Welcome to Skip and Carol's Peace Corps Adventure

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Welcome to Skip and Carol's Peace Corps Adventure in Bulgaria

Welcome to Skip and Carol's Peace Corps Adventure in Bulgaria

Welcome to Skip and Carol's Peace Corps Adventure

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Welcome to Skip and Carol's Peace Corps Adventure

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So I had made a decision which carried with it things that I could not articulate at the time. I had made the choice instinctively, and only later had given it meaning. The trip had never been billed in my mind as an adventure in the sense of something to be proved. And it struck me then that the most difficult thing had been the decision to act, the rest had been merely tenacity--and the fears were paper tigers. One really could do anything one had decided to do whether it were changing a job, moving to a new place, divorcing a husband, or whatever, one really could act to change and control ones' life; and the procedure, the process, was its own reward.

Robin Davidson, Tracks

Who are these people?

We recently retired from owning a small retail business in Rockland, Maine. We are building a house on the island of Vinalhaven in Penobscot Bay, and will join the Peace Corps on June 11th to spend two years in Bulgaria.

Skip and Carol Thompson

anuary 12th, 2001

It's been almost a year since we submitted our applications to Peace Corps. Last April we interviewed and the following month received a "nomination" to posting in the South Pacific as Community Service Volunteers, leaving February 2, 2001.

After several months of medical testing, dental work and waiting, we were "cleared" in October. Since then, we've been waiting and wondering where exactly we would be heading in the South Pacific.

Today we received our official "invitation" to go to Bulgaria as Community Economic Development Volunteers. This comes as a real surprise and change in plans, but we're excited about it and feel that we can use the skills we've developed by running our own businesses to help other people with theirs. We will be leaving on June 11th, 2001.

February 6, 2001

We have sent in our passport and visa applications and written more essays regarding our aspirations for our PC service and our strategies about how we will adapt to the culture. After checking out Amazon.com we ordered and received a book on the history of Bulgaria and, more importantly, a book and tapes on how to teach oneself Bulgarian. We're starting with the alphabet (Cyrillic) and the very basics for now. We figure that with all these 20 year olds who will be in training with us, we better get a head start on this aspect. Language has never been a strong skill for either of us. But it's a fun challenge.

We're waiting to hear from our "country officer" and receive more information about PC in Bulgaria. I (Carol) feel like we're going into a big unknown and sometimes wonder if I'm too old for this. At other times, I'm really, really, excited about the prospect of living in a new country, becoming friends with people there and, hopefully, helping them "get their feet on the ground" as they continue to adjust to living in a nation with free enterprise.

Feb. 10, 2001

The past few days have been real fun for me. Through this wonderful invention (internet) that I still don't pretend to understand, but love to use, I have connected with a young woman who will be going to Bulgaria at the same time we are and will also be doing the same type of volunteer work. She has given us some other web sites to check out that are from volunteers currently serving in Bulgaria. They are great and help give us a good picture of what their experiences have been so far. It's all helping to make this a reality for me. I think it has been on one level, but this contact is reinforcing that. And it's also reinforcing the need for me to spend more time studying the language. When the weather is good for working in the woods, or walking on the island, it's hard to stay indoors to study. This sounds like a lament from college days in the spring time, and I guess I'm going to have to try to better discipline myself now than I did back then! Shannon hopes to come over tomorrow to help me work on up-dating this site. I hope the ferry runs so she can come. It'll be wonderful to see her.

May 21st: Less than a month to go! Today we received our "staging" information, and have made our reservations to get to Washington DC on June 18th for our first orientation. Then, on the 19th we'll fly to Sofia. Looks like this is really going to happen (after over a year since we applied).

The reality of it is beginning to sink in -- how far we'll be from family and friends is the especially hard part for me. I have so loved having Shannon nearby and talking with her regularly, that there will be a big void there. She was here yesterday again, helping with the web site - again, and doing wonders in a flower garden that she created. It will be really good to have that to come home to.

Now to get serious about the packing lists. More serious about the language tapes, and push ourselves to finish up the outside of the house. Every day we make some progress, but some days more than others.

We've had some great contacts with RPCV's as well as current Volunteers, and everyone has been so very helpful and positive. I know this is going to be an opportunity of a lifetime.

June 25, 2001

It’s hard to believe that just a week ago we flew out of Owls Head Airport towards Washington DC and the beginning of this adventure. So much has happened to transfer us into a totally new world in a very short time. We are now safely ensconced in the town of Panagyurishte with our host family which consists of the mother, father, 13 year old daughter (another daughter away at school in Sofia), the grandparents and a cousin and her 4 year old daughter. It’s not totally clear exactly where everyone actually sleeps, but we have been given the parents’ bedroom which is quite comfortable. They are extremely warm and generous people, anxious to help us with our language and all three are also interested in learning English (especially Nedi, the daughter).

This land (what we have seen of it) is very pretty and even Sofia did not seem like a big city to us. There are very few cars, and with petrol costing about $5.00 US a gallon, that is understandable. The average income is about $100 per month for a middle income worker. Today, during our break, we went to a café for tea and coffee and it cost us 50 stotinki ($.22). Lunch for the two of us was about $2.25. A half liter bottle of beer (very good) ranges from 32 to 45 cents—about one-tenth of what we would pay in a bar in the States.

It is common to see horse drawn carts on the streets, loaded with milk cans or hay. The ratio of carts to cars is probably about 1 in 3. On our way to school this morning there were about 8 cows walking down the street, (a paved street in the middle of a town of 20,000 people) led by the farmer. Nobody paid any attention to it except us foreigners.

Because Bulgarians are so family oriented, it is difficult to find enough time alone to go to an internet café, or go for a walk alone, or sit outside to read. They are much more family-group oriented than our culture is, and in many ways this is very good. Our Bulgarian family is very anxious to help and please us.

Today was our first day of school and Lidia (our “mother”) walked us to school. Now we know the way and tomorrow we expect to go alone! School was pretty intense with groups of 5 per teacher for studying the language. We were in small groups also for cultural studies, and about 15 of us for our Community Economic Development training. There are a total of 54 trainees in our program, a few ecology volunteers and the rest English teaching volunteers. The group is very diverse with about 18 of us “older” people including 4 couples.

Last Saturday, we went to the weekly bazaar in Panagyurishte, and it was exactly like a flea market at home, except the prices were unbelievably low. Shoes were the equivalent of about 4 dollars, most vegetables about 30 cents a pound (and fresh!), ice cream about 10 cents for a cone, ladies’ tank tops at 3 dollars, and so on. We just have to remember that we are expected to live on a very small fraction of what we think we can earn in the US.

We’ll report in again in a week or so when reality begins to set in and we are not all-consumed with the training program, which is expected to be very intense. We are not yet sure of how much internet access we will have, but will read and answer e-mail as we can. So far, that has not happened, and we are anxious to hear from home.

February 9, 2003

Again, it is a snowing, blowing Sunday and a good time to catch up on another journal entry. This past month has flown by, and instead of feeling like we’re “winding down” we continue to get new projects to work on. One of which is to teach English to a group of 15-20 adults in town who just want to learn it to better themselves, but do not care whether or not they get a certificate. The Business Center is also offering a course which will provide a certificate and that is being taught by a woman who has studied English and has her degree in “English Philology” and can therefore sign a certificate. We meet with our class twice a week for 2 hours (which includes a 10 minute cigarette break – absolutely mandatory) and are enjoying it; but we are again reminded of how much work goes into planning a lesson and how much time teachers spend on the work outside of the classroom, even though we have no homework or tests to grade.

Last week our boss Emi, took us to meet the librarians in town and to tour the library. This woman really knows how to get things done. First she asked for their help with a project for the orphanage and then she said that we would help them get some books in English for the library (yes, she had cleared this with us before hand). They showed us the three books they currently have (all children’s and all written in Bulgaria) and then the empty shelves they have ready and waiting for some more books. As more and more people in town are learning English, more are looking for books to read. The children are learning English as early as 1st grade and the high school where we have our English Club has applied for an English teacher Peace Corps Volunteer for next year. There is definitely an interest here and that is super, because the only way that Bulgaria will really be able to be involved in a western market economy is with good English skills. Currently, they are learning from the computer, movies, TV and songs.

So now we are working on ways to get more books in English for our library; let us know if you want to help.

In January we helped participate in a workshop for other business volunteers and their counterparts, giving one session on Business Plans – why you need them, how to write them, etc. and another on Project Development and Management. In the PDM session we concentrated on how a very small project can develop into a large scale success, citing how over a year ago we had requested a small amount of funding for some games and toys for the local orphanage and how that has grown to regular involvement on the part of the children and Board members Youthlinks organization in Maine; in two excellent grants (one from the World Bank and one from the European Commission) for programs in helping these kids better adapt to society and to have skills for real jobs when they leave the orphanage; individuals giving us money for shoes for the kids, and for food this winter (the government had not been sending their daily stipend of approximately 45 cents a day per child for food), and at the end of it a woman said she had a freezer in very good condition that she did not need and would donate to our orphanage. It’s so rewarding to watch this snowball grow, especially because we know that the kids are really benefiting from it and are so very enthusiastic about the training they’re receiving and really can have some hope for the future. The Director and staff really care about these kids and do all they can for them. They were almost in tears when we took the food to them last month.

And in total contrast, this past Friday we were asked to go to Sofia to be among the volunteers who would attend a reception for Gaddi Vasquez (the Director of PC in Washington DC) to be held at the residence of the US Ambassador. So, we took the 6+ hour trip to Sofia, put on our good clothes and smiled, had excellent wine, super hors d’oeuvres and schmoozed with Gaddi, the Ambassador, and volunteer friends for a couple of hours. Gaddi gave a short speech (probably very similar to the one he has made to PCV’s anywhere in the world) and then we went out to dinner with friends. Actually, it was fun and a real change of pace, but sometimes I do wonder about the contrast in life styles and how our tax dollars are spent. On the other hand, for the past almost two years, we have been living off of those tax dollars, so it’s been nice to get back some of what we have paid in over the years. We decided to come home on Saturday and now with the snow today, we’re glad we did. People here, in general, are crazy drivers and they do not seem to change their style when there is snow and ice. As we sat in the bus (about as comfortable as economy class on a full airplane) we realized that in the same length of time we could fly from Boston to London, a trip we’ve always looked at as a necessary evil part of getting where we want to be. Maybe flights won’t seem so bad after these buses.

The next few months look busy and full and that is good. We’re ready for spring, and although we’ve had a few days in the 40’s F, it is still a couple of months away. I did, however see some snowdrops this weekend so that was encouraging.

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Bulgaria; PCVs in the Field - Bulgaria; Older Volunteers; Married Couples; Peace Corps Directors - Vasquez



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