Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Busiest Months Yet...?

So by crazy, I mean unusual and busy. Things have been sailing past me in the last month.

I made a new friend who wanted to practice her English before her adult English course's final exam and was whisked away to a restaurant by a lake one evening and later a day-long excursion to a historic town called Arbanassi, just outside Veliko Tarnovo, a former capital of Bulgaria, with a huge castle remaining. She also later had me over for her name day (On each Saint's Day people with the same or similar name celebrate- for example, Galya celebrated on Gergiovden, St. George's Day).

Not too much later, we held our first successful fund raiser for my school's science department. We held a student v. volunteers volleyball match, and even though the kids did ruin us with their honed volleyball skills (volleyball is a sport for men more than women here, and most of the girls at my school stopped playing sports long ago) we managed to raise more money than I expected we would.

I later attended a conference hosted by the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking. I listened to numerous lecturers including Ambassadors from Austria, the Netherlands, and Norway, experts from the UN and Bulgaria's national commission against human trafficking and leaders of NGO's, It was a two day conference and a lot of material was covered, but basically all the governmental and non-governmental agencies that deal with trafficking are trying to step up their efforts in protecting the victims and prosecuting the offenders by reconciling differences between current laws and practices. As the Co-chair of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Committee, my job is to try to help get TEFL volunteers more involved in prevention activities like lesson plans and plays.

After the conference, I hosted a family friend in my town and showed him the seaside and the sights in my town. It was interesting to see his reaction to the things I have found so commonplace, like abandoned factories left over from the Communist Era, the tendency for everyone to push to the front of the line instead of waiting his/her turn, and the appropriate receptacle for toilet paper. However, we had a lot of time to interact with my students and Bulgaria partners and friends, and I think he had a pretty positive and balanced view of life here.

Just after that, I went to Sofia for our quarterly ATIP meeting and to do my annual checkup and dentist appointment. The most unusual part was the dentist's sandblasting to clean our teeth. It wasn't too painful (unless your lip gets in the way, which mine did!). I have never had to wash my face after going to the dentist before. I am proud to say that after my blood test, my recent change to a vegetarian diet has not been affecting my iron intake (sorry Dad, no steaks for me...).

That same weekend we had the matriculation exam at school and I came early to help print and arrange the tests. To avoid advanced preparation, we were given a password protected file with three versions of the test and that morning with fifteen minutes before the test, we found out on the radio which test it was. Then we scrambled, some printers working, others not, papers flying everywhere to get the tests ready and to pass them out. I was surprised by the level of secrecy and asked if the students were going to be able to cheat during the test, after which I was informed that they probably could still cheat anyway :( They are very хитри (hee-tree) which means cunning or sly.

The following week we had a send-off for the seniors. For my school this means a show featuring Bulgarian pop soloists, our school's hip-hop group (they're really really good), a magician and his bouncy assistant, a lip-synch/dance to YMCA dressed the Village People, and the award ceremony. Teachers chose award for students in the 12th grade, like Mr. Muscles, Best Babe, and Best Dude. The seniors chose awards like Best Teacher, Most Chatty, and The Scariest. Well, since our math teacher (who really IS scary) didn't teach the senior class, I won The Scariest Teacher Award. I was pretty nervous when I had to go up and give my speech, but it went like this. "It really was scary, however, it was a great pleasure." Later I found out that to win this award is a compliment and that only the teachers that push them get awarded it. Also, one of my collegues that I respect a lot has won the award every other year and at least this year she got a break.

That weekend we had our first baseball game of the season in Razgrad. Unfortunately my town did not represent themselves well. The "Vandals" had only four players show up, so by combining with other teams and their extra players, we were able to play two games. Later that afternoon when we were gathering equiptment and our belongings, it became apparent that my wallet and all of our baseballs were missing (the boys later found one of our bats hidden under a bush far away from where we had been playing). I had to file a police report (and if I hadn't met a Bulgarian friend along the way, it would've been much more difficult) I guess I thought that because we are giving our free time and effort that they would respect all the teams in return. Unfortunately, this is a lesson about teenagers that I learned the hard way.

On a positive note, the following day was the holiday of Bulgarian Language and Culture, Kiril and Methodius Day, named after the creators of the Cyrillic alphabet. We marched in the town center with our school and were annnounced by the town hall, to the cheers of the enormous crowd. Later that evening was the Abiturenti Ball, like our prom, but it is only celebrated by the graduating seniors. The students gathered again in the center in their evening gowns and suits and gave flowers to their teachers and took pictures. This was then followed by a procession through the center (again that day) and a ball at a nearby restaurant. Unlike American prom, all teachers that taught the seniors are invited to attend and get down with the seniors that night. There were games, food, dancing, and the celebration lasted until 6:30 in the morning. As an old lady myself, I quit early at 2 am.

I tried to select the best pictures from all this madness, so enjoy! Sorry this was so long!