© 2011 Daniel 029

The Terminator

Dear friends…

Give a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to teach himself to fish and you’re in the Peace Corps.

We are facilitators. Now, the problem with being a facilitator is boredom if there is nothing to facilitate. A man who doesn’t know that he wants fish doesn’t know that he wants to teach himself to fish. Thus, integration plays a key role in the work of us volunteers. We align our perspectives with those of the community, evaluate them in the context of our American experiences, then try to figure out what’s needed. Because the community has to be the originator of the idea for it to own and sustain its creation, the step after figuring out what’s needed is trying to have the villagers spontaneously reach the same conclusion. We’re playing small town “Inception”.

Or, at least, other volunteers are.

I am deeply unsatisfied with my service here in Bulgaria. I know I’ve written before that I’ve been staying productive, but I think it would have been better phrased as staying busy. The feeling really hit home during the annual village festival when I found myself unable to join in on group conversations because people kept switching back to Turkish after a couple sentences with me. A side effect is that my Bulgarian also receives little practice, exacerbating the problem further. I still had fun at the festival and I love the people here, but this relationship just isn’t working out well.

Fortunately, Dimitar from the program staff has been helpful and will be visiting my site next week to help work things out. He has a NGO in the nearby town of Razgrad that he’ll be setting me up with. There may or may not be a site change; Despite my overall failure in this village, I still want to help out and get something done to show for all my time here. The wedding hall project is still in the works, but I’d like to get maybe one or two more projects in the pipeline before leaving. To be honest, a new apartment would be welcome. A pipe broke this morning and flooded everything, and my patience for dealing with these things is wearing thin.

Last week, I took a medical trip to Sofia where I received mostly bad news. I also had my annual dental exam where I found out that one of my fillings had fallen out, so it looks like I’ll be going back around early October to have it redone. The money I spent on the trip for travel & lodging will be reimbursed, but I’ve been living on approximately $2 for the week and a half until the disbursement date. I’ve been pulling food out from my emergency rations but I could use something fresh. My cherry tomatoes are starting to bear fruit, but they’re not yet ripe enough for eating.

In terms of victories, I am proud of the progress made on the English resource I’ve been working on during the summer. My students keep asking me about when they can learn more from it. Lessons will have to wait, though, because school is back in session and I’ve moved to coodinating with the new English teacher, Mrs. Dencheva. She’s a strict disciplinarian, so I might get to play “good cop” to my students this year. She also has a toddler grandson who sometimes accompanies her to class. His name is George Michael.

Cooking without money has been slightly more interesting than I anticipated. I refined flour into wheat gluten last night to make a humble approximation of 油麵筋. I’ve also made pancakes from my fiber supplements, which I top with honey from my coworker’s beehive. I’m afraid of bees, so I have yet to accompany him on collection. These little things are helping me stay sane until I have money for real food again. Don’t worry about me though; Even on my ultra-tight budget, I’m still managing to get enough vitamins and protein to prevent wasting away. And pretty soon, far from wasting away, I’ll be fattening myself up to prepare for winter.

I did get a slight headstart at the village festival. It’s the only time all year that I’ll eat ponichki - deep fried donuts topped with chocolate, sprinkles, or fruit syrups. They come out piping hot and lovely. The process is fun to watch, too, as the machine “poops” out batter into the oil and the lower conveyor belt drags and flips the rings until they reach the end, ready to be eaten.

As always, I miss you guys. Skype with me to see my beautiful face before I get pudgy.



  1. Michelle
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 12:26 am | #

    Don’t think in terms of failure or success, either way you’re making a difference, even if it’s just a small dent! And also, you can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved, it’s ultimately up to the individual. Stay healthy, it’s the most important thing!

  2. Cameron Ottens
    Posted September 22, 2011 at 3:39 am | #

    The toughest job you’ll ever love, sir.

    It may be time for taking stock but it is not time for final judgements.

    After a year of what I would agree has been basically “falling short,” I would have to disagree with your assessment.

    We all have work to do here in PC and in life. Sometimes that work is obvious in definition and in scope. Sometimes, though our work is to search for a place and time to help, to find people to work with, to do what we came here to do.

    Sometimes our job is to search.

    For people to work with, new, unofficial counterparts, star students to motivate, even those few moments when you can simply be the one asshole in the room who refuses to refer to bullshit as Bulgarska Rabota, as if it were acceptable just because it’s happened before, as if things couldn’t be done better.

    Would any of this be worth it if it weren’t hard? Would it be hard if it didn’t truly test you, and me?


    Is that why we’re here?


  3. Daniel
    Posted September 23, 2011 at 5:42 pm | #

    Thanks for the reminder, Cameron. I think familiarity breeds complacency, and complacency wears out that initial drive and optimism that we brought with us into the country. It’s easy to forget how resilient we are.

    Maybe I just need to take a short vacation, re-focus, and then dive back into things.

  4. Cameron Ottens
    Posted September 30, 2011 at 6:17 pm | #

    *like* :D

  5. jarlene
    Posted October 16, 2011 at 10:11 pm | #

    i really like the composition of your first photo.

    i also esp like the picture with the curtain blowing in the wind and noticing these details: the chess set in the corner and the frisbee on the ground. :)

    so glad that things are turning around 180 for you over there!!

  6. jarlene
    Posted October 16, 2011 at 10:18 pm | #

    looking at your first photo again…i cant help but think of robert frost’s “mending wall” for some reason…

  7. Ev
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 12:24 pm | #

    waiting for your october post :)

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