Wednesday, December 16, 2009

in stich



unexpectedly, i didnt have to teach today; so i thought



i have a new camera and i should



climb a mountain




then there was this other time i climbed a mountain. it was warmer then.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Snow-you-didn’t!

So we have snow here now. And that is tremendous! (no picture ,slight camera issue, should be soon though...) The snow is great because it makes this tiny village on top of a mountain feel like some stylish resort in aspen. It is also exciting because there is always some special energy that accompanies the first snow of the season.

With the snow and the lower temperatures I have been using my wood stove. It is kind of fun to start a fire in your house, not to mention it can get quite warm in my two rooms. Strange how in my Peace Corps home,it will be warmer this winter than my home in the United States.

On Halloween weekend, I had the chance to go visit and celebrate with a bunch of other Peace Corps Volunteers. It was sweet! We haven’t had the chance to socialize with each other without any Peace Corps obligations in a real long time. We also played a game of American Football and that was radical.

Things I am looking forward too: Slowly but surely starting projects. Thursdays, I run an English club where we speak English or work on assignments. I will be starting a scouts group where we hang out and do scouts type of activities (un-official scouts, real scouts is expensive!) also there is an English class for adults in the works. All these projects, along with studying will really help my Bulgarian language progress. Once my Bulgarian is sufficient, then I will be able to move onto other projects in the business development and (hopefully) micro-finance.




Joke.

Q: What do you call an avid gardener?


A: Herb!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mormons or Peace Corps?

There is something that is becoming increasingly clear to me. Bulgaria is small. Bulgaria is Duluth, MN small.

This has become apparent in the way that most people I encounter in Bulgaria knows, has known or known of a Peace Corps volunteer. This is really great, and I think says a lot about the work Peace Corps is doing in Bulgaria.

So, that brings me to yesterday (Saturday, October 17); a fellow volunteer and I met in Plovdiv to do a little exploring and eat some McDonalds! We were in the old town at a gift stand when the man working the stand heard us speaking English and could tell that we were American. He asked us “Mormons or Peace Corps?”

Sunday, October 4, 2009

4 of 26: Volunteer Report

This week the bi-annual Volunteer Report Form for Peace Corps workers was due. The report is Peace Corps’s way of tracking what the organization is accomplishing. Each volunteer has to give detailed descriptions of their activities and the number and demographic of the people they are working with. This time it was easy for us volunteers who started 2-months ago. We didn’t have a whole-lot to report, but I still thought some people might be interested in what I have been doing as far as work kind of things.

Teaching English
I have been helping teach English to 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th graders two days a week.


KUBB

Monday-Friday I have been playing sports with kids at the school. I have taught them a game that I play with friends from the US. The game is called Kubb. It involves throwing sticks at blocks of wood. The kids have really enjoyed the game and ask to play it often. The game has been especially good at equalizing talents of girls, boys and the younger kids. The competition is fair, so boys and girls play the game together. It is different when we play other sports. Most of the time, the boys’ are the only kids who play the sports.

Examples of ICT (Information/Communication Technology)

My landlord has a computer in his store. He was having problems with installing a new mouse and getting his internet to work. I was able to help him resolve his issues with the computer.
Four friends of mine, who live in the village, didn’t know much about the internet. I was able to help them sign up for Email accounts, Facebook accounts, and Skype accounts using my laptop. We also started a Facebook page for our village, and uploaded many photos to the page using my digital camera.

WID/GAD (Women in Development, Gender and Development)
I played volleyball with a group of the younger girls of the village. I was also able to introduce a game to those girls where they could fairly compete with the boys of the village.


Goal Two: “Promote understanding of Americans to peoples served”

When one of my friends had a birthday, I made Chocolate chip cookies and everyone enjoyed them a lot. I was able to show 7 of my friends an American dessert. Also, my friends are interested in American Football and we have been following the Minnesota Vikings a little bit.


Goal Three: “Promote understanding of Host country to Americans”

I have been maintaining a blog (dansarles.blogspot.com). The updates on the blog communicate observations that I have had made about Bulgaria and the people of Bulgaria. Also, I have been writing letters and Emails to friends and family in the US.

~~~

Another thing in particular that I seem to have been really lucky with is; in my village I have friends close to my age! A lot of Peace Corps workers are serving in villages where all the 20somthigns go off to larger towns to work. My friends were able to find work around the area, and they like living in the village. They have been excellent people to get to know!

Here is a picture with some of my friends from the town holiday.



Joke:

Q: What do you call a cow that just had a baby?

A: De-CAFEinated!!!!!

(THANKS JILL)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fountain Head

When you think about digging trenches in the Peace Corps, you wouldn’t think they would be for your landlord’s new barbecue/fountain/picnic area. But, that is what I was working on yesterday.

My landlord is building a barbecue/fountain/picnic area on the road coming into our village. It isn’t too uncommon for people in my area to work on projects like this. In fact, on the 14 KM stretch of road leading into my village there are no fewer than 3 picnic areas (depending on if you count the tipped over cable-spool under a tree, which, I do) and at least 9 fountains.

It has been quite fascinating to see how to build a fountain. The fountains are supplied from natural springs that are all around the mountain. Once a source of water has been identified, rock, sand and plastic-sheets are used to create a collecting pool. Plastic pipe is ran from the collecting pool to the place the fountain is to be built.

Concrete is poured into the shape of the fountain. There is a reservoir to hold incoming water and a spout that pours water into a basin which holds the out going water. On some of the fountains, water flows out into troughs for animals to drink form. Every fountain has been dedicated to someone who has passed away.

The fountains make hiking around the mountain much more enjoyable. Not only do you not have to carry water but, they are all unique and fun to look at. Some of the older fountains have algae growing in their basins, some have many different spouts and some are quite useful at keeping bottles of beer cold. Each fountain has a different aspect to it that give it’s character.



Hopefully all this talk about fountains hasn’t made you too thirsty.

Joke:

-Why would you lie about how much coal you have?

-Because you don’t want to tell anyone you’re a miner!!!!!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

3 of 26: In This Refulgent Summer

8-30-09

In This Refulgent Summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life. My days are spent speaking with people in a language that three months ago seemed so alien to me. There is time in my day to take a 30 minute coffee break, or a 3 hour lunch. And some of the most glorious hiking trails I have ever been fortunate enough to explore. But, what has been most unexpected is the scents of village life.

The village is surrounded by evergreen, pine, and Norway spruce trees. The smell is invigorating. A sweet smell of pine carried on a cool mountain breeze is a good way to wake up in the morning.

Bread-baking has been another smell that has characterized this summer. The house, I live in is a duplex. My landlord and his family live above me, and below me is a small bakery. The aroma spills out of the bakery and finds it way into my room.

There are the scents of coffee in the café and herbs drying in my neighbors yards. There is also the smell of smoke from the fires people use to boil water that seals jars of fruits or vegetables.

The pace of life has slowed down in Peace Corps. It has been good to relax a bit and take it all in. And I have concluded, I am quite, pretty, very lucky. Bulgaria is a beautiful county, with some of the most hospitable people I have ever come across. And I get to live here with them. (and the governments paying for me to do that!)so i guess what i'm saying is... go join the peace corps or maybe go outside.

a joke:

what kind of tree grows in your hand?

-a palm tree!

a cultural observation:

Bars are open till 6 in the morning. Now that's a Chalga Party.


My Two Favorite Colors










A Great Place To Swim






Ready For Winter

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kubb Corps!

8-16-09

Ahh… The first few months of being a Peace Corps Volunteer, where the only thing that is expected of you is to take it easy and become a part of your community. So far so good.

Things are going well. I have made friends with a group of guys in the village who are my age. There has been quite a bit of time to read and drink tea. Ideas for projects are starting to develop. I even remember the names of some of my neighbors! (It is actually kind of difficult. I am not familiar with a lot of the Bulgarian names.)

This week, something quite exciting happened. Something that has made me tremendously happy. Something that no matter what happens with the rest of my service, it has a complete success.

Kubb has been introduced, and warmly received, in my village!

For those of you who are familiar with me and my close friends, you know that for the past five years we have been living, breathing, and eating an obscure yard game known as Kubb. The game consists of throwing sticks at wooden blocks. My friends and I have spent countless hours playing and discussing the game. We have built many different Kubb sets. We founded a club at our college devoted to playing the game. My friends Dan, Keith, and Ryan are even the Midwest Kubb champions for the past two years.

In pre-service training, I was able to describe the construction of a Kubb set to the host Dad of my fellow trainee Val. A few passes through a table saw later, I had a Kubb set! Unfortunately, things were quite hectic towards the end of training and I didn’t get to play much with the people in my training village. I played one game with my fellow trainees C.J. and Meg. They enjoyed it.

I didn’t want to try to push Kubb on anyone in the village so; I waited for the opportune time to introduce the game. The kids around the village spend a lot of time playing table tennis or soccer at the school. One day last week, after a group of kids and I got board of playing table tennis, I grabbed my Kubb set. I wasn’t sure how describing the game play would go; I can hardly describe how to play the game in English. Fortunately, playing the game is the best way to teach it. We played a few rounds, and what do you know, they love it! We have been playing every day since!

One of the T-shirts that I brought was given to me from my buddy Ryan. The front of the shirt is a design of a Kubb set and the back says “Kubb unites people and creates peace on earth”. Perhaps it is just a game and won’t create peace on earth but, I can attest to the uniting people aspect of Kubb.




Joke:

A bumble bee was chasing a rabbit. Finally the bee turned around and flew away. Why? The rabbit had two b’s already!



Cultural Observation:

People in my village spend a lot of time in cafés. They drink coffee “normalno” (Espresso) or “Duragol” coffee (Americano). Often, they also order a soda water or Coca Cola to drink with their coffee. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you have an espresso and a Coca Cola. Surprisingly, it tastes wonderful. It is also a good way to get your daily recommended amount of caffeine. Next time your at your favorite coffee café, give it a shot. An Espresso shot that is…

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Super?

8-04-09


The internet has been a little difficult to come by over the past couple of weeks. No complaints here. I mean, I am in the Peace Corps after all. Today, I have posted two posts in the order I wrote them. I can’t tell you what to do, but I recommend reading the previous post first. Otherwise you’ll miss a lot of the plot . )

So, here I am. In the real-life Peace Corps, and it absolutely feels that way. Pre-Service Training (PST) wasn’t quite like this. In Pre-Service training, I had 4 American friends who I talked to on a daily basis and I also knew a few kids in the village who knew English fluently. Now that I am in my permanent site I don’t have that anymore. The concept of living two years in a small, foreign village has finally sunk in. “Petrified” might be a good word to describe that initial feeling. After a few days I was able to get out and embrace my situation by talking with my neighbors. That helped a whole lot.

This past week, on the whole, has been good. It was the town “Sepour”. The Sepour is a celebration where everyone in the village and those who have immigrated out of the village come together to celebrate. A lot of my time this week was spent helping with set up. It was good for two reasons: 1. It was manual labor which is a good way to start showing that I am serious about helping out in this village. 2. My buddy Collin, who I met on the first visit, was one of the guys in charge of setting everything up. He is close to my age and doesn’t live in the village but came back to help out with the festival. It was good to have a familiar face during my first week.

The weekend came and the village was flooded with people. The people who came were family to the people who are living in the village. It was actually quite a big deal. There was live music, a makeshift bar/restaurant and all sorts of vendors that were set up in a field near the village. I met quite a few people who could speak English as well.

There was one man that I met named Vincty who is living in Connecticut now. He was shocked to learn that an American had come to live in the village he grew up in. It was nice to meet many English speakers who had a personal connection to the village. They were able to tell me things about it that I didn’t necessarily pick up on. Also they introduced me to other people in the village who are currently living here. Reflecting on this now, I am quite lucky to have had the opportunity to make the friends I did this weekend.

There will be a lot to read today, so I wont go on any longer about the Sebour. I will leave it be with one story;

Saturday night, an all-night disco and bon-fire were featured. Around 4 in the morning, I stood with some friends and other weary partiers around the bon-fire. The bon-fire started to die-out so I took it upon myself to kick the fire back up. Poking around the fire for a few minutes I managed to get the flames to start back up. It was then that I noticed the group of people around the fire weren’t really talking to each other anymore, and instead were watching me. I returned to my place with my friends and watched the fire. It occurred to me how appropriate that felt. In essence, that is exactly what I am trying to do in this village. I am trying to kick up the embers of a fire to get it blazing again.

2 of 26* A Whole Lot of Swearing.

7-26-09



Wow! Here I am, a full fledged Peace Corps Volunteer. It has been a long time in coming but I am finally beginning my two year assignment in the Rhodopi Mountains of southern Bulgaria.

Friday July 24, was the day my fellow B25s’ (25th group of Peace Corps Volunteers to Bulgaria) and I took our oath of service. We swore in as United States Peace Corps Volunteers in Bulgaria. The day was quite exciting. That morning, we met at the Municipal concert hall in Vratsa. There was a crowd of 350 people consisting of our host families, and other members of the community who gathered to see the ceremony. There was folk-singing, speaking and of course, a lot of swearing!

A Huge-Congratulation to my fellow Peace Corps volunteers Jared and Nat who delivered speeches on behalf of our Peace Corps group. They were outstanding! Each of them wrote superb speeches and delivered their speeches in both English and Bulgarian.

Following the ceremony, there was a reception with snacks and drinks. It was a little bitter-sweet. Not because of the sweet and sour chicken, but because all the new volunteers were relieved to have made it through pre-service training and sad to have to say goodbye to many friends.

Immediately following the reception, I was given a ride to the bus station where I had to catch a bus to Sofia. Ivan, Ivanka, and I said our last goodbyes and another volunteer Jon, whose site is near mine, and I left for Sofia.

In Sofia, we had to catch another bus to our sites, and to do this we had to go to a different bus station. Jon had a friend who lived in Sofia and purchased our tickets and helped us get from one bus station to the next. That was incredibly helpful and saved us bit of money because we didn’t need to take a taxi.

The bus ride to my site is very…strange. The bus trip takes me through small neighborhood roads and at one point a rock quarry. When you get into the mountains, the roads are all narrow and winding. Sitting in the bus and looking down at some points is pretty nerve-racking, but great fun!

Friday night I did a bit of un-packing and settling in, but I was pretty exhausted from the hot and eventful day, so I just crashed.

Saturday started off fairly quiet. I went to the café/store to purchase some food for my house. I ended up drinking coffee with some local people for a couple of hours. People here are very approachable, and it is easy to invite yourself to sit with anyone at the café. I went back later in the day and did it again. (Mostly because I forgot to pay for the cup of coffee I bought that morning…great start, right?)

That afternoon, I sat on my porch and did a bit of reading. There was a pop and some smoke on the mountain in front of my house. I thought perhaps it was someone hunting. I didn’t give it too much though and went inside to make myself a sandwich. I came back outside sat down with my sandwich and looked at the mountain to see a few trees engulfed in flames! I could not believe it. Most of my safety and security training in PST had to deal with exactly this, and here I was on my first day.

I went inside, put my shoes on and grabbed my fire-extinguisher. I ran up to the fire and gave the fire-extinguisher to someone who was fighting the flames. Being a Peace Corps worker I am not really suppose to be putting myself in any danger. I went back down the hill and made sure someone was calling the fire department. Then, I ran to get the mayor. After I knew the mayor knew, I called our Safety and Security Officer and reported what was going on. The Safety and Security officer had me pack a bag incase the fire really got out of control and I wouldn’t be able to stay in my house.

The people of my village had the fire contained fairly quickly. It was very impressive to see the response and knowledge of everyone from the village to fight the fire. They were able to have the flames under control using shovels, axes, and one fire-extinguisher (which probably didn’t affect the outcome too much). They had to respond to the fire because the fire department didn’t show up until 30 minutes after they had been called! It is no fault of the Fire departments; it’s just that our village is so secluded that it is hard to get here.

So... a little excitement on the first day, but otherwise very good. I spent quite a bit of time walking around my neighborhood that evening. I spoke with some of my neighbors on the block. Apparently, a lot of my neighbors are family. I like that.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Statues



if you ever feel like making me into a statue; please put me at the table with everyone else.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Is that cologne your wearing?

07-14-09




The last couple weeks have been quite busy with learning Bulgarian and learning how to be an effective Peace Corps worker. Things are starting to really pick up. Once I was able to speak about things that I wanted to speak about, then learning the language became a lot more fun.

A couple Saturdays ago, was the American celebration of our independence. The experience was quite unique in more ways than one. Turns out July 4th, in Bulgaria, isn’t such a big deal. It was strange to not hear the “Pow!!!” of fireworks throughout the day. Also, this Fourth of July was distinctive because, I am working as a representative of the United States. Patriotism feels different when you are serving your country.

To celebrate our national day my fellow Peace Corps trainees and I held a basketball game for the kids of out village and a neighboring village. We gave everybody who came a brief history of America’s independence and we sang our national anthem.
After the game, Val had us over for an American style barbecue. It was superb. We ate hamburgers, hot dogs, onion dip, salads and of course a very American platter of French fries. It was a blast to celebrate with our Bulgarian hosts. I think my favorite part was Meg’s host Dad, Rumen, who learned how to wish us a happy fourth of July in English. It was nice to have such a fun celebration. It helps a lot, when I think about all of the greatness that is a Minnesota summer.

These past few weeks, a few Peace Corps trainees and myself have noticed itchy bug bites. And…Well… it has been determined that I have fleas. It really isn’t too bad. Basically, it’s like having a bunch of mosquito bites. I have to spray an insecticide in my room and start wearing a repellant before I go out. Ivan and Ivanka, my hosts, noticed me itching my bug bites and were shocked to find my problem. Ivanka promptly instructed me to take a shower. It was about the usual time in the evening that I shower so, I went. I returned to eat dinner and found Ivanka with a home remedy that apparently eases itching. This remedy; dabbing vinegar on all of the bug bites. It helped a little bit but turns out, as my friends here will be able to tell you, vinegar doesn’t make you smell so great. In fact, it makes you smell like vinegar. Well, hydrocortisone doesn’t do much better anyways.


Joke:

Q. What do you call it when you get vinegar in your ear?

A. Pickled-Hearing!!!....

(…and with that, the joke feature of this blog is now on hiatus...)

Cultural Observation:

My old boss suggested that; while traveling, if I ever needed help understanding something, look to the kids. This has proven to be quite helpful. Most kids here in Bulgaria speak a bit of English. In fact, most of the kids I have met speak terrific English. That is not too surprising. English is one of if not the most commonly used language in the world, and many schools teach it. What is surprising to me is that the kids who speak the best English say they have learned it from watching cartoons!

I wonder if there was a really good cartoon in spanish, kids in the US would speak Spanish better? I guess it doesn’t matter; those kids should be outside playing anyway.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Business Time

06-23-09


The Announcement:


Thursday June 18th was quite a day. My trainee group and I traveled to the Peace Corps office for the site placement and counterpart meeting conference. As you may have read, and I don’t blame you if you haven’t, the conference is when we find out where and kind of what we will be doing for the next two years!

Upon arrival to the Peace Corps office, we found all the pre-service trainees gathering. I am gonna go out on a limb here and say they were kind of excited. Actually, I don’t think anyone has been that excited since landing in Sofia, last month. It was AWSOME!
(ps. Awesome in Bulgarian means the number “8”. That does indeed cause confusion. This becomes especially confusing when I’m nodding my head. Basically, imagine someone shaking their head “No” ecstatically saying the number “8” that is kind of what it’s like for my Bulgarian friends.)

We had to wait an entire hour before Peace Corps would tell us where we were going to be living! They made us listen to important information before telling us where we would be. I think a few people were hospitalized from anticipation. How cruel Peace Corps can be some time… Maybe not that serious, it was still hard.

The site announcement was sweet! Peace Corps staff drew a big out-line of Bulgaria in a parking-lot. Within the map of Bulgaria, they placed colored sheets of paper each with the name of the different sites. All the trainees and staff stood around the map. The senior staffs called up groups of 4 or 5 trainees to receive a red rose and were guided to their place in Bulgaria! Once, we were standing at our site, they gave us an envelope with some details about our job.

My name was finally called and I was led to my site. In the words of a fellow trainee Jon; whose placement is near to mine, “We won the Peace Corps lottery!” I will be living and working in a small village (population 800) in the Rhodopie Mountains! Not too far from the boarder with Greece.



Counterpart Meeting:

We met the people we will be working with later that day. My counterpart is named Nevena. She works in the mayor’s office. She does not speak any English, but she speaks really good slow Bulgarian. I can understand her fairly well. I am still surprised at my Bulgarian language progress.

The Peace Corps programs split up and everyone went to different hotels for a few days to learn about adapting to different cultures, working with counterparts, and putting together a first 3 months of service plan.

The hotel was very nice! It was surrounded by mountains and had a river flowing in front of it. They had breakfast lunch and dinner for us as well. The hotel was only 1 km out of town so that was also convenient.

Friday night a group of COD trainees and I saw a Bulgarian Metallica cover band! They actually were not too bad. That or this has been the longest I have gone not seeing live “pop” music since I was 16 years-old.




Saturday afternoon a fellow trainee, Greg, and I hiked a nearby mountain. It was incredible how high we got in such a short time! The area our hotel was in is a haven for top-rope and lead climbing. On our hike we saw a lot of great climbing routs. It would be incredible to be climbing in some of these spots because the view is absolutely amazing! My experience at the conference was a lot of fun and productive.



Nevena, a peace corps staff member, and I met to discuss possible goals for the first 3 months. The work I will be doing sounds way cool. I will be teaching English, working with kids, teaching a computer class, and maybe doing some out door education types of things. I want to translate “Leave No Trace” into Bulgaria. Let me know if you think the department of natural resources would have a problem with that or if you have any other ideas relating to out door things to teach kids.


Where I’ll be Living:

After our few days at the hotel, we traveled to our permanent sites to scope it out for a couple of days! Sunday morning, I traveled to my permanent site with my counterpart. We took a bus part of the way and traveled by car the rest of the way. The drive into the mountains is astounding. The road winds through the mountains following a river. The mountains are covered in evergreen trees. My counterpart told me the air is cleaner up there. At first I thought that was just some kind of home town pride type of comment, but she is right. It is hard to explain but, I felt good in the Rhodopies.

The town I am living in is nestled in between a few peaks of the mountains and situated on a hill. I like it. The school, library and mayors office are quite nice for a town that size and there are at least 4 different bars and restaurants. When we arrived into town I met the mayor, his wife and the English teacher. The reception was very warm. I am happy to have been placed in the village.

We had lunch at a local restaurant, which is owned by my landlord. They served me French fries with Seirene. I can not believe I have been in Bulgaria for a month, and have never had French fries with Seirene! Probably one of my new favorites.
After lunch, they took me to the place I will be living for the next two years. It is a three story house. The first floor is a bakery, I have the second floor, and the top floor is a young family. I have a sweet porch, a dishwasher and a washing machine. The bed I have is the best bed I have slept on in Bulgaria and every thing is very clean. Now you may be asking yourself “Sounds nice Dan…But where is your Peace Corps experience?” Then I will respond with “well actually I don’t have a microwave or an electric stove for that matter. I will be using a wood burning stove for cooking and I guess heating” That should be an interesting experience.

During my short time in my village, I was able to meet quite a few of the local people and tour the main buildings of the village. The people are very receptive but don’t really understand why I would ever leave the United States to come there. Actually, most everyone was making fun of me for it. I don’t take offense to that one bit. I mean Peace Corps is really an irrational concept when you think about it. But obviously, 30 years of history is speaking volumes.

One day we were able to hike on the trails around the village. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Lake Superior Hiking Trail but, these are mountains. The trails are so cool! I am now justified for buying all that stuff from REI now.

My short visit to my permanent site has really energized me. Returning to pre-service training, I am now even more motivated to learn Bulgarian. We have a month left and a lot to learn. It is going to be hectic, but how I can serve and help out Bulgaria is becoming clearer to me. Well, here goes nothing.


Joke:

Q: If Al Borlin and a cat had a child what would it be called?

A: A Plaid-a-puss!

**My Brother made that one up. Thanks Andrew, keep them coming**


Cultural Observation:

As a country, America needs to eat feta-like cheese more often.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

1 of 27.



GOAT ATTACK!

6-16-09


One month ago, I began my Peace Corps training, and it has just about sunk in that I am, in fact, in the Peace Corps. This has easily been the largest change in the shortest amount of time during my life (or at least a close second to puberty).

Day in and day out I am speaking Bulgarian. My laundry is being done by hand and, I am pretty sure I don’t remember how to drive a car. So, in other words, “completely different from Eden Prairie”.

Since my last blog entry, a lot has happened. Let me see if I can remember most of it.

Last week, my fellow trainees and I held a community meeting to find out what types of community projects we could work on in the short 7 weeks we have left of training. With the assistance of our language trainer Toni and COD (Community Organizational Development) program staff Katya, we were able to communicate with a group of 30 local community members about the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities of our training village.

The conversation was quite lively. It seemed like the people wanted to know about us, and our families, more than coming up with project ideas. We did however, receive many ideas for a project. Some of the ideas included; painting the bridge in town, cleaning the area around the river, building an information kiosk, and (my favorite) planting 5 trees in the town square each representing one of us.

At the time of this post, the project that we will be working on has yet been decided.

CLIFFHANGER!!!!!!!

Continuing on… Last week we also had placement interviews! Which means, I met with the COD managing staff so, they can make a final decision about where I am going to be placed within Bulgaria for two years!
{ok. real quick.}
Peace Corps Bulgaria consists of three programs COD (Community Organizational Development), YD (Youth Development), and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) everyone in Peace Corps Bulgaria works within one of these programs.

The interview went well. I have said it once, and I’ll say it again. The staff of Peace Corps Bulgaria is phenomenal. I have complete faith in this organization that they will help me be an effective peace worker over the next two years.

One part of the permanent site placement process is a mid term language review. We had it yesterday so, as you can imagine, trainees were on pins and needles for the last week. Anyway, long story short, I find out where I will be living and working for the next two years on Thursday (6-18)!

Peace Corps makes it a fun ordeal, I guess. On Friday (6-19) I will be traveling to my permanent site for a few days to scope it out and introduce myself to my future co-workers and neighbors.

So there you have it. CLIFFHANGER part 2.

(Yes, I have resorted to cliffhangers to keep people reading my blog.)

So, that’s HUGE!

On Sunday (6-13), I helped Ivan and Ivanka can Raspberries and Cherries. This was way cool! The thing I really am impressed with is how self sufficient they are. They grow their own produce, with great variety, and are able to store it for the winter. They are old pros at it too! They had a big metal box where they put about 80 jars of cherries and raspberries. They filled the box with water and built a fire underneath the box to boil the water hence, sealing all the cans.

On Monday (6-14), There was a concert in the town square supporting the up-coming parliamentary elections in Bulgaria. This was also way cool! Ivanka, sings in the local folk choir that performed. There were traditional dance performances and a comedy routine as well. In the routine there was a lot of drag and a lot of music jokes (where one actor would ask another something and they would respond by lip syncing a well placed song). It was hard to follow given my low level of Bulgarian but, the crowd seemed to enjoy it.

Alright, to wrap things up; a joke and a query:

Q. Why don’t ant-eaters ever get sick?
A. Because they are full of Anty-bodies!


Cultural Query:

In America, when you ask someone how are you, the response is usually “Good. Thanks” in Bulgaria “Thanks. Good”. Any thoughts?



Whatcha doin?



Can you can?



Town Square and Traditional dancing



@ the folk show



Ivan and Ivanka




A couple fellow trainees taking a break (Val/Meg)

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Chris and school director



Tastes that good too



Great Work Team!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Biblitecha. (Library)

File under post-communism observations;

There is a small one room library in the village where I live. My fellow trainees and I visited this library last week. I recognized one book on the shelf. It was “1984” by George Orwell. At first, it didn’t dawn on my how significant that is.

Think about it, here is a book about a communist regime out-of-control in a library that was started by a communist regime! Pretty neat. Anyone?

Two post in one day alright!

So....When does Bulgaria time start?

6-3-09


Whew! So, I am going to be honest. I kind of thought, when I joined Peace Corps, it was going to be way………….less………hectic. I thought, I was going to hang out in the shade, read a lot, play some soccer with kids, and then maybe sit around and drink tea for a few hours. That really has not been my Peace Corps experience so far.

It has been a week and a half, since I arrived at my pre-service training site. At the moment, I am not quite sure if that feels like a long time or a short time; but rest-assured, it has been a good time. It feels like I haven’t stopped learning. This is good because the sooner I can communicate with Bulgarians the better. Although, it would be nice to sit around and drink tea for a few hours.

My daily routine is just as demanding as work or school. I wake up around 7 a.m. Then have breakfast with Ivan and Ivanka, a retired couple, whom I am staying with during pre-service training. Lately, we have been having hot salami and cheese sandwiches and yogurt for breakfast. Ivanka will not let me eat the yogurt until I am done with the sandwich. I don’t know why. I have noticed that Bulgarians have a lot of superstitions. Don’t dare leave a window open. You WILL get sick. Ne Znam (I don’t know).

After Breakfast, I head to the town center or mayors office building. Peace Corps has a room in the building where we are doing our language training. Training usually goes from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. I am learning a lot of language and fast. I suppose that is not too surprising since I am surrounded by it nevertheless, I am surprised at how much I have learned. The small class size helps big time.

There are 4 other Pre-Service Training volunteers at my site. They are Chris (South Carolina), C. J. (Arizona), Val (Texas), and Meg (Minnesota, Hutchinson, yes the same Meg that shares a bunch of friends from Hutch.) I count myself incredibly lucky to be placed with such a dynamic, intelligent, positive and flexible group. It is also nice because we are all the same age (+/- 1 S.D.)

In the evening, when I am not studying, or composing masterpiece blog entries, I help Ivan and Ivanka in the garden. It has been another sort of training. I use the term garden about as broad as it has ever been used. Ivan and Ivanka have a ton of different plants (almost all food) and they also keep chickens, goats, rabbits, and a hog. One thing in particular, I have learned that we don’t waste ANY food. After a meal, they will put a little bit of water in the plates and bowls to clean out any extra food particles. They pour the water into a bucket outside of the kitchen. When the bucket is full, it is given to the hog.

On Monday (6-1), my fellow trainees and I went into town for our 1st Hub. The Hub is a Peace Corps training day with all the trainees from the COD (Community Organizational Development) and YD (Youth Development) programs. This is particularly fun because we get to see our buddies from other training sites. Everyone had good stories about adapting to their communities.

Following the Hub day, my fellow trainees and I had the opportunity to stay in the city. Monday evening was the celebration of Hristo Botev. Botev was a revolutionary poet from Bulgaria. He led the libration of Bulgaria from the Turks. It is a bit like the American 4th of July. There were fireworks and a lot of Bulgarian flags. It was definitely a new experience being apart of a different countries patriotism. Maybe it’s like going to a major league baseball game that’s not the Twins. You enjoy it, but you still wish it were the Twins playing.

This week I helped Chris and C. J. start a basketball clinic at the middle school. We put up a few posters that said (in Bulgarian) “come learn to play basketball with C.J. and Chris”. Our first day of the clinic was Tuesday. We didn’t know what to expect because Bulgaria, and the rest of the world for that matter, prefers soccer (football). Turning the corner to the middle school basketball court we were surprised to find about 20 kids! The clinic went great despite our limited communication skills.

On Wednesday; Chris, Meg, Val, C. J., and myself strolled around our training site village. We are creating a map of our village, one of the many assignments P-Corps gives us. We were standing on a hill, overlooking our village, when about 15 kids came out of nowhere. We were swarmed by a mob of Roma kids ages 2-11. This was kind of fun. They were very curious as to what us Americans were up to. It was kind of fun. I now know how the ice cream man feels. Except we didn’t have any ice cream.

Returning from the hill, we were invited to Wine, Cheese (Sirene, it is like feta, everyone in Bulgaria makes it) chocolate, and honey by a retired police officer and his wife who works at the mayors office. Alright! This is what I wanted from my Peace Corps experience, hanging out in the shade. People in Bulgaria are tremendously hospitable. They also have very cool gardens. We sat at a table in the front yard, underneath grape vines. Socializing is very limited at this point. We can talk about families and that were volunteers for Peace Corps.

So in conclusion, and summary;

I am enjoying my Peace Corps experience. It is a bit more of a challenge than I anticipated, but I can’t figure out why I am so surprised that learning a new language was going to be difficult. At any rate, I am up to the challenge.

BTW.
My internet access consists of Meg or C. J. taking pity on me and letting me borrow their computers. Thanks to them! But who has internet in Peace Corps anyway? (Well… I guess most P-Corps workers in Bulgaria)

Alright, Nasdrave! (Cheers!)

P.S.
Don’t worry Settlers of Catan is picking up in Bulgaria. Soon, I will find a saw and some wood and make a Kubb set.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

05-25-09 - 9:47 p.m.

End of Week 1. “Welcome to Bulgaria

Wow. Stick with me on this entry, there is a lot to say.

A week ago today, I boarded a plane to Washington DC. Upon arrival at the airport in DC, three other Peace Corps Volunteer trainees (Brian, Kay, and Meg) and I boarded a shuttle to the Georgetown Holiday Inn. Georgetown is a spectacular place. It is an old neighborhood with a lot of young energy. As far as I can tell, Georgetown consists of wealthy college students and foreign diplomats.

I checked into my hotel room, freshened-up and proceeded to registration. There, I met the faces of the 62 people I will be spending the next two years with. It was quite an experience. We spent the day together sitting at tables getting introduced to different aspects of Peace Corps.

6 p.m. rolled around and we were dismissed with our $220.00 stipend for the next dinner/breakfast/lunch and incidentals. My roommate Jesse and I had a chance to have our last meal with a group of other Peace Corps trainees. It was fantastic! A group of nine of us went to a sushi-bar down the road from the hotel. It was some of the best sushi and edomame (sp?) I have ever had! It was the type of restaurant that was in an old house and had dinning areas on the upper level and lower level. We ate on the upper level where a bunch of hopped up (on excitement) twenty-somethings have a little extra leeway for their antics.

Following dinner, I returned to the hotel to access the internet so my Dad could send me a few immunization records that I forgot. Thanks Dad! I had a pretty nasty headache from lack of sleep and adrenalin rushing all day, so I hit the hay.

The next morning, Jesse and I woke up, packed up and had some time to run a few last-minute errands. Than all the Peace Corps volunteers boarded a bus that brought us to Dulles international airport.

There were a couple issues with getting through check-in and security (they said my pack was too big to carry-on, and I had shampoo in my pack). Once we were in the tarmac a group of us went out for lunch. After lunch, I made a couple last phone calls and boarded the Luftahansa flight to Frankfurt, Germany. Jesse and I, having last names next to each-other in the alphabet, were assigned to sit next to each other. That was sweet to be able to talk with him a bit as we flew to across the Atlantic. The guy worked for a trauma-scene-restoration company so needless to say he has a pretty good sense of humor. (I’m not exactly sure if it is needless to say or needed…I am thinking it is still good principle to disclose that information) Luftahansa is a great airline! They had Tillamook cheese with both meals they served! The food was quite “spitze!”. This is a German airline, so I was able to dust off a little German with the flight assistants.

We arrived at the Frankfurt airport disheveled, greasy, but still riding the excitement wave. For some reason, just changing our gates we had to go through two security points. And Yes, zie Germans did greet me appropriately frisking me…twice… we flew to Sofia, Bulgaria from Frankfurt, Germany.

The B25-ers (we are the 25th Peace Corps Group to Bulgaria) were greeted by the Peace Corps Bulgaria staff, and the Bulgarian national television. It was a strange experience being video taped after flying 10 hours. Not my favorite, but oh well.

From Sofia we were bussed south to a ski resort in the Rialla mountains. Kay told me that some of the easier Peace Corps assignments have been nicknamed “Posh-Corps”. This is something I have been laughing about since Washington DC. I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop! The ski resort was absolutely fantastic! The surrounding area was stunningly beautiful. The food has been fresh and delicious, and an espresso is like $0.35 American and beer is like $0.90 American!

At the ski-resort we spent our days in training and our evenings exploring the Rilla mountains, studying and socializing with other B25=ers. I have connected with people from all over the United States many of whom are my age. Another quote that a Peace Corps volunteer told me goes “Peace Corps is about spending time with some of the finest people you will ever meet”. I also have been thinking about this quote as well. The Peace Corps Bulgaria staff is inspiring and each of my fellow volunteers surprises me continuously!

Not only are the other volunteers surprising me, but I am surprising myself! I have been catching on quicker than I thought to Bulgarian, I learned how to do a couple traditional Bulgarian folk dances, and did I mention climbed a mountain!

A group of B-25ers (Greg, Anna, Jesse, Ryan, Kari and I) climbed up a ski hill that was about 400 feet! I will be able to get a few pictures from them soon. It was breath taking not only in the physical-excursion aspect, but also in the astounding aspect as well!

A couple of days ago the B-25ers and I left our classy ski resort to come and live with Bulgarians! There was not a single soul who was disappointed about this. Everyone was so excited to meet our families for the several weeks! We met in medium sized city north of Sophia called Vratsa.

There I met Ivanka and her son. I forgot her son’s name, but he is a pilot who lives with his family in Sofia. He spoke English well so adjusting to my new Bulgarian home was made easier from this. I am currently living with Ivan and Ivanka a 60-some retired couple (pensionaries) Ivanka’s father Pedar also lives with them. He is almost 90 and does not speak often. Ivan and Ivanka are incredible people! They are so patient and hospitable with me. They also live in a beautiful house.

The house has buildings surrounding three sides of the center court yard. There is a elaborate fence surrounding the property. It is made of metal and mosaics. Every square inch of regular ground on the property has been made into a garden. The Minnesota Landscape arboretum has NOTHING on these people. I hardly can believe how lucky I have been so far. I have my own section of the house (2-rooms and a bathroom) and am living in one of the most beautiful homes ever! (I will post pictures as soon as I can). The garden is as far as I can tell mostly food. There is; Peppers, Apples, Dill, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Beans, Grapes, Chives, Potatoes, and much more that I haven’t identified yet. I have been helping out as much I can in the garden. I am willing to bet my mom would welcome my new found appreciation for gardening.

Ivan and Ivanka make most everything they eat on there property. They have goats, chickens, rabbits, and a pig. It is great!

Today we purchased our cell phones, which is virtually useless for anything but text-messages because of the astronomical rate of phone calls in eastern Europe. I don’t have internet in my training village but am able to access it on the occasions we go into town. Hopefully I will get some solid skype time soon but I don’t know when that will be yet…perhaps it is now as I am posting this blog-post. I am doing well, probably getting the best health care I have ever received (I had a minor viral infection and my own doctor, doctor Toni, gave me two examinations and a follow up. It has cleared up now.)

I miss you all, so, so, so much. I also think I am here for reason, to get to know and share what I learn about the people of Bulgaria. Okay, fading fast now…. Lecha Nosht! (good night!)

with my love,

dan

ps.

***feel free to write***

Peace Corps

Dan Sarles

P.O. Box 425

Central Post Office

Vratsa 3000 , BULGARIA

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

When/where/what/why/how


When: May 18th, 2009 -- July 24, 2011

Where: Bulgaria -->

What: I will be serving for the United States Peace Corps in a Community and Organizational Development program as a Business Adviser.

I will be helping out undeserved Bulgarian communities. I have a feeling my outstanding Microsoft Excel skills are going to come in handy.

Why: To see how people live in a different place. To live with them, and to grow friendships.

How: With a lot of prayers, luck, and tenacity.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I will be updating this blog periodically for the next two years. You can follow me along my Journey to Bulgaria, and hear my Peace Corps story!

ps.

what is the first thing you have to do before having a party in outer-space?

you have to Plan-et!!!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009