I came to my permanent site yesterday, on the 20th, which is the day after a dear friends’ birthday. It took us about 8 hours of travel, by car with some breaks, to get here from the regional sub-capita, Vratsa, that the conference was in. More or less, our travel time was 9-5. It makes me realize two things quickly, how big the US is, and how small ubiquitous car ownership and use makes it feel. People don’t realize how far they are traveling – it’s not a cry for the opposite, just a note. Today is my second day visiting the place I will live in for two years. It’s an incredibly small town, only 350 people (“trista ee pet-de-set Hora”). The towns and villages here are different in countless ways, however one way is at least easily conveyable. This is that, here, people do not live “within city limits” they live “in town.” My training site is Pudria, which is a town of about 500-750 people. The rate of buildings, that is to say the number and general feel of their density is similar to Cotati, which has 6,000 people living in it. People here don’t have cars so they have to walk everywhere, and also they are all friends with their neighbors, so they don’t want to have to walk far to visit or see them. It’s categorically dense, living outside of town here is just a dumb idea because it means you’ll have to walk for no good reason. Anyway, I am so far quite proud of my town, and incredibly enthusiastic about the placement. People here work a lot, but not in the frantic and stressed American way. They never procrastinate, that’s the difference – so far. There’s working and then there is everything else, and no BS’ing in between. It’s good, even though, in this context I don’t have a definition for “BS.” Everything is categorically foreign, and it feels that way. I understand only 5.00% of what people say at regular-talking speed here, and maybe 1/4 of what they say at a charitable speed, which is enough-ish to piece together what they are talking about and give an answer. Such is life. “Remember who you are and keep working,” I say to my self. They sell “Milka” brand chocolate here, at the corner-stores. This is nice because it’s an ironic taste of home. A taste from home because my grandmother on my mom’s side always gets and then divy’s-out Milka chocolate bars after Christmans, and then ironic because that foreign/from-the-old-country-chocolate is now owned by Kraft, which makes the whole scenario your garden-variety buy-out story, rather than a specialized/unique family experience. Anyway it’s delicious and I love both America and Germany so who cares. Lastly, I learned, while sharing beers with the mayor and his “sekretar,” that there are particular songs/hymns that come out of the Rhodope Mountains. Some of these were included on the gold-disk that was sent out on the voyager spaceship. Basically Carl Sagan and a bunch of other awesome-class people put together a cd with music and noise and information on it that included a LOT of things from Earth, even whales calling each other, and all of this was on a gold CD. Since gold has something like a billion year half-life, there’s a small chance that extra-terrestrials might find it and be able to analyze it. Imagine a letter in a bottle, only it’s a letter that includes token amount of information from all of mankind and the sea is eternity and the largest void ever imagined. For someone who is agnostic/atheistic, or perhaps just someone who likes stars, it is incredibly moving to think even of the possibility of contact like this. Maybe God will find it and write back – this is how I feel about it. 🙂 Thank you life and fortune for all that you have brought. -Cameron Ottens A quick extra note, I just woke up from a dream that was in Bulgarian. Hilariously/predictably, I did not understand the conversation being had.
Some of you have already given me your skype name, the rest of you, please email it to me so that I may add you, and when the time is there, we can have some face time. Also, mine is cameron.ottens.
Simple future tense, dinner with the Mayor the town “biznezzman” and his star football player friend, and this:
“Най-обичам луди луди жаби! луди луди жаби на сън, йе!”
“nye obeechum loodi loodi zhabi loodi loodi zhabi na sun, ya!”
“I love(the most) crazy crazy frogs! Crazy crazy frogs in my dream, ya!”
More importantly, we leave town tomorrow morning for Vratsa, where we will have a gathering (Hub) of all of the Bulgarian Volunteer trainees in which we all will learn where we will live and work for the following two years. A little exciting to say the least.
Also, ran for a half hour in some serious, muggy heat. It felt “good.” It also took me about the same amount of time in a cold shower to cool myself to the point of not sweating. Thermodynamics was not working with me this day. Cheers!
Site placement today: After Pre-Service Trainin, which we are 6/11 weeks through, I will live for 2 years in a small town in the Rodopie mountains. In my town: There are more sheep than people, I will work for the grammar school, the mayor’s office and the cultural center doing business development, language and computer classes, trying to find markets/clients for goods produced in the town as well as developing the eco-tourism and trails (blazing/marking trails!). It’s all basically starting from zero so it’s “ready-go” time when I get there. The mayor is rad. The area I’ll live in is supposedly wildly beautiful, they tell me everyone who goes there falls in love with it and also it has two waterfalls. In the selection process I asked them for the hardest job I could get and told them I didn’t care where or how lived. It seems I’ve got the first wish, and then because of it’s remoteness, the very extreme living condition that is a 5k walk to the main road nearby, they ended up sticking my in a secluded mountain paradise. How funny is that? I should have my own flat if not my own house so do come visit, as long as it’s after 6 months from now. I’ll meet you at the airport and it’ll be awesome. I promise. -C
My life here is a lot of studying, drinking coffee in breaks between class and then studying again. I usually then eat dinner, read, study, go to bed and restart. My host mother/g-ma accused me of “always studying” the other night when I tried to excuse my self from dinner to go study. I stayed at dinner longer which interfered with my studying. The theme is quite apparent. I also bring a BG/ENG dictionary and a pencil to dinner. I should (re)state that my host family doesn’t speak or understand a single word in English outside of a couple of brand names that they have here. That said, I’ve never had to explain to them how I “Sony’ed,” something or how I needed to “Philips,” something else. Although, I have spent about 1-2 hours reading for fun each night this week.
Keeps me sane.
Tuesday we had a Rashodka (term for having people over for dinner, meal, whatever ~ hanging out) with one of the other Trainee’s host family. The food was quite delicious. We had some spicy peppers, some fresh goat cheese, what is also known as queso fresca in Spanish. It was literally as fresh as can be. The goats were milked, they were turned into cheese and then we ate it. Quite basic and very rad. At the end of the meal we had some turkish-style coffee, which is basically good-to-really-good coffee, that is a little strong, with some fine coffee grounds in the bottom of the cup. I asked for cream, thinking they had some goat’s milk lying around.
They didn’t. So a lot of bad Bulgarian, some miming, some animal noises and 5 minutes later, me and the other volunteers were milking a goat. The milk goes into a pie-tin the coffee and it’s good. Also we get to enjoy the awkwardness of the act and the ability to unconditionally demand that each one of us partake because “it’s the Peace Corps!” “You can’t NOT milk a goat (if the opportunity arises).” It’s like peer-pressure with institutional backing.
Thursday (chetvurtuk) we are meeting with the City Council, the Mayor, her staff and teachers from the local school (the principle was unavailable) and presenting project proposals to them. Hopefully they will have some exciting ideas, be energetic about them and be similarly enthused about our project ideas. We are on a very tight deadline to do something, though the standard for cool/good enough proposal is 0, it’s strictly an exercise for while we are in our Pre-Service Training.
[The pictures!] The front-left two candles are some I lit, one for Joel and one for Bonnie’s Dad when we were at a monastery. The Small out-house-shot is my morning bathroom commute from my room. The last two are shots of my walk to language lessons/town center during mid-day and late afternoon. – it’s not so bad here, clearly lacking both fire and brimstone. I’ll make the best of it 🙂 C-Out
9-June-2010 + Some Pictures
Regular language learning, as I’ve experienced it, is basically this: read/pronounce, translate, memorize translation. Throw in a rudimentary learning/understanding of the foreign grammar and you start to arrange translated words/concepts into sentences that are palatable to native speakers. The experience of emersion for me has been very informative and incredibly interesting. It is a truly accurate description because the best way to do it and the degree to which it more easily works is determined by how much you are submerged in the topic. This includes being present rather than withdrawn. First of all, everything is learning. I learned the word “hot” two days ago, not from a dictionary, class or homework assignment, but from saying hello to people on my walk to and from class on a day that was “Toplo”/hot. It’s obvious, and un-amazing and all that, but it’s also illuminating of a more complete understanding of how people, or at least I, actually learn. People don’t generally equate learning and memory as synonymous, except in the case of class topics, with memorization being a subset of means to the end of “learning.” Basically we equate them like this: “remember later, what you were able to learn now,” separate and complementary. This is different from considering learning and memory as being nearly equivalent. Every moment of everyday you are learning what is happening around you, precisely as you are memorizing it. Whether you are submerged in the Bulgarian language, a football game or computer programming, your amount of presence and focus in those moments defines your learning or recollection of those topics or events. Increasingly this learning process is being defined not as a set of tasks, lessons or homework assignments (those are all still huge), but as a lifestyle. The Bulgarian word, “Moi” could be learned from paper as, “Moi”=My/mine, but it can also be learned independent of translation, strictly as what it actually implies – something that belongs to or is of the person speaking. “Moi Braht”/My Brother, rather than “(Moi=My)+(Braht=Brother)=My Brother”. “Teb” means “you” in the context of “to you” or “of you” but for me it was learned as “the thing of the person being spoken to.” In these instances, the language learning process skipped the translation step and was simply learning a word as a sound with a meaning, rather than that with a translation in the middle of it. Bla bla bla. Anyway, the meat and potatoes of my learning remains class time but I’d say, outside learning is creeping up around 30% of comprehension. It’s a good thing. They are all good things. Love you guys. Until next time, -C