stomach turn... so I sat this one out.

When I found out that we'd be going 2 more times before the end of March, I decided that I'll use the time before the next session to get up the courage and at least float around the outer edge of the ice with my fav 8th graders. ;)

The kids in action - they did so good! Considering how excited they were when we rode the elevator in Sofia, I was rather surprised to see how comfortable most of them were on the ice. Although, they are all natives of Samokov - "The capital of the white sports." ;)



They loved it... we tried to get all the kids going on a train, but they quickly lost interest.


Such sweet girls. Gonna miss them!



Organizing a group photo is always a challenge... even more so when they are standing on slippery ice!

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I'm starting the process of clearing out a lot of my pack-rat-ish tendencies from my apartment in anticipation of my last couple of months here in Samokov. I've been stockpiling "tastes" of home in my kitchen for days when I really want an easy batch of cupcakes or some overprocessed Mac-and-Cheese as comfort food, and now I'm realizing that I need to put all this deliciousness to good use before its too late!

I also realized that as a Youth Development Volunteer, I've been stockpiling egg cartons, empty yogurt containers, toilet paper rolls, soda bottles, and empty plastic shopping bags for two years. I mean, you never know what kind of creations or game props these things could turn into! We've been bowling with soda bottles, used yogurt cartons for peanut tosses, and toilet rolls have been loving turned into zoo animals and nutcrackers at Christmas, but I still seem to have a ridiculous surplus...

Yup... time to clean out! 

Rest in Peace, Sargent Shriver!!!

"... Be servants of peace ...

Work humbly, persistently and intelligently ...

Weep with those who are sorrowful ...

Care for those who are sick ...

Serve your neighbors ...

Serve your towns ...

Serve the poor ...

That is your challenge."

- Robert Sargent Shriver, first director of the US Peace Corps -

November 9, 1915 - January 18, 2011


For the last 50 years, Peace Corps has placed more than 200,000 volunteers in the field in 139 countries. Volunteers range in age from 18 to 86, representing all 50 states, with diverse backgrounds and motivations. The one thing they all share: The same energy and commitment exemplified by Sargent Shriver when President Kennedy challenged him to bring the Peace Corps from idealistic vision to effective reality.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A brief thought from Crazy Love by Francis Chan

 I urge you to consider and actually live as though each person you come into contact with is Christ.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Calling all PCVs and RPCVs!!!

I thought you might be interested in www.ThirdGoal.org, a new non-profit community project celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps in 2011 by collecting the best stories, photos and videos from the 200,000 volunteers who have served since 1961. Read more about the project here: <http://www.thirdgoal.org/about/>.


They have weekly contests ending every Sunday night at 11:59pm PST, where they give away 3 prizes every week for best Peace Corps story, photo, and video. Right now the prizes are $27 REI Gift Cards in honor of the 27 months of Peace Corps service. :) And my photo actually won the Week 13 photo contest: <http://www.thirdgoal.org/photos/view/merry-christmas>.


Anyway, I thought you might like to get involved! Do you have a favorite Peace Corps story, photo, or video that you'd like to share?


Get connected at <www.facebook.com/thirdgoal> and visit the site at <www.ThirdGoal.org>.


Thanks so much,

Katie

Thursday, January 13, 2011

the end in sight...

THREE months from today, I'll officially join the ranks of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers around the world, and will be setting off to start the 2 month European backpacking trip that I've been dreaming/planning/saving for since high school. 

Six months from now, I'll be back home - on American soil. 

Never were there crazier mixed feelings. 
Due to the holidays and then a nasty sinus infection that had me away from the kinders for a couple or weeks, I finally got to go back to hang out with the little ones yesterday. Have I mentioned that they all give the greatest hugs? ;) Well, they do, and after an awesome welcome back from them, a few rounds of "Simon says" and "Father Abraham," I finally taught them the Hokey Pokey. I canNOT believe I hadn't taught this to them already!! It was so fun, and per usual, they had a blast and it was absolutely adorable. The teacher left the room for about 30 minutes, and when we came back we sang and danced for her.

As we were getting ready to go, the teacher (a different one than I normally work with), commented that Ivo's dad is a really great musician, and Ivo is learning to play the accordion. Well... I'm not sure about you, but seeing a 6 year old play as well as he does in this video on a FULL sized instrument is absolutely incredible:

video

Child prodigy! SO CUTE.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thought and challenge for the week from my good buddy CS Lewis:

"If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this."

Friday, January 7, 2011

The kinders have a new favorite giant... my fav part about when Justin (American athlete with the pro bball team in town) comes to hang out with the littles is that he only speaks English with them, they speak in rapid Bulgarian to him, they seem to communicate beautifully, and no one cares. Its adorably awesome.

video

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I got a "plans for your coming COS" (Close of Service from the PC) email from the medical office here in Bulgaria today.

Weird. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tired... but optimistic.









And this is the year I get to go HOME. 

The American one.

8th grade boys...

... hmmmmm. Where do I begin? 

One of absolute best parts of my 9 month "sabbatical" in 2009 was that it conveniently stretched my 2 year Peace Corps service over three consecutive school years. As a Youth Development volunteer, this is an awesome thing... and a gift - to be able to see my cute little 6th graders grow into the confident pre-adults that seem to have morphed into this year as 8th graders. For the most part, the encouraging interactions and fun moments outweigh the heartbreaking and challenging ones, and its been awesome to triumph with these kids and pour my day to day into finding better ways to serve them. Whether or not I feel like I could have done more here is not the topic in question ("Hi, my name is Katie, and I'm a perfectionist...") ;), but overall I feel blessed to have had the last couple of years with these awesome and energetic middle schoolers.

{**Even though I never would have chosen - nor do I plan to in the future - to work with middle schoolers as my primary job. :D **]

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher that I work with from time to time came up to me and started telling me that the entire school now knows me, and where to find me. Even the little kids that I don't interact with on a day to day basis. She exclaims, "the kids love you! They ask about you every day" This made me feel really great, until she follows with, "those 8th grade boys though... now that is a different kind of love."

To this, I just laugh. Because yes, I'm aware.... 

If I've said it before, I'll say it again. Inevitably, something happens to boys during the time between their 7th grade year, and their crazy 8th grade selves. I'm not so sure I truly appreciate the change, and I was hardcore praying that whatever it was would pass over my beloved boys from last year. Maybe I should have painted lamb's blood over their doorways or something, because sure enough... these boys are a bit much to handle this year.

But I love them. Truly. 

Even though I'm constantly rolling my eyes at them or deflecting various inappropriate comments, these little players are often my favorite part of the day. 

Especially when out of the blue, one of them gives me a brief glimpse of the adorably sweet kids I know they can be, like when my homeroom class was supposed to be writing anonymous "luck" wishes for the new year. These little slips of paper (kind of like a fortune cookie fortune) go into a pile, and you draw one, and are wished life and health or something for the new year. Well instead, Krasi wrote one specifically for me, so when drawn by another student, it was immediately put in my hands:

"One new boyfriend for Katie, and that she'll stay in Samokov for all of life."

Not so sure about the boyfriend thing (but hey... I'm just sayin ;)), but the fact that they aren't ready to get rid of me yet is a good sign!!

Gonna miss these kids... so thankful I'll get camp with some of them this summer!
I've been spending a lot of time thinking about how, as I get older and my experiences in life resonate more, my definition of "family" continues to redefine itself. Despite the fact that I spent the entire first week of the month in Istanbul, and all last week away from school on winter vacation, December was a very long month. I kept dreading the thought of spending another Christmas away from home, and when I stopped to think about my last Christmas in the US - 4 years ago - I couldn't even remember a single detail. 

The first part of the month just kind of dragged on in this emotional dread of the holidays to come. The plan had always been to spend Christmas Eve with Katya's - my boss - family, and then travel to Sofia the next day to spend the day with some American friends there. It wasn't until I was sitting around the table with Katya, her two kids, Petya's boyfriend, and then a friend of mine that I realized that when you're far away from home, "family" begins to take new and exciting forms. Nothing will take away from traditions with my parents and brother and sister in law, aunts, cousins, uncles, grandmas back home... but I was experiencing a new kind of family that I'm not sure I truly appreciated until that night - over two years after I first got here. I had originally felt guilty about inviting an additional person to Katya's family meal, but when I explained that Justin only got a few days off, and we were both like "kids from the orphanage" without our own families this year, she told me later that she felt honored that we both chose to spend Christmas with her. I felt honored too, to be sitting around a family, communicating in an unbelievably comfortable combination of fluid Bulgarian and English, and laughing like I was with people I'd known for my whole life. 

The next day, Justin and I took the bus to Sofia around lunch, and spent the rest of the day relaxing around the fire, eating, playing games, cuddling with puppies and little kids, eating some more, and partaking in some of the most much-needed fellowship I've ever experienced. It was so refreshing, in fact, that New Years was spent in much of the same fashion - with the Christ-followers God called to serve in Bulgaria. Amazing. 

Family. I'm ready to have the blood-bound, "stuck with each other for life" ;) people back in my life on a daily basis, but wow. I continue to have my mind blown by the new family members that have entered my life in the last 2+ years. I can't wait to be back in my US home in the months to come (THIS year!), but it is going to be so hard (impossible, maybe?) to say goodbye to this home... this family.