Friday, June 26, 2009

Business Time


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.


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.



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.


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)

a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href="">

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?


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.

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!)

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.