November 10, 2004: Headlines: COS - Bulgaria: The Free Lance-Star: Peace Corps volunteer James Mayers grows accustomed to his new surroundings in Bulgaria

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bulgaria: Peace Corps Bulgaria: The Peace Corps in Bulgaria: November 10, 2004: Headlines: COS - Bulgaria: The Free Lance-Star: Peace Corps volunteer James Mayers grows accustomed to his new surroundings in Bulgaria

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Peace Corps volunteer James Mayers grows accustomed to his new surroundings in Bulgaria

Peace Corps volunteer James Mayers grows accustomed to his new surroundings in Bulgaria

Peace Corps volunteer James Mayers grows accustomed to his new surroundings in Bulgaria

Mayers settles in at post

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Stafford Peace Corps volunteer grows accustomed to his new surroundings in Bulgaria


Date published: 11/10/2004

He misses the taste of Skippy smooth peanut butter, American-made ketchup and pancake syrup, but James Mayers enjoys slatko smeared on French toast.

The sweet spread made from figs is one of the foods for which the Stafford resident has acquired a taste during his assignment in Bulgaria with the Peace Corps.

But while his taste buds have adjusted, his skill with the language is jet-lagged.

"I need to hunker down on my language skills," he said in a November e-mail. "Passing a test doesn't mean anything to the Bulgarian on the street, in the store or in the office," said Mayers, who scored slightly higher than required on his language-proficiency interview.

On Oct. 22 he was officially sworn in as Peace Corps volunteer.

Mayers arrived in Bulgaria in August with a group of 59 Peace Corps trainees. After four days of training on safety, health and language, he and four others went to Bratsigovo, a town of about 5,000. Although Mayers missed American cuisine, he enjoyed the fresh fruit that came from his host family's garden. If he wanted a peach, he could just pluck one from a tree. Most of the families in the town utilize every inch of their small yards for growing vegetables and fruit trees.

"If it's not a patio, something grows there," said Mayers in an earlier e-mail.

Language training continued after arriving at Bratsigovo.

"It's tough not being able to have a simple conversation, but I'm getting there," said Mayers, in August.

As he struggled with the language, be began to acquire a taste for the foods.

"I've helped to make slatko, which is like jam," he said.

Along with language classes, the group's training included meetings with the community and businesses.

During one of the meetings, the trainees and community members conceived an idea to put Bratsigovo on the map, literally. They agreed to create a hiking trail.

They would mark the trail, post maps around town and host an opening day.

The tasks involved sounded simple, Mayers said in an e-mail.

But creating a map proved to be difficult. Maps detailing the smaller communities were scarce. When they finally found one and had it scanned and the image modified to include the trail, they couldn't find a printer capable of making a copy of the large-format map.

Traveling by bus, they searched nearby in Peshtera, a larger town, and Pazardjik, a city. Their quest was unsuccessful.

Children who lived in an orphanage and people from the community helped with cleaning and marking the trail. A trainee designed signs announcing opening day, and another trainee solicited sponsors who donated drinks and bread, traditionally served at celebrations.

The opening event was held the following day. After the ribbon cutting and a ceremony that involved pouring water mixed with flowers at the entrance of the trail, the jaunt began.

Even though Mayers has moved out of town, he isn't giving up on the map. He was told that he can get one printed in Plovdiv, a 30-minute drive away.

"I want Bratsigovo to know that if Americans say something will get done, it will, even though it would have been better on time, but that's the nature of business sometimes."

In addition to the community project, Mayers said, the group visited with children from an orphanage and helped with a fund-raising campaign for the home. Some of the children live there because their parents or relatives can't afford to keep them, he said.

By the end of October, Mayers had moved to his permanent assigned site. Purvomay has a population of 21,000. Mayer's job is to help with environmental and business projects for the municipality.

"The reality of being in the Peace Corps is really starting to sink in," he said in an e-mail. "I'm in my office and am surrounded by Bulgarian speakers only. Even as I type, I am being addressed--talk about multitasking! I understand about 30-50 percent."

Mayers' apartment is a five-minute walk from work. Although he doesn't miss the traffic in Virginia, he does miss his friends and family. And conversations in English.

The Bulgarians who know English seek him out to practice their language skills, he said. "And, fortunately for me, they are determined to help me speak Bulgarian, correctly."

Nonverbal language can be a problem too until the cultural differences are mastered, said Mayers. Bulgarians nod their heads up and down to indicate "no" and wag it side to side for "yes."

To reach KATHLEEN LEWIS: 540/374-5000 ext. 5749

Date published: 11/10/2004

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Story Source: The Free Lance-Star

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Bulgaria



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