“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” – Seneca

29 Nov

I remember the day I sat down and started this blog. Thinking to myself, “I wonder what I’ll be doing,” and “What is Bulgaria like?” It doesn’t seem like it was so long ago that I decided to keep this blog, and I hope, whoever you are out there, have enjoyed reading it. Through my ups and downs, my craziness and boredom, my anxiety and stress, joy and tears.

My time in Bulgaria is nearly over, and I’ll be returning back to America in a little under two weeks. I am not quite sure how the days passed by so quickly – and to be honest, I can’t fathom the fact that I did celebrate Thanksgiving, that November is nearly over. Where did Halloween go? I mean, maybe it’s because I didn’t dress up this year, or go to the annual Peace Corps Volunteer Halloween party that I lost an entire month. It doesn’t feel like I can possibly be so close to returning home. And at the same time, I am about to go home!!

I don’t really know what my emotions are doing these days. Sometimes I wonder if I am feeling the way I am “supposed” to feel, whatever that means. Perhaps I am not experiencing the anxiety and stress of leaving because I have dealt with so much of the two in the last few months that there is no more left in me. My playground project has been finished, and with a deep sigh of relief, the leaves fall to the ground. The crisp morning air brings me back to the reality that winter is coming, and with the snow, I will return home. Thoughts of home, family and friends make me smile, and perhaps I can never truly be able to express in words how this experience has changed me and how much I will miss this place. I am leaving a part of my heart here – not because I feel obligated, but because Bulgaria is a part of me that I will never forget. I am thankful that I am so organized, so I can spend my last days here really enjoying the beauty of this country and people without the worry that comes along with the Close Of Service for Peace Corps Volunteers. I have completed all my official paperwork to become a “normal” citizen again – now I just have to wait for midnight on the fateful day which will return me to where I came from (at least, in the geographical sense). I won’t cry when I go, but I will always miss this place until I return. Someday, I promise. I will.

But back to the feelings – I have done a lot of research on “reverse culture shock” and as far as I can tell, I am as prepared to deal with it as I’ll ever be. I know the “stages,” and “feelings,” that those I have read say they experienced. Right now though, with so little time left, I don’t really feel much. I am thankful that all my preparation to return Stateside has paid off. I have an apartment lined up, my top-choice nursing program application has been received, I registered for courses at the community college, my apartment is nearly spotless, and my bags are packed. I guess I had expected to feel more at this point than I do. It seems like everyone I watched return to America was extremely stressed about the whole process, or overwhelmingly relieved that they were on their way home. Watching my dear friends return home made me feel more depressed than I do now, and I am not sure how I feel about not feeling as sad as I did when they left. Of course, it could always be that I was more sad that they were leaving than anything else – but who’s to say how I am “supposed” to feel about all this? I have changed so much, maybe I was expecting to be my previously high-strung self throughout this process. But at this moment in time, I am just going with it, and trying to absorb every last minute here like a sponge.

So that is how I’ll leave you, Bulgaria – the same way I came here – and how I’ll end this chapter in my book. Smiling, and looking at my surroundings with the wide-eyed wonder of a child. There is so much beauty in the world, and I tomorrow is another day that I am lucky enough to get to embrace it! Carpe diem!

Family and friends, I’ll see you soon. Are you ready, America?

Until next time…

“Peace is not the product of a victory or a command. It has no finishing line, no final deadline, no fixed definition of achievement. Peace is a never-ending process, the work of many decisions.” – Oscar Hammerstein II

11 Oct

Fall is rapidly approaching, complete with the smell of wood-burning stoves and the dried leaves which have fallen on the ground. The smell of sweet, pumpkin spices fill the air as I walk briskly to work in the chill of the early morning air. I stop to buy breakfast from a local shop, and the baked phyllo dough and cirene melt in my mouth. Women sweep the sidewalk, and children rush to school. Small groups of locals gather in their favorite cafe’s to watch the world go by, enjoying the last rays of sunshine on their skin. This is the fall that I will miss, Bulgaria, and I am so thankful that I get to experience it, one last time.

The first of two playgrounds to be renovated with my Peace Corps Partnership Program project has been completed. The concrete paths have been poured around the benches and the newly installed double-chute slide, and the benches have fresh coats of blue, yellow and red paint. Words do not do justice to my gratitude to the Roma men who did all the labor, nor to the joy it brings me to know that the kids in that neighborhood have a safe and beautiful place to play. To complete the second playground and celebrate with the locals who have made this project possible is so exciting, it is sometimes difficult to sleep at night. The final steps of the completion of this project include the repair of the slide and the swingset at the second playground will be repaired, installation of garbage cans at both playgrounds, and informational signs regarding the project work for the community. Today my good friend and colleague, Dimana, reminded me that I only have about 54 days left in Shumen and that I’d better “Хайде,” (hurry up) with this project. She also suggested that because the new iPhone 5 has been released in America, and that it is not extremely expensive for me to get a new phone when I return home (compared to the 4,000 BGN which a Bulgarian would have to pay for the over-priced commodity), she would happily take my Blackberry, “to save me the trouble of getting rid of it.”

In the first week of October, I traveled to the capital and spent a week with wonderful Peace Corps Volunteers and Staff during our Legacy Celebrations and Warden Training. The first of our Legacy events consisted of what can only be referred to as a Garden Party (not that I know anything about official or formal get-togethers) at the home of the new American Ambassador, Marcie Ries. Complete with hors devours made by the Ambassador’s personal chef, an unlimited supply of wine, schmoozing with U.S. Government Officials, the reading of two wonderful original poems (not to toot my own horn, but yes, one of them was mine), and perfect weather, the first evening of our celebration was delightful. The second part of the Legacy events took place during the afternoon on the following day at the War Club in the capitol – an ironic location for a Peace Corps function, no? Speeches were made by the Ambassador, the Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, and Peace Corps partners, and the Legacy film (a documentary about the 22 years of work of the Peace Corps in Bulgaria, created by a former Peace Corps Staff member – Nadia Staneva – called “Together on the Road to Change” [I have posted the link to this video on my blog under the title of the film if you are interested]) was shown for the first time. There was laughter, tears, and a feeling of accomplishment in the air. Of course there was time for more schmoozing and wine after the speeches and the video, and I couldn’t have imagined a better way to celebrate the legacy we have worked so hard  for which I am so proud to have been a part of.

My final Warden Training (as I have been to three now) was held at the U.S. Embassy, and Peace Corps Volunteers and a few Staff spent the day on American soil, eating chicken wraps or steak and cheese sandwiches for lunch, and learning more about our duties. The second day of the Warden Training provided excitement and fresh air as we traveled from the capitol to the NATO training base in Montana. We were given a presentation on earthquake and flood preparedness and then allowed to participate in the training exercises of members of the Ministry of Civil Protection. On the West Coast in America, we all learn the “duck and cover” rule regarding earthquakes, but until this training, I’d never really thought about what it would be like to experience an earthquake I could feel, or how I would react to one. We were all placed in an earthquake simulator (which turned out to be an open-faced box, lifted off the floor on springs, being jarred by two men behind it) and taught what the best locations are to be in the event of a strong quake. Then we had the opportunity to actually go underground into the rubble of a de-constructed building, used to train rescue workers (don’t worry Mom, I was safe – I had a full body suit, gloves and a helmet on), and enact a situation in which we were “trapped” and the rescuers had to find us. Once we had all taken part in the rescue mission underground, we went to the next part of the training: learning how to stack sandbags to prevent further flooding. FYI, those bags of sand are heavier than you’d think. The final part of our training involved being placed in an artificial lake on the roof of a single-story structure, inside a two story structure, or atop a partially sunken vehicle and waiting to be rescued (I was safe Mom, life-jackets were required). All in all, the first week of October totally rocked, and although I was completely exhausted by the time I came home, I would do it again without hesitation.

At this point in my service, it’s hard to believe that I will have lived in Bulgaria for nearly three years by the time I return home. I am nearly done with my applications to my choice nursing schools, and am in the process of perfecting my resume. The Red Cross Volunteers tell me regularly how much they are going to miss me, and I am realizing how much I am going to miss them too. They are the people that I have spent the most time with at the Red Cross, and who have been the best guides and sources of information that I could’ve ever asked for. I’ll be hosting a “girls only” party in my apartment in the middle of next month to donate my extensive wardrobe to these wonderful young ladies, and spend a little more time with them outside of “work.”

My goals at this point are to: complete the second playground in my project, write my description of service (a document which verifies the work each Peace Corps Volunteer has done while serving – signed by the Country Director), send out my nursing school applications, register for classes at the community college I’ll be attending winter term, thoroughly clean my apartment and get rid of as much stuff as I can, read as many books as I can (I have a stack of about 8 that I hope to get through), and relish in every last minute I have here with the wonderful people I’ve met during this experience.

Until next time…

“Things do not change; we change.” – Henry David Thoreau

17 Sep

Never has a more truthful statement been made – at least, from where I am standing.

More than a month has passed since I last posted. How does time go by so quickly? I know I keep repeating myself, and by now I must sound like a permanently broken record, but honestly, how has it been a month? I remember sitting here, trying to conjure my thoughts and feelings for my last entry, and yet, here I am again, struggling with what to say. What to share. What to create to look back upon to reflect and relish in this experience that has been the last 859 days of my life. The perfect words, ideas, emotions – they eluded me then, and they do the same now.

I have 85 days left in Bulgaria. Somehow, it has started to fade together, and without this blog and all the pictures I’ve posted on Facebook, my memories have become skewed and disorganized. Without these resources, I can’t remember all the places I’ve been, who I was with, what I saw, or what I did. Maybe I’ve traveled too much throughout this country without keeping an accurate record of my journey, or maybe, just maybe, I focused on the “here and now” rather than concerning myself with making the events of my life some sort of story to look back on. I like to think the latter is the case.

So much to do, yet so little time. The wonderful Roma people, who had faith in me, and physically labored for their children to have a safe playground deserve all the credit for the fact that their local playground is nearly complete. I am so thankful for all of their help, but I wish they could see that they have done all the work, and they should be appreciating one another and their success rather than thanking me. Anyone can throw money at a problem, but it takes a community to make a difference. When the concrete path has been poured and the benches have a fresh coat of paint, we will all celebrate. Throughout the communication struggles, bureaucratic red tape, cultural differences, challenging schedules, and a lack of support – despite all this, something as simple as a playground became a tangible example of teamwork and accomplishment. I can only hope that the second playground and the creation of a soccer field is as efficacious.

Summer has drawn to a close. The leaves are absorbing the last few drops of sunshine and have become chameleons in an ever-changing sky. Evenings are chilly with a breeze that is refreshing and a gentle prod, whispering that winter is coming. Sweaters, jeans, and long sleeved shirts have entered my wardrobe rotation; swimsuits, shorts and tank tops have been put away never again to see the light of Bulgarian day. Goodbye, dear flip flops – our time together, as always, was far too short.

Today was the first day of school – for me, the most recognizable symbol of the new year. Students roaming the center, immutable chatter, thriving cafe’s, sedate evenings. The city has come alive again, young people own the sidewalks on their way two and from the classes that they are already tired of. Thankfully this energy knows it’s bedtime, and those that spent the late-evening-to-early-hours-of-the-morning laughing, drinking, hollering and roaming the echoing cobblestone streets realize that they have a schedule to follow. Yearning for their days spent on the beach under the sun, drinking with their friends, and dreaming until the sun forced them awake again, the students gloomily trudge to school. I know it’s silly, but am so completely looking forward to returning to school! The feel and smell of new pages in an unread textbook, the excitement of new classes…

Life passes us by so quickly. Many of us spend too much time considering the things that are not what they once were. We’ve lost sight of the fact that we are not who we once were either. It’s hard to remember that nothing in the world is constant. To remember that, if we do not change, we are not growing. Things, people, and places seem different because we ourselves are now altered. These are a few of the things I have come to realize and acknowledge throughout my tour of this Eastern European country I never thought I’d see, but has become my second home. I have never before in my life felt as exposed as I have here. I have learned the meaning, and the art, of  flexibility. My levels of understanding and sympathy have increased ten-fold. I am contented in the depths of my soul in a way that I cannot more adequately describe, and at the same time, refreshed my unquenchable thirst for the unknown. I have found a fortitude within that I was unaware of, and I am so inexplicably grateful to those who saw it when I couldn’t – thank you for giving me the chance to delve into myself. My tenacity has evolved from that of a  rebellious child into one of the best assets a person could have. Thank you, Bulgaria. You have given me more than I could have ever asked for, and nothing I give to you can ever balance the scales.

Although a compounding to-do list looms over my head, it’s days like this that I can’t help but think about anything but how precious life is and how fortunate we are to experience it. Grey skies, the light fog over the monument, a delicate mist of rain every so often, and a bit of sunshine peeking through the clouds. It’s funny how the smallest rays of sunshine can make even the most contemplative of days so beautiful.

Until next time…

“Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world.” – Ada Louise Huxtable

11 Aug

Oh, August in Bulgaria… Here you are, with your encasing humidity, blistering rays of sun, and superfluously long days. Although it seems as if I am trying to flee from your warm summer greeting, know that I appreciate every second you have given me of this amazing weather. Bulgaria, you make me feel warm – the way only sunshine can. With only 119 days left to relish in your company, you have helped me to make every second count. More trips to the beach, more books, a deeper tan, but most importantly: the completion of my playground project.

As I mull through the paperwork which applying to Nursing Programs entails, I am reminded of the fact that this summer – my last summer in Bulgaria – is quickly escaping my grasp. There are so many things that I want to do and see before the sun begins to set sooner, and the days bring a crisp fall chill with them. I missed my opportunity to have pictures taken in a sunflower field – harvesting season is upon us, and the heads of those large graceful flowers bow down as if to say, “We always think we have more time, don’t we?”

How is it possible that my girls have been gone for almost two months? Have I really been in Bulgaria 822 days? Somehow, today, 822 days doesn’t seem long at all… Other days, I feel like I have never been anywhere but Bulgaria – that the life I once lived was a dream of sorts. The thought of returning to my alternate reality fills me with anxiety, both good and bad. There are so many things I hope to accomplish here, with my organization, the Bulgarian Red Cross volunteers, and for myself before I return to the States. Will I have enough time? How much have things changed back home? How do I leave Bulgaria, and everything she means to me, behind?

Planning for the near and distant future is how I have managed these last few weeks to keep myself from having a melt-down. My site-mates in Shumen have left. Vinny – back to America. Jessica – moved to Sofia to start her new job working with an NGO. Patrick – traveling with his Dad. Making lists upon lists of the things I need to complete for my Nursing Program applications, things I need to do in my apartment before I leave, tasks to complete for my playground project, things to do when I get home to the States… Without so many little things to plan and prepare for, I am sure that this summer, or at least the beginning of August, would have been much more of a struggle than it has been. The wonderful support of my Peace Corps Staff has helped me keep my head throughout this playground project, which is still tentative – although we have started the work, there is much left to do, and it involves the help and collaboration of many people which makes for a difficult project in itself. Luck is on my side, and this project will be completed. It has to.

Before I come back to the States, I will: go to the beach, soak up the sun, eat fresh veggies, laugh with the women who work at my local grocery store, feed stray animals, create playgrounds, c0-teach at the University, read countless books, register for classes, gather Bulgarian recipes and music to share with family and friends, take a lot of pictures, spend more time with BRC volunteers, give my clothes away and pack my life into (hopefully!) one suitcase and a carry on bag, find an apartment in Seattle, visit the пазар (like a farmer’s market) regularly, do obscene amounts of laundry and cleaning, and cherish the moments I have had here and the ones that still remain.

Until next time…

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss

4 Jul

Happy Independence Day America!

This last week has been the most emotional period of time that I have experienced here. Full of laughter, tears, hugs, and anticipation – I wouldn’t change a thing. As June came to an end, two years with two of the best people I could have hoped to share this experience with, also drew to a close. You see, my girls, as I like to call them, left last weekend. One to America, and the other back to her site, to leave to the States in a few weeks. I did my best to keep myself composed during our last few moments together so that our “goodbye,” and “see you soon,” would still appear to be hopeful and full of optimism at the idea that we will soon meet again. I knew that this day would come, and we’d all talked about it quite frequently throughout the past month. Knowing though, that this day would shortly arrive, did not make it any easier. It’s amazing to me how quickly two years can fly by. My greatest friendships have been established by coincidence, built upon commiseration, and grown on experiences and love for one another. How easy it is to give your heart to someone, and to listen as they share theirs with you. When the day comes that friends must part ways it feels so sudden and I held my breath hoping that the minutes would slow and the hours would last for days. Five days together was not nearly enough, and if distance hadn’t kept us apart, I would gladly have given you both weeks and months to laugh and bask in our friendship. Here I am in Bulgaria. Who would have thought that saying goodbye would be so difficult? I have heard from some that the relationships made in the Peace Corps are the most meaningless, and the people that you meet during your service will be those who you forget the quickest. I could not disagree more. I don’t think that I would have been able to survive my 27 months in Bulgaria had it not been for such wonderful, supportive, caring, and thoughtful friends. No one back home can ever fully understand what this experience has been because they have not lived it with me, or lived it at all for that matter. Sure, they can empathize, “Oh, that must’ve been hard,” or “Well, it sounds like you did some really good work over there,” but when it comes down to it, at the end of the day, PCV’s have become my comrades – the only people who I will ever be able to completely relate to with regards to my two years of service. I am so fortunate to have found such great friends here, and without them, I would have gone crazy – or worse – left early. I have learned so much during my service, and even though it’s not over (far from it), I am so thankful to those who have helped me along the way. For many of these people, I refuse to say goodbye. Goodbye is a word that marks an end. I plan on seeing many of you again, dear friends, and will only say, “See you soon!”

June is over. How has the summer passed by so quickly? Was it due to the dread of the imposing departure of my closest friends? Anticipation of work and projects to be done? Whatever it was, I’d love to have June back. Just one more time. To bask in the summer weather that is now blazing down upon me, with my good friends. Can you slow down time for me, just this once, Bulgaria? I only have 157 days left to enjoy your beauty and those who have been as fortunate as I am to be accepted within your communities and live within your borders. I guess that I will have to focus from now on, during my free time, to make every second here with you, and those I have grown to love so deeply, count.

I am sorry about all the birthday’s, weddings, graduations and births that I have missed, but to tell the truth, I wouldn’t give up one day of this life here. Not for anything. I am coming back, don’t you worry, but my time here has become a precious commodity. I am not sure that I’ll ever be ready to come home – to America. Life here is inexplicable. There is no rush to get things done, which can sometimes be more of a nuisance than a delight. While many don’t smile back at you as you walk through the city, those who do brighten your day. The breeze cools the sweat that settles in the middle of your back while walking down a concrete tile sidewalk in 85 degree, 55% humidity weather. Air conditioners, washing machines, shower doors, brooms with handles, bananas in stock at your local grocery store, and coffee makers are treats, and are certainly not expected. Loud music from neighboring apartments, the genuine interest about you and your life that people you meet on public transportation have, loud laughter and conversations late at night, children’s screams of excitement in the playground across the street, the van whose advertisement for the circus nearly drive you mad, and the gaggle of баби (grandmothers) who perch on the benches wherever they can find them… have all become things that I never thought I’d miss. Bulgaria, you are for so many reasons, my home. Perhaps that is why it has been so hard for me to say goodbye to the friends I have come to treasure so greatly here. I am losing part of myself with every acknowledgement that life does go on, and that our time together is drawing to an end.

Thank you to the friends I have made here, who have had such an impact on my life. I hope that in near future we will meet again, and that we stay in contact until the day comes that the embrace of our hug brings back the laughter and tears that we struggled through together in Bulgaria.

Thank you to the friends I have back home in the States, who have, through time differences and schedules, kept up with me and wanted to maintain our friendship. Your encouragement and support means more to me than you will ever know, and I am very much looking forward to our reunion.

Thank you mostly to my family, for pushing me to follow my dreams and accomplish the goals that I created for myself when I chose to join the Peace Corps and serve in Bulgaria. Your love, and the strength that you saw in me, have molded me into the person I am today. If it weren’t for you, I’d be lost. I cannot thank you enough, and words won’t do my appreciation justice, just know that I will be forever indebted to you for the courage you have given me to make it through this experience. I’ll be home for Christmas to help hang those lights on the tree…

On a lighter note, I received in the mail the official permit for my playground project this week! Thank you friends and family who helped contribute to this project (both financially and with encouragement). It’s really going to happen – probably this month! My project proposal for a Multi-ethnic Youth Camp has been sent in, and I am waiting for approval and funding. Sometime in the end of August, I’ll be spending a week with great people and kids, teaching and learning about diversity and leadership.

Until next time…

“I believe life is constantly testing us for our level of commitment, and life’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who demonstrate a never-ending commitment to act until they achieve. This level of resolve can move mountains, but it must be constant and consistent. As simplistic as this may sound, it is still the common denominator separating those who live their dreams from those who live in regret.” – Anthony Robbins

18 Jun

I haven’t had the time or the wherewithal to sit myself down and write a blog post for two months, and I am kicking myself for it. Time flies when you are having fun. Or busy working. And you are in the Peace Corps.

So, to summarize the past two months in the best way I can think of: I turned 26, spent Easter in a village with a wonderful family who welcomed me with open arms (as Bulgarians are want to do), judged a spelling bee for primary school kids, co-taught a reading comprehension course the University of Shumen, spent three days with the most amazing PCV’s during my Close of Service Conference, attended my last annual Pirate Party in Varna, and helped manage a weekend music festival in the Rhodope mountains. All in all, I’ve been keeping myself pretty entertained and busy.

So, summer is here, and it’s down to the wire. Yesterday I said goodbye to a dear friend who is returning to America on Friday. Many in my group are leaving this week, and I have many mixed feelings about it. I have had the opportunity to get to know 80+ wonderful people, and a good portion of my time here, especially my Pre-Service Training, has been spent with these people. Bonds have been formed, and together we have all accomplished the daunting feat of living in another country for 27 months. Sharing love and support with one another, we have given much of ourselves to other PCV’s and to members of our host country, and as the 26th group of Peace Corps Volunteers to serve in Bulgaria, we have collaboratively made a great impact on the country which we have so gratefully served, as well as each other.  To say goodbye to this astounding group of people is going to be one of the most difficult things I will have ever done. Our lives are linked via Bulgaria, no matter where we came from in America, and we can all relate to one another because of the memories and our existence as a group. I never thought it would be possible for 80+ people to become a whole entity, but this reality has been discovered in the last place on earth I thought I’d find it…

It’s not the loss of the connection which I have found with so many different individuals that makes me melancholy, because we will all be in contact whether we live in Bulgaria, America, or China – the wonders of Skype and G-Calls never cease to amaze me. The fact that there will be no more conferences where we all come together to commiserate, learn, laugh, and share with one another is what gives me the “extension-of-Peace-Corps-service-in-Bulgaria-and-watching-your-comrades-return-home” blues. I am not jealous of my fellow B26’ers because soon, I too, will return to the States. I chose to extend my service, with too much on my plate to leave behind unfinished. We came here together, and I suppose I had some romantic vision that we’d all leave together too – and although this notion strategically and logistically impossible, I still hoped we all finish together the way we started this venture.

To my B26’s: May you leave this place with more wisdom than you had when you arrived. May patience be something you prefer to practice. May you be blessed with friends who value the wonderful people that each of you are. May you laugh when you recall the things that were so “tough” and considered “hardships” during your 27 months in Bulgaria as you continue the adventure of life, wherever your path leads you. May you always remember how small you are in this world, but that it only takes one person and a passionate village to make a difference. May you continue to reflect on your time spent in a foreign land with people who taught you more about yourself than you had learned throughout your years, and who gave you more than you could ever hope to repay. May you remember that you are going to die, which is the best way to know that you have nothing to lose – you are already naked, there is no reason not to follow your heart. May you cling to the idea that you should work to live, and not the other way around. May you continually feel the joy that comes from teaching children, helping the elderly, and putting a smile on the face of a stranger. I wish for you all the best that this world has to offer, because you have brought your best to so many. I have been so fortunate to get to know many of you, and I hope that I will continue to know you as the years go by.

Next week, during the last few days of June, I’ll be traveling to help my dear friend Andrea pack and prepare to return to America. I am very excited to see her, and to spend time with her and our friend Jen. While they will both be returning to the States soon, I couldn’t be happier for them. Although I will miss them, ways in which words cannot do my feelings justice, I know that this is what we all signed up for. Unbreakable bonds, where time and space are irrelevant, which continue for a lifetime. This is friendship I have found in Jen and Andrea. If I could have chosen sisters, these two would have been on the top of the list. Our adventure together here will burn out on a bittersweet note, but on the common ground of understanding that this is not the “end.” Together we endured Pre-Service Training and the heatwave which we all thought would be the death of us. We held hands as we faced our own personal challenges here, and the challenges presented to us by our individual sites and host organizations. Now, as I get all teary-eyed as I write this, I can’t find the words to accurately thank these two wonderful women for all that they have given me. I can only hope that I have given  them the love and support that they gave to me, and that we stay as close (or closer – geographically) than we have been throughout our time together.

My Playground Project is becoming more and more of a reality as I wait to hear from the Mayor if my permit for renovations has been approved by the Municipality. The Romi here are so excited to see the playground repaired and are anxious to help create a safe place for their children to play. As soon as the permit has been approved, work will commence, and I can’t wait! This project is my baby, and I want it so badly, I can taste it. At the end of August, my Multi-Ethnic Youth Camp will be my focus, and I am very much looking forward to this project as well. Basically, this summer has already started slipping through my fingers like the sand on the beaches I want to spend more time on. While I welcome the work and opportunities that have been granted to me, who wouldn’t want a beach vacation? My summer will be spent on these two projects, and working on Accelerated Nursing Program applications (and all they require). I have been lucky enough to spend a few days on the beach already, but I am hoping that there will be many more of them in the near future.

May you all be lucky enough to have sunshine and cool nights; fresh tomatoes and laughter; strong drinks and even stronger friendships.

Until next time…

“Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.” – Aristotle

1 Apr

A wonderful friend of mine recently pointed out that I should be publishing my poems here, as it is licensed and copyrighted, rather than on Facebook. This entry is dedicated to my fellow B-26’s – for these poems were written for us.

MSC Tribute to B-26’s

“And this one right here: This one is for the indiscriminate beer guzzlers because we all know the taste of Ariana. This is uh, is for the YD volunteers working with kids, and for the COD’s who do it all. This is for the TEFL’s who break up school yard fights, and protect the wimps from the childhood bullies that torment them. For the former beauty queens and for the milk crate ball players. For the nighttime cereal eaters and for the wonderfully wise, older Americans in Bulgaria, and I don’t just mean Mr. McPheeters.

Shake the dust.

This is for the benches and the people sitting upon them. For the bus drivers driving a million broken Баби, for the men who have to hold down three jobs to simply hold up their children, for the nighttime scholars and for the twilight bike riders trying to fly.

Shake the dust.

This is for the volunteer in training who cannot be understood because they speak half Bulgarian and half gibberish – shake the dust, for those who wear misprinted English t-shirts and enjoy the local fashion, shake the dust, for my ladies who are integrated enough to wear onesies, those disco-tech wallflowers and the eighty-something adults who had to learn how to use the toilet again, for the PCV who is always late because no one takes notice or mentions tardiness, for the past year in which we volunteered our lives, shake the dust. This is for the PC staff being strict with the rules, who know the value of tough love.

For the ones who the amendments do not stand up for, for the ones who were forgotten, for the ones who were told to speak only when spoken to and then are never spoken to – speak every time you stand so you do not forget yourself – do not let one moment go by that doesn’t remind you that your heart beats a hundred thousand times a day and that there are enough gallons of blood, to make every one of you, oceans.

Do not settle for letting the waves settle, and for the dust to settle in your veins – this, is for the loving teacher who keeps on struggling for the sake of the students, for the patient listeners, and the people who give their energy and time and tears to make a difference, for the sweat that drips off of Grafa’s lips, and for the shaking skirt on Kuchek dancer’s shaking hips, for the heavens, and hells, to which the Bulgari have lived. This is for the tired, and for the dreamers, for each of us who chose to actively participate in our worldwide community – because we saw a need and knew we had the ability to help create international unity – this is for the dancers, for the introverts, for the mountain hikers, and those who consider being med-evac.-ed by breaking their own femur (shout out to Leslie Duncan). The springtime that somehow, seems to show up after every, single winter… this is for you.

This is for you.

Make sure that by the time you return to your site, you take care of yourself, because just like the days – I burn at both ends, and every time I integrate and communicate, every time I open my eyes, I am cutting out parts of myself just, to give them to away, as I’m sure you do too.

So shake the dust and take me with you when you do for none of this, has ever been from me.

All that pushes, and pulls, and pushes, and pulls, it pushes for you.

So grab this world by its clothespins, and shake it out again, and again, and jump on top and take it for a spin and when you hop off shhh-shake it again… for this is yours. Make my words worth something – make this more than just another poem that I write – more than just another night that’s as heavy above us all – walk into it, breathe it in – let it crash through the halls of your arms like the millions of years of millions of poets coursing like blood, pumping and pushing, making you live, shaking the dust when the world knocks on your door… clutch the knob tightly, and open on up, and keep running forward into its widespread greeting arms, with your hands in front of you… fingertips trembling, though they may be.”

COS – Bulgaria is Home

“Bulgaria, you are, my place. The day I first met you, The way your hand landed on my back was, Ouch! Truth. It was the way in which, within hours, you recognized me. I gave you six months, a year, twenty-seven months to memorize what it feels like to have something to hold on to. I fell in love with the way your spring flowers bloom, and the fall settles in my bones.

I said hell no, when you sauntered up to my balcony window, All grey skies and banichka grease. Homeless people and narrow streets. You asked for change and I thought, “This is no way to sweet talk a lady,” But we struck up a conversation – I read you from cover to cover. There was hope in your tone. More punch than I’d have thought. Just like mine, your hands were sweating in free verse. And at that moment, I knew, leaving you would hurt.

That day I stood unsure that I’d ever show up. But I smiled back at you, secretly knowing, “I am no soul mate of yours,” And you smiled back at me, Revealing teeth that follow Sofia’s skyline. Your fist made of black rail lines, and you, With your cobble-stone brown skin, So aged and cracked, You, With a thrift store of a soul you collect your historical memories in. Your dreams belong in the heart and soul of every nomad, Scouring this earth, Looking to become the change we wish to see in the world.

The way you said hello, With that sweet, convincing, welcoming baba voice you’ve mastered so well, I love that. It made me want to start, Drinking rakia, Dancing horo, To speak Bulgarian, To learn. Who you are – what makes you tick and how we can find a way to stop time together, To enjoy the world surrounding us which has drawn us, Like water from the same well. So close together. You heard me cry out, I thought my strength was enough to carry me through this experience, My weakness and fragile self devastated me. So you held me, like a vafla in the hand of the child on the street, Never letting go – even when I pushed away. I built up a wall, A shield, To protect myself from the pain of vulnerability, But you showed me that a butterfly is able to fly precisely because it is so delicate, And you fractured my fears into mosaics clear enough to see through. You have been here for me, Through every step of the way. You always coaxed me back to you, To understand and adapt.

Flexibility they said. How was I to know I was to be flexible about my own soul? Shaped and molded, forged in the fire. Bulgaria, You were always right where I left you. You are a hidden entrance to paradise, And only a wink of your skyline can make me feel at home tonight. I came to know your scars because I undressed the spirit within. Felt your skin, strange and colder than I expected, Your fingernails more colorful and segregated than I knew could exist on one hand. I asked you if you wanted to hold hands on the way back from the poverty, Of life in this country and as a Peace Corps Volunteer. And through it all, you still found a way to discount romance me, darling.

I am selfish and stubborn at times, And I have been as lonely as only an American could be on your soil, Yet you gave me, So willingly, The brotherly love that was so daunting for me to seek out in you. Overwhelming poor neighborhoods and gutters dirty, Comforted and covered me in concrete. You let me know you at your worst, Loved me at my worst. Your eyes shining like the fickle shattered glass on the street at midnight under a street light. Overcrowded buses and railway stations littered with lines of impatience and stress. For many of us, July is the last stop on the train. But don’t be sad, Bulgaria, You’re the best long-term relationship I’ve ever had. But, I lied to you. I’m not an expert in any sense of the word. I’m good at wingin’ it when it comes to projects, ideas, and sometimes, the English language. As odd as it sounds, I am nothing more than a twenty-seven month one-night stand, And I’ll be singing my farewell like an anthem in reverse.

I’ll be breaking down soon, But before I go, Let’s do it one more time. You taught me how to undress my future, To wallow in the present with you. I climbed to the top of your many mountains, And you brought me that beautiful skyline capital view. I know we haven’t bonded in a while, But you let me know all your secrets, And I shared all mine too. In all the time we’ve been lovers, You never left me. But we’re both outgrowing each other. Old country, wild and wise, I’d like to stand beneath your streetlights with you, One more time. Bulgaria, I’m leaving before dawn. There’s no place like this home. I might be gone for a while, But I’ll be back before dusk. Leave the lights on for me, But don’t wait up.”

Until next time…

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