Wednesday, April 28, 2010



Bending over, she shades the small candle from the wind. She rocks gently and grief pours from her as steadily as her young daughter stands by her side. She makes the sign of the cross and the candle flickers. We watch, silently allowing the song of the priest to fill the heavy silence. Despite the sunlight and the blooms that surround us, we are all chilled by the wind that snuffs the little candle.

Since chance and propriety didn't allow a real one, this is my mental picture of the Zadushnitsa ceremony that I attended yesterday for the musician and father we remember, Nikolay Karalanov. Always smiling and teasing someone, quick with a joke and eager to share how proud he was of his daughter Raya, he will be sorely missed. Thoughts and prayers go out to Raya, and his muse, his lovely wife Orfeta.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Multiethnic Camp- We need your help!

Over the past two years one of the things that I've mentioned in my e-mails and informal conversations and chats has been the segregation of the Roma (gypsies) and the tension between the ethnic Turks and ethnic Bulgarians due to the Ottoman Empire's 500 year occupation. Racism and intolerance is a really big problem for both youth and adults. One of my most eye-opening experiences has been my participation with the Roma and Multiethnic Camps. The organizers are young Bulgarian, Turkish, Roma and Bulgarian Muslim leaders, and the exchange experience is invaluable to the participants, high school youth from all over Bulgaria.

There's another great group of organizers working on the camp this year, including my friend, Matt Piscitelli, who has taken over my role as the volunteer organizer. However, they need funding. If you can find it in your hearts and pockets to help us fund the camp this year, there's a link on the Peace Corps website with further information and a way to easily donate online. Donations can be as little or big as your budget can spare. Click here for more information:

Here's the description of the camp:

The camp “Zaedno Napred” (Forward Together) will unite 40 high school students, eight youth leaders who participated in last year’s camp, and influential community members to share experiences, exchange ideas and debate issues in an open forum. The camp will be eight days long with a two day pre-seminar in preparation for the camp. This camp will give youth the tools to understand their dynamic role in society and how to deal effectively with the challenges that they and their communities face. The camp will equip promising youth with information, leadership skills, debating skills, and motivation to develop and improve their lives and their communities. Session topics will include human rights, ethnic integration, history and identity of ethnic groups in Bulgaria, leadership skills, community responsibility, sexual education, discrimination and human trafficking. Social and governmental leaders will be brought in to discuss these topics, share their own experiences and talk about the role of youth in society. Knowledge of self and cultural identity will help participants define their roles as future leaders and productive citizens, and help their communities find an effective voice in Bulgaria’s democracy. Participants will be encouraged to put their newly acquired skills into practice immediately as they return to their communities and start youth groups, work on community projects, and participate in national youth networks. Through the involvement of organizations and community members from other cities, Multiethnic Youth Organization Forward Together (MYOFT) will build upon their pre-existing network of valuable contacts, thus increasing progress toward ethnic tolerance in Bulgaria.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Thanks for your support!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bulgarific, Bulgarad, Bulgaridiculous

So the last time I posted the weather was still pretty miserable, in fact, one day in March, I slipped on the ice and hit my head on the tiles outside. Yow. But things have gotten much better since then.

I've recently been hanging out with some sweet young people in my town who have moved back home from the bigger cities where they studied in the university. One of them, Elitza, is an award-winning folk music vocalist, and she wowed the socks off me at a na gosti dinner at our friend's house. Here's some photos of the cooks and the singer. I'm going to send along a clip (if technology doesn't fail me) so you can hear it, because it is really unique.

I also started training recently for something I never thought I'd do. A couple of my students run with a group in town, so I joined in. This is an orienteering group. Basically we run around according to maps and find hidden flags. Scavenger hunt, only think harder and more getting lost. At least that's how it went down for me. On Easter weekend, I attended my first event, and luckily my friend Kari went along for moral (and directional) support. Well, the coordinators hearing that this was our first event signed us up for the 14 year old division. Glad they did, because a 2km course took us not one...but two hours! Yowsers. Yup we were grimy after slipping and sliding and scratching our heads and dashing around for so long, but in the end we found all 12 points and didn't fall off the side of the mountain (heave huge sigh of relief here).

That night, all the participants went out to eat and we scurried off to the church for the Easter Vigil. I sang with the choir and then we all went out and circled the church three times for the Holy Trinity, father, son, holy spirit. Also it's a great opportunity for socializing, and I'm pretty sure I saw some of my students who had already begun the festivities with a bit of rakia.

The next day I began the arduous task of packing up some of my things. I will be doing that until I leave here, and it's intimidating. Kind of scary the amount you can amass in two years. Earlier last month, we had our Close of Service (COS) Conference in a beautiful town in central Bulgaria. It was a time for reflection and panic mostly, as we talked about the dire economic situation waiting for us in the States. It was also a good chance to say goodbye to the volunteers we won't see as much before we head back.

I got in the travel frame of mind lately with a spring break trip to Istanbul with some volunteers and their friends and family from the States. It was a great opportunity to practice the Turkish that I've been studying here (and even though they were mostly tourist phrases and simple sentences, I got a kick out of it). Also, here's some big news that maybe I haven't shared yet..I got accepted to a small private university in New York for my Master's in International Political Economy and Development. Some of the folks on the trip to Istanbul were from New York, so they prepped me on some of the differences (for example, wear whatever you want because no one is surprised by anything....cross the street more aggressively, Emily!'ll want to live by these train lines....and everything everything everything is expensive). If anyone has any more advice to help me deal with the culture shock, it would be greatly appreciated!

It was a little difficult getting back into teaching, but this week I'm working on a volleyball game volunteers v. students like last year, and we're planting some trees and doing a cleanup for Earth Day. I'd like to hear what everyone is doing for Earth Day and how everyone is in general!

On one last odd note, I just stopped at the post office (a frustrating experience every time) and picked up a box to ship some things home. On the way I saw the man who grazes his goats outside my apartment. Partially because I'm still in a tourist frame of mind and partially because I want to have proof that people really did graze their animals in my yard when I go home, I chatted up the man (Ivan) and took a picture of him and his goat (who was really really hungry). The little boys nearby who were taunting him by calling him a villager drew closer when I left, so I'm hoping they now saw that it was acceptable to have a conversation with Ivan (I hope they didn't decide to harass him further!).

I hope you and yours are healthy wealthy and wise, or at least healthy and happy!