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Saturday, August 23, 2003  
Well, I finally got a bit ill in Bulgaria. Oh, it's nothing to worry about. Just a cold, and a weakling cold at that. It been building for the last few days. I've been sneezing occasionally and I could feel my nose very slowly beginning to clog. It peaked last night and is already on its way downhill. It's not even bad enough that anyone has noticed. Bulgarians tend to be very superstitious about colds and the things that cause them. If someone had seen me with a cold, I'm sure I would have gotten chastised for drinking cold water or leaving a window open during the day or something. People here have blamed colds on chilled beer, and stranger still, they seem to like cold beer even if they think it habitually causes sickness.

Anyway, I don't really feel that far off my game. I just have to blow my nose occasionally and small things have a tendency to annoy more than usual. I was pretty peeved when I'd seen that some kid had taken my favorite computer, even though I've told no one that I have a favorite computer and every computer is fair game. And there's a little fly buzzing around annoying the heck out of me, but that's just more Bulgaria, and probably the fact that I worked out a little this morning and haven't showered because I'll be playing basketball in a couple of hours.

So I carry on. It's Silistra's turn to celebrate The River this weekend, but the party isn't nearly as large as Tutrakan's. Of course Days of Silistra is coming in a couple of weeks, so the city--and region--has that to gear up for. It's going to be quite a festival, I hear.

Short entry today. I must keep my health after all.

8/23/2003 04:00:00 PM | PERMALINK

Thursday, August 21, 2003  
I wish there were something interesting I could write about . . . well, no. No I don't. These last few days in Silistra have been pretty relaxing. I help move the school a little, work out a little, read. Today, I payed the cable bill. I just told the woman where I lived, confirmed that my name is indeed Robert Young, and gave her ten leva when she asked for it. Simple. She even bordered on courteous. I have nothing to complain about as far as Bulgarian customer service goes. Of course, I haven't needed to visit the post office lately either, but thank goodness for small favors. Anyway, paying the cable bill was almost pleasant.

And a good thing too, for cable, as it turns out, is something valuable to have in these lulling times. Here's the breakdown of a typical Bulgarian cable set-up: I get ten music channels. These include European versions of MTV and VH1, two versions of VIVA, some station called Ezik that turns into p0rn around midnight, MAD, and a bunch of stations that just play Bulgarian folk. The European MTV and VH1 are notable in that they're so darn European. The narrations over the standard American shows like Behind the Music are all redone with British accents. The playlists are all abysmally directed to pop. VIVA occasionally plays something from Metallica, The Rasmus, or The White Stripes, but apart from The Stripes, I could do without those groups anyway. I could also do without MTV playing Justin Timberlake every 2 minutes and VH1 playing Blue every 5. Music TV quickly gets annoying in Europe, and must only be taken in very small doses.

Less annoying, and far more useful are the three good news stations I get. CNN International is almost entirely business-oriented unless there's some great tragedy somewhere and one of their correspondents can do a report every ten minutes. EuroNews has CNN Headline News down to a science. The special interest and entertainment stories are repeated ad nauseum throughout the week or month, but if one wants to know what's happening in the world, tuning in at the top or bottom of an hour is the best way of doing it. Finally, there's DeutschWorld, which is in German half the time and provides day-old news in English the rest of the time. Not much reason to turn to DW unless there's some special that needs watching.

And the rest. Inexplicably, I get two identical versions of Cartoon Network, just in case watching Tom and Jerry on one channel isn't enough. I also get Eurosport and some Bulgarian sports channel that seems to show either Spanish bull-fighting or Bugarian soccer, neither of which hold my interest. Eurosport was fun while the Tour de France was on, but now all they seem to want to show are Rallies or Motorbike Grand Prix. Of course, August is an unbearable sporting month in America, too. Pro Soccer just started in Europe, so I guess I can expect to hear about every cute thing David Beckham does for Real Madrid over the next few months. Yee Haw.

And finally there's the Discovery Channel. Good ol' Discovery. I can usually count on it for some solid entertainment if I'm absolutely bored out of my mind.

So yeah, TV here, as is also the case in America I suppose, does not nearly provide a universal way of staying boredom-free. Thank God for books and Newsweek. Oh, and participating and interacting in a productive way with Bulgarians and the community around me, thanks to that too.

8/21/2003 03:05:00 PM | PERMALINK

Tuesday, August 19, 2003  
When I came to Silistra for my site visit in May, the school staff warned me that the school might/may be/possibly moving in the summer. I was okay with this as it would give me something constructive to do. In fact, I was looking forward to giving the school a fresh start. When I arrived in July, they still weren't sure whether the school would be moving. If it did, it would move to a building closer to my apartment, but if it wasn't decided by August, I was told, it wouldn't happen.

So August rolled around, and no news on the school came. I went to Teteven assuming that no move would take place. I came back dropped into the middle of the race to get everything moved from one building to another in a month. And to find out that the building they were moving to might have another school in it when the year begins. And that this new building is about twice as far from my apartment as the old building was. Joy.

We had a meeting today so the school's director could explain about what was going to happen. Turns out there aren't really enough chairs and tables to go around, and money will have to be raised to provide them. Also, the whole of the new building's interior will have to be painted white, apparently in an effort to make the place look as much like a mental hospital as possible.

I spent the rest of the morning helping some of the staff bundle and box books in the library to take them across town. Most of the newspapers were pretty old, and I'm guessing some will be tossed, but the older textbooks and journals seem interesting and will have to be looked through.

So we have a month to get everything moved before school starts, and I'll have to have all of my addresses changed. And all this for a building none of the teachers seem particularly happy with. Oh well.

8/19/2003 02:22:00 PM | PERMALINK

Monday, August 18, 2003  
We've all received the e-mails at one point or other. That friend who held his or her principles against cell phones for so long you thought they'd adopted anti-mobility as a religion. Well, here's another, only this isn't in e-mail form, and the phone number won't appear in the middle of the message with a space above and below, screaming "dial me!" Nope, there will be other times to subject friends and family to that torture. This post is all about waxing philosophical and social.

I had problems with cell phones in college because I firmly believed, and still do, that there is no way in hell I--or most other college students for that matter--needed one to maintain a proper social life. If a student had no other line or was already dipping their toes into the water of a business life, well then, cell phones were fine by me. But what really pissed me off was when I'd be walking with someone I was working on a project with, going to eat lunch with, or just talking with, and they'd pull out the ringing phone to have a conversation about their dinner and movie plans. In fact, most conversational snippets I caught in school were along these lines. What in the name of god kept these conversations from beginning and ending at home?

I never bought a cell phone at UCLA because my phone lines at home were always cheaper, clearer, and more "socially effective" than a cell's would be. Here in Bulgaria, though, things are very different.

The phone line in my apartment is abysmal. I can't hear what the person on the other end is saying very well, and they certainly can't hear me very well. The point of whole conversations on the phone have been lost, and I might as well not even try having a conversation with someone speaking Bulgarian.

Also, they don't sell answering machines here. Answering machines kept me alive in school. They were the last roadblock between me and cell phones. After all, there's no reason to make or take a call on the road if you can just wait until you get home and liesurely decide who needs to be called and when. But no answering machines meant the wall collapsed. I had to get a cell phone (GSM in Bulgaria) and soon. After all, everybody else was jumping off the bridge, might as well follow.

So I visited a local electronics store here in Silistra last Friday. The guys there were pretty helpful, and seemed very happy that I, as an American, had decided on a Motorola. It completed some cosmic circle for them. The comically tragic thing about electronics and high-end stores in Silistra and the rest of Bulgaria is the language of the store. In any other store or social situation in the country, Bulgarians are over-joyed if I even try to speak Bulgarian with them. I can say four or five words and get a compliment about how well I speak the language. But in the electronics store, the clerks seemed almost ashamed that they didn't know English to be able to properly sell their product to an American. They'd stumble across their Bulgarian until they got to a menu on the phone and could actually read the features to me in English. Then they would look at me for approval, and all I could do is nod my head and say "yes, it has a 'call services' menu, dobre."

So they finally sold me the phone at a solid price, but, as in everything in Bulgaria, there was one last problem. The only manual they had for the phone was in Greek. They're a Bulgarian store selling an American phone and all they could give me was a Greek manual. Hmmm. They told me to come back Monday and they'd have one.

Well, I returned to the store today. They took me to another branch on the other side of town and dug around for a good long while before they turned up a manual in Polish. I told them that that, also, would not help me very much. They understood and apologized.

Well, although I'm stumbling around a bit, getting the details of the phone down on my own, it's serving its purpose perfectly well. I can call, send messages, and play tetris and snake perfectly well. What else does a cell phone owner need? The menus are, of course, in English and are pretty user-friendly, so I'm happy. But if anyone knows where on the internet I could dig up a manual in English for a Motorola T190, could they let me know? I'd be ever so grateful.

8/18/2003 03:48:00 PM | PERMALINK

Sunday, August 17, 2003  

Tutrakan and The River

Let me begin this way: I have a great respect for competitive swimmers. Especially the long distance swimmers. I think water polo players are demigods placed on Earth to show us the maximum abilities of the human shoulders and legs.

Being able to swim great distances has never been my strong suit. I can swim well enough, sure. And if someone were at the bottom of a pool, I’d have no problem rescuing them. I can get from one end of a pool to the other just fine, although I’m usually out of breath by the time I get there. Anyway, I’m no machine when it comes to swimming.

But darn it, I had to swim the Danube.

The day began okay. I had slept in my own bed for the first time in a week or so, gotten a small breakfast, and I was supposed to catch a 1:30 bus to Tutrakan, a small town on the river about 50 km upstream. Yesterday Tutrakan was having its salute to The River. There would be a race across, various little competitions on the water, and a concert at night. The two volunteers there, Michael and Kevin, are both B-12s. They’d arrived in town last September and hadn’t had a chance to participate in the festivities that year. Both were going to try to swim across this year.

Well, turns out that Bulgaria’s public bus system had cancelled the 1:30 bus. I had to wait for the 3:30. The problem then became one of time. I rode a hot, 3:30 bus into town and arrived at about 4:45, 45 minutes after the praznik (festival) was supposed to start. I reached the center of town after trotting down a short hill, found a few other Americans in town, and they pointed me in the direction of the registration center, where Michael and Kevin had been for the last fifteen minutes or so.

With the help of a Bulgarian, I found the center, panting and with sweat dripping off of me from running everywhere in near 100 degree heat with a backpack. They were taking blood pressures. I muttered to myself since keeping a low blood pressure has never been my strength under normal conditions. At this point my heart was pushing blood hard enough to turn over a car engine.

As it turns out, Mike’s blood pressure tends to run high as well. They weren’t going to let him swim, even though he had been a swimmer in high school. When mine shot the top of the meter off as well, we had a hurried discussion and they agreed to let us both swim as long as we signed a form and promised to stick together in the water. Kevin’s blood pressure was fine.

Since we were holding up the race, we all ran once again down to the beach (still had my backpack on, mind you). We hopped in a small red barge and they drove us out near Romania where we received our instructions. There were boats all along the course to pick up those who couldn’t make it. If we thought we were in trouble, they told us to swim to the nearest boat. We stood up along the side, facing Bulgaria. I was at that point tired, hungry, sweaty, thirsty, and in no particular mood to swim. But there I was.

So we all hopped in the water. I’ll say this for it, it was warm. Other than that though, there was nothing to give me any reason to put my mouth anywhere near the Danube for the next two years. It tasted vile, and despite my thirst and the urge to drink it, I shut my mouth tightly after the first small gulp.

I hadn’t gotten anything like the best start in the world since I had no real inclination to race, so the main body of the race had already gotten far ahead of me by the time I took a look around. I was swimming slowly, leisurely, doing a backstroke. But that wasn’t very conducive to the race atmosphere. 100 yards from the start, I noticed the rescue boats starting to inch away from me and the barge we had leapt from motoring up and inching closer toward Bulgaria.

Not feeling any particular need to die for the sake of the race or a leisurely swim, I swam toward the nearest boat and tried to climb in. My hand slipped and I fell back into the water, taking a big gulp of the Danube with me. After climbing back in and flopping into the hull, I looked up at the guy who was paddling the boat. He was giving me this reproachful look, “why did you even try?” Of course, those were his eyes talking. He didn’t say anything until we got to shore and he told me to get off.

I certainly wasn’t alone in getting out of the water, though. At around the same time I did, about half of the people in the river were already getting back out. Kevin, the only one of the three American competitors with a decent blood pressure, had climbed aboard a nearby boat at nearly the same moment I had Several people clung to the sides of the boats and let go closer to shore, to finish off the race on their own.

The Americans on shore congratulated us all on even attempting a swim across the river, and some jokes about glowing green for the rest of the night were exchanged. Mike had come in fourth, and they weren’t even going to allow him to swim before I showed up.

We spent the rest of the night listening to a pretty good band cover some American songs and watching a “Miss Tutrakan” competition. I even got a certificate saying that I swam the Danube, along with everyone else in the race.

I may not have been in the best condition when I dove in the deep end of a deep river, and I’m not ashamed at all of wanting to climb into a boat. I could certainly use some time in the pool swimming laps. I’m not particularly happy with how well my speed in the water bodes for survival. But that’s another concern. I got in the Danube, swam about 100 yards, and got out. I’m pretty happy with that. And I respect swimmers a little more to boot.


You're Iceland!

Most people think you're a cold and forbidding person, but
you're actually naturally warm and inviting.  People just get scared off
by what other people have led them to believe about you.  You keep to yourself
for the most part, and are pretty good at fending for yourself.  More people should visit you and find out the truth.
Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid

Either that, or Switzerland, wholly depending on whether or not I ski (I don't, so it's Iceland, I suppose). Thanks to Owen for finding the first internet quiz I've really had a bit of fun with.

Also, a word on the whole power outage thing. I feel really very grateful for "the sacrifice" made by all the stock brockers who CNN's Maggie Lake reported had to sleep on the chairs and couches of their friends to go into work the next morning. Here in Peace Corps-Bulgaria, we know nothing about sleeping on other people's couches, chairs, or floors, so I really can only imagine their suffering. My thoughts were with them as Michael's kitten was clawing and biting at my arms as I tried to get to sleep on a couple of blankets on his bedroom floor last night.

Stockbrokers of New York: I salute you.

8/17/2003 04:24:00 PM | PERMALINK

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