We are nearing the end of this Pre-Service Training (PST) thing. We’ve got a week to go before we swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and officially become Peace Corps Volunteers.
This will mark the end of the 11th week living with a Bulgarian family for all of us trainees, a time which has brought with it a diversity of experiences as well as some common themes, and common frustrations.
Largely these frustrations are kind of petty, but because we cannot escape them and because they comprise a lot of our experience here, they seem significant.
Our host pretty much constantly demand that we eat more, even after we have a second, third, fourth helping. We joking refer to this as the “Babatocracy” because the Baba’s in our communities pretty much run things. People literally try to dress us, insisting that it’s too cold out and we’ll get sick (even when it’s around 80+ outside), and generally crowd our personal space far more than would be acceptable in the states. It’s basically just that we’re in a situation where we aren’t sure about the boundaries between being offensive and simply saying “no,” in an acceptable way.
Imagine being told to eat more by someone and then being made to feel guilty for not doing so all while they themselves, skip dinner. It’s jarring, but again, to complain about it is petty. And funny, it’s actually quite hilarious.
If someone insists that you close your window on a hot day, you’d be annoyed. But then imagine that person thinks the breeze it’s letting in is going to make you sick? What is that?
Our hosts open their homes and hearts to us and we haven’t the language skills or cultural context to fully appreciate and understand them or their hospitality. Likewise Bulgarians do not understand our cultural background regarding the same issues.
Most importantly, when we leave we’ll lose close friends, but they will lose sons, daughters, brothers, sisters – we are used to people coming in and out of our lives in the States. Here, people don’t move around as much.
Life’s not fair, in this way but I’m grateful and I’ll make sure to tell my host family as much before I depart.
There are a lot of words in Bulgarian that are funny when you hear them because, after straining to understand the conversation, you immediately know what is being discussed. These are words like, “Корупция,”// pronounced Koh-roopt-see-ya// korooptsia. A lot of adopted words have this “tsia” sound at the end of them.
It sounds like corruption, and guess what? That’s what it means.
My host brother has a bum hand – birth-defect – and he had to get it checked out by a doctor on Wednesday. He needed to get some x-rays and he got them, but then the doctor asked them for 50 leva, cash, outside of paying for the service. He asked them for a bribe/tried to take advantage of them.
Of course I was not there, and if I had been, wouldn’t have understood the situation anyway, so maybe my hosts misunderstood something, maybe. I’m going with “no,” though.
They didn’t pay the money, which is good, but they are a little worried about the situation because they don’t want to go back to that doctor.
After the outrage of the story dies down there’s a kicker, though, which is that “corruption” is an adopted Western word that wasn’t in Bulgarian. Baba tells me it wasn’t there before they got “Демокрация”//Demokratsia//Democracy, another Western word they adopted. She also said that maybe when they had Communism in the country the media was too complicit and so they just never heard about the corruption. That sounds pretty likely to me considering the stories I’ve heard from other Bulgarians – that the Communist regime was a very effective system for suppressing information.
The fact that the word for corruption is one they adopted from the West is unsettling. Maybe it shouldn’t be, maybe we just gave it a name and that cultural transfer is like shinning a little sunlight on an age-old problem. I like that narrative a lot better.
11 days until I move from our training city to my final placement.
11 days until I switch from being a “trainee” to a “volunteer.” It’s funny to be graduating between two “low-grade sounding” terms.
Laticia, the granddaughter of Litka, the Baba I live with currently, is gorgeous. I’ve mentioned her before. She’s 3 years old and couldn’t be cuter – makes me happy about the future, and a little more sad about leaving our training site. As anxious as I am to really get to work, I will miss this place, even if it is somewhat smothering at times.
Even more so, I will miss the people I share this training site with. They’ve been excellent comrades, partners in crime and in general, very good backup, when it was needed.
OH! That’s right, we had a bunch of projects that went swimmingly…update:
The Thursday before last, we were responsible for doing a presentation on the Black Sea. This usually means a (boring) Power Point presentation. Most groups did this – some good others less so.
Our presentation, however, and I’m about to brag, too cool. On a whim we made a joke about doing a Skype-telecast from the actual Black Sea, since it’d be hilarious. We’d be relaxing at the beach, drinking off-camera and everyone we’d be presenting to via Skype and a projector would be at a boring meeting across the country. The joke got serious enough however, when we decided that the format could actually work and would be awesome. We didn’t actually go to the Black Sea, but we did conduct an interview/skit over Skype with half our group in the other room being projected on the wall. This is the definition of Asymmetrical Competition, and so we dominated. The judges and the crowd were blown away.
I’ll stop now.
The next day, Friday, we had scheduled and advertised a dance/English class for the local kids/whomever in our town. The agenda read something like: “slide to the left, slide to the right, clap, etc.” “Камбур Казва” and, “The Electric Slide.” These were the phrases we wanted to teach, a Bulgarian version of Simon Says, to test/use those phrases and then the dance we were going to use them for.
A lot of things worked and a lot didn’t, but we adjusted, dropped the English lesson and ended up successfully teaching, and in my case, learning the Electric Slide.
That Saturday was planned to get some kids together to repaint the playground. The news said we’d get rained out, but when the time came, it was sunny with a cloudless sky and still air so we went for it. The kids got really into it, kind of fought over paint brushes (because we didn’t have enough), in a good way and they eventually an excellent job.
At first they all wanted to paint the structures the same colors they had been previously, but after a slight amount of coaxing they got much more creative – spontaneous excitement and initiative from children in intoxicating – we had a blast.
The paint dried perfectly and it didn’t rain until the next day…
Which was Sunday, the 4th of July. Just as the day was beginning to cool down a bit it started to pour pretty hard. This sucked because we had this whole event planned (we were winging it, who am I kidding). The rain stopped after maybe a half hour, we finished our American food for sampling/culture sharing/mind blowing via Chocolate chip cookies. After the food was gone, we played music, coaxed everyone from Friday into doing the Electric Slide and then some “Horo,” traditional Bulgarian dance. After it got dark we had a mini firework display.
The Fireworks were pretty real, though we didn’t have a ton of them. They flew high, blew up pretty big and generally amazed the crowd, which was a good feeling.
Oh, something unique to being in a place where no one speaks your language: you can play Dr. Dre at full volume, uncensored in a public place in front of kids, grandmas and the mayor and no one’s the wiser.
I met a fellow Petaluman last weekend, he’s in the Peace Corps group just before me, is the same age as me and knows a bunch of the same people. It’s pretty absurd to have run into him. I also met a bunch of the other people from the last generation of Bulgaria Volunteers. Lots of cool cats. I’ve got a lot to learn from them all.
Plenty of time for that later.