February 22, 2005: Headlines: COS - Bulgaria: Sauk Herald: Bulgaria is now like a second home to Aaron Wills

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bulgaria: Peace Corps Bulgaria: The Peace Corps in Bulgaria: February 22, 2005: Headlines: COS - Bulgaria: Sauk Herald: Bulgaria is now like a second home to Aaron Wills

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Bulgaria is now like a second home to Aaron Wills

Bulgaria is now like a second home to Aaron Wills

Bulgaria is now like a second home to Aaron Wills

Aaron Wills finds Peace Corps ‘exhilarating’

by Aaron Wills

Photos submitted Aaron Wills tending to lambs roasting over the fire.

It seems like ages ago that I stepped off the plane into Bulgaria, a small mountainous country the size of Tennessee, located north of Greece, as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer. My parents, Glenn and Marcia Wills, while supportive of my new adventure, were also quite worried about what I had gotten myself into. I can see my dad shaking his head and placing his hand on his forehead with exasperation at where I was off to now. Bulgaria was, after all until 1990, part of the ‘Iron Curtain.’

My first thought as I stepped out of the small airport in the capital city, Sofia, was, “Wow, I hope the rest of the country doesn’t look like this!” There was a stunning potpourri of large, grey concrete apartment buildings, affectionately known as ‘communist blocks,’ rusting, run down factories, and old metal security fences. The legacy of communism was remarkably evident in the bleakness of the surroundings. Luckily Bulgaria has turned out to be a beautiful country with wonderfully kind people who have supported me at every turn.

I came to Bulgaria in August 2003 and began my 27 month commitment with two and a half months of Peace Corps training, in the town of Batak which is around 4,000 people. As a way to adjust to life in a new country and study the local language intensively, volunteers live with a host family and study the Bulgarian language – all day, everyday for over two months.

Those first months were both exhilarating and frustrating. On one hand, everything was new – the people, the language and the customs. For instance, here people don’t smile for pictures. Wedding bands are worn on the right hand. Animals such as cows and sheep are kept in town and in people’s yards and shepherds walk them through the town streets every morning and evening (yes, this makes for messy streets). And most famously, Bulgaria is the only country in the world where to shake your head ‘no’ means ‘yes’ and to nod your head ‘yes’ means ‘no.’

On the other hand, I often felt like a first grader. It was a challenge to order a coffee or a beer at the café or buy a loaf of bread at the store. Attempts at speaking in Bulgarian were met with a blank stare. I remember the first time I went to the store to buy a loaf of bread. I was eager to use my new phrases from the Bulgarian lesson of the day. So I walked up to the counter to order a loaf of bread. Alas, every Bulgarian word I’ve learned has evaporated from my brain like water from the fields on a hot July day. I stood there as if mute. I feebly pointed to the bread behind the counter and said one in Bulgarian. The cashier gave me an understanding smile and took the necessary change from my outstretched hand. As I meekly shuffled out of the store I felt about six inches tall. It was a great lesson in humility.

One of my favorite memories from my time in Batak comes courtesy of my host father, Toma. Customarily eating supper in Bulgaria is a long two hour affair with numerous courses and time for conversation about the day’s events. I would guess maybe like meals were 50 years ago in Sauk Centre, when people had more time and life’s pace was more relaxed. So as I sat down for my first meal with my host family, Toma offered me rakia, a homemade brandy from grapes, to go with the salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta cheese. In Bulgaria, the drinks are dictated by what food is to be served. Rakia is a must with salad. Beer or wine would be hypocrisy. I motioned for just a little bit in my glass. Toma set his pointer finger flat on the table to signify just a little, one finger’s width worth. He began pouring the rakia slowly into the low ball glass and a smile slowly crossed his face. I looked on in disbelief as he filled the glass right to the brim. Toma smiled, with a grin as wide as the Mississippi at Lake Pepin. I just stared down in shock. He stood his finger up on the table to show me how rakia was consumed in Bulgaria. One finger’s worth – except the length of your finger not the width. This was the first of many nights spent at the dinner table with Toma and his proudest possession: his homemade rakia. A good introduction indeed.

After one month in Batak it came time to find out where I would be spending the next two years working. I requested to live in a small, moutain village, where I could get to know the people and be a part of the everyday life.

I wanted to have my Ding-Dong Café and know the people I met on main street. And luckily, that’s what I got. I was heading to the village of Borino in the Rhodope Mountains (located in the south of the country on the border with Greece). Borino takes all day to get to from everywhere, has no internet, has no one who speaks English, and is one of the poorest areas in Bulgaria, but it’s a great place with amazing people that I’ve grown very fond of, and when it is time, will be tough to leave. It’s now like a second home.

When this story was posted in February 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

The Peace Corps Library Date: February 7 2005 No: 438 The Peace Corps Library
Peace Corps Online is proud to announce that the Peace Corps Library is now available online. With over 30,000 index entries in over 500 categories, this is the largest collection of Peace Corps related reference material in the world. From Acting to Zucchini, you can use the Main Index to find hundreds of stories about RPCVs who have your same interests, who served in your Country of Service, or who serve in your state.

Make a call for the Peace Corps Date: February 19 2005 No: 453 Make a call for the Peace Corps
PCOL is a strong supporter of the NPCA's National Day of Action and encourages every RPCV to spend ten minutes on Tuesday, March 1 making a call to your Representatives and ask them to support President Bush's budget proposal of $345 Million to expand the Peace Corps. Take our Poll: Click here to take our poll. We'll send out a reminder and have more details early next week.
Peace Corps Calendar:Tempest in a Teapot? Date: February 17 2005 No: 445 Peace Corps Calendar:Tempest in a Teapot?
Bulgarian writer Ognyan Georgiev has written a story which has made the front page of the newspaper "Telegraf" criticizing the photo selection for his country in the 2005 "Peace Corps Calendar" published by RPCVs of Madison, Wisconsin. RPCV Betsy Sergeant Snow, who submitted the photograph for the calendar, has published her reply. Read the stories and leave your comments.

February 19, 2005: This Week's Top Stories Date: February 19 2005 No: 449 February 19, 2005: This Week's Top Stories
NPCA Board positions are open for nomination 17 Feb
Mike Tidwell on trial for climate action protest 17 Feb
Katie Dyer is co-owner of Cadeaux du Monde 16 Feb
Cyclone misses Tonga and Samoa PCVs 16 Feb
Phil Hardberger in debate for Mayor of San Antonio 16 Feb
Edmund Hull is Princeton Diplomat-In-Residence 16 Feb
Bruce Greenlee is longtime friend of Latino community 15 Feb
Mike Honda new vice chairman at DNC 15 Feb
Jospeh Opala documents slave crossing from Sierra Leone 14 Feb
Dear Dr. Brothers: Aren't PCVs Hippies? 14 Feb
Joseph Lanning founded the World Education Fund 14 Feb
Stanley Levine draws Marine and Peace Corps similarities 14 Feb
Speaking Out: JFK envisioned millions of RPCVs 13 Feb
Chris Aquino visits mother's homeland of Vietnam 12 Feb
Is PCOL blocking users from posting messages? 12 Feb
JFK Library opens Sargent Shriver Collection 1 Feb
RPCV responds to Bulgaria Calendar concerns 28 Jan

WWII participants became RPCVs Date: February 13 2005 No: 442 WWII participants became RPCVs
Read about two RPCVs who participated in World War II in very different ways long before there was a Peace Corps. Retired Rear Adm. Francis J. Thomas (RPCV Fiji), a decorated hero of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died Friday, Jan. 21, 2005 at 100. Mary Smeltzer (RPCV Botswana), 89, followed her Japanese students into WWII internment camps. We honor both RPCVs for their service.
Bush's FY06 Budget for the Peace Corps Date: February 7 2005 No: 436 Bush's FY06 Budget for the Peace Corps
The White House is proposing $345 Million for the Peace Corps for FY06 - a $27.7 Million (8.7%) increase that would allow at least two new posts and maintain the existing number of volunteers at approximately 7,700. Bush's 2002 proposal to double the Peace Corps to 14,000 volunteers appears to have been forgotten. The proposed budget still needs to be approved by Congress.
RPCVs mobilize support for Countries of Service Date: January 30 2005 No: 405 RPCVs mobilize support for Countries of Service
RPCV Groups mobilize to support their Countries of Service. Over 200 RPCVS have already applied to the Crisis Corps to provide Tsunami Recovery aid, RPCVs have written a letter urging President Bush and Congress to aid Democracy in Ukraine, and RPCVs are writing NBC about a recent episode of the "West Wing" and asking them to get their facts right about Turkey.
RPCVs contend for Academy Awards  Date: January 31 2005 No: 416 RPCVs contend for Academy Awards
Bolivia RPCV Taylor Hackford's film "Ray" is up for awards in six categories including best picture, best actor and best director. "Autism Is a World" co-produced by Sierra Leone RPCV Douglas Biklen and nominated for best Documentary Short Subject, seeks to increase awareness of developmental disabilities. Colombian film "El Rey," previously in the running for the foreign-language award, includes the urban legend that PCVs teamed up with El Rey to bring cocaine to U.S. soil.
Ask Not Date: January 18 2005 No: 388 Ask Not
As our country prepares for the inauguration of a President, we remember one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century and how his words inspired us. "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."

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Story Source: Sauk Herald

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



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