Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fighting The Good Fight

I celebrated World AIDS Day for the first time this year, and I feel like a better person for it. I organized games and activities for the youth in Tryavna, and things went off without a hitch. Originally, I wasn't too excited with the turnout, but even with a smaller group the project went well. The activities I organized integrated socialization and decision-making skills, and HIV/AIDS information in a fun and interactive way. We started with a game called "Hotel Room Key" which required the youth to imagine being at a party, and exchanging "room keys" with people they enjoyed talking to. What most of them didn't know was that HIV was written on some of the room keys, so as they exchanged keys, they were also exchanging the virus. The purpose of the game was to show the youth that if the right precautions are not taken HIV can be spread just as easily.

The second game we played involved using decision-making skills. The youth were separated into two groups and given one senario. The senario involved an armagadeon-type catastrophy in which only six out of 10 selected people could be saved. The youth had to individually and collectively, as a group, decide who would stay and who would go. The characters in the senario ranged from an elderly priest to a middle-aged prostitute to a homosexual architect. The activity was great because everyone had differing opinions, but, ultimately, they had to come to one conclusion. Each group gave their choices for who would stay and defended their reasoning, and those who disagreed with one or two choices supported the final decision. It displayed the best teamwork I've seen with the youth.

The third game we played was called "Sex Bingo". Each person was given a bingo card with questions about sexual health, and they were required to walk around the room and find people who could answer the questions. The first person to finish won a prize, but since person who won is one of the students I trained in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention he didn't get the honors of being the winner. Ultimately, the youth gained valuable information regarding sex and sexual health, so they're able to make better decisions.

Next, the youth played a game called "Condom Volleyball" which has been quite a hit in the past. The game required the students to separate into two teams, and while seated, they had to hit an air inflated condom over a net. The catch was that inside the condom was a myth or fact about HIV/AIDS, so the winning team had to pop the condom and answer the statement correctly. An example of a statement is, "You can get HIV/AIDS if a person with HIV/AIDS coughs or sneezes near you." There were twenty-two different statements ranging from easy to difficult, so the game required a lot of thinking and debating amongst team members.

The final game we played was called "HIV/AIDS Jeopardy". Again, this game required the youth to use their knowledge about HIV/AIDS to answer the questions. This game provided more specific information about HIV/AIDS so the youth learned a lot of facts about the virus. Overall, the youth had fun and learned a lot, and they didn't have to do in a classroom, lecture style setting. The games and activities were interactive, in an open environment, which allowed everyone to freely discuss the topic without fear of people criticizing them.

I have to recognize the people who helped make the event a success. My colleagues from CSRI helped organize and prepare the materials needed for the activities, which in turn took a lot of stress off of me. They made red ribbons, inflated the condoms for volleyball, and helped get out the word about the event. I also have to give credit to the youth volunteers that helped and participated in the activities. Evfcho, Koko, Neda, and Petia always come through when I need help, and without them things definitely wouldn't have gone as smoothly as they did. Finally, big thanks to everyone who made the event a success by helping and participating in the event!

In other news from the BG. Thanksgiving was a time for good food and friends. I went down to Haskovo where my friend Marisa and others prepared an amazing feast. It was also a great cultural exchange because Marisa's counterpart and landlady came with their families, so they were able to experience a traditional America holiday with other Americans. Also, on Tuesday I gave a presentation on the topic Health and Hygiene at the B26 In-Service Training in Plovdiv. That was also a great experience for me because I was able to present some activities and ideas I have done in Tryavna, hopefully to inspire some other volunteers to do similar things at their site. I was able to visit some new volunteers I haven't had the chance to meet before so that was nice too.

Well, that's about it for now. The weather has been amazing for the couple of months, with no signs of winter, but as of today I think things are about to change. It was quite chilly today, so I wouldn't be surprised to see snow and ice within the next week. I'll keep my fingers crossed that we get spared at least until after the new year!

Quotes of the Day:
"Look at what you've got and make the best of it. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." - Proverb

"Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible...To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." - 1 Corinthians 9:19, 22 (NIV)

Beats on Repeat:
"Real As It Gets (feat. Young Jeezy)" - Jay-Z
"Christmas Time Is Here" - Diana Krall

Peace, Love, and Understanding...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bulgarian Halloween

This year I celebrated Halloween in my new primary organization, Center for Social Rehabilitation and Integration (CSRI), and things went much better than I could've expected. On Monday and Tuesday the children, staff, and I carved pumpkins which went great, and the end product looked nice too. For the majority of children and staff it was their first time carving pumpkins, so everyone was excited to roll up their sleeves and get a little messy. On Wednesday, the children made a variety of different masks for the Halloween celebration, and they helped me create some Halloween-themed mosaic window treatments for the computer lab. For the finale on Thursday I organized a Halloween celebration for children in the community. There were games, food, and a film, and the local news media showed up to cover the event. Everything went off without a hitch and I have to accredit that to my colleagues and the volunteers that came to help, because they implemented the program, I only organized it. Overall, I think the Halloween activities for the week were fun and interactive and everyone enjoyed the experience - click on the link under My Photos to see more pictures from the Halloween celebration.

I should also mention that on Thursday we had a little snow pass through Tryavna, which left me kind of disheartened. It is only the end of October so to see snow was not a welcomed sight for me, to say the least. After my experiences from last winter I'm not too enthused about snow this year, let alone in October. All is well though because this past weekend saw sunshine and warmer temperatures, so that helped brighten my emotional state.

So Halloween is finished. I guess now it's on to the next holiday celebration - Thanksgiving or Christmas? Since Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday I haven't decided if I'm going to push to have a Bulgarian celebration for it. I'll definitely talk about it with the children and staff, but celebrating might be a bit much. Personally, I will celebrate Thanksgiving with some other PCVs, so hopefully I'll get my hands on some turkey and dressing somewhere! I'll most likely start putting my efforts towards a Christmas celebration, because if there's one holiday that has to be celebrated it's Christmas. I'll keep everyone updated on how that goes...

Quotes of the Day:
"Choose love and peace will follow. Choose peace and love will follow." - Mary Helen Doyle

"To be rich in admiration and free from envy, to rejoice greatly in the good of others, to love with such generosity of heart that your love is still a dear possession in absence or unkindness - those are the gifts which money cannot buy." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Beat on Repeat:
"Stir It Up" - Bob Marley

Peace, Love, and Understanding...

Friday, October 22, 2010

I Would Like to Call It Beauty

Autumn has officially arrived in Bulgaria, and it has definitely made it's presence known. This morning, and also other mornings during the past month, I woke up to a nice chill in my apartment that made me want to throw the covers back over my head for another hour of sleep. Understand, during this time of year, the sun has stopped greeting me with it's warm, beautiful rays and in it's place is a delightful, brilliant streetlight. I'm not knocking the incandescent beams from the light bulb on the street, I'm just saying that it's not as welcoming as the sluntse (or sun in Bulgarian). I know dragging my comatose body out of bed at 6:30 a.m., without sunlight, to go run might not sound attractive, in actuality it is.

Autumn is my most favorite time of the year. I might sound like I'm complaining about getting out of bed early to run in frosty temperatures, but I look forward to it. I mean, it's not the kind of excitement you get as a child arising on Christmas morning, but it's above looking forward to taking the SAT or GRE that day. You see the pros drastically outweigh the cons to the point that there's no competition. Just the thought of running up the side of a mountain while basking in the hues of yellow and red from the trees is enough to make an insane man, well, sensible. Let's not mention that by the time I finally reach the summit of my run the sun usually decides to make an appearance, which results in amazing colors creating sensory overload for my lethargic brain. Usually at that moment I think to myself that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world. As I write and think about this it becomes abundantly clear that this feeling of ultimate pleasure outweigh the physiological benefits of running. Don't get me wrong, I am truly happy that my heart muscle is getting a great workout and my legs are regaining their strength, but most importantly my psychological state is at peace. I guess you can say that running takes over my body and mind like a drug, and everyday I overdose.

Besides noticing the effects of autumn as I run, I can smell it in the air. Most Bulgarians by now have ignited their pechka (stove) or fireplace, so the scent of Bulgarian pine tickles my olfactory nerves as I go through the ebb and flow of my day. Honestly, I think after I have departed this country the one thing that will always bring my mind back to this place will be the smell of burning wood on a cold autumn or winter's night. Before coming to Bulgaria I didn't recognize the sensual effects of smoke, and it wasn't until a friend made note of it that I began to savor this scent, but now I welcome it each time I step out of the door (I must also add that the saw blade I've been hearing outside of my window for the past month marked the beginning of autumn too. It's just not as pleasurable to write about, even though I appreciate the work it's done in preparing the wood to burned.)

So, there you have it. The sights, sounds, and smells of Bulgaria in autumn. I'm trying my best to cherish them now while they last, because in no time the frigid temps of Old Man Winter will clot my pleasurable perception of all things lovely and blissful.

Quotes of the Day:
"The most important office in a democracy is the office of citizen." - Louis Brandeis (Registered American voters, please go out and vote on November 2nd)

"When the end comes for you let it find you conquering a new mountain not sliding down an old one." - Les Brown

Beats on Repeat:
John Legend's new album "Wake Up!"
"Jolene" - Ray LaMontagne

Peace, Love, and Understanding...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

It's My Anniversary!

Today, I've officially served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria for one-year. Looking back I can say that the challenges have been present, but so have the good times. It hasn't been painless, figuratively and literally, but the memories that have been made are priceless. I've battled the agony of rehabilitating a fractured kneecap and the frustrations of trying to learn and understand a culture that was as new to me as walking with two left shoes. But now, I'm here and the satisfaction of completing one year as a PCV brings with it a small dose of pride for which no amount of wealth or material gain can offer. I'm not dwelling on my successes or failures after one year, because I do realize that I have another one to complete, but sometimes in life it's a good thing to stop and smell the roses, as cliche as it might sound.

The longer I remain here the more I'm able to perceive the ordinary things in life that we, as human beings, often time overlook as being nugatory. For me it's the summertime scent of lavender and the sound of trees rustling in the wind as I run along the valley between my town and the next village. It's sitting on the edge of the lake and listening to the murmuring of frogs and crepitating grasshoppers while the sun is setting. It's also the friendly gesture of a wave from the waitress at the local restaurant as I enter the door, and the half-smile from the cashier at the grocery store as I hand her the correct change (FYI: she never smiles). I'm sure years after I've left this place, and I've forgotten the names of people I worked with, I will remember those aforementioned examples, and many more that have and will happen, of the time when simplicity took precedence over the chaos of life.

Quote of the Day:
"I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!" - Excerpt from speech given by John Brown after his conviction

Beat on Repeat:
"Philadelphia" - Neil Young

Peace, Love, and Understanding...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rhyme for the Summertime

Sorry, I haven't been keeping everyone updated about the happenings here, so I apologize. Since the arrival of summer and vacation season, I've had my hands busy with various activities. I'm no longer working full-time in the SOS Children's Village, so my duties there have been cut in half. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I organize either sport or art activities in the morning, and in the afternoon I help with computer activities for the childern. I also teach English on the side to a couple of the younger children who are motivated enough to get a headstart for the upcoming school year. There are also the weekly letters to Justin Bieber from a few of the girls that I help translate, which keeps my Bulgarian skills up to par if nothing else!

The other part of my work now involves working in the Center for Social Rehabilitation and Integration (CSRI). I worked at CSRI last year for a short time, but now more of my time is being dedicated there, because in September it will be my full-time job. At the moment, my work involves searching for funding and writing grants to support a group of people with disabilities. The group performs theatre plays, and also does art projects in the center. Their goal is to be able to buy new costumes for their plays, so that they have to the potential to travel throughout Bulgaria, and possibly Europe, showcasing their work. If anyone is interested in helping this group achieve their goal of buying new costumes and traveling around Bulgaria showcasing their work, please let me know.

I'm also trying to intitate a HIV/AIDS program in CSRI to help educate the youth about the disease. Right now, I'm applying for a grant through Peace Corps to fund the project, so if all goes well I will have the resources I need to start. I need one Bulgarian youth to help me with the project, and it's quite difficult finding young people to help you for free during the summer. Most of the youth that I'm targeting are either working, studying for their university exams, or out of town, or all of the above! I'm not worried, because I'll start the project in one way or the other.

Last week, I spent the entire week at a Peace Corps conference in the really nice Bulgarian town of Vratsa. The conference involved discussing the successes and failures of the first year of service and ways to make the last year go smoothly. It was really good seeing the entire B25 group and being able to hangout. Actually, I don't know if hangout is the right word, because there was a party every single night, and there was no shortage of antics. I'm sure the club we frequented were happy to see the Americans leave at the end of the week, because most of us partied to exhaustion! After the conference I was able to visit my host family in Roman, which was really nice because they were extremely happy to see me. My host mom felt that I haven't been eating enough, so she sent me home with a sack full of food from cucumbers to baked chicken and banitsa. If you don't know what banitsa is, take this opportunity to Google it and learn a little about Bulgarian food!

Quotes of the Day:
"There's always an end. But the end is always the beginning of something else. The periods we write into our lives are always provisional, in one way or another." - an excerpt from Henning Mankell's book The Man from Beijing

"People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them." - Epictetus

Beats on Repeat:
"On to the Next One" - Jay-Z
"Te Amo" - Rihanna

Peace, Love, and Understanding...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Be quick, but don't hurry.

From June 3rd-6th Tryavna is celebrating their hometown hero Pencho Slavaikov. As part of the celebration SOS Children's Village-Tryavna held a youth bicycle tournament for the children of Tryavna and other towns in Bulgaria. There were a total of 10 teams, with each team consisting of four participants. Each participant completed four different bicycle courses and a written road safety test. In addition to the individual tasks, each team completed two timed tasks involving puzzles and a bicycle inspection. The tournament was composed of team and individual competitions, with the winners being decided by the lowest total scores.

All of the individual tasks required the rider to maneuver around obstacles. If the rider made contact with an obstacle or placed their foot on the ground they were penalized with a point. After each course the judge tallied the amount of points and marked it on the rider's score card.

All of the bicycles and helmets were given to SOS by sponsors, in addition to the different obstacles used in the tournament.

Each of the four courses were designed to require the rider to use maximum concentration and coordination to complete successfully. A representative from Bulgaria's largest automotive union officiated and sponsored the bicycle tournament.

The written test required each rider to identify road signs, hand signals, and the appropriate actions to take in situations involving other riders and automobiles. There were four different questions and each rider was given two minutes to complete the test.

The puzzle competition was one of two team activities in the tournament. There were four different puzzles for the teams to complete, and they were given two minutes to complete them.

The bicycle inspection was the second of the two team competitions, and also the last activity of the tournament. Each team was given drawings of certain parts of the bicycle and they had to perform an inspection to decide which parts were defective. Like most of the other activities they were given two minutes to complete the inspection.

As a finale, the top five teams and individual riders were given rewards based on the lowest scores. Above, the director of SOS Tryavna is congratulating one of the children from SOS.

Overall, the bicycle tournament was a big success. No one was injured, the weather held out, and the children enjoyed themselves.

Quotes of the Day (In Memory of John Wooden):
"Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful."

"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."

"Happiness begins when selfishness ends."

"Your reputation is what you're perceive to be. Your character is what you actually are."

Beat on Repeat:
"Rocketship" - Donnie

Peace, Love, and Understanding...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

International Children's Day

International Children's Day is celebrated on June 1st in most former Communist countries, and it involves childrens' programs being shown on TV and no school. In SOS, we celebrated by playing games ranging from Playstation 2 to foosball.

Foosball is by far the most competitive non-contact game we play in SOS. In actuality, it turns into a contact sport, because I constantly have to play referee and break up fights that inevitably occur. The kids have an insatiable competitiveness that results in a total dislike for losing. One minute they're best-friends and enjoying the taste of success, and the next they're complete enemies ready to rip each other to pieces because one person let the other team score the final goal.

Playstation 2 is the biggest hit for the children in SOS, because there's only one in the village. The children have computers in their homes so they're able to play PC games, but Playstation 2 games draw all of the attention. I have to set a time limit for the Playstation because otherwise there would be the same two children playing the entire time. No one wants to give up the seats in front of the TV for those games - it's like trying to get a front row seat to a Lil' Wayne concert!

The computer games are usually relegated to the children who don't have the audacity to fight and claw their way for a chance to play the Playstation 2 or foosball. It's a shame because I've spent hours trying to download fun games, only to realize that no one wants to play them. The children that do play computer games want to play internet games such as Sonic the Hedgehog, or spend their time talking on Skype. It's okay, though, because it just makes me realize how disconnected I am from the gaming world. When I was the kids' ages I was just as in-the-know about Playstation and computer games as they are now, so maybe it's a sign that I need to put down the books in my free time and check out the popular internet games. I never thought I would say that, but it's for the kids at the moment.

By the way, I just finished reading two new books in the past two weeks: Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel and The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell. If anyone's interested they are both excellence reads. Martel has to be one of the best writers out at the moment, and my new favorite author. I find it amazing how he is able to write so exquisitely about a topic such as the Holocaust, but disguises it in such as way that the reader isn't really focused on the horrors of that period, but more so, the meanings of life and death. I wouldn't rank it higher than his acclaimed book, Life of Pi, but it's worth reading if you enjoy good literary work. The Man from Beijing is crime novel that pulls the reader in from the start on a long twisty ride, and doesn't let go until the end. In the beginning, an entire village is gruesomely murdered in Sweden, except for three people, which leads investigators to speculate why. Mankell takes the reader from present day Sweden to 19th century China and America to Mozambique.

Well, that's all for now.

Quotes of the Day:
"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." - Aseop

"Faith is like being in the sun. When you're in the sun, can you avoid creating a shadow? Can you shake that area of darkness that clings to you, always shaped like you, as if constantly to remind you of yourself? You can't. This shadow is doubt. And it goes wherever you go as long as you stay in the sun. And who wouldn't want to be in the sun?" - excerpt from Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

Beat on Repeat:
"Spanish Joint" - D'Angelo

Peace, Love, Understanding...