This year's winter Peace Corps Response project was, again, a success. Bulgaria and the Peace Corps seem to bring the best out of me. They are like the perfect ingredients for the perfect meal, and I'm like Julia Child, throwing food around everywhere and creating magnificence! And it is such a delicious experience!
It wasn't easy this year. My first month, I was drunk and deathly sick. The second month, I was just drunk (these are the consequences of integration – and I'm good at it!). =) During the last 6 weeks, I worked 12 to 14 hours per day, 6 days per week! It was so intense, and I was so exhausted! There were many hurdles, but in the end I feel that my accomplishments were very satisfying. The following are results this winter's 3.5 month term in the Peace Corps Response program:
- Delivered nine dynamic and engaging presentations on the topic of plastic pollution to over 300 people, including 270 students at six different schools, and 40 adults, including teachers, youth workers, and members of different organizations. Six of these presentations were in Bulgarian, while the other three were in English.
- Collected more than 1000 plastic bottle caps, bamboo skewers, and wine corks from four local businesses and used them to create two small trash cans designed to fit the most common size of plastic bags used by local markets and shops. The purpose was to demonstrate that waste can be used as a resource. These products were used in the plastic presentations as a model for the workshop that followed.
- Organized collaboration between the host organization, the Youth Center of the Varna Municipality, and a US-based non-profit, Trash for Peace, to train 90 students and 25 teachers and youth workers through 5 workshops focused on how to make a recycle bin from waste materials. The workshops were activities that required innovation and creativity in order to construct something useful from materials that were perceived as useless.
- Trained host counterpart on basic video editing with two different programs so that he has the capacity to make instructional videos. The usefulness of such videos was demonstrated by creating a do-it-yourself video that instructs to how make a small trash bin from waste products, as well as a video outline of the plastic presentations and workshops.
- Recruited and coordinated a team of 10 volunteers to translate, format, and explain 88 recipes for producing alternative, non-toxic cleaning chemicals and cosmetics at home. The idea was to produce a book that presents a very simple to follow, easy to understand collection of do-it-yourself projects for the purpose of protecting your health, your family, and your environment. The book was published in the ISBN system and 500 copies were printed.
- Delivered two presentations on the topic of toxics in the home to 50 people. One presentation was to a large group of parents at a local kindergarten, the other was to members of the host organization. Both presentations were in Bulgarian and encompassed the dangers of cleaning chemicals in the home, as well as cosmetics. The book of 88 recipes, as mentioned above, was presented, for free, to all those in attendance. The second presentation was on the level of a training in order for the hosting organization to continue presenting on this topic, and distributing copies of the book that was created.
- Accepted an ongoing position with the host organization as a Member of the Board, and Webmaster of the English half of the website.
Iliyan always has a backup plan. Unfortunately, his backup plan was expensive – and the host organization bared the burden of the cost, for the failure of one failure. I wanted to tell that guy exactly how horrible he was... but cultural practices, and perhaps a bit of common sense, directed me away from expressing myself. Instead, we just tucked away the lesson we had learned and moved on. Very frustrating.
The books were finished in time for two presentations, and while I had wanted to give a lot more – I trained the folks in the office to be able to present and distribute these books without me. That's probably better in the long run anyway, but not nearly as fun for me!
Overall, it was a very difficult winter – crazy cold, lots of work, lots of hard work, a lack of good/healthy food, and something else I wasn't expecting: I miss Portland. I think I'm starting to feel established there, and I think I kind of like it. It will be truly great to be back amongst family, friends, and colleagues. That's not to say I'll never leave again. I really want to go somewhere warm next winter! However, as the Peace Corps prepares to leave Bulgaria for good in 2013, next winter will be my last chance to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria. And that's something heavy on my mind. We'll see. I have some time to decide.
One of my last moments in Varna was spent with a dear friend, Darina. We have a special relationship and I feel very close to her. I knew she would have a hard time with my departure as she'd been telling me so for the last month. I kept the moment lighthearted and showed her a funny website with a collection of short clips of pets doing goofy things. We laughed a lot, as we do, but as the time passed, she saddened and was on the brink of tears. I gave her a giant hug and told her to watch those stupid animals and think of me. With that, I left, saying that I'll return again – and I will.