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

Thursday, May 11, 2006

We Start Work At 8:30!

I tend to be fairly punctual. I show up on time and appreciate it when others do the same. Yesterday, however, I was late for work. In fact, I was over an hour late for work. But I have an excuse.

I was walking to work in a great mood. The weather was gorgeous and I was actually whistling as I went along. It was one of those beautiful Spring days when the sun was out and the morning air was crisp and clean. I was wearing a light jacket and jeans and, as I walked, I was thinking about my sons' upcoming visit. Then something hit my head.

It wasn't a thought because a thought wouldn't have been so viscuous and gooey. A thought would have been less tangible than the very tangible thing that hit my head and oozed down into my hair. No, the thing that hit my head was more on the order of very tangible birdshit. I can't swear that it was from a bird, judging from the size of the mess, it might have been from a small winged hippopotamus.

When I felt the 'thing' hit my hair, my reaction was to put my hand up to feel around to identify the 'thing'. I suspect you might have reacted similarly and now I understand how a wolverine can be induced to chew off its own paw. All I'll say on the subject is that when I saw the mess on my hand and realized what was spread like a beanie across my head, I stopped whistling and the day lost a lot of its luster. I ran back home, jumped into the shower and began to shampoo the real poo out of my hair. For almost an hour, I had to fight off the urge to shave my head. Then I very calmly got dressed and went to work.

My colleagues were in a great mood when I arrived at the office because we have finally acquired our first paying client! This was a banner occasion and called for an out-of-office celebration. We are contacted by many foreign companies seeking information or assistance regarding moving to Bulgaria in general and Stara Zagora in particular. We do the research and send back our replies, we set up contacts, agendas, hotel reservations and meetings. We escort visitors around and translate for them during their meetings. We negotiate on their behalf. We do all this without any compensation from anyone. REDA lives off of its ability to acquire EU funding for specific projects and when we don't acquire projects during a cycle, we don't receive any income. We are not supported by the government on any level, local, regional or national. Our objective is to become self-sustainable and wean ourselves from our dependence on grant money.

As a first step towards achieving this independence, we have developed list of services that we are uniquely qualified to offer and a modest fee schedule to go along with them. Now, when we're contacted by foreign companies seeking information, we send back a complimentary first general reply and then offer to represent them locally and send along our standard fee schedule. My colleagues were, initially, concerned when most of the companies receiving the fee schedule didn't contact us again. I kept trying to explain that these companies were only interested in having us do an enormous amount of work for them if they didn't have to pay for it. The world is filled with 'customers' like that and you only stay in business if you avoid them. We offer a genuine value to companies through our network of contacts and our top to bottom knowledge of the region. We have the ability to provide in-depth research on any issue of interest to a foreign investor more accurately and in far less time than they can do for themselves. I have been convincing my colleagues that we should only expend our efforts on behalf of companies who recognize our worth.

A British firm has decided to build a Health Spa in our Region and to surround it with a development of new single family houses. They have paid us for all the work we've done on their behalf to date and asked us to represent them throughout the entire project. It's hard to describe how excited we are about this. I even began to whistle again.

I began this entry over two weeks ago and then my sons arrived and then my parents arrived and then my sons left and now I'm showing my folks around. And then the dog ate my homework.

One final observation. When Andy and Ian were here we noticed that we walk differently than most Bulgarians. We tend to walk quickly to wherever we're going. We talk along the way, but we don't waste time or steps. The purpose of walking out to TechnoMarket, for example, is to get to TechnoMarket. Bulgarians stroll. They amble, wander and mosey. Young women walk arm in arm and speak to each other in whispers. Old men also walk along arm in arm and re-live old battles won or lost. Periodically, all Bulgarian walkers stop and have conversations that require the participants to be stationary. We hammer along from A to B with the objective of arriving as soon as possible. For Bulgarians, the getting there is half the fun. I've noticed this as I've rushed past most of the population of Stara Zagora on my very important missions to get to one place or another. There are roses in full bloom on every vine in the city and I haven't bothered to appreciate a one of them. So, I have made a promise to myself to slow it down and to be more Bulgarian in my getting from A to B. I intend to literally stop and smell a few roses along the way.

The only apparent drawback to this is that is makes me a much easier target...say, are those large birds flying this way?!

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