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Peace Corps
*Peace Corps official page
*Peace Corps writers

Bulgaria
*bulgaria.com
*more BG info
*Sofia City Guide/Bulgaria
*Sofia Echo (English News)
*Omurtag's namesake
*BG Recipes
*Order BG foods and other products online
*LEARN basic bulgarian w/ audio

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*send me a free text message! (click!)
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Stuff
~NaNoWriMo
~McSweeney's
~Learn Any Language Online
~AllRecipies (my online cooking bible)
~PLAY with "Magnetic" Poetry
~Words of Art--choose a letter (for when I'm feeling intellectually deprived/nerdy)

Other Bulgaria PCVs
(this guy seems to have found/linked them all)

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formality: No official stuff here! The opinions, facts, and babbles on this page are the product of my wandering mind and have no official connection to the US Peace Corps.
notes from Bulgaria
Thursday, 3 August 2006
The Sun'll Come out...maybe...one day...
yes, it's early, but I just got into Belgrade (Serbia) on a night train from Ljubljana (Slovenia) and of course the hostel is full until someone wakes up and checks out...it's 8am and not a single person is awake! Such is life in Belgrade.

The cool, rainy weather was a welcome change when I got to Salzburg after a month's scorching heat, but managed to hamper some of my outdoorsy-type activity plans (once I managed to get feeling back in my legs, which I very much did after a day of pampering them), and when I got to Ljubljana in the cold rain, I tried to console myself with thoughts of how sunny the whole trip had been and how much lighter my pack was since I was wearing my jeans and hiking boots...but when the weather reports informed me of cold rain for the rest of the week in Slovenia, I was bummed. Most of the draw of Slovenia was the beautiful mountain and lake areas surrounding the cute but bite-sized capital.

After a day of dragging around in the rain and wandering off of my soggy map and finding my way back again (and going to the WORST art museum possibly in the entire world, with polaroids tacked onto the wall and an entire wing devoted to some architect who designed some blocky communist concrete buildings of the type that have been offending my eyes for more than 2 years now, except she added a slanty roof to one and a splash of color to another--now that's art), I decided that without my rain jacket, my planned trip to the reportedly gorgeous mountain/lake town of Bled would be either boring or miserable. I thought to leave on the night train the next evening, though the decision to skip an adventure bugged me all day and, later, leafing through pamphlets, I decided that I would brave the weather and, forgoing boating and hiking activities I'd been excited for, do a bike tour of the lake regions. The tour company arranged transport and everything...a few hours of biking in the rain with a group of fellow drenched adventurers would be ok...well the next morning I woke up at 7 and excitedly packed my backpack with a dry change of clothes in a plastic bag...but when I went outside to the breakfast room and, incidentally, got wet, I realized that I hadn't even looked out the window. It was pouring. And, yes, thundering. And lightning. And really, really wet.

I ate breakfast slowly, telling myself that if the rain let up even a little by the time I had to go to the pick-up spot, I was still up for the day trip, if they were even still doing it, but, breakfast finished, the sky was still uncompromisingly, miserably, falling in big wet chunks. I cancelled that night's hostel reservation, packed up my bags, and headed out into the city with my little red umbrella.

I didn't feel like the hike to the castle at the city center (seen way too many, and they're all on top of big hills) and didn't feel like going to any of the other "museums," so after some wandering and taking an hour in a restaurant to eat a hot bowl of potato, bean, and sour cabbage soup with my book for company and then a long, warm sit in a cafe with my book and a cappuccino, and no sign of the rain letting up, I happened across a movie theater.

The only movie playing was Pirates of the Carribean, the sequel, and though I'd heard it was awful, so was the weather, and I'd loved the first one. Plus, Johnny Depp. So into the theater (surprisingly nice and huge for a one-screen place) I went...and the movie was awful. But entertaining. (And, Johnny Depp. Though even he was not at his best, for which I fault the flatness of the script.) And by the time it was over it had stopped raining! But there was just enough time to leisurely make my way back to the hostel to grab my things, and catch a train, and sit on a train all night, and here I am in still-gray but warmer Belgrade, babbling babbling, with no place to take a little nap...I'm going to go explore the city then. The hostel has a nice little ancient computer which I'll try to get on some time again before I leave to fill in some more juicy stuff that's managed to escape my harshly reductive (is that a word? I'm thinking in too many languages now, I actually thought I wasn't making it up when I wrote it but now not so sure) summaries.


Posted by jess at 10:05 AM EEST | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Sunday, 30 July 2006
The Hills are Alive...and I am sleepy!
Hello from Salzburg, land of the Sound of Music! The hills and lakes around here are gorgeous, as anyone who's seen the movie might guess, but the weeks of travel have been accumulating and I'm just exhausted...so for the first time in my travels I gave in and got the "Salzburg Card," which includes cable cars to the tops of several mountains so I can give my poor, throbbing legs a break and still see all there is to see. I feel like a wimp, but sometimes you've just got to pamper yourself. At first I thought that the 3 days I had planned in this city were too much, and that I'd have to find a day trip somewhere--there are plenty of options and I just couldn't choose!--but now I'm glad that I can take my time today and tomorrow and squeeze in lazy things like a river cruise (free with my Salzburg card), a classical concert that is part of the Salzburg festival, and take things generally slower, ie relax in front of video installations in the art museums that I usually would be too much in a hurry to sit through. (I just watched most of a video documentary on Tina Barney, a renowned photographer, that was playing along with her exhibition at the modern art museum, and I stayed til the end half because it actually was fascinating to see the development of the project that was displayed, and partially because there was no one else in the room and I could just sit, massaging my feet and calves and at the same time feel like I was doing something worthwhile.)

This Salzburg card thing is fabulous because in addition to spending the same amount on entrance fees and transportation fees, I can get extra perks for free, like a guided tour through the next museum I plan to hit...it's at the top of a mountain, so of course I will swipe my card for a free lift up. My feet love this thing.

I still have tons to tell, if I remember correctly I haven't talked about any of Anya's visit, so there's Vienna (fabulous museums, wine country bike tour and wine-tasting, wish I had spent more time there!), Prague (fun, rowdy, but so overhyped that it was sort of a letdown), Budapest (baths and massages, ah...and more castles)...from there everyone left me and I went on to conquer Bratislava on my own (small, cute, immaculate, with fun sculptures like a guy in a manhole and a woman on a trapeze crossing the street above your head). But for now I have 2 more minutes, so I'll leave you with the taste of Salzburg (it tastes a little like pretzels) where the youth hostels all show The Sound of Music daily (yes, I watched it last night). Tomorrow after my boat cruise I think I'll rent a bike (after our biking tour tour in Vienna, I realized that bikes are fun) and ride a little along the river and through some parks. Then probably a few more Mozarty things, you can't get away from him in this town. Internet time's up!


Posted by jess at 3:42 PM EEST | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Wednesday, 26 July 2006
inadaquate catchup part 1
Budapest is quickly becoming the most diverse stop on our trip, mostly because without meaning to we have stayed here for 5 days. By diverse I mean including going out to bars with 18-year-old British boys, which is something I haven't done in about 7 years.

There's lots to catch up on--Anya traveled with us for 2 weeks to Vienna, Prague, a cute little Czech town (with bed bugs!) called Chesky Krumlov, and, of course, Budapest, and left early yesterday morning.

When I last wrote, I promised a description of the Croatian national park, Plitvice. This is, luckily, and with reason, one of the few places I can remember in detail and still distinguish from all the other places we've been (Sam and I have been playing the "what country was that in? Albania, no, Croatia, no..." game way too often) though I won't remember any of the technical details (park size, number of waterfalls) and my guide book is not within reach. This place is incredible. A park set around the bluest lakes and waterfalls you could imagine (bluer, yes, than the windows toolbar on this computer!) with trails and wooden bridges winding all through and boats that take you across the lakes (included in park admission) and fish that just hang out close to the banks, watching. We could have spent the whole day there, but we had to catch an afternoon bus back to Zagreb. If you're ever thinking about a Croatian holiday (and I would DEFINITELY recommend Croatia for a summer getaway), this place is worth a day trip or an overnight stay.

From there we continued to Graz, a small town in southern Austria (in the region confusingly called Upper Austria) from which Arnold Schwarzenegger hails--you can even go visit the gym where he lifted his first weights (we didn't). We spent the evening seeing the town and the next morning went to see the nearby Lurgrotte caves with enormous, dripping stalactites and stalagmites in rainbows of colors. Inside of the cave a sculptor installed a pair of hands reaching towards each other with Michelangelo's Adam and God's hands in mind, thinking that over time they would continue to reach towards each other, like stalactites and -mites--he didn't realize that this would take thousands of years, so there still pretty much just hands. It's actually kind of creepy, but the cave was neat. And cold. And German. The tour I mean.

Then it was back to the town for the afternoon, where we saw the wooden Glockenspiel dancers twirl around when the clock struck 3 (very anticlimactic)and where I went to a wacky contemporary art museum in a building that looks somewhat like a slug decked out in unlit Christmas lights (the locals apparently call it the "friendly alien) while Sammy went for a walk, and then off to Vienna.

And that's all I got for now because we're going on a chocolate hunt. But I think I'll be able to write more tonight. I'm certainly not going out with those British boys again.


Posted by jess at 12:27 PM EEST | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Monday, 10 July 2006
Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia (I'm not feeling very imaginative)
Wrote this very quickly yesterday and it wouldn't post, it's the best I've got--I don't feel very inspired in internet cafes. Now sending it from the hostel, I'll try to catch up to present day at the end of the entry, we'll see if I can find the patience!

I'm writing from an internet cafe in Zagreb where the keyboards are a little bit interesting. A quick recap of my past few weeks, I have 20 min. I think I last wrote about Tirana. From there we crossed the border to Montenegro, which is a fabulous sea resort-ish country that isn't too resorty--yet. Not too much English-speaking there, but we got around ok with a combo of that and Bulgarian, which is very similar--we being my sister and I and the 2 other volunteers from my group we met up with. There were all kinds of water sports and tons of things to do, we ended up renting a kayak and kayaking to a little island just a half hour across the sea--I loved it, even if not all of the company did! I,ve always loved kayaking but it was the first time kayaking on the sea, which I made a mental note to do again. From there we continued on a night bus that got in at 4am to Sarajevo (the bus station said, in Cyrillic, "Serbian Sarajevo," and that, combined with the fact that we were the only ones to get off the bus, even if it was the time that we were supposed to get there and everyone assured us "yes, yes, sarajevo," left us a little unsettled, unsure whether we had made it to the right place. Luckily the lone cab driver standing by assured us in Bosnian that he knew where our hostel is, and he did drop us off at the right address--though there was no hostel sign and nothing but unfamiliar last names marked on the door...after some wandering the streets with the sun rising, we found a friendly young English speaker whose friends call him Shumi (after Shumacker) who has no job or interests and stays up all night in his friend?s internet cafe playing video games. Deciding that some pretty female tourists in need might be a welcome diversion, he spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out (eventually successfully) where our hostel was (it was right where the cab dropped us off, unmarked) and how we could get in (you finally find the owner's mobile number and wait for him to come in a very slow taxi). Shumi spontaneously showed up at the door again later that evening with some friends, of course, to take us out for drinks. We'd heard that nightlife is pretty big in Sarajevo, but it seemed like everyone was home watching the world cup.

Still, Sarajevo wins for most interesting city so far. It's a beautiful city riddled with bullet holes and bombed-out buildings--and despite this still full of character that it managed to hold onto or to rebuild. It is definitely the most fascinating place I think we've been to on this trip. Every few blocks you'll see some indentations on the sidewalk filled with red paint--these "Sarajevo roses" are monuments to people who died in that spot.

From Sarajevo we went to Mostar to see the famous bridge (the bridge itself is unimpressive except for its symbolism, but the river itself is the most beautiful blue that I didn't think a river could be) and we watched a speedo-ed dude collecting money in a hat until he had ˝enough˝ to jump off the bridge...and then on to Croatia, which we are leaving tomorrow but my time is almost up (it takes a little longer on this keyboard) so I'm going to try to write a little more tonight in the hostel. Or soon.) Til then!

Well, it's tomorrow, and so as not to be a liar Ićll write whatever I can summon the patience for--computers make me very impatient when Ićm on vacation (though every time I see someone with a laptop, I wish I had mine!)

We're leaving Zagreb today for Graz, a small town in Austria on the way to Vienna--meeting Anya in Vienna on the 12th!!!!! But first I must give a quick update of the coast of Croatia, which I was maybe most excited for. From Bosnia we went to Dubrovnik in Croatia, which is famous for its "walled city"--great white fortress walls stretching around the old town, beautiful in the sunlight and gorgeous under the moon. Dubrovnik's also got a few pebbly beaches and lots of water sports, so of course this is where I put in my plea for a half-day kayaking outing. 5 of us set out in kayaks (our numbers kept changing as we met up with and parted with other volunteers along the way)--the real, no-joke kayaks with the spray skirts that are a little less stable, but what a difference in how they glide through the water! We paddled around the island of Lokrum, past the nude beaches (first the over 60 nude beaches, then the under 60 ones!) and landed on the other side where we got to play with the snorkel gear that the company lent us. As we were heading out that evening we didn't have time for the full-day tour (I would have loved it, though Sam would have screamed) so we paddled back to the beach and headed out. Here's where Sam and I parted ways with the other volunteers and took an evening bus to another coastal town called Split.

But how could I forget the 4th of July! At that point there were 6 of us and we had a house rented in Dubrovnik, a perfect spot for a party with a decent kitchen setup for cooking. After much debate (we were going to make veggie burgers since half of us were vegetarians, but decided to go for an easier option...) we set the menu to be eggplant parm, pasta salad, fruit salad and whipped cream, and of course, chocolate cake and ice cream! By the time everything was done it was 10:00, but we ate and drank (and sang a little) throught the night. It was very patriotic. And the next day we had eggplant parm sandwiches and pasta salad in a plastic bag squished into our drybags in the backs of our kayaks for lunch on the island.

So, Split. Famous for Diocletian's Palace, which is cool. (Visual: Jess's patience for typing waning.) We spent a day exploring the city, a day exploring a nearby island (Sam ran into a friend of hers from school on the ferry, small world!), and then took a night bus to Zagreb, which turned out to be a much cuter city than I expected. Also there's a yummy vegetarian restaurant, a huge plus. But the highlight was the day trip we took yesterday to Plitvice National Park, which was so beautiful that it deserves to be at the beginning of my next entry, when my typing-in-public-places patience is at its still-not-so-high max.


Posted by jess at 10:28 AM EEST | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Tuesday, 27 June 2006
Jess&Sam in Tirana
If I were to ask myself 10 or 5 years ago, or even last year, where I would be x years from now, I would not dream of answering Tirana, Albania. And yet here I am, sister in tow (she's been done with the internet for ages and is reading a book. we just had an incident asking where the bathroom was because it's quite an unpronounceable word in this very unique language, I had to whip out my phrasebook and point, we've been doing a lot of pointing, nodding, and grinnning in this country--luckily I've gotten used to nodding for yes and shaking my head for no in Bulgaria, they do that here, too. Also they don't know much English but like Italian, so I've been throwing around some Spanish...tomorrow when we get to Montenegro, and then from there onto other Slavic-speaking countries, we should be able to get around just fine using Bulgarian...)

I'm going to give just a quick brief of our trip since I've already been sitting at the computer for an hour and a half making reservations and that sort of stuff and am runnnig out of patience for this sticky keyboard and the girl puffing away at her cigarette beneath the no smoking sign.

So after a blowout goodbye party, and all-night packing marathon, and a sad bus-station-farewell, I met my sister in Sofia and we took off on a night train to Thessaloniki, Greece (smallish, hippish, youngish city, could go on about it's fascinating history as long-time "2nd Jerusalem," etc...another time), a day in Meteora (impressive monastaries on high cliffs--though nothing to rival the landscape of Cappadocia!), skimmed across the north of Greece to Corfu, a fun, touristy, overpriced island with winding streets of restaurants and cafes over the sea--I think my sister's favorite so far and our jumping-off point to Albania (25 min by ferry!) From Corfu we took the boat to Saranda, Albania, which is a cute little beach town currently also a construction nightmare, skeletons of huge geometric hotels and apartment complexes everywhere and the hum of the jackhammer so constant that you forget it's there. Still I think this has been my favorite town so far, there's something impressive about a seaside town so anxious to remake itself, and in pastels, too! A day trip to Butrint, a woodsy, UNESCO protected penninsula-ish town of archeological ruins and the hugest bugs (yes, live) you'll ever see. Then a winding, slightly sickening ride to the UNESCO protected town of Girokastra, the birthplace of communist dictator Hoxha (Hodja) and one of two places he protected as a museum town (everything else he basically demolished.) A tiny, quiet, pretty town of steep hills, patterned cobblestones, and fortified old whitewashed houses with gray stone shingles. And a fortress with the shell of a US army jet that had made a crash landing. More fabulous facts about Albania for another time. For now we are in Tirana, the town the mayor (a painter himself til he got caught up in the political game) had painted everywhere with fun blocks, stripes, and swirls of color to give the city a little cheer, an attempt, probably, to symbolize a progress he's working at behind the scenes. On tomorrow (early!) to Montenegro, the newest country in the world! (Though I haven't read the papers in a week and a half, who knows these days!)

So far, it's strange to talk about my BG experience in the past tense, but I'm slowly getting used to it and excited to be an American in America again very soon. That's all for now, more quick updates as we go! Dinnertime--Italian food here is a thousand times better than in Buglaria :)


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Thursday, 15 June 2006
hot off the presses
Too much to say to even begin. Luckily someone else began for me, and I just have to translate.


"American Falls in Love with Omurtag"
by Mariana Tosheva, Trud (newspaper), June 15, 2006
translation and notes by: me.

With banitsa [traditional greasy bready thing], shopska salad [traditional salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and feta cheese], yogurt [Bulgaria’s pride], and a sip of rakiya [the national alcohol of choice], Jessica Goldberg’s friends from Omurtag will send her off on June 20. [it’s really the 18th, but who’s counting?]

The 25-year-old Peace Corps volunteer spent two years in the town. Jessica works as an English teacher in the local high school, Simeon Velchev.

"Here I feel at home. I even think in Bulgarian. When I woke up from anesthesia after an operation, the first words I said were Bulgarian," says Jessica. Now she says that she will miss our country with its beautiful towns and nature.

The young American is impressed by how many holidays we have and how people know how to have a good time, to appreciate every moment with their friends without hurrying anywhere. On her birthday two months ago more than 30 people gathered, while in America parties are more formal. [I didn't make that exact comparison, but it's definitely the biggest birthday party I've had where everyone was a friend (i.e. without random people showing up just for the beer).]

On her part, Jess continually repeats to her Bulgarian friends that they have to change their way of thinking. "I hear that something won’t happen more often than I hear that it has to happen."

For now, Jessica doesn’t know where she’ll go after Omurtag. In the near future she plans to study for a PhD in literature.

She’s already been to Israel and to Scotland, but she wants to return to Bulgaria. In the states she intends to seek Bulgarians with whom she can speak our language and keep in contact with our country.

[color photo included, yay]


Posted by jess at 6:12 PM EEST | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Friday, 9 June 2006
Omurtag Day
(wrote this one 2 days ago, June 7)

Just about every town in Bulgaria has a special town day, except that in the past Omurtag would just choose a day every year to throw a little party and consider it done. Finally, this year, under the admittedly fantastic leadership of my former school director who now heads up the cultural programs for the municipality, Omurtag has an official town day--a day chosen to coincide with the date on which Alexander Alexandrov, Bulgaria's second astronaut who just happens to be from Omurtag, set off on his journey to the cosmos 18 years ago. Sasho, as we call him, was of course here to help us innaugurate the big day.

As if the first ever official town holiday isn't enough excitement, things truly get electrifying when you stir in the presentation of the brand new Flag of Omurtag.

A marching band and baton twirlers from Gorna Oriahovitsa, about an hour's drive away, was called in to help us celebrate the occasion. They were very good, even when they decided to try to dance a flamenco-like dance to some Spanish song that I can't remember the name of. They also danced with pompons to a traditional horo song, which I found very amusing.

So the astronaut congratulated the town, some guy who wrote a song about Omurtag came out to sing it, and then some priests came out to bless the flag. (These priests had to be called from Targovishte, since Omurtag's priest, the one who would walk around talking to his shovel and his empty whiskey bottle--see entry for Easter 2005--drowned himself in the lake about a month ago.)

I always find it fascinating that priests are always called to bless something for official town ceremonies, student graduations, etc. Especially since Omurtag, with a population of just about all ethnic Turkish and Roma, is no more than 10% Christian. I've gotten used to it and I know it's just a tradition that's ingrained here and that everyone accepts, but I decided to ask some of my colleagues about it just to see what sort of conversation it would start.

"Why do priests bless the flag when hardly anyone in this town in Christian?"

"They just do. The flag needs to be blessed, so the priests bless it."

"But not a single person holding the flag that the priest is blessing is Christian, and hardly anyone watching is, either."

"That's just what they do. We're used to it."

(At this point the priest had finished his blessing and was walking around the entire square dipping a small, leafy branch called zdravets into a pail of holy water and then shaking it at the crowd. We were standing towards the back, to far away to be thus blessed.)

"Did you know that in America, official ceremonies aren't supposed to involve religion? Church and state aren't supposed to mix."

"Why? Is it because when things are supposed to be official, they don't want silly things like religion to interfere?"

Heh. Almost. (I decided it was wise to stay away from discussion of the happy holidays and pledge of allegiance fiascos, etc.) "No, no, no, it's one of the founding principals of America. Religious freedom. To the extreme."

"Well Americans are mostly Catholics anyways. Catholics are stricter, it's probably because of that."

"I don't think any of that is true, but...well..."

"Hey, do you want to go to the market now? I need to buy some underwear."

"Ok."

"Ok."

That was that conversation. There's supposed to be a concert outside later but it's thunderstorming now and we no longer have an indoor theater because the private owners decided to turn it into something mysterious and no one quite knows what but it's been under construction since fall--so tonight's events may sadly be cancelled. Then I was invited to this official cocktail tonight for people who had a part in "culture week"--my play was part of that.

I'm writing a final exam right now, and my 11th graders have been pretty stressed out/whiney so I decided that instead of putting the text at the end of their exam that I was going to put, I would write them a little story that is admittedly below their reading level. It goes like this:

Once upon a time, there was an American who came to Bulgaria to teach students to speak English. She liked most of her students very much and thought they were very smart, but some of them were very noisy and made it difficult for anyone to learn. At the end of the year, they took a big test to see how much they had learned. Most of the students did very well—although the test was a little bit harder for the students who rarely came to class. It was especially easy, however, for the students who did not come to class at all, not even on the day of the test. At the end of the test, instead of putting a very difficult text, the teacher wrote a very short and very simple story. It began "Once upon a time, there was an American who came to Bulgaria to teach students to speak English…"

Then there's five silly questions at the end, including do you like the teacher in the story? Why or why not? Heh. School here is a joke anyways, and I amuse myself.

Oh, so, the play! The play!

Where do I start? Basically I am just glad it's over. I don't feel as proud of it as I guess I should because every step of the way was such a frustration that I'm just glad it's done. I can't even say that most of the actors gave it their all; I guess two years hasn't been enough for me to get used to the concept of volunteering to do something such as act in a play and rather than give it everything you've got, give it just enough so that it can be done in a satisfactory way. And it was satisfactory. Of course only I know how it could have been if we had rehearsed a little more, and if I had been able to convince the students that acting is more than just knowing your lines. But from the view of someone who didn't sit through the whole process, I think the play was a success. And it was. I guess.

Such a list of frustrations from the day of the play, a full day of running around, battling with paper and tape and thumb tacks and glue in the wind (the school handyman quit and so I was left with a few students to try to put the scenery together in the wind because it's too big to assemble inside), fighting with my director about this, that, and the other thing (I think I actually offended him this time, but he has no idea how much he's offended me during this whole process, so I see it more as a much-needed venting session. Oh and did I mention that three of my actors were at a badminton tournament until 45 minutes before the play started? (We realized this conflict three days before the play and the director tried to get me to find 3 backup actors--when I insisted it wouldn't be possible with this population he insisted I play the lead role because I have endless amounts of free time to learn thirty pages of Bulgarian "what, oh now you're shy?"--I was finally able to convince him it was a horrible idea.)


Oh and we (I) made programs to sell and baked stuff for a bake sale (3 of the girls also baked) to sell to the audience, which they think is so funny ("just like Americans do in the movies!") to raise money for a cast party afterwards. But we couldn't find anyone to sell them. Out of 250 students in our school, not a single kid (or teacher) agreed, so when the people started coming, I started selling, though I really needed to be with my actors...luckily after some more fighting with my director "No, even Americans are not capable of doing ten things at once, though I think today I've been doing at least 9..." I finally found some sympathetic friends to take up the sales for me so I could go give the nervous actors their pep talk, and we were able to raise enough to take the entire cast out afterwards.

There were probably a few hundred people in the audience and, considering their motivation and preparation levels, the kids were great. Do you want to know what my director's compliments were at the end of the play this time? It's actually a thousand more times complimentary than last time because it involves a tad of positivity: "See, you kept getting worried over nothing, but it was fine."

I actually have had some nice compliments from some of the other teachers, which is good. And several people said that they would never ever have the patience to work with these kids, which also made me feel accomplished. One of my friends who sold the baked goods for me said to me after "There were boys in the play! I didn't know there were boys! I thought there were just girls--how did you manage to work with the boys? They're impossible!" Almost impossible, but, then again, look! We did it! Possible. I guess it's not such a minor accomplishment after all. And it's over with.

The next night (last night) we had tickets to see Neil Simon's The Odd Couple in Targovishte, which seemed like a very good play, except I sat next to Spassova and she kept whispering to me and between her whispering and asking questions and the people around us yelling at her to stop whispering, I didn't quite get that lose-yourself-in-the-drama feel. We have tickets for some Woody Allen something or other, it wasn't quite clear (but I don't think Woody Allen will actually be present for the performance) next Monday. It's all so dramatic.

And now I'm going back to writing my final final exam.


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Sunday, 4 June 2006
Why I don't order pasta in ordinary Bulgarian restaurants, and other brief but important things

Final exams to write, essays to grade, cakes to bake, the play's tomorrow, haven't had one rehearsal with full attendance in 3 weeks, spent 4 hours fixing up the play program that the kids were supposed to make, apartment's a mess (at least that's not new), errands to run and bags to pack. Looking forward to being scolded by everyone who keeps telling me how they would run things better tomorrow when the play isn't quite up to par. Like to see just one of them just try with these kids. It's all so easy.

And my cousin's getting married today! Without me there! Anyways congrats Diana!!!!

And I figured out why they don't eat lasagna here. Because all of the baking pans are circular. Just doesn't work.

My final contribution to Bulgaria should be to invent lasagna in the shape of pizza slices. To fit the pans. But they'd just overcook it til it's mushy anyways, that's how they like their pasta, cooked til it falls apart.


Posted by jess at 11:36 AM EEST | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Frank Sinatra Almost Made Me Cry

With less than three more weeks here, the ends are beginning. Today was my last adult class for Intermediates, and the last Elementary class is tomorrow. The final song in the Intermediate textbook (yes we have fabulous textbooks with fabulous songs, thanks to last year's project) was My Way, by Frank Sinatra. And while the cassette tape was playing and my students were glued to the words, struggling to understand them and sometimes succeeding, I started to get nostalgiac. And so I will copy/paste the lyrics right here:

My Way, by Frank Sinatra

And now, the end is near,
And so I face the final curtain.
My friends, I'll say it clear;
I'll state my case of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life that's full -
I've travelled each and every highway.
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Regrets? I've had a few,
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course -
Each careful step along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew,
When I bit off more than I could chew,
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way.

I've loved, I've laughed and cried,
I've had my fill - my share of losing.
But now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.

To think I did all that,
And may I say, not in a shy way -
Oh no. Oh no, not me.
I did it my way.

For what is a man? What has he got?
If not himself - Then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way.

Yes, it was my way.

--

The only thing that doesn't apply is the theme of the song, the my way part. If I were to rewrite this song to describe exactly the way I feel right now about the last two years, I wouldn't have to change a word except the "my" in "my way. Instead of "My Way" I would say "A little bit my way and a little bit your (or their, depending on whom I would decide to address the song to) way and sometimes we found a better way and sometimes we didn't, but always--or almost always--we found a way." Except that wouldn't sound very good, which is why I'm not a songwriter and Sinatra was.

Tomorrow's final song for my Elementary students is "Leaving on a Jet Plane." I don't know if I'll be able to hold back the tears this time!

Meanwhile, the projects keep on moving along. I think I finally gained some respect from the most rascally of my actors today, and this is how I know:

There's this one ninth grader who has recently decided that it is purely hysterical to repeatedly tap me on the right shoulder while standing to my left (and vice-versa), which of course after the first few times I obviously caught on to and either ignored him or looked in his direction to make a face at him or say "haha." (This is after he got bored of standing next to me and imitating my every move, he's moving up in the world.) Well today instead of ignoring his antics, after he tapped me on the right shoulder and ran to my left, I looked to the left and then tapped HIM on the left...which is the direction he looked in. Gotcha. Well of course this is nothing exciting or even worth repeating...except that's not what the 10th grade boys thought. Once one started "Did you see what she just did?" and repeated the whole complex sequence of events to his friend, who laughed and repeated it to the next boy...Well, I've never been a 16-year-old boy so it's taken me a while, but I guess I've figured out how to capture their attention and respect. Hm. If only I had a whoopie cushion. Anyways there are just a few more days left of rehearsals until the big day!

I might have mentioned earlier at some point that as one of my final projects/gifts to the community, I started translating some recipes that I've made for colleagues and friends and neighbors over the years. The plan is to print them out and distribute them before I leave. Well I've got so much to do and so little time, AND my students are clamoring for extra credit...Big 100 watt light bulb!! Make my most advanced class translate the recipes for me! For extra credit of course. So tomorrow they will each be given 2 recipes each for translation--to be delivered on disk, of course. A friend from my adult course suggested an additional scheme that I fully intend to implement: the translation itself is for the equivalent of a B. For an A, they have to actually make one of their recipes and bring it to class. Mmmm! And on that delicious note, I'm off on my eternal (but not so eternal! only for a few more weeks!) race to take a shower and wash my dishes before the water turns off.


Posted by jess at 8:28 PM EEST | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Friday, 26 May 2006
there's a megapede in my kitchen

(written yesterday, published today for the usual technical reasons)
I'm off from work today and tomorrow (and yesterday, sort of) for alphabet day, which is a fabulous idea for a holiday. More technically known as "Saints Kyril and Metodi Day," for the creators of the Cyrillic alphabet, Cyril and Methodius (allegedly Bulgarians), the day is used to celebrate education. This year was the biggest celebration the town's seen in years. Fourteen schools from Omurtag and the surrounding villages gathered in the morning and marched towards the square. In true Bulgarian fashion, the streets were semi-blocked off, allowing cars to pass, sometimes. Everyone in the town gathered around as one by one the schools marched from the streets around and into the square, waving our flags. When the marching was done, the organized singing and dancing by schoolkids that accompanies every major town holiday commenced. I stayed just long enough to shake all the obligatory hands and then headed home since it was the same exact stuff that I'd been watching for two years and I hadn't eaten breakfast yet.

At noon there was the mayor's banquet, at which the directors and a few teachers from each school were invited to eat, but more teachers than were invited came so of course there wasn't enough food, but of course there was enough drink.

Then I went on a picnic with some friends and we built a bonfire and roasted meat on a stick, which of course I didn't eat, and since apparently a Bulgarian picnic automatically includes a bonfire everyone thought I understood we were cooking. Now that I know these things, I will be sure to bring some veggies to roast at the next picnic, which will probably happen on Saturday since the weather has finally gotten picnicky.

So meanwhile I was home for most of the day today trying to sort out my apartment, putting things in suitcases to take home, garbage bags to give away, garbage bags to throw away. And cleaning my kitchen. In my kitchen there's this ugly rug which I left there because the floor under it is even uglier and because I have nowhere else to put it. Today I decided, for the first time since before the winter, if I remember correctly (give me a break, my kitchen was so cold for 6 or 7 months and there's no room to do anything in it except put things on the stove or in the midget fridge, I most often just used the standalone burner in my bedroom which is where space constraints force me to do all the prep work anyways--either there or balancing the cutting board on the edge of the sink, which unfailingly leads to spillages only when I'm chopping mass quantities of veggies into very small pieces) I decided to clean under the rug.

Well when I picked up the rug to shake it out, I hear something hard clunk to the floor. And there on the speckled brown linolium is a grey, curled up something-apede, about the size of a fist.

Ok yes I tend to exaggerate for effect but the problem is that this THING is too big to fit inside the standard-sized tube of my trusty vacuum cleaner, and even if it weren't, the sound of this cold hard dead for half a year thing clinking up the metal tube of my faithful bug-eater is just too much for me. Plus then I'd have to empty the vacuum bag later. EEEEEEEEEEW. I actually had a several minute long shivering attack, while thinking of ways to get rid of it that do not include touching it, even with a wad of an entire pack of tissues.

I'm about to go out to the cafe with some friends in a little bit and I've decided that the only possible option is to bring someone back with me who will do the dirty deed for me.

Now that that's solved (I keep imagining that this giant beast will disappear before we get back, and daily searching my bed and under my feet for this cold gray monster, eeeeek), we can move on to more pleasant things, so how fabulous is it that one of the most well-respected newspapers in America (NYTimes) can ask several hundred prominent people an admittedly ridiculous question and report not only the results but foster ongoing discussion about the ridiculous nature of the question itself??

What do YOU think is the best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years?

The winner is, not all that surprisingly, Beloved by Toni Morrison. But far more fascinating than that is the discussion surrounding the topic, because what defines "best" and what defines "fiction" and what even defines "published in the last 25 years,"and is this even a good practice--to be selecting one book of millions that, as is the practice of history, might be far overshadowed in the next 50 years by something that has yet to be discovered as great?

And where are the people that actually want to have this conversation with me? This is why I am applying to grad school, and not continuing to live in Omurtag, Bulgaria.

So while I was in Sofia last week for my final official meetings and doctor's appointments, I got to hang out with a few other volunteers, which was fun, but then when I saw that the Theater of Tears and Laughter was putting on Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf one night, I had to go see it. Alone of course, while the others went to see V for Vendetta, and we met after for Indian food. The play was fabulous, except it was very funny when they sang the "Who's afraid of the big bad wolf" song in English of course, and the actress, who clearly did not speak English, kept saying "oolf"--it was very cute. The problem is that you have to know English to get the significance of it in the play, but the performance was still very impressive. I guess I take the ability to do this sort of thing, to go to museums and plays and art galleries, all of which I did (by myself) in Sofia for granted, until I live in Omurtag, and then when I get out I remember a world that I almost forgot existed. And that I want to live in again! Very, very soon.

(Of course I've done all I can to try to bring some of that to Omurtag, and we've got just a week of rehearsals left before our huge play presentation, but unfortunately since they've already performed the play once for the school they don't believe that they need to rehearse anymore, and don't come to rehearsals. Meanwhile the director is telling me every day that the play has to be perfect and I have to remind the students to do this and do that and not do this and not do that and, well, I still think it will be...great.)

**

So I wrote this yesterday but first the internet wasn't working and then the Angelfire webpage wasn't working but now it's all working and the giant dead wormy thing is still in my kitchen because after the cafe we went to watch a movie and I didn't remember the beast that I was coming home to until I walked into the building entrance...and cringed...so after work today (their work, not mine, 3 days of no school to celebrate "education," hahaha) I will be calling someone to rid me of this thing, meanwhile, the kitchen door remains CLOSED.


Posted by jess at 9:47 AM EEST | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post

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