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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
Sunday, 14 May 2006
Apparently I started writing an entry a week and change ago and never posted it. It just doesn't feel relevant anymore, so we're moving on. Where are we moving on to? To the MacMillian English Dictionary top 40 new words of 2005:

01 McLibel
02 Asbo
03 dental spa
04 deshopper
05 Chelsea tractor
06 dooced
07 greenwash
08 warchalking
09 Blackberry thumb
10 She-pee
11 nanopublishing
12 spim
13 wardrobe malfunction
14 zombie
15 half-birthday
16 stage-phoning
17= supersize
17= Whovian
19 gay bomb
20 ubersexual
21 ICE number
22 extended financial family
23 pre-heritance
24 ambush marketing
25= podcasting
26 homeshoring
27 Timbledon
28 googolplex
29 fanfic
30 seachanger
31 mystery worshipper
32 dog whistle politics
33 healthspan
34 gripesite
35 infomania
36 speed networking
37 cage diving
38 7/7
39 awareness band
40 wiki

for definitions click here.

Some of them already seem kind of old, I don't know why it took me so long to find this fabulous list. I'm sure there are even plenty others like it but unfortunately I don't have the time to look.

Well the weather is finally springy today after about a hundred months of winter, and I'm at home and not sitting inside of my sleeping bag for the first time since August. I'm supposed to be going for a short hike now, but a friend just called to say we're leaving and I insisted on an extra 20 minutes because I know that if I don't finish this entry now I won't find the time to sit down and finish it ever!

Lots of big things have been going on, but they've been maybe too big which is why I'm not particularly in the mood to talk about myself so much. The local radio station interviewed me on Friday, which was fun, even if he kept interrupting me after the first sentence of my answer to ask me a new question. Our school play was Thursday and it was a huge hit, and after putting up with those demon students for four months of rehearsals I felt fabulous, at least until the director succeeded in killing my mood by telling me everything that was wrong with the play, with of course not a single complement woven in. So I'll continue to complement myself and my kids, I think it was terrific! We have it on DVD and the suggestion was made to create a DVD with subtitles, so you English-speakers just might be able to score yourselves a copy of the next big hit. We're acting out our play next as a part of an international culture festival in June--despite my director's tooth-and-nail fighting to keep us off the big stage and have the performance again during the school day, in the school gymnasium, and yet this time it would be "for the town to see" (can you guess how much he believes in the students to do a good job?)--I was able to use my municipality connections to score us an evening slot in the big theater as part of the weeklong festival. Just try to stop us, Mr. Director! The only thing that actually could stop us would be the weather, since the stage is outdoors. And the lack of proper sound equipment to act out a play on a large stage...we'll think of something. I hope. So for those of you who feel like a quick trip to Omurtag, June 5 and 6pm is the time to come! Meanwhile I've just been notified that I'll be acting as the English-Bulgarian-speaking translator and interpreter at this weeklong international festival, since there will be performers (I think it's all song and dance besides us drama kings and queens) from 5 or so countries, including, if I remember correctly, Russia, Turkey, Moldova, Montenegro...probably a few more. Fun! We're trying to do some fundraising for a cast party the evening of the 5th, so I'm thinking now of trying to invite some other groups to hang out with my kids that night. We'll see. Meanwhile I've been dreaming of this play every night since Thursday, literally. It's taking over my life.

So much more to tell, so little time. The afternoon is flying by, I'm going to go climb up to some cave at the top of a mountain.

Posted by jess at 1:30 PM EEST | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Sunday, 26 March 2006

Hey! So I'm now coming out of what has probably been the busiest period of my entire life. For the last month or so I have been spending every spare second doing something. Which is good. But it also leads to unhealthy eating patterns, chronic bloodshot eyes, and neglect of other important things in life such as friends and internet blogs.

But I finished this ridiculous grant proposal (!), am making progress with play practices, and am basically on top of things, depending of course on what angle you're looking at these things from. I'm leaving early tomorrow for my Close of Service conference (!!) in a town called Bankia, not far from Sofia, for a week. Then I'm coming back to celebrate my birthday (!!!) with friends--I'm thinking of cooking Mexican food for everyone on Saturday before going out to the disco or the karaoke bar in Targovishte, then leaving probably Sun night for Turkey for spring break. THEN Passover starts the following Wednesday, and I decided that since I have more vacation days than I can use, I'm going to take the whole week off. So...THREE weeks vacation! I feel so...releived. Except that I get back on Saturday and have to spend the day stressed out cleaning my apartment which I hate and cooking which I love so I can have people over for dinner and be alive to be taken out to some disco or other all night--and THEN wake up and cook everyone a giant American breakfast like I promised. Exhausting, fun. I love birthdays.

I have so much to do tonight so I'm going to cheat. I'm going to include something I just sent out in an email a few minutes ago. A friend of mine who was chosen to give the speech representing our group of volunteers sent out emails asking for BG memories. Being pressed for time this weekend, too (my sitemate's birthday, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TIA, and my neighbor Rosi's birthday--and lots of celebrating AND cake baking going on) I sat down at the last minute to write something--he's probably already written his speech, we'll see, but either way I'll share it with you:

I'm trying to think of some BULGARIA memories, and no specific events come to mind (except for countless evenings of salata and rakiya, but that's a given.) but the first thing that came to mind was more of an idea: during training, I would lie down at night in my baba's styrofoam mattress--she slept on the couch with her granddaughter in the living room to accommodate me--and listen to the blaring btv novini [btv=BulgariaTV, novini=Bulgarian for news]coming from the apartment next door--at all hours of the night. And it would be in Bulgarian. Obviously. And these were the moments when I would think, "hey. I'm in Bulgaria."

Which is also obvious. But now. I hear things and I have to think for a minute to realize what language they're in. Every so often I'll let a Bulgarian word slip in mid-sentence when talking to my parents on the phone. When I was home for my wrist operation I woke up in the recovery room and, still heavily sedated, started babbling at the nurse, who said "I'm sorry, I don't understand that." Because I was speaking Buglarian.

So now there are those nights where I lie down on my mattress-less bed that feels more like a table in the apartment that is (sort of) my own, and I hear the btv novini blaring from the apartment downstairs, and that little btv jingle is just one of the songs of the night with the crickets and the stray dogs and the roosters that don't know they're supposed to be asleep, and I think of those nights when it was so startling and odd to think "hey, I'm in Bulgaria," and now, on the other side of this journey, the mental note gets turned around and comes out changed: "hey. Bulgaria is in me."

Posted by jess at 10:24 PM EET | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Sunday, 5 March 2006
Sunday night procrastinations

Well, looks like I'm back again. I have to stop kidding myself (and you) by saying yeah I'll write again in a few days...clearly my days of posting every other day or even more often are over. In so many ways my life here is the same as it was last year at this time...but in so many ways things have changed, and one of those ways is that the everyday things that last year felt like an incredible (if not often ridicuous) adventure that I just couldn't wait to get into writing and to share--now just feel like the incredible (if not often ridiculous) adventure of everyday life. The year is round and the same holidays have passed...Baba Marta (Grandma March) on March 1st (RACH'S BIRTHDAY!!) welcoming the "spring"--the holiday when you give out litte red and white string bracelets and necklaces and pins and everyone, I mean EVERYONE, goes around wrapped in red and white string until you see the first stork of the year or the first flowering tree.

Two days after Baba Marta comes the Bulgarian independence day (the most celebrated one at least, this country has several independence days)--the day that commemorates freedom from "the Turkish Yoke"--a day that apparently was once a sort of bittersweet day of celebration in towns such as Omurtag that are largely populated by ethnic Turks--but these days everyone just celebrates. There was no work or school, and in the morning there was a huge gathering in the town square for some traditional Bulgarian song, dance and poetry (which sounds exciting but is the same exact thing they do every year and for most holidays, still it's kind of fun to have traditions.) Omurtag gets pretty damn windy at night in the winter, but this day happened to be the windiest day of the year, and I basically blew down the hill into the square in the morning to find it a little more sparsely populated than usual on a celebration day. The wind was gusting in FREEZING bursts and most people who came all bundled up didn't last long. At the end there was a horo (traditional dance) for everyone to join in but at that point most people were gone, so they only played one! I was very disappointed.

But that was just the start of my celebration-filled weekend, which directly after the morning festivities continued at the restaurant for lunch (by the, I mean The, because of the two main restaurants in Omurtag, one was closed for lunch because it had been open late for a municipal banquet the night before!) at which I sat with some friends from my adult classes for the traditional celebratory 4.5 hours. (See, things like this that as I'm writing them seem like something I should find incredible, but, quite credibly, I am used to this and not only hardly noticed the time going by, but was able to make my food last the entire time. They even talked about how ridiculous it is that Americans are in and out of restaurants in less than an hour. For celebrations, I said, maximum two hours, and that's a stretch. But what about talking, taking time to celebrate and enjoy each others' company--you crazy, ridiculous Americans!)

So a few hours after my many-hour lunch a bunch of us drove to Turgovishte for an evening out. Not wanting to sack the driver with the burden of not drinking, we decided to stay the night at his sister's apartment in Turgovishte. Went out for dinner (only about 2 hours, we had a reservation at the karaoke bar!) and then to the karaoke bar which had a sign at our table "party of 7" but ony 4 chairs and no more to be found, AND despite the fact that we had asked when we made the reservation they had promised there would be singing, there was no singing because there was a paid live singer who thought he was Mick Jagger but wasn't. I wasn't gonna be the one to tell him, and after a few hours we left and went to the disco where we stayed til the wee hours, crashed for a few hours, and then had really good cake for breakfast at my favorite cafe.

That was yeasterday, the day it turned to spring. Temporarily at least, who knows what will happen after such a sudden turnaround from that blustery day that almost blew us away, but it was springy again today. Spent a little time outside and a little time cooking and baking for the week and made some yummy lemon bars to bring to my neighbors' for dinner--the family that lives on the floor above my old apartment now invites me for dinner every Sunday night--and they let me use their washing machine, which is not only convenient, but excellent, because I didn't do any washing over the weekend and during the week I don't really have even a spare second.

This is my new definition of busy. Wake up before the sun. Go to work. On your free hours go across the street to the municipality to work on the project that's due March 24. (Did I mention this? Ok I'll get to it.) Go back to work. Yell at kids. When that's over, play rehearsal. This (which surprised me at first, until I realized that nothing surprised me) also deals with yelling at kids. (It also deals with a constant search for actors since they keep dropping out.) Play rehearsal ends at about 3, at which time I am going to die of hunger (no, there's no lunchtime built into the day in Bulgarian schools, Bulgarians do not eat) but of course the only option besides cook something which I don't have time for is get some junk from the store. Get some junk from the store while dreaming in my head about the availability of snacks that are actually healthy in America and making a mental note to make myself some portable healthy food over the weekend to eat during the week) and take the junkfood back to the municipality, work on project until it's time for adult classes. Back across the street to school. Teach without yelling, which is nice. Then go with everyone to the cafe and speak Bulglish. Return home at 8pm or later, write and grade tests, maybe eat some more junk because I'm too tired to cook, prepare lessons, pretend to read myself to sleep but really be too braindead to focus. Sleep. Alarm. Repeat.

So what's this project that's eating up all my free time? The municipality is applying for a EU grant from a fund that's for drawing up pubic-private partnerships. Apparently we have a livestock market here on the outskirts of town every Wednesday morning (first I've heard of that, I've never been on the outskirts of town on a Wednesday morning) but it's not legal. And when Bulgaria joins the EU, which is supposed to happen in 2007, and things start being checked and regulated, these people aren't going to have a place to buy and sell their sheep. So we're trying to set up a joint firm between the municipality and a few private meat exporters that will put together and oversee an up-to-standard weekly market.

Sounds simple, but the grant proposal in the end will be about 30 pages or so. Oh and why am I writing's an EU grant and it has to be in English. Still, I've been trying to get more involved with the municipality and working on this project with people who actually proposed the project themselves and want to work to get it together is a good experience, and one of my good friends is one of the people in charge of organizing it so working with her has been good.

So things have been hectic. I'd tell you what I did last weekend but I can't remember, I think that might have been when I was in Sofia. Yes, I went to Sofia for my x-ray, which came out fine and they've officialy "closed" my case--though it should be another few months before my wrist is completely back to normal. Still I've got most of my mobility back and my neighbors gave me a 2 kilo weight to exercise with (at pt in the states they told me 2 pounds, which is a little lighter, but my wrist is a lot stronger than it was a month ago--the weight, which they just gave me tonight, is much better than the waterbottle I'd been using at any rate)...I can feel a little bit of strain in my wrist when I used the weight but I think it's doing well.

Once nice thing is that when I get really cold my scar turns purple, which is my favorite color.

Oh I'm supposed to be writing a test tonight and grading a whole stack of them so I can have some time to rest tomorrow night--but it's getting late. As the close of my service is coming tangibly close and there are so many things I want to do, I keep saying I wish there were twice as many hours in a day--to which the typical Bulgarian response would be "how many more hours would the cafes be open?"

Oh, so did I mention that at the end of a project meeting with the mayor, he told me that the next thing they want to do is to redo the "basketball court" (potholed cement square with a rusty netless basket) across from my school...and name it after me! Heh, they'll probably name it the "crazy American" court.

Oh I saw this really good Bulgarian movie last night, well strange but hysterical and fascinating, called Mila from Mars, about this girl who runs away from a dangerous boyfriend and ends up in this border town where only about 10 babas and grandpas live (who make their living by growing pot and throwing it in sacks across the barbed-wire border, we find out) and they are so hilariously Bulgarian pensioners (do you even use that word in English? That's what it is in Bulgarian...retirees? I can't remember!) sitting on the bench all day staring at Mila from Mars and talking about their miseries. For their huge new years eve celebration they all bring their TVs over to Mila's place and watch them all, all stacked up, and they're so absorbed and fascinated but only one or two of the TVs even get a signal and hardly, and it's just so Bulgarian it makes me laugh out loud. But it's also got some quirkiness and intelligence, there's this guy who lives in a faraway tower that he's rigged all with ropes and carabeeners so he can sort of fly around (of course he's the love interest)--he's a little off--some people came by while he was off with his sheep and made a fire with half of his books--so he burned the other half so they wouldn't have anything to burn next time--of course not before writing down "the important parts." There's some religion hinted at--they call Mila's baby (from the guy she ran away from) Christos (BG for Christ, obviously) and count time from before and after his birth and some other Church it gives you some stuff to think about instead of just being a bunch of junk like the food I have to eat every day and though the cinematography wasn't so fantastic (colors and everything were great, but not top quality film)I heard it was all made for a total of 15,000 leva, which is less than $10,000. So, the first Bulgarian film that I've seen wasn't so bad.

Meanwhile I've been trying to get through A Tale of Two Cities, which is taking me forever. I read some really good books before that though. Michael Chabon and Muriel Spark...if you haven't read anything by them then do. (I also read Flaubert's Madame Bovary, the whiny brat, though I think you're supposed to feel at least a little sympathy for her in the patience for complainers is just plain sapped.) Somehow it just keeps getting later and later. I love leaving everything for Sunday nights. A little bit of grading and then it's time to pull up the newly washed covers on my table-hard bed, which may or may not be more comfortable than Emma Bovary's.

Posted by jess at 11:52 PM EET | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink | Share This Post
Saturday, 11 February 2006
drive-by blogging
so I wrote this long entry yesterday detailing a plethora of fascinating things: my weekend trip to "wine country" which is also the "smallest town in Bulgaria," my evening watching the British broadcast of the Superbowl at an Irish pub in Sofia until 5am, the beginnings of our very-amateur but very-excellent-anyways high school play production, every book I've read since I got back to Bulgaria, and my plans for this weekend which have changed somewhat since yesterday.

Of course, my internet wasn't working, and, of course, that entry seems to have disappeared. Hm. That might be for the better because there were definitely a few times where I stopped myself from writing and almost decided to just stop altogether and come back when in a different mood because I was being boring, but I just kept typing and typing, and I hate being boring. Of course my concept of boring might be different from your concept of boring, for example, I personally don't think I'm being boring right now, but I don't know about you--but anyways, the entry is MIA.

I'm leaving in about half an hour to go on a snow-hike near Turgovishte with a gang of about 10 people from town, and then we're spending the night at the "hija" at the top, a hija being something between a luxury, heated cabin and a really crappy hotel.

Oh I also have huge gripes to share which you can look forward to, about my school of course, involving using students' money to pay my electricity bill and inadvertently losing 400 leva from my project funds, amongst other gems. So you have that to look forward to. I'll have a busy day when I get back tomorrow but I'll try to post again soon!

Posted by jess at 9:36 AM EET | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Thursday, 2 February 2006

"Please? Really. Please?"
"But, really, please?"
"Ask me one more time and I'll lower your grade."

--dialogue had 500000000 times today, the last day in the term, with students. Note their creativity and initiative in their pleas for higher grades. Translated, from the Bulgarian (no, they didn't even try to charm me by using English), by me.

Whew, only have go through that one more time! All the bickering over grades (with teachers, too, about their favorite kids)put me in such a bad mood by the end of the day that I told my last period students to go home because they were annoying. They listened. This made me feel better. And so my first full week back at school comes to a close. We have a long weekend for mid-semester break (yes, "full week" is a relative term, they don't really exist in this country) and I'm leaving for Sofia tomorrow, meeting up with some volunteers in the evening, and then we're doing some traveling around the country, exact locations to be determined, the one exact location which has been determined being Melnik, a miniscule town far far far in the southwest corner of the country that's made it onto the map for their winemaking (and winetasting).

So, I'm back in the Bulgarian swing of things (I did have the problem of forgetting and trying to flush my toilet paper a few times, but results were not too disasterous) I'm filling out my term report to send back to PC headquarters and I'm realizing that there have been some important events from the time close to my departure that I never got to publicly share, so I thought I'd do a little rewind.

First, I could be wrong (I don't have the patience to go back and read through my blog--I don't know how you regulars keep up with it!) but I don't think I mentioned the news about my playwriting girls: they won third place! The first place winners were actually college students--I didn't know that was allowed--and only the first place play will be produced professionally in Sofia this spring. But my girls won 100 leva to share between the two of them, which is no small sum for a pair of 17-year-old small-town girls! I'm so proud of them. We're getting things in motion for a high school production of their play in the town theater, after which I will be even prouder! We really worked hard on that play this summer, and I can't wait to work with them on its actual production.

Another huge event is something that I know I mentioned in my last entry before I left, but that was before it actually took place. I think the hugest event that I've planned so far in my time in Omurtag (I'm hoping that the play will be up there too!) was my Thanksgiving dinner. It was originally planned as just a way to get together with friends to share a traditional American holiday. But I ended up cooking and baking all week long. I thought maybe 15 people would come, and since I only have 3 chairs I was able to arrange a small side room in the restaurant of the hotel at the edge of town. It's a good thing that I inherited my mother's compulsion to cook for at least twice as many people as you expect, because 30 people ended up showing up, including the town mayor! (I'd casually put in the word for an invitation through a well-connected friend, but didn't expect him to come! Oh and as a side note I ran into the mayor in a cafe this evening and said hello, but he pretended not to know who I was! Loser. Anyways.) We ate and drank and had a good time late into the night, and everyone was fascinated by the traditional Thanksgiving foods. Cranberry sauce? Who makes sauce out of fruit? My colleagues "surprised" me with a turkey (I knew about it, but had to pretend not to), and since they went through all the trouble to track one down and cook it (it was actually delivered to the school alive and squawking before it was sent off to have its poor neck wrung--luckily I was home cooking at that time) I decided that I had to at least take a bite, which I did. I have a very cute picture in which I'm making the perfect vegetarian-about-to-eat-turkey face, fork in hand. (And I very rarely consider myself photogenic.) It was just a tiny bite, but it was good, not good enough to convert me, but good enough to consider making it a holiday tradition in commemoration of my fabulous Thanksgiving feast. After the meal (which, of course, even though it was an American-style meal, it still took place in Bulgaria and lasted 4 or 5 hours) we got the restaurant's band to play some horo and we danced the traditional Bulgarian dances. And so ended my big fat Bulgarian Thanksgiving. Oh, and my neighbor made a home movie of the evening which he gave to me on DVD. Some of the guests insisted on an invitation to my Thanksgiving celebration in America next year, and I said all were welcome but the entrance price would be a bottle of rakiya!

A few days after the Thanksgiving celebration, November 28 to be exact, I still had 10,000 words to go on my nanonovel, which, if you've been following, is the 50,000 words in 30 days challenge--deadline November 30. Well you see how many words I can squeeze out in a single sitting, I've probably typed a few thousand in this entry alone! I type very, very quickly. So I figured it would be no problem to catch up. But then, late one night on my way to sit down to my computer to write, I fell. And broke my wrist.

But I didn't know my wrist was broken. (And no, I WAS NOT drunk. I love it that my mother started this rumor.) Actually, at the time my butt hurt more than my wrist. I immediately sat down (gingerly) to start typing. As I typed, my wrist began to hurt more and more. And more. And MORE. But I pushed myself to 4,000 words. At which point the pain was unbearable and I went to sleep. When I woke up verrrrry early and realized that the ache in my wrist was not a normal I-fell-down pain, I went for an x-ray, and after a whole lot of runaround found out it was broken and that Peace Corps wanted to me to come to Sofia for a cast, so I sat on a bus for 4.5 hours with a makeshift splint.

I brought my computer with me, planning on doing some 1-handed typing that night at the hostel in Sofia--I had 6,000 words to go!

But that night I was exhausted, and typing with one hand was just too slow. Which was when I decided that I would finish my nanonovel by hand. I wrote a page, counted the words, decided I had to write 45 pages (it was a small-ish sized notebook, the paper size that is) and went to sleep. When I woke up, I wrote. Then I wrote at a cafe. I wrote in another cafe. I wrote on the bus. I wrote on the bus in the complete dark. I got some very strange looks. My writing was also very strange-looking. But before I reached Omurtag at 11:30 in the evening, I had written 47 pages. (I'd wanted to leave a little leeway.) So I didn't have an official document to send in by midnight, but that part doesn't matter. I should go back to that notebook and type everything (thought the bus-in-the-dark parts might be tricky) to see exactly how many words I had.

Oh and by the way I went home to Omurtag thinking everything was ok and I'd just need to go back to Sofia in 2 weeks for another X-ray--so wasn't I surprised when I got the phone call saying "pack your bags, you're going home."

So then I was home. And it was fun. Besides the getting cut open part. And I could say a lot more, but I've been typing forever and this is "notes from Bulgaria" anyways, and I'm getting very tired--it's been a long day.

I'm feeling circular, so I'll leave off on the subject at which we began: grades. Funny that the subject that has made my day so long is actually the subject that is keeping me typing longer. But really, I have to tell this, it's is a good one. Actually a good two. First there's the story of the missing girl, a ninth grader who is supposedly in my class whom I haven't met. Some kids just don't come to school. So obviously I have no grades for her. I asked my director "should I leave her column blank, or should I just write failing marks?" He and the other teachers who overheard laughed at the fact that these were the only two options I was considering. "Well let's see what her other grades are," answered my director, and we flipped through the book. She had mostly average grades, about a C equivalent, and was only failing one class--Bulgarian. "She has good grades for all her other classes," said my director, as if this meant she had actually earned those grades. Let's talk to the Bulgarian teacher and see why she's failing, since no one else is failing her." Lalala in the end I ended up leaving her grade column blank and waiting for someone to yell at me for it, which no one did, averting further absurdities.

This is one absurdity that was not averted. So I'm writing all my kids' grades in the big official books, there are all these formalities and you have to write them in several places several times so that their class teachers can copy them into these other documents several times, blahblah. So I'm minding my own business and my director calls me over and asks me to write some failing marks and won't tell me who they're for, which is strange. Due to my stubborn persistence which the onlooking teachers were aghast at though should be used to by now, I was able to determine that I was writing failing marks for a student that had already dropped out last year. Without the bureaucratic existence of this person, her class would be too small to exist and would have to be broken up with all of the a whole chain of reactions (see that article I translated and posted last year, I'd link to it but I'm too lazy to look for it) and all sorts of negative repercussions for the school. So, we're pretending. Whatever. I like pretending. Why not. I failed the student and went back to my books with a smirk on my face.

And now I'm going to take that smirk and try to wash my dishes with it.

Posted by jess at 9:55 PM EET | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Friday, 27 January 2006
snot-freezing and other hilarious woes
Well I'm back, screwed up arm and all.

I got back to Sofia Friday afternoon after an unusually uncomfortable plane ride interrupted by a restless 5.5 hr layover+half hr delay beginning at 5:30am in Frankfurt and a search for an electrical outlet to charge my Bulgarian phone which led me to some guys camped out with laptops on the floor area where they charge the electrical airport carts which led us all to get yelled at which led me specifically to ignore getting yelled at and continue charging my phone as much as possible which led me to getting yelled at again half an hour later by the same guy even though everyone else who walked by during that time didn't give a damn, which led to me sitting on the floor beneath this bar area next to the only other electrical outlet I could find (I asked all around, no one knew of a better place) until my battery was fully charged. By the way if you sit on the floor in Bulgaria it leaves you unable to have babies. Luckily, this was in Frankfurt.

Back in Sofia (finally), after some paperwork at the office and some exhaustion-enduced trouble completing small tasks with any efficiency, I considered staying the evening because there were several volunteer events in Sofia and EVERYONE was there, then realized that that would be a very bad idea, got on a bus (ran into a thousand volunteers in the bus station, couldn't speak in complete sentences) and slept the whole way, got home and slept all night and all day.

And so began my horrible wrestling match with jet lag.

After an evening out with friends on Saturday (I actually had two separate dinners in two separate places, mmm), I took an accidentally long nap Sunday afternoon, which led me to sleep from about midnight until 2:30 am at which time I got up, and I baked stuff to bring to school the next day, or that day, or what's the difference anyways, it's all one big long stretched out week. I baked until the water came on at 6am and then I could clean up. Then went to school. Starting a regular work schedule should help get my sleeping patterns back on track.

In the teacher's lounge they greeted me with the traditional giant round "welcome bread" and my director presented me with flowers and told me how much they missed me, though I'm pretty sure he was the only one who did! It felt fine being back, like I hadn't been away at all, except that now there was a week and a half left in the term during which I had to come up with four grades and a midterm for each of my classes, and all the resources I'd worked so hard to get for the school were collecting dust. In my absence, all balls had been dropped. Which did not surprise me, but which made me realize that it's a good thing my month and a half long absence put a damper on squeezing in one more grant project for the upcoming deadline--I am just not getting my school any more stuff. I'll work with the kids, do whatever I can for the kids, but I'm not putting any more time into improving the school because that improvement will just be undone after I leave in a few months.

Meanwhile, Monday was a shortened day of school due to the cold. And later that day an announcement was closed for the rest of the week!

It's so cold that it makes your snot freeze inside your nose.

I can keep the one small room in my apartment that I live in warm enough, but I can see my breath steaming as I breathe everywhere else in the apartment--kitchen, bathroom--my toothbrush was frozen yesterday when I tried to use it. I can't see out of my outside balcony windows due to inches of crystalized ice, which is very pretty to look at.

The up side is that the miniscule size of my refrigerator is not currently an issue.

So, all this time off and plenty to do, there's always plenty to do...but...when you wake up when it's still dark out and then sit around or stand around or even dance around in the afternoon waiting for normal people to wake up, the cycle of jet lag does NOT get broken.

The whole body rhythm of "it's dark, I sleep, it's light, I wake up"--yeah that never really worked for me, so that alone is not close to enough. And not having any sort of schedule during the day leaves me to fall asleep in the early afternoon and despite all precautions--alarms, prearranged phone calls, doorbells--sleep for 6 or 7 hours. And it's not like I want to go on any sort of fun excursion near or far--thousands of layers upon thousands of layers are no match for this cold snap--I'm not quite up for getting on a bus to go somewhere fun and getting rolled off the bus a solid block of jessica-ice, no not up for that no matter how exciting the destination may be.

(If it weren't for the 10-day advance notice to leave the country policy, I would have gotten on a plane or a bus to anywhere SOUTH, and WARM, asap. But, no can do.)

There are plenty of ways to amuse yourself, one of my favorites being when my students invited me over to watch movies with them!

Today I so thought I was going to make it. I slept all day yesterday, accidentally of course, then went to sleep again around 3:30am, and woke up at 6--my latest time yet! I thought if I could just stay up late enough, I'd be good to go. I had things to do around the apartment all day and met a friend at the cafe at 3. I explained my evil plan to defeat jet lag. He laughed at me. Everyone here is always laughing at me, so I continued. As I continued, I yawned, but no this was NOT from sleepiness! I said that I would invite people over for dinner and a movie, and they would keep me awake. I said I'd call later, after I went home to finish cooking my chili that I'd started making in the morning to go with the cornbread that I'd made in the middle of the night. I figured cooking would keep me awake, and it also gave me another reason to put off finishing my hand-washing of the laundry I had put in to soak earlier in the day--I didn't want to even LOOK at the washbucket, I just know it's frozen. After this whole ordeal with my wrist I've definitely come to appreciate BOTH of my hands and I do not want to lose them to dirty-laundry-induced frostbite. Oh who will rinse the detergent out of my frozen dirty clothes? Anyways can't do it now, the water's off.

So I finished cooking at around 5 and suddenly was overwhelmingly exhausted. I sat down for a minute. Knowing what was coming, I set an alarm for an hour later. The alarm went off. I swear I got out of bed. But then another hour later the doorbell rang and I was still in bed. I swear I got up to answer it, but something like another hour later, the doorbell rang again. This is weird because in this slightly unfriendly town, no one rings my doorbell without being invited first. But this time I was smart enough to realize that I would not be conscious long enough to answer it, so I didn't get out of bed, not even in my head.

There were also several text messages making my phone beep throughout the evening, and I even half-read some of them, though as I look back at my phone, none of them sound at all familiar.

When I woke up, it was 12:30 am.


By the way the chili came out REALLY good, despite the fact that my onions were frozen.

What should I bake now?

Oh it's going to be another long night!

By the way I've decided to brave the cold bus ride and go to visit some volunteers a little north of here tomorrow, if I can manage to be awake at the time I need to catch the bus. Meanwhile, I'll just keep cooking, which will be good come back-to-school on Monday since I never have time to make myself anything to eat during the week. I'm trying to stick to things that freeze well.

Posted by jess at 3:00 AM EET | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Tuesday, 10 January 2006
old habits die easy, and then get stutteringly resuscitated
and by the way I'm in America.

I guess most of you who are actual people (i.e. not virtual people i.e. I know you by face and not by screenname) already know that since I've been home for over a month.

I got screwed.

I broke my wrist and had a screw put in. And maybe one day I'll tire of the screwed joke but I still haven't, not even when other people use it, because everyone does and thinks they're the first to think of it--well you WEREN'T--but I still find it amusing, even if it's not funny anymore.

I don't set off metal detectors in airports, which I found vaguely disappointing.

I did think that I was setting off the theft detectors in the mall until we realized (days later) that they had actually forgotten to take off that magnetic strip from one of our purchases. I knew that something didn't make sense.

But I am still, officially and permanently, a bionic woman. It makes me feel special. It also makes my left wrist feel special. My screwed up (heh. heheh.) left wrist fancies itself so special that it doesn't feel the need to move much or to do the things that I always used to count on it to do. It just hangs around all splinted (when I don't get annoyed and take the splint off) and lazy.

saleswoman: "Do you need a hand?"
me: "Yeah, got a spare left one?"

Just to show my left hand that it is dispensible and better start behaving correctly.

I think it's working. Whether it's the false threat of left hand replacement or the physical therapy exercises, I'm slowy regaining strength and range of motion little by little. The doctor says it should take up to another four months before it's good as new, but it will be. With one exception...when they screw you...they leave behind...the screw. It makes a neato x-ray though.

So all that adds up to a long vacation in America for the holidays, with a little slice and dice (and drill and screw) at the beginning. It hasn't been so bad. It was hard leaving Bulgaria and not knowing whether I'd be allowed to go back (PC puts a 45-day limit on medevacs, if you need longer you can't go back and they weren't sure how it would go) but not long after the operation it became pretty clear that I was healing fine. After about a week of pain and grogginess I was left to travel the east coast to catch up with friends and family which was a nice bonus.

I'm guessing that I'll be heading out around the 18th or the 19th, though they won't give me an official ok until I have my x-ray on the 16th, after which I get to call and get my plane ticket. It's been a nice vacation between my two lives, a sort of American intermission that's just about long enough to consume a snack. Milk Duds. Are good. Oooh. Slurpees.

Ok I lied. Not a snack. Many many mouthwatering meals. Mexican food. And Italian. And Thai. And bagels. With cream cheese! And pancakes. And eggs for breakfast with hash browns. And cheese. Cheddar! Mozzerella! And my laundry dries in half an hour instead of half a week. And my mommy does my laundry for me! (Yes I know that's not a meal. Stay with me here.) Oh and flushing toilet paper down the toilet instead of throwing it in the garbage, that took me a while to get used to doing again but it's great! Yes it is! And speaking English! Everywhere! (Though I have been known to lapse into Bulgarian. For example the now infamous waking up from surgery and speaking to the nurse... Nurse: "I'm sorry, I don't understand that." Me: "Oh, I think that's because it was Bulgarian." It was only a day and a half after I got home, I was still in the mode.) Oooh fake meat products. Just guess what I found in the corndogs. No don't groan, they're magical vegetarian food on a stick! Oh and supermarkets! They're like villages! Cities! Metropolises! (Metropoli?) Should I mention constant running/hot water or is that a given? I could go on and on and on. Or I could go to sleep. Or try. This country has a fabulous invention called decaf, but I think that at Starbucks today someone switched the labels. I'm going to go find out who did it and make them sing me a lullabye.

Posted by jess at 8:51 AM EET | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Thursday, 24 November 2005
Happy Turkey!
It's been a busy few weeks! I can't remember last time I wrote or what I said, but I know it was at least sometime this month since I know I've been talking about nano! I think I have close to 38 or 39,000 words by now, I'm not exactly sure, too much has been going on at once and I've been writing 100 words here and there in between everything else.

For the last 2 days I've been cooking for thanksgiving and running to the market searching for rare foods in all of my free time. (I ran out of specially imported from Sofia brown sugar! But BGs won't know the difference.)

This morning we did this great little Thanksgiving skit for the school with one of my classes, it was adorable. We told the story of Thanksgiving, each kid said a few sentences first in English and then in Bulgarian, and we made paper hats--half of them were pilgrims with tall black hats and gold buckles, and half were indians with colored feathers. After the skit I gave each of them a slice of pumpkin bread, and I treated the other teachers to pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, and scones with dried cranberries. They're still talking about the food, I can hear them in the teachers' room now!

The director recently got a computer in his office and is letting me use it today! Besides being busy I haven't been writing because first my computer wasn't working, and then I had to lend it to a student who was working all night every night for a week for this web design competition but has no computer--she's the one who lent me my chalga singer gear for Halloween and I sort of shredded her neon pink fishnets, so I couldn't say no. Yeah that made nano a little hard too, but I figured it was a lot more important to her. Oh and then there was supposed to be no internet at school til next month...but the director just filled me in on his secret that he has it in his office!

Well I'm in between classes now but I just wanted to say a quick hello. I have no lesson plan for later, only 2 classes left today, but I don't want to be working--it's a holiday! We'll probably sing songs or something.

Then, Friday night, I'm having a Thanksgiving feast! I wanted to have it tonight but there's no way I'd get all the cooking done on time! I have no idea how many people are coming but it will probably be somewhere between 15 and 20. One of the students in my adult course helped me fix up a location so we didn't have to squeeze into my apartment--I only have 3 chairs. His girlfriend's parents own the hotel that's at the edge of town, and they're letting us use one of the banquet rooms. It's a little far, especially in this nasty weather (we've been covered with snow for a few days, but today it's sort of rain-snow-slushing and everything's just turning mushy!)but taxis go there for a lev. That way only the people who really want to come will come, which I also think is a good thing. So tonight after my adult course I'm cooking cooking cooking some more! Then Saturday there are a few volunteers having parties, I'm going to one in some village somwhere not far (I guess I have to figure out where it is) that I wasn't exactly expressly invited to but am going to anyways because someone else who wasn't invited asked me to!

Oh and thanks to my super mommy, this year we will have (a limited amount of) (canned) sweet potato pie with marshmallows, and cranberry sauce!! RIght now I'm just full from all of the pumpkin stuff I just ate. Time for class. Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by jess at 11:56 AM EET | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Thursday, 10 November 2005
What is Queit?

(Tuesday, Nov. 8)

I have this one class that is driving me bonkers. I can’t complain because this year I only have one class where I feel like I’m spending an hour at the zoo—the rest only have a couple of monkeys hanging around in the back, but they’re mostly fun monkeys, which is good.

Anyways I’ve really been cracking down on these guys in my crazy class because I’d prefer to take some of my sanity home with me after this year. Today I gave individual oral vocab quizzes—they got so nervous when I made them stand up in front of the class and answer questions (this is actually the traditional Bulgarian way of testing kids and I never do it…until now!) They had to explain the meaning of some really hard vocab words…in English. I almost felt bad for them, but at the same time it felt pretty satisfying watching them shake a little. I think it will do something to put them in their places! They’ve never looked at me like they’re afraid of me before.

But the real reason I’m bringing up this topic is to tell about the essay I had my rowdiest guy write as a punishment, entitled “What is Quiet?” He’s definitely one of the smarter kids but he’s always exploding with energy and from what I hear he’s been tormenting teachers and classmates with his inability to stay quiet or sit still since first grade and no one, including his mother, knows what to do with him. (Ridalin, ridalin, ridalin.) Is it wrong for me to share this essay online? I think it’s so great, I want to share it with you. I think I’ll leave it up for a little while so my regular readers can read it and then (if I remember)take it down since I probably should have some moral issue with putting up my students’ work without their permission in the first place! (And please note, I did write the essay topic with correct spelling on the board!) Here tis, exactly as written!

Queit is when we are at lesson, and Miss Goldberg tells me (Bilen): Queit, Bilen, please! I must stay queit and to do my lessons. In class I don’t talk with Fahri and Shakir. In my class on english every students are quiet. But I (Bilen), Fahri, and “crazy” Shakir we are noicly. We don’t want to be queit. We want to do our lessons and to know every think. In class my teacher Miss Goldberg is very nice and tell me every thing for english language and american people. When I have questions for something, my teacher answer me.

Miss Goldberg is very nice with me and my friends Fahri and Shaki, but we are very noicly. And I think that I am very very noicly.

From this day, this time I must to be quiet. To do my lessons and to lissen my teacher Miss Jesika Goldberg. My friends Fahri and “crazy” Shaki must to do thiss, too.

This my thinks for me are queit.

If this my thinks for queit are wrong I am sorry my teacher: Miss Jesika Goldberg.

This is from Bilen!!!

I’ve already complimented the kid on knowing just what to write, even if he hasn’t really answered the question. Answering questions directly is a skill acquired by few Bulgarians, anyways. Next step is giving it back to him to correct a few things…he’s actually a good kid and he even said he wants me to help him correct it. I almost want to give him a good grade for it if he rewrites it…heh. Don’t worry, I’m nice, but I’m not that nice.

My quick nano update is that the more I write the further and further this gets from my original idea—in fact it doesn’t resemble it at all—and also the less and less novel-like it becomes but somehow (I think) more and more interesting. The novel (as an art form, I mean) is slowly dying anyways, sad but at least partially true. Everyone wants to read all that fake nonfiction these days, everyone thinks that if you want to know something you have to know things. (Which makes my non-novel/non-non-fiction no more pop-culturally relevant. It’s time for a new genre, anyways: non-non-non fiction. Though I’m not sure that’s completely new. But maybe it’s what I’m writing.)

Posted by jess at 10:39 AM EET | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post
Monday, 7 November 2005
Sunday, November 6

After a busy weekend and squeezing in some writing time here and there, I just passed 10,000 words! And I passed this landmark, by the way, while less-than-half-watching Ghostbusters 2 dubbed in Bulgarian on the one channel on my blue TV.

And no, I still don’t really know what this “novel” I’m writing is about. It’s turning out to be nothing at all like what I originally thought it would be except that the main character has the same name as when I started. (Which is strange because usually my characters change names about a hundred times throughout the story until they find one they like.) The funnest part to write so far is the strange short short stories that one of the characters had written a long time ago and hidden, and that another character keeps finding. I think they’re the funnest to write because they can be strange or silly or stupid but it doesn’t matter because I didn’t write them, my character did. I can blame it all on the character! One of the main strategies for finishing a nanonovel in a month is to get rid of that inner editor—for anyone who’s tried to write you know what I’m talking about! It’s that voice that tells you what you’re writing is stupid and you should go back and fix it, rewrite it, delete it—NO! No deleting—think of your word count! So you deal by telling yourself “yeah, it’s kind of stupid, but I’ll fix it later!” But when it’s supposed to be written by a character who’s an amateur writer—hey, no fixing necessary! And still, more times than not, when you go back to fix what you’d wanted to fix or delete while writing, it’s a lot better than you thought it was when you’d had your finger poised over the delete key. Or it sucks but there’s some really good raw idea in it that you would have forgotten if you’d deleted it. Nano is about those ideas that you might otherwise delete. So, NO NO NO NO DELETING!! (but yes yes yes yes yes to repeating words! When a character in your nanonovel is waiting for an excessive amount of time, they’re not waiting for a long time, they’re waiting for a long long long long long long long long long long long time! So much more…quantiful that way. Also, made up words DEFINITELY count in the word count.) Also, if your word processor counts hyphenated words as one word, conveniently forget the hyphen while writing your nanodraft, since you’re not supposed to be worrying about grammar or spelling or that nonsense. Hence, “made up” and not “made-up.” I want credit for ALL the words I use!

(And if any of you are thinking right now “she’s such a cheater! Let’s lynch her!”—first, YOU try writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, and second, finding little word count tricks is definitely a huge and important and fun part of the nano race! Lighten up, people!)

That said, I have a confession to make: there is a paragraph in one of those short stories that my character writes where a boy is bouncing a ball “up and down, up and down, up and down the street.” [In the story, if you’d like to know, the Earth started moving away from the sun and one day the sun didn’t come up at all so everyone went back to sleep, but the boy wasn’t tired, and he went up and down, up and down, up and down the street, bouncing his ball up and down, up and down, up and down in the dark.] The phrase “up and down” appears in a single paragraph approximately 23 times. (But never more than 3 times in a row, I’m not THAT bad!) I had promised myself a bag of Doritos--a fairly new arrival at BG markets, still rare and expensive--when I hit the 10,000 word mark, and I really wanted those Doritos! Now that is nanowriting!

So enough about nano and more about what else I’m up to. I can’t remember what I last wrote about, and it’s not like I can just go online and check! I sort of gave the internet guy a little stern talking to the other day, something about the fact that I’ve been waiting 2 months already…he said that if he wasn’t able to come this weekend then he probably wouldn’t ever get around to it. I’m sure that he won’t come. Especially since the weekend is basically over. I’m actually sort of getting used to not having constant internet access and only getting online once or twice a week for a few minutes in between classes even though I am falling a little more behind in emails than usual—life in this new apartment is definitely a little bit closer to what I’d originally imagined life in the Peace Corps to be! My walls are also cracking and pieces of them fall down every day. It makes staring at walls when you’re supposed to be writing a novel a lot more interesting.

So this past Thursday and Friday (and Saturday) was a big Muslim holiday (the end of Ramadan) during which only about 5 or 6 students come to school. On Thursday we took the kids to the little park that’s at the top of the mountain—it’s a 20-30 minute hike, but we took the gym teacher’s minivan. We played some basketball and volleyball to keep warm—we’d been expecting the cafe up there to be open but it’s already closed for the winter. So we only stayed for about an hour and then went home. They did the same thing Friday (the Bulgarian i.e. non-Turkish kids actually do come because it’s not like they have anything better to do) but the middle school actually ditched their kids and the teachers went on an all-day excursion. (Yes, the proportion of Buglarian to Turkish teachers is a lot higher than the proportion of Bulgarian to Turkish students or of the proportion of the population in general.) They’re nice so they invited me. Tia didn’t go because she’s in Greece running in the marathon! Actually she and the other volunteers who went are probably just finishing up as I’m writing this right now, run Peace Corps run! I’m (obviously) sitting this one out.

So for the excursion we left at 7am and drove towards the sea, making 4 or 5 stops, only one of which being specifically for coffee! It didn’t even surprise me anymore when we stopped for coffee an hour into the drive. One of our stops was at a place called Kaliakra, the easternmost peninsula in Bulgaria that reaches into the Black Sea (is there a word in English for a really small peninsula? Like the opposite of a bay, sort of. If there is I can’t think of it. In Bulgarian they have a separate word, the Bulgarian word for “nose.”) Anyways there was a fortress there with stone walls built up over rocky sea cliffs. Unfortunately its beauty is a little bit diminished not just by the cafe/restaurant built in the middle, but most of all by the military base built on top and the radio or whatever kind of towers and phone wires all over the place. Still, a gorgeous place.

The most famous legend from Kaliakra is that under the Turkish rule, they took 40 girls who didn’t want to convert to Islam, tied their hair together, and threw them all off the high rocky cliffs and into the sea, where they turned into mermaids.

Also we spent a few hours in a city called Dobrich, which is a lot bigger than I thought it would be. I went around with Galya and one of her friends who is a compulsive shopper, so we managed to spend all of our time there shopping, with the exception of a quicker-than-Bulgarian stop at a cafe. (Also, shopping in Bulgarian doesn’t usually mean you buy much if anything at all.)

It was fun but a little tiring, though somehow I managed to find the energy to meet up with some friends that night—all night. I was awake for more than 22 hours straight that day! At some point that evening my friends convinced me to sing The Star Spangled Banner, which I did at the top of my lungs. One of them had just gotten a new phone that does video clips, so he managed to get the end of my little song on video, which I was not too happy about!

The next day—last night—I had a bunch of people come over. The occasion was that I had bought an eggplant about a week ago in the market just as they were going out of season—I’d managed to find one good one in the bunch of small and scrawny and bug-eaten eggplants. Now you can’t find them at all. So I decided to make one final eggplant parmesan for my Bulgarian friends who liked it so much last time, but this time I invited them to cook it with me so they can learn to make it themselves. My last time cooking eggplant in Buglaria! So 5 friends came over with snacks and drinks and we had a good time, except for when Ahmed kept playing the video of me singing the Star Spangled Banner for the benefit of everyone who had missed it the night before. At the beginning I was annoyed because I was a little embarrassed, but after the 10th time I was annoyed because my singing was so bad it was giving me a headache! At some point in the night they wanted to listen to Bulgarian music, which I had just a little bit of, but when one of the best horo songs came on no one else knew the dance to it, so I taught it to them!

And since I didn’t get too much writing done with all those fun and games, I’ve been inside all day today cleaning up (as much as I can without running water, but it should finally be back on in half an hour or so!) and…writing. Which is what I should go back to doing. I want to get another few thousand words written tonight!

Word count: 1,735

Posted by jess at 10:52 AM EET | Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post

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