Like grant proposals through the hands of USAID, these are the projects of my life!
University for Peace! 2008-2009
Peace Corps! 2005-2007
An obligatory disclaimer: Everything I have written, has been written by me. All of my own views, expressed hereinafter, are my own views. If you needed to read this disclaimer to know these things, you're a silly goose!
Monday, January 15, 2007
dear favorite people, the last few weeks/months have been busy! here's your winter update: for thanksgiving, i helped organize an event that 10 other volunteers attended. we went to a very small mountain town called stoikite, in the southern part of the country. in stoikite, there is an orphanage for truants where one volunteer works. we decided to get together and cook them up a big ole thanksgiving dinner to share a bit of our culture with some very underprivileged kids. we got a bunch of food donations from the embassy, like turkey, cranberry sauce and other goodies these kids had never had. all of these kids were in this orphanage because they'd broken the law to some extent - the ages ranged from 10ish to 18. some kids were good kids that had just made stupid mistakes, others needed more help. one gal, 14 years old, had had an abortion one week before we got there. that blew my mind... and then i learned that the reason she had the abortion was because she had gotten raped - because her parents forced her into prostitution! i was speechless! and now she has to live in an orphanage for truants! it was a super sad place and i don't know if i could handle working there as my primary assignment like the other volunteer, sarah. despite the sorrowful state of the orphanage and the kids' lives, they lit up like little balls of energy when they learned that 12 americans who spoke "funny bulgarian" were gonna spend the day with them! more than anything else, i think their biggest problem is just being attention starved. we ran a ping-pong tournament and played frisbee while we cooked, everyone rotating positions of course! one kid latched on to me like glue! he was obnoxious and had found a new best friend... me. all he wanted to do was talk about cars, which wouldn't have been all bad - except i know nothing of his chosen topic! he was crazy for the modern day street racing cars that he'd seen in the movies. he even had a collection of drawings he'd made of his favorite cars - i think he used a stencil though cause they all looked the same, only the emblems of the makers like honda and toyata were different - ha! i had nothing to contribute to the conversation so i just let him talk and pretended to be interested until he caught on to that trick so i told him my favorite car was the old style volkswagen bug! he couldn't stop laughing! he thought i was out of my mind =) dinner came and they all waited patiently for me to make a speech on the history of the thanksgiving holiday and what it means to be thankful for what we have and such. i got stuck on the last word of my speech (good fortune) and tripped over it several times before a teacher stepped in to silence the laughter! it was a good time! the kids all wanted to know why we ate turkey, "are you guys poor or something?" they asked! all us volunteers had stuffed oursevles, keeping with thanksgiving tradition, but the kids didn't really understand that. after the first round of food, they wanted to have a dance party. sarah had her laptop and played some of their favorite songs and we all tried to dance with them - ha! it was a great day, and seeing their smiling faces felt pretty rewarding! my counterpart/colleague/boss, iliyan, invited me to his family's village (kaspichan) for the christmas pig slaughter two weeks before christmas!!! i had heard about it last christmas, but never received an invitation. so i canceled my other plans and got really excited to partake in something traditional and cultural that i haven't seen yet. it was my assumption that a family that raises pigs would kill one of them every christmas and have all the family, neighbors and friends over for a huge winter party!!! so i was expecting a party, when in route iliyan tells me, "the reason all those people come is because it's a lot of work to slaughter a pig." well crap, that's not what i thought was going to happen! ha! we got their early in the morning and we walked out to the pigs. they selected the biggest one and said it was around 450 pounds. they walked it out onto the street where about 5 big guys tackled it and held it down while another guy slit it's throat. i kept asking "how can i help?" cause i didn't know what to do. they just laughed and said "take pictures!" it fought for a while, but in the end - the five guys with the knife won. they tied it to a tractor and dragged it through town - on back to their house to begin all the work - yee haaawwww! there i got to help a little bit more. it's a dirty job, and we spent a few hours doing it, but in the end they found a use for just about every part of that pig! i would say they threw away less than 5% of it's entire mass! some other neighbors came over to buy large chunks of fat, which were still warm, for cooking and eating. the technique i helped out with for dealing with the fat was to cut it into cubes and then throw it all into a big pot. the cubes of fat would half melt making some kind of oil, which got poured off and will be used as lard for cooking during the winter. the leftover parts of the cubes were essentially deep fried, then bottled and eaten just like that - all year round. some kind of delicacy that just doesn't appeal to me. "here, have a piece of deep fried fat!" when the pig was all in pieces and all the organs had been sorted out we all had a drink. i thought it was time to relax, and then they said "ok andrew, you get to help hold down the next one." ha! we went for another pig, but it was only half the size of the first one. we spent the last 7 (yes, seven!) hours of the day eating and drinking and laughing! it was a long, exhausting, and eye-opening weekend. it was great to participate in something so traditional, though i felt quite uncomfortable the whole damn time. in the end, they sent me home with a bag of about 15 pounds of pork and a few apples! i started an environment discussion group! i had to advertise "a chance to practice your english" to generate interest, but i was quite surprised at how interested the participants are in the environment to begin with! it's a diverse group - 2 student council members from 2 different universities in town, a naval academy kid, a couple moms, the ecologist from the municipality, a construction worker and a couple other students. we get together twice a month to discuss current environmental topics led by different volunteers who i've invited. we have a conversation and teach about the environment for an hour or two, then we all go out to the pub! it's kinda fun. and 3 of them have already started volunteering with our organization (this was the ultimate goal)! they're helping me find and collect oil for this never ending biodiesel project! for christmas i headed back to southern bulgaria to celebrate with two of my favorite people over here, alex and emily. alex lives in a small town called nedelino, where i've been a few times to help him out with work and such. the town's not super special, but the southern part of the country is my favorite - it's beautiful and the landscape reminds me of home! for new years i went back to sofia like last year, but without the crowd of other peace corps volunteers. it was me, alex and a guy named tim who lives close to me. we went to the center of sofia where there was a huge gathering! we decided to go to sofia because it's the capital city and this is the date that marks bulgaria's accession into the e.u. there was a concert and fireworks that looked like they were going to burn down the parliament building and they rained down ashes into everyone's eyes! that was funny. people were pretty excited and you could feel something of pride in the air for having been accepted into the european community. when i got home to varna, about 10 people told me they saw me dancing in sofia on tv! january 6th marked "jordonov den," which is one of the most famous name days in bulgaria. tradition has it, that a priest blesses a wooden cross and then throws it into the water. to prove their bravery, the men of the village all dive into the water and race for the cross. whoever gets it, gives it to the youngest person in attendance. i did this last year in kalofer when it was snowing and had some mild frostbite on parts because we stayed in the water dancing and then danced again when we got out! this year, i went to a coastal city called burgas to celebrate with seven other volunteers. we went down to the pier where a couple thousand people were gathered to watch the "brave" men race for the cross. there were only 50 or so swimmers. the police had blocked off the pier and were requiring some kind of medical document to be eligible to 'take the plunge.' as we didn't know about this beforehand, there were eight frowns on our faces... we were all ready to participate, but even more ready to swim in the cold sea water in january! so in front of all the onlookers, we climbed on down to the beach, drew a line in the sand, stripped down to our bathing suits, counted to three and ran into the water like a group of eight screaming lunatics! ha ha! it was a blast! all for now. wishing you a week full of smiles, andy!
Tuesday, January 9, 2007
Monday, January 1, 2007
During my service in the Peace Corps, a fellow Volunteer and I set up a project for an international mission of peace. For seven months I traveled across Europe, Northern Africa, The Middle East, Eastern Europe, Russia and Asia. In the countries through which I passed, I set up discussion groups with youth and community organizations. The purpose was culture exchange: propagating peace through direct dialogue. Project details can be seen at www.supercross08.com.
Amazingly gorgeous pictures, captured frequently during the implementation of this project, are posted at www.picasaweb.google.com/supercross08. Be careful, though, they might just be the best pictures you've ever seen!
Below are the links to the individual projects, stories, and other pictures of my Supercross08 adventure.
Introduction to Gay Life
Morocco Integration Success
Children of a Moroccan Village
Project #1: Stereotypes
Islam Meets Sustainable Development
Project #2: International Politics
Project #3: Values and Goals
Dangers of Travel
Project #4: Volunteering in Egypt
Project #5: Understanding Islam
Project #6: A Bridge Between Islam and Christianity
Travel Through Turkey
Project #7: Bulgaria and the EU
Fundraiser for Youth
Follow Up Report from My Peace Corps Service
Project #8: Corruption and a Beach Clean Up
Project #9: Alternative Energy and Easter
A Romanian Birthday Party
Project #10: Volunteering in Moldova
Election Politics and Glimpse of Ukraine
Russian Visa Blues
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania
Stereotypes in Russia
A Night with a Mongolian Family
Project #11: A Library in Mongolia
Tim Wade, the buddy with whom I worked, also created a list of stories about our work and adventures. Visit his blog at www.timwikoff.blogspot.com to see a different perspective of our project.