I realized that this time last year I was still in Bulgaria. Still Peace Corpsing my life away. Last year’s holiday season theme wasn’t Mr. Jesus Christ, or Macy’s elves, or even blue tinsel. Last year’s theme was hypothermia pie. Hypothermia pie involved Matilda and I spooning in deep hibernation in my bedroom, praying. Praying to the gods of cheap space heaters to keep heat alive, and to the pipe gods to defrost and let water flow. I sang “O Come All Ye Electrical Current” to the electricity gods, because the only thing I hated more than coldness was when coldness and darkness joined powers and formed Early Death.
I really hated Early Death.
To commemorate the fact that I haven’t even been back in the motherland a year, I’ve been revisiting my old Bulgaria writings. I have to say I enjoy the bitter Amerikanka I once was. Now I’m weak. Now I love. Easy access to soy products makes a person soft. SOFT LIKE SILKEN TOFU I TELL YOU!
I need to find an Eastern European market here and see if I can get someone to verbally abuse me for simply existing.
Bulgaria, circa 2006:
I’ll never be such a fucking amazing person in my life again
It amuses me how my life and work are interpreted–how my being here implies I have no direction, or that I am sacrificing something for the work I do. The longer I’m here, the more my life resembles anyone’s life: I walk my dog. I run and go to the gym. I clean my apartment with Mr. Clean. I sit at my desk 5,000 hours a day. The other 5,000 hours a day I spend running around with kids, teaching, mentoring, and buying the orphans pads. I cook dinner for my friends. I drink tea on my balcony and read Newsweek. I go to the farmer’s market. I take my Banana Republic turtlenecks to the dry cleaner. The only real difference between my job and your job is that I make 89 cents an hour. And that’s relative too—89 cents is exponentially more than what my colleagues make. I live alone in a huge apartment, have a cell phone, Internet, and six different pairs of athletic shoes (day hiking, kickboxing, trail running, running, marathon running, hardcore hiking). It’s very American to look at my life and ask me when I’ll get a real job. My job is as real a job as I’ve ever had. I consider myself lucky to have the opportunities I have here. Last year alone I went to Greece, Hungary, Turkey, (and Tahoe!). I create my own schedule, and have to answer to no one besides the extremely sadistic control freak-masochistic-perfectionist voice in my own head. I live in a country where the national IQ average is 89. I’m like fucking Einstein. People are mesmerized by my ability to type “without looking” and with more than one finger. The fact that I don’t have a television by choice, and that I read “for fun” makes me enigmatic, dare I say monk-like. The fact that I don’t smoke is downright revolutionary. I’ll never be such a fucking amazing person in my life again.
And I Thought Buying Tampons in America Was Awkward
Part of my “work” (for 89 cents an hour) with the orphans involves me going to pharmacies and purchasing their hygienic products. Yes, I am their pad bitch. I’m glad I went to Harvard to be the pad bitch of 10 adolescent female orphans. Let is be known that in Bulgaria, you have to ask a pharmacist for everything—every berry flavored cough drop, herbal tea, and heavy flow pack of Always sits on shelves behind a counter. You have to ask for these items in front of everyone else in line at the pharmacy. You have to ask when there are orphans standing right next to you, who speak just perfect Bulgarian, but who are too ashamed to ask themselves, and I suspect take secret pleasure in watching me trying to fumble my way through conversation at each pharmacist’s counter.
Here’s a little example:
Me: “Good day.”
Old Pharmacy Man: “Good day.”
Old Pharmacy Man: “Tell me what you need.”
Me: “Something for the business of women.”
Old Pharmacy Man: “What do you mean, pray tell?”
Me: “Something needed for the month cycle of a woman.”
Old Pharmacy Man: “Oh. Here you go.” [Gives me something resembling ibuprofen.]
Me: “No no! The woman is not sick. It is not sick or pain. For blood. No sick sick. Blood.”
Old Pharmacy Man: “What the hell are you talking about?”
Me [Now bright red, everyone in pharmacy staring. Turns to orphans.]: “You little shitheads know I don’t know the word for the blood things! Fucking help a sister out! You think it’s in my goddamn job description to buy you Always? Fuck that. I’m out.”
[End trip down Bulgaria Lane.]
It’s paragraphs such as these that make it hard for me to edit my Bulgarian experience into publishable travel essays. I am still trying to do this, but I hate the writer I become. I hate 97% of most Peace Corps writery writing that I read, because it’s too pretty, too florid, too edited away from the truth. Too neat. All Peace Corps Volunteers are selfish assholes, just like every human being. I hate that they think they’re not selfish assholes. I hate superficial closures, poetic conclusions to experiences that are anything but neat. I hate feeling as though I have to wax romantic and use phrases like “human folly” in describing my 2.5 years served in the so-called cushiest of all Peace Corps countries. (But remember–the sanity to comfort exchange rate was high. HIGH. Although it’s probably all too easy from my flooded Seattle cave-home to say I would have gladly exchanged my high-speed Internet and bitter nation for a mud hut and happy nation.)
(I’m a selfish asshole.)
Now that I’ve been in America almost a year, I feel as though I have to be more PC and not make negative commentary about Bulgaria. When I was there I felt no such guilt, as there is no such thing as PC in Bulgaria, which is actually one of the things I miss. YES. I do miss Bulgaria. More now that it’s harder for me to just pick up the phone and shoot the shit without someone saying, “Wow. Your Bulgarian is really bad already.”
“I understood THAT!” –Me
Most of all I miss Yulia, my BBBFF (Best Bulgarian Friend Forever). She saved me over and over. I miss the Mihailovi and the Peichinovi families that adopted me as their Roma-Hawaiian and Bulgarian-Hawaiian daughter, respectively.
I miss wandering with Mati in the empty hills, letting her run free and only having to worry about what she’d do with a horse carcass, and not what might happen should she she run into a prissy American purebred. And her dog.
(Mati’s developed a real attitude towards American dogs. She’ll try to bite out the eyeballs of the world’s friendliest golden, should the world’s friendliest golden cross her path.)
(Oh, I’m exaggerating future Pet Sitter! Be not afraid! Mati’s a lover, not a vicious murderer.)
I miss my pimp ass palace of an apartment that cost $140 a month, which was a rip off, because I was American. The apartment really should have cost approximately $10 a month, because it was in Dupnitza.
I miss not having to think about car insurance, health insurance, mental dog insurance—all the paranoia that makes America feel safe.
The following is intended for specific audiences only:
For all my beloved RPCVs:
Can I just say that our former forced friend has the phattest house ever? How does SCOTT become a homeowner? Of a house with a man-cave larger than our entire apartment? With the coolest, non-wifiest wife ever and most lovable chocolate lab bitch ever?
Maybe Scott will hire me as his live-in dog nanny.
For all my fellow Iolani No Ka Oiers:
She lives! In Seattle! She is awesome! She has the pimpest apartment ever and her super-rad BF, Jordan, makes the best salmon and broccoli EVER.
So far, the Seattle theme has been: Using Superlatives and CAPITALIZATION to re-claim the “Showing and not telling” writing maxim. I SHOW and I tell. And poorly.
There’s something refreshing about being SO excited to reconnect with old friends–seeing how much their everything has changed since you were band geeks or volunteers in post-Communist Hellistan together. I love being welcomed into the warmth of their New Lives, with too much wine and foggy conversation. I love it. I love it as much as going away to another country, knowing no one and nothing, being charmed by the three-legged stray dogs and markets where everything is sold by kilos and you are really not even sure if kilo refers to weight or flesh trading.
Tomorrow I have my first job interview in at least four years. Awww yea! I am super excited—the gig is to make ‘zines with homeless teens! Everyone knows my two favorite things in life are maximizing creativity and totally messed up kids.
Wish me luck by praying to the god of employment where I’ll earn less than Ryan’s unemployment!
My New Favorites
New Favorite Movie: Did I write about The Lives of Others and how it was the best fucking movie ever? The main actor is Kevin Spacey, Ben Kingsley, Dr. Spock, Anthony Hopkins, Bob Hoskins, and the father from Garden State all in one man! It’s crazy. Just so you know, it’s in Nemski, which means German in Bulgarian. Thanks Ryan’s dad!
New Favorite Book: Chuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby. I read it down in one, without the intermittent distraction of reality. Disturbing shit–not for the faint of mind. Thanks library of Harmonie and Chad!
My Favorite Album: Juana Molina’s Son. I’m too lazy to describe it now that WordPress lost my fucking blog that I saved 100 times and I had to re-do it with 1/2 the passion and twice the cussing. Anyway… for Juana Molina–Thanks SCOTT!
My Favorite Photo of the Day:
We’re sleeping on the floor since our bedroom was flooded out and mattress is soaked through. We can’t complain. 51% of the world has it worse.
Favorite Last Conversation for Wednesday Night:
Ryan: My stomach hurts.
Jenn: That’s ’cause you just ate a bag of chili cheese Fritos, a giant Peanut Butter Cookie, and 1/2 a box of generic cereal.
Ryan: You’re supposed to save me from myself!
My boyfriend is adorable.
9 days til Amsterdam!!!
Love in the form of a quiet smile,