Friday, December 25, 2009

Looking Back on Another Year in Bulgaria

This year has been exciting. After the snowfall, everything looks clean and bright. At school, I was busy with classes and trying new things to try to keep the students in the mood to study, but that was a losing battle as the holiday vacation drew near. I've been to lots of celebrations with the club where I study Turkish, my school, and the town choir that I sing in. Basically, I've eaten so much and danced in circles for so long, I'm more than a little dizzy. I celebrated Christmas Eve with my friend Radka and her family, and I've gotten the chance to rest and catch up with friends in town.

Top Five Most Memorable Things This Year:

5)Working the Group "Forward Together"-This is the name of the organization for the advancement of Roma youth. In many ways in Bulgaria, the Roma are marginalized (even self-marginalized) from fully participating in society. A lot of youth get stuck in a cycle of low expectations, illiteracy, and unemployment. This summer I worked with other volunteers at a camp run by energetic Roma leaders and other Peace Corps Volunteers to promote youth that show motivation, leadership, and success in their studies. I am helping them to keep their efforts going by working on the logistics with the organizers for next year and to bring in a new group of volunteers to work at the camp. This is a project that I feel really lucky to be a part of.

4) Celebrations at School- This year I organized a group of my students to act in plays for Halloween and Christmas (here, most people celebrate Christmas with presents and parties, even though it doesn't carry the same religious importance since it was forbidden during Communism and because there is such a large Muslim population here). Still, we put on a comedy show about Santa, an overworked Mrs. Claus, a depressed Rudolph, and the return of Grandpa Frost (the Communist Santa) with help from a special guest, Al Capone. I was so proud of the final product and I think that the kids were really happy too. I also made American Christmas cookies for ALL of my students (over 100..) and we listened to the song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" in classes (if you haven't heard that song recently, it's worth a listen!)

3) My Friend's Wedding- My friend Nancy got married on November 30 in the town of my training site. She and Radoslav will live here for the next couple of years, and then maybe move to America. It was a beautiful event, and I got to see the people that were with me for the first part of my journey here. Nancy, an American volunteer, and Radoslav met when Nancy started going to the traditional Bulgarian dance group, and after almost two years as friends, they started dating. Six months later they tied the knot. As a gift, the dance group came dressed in traditional Bulgarian costumes and performed for all of us. It was amazing!

2) Marathon Training- The race itself was unforgettable, but I learned about the difference between American and Bulgarian expectations in fitness. Basically, women don't do it in public, so I stood out a lot. I also got a lot of support from my friends and colleagues because most people had never met anyone who had run a marathon before. My favorite memory was running around the track during a football (soccer) practice and hearing kids yell out in surprise, "Hey, she's really fast!" (Now, whether that was true or not doesn't matter, it was a great confidence booster!)

1) My Family's Visit- I met Erin in Spain and we traveled back together through Portugal to Bulgaria. I have now found a best traveling buddy, and I hope we can have a lot more adventures together in the future. My mom and dad joined us in Sofia and together we saw my town and the mountains and seaside of Bulgaria. I missed them so much and saying goodbye was really difficult, but I came to appreciate this country even more after seeing it again for the first time with them.

Being around the ones you love is what makes this time of year special. I wish health, luck, happiness and love to everyone this holiday season, and I wish that the coming year might be even better than the last!