Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Regardless, I think Preslav takes on a completely new personality under a layer of snow. It adds something to this place - a new and different beauty from the one I was introduced to a few months ago (wow, I've been here "a few months" now, feels crazy). I love just walking around and taking it in... There's something about it that takes my mind off the stresses of life here - a quiet and stillness under that pure and clean blanket - and it's very refreshing for me.
Here are some of the pictures I've taken around town... enjoy!
Saturday, December 27, 2008
I took the night train to Pleven once again. Even though I was on time, and the train was well heated as snow fell on the tracks outside, I had to stand for the entire 3.5 hour journey since it was packed, proving once again to me that there is no such thing as a pleasant train ride in Bulgaria. I did however get to eat at the good Chinese place in Shumen before heading out, so all was not lost…
I got to my friend’s place at 8 in the morning on Christmas Eve, where I promptly collapsed and napped for a few hours while waiting for some of the other friends to arrive. The highlights of the day were trying to piece together a Norman Rockwell puzzle and drinking hot chocolate over some good conversation.
This was not the main event, however. We were treated to a rented out mehana (traditional BG restaurant) courtesy of my friend’s coworkers. The salads were good, and the liver… not so much, but it was eaten with happiness anyway. We were visited by carolers dressed in traditional Bulgarian clothes (and our friend who hosted the get together joined in on the action). Next up was the white elephant gift exchange, in which I got a jar of peanut butter, which I'm pretty excited about.
Of course, there were other Christmas highlights: We played football in the snow, in which Leslie made a Sportscenter worthy miracle catch that will probably live on in history as one of the greatest plays ever… Friends cooked up a nice meal together which was enjoyed by all… Getting to talk to the family back in the States through the wonderful creation that is Skype... Having a dance party that can only be described as “American…” However, the best part about the time there was the friendship – enjoying the connection with my other group members that I’ve described before as a big hilarious dysfunctional family, which is true, but they’re also some of the best people I’ve ever spent time with… Awww. (Thanks guys haha)
Until next time…
Sunday, December 21, 2008
The week started with the annual Christmas concert at the obshtina (municipality), featuring multitudes of kindergarteners forgetting the words to techno versions of Bulgarian Christmas carols. I didn't think it was possible (think about this: Traditional Bulgarian Christmas carols remixed into techno and sung by Chalga stars, partially in English, then having little kids sing and dance to these crazy tunes while wearing traditional costumes) but Bulgaria proves me wrong again.
My band made a rare appearance and performed a song at the concert, wowing everyone with their skills. When I say “my band,” I’m talking about the rock band that my language tutor is in, and I go to their practices every once in a while since they’re right after my tutoring sessions. They’re called “Chernoriztsite” (the Black Shirts), and they have a wide repertoire of Bulgarian rock covers, and as well as English renditions of “I Want to Break Free” and “Hot Stuff.” I’ll try to record some of their stuff and will post it later.
While at the concert I met one of the nicest people I’ve ever seen here. His name is Joe and he comes from Tanzania. He’s lived here for 15 years now, and has a Bulgarian wife and 2 kids. He invited me over for tea and while there we talked (in English!) about life here in Bulgaria. It was one of the best times I’ve had so far in Preslav, and I can tell that we’re going to have a great friendship over the next couple of years.
The next party in the lineup this week was the orphanage Christmas party. Since many of the children at the orphanage go home for holidays, we had the big celebration this week. I feel I need to elaborate a bit more on this situation. Here in Bulgaria, many of the children at the orphanages aren’t “orphans” the way we would consider them to be (that is, without parents). Instead, many times children will be sent here if their parents cannot afford to raise them, but are still permitted to go back at certain times of the year, such as during holidays or vacations from school.
Anyway, the party was a big success, and even the staff was really into it. Pretty much from the day I got here the kids told me “You’re going to be Diado Koleda (Santa).” I didn’t know how to take this at first since I’m pretty sure I don’t have the credentials for the job. The direct translation of Diado Koleda is Grandpa Christmas, and I’m nowhere close to being a grandfather, I’m not 300+ pounds, and I don’t have a white beard. Still I donned the red suit, strapped on the beard and gave my jolliest ho ho ho. It was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve done so far here, but hey the kids loved it, so I guess I did something right.
The kids spent the rest of the day tearing into the chocolates they were given, and playing around with the little toys they got, as well as proudly wearing the scarves sent over from a previous volunteer in the States.
But that’s not the end of the festivities… Tomorrow I have a staff party at the nicest of the 3 restaurants we have here in town, where I’ll break out my best horo dancing, for which I’ve been taking a class in my free time. Horo is the traditional Balkan dance in which everyone makes a circle and does a pattern of moves while going around the circle. These can be really easy (like just kicking your foot a couple of times) to really elaborate patterns involving a lot of hopping, spinning and other craziness. That’ll be another post for sure. I seem to be building up a lot of topics to post about later, but I think they’re all interesting and worth spending a separate post on when I get the time and things slow down a bit (which will be after New Years probably).
Also on the agenda is the Yasli Christmas party, for which I’ve been commissioned to be the videographer. The kids have been practicing a couple of Christmas songs, most of which they still don’t know, but it’s really cute to see them try. Pictures to come.
On actual Christmas I’ll be traveling across the country to be with a bunch of friends, so that will definitely be fun, and I’ll be spending New Years here in Preslav (which seems to be a bigger deal than Christmas here in BG) with the kids.
Until next time…
Friday, December 12, 2008
The closest American counterpart to the Bulgarian Yasli would probably be what we call preschool, though there are also elements of a nursery in there. The children’s ages range from 1 to 4 (though most are 2-3). This short span is a time during which many complex and important developmental goals are accomplished, making the Yasli a pretty important place. The difference between the Bulgarian preschool and the American version, like so many other places here, lies in the staff’s interactions with the children. Here, there is a much more hands-off policy when working with children, and the Yasli is no different. In my first few days I observed that that the staff’s role was mainly physical care of the children (feeding, changing diapers, etc.), while there were little to no coordinated activities. The children are mainly just given a pile of toys, and left alone for a while.The first thing I figured I would try to do was to get more one on one interaction with the kids, since the simple act of even speaking to children at this age can be a valuable developmental tool. For example, the simplest babbling is a sign that the child is trying to distinguish the correct sounds and rules of language for use later. With the younger kids, what I’ve been doing is simply playing with the children and looking for signs of emerging language and trying to encourage it. I reply with actual Bulgarian, and they try to repeat it, and the cycle continues until they get distracted or bored. With the children who can speak already I've been trying to encourage longer conversations and counting. I also help out with the discipline side of things, and also with first aid if needed. I figure this is about the extent to which I can go at this point, but even so it’s better than nothing.
Without an emphasis in strengthening the abilities of your children, what kind of investment are you making in the future of your country?
Then again, that’s one of the things that the Peace Corps is here to address. Again, it seems after reading this post again that I sound pretty negative, but I really am pretty hopeful that I can do something here… at least begin to start to instill some confidence in these children, and emphasize the importance of this early and critical stage of life. The staff is very friendly and open to me in both places, and they are great people with a lot of heart. However, the challenge comes in working with the culture - suggesting without criticizing and observing without looking down upon. I am, after all, a "very young boy" myself, as my coworkers tell me almost every day...
Perhaps eventually I’ll be able to get some more coordinated activities with the kids there, but, as with the orphanage, I am still trying to gain the trust and respect of the staff at this point. When my Bulgarian gets a bit better, I hope to also maybe get a parent’s group together. Though I don’t have any parenting experience, it might be good to coordinate some kind of forum where they can get together and talk. Things are still hazy on that front right now. Just wanted to share a bit of a different side of what I do here in Preslav with you all.
Until next time…
Monday, December 8, 2008
The Christmas season is in full swing in Preslav! There are flashing colored lights everywhere you look, kids are excited about "Diado Kolada" (Santa Claus), there's a definite winter chill in the air... The only thing missing is a Walmart having a huge sale.
Tonight was the tree-lighting ceremony in the town center, which rain threatened to cancel. Luckily, by the time all the speeches were said and songs were sung, the rain had cleared up, allowing the members of the obshtina to flip the switch on this beauty after all:
After the lighting ceremony some huge fireworks were set off right next to the church, pumping everyone up for the series of Christmas events the town will be coordinating...
I've gotten into the spirit myself with some decorations laying around the apartment. I just happened to find a nice little fake Christmas tree which I decorated today in honor of the tree lighting in the center. All that lie underneath right now are a couple of chocolates, but perhaps at some point I'll have some legit gifts haha.
Until next time...
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
I didn't really do anything special the actual day of Thanksgiving. In fact, I had to go in to work since we volunteers don't get American holidays off. It was alright though... I baked up a batch of chocolate chip cookies (more like chocolate chunk, since they don't have chocolate chips here... ended up just smashing a few chocolate bars) and handed those out to the staff. I also explained some Thanksgiving traditions and did some art stuff for the kids. They were more interested in the Pilgrims and Indians part than the turkey and family part ("Did the indians kill the people afterward?" No... Yay for movies!). That night I made hashbrowns and eggs haha.
However, over that weekend, I was able to get some real Thanksgiving food and spend some time with friends and enjoy the holiday. Even though we were thousands of miles from home, we managed to come together as a great big dysfunctional family for Thanksgiving. Coming together was a challenge though, starting with a missed train and an overnight ride in an unheated cabin and ending with missing the bus stop and having to walk (more slipping on the ice than walking) back into the town where we were supposed to get out. It all came together eventually - well worth the missteps - and a good time was had by all.
Turkey was brought in from Sofia, potatoes were mashed, cakes and pies were consumed, football was watched. Something was brought by each of the 20 volunteers that were there, making for a legit Thanksgiving meal, and an great time with great friends.
In other news, I started at the preschool yesterday. Well... to call it a preschool is a bit of a stretch. The kids are 2 and 3 years old and completely ridiculous. It should be interesting to see what I can do with them. I'm not really sure why I was assigned to work there, but at least it gives me something to do in the morning... More to come on that later.
Until next time...