A chronicle of my experiences as a Peace Corps Community Organizational Development volunteer in Bulgaria.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Reflections From The Beach

Everything is going well here at the beach. There is a contract on my house (finally!) and nothing has come up that should present an insurmountable obstacle to its sale. Mari has firm control of the business and I am certain she'll continue to grow it bigger and better than ever. Most of the major things have been taken care of and now I only have to take care of the 'details'. I am working on my Bulgarian every day and can now say, "Could you please speak more slowly", that and "May I photograph the face of your Grandmother?" will probably be the most important words I'll speak.

I spoke to a fellow at the Balkan Desk/Peace Corps today and he told me that he would be sending out a new packet of information this week. In it will be a cd with PC language lessons. I hope there aren't two versions of Bulgarian. I've been putting in a lot of work on the "Teach Yourself Bulgarian" version of the language and will be very disillusioned to learn that it isn't quite the same as the PC version. I have seen many responses from current and former volunteers addressing applicants' concerns about the language requirement. They all carry basically the same message, the PC wants you to succeed and will do everything in its power to ensure that you do. If you apply yourself and show that you are willing to work at it, you'll be fine. The PC will even hire tutors to assist those who are struggling. "Hello, Larry, this is your tutor Vladimir (Cat O'Nine Tails) Molitov. He'll beat you until your pronunciation improves."

I've just finished reading a couple of books on Bulgaria. "Summer in the Balkans" is a journal recounting a summer spent in post-communist Bulgaria. It is an interesting and positive account of the country and people written in 1991, just after the fall of the communist government. The author talks about the warmth and generosity of the Bulgarians, their living conditions, their meals and social events and their determination to effect positive changes in their country. "Voices from the Gulag", on the other hand, is an account of life under a totalitarian regime and more specifically, life in a Bulgarian concentration camp. It is written about Bulgaria in the 1960's and 1970's and goes a long way towards explaining why cultural disparities exist and why simply saying, "Presto, you're a democracy" hasn't been a magic answer to everyone's problems.

Geoff introduced me to his Bulgarian friend in NYC and when I tried to say good-bye (doe-vizh-da-nay), she said, "We all just say 'ciao'" So, Ciao.

Monday, June 21, 2004

R & R

We've made it to Maine. After leaving Andy in Hatteras, Ian and I headed north to Washington DC and then on to New Jersey to tour my old home town of Cedar Grove. It must have been tremendously exciting for him to see the house I grew up in, the house Doug grew up in, the school I attended, the streets I walked. Wow, the lucky guy. Then we visited NYC and he got to see 'places where I spent my youth'. This time I had to bribe him with a side trip to JR Music but we still enjoyed the visit. A few great farewell meals with old friends and we were on our way north again. My realtor called and told me that there is finally a contract on my home...Yippee!! Now all that has to happen is for the sale to go through and for me to find storage space for all my stuff. My Mustang is safely harbored in the garage here in York Beach and so I guess that, technically, the road trip is over. We still have white water rafting to look forward to on July the 5th and then the flight back to Illinois on the 9th, but the driving is done. We logged almost 2,500 miles with virtually no serious disagreements. I still don't like "Alice in Chains" enough to listen to them for more than five miles, but it wasn't a serious disagreement. All in all it was a great trip and we make a great team.

We arrived in Maine early enough to help Mom & Don open the house. That meant putting in the screens, pulling the porch furniture up from the garage, putting the air conditioners in the windows and generally hauling and lifting. It only took a day and it made us feel useful. Now I'm going to sit porch, when I'm not walking the beach, smoke my cigar and study Bulgarian with a vengeance. After all, I've got to be able to say more than "Please, where is the toilet?" and "Those are very nice melons." Although I'm certain those two phrases will be useful, I hope to add several more in the coming weeks. I'll also work on my packing list and my list of 100 Things To Do Before One Moves To A Foreign Country For Two Years. With the house sold, my only problem is the disposition of my stuff. Sure it's just stuff and not at all valuable, but it's my stuff and I've had some of it for decades. The books alone are so attached to me that it would break their hearts to be sent away. These, however, are problems for another day.

We've made it to Maine and we're doing fine. I want to take full advantage of the next few weeks here to relax and enjoy the beach. At night I can sit up on the Upper Deck and watch the moon light up the sea, it's wonderful here and you should really see it for yourself.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

So Far, So Good

We've (Ian and I) made it to the Nation's Capitol. Well, actually we're in Waldorf, MD, but that's very close to the Nation's Capitol. We spent two very nice days with Andy and left when he had to go back on duty. His place is too small for us to hang out with his roommate and we weren't going to see Andy again until the weekend. So we headed north towards Portsmouth and Yorktown to see if either of my two old high school buddies were around. Neither answered their phones which leads me to believe that they both have caller id. When we couldn't raise them, we changed plans on the spot and drove straight on up towards Washington. We've avoided all the hassle of driving in an unfamiliar city by finding a motel in Waldorf, MD and taking the train downtown. It was almost 100 degrees and the humidity was easily in the high 90's today so it was a perfect day for walking around to see all the touristy sights. We hiked up and down the Mall, going in and out of museums, sweating and seeking shade, seeing the sights and generally enjoying ourselves and finished off the day down at the Lincoln Memorial. I've heard that Bulgarian summers are very similar to this weather. Today we had the luxury of ducking into well airconditioned buildings all over the city, it'll be interesting to see how well I cope with the heat when I can't escape it at will. I wanted to try to find the Peace Corps headquarters but Ian put one very tired foot down and refused to join me.

The driving is going very well with each of us alternating in two hour shifts. We listen to book tapes and encourage each other to remain open minded while listening to our very different cd's. I don't like everything he plays, but he's introduced me to a group or two that I'll add to my iTunes collection. 'Flogging Molly' is an Irish Punk Band that's worth a try.

We're currently in the hotel room with the airconditioner blasting out an artic wind that threatens to induce frostbite. After a day spent marching through a sauna, it feels great.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

On Your Mark

I am officially retired. Ian has officially graduated and Andy has been home this week on official leave. I look around my home and it doesn't seem like I've gotten rid of anything in spite of having taken an entire truckload to a garage sale, had Andy and Ian in to pillage and plunder to their hearts' content, shifted as much stuff off on their mother as she could bear and donated another truckload to the Salvation Army. I've got yet another truckload designated for the St. Vincent DePaul Society and a few more things that are destined for friends and neighbors homes. I've had two storage companies in to give me estimates and realize that being a born packrat has definite disadvantages. After weeding out all the non-essentials from my belongings, the first estimates came in between $350-$500 a month for storage. Believe me, if I hadn't sold my chainsaw at the garage sale I'd be using it to whittle down even more stuff. I'll continue working on downsizing all this coming week and then on Friday, Ian and I will take off on our roadtrip. We'll head down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to visit Andy and then move up the Eastern Seaboard until we hit Maine. I will try laying out all the things I intend to bring with me to Bulgaria before Friday just to get a handle on how much there is and how large a suitcase I need to find. Then for the next three or four weeks I'm just going to enjoy myself and have some fun. I'll try updating this journal and adding photos as we go along just to see if it works.

On Thursday, June 10th I'm going into Chicago for a Peace Corps party/celebration. I think it's sort of a recruiting meeting and I've been invited along with prospective applicants as well as returned volunteers. It should be interesting and it'll be the first contact I've had with the PC since I was invited to Bulgaria. I'm looking forward to getting any information I can scrounge up. I haven't been able to get much of a handle on the state of things in Bulgaria even though I've been in touch with a couple of volunteers currently serving in the country. I gather that most things, internet availability, phones, projects, housing conditions, etc. vary greatly from location to location and you can't predict what your situation will be like until you're almost through with training and have been assigned to a site. I saw in one post or another that the monthly stipend is around 400 Leva a month, which at current exchange rates equals approximately $250. It's a lot more than I expected.

Stay tuned, more to follow on this channel.

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