Kerry Ploetz was a Peace Corps Volunteer (1997-1999) in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. She worked on a variety of environmental education projects. Kerry was both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at http://peacecorps.mtu.edu/ .
Kerry and Jeff Ploetz in Plovdiv. The ruins of a Roman amphitheater are in the background.
A few thoughts from her 11 weeks of Peace Corps Training:
"I thought I was done with school for the next 2+ years. I was WRONG! We go to school M-F from 8-4:30. We usually have 5-7 hours of language each day. It is pretty intensive."
"We are starting to figure out the bus and train schedule, although it is not too reliable. Jeff and I were on a bus, it smelled BAD and then it started smoking, we were all covered in black oily crap. The bus driver let us out on a deserted mountain road, aimed the bus downhill and left all of us there. We couldn't understand what anybody was saying. People started walking and hitching rides. We tried to hitch a ride. About an hour later another bus showed up. Needless to say, we are learning how to be flexible."
Sept 15, 1997
Today was a big day in Bulgaria. It was the opening of school. Its really cool, all the families bring the children to school, bringing flowers for the teachers, and they have a ceremony. There wasnt actually school today, just a lot of singing, speeches, and giving of flowers. One of the headmasters of an elementary school invited us to the opening ceremony. She introduced us to everyone during the ceremony, describing us as the blonde couple with the tall man. (Jeff is taller than most Bulgarian men.) After the ceremony was completed, she invited us and the other distinguished guests to her office. She laid out fruit, candies, cookies, cognac, and wine. It felt just like homecoming at MTU - drinking at 9:30 in the morning! Just kiddin! By the time we left she had given Jeff a watermelon, referring to the shape as an American football, because European football is soccer, and she gave me some flowers. She left us with promises of many more visits (Na Gosti).
Oct. 13, 1997
"I broke my thumb last week. Of course, it was my right thumb, so I can't write, or open bottles, etc. Luckily I was near the pcmo (Peace Corps Medical Office). I had to go to the hospital for x-rays and stuff. I NEVER want to visit that place again!! Now my thumb and part of my hand is in a cast. Only for a couple of weeks. Jeff isn't happy cuz he has to do all the dishwashing and most of the cleaning."
November 15, 1997
"Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, we haven't seen any turkeys, and I can't kill a live chicken from the bazaar, so we might have a vegetarian Thanksgiving."
January 18, 1998
"I think I am going stir crazy! I was always so busy at school, involved in so many things, had so many deadlines pressuring me. Here, everything moves soooo slowly. Sometimes it drives me crazy. ... All this time has given me the opportunity to read alot. I have read so many environmental papers. I feel like an expert on animal rights and pollution pathways and garbage disposal!!"
"Peace Corps" on the Black Sea Beach at Varna, Bulgaria.
February 24, 1998
"As my Bulgarian language level increases, my opportunities increase also. ... During January I started working with YMCA Gabrovo. They are an amazing group of young people with an incredibly motivated director. They help with community projects such as going to orphanages and being group leaders at camps.... This group will help me plan Earth Day activities and the city clean-up."
"Yesterday we had a conference with all the school directors and biology teachers in Gabrovo. We handed out the textbooks which are part of my project. I think it went really well. They all seemed very interested. I introduced my project and the goals of Earth Day. It was my accomplishment of the week because it was about a 10 minute speech (but felt like an hour!) in Bulgarian."
"Today I will work on some eco-lesson plans for the schools I am teaching at, and at 4:30 I am teaching my english class. I wasn't sure if I would like teaching English, but it has been a lot of fun and has opened up a lot of connections. The kids I teach want to help me with the earth day project."
The Village of Etura, near Gabrovo, after a fresh snowfall.
April 5, 1998.
We are both busy planning for Earth Day. Only a couple of weeks left. Surprisingly, the last couple of months we have been very busy. I received the textbooks that I purchsed through my funding application. I teach ecology at two different schools to 6th and 7th graders. It has been a lot of work because I teach in Bulgarian, so I have to study a ton of new vocabulary to prepare for the lessons. Most of the kids are shocked I can speak the language so they pay close attention.
The English classes are also going well. The kids are learning so quickly. I wish I could learn Bulgarian that quickly.
This project was designed to be an intensive anti-litter project comprised of the following components: an environmental education program for elementary schools, an Earth Day celebration which included an art and essay contest and a city clean-up, and a mass media campaign to heighten the communities' awareness concerning the litter problem.
A Cleaner Gabrovo, was designed to meet the following goals:
1. increase environmental education, with a focus on the litter problem in Bulgaria;
2. increase community awareness of the problems associated with litter;
3. popularize Earth Day and increase the involvement of Gabrovo citizens;
4. establish a partnership between the Gabrovo municipality, Ivan Vazov School, Neofit Rilski School, YMCA Gabrovo, and the Peace Corps.
The ultimate goal of this project is to have and maintain a cleaner city. This is attempted by increasing the environmental education, with the aid of the book Management of Solid Litter, by informing Gabrovo citizens about the problems associated with litter, and by providing trash receptacles.
Gabrovo YMCA - The YMCA volunteers and director, Antoinetta Yankabakova, were the most active players for planning Earth Day festivities. They are a group of exceptionally motivated young people in Gabrovo. This group encourages leadership, community service, and a place to practice their musical, artistic and creative writing talents.
During the communist era, the YMCA was forced to close down because they were rumored to be a group with pro-American ideals. YMCA Gabrovo was re-established in 1991. Since then, this group is working to promote the overall development of the young people in Gabrovo. YMCA wants to prepare the youth for life in a free, democratic society. One of their goals is to build on and strengthen the working structure of the democratic principles. The most important role of YMCA Gabrovo is to respond to the youths needs by providing different projects and activities, which will increase their opportunities for self-development. Some examples are:
* Work with the orphanages. Twice a year, the volunteers organize
a 5-day camp with the orphans in the region. They play games with
the younger children, and with the teenagers they teach the skills
which are needed when they must leave the orphanage.
* Aerobics. They have organized an aerobics group which meets twice a week to promote a healthy lifestyle.
* Seminars. YMCA hosts various seminars to teach the members how to write proposals, how to study oversees, and how to increase their future possibilities.
* Clean-ups. They organize city clean-ups each year.
* English Club. Language courses are held regularly which the members have the option to participate in.
* Computer training. The aim is to provide computer knowledge and practical skills in using Windows.
* YMCA Gabrovo works with the municipality, local schools and NGO's against drug abuse, AIDS and crime.
Antoinetta managed the logistical aspects of Earth Day. She informed the participating schools about the events, organized where and when the events would be held, informed the local media, bought the prizes, was a judge on the committee which picked the winning art and essay entries, and so on! She was involved in every step of the project. The YMCA volunteers were group leaders for the environmental games and helped with translating English material into Bulgarian.
Ivan Vazov and Neofit Rilski Primary Schools- These schools contain first through eight grades. I have a partner biology teacher in each. The teachers and I meet once a week to plan an ecology lesson for the following week.
Thus far, all of the lessons have come from the book Management of Solid Litter and have focused on various litter problems.
The school Ivan Vazov, is part of an experimental group called "School and Health". 40 such schools were established throughout Bulgaria in 1994. These schools are based on the principles of aesthetically enhancing the learning environment to encourage a better school experience. Ivan Vazov has a nature theme throughout the school. The walls along the hallways and in the classrooms have forest scenes painted in them. The classrooms and offices are overflowing with plants. A small dendrarium and outdoor classroom, which was created with the previous volunteer, is on the school property. The director, Magdaleina Vassileve, is a very pro-active woman. She is diligent in her efforts to ensure that her students get the best education in Bulgaria, and the students love her for it. When she walks into a room, all the students stand and applaud.
The Gabrovo Municipality- I work within the municipality so they are considered to be the sponsoring organization of this project. They provided a hall for the seminar with the teachers and school directors to be held in and gave money to purchase new trash containers.
Early March- We purchased 100 copies of the textbook, Management of Solid Litter. This was produced by the Bulgarian foundation "Projects for Sustainable Development" in 1997. They used a textbook, which originated from Massachusetts as their model. They adapted the environmental information to fit Bulgaria's environmental problems, specifically the many problems associated with litter. The first portion of the book is Facts of Litter. It begins by describing paper, glass, metal, plastic, and chemical/toxic waste; from what resources and how they are produced, what percentage of dump/landfill space is composed of each type, if they can be recycled and the benefits of recycling, and the specific hazards they present to the environment March 16th- We organized a seminar, which would introduce the textbooks to the schools in Gabrovo. We invited representatives from each of the schools, NGO's, environmental organizations, and the municipality to attend the seminar in the municipal hall. When the school representatives arrived we gave them each a copy of the textbook. I gave the opening speech, which I had rehearsed many times over. I introduced the project, A Cleaner Gabrovo, and explained why it was needed and the intended goals. Our guest speaker was Kristina Mandova, president of the foundation "Projects for Sustainable Development". She introduced the textbook, Management of Solid Litter, and discussed its various components. She gave examples of how the book has been effectively used in other cities. The seminar was successful. Almost all the schools were represented and they responded enthusiastically to the survey form as to how they would like to participate in t e project and their viewpoint of the seminar.
March 18th- I, along with Antoinetta and Andre, had a meeting with the two biology teachers and directors of the schools I would be teaching in. We discussed how we could work together to plan the lesson each week and set up a tentative schedule of teacher meetings and weekly lessons.
March 19th- I did my first, and only, television interview. Antoinetta set up a time slot on the local cable station so I could introduce myself and describe the project . We were hoping to increase community awareness of the litter problem in Gabrovo. Beforehand, I asked the interviewer what kind of questions she would be asking me. She said she would ask me who I was, why I am here and what are the goals of A Cleaner Gabrovo. No problem. Whatever! It ended up being a ten-minute interview; it felt like ten years. She asked me so many questions, half the time I had no idea what she was talking about so I would look at Antoinetta (off-stage), and she would nod or shake her head, telling me how to answer. The interview did increase community awareness, not necessarily about the litter problem, but about the new American in town.
Antoinetta with students.
End of March- the last two weeks of March we gathered and translated information to be used for radio announcements.
Beginning of April- the first two weeks of April the radio announcements were run, read by members of the YMCA. The themes of the radio announcements were:
*What is Earth Day and how did it begin?
*Composting, how to do it and the reasons why. Explained that you can make your own fertilizer and keep organic garbage out of the dump.
*Asked kids "Why should you be nice to mother earth?" and taped their responses for the radio.
*Interesting facts about litter.
*Jeff and I were interviewed on April 10th. The questions were:
How is Earth Day celebrated in the States?
How do people participate, on the local level, in the States?
Specifically, how do the young people participate?
What do you think of the environmental awareness of the people that live in Gabrovo?
April 13th to 18th- This week was dedicated to the logistical planning of Earth Day. The day's events; the clean-up, the art and essay contest, the prizes, and the environmental games were discusses and the duties allocated. The art and essay contest was introduced to the local schools.
April 22nd, Earth Day 1998
The morning started with a school assembly at Ivan Vazov. Due to the poor weather conditions, it was moved inside. The other participating schools were conducting similar assemblies. The children's art entries were displayed on the walls, along with other environmental displays. The children started, reading various environmental poems and short stories. Then the director gave an inspirational eco-minded speech, and I followed with a short speech. I explained again why Earth Day is important, and I thanked all the major participants in the project.
A dance at the school assembly. Earth Day art on the wall.
We held a small, separate awards ceremony at the school. All the children who had submitted an art or essay entry received a prize. These prizes consisted of school supplies, puzzles, and certificates. The younger children moved into separate rooms to play games and make environmental art. The older children took part in an eco-quiz.
Playing the "Web of Life"
Afterwards, we began the 3-km walk to the center of town, where we would meet up with the other schools. The children carried signs advertising earth day and they brought bags to collect garbage along the way.
Start of the parade to the center of Gabrovo.
Near the town square, we had reserved a discotheque in the event of poor weather. This was the meeting point for all the participating schools in the early afternoon. There were musical performances by some of the children. The children were split into groups and they went through a circuit of environmental games, eight in all, others drew chalk drawings on the central square, while others participated in an environmental quiz. Afterwards we gave out awards for the art and essay contest and the most active "game" group. Prizes consisted of Earth Day T-shirts, books, school supplies, and toiletries.
All in all, about 400 children participated directly in these events. Many others participated in separate school celebrations, clean-ups, tree plantings, and contests. The day was captured on video and copies were made for two schools and the YMCA.
June 16, 1998
We arrived at the Sofia train station at 5:30 am, groggy after the night train. We had planned on going inside to buy tickets but we couldn't cuz there were police and a police line surrounding the whole building. Apparently there was a bomb threat and they had the place sealed off. Jeff had to leave to attend a conference, so I had the whole day in Sofia to myself. I went to change $20. I was supposed to get 36,000 lev back, but instead I got 30,000 back. I asked "where is the other 6000?" The usual, rude teller told me that since I was a foreigner they charged a high commission (even though the sign said NO COMMISSION!). I told her to give my $20 back, she could barely conceal her laughter. Then I decided to go get a haircut. They told me it would cost $23 because I was a foreigner. For a Bulgarian it costs less than $3. I guess I'll let my hair grow for a while. I packed up my bags, and started walking to the bus station. They were unusually heavy because the departing volunteers had given us a bunch of stuff. I decided to take a tram because they weren't too crowded. A group of women thieves follow me on, and I hear them say "follow the white girl". They tried to surround me, and tried to distract me by asking stupid questions. One of them managed to get a flap of my backpack open (I never put anything valuable in there for precisely this reason), at this point I slammed my back against the wall and stared them down and they got off at the next stop and an Inspector got on. The job of the inspector is to check tickets, make sure no one is having a free ride. They look at it, and tear it. He got off at the next stop and another inspector got on. Actually, he was only impersonating an inspector. It's one of many scams. At first he gave me a hard time cuz my ticket was torn. Then he told me I owed him 5000 lev because I was carrying baggage. This fee does not exist, so I told him no way. I got off at the train station stop where he had his cronies waiting for me. They surrounded me and wouldn't let me leave they said, until I paid the 5000 lev. By this time, I was extremely pissed off and only had 7 minutes to catch my bus. I started yelling obscenities and telling them to get their hands off me. A crowd was starting to grow. Finally, they let me go. I felt a small triumph which was later smashed to pieces when I discovered they had taken $30 out of my pocket! *#$@%^^&@!!!!!! I ran to my bus, only to see it was pulling away. I had to wave it down and enter the bus with 50 annoyed people looking my way. But I did make it home alive!!!
Some days are more exciting than others!
This is a highly variable day. Because it is the end of the week many people leave work very early, or spend the whole day on a coffee break. There is a saying that supports this break that Jeff has been told often at his work place, "If you work on Friday, your boss will become ill and die."
November 14, 1998
Towards the end of September I participated in an expedition in Pirin Mountains, located in southwestern Bulgaria. Another Peace Corps volunteer organized this expedition, located in the town of Bansko. The point of the project was to count Rupicapra rupicapra or the Balkan Chamois, wild mountain goats. The population of Chamois is thought to be on the decline due mainly to poaching. Groups, formed with volunteers and Bulgarian foresters, were given different routes in Pirin Mountains to traverse with the objective of counting the Chamois. We received a day of training, in order to accurately identify the age and sex of the Chamois. We, the PCV's, were to act as the control group. Our numbers would be compared with our Bulgarian counterparts. I had a wonderful week in the mountains but my group didn't see any Chamois.
Two Photos of Kerry in the Pirins
High in the Pirins
The school year started up, and I started teaching environmental education again. This year I am teaching in five primary schools each week, tripling my work from last year! Last year I focused on litter prevention education, this year I have varied lessons on different aspects of the environment. Some of the topics have been water pollution, air pollution, litter problems, alternative cleaning supplies, recycling, energy consumption, the water cycle, and others.
I have started teaching English for the year again, also. I teach two classes a week at the YMCA building, like last year. My class is learning quickly, and they are always excited about the classes. They have the desire and the motivation to learn English that they demonstrate by coming in after school, which is not required. This year I started teaching English at a kindergarten. I have two groups, and I meet with each twice a week. One group is composed of five and six year olds; the other group is three and four year olds. I always have a lot of fun with these lessons, but it is a very tiring experience. The children have such a low attention span at this age; so the lessons have to be packed full of energy to keep their attention.
October 9th-11th I participated in the Veliko Turnova ecological film festival organized by another PCV. I was invited to be a guest environmental teacher at a primary school for a day. The remainder of the weekend was for watching films with an environmental theme.
I submitted a proposal to SPA (Small Project Assistance), a Peace Corps/USAID funding organization, to finance the construction of an eco-center for the youth of Gabrovo and for environmental training seminars. The eco-center will be located in the Gabrovo Youth Cultural and Information Center and will be used as an environmental resource center. The seminars will train educators and students how to form environmental clubs and explain their purpose. The clubs will be able to meet and receive information at the eco-center. The municipality has agreed to start an "eco-fund" which will fund some small project of the eco-clubs. Recently, I was informed that my proposal was approved and I will receive funding.
Jeff and I have also begun working with the Astronomy Club in Gabrovo. They have 58 members and meet once a week, but they only have one telescope and other limited materials. We are writing a proposal with them to the Peace Corps Partnership Program, for a new telescope and camera. Also, together we are writing a letter to NASA requesting posters and any information they can provide.
I have worked a lot on my Masters International project, the herbs of Bulgaria. I have designed an English lesson for the TEFL PCV's. In this manner, I will be able to receive a widespread sampling of data from Bulgaria.
"Time has been flying by. I can't believe it's already November. I have been almost crazy busy this year. Everyone is coming to us with ideas. I have to learn to say no. It's a different experience compared to last year. Now we know the language, for the most part :-). We know lots of people and everyone knows us. People seem to accept us as part of the community this year, not just foreigners. "
Mid March 1999
Environmental education remains my primary work. I continue to teach at the five schools mentioned in previous reports. All lessons are taught with a Bulgarian teacher. This type of "partner teaching" has worked out well, in fact much better then those PCV's assigned as teachers to teach environmental education. In those situations their language skills limits the PCV's. In my case, we work together so the language barrier is not such an issue. PC is looking into this type of arrangement for future PCV's.
Teaching English remains my secondary project. I have six to eight classes a week with varying age groups. The kindergarten children sang "Jingle Bells" beautifully after their diligent practice.
We traveled to India during Christmas break. It was a wonderful trip, the culture is fascinating. I gave a presentation about India for each of my environmental and English classes. This was beneficial for the students since different cultures are rarely discussed in depth and many prejudices remain in Bulgaria.
A TEFL IST took place on January 28th and 29th where I was invited as a guest lecturer. The session pertained to incorporate environmental topics with English lessons. Many ideas for fun lessons and environmental games were discussed.
The SPA funds arrived for the eco-center project mentioned in previous reports. The renovations of the office are almost complete and the furniture has been ordered. We had our first seminar on February 26th -28th. About fifteen schools and youth organizations had representatives attend. This seminar was used to discuss the goals of the eco-center project, leadership skills and group dynamics. All of the participants were very enthusiastic about the ideas we presented them with. They are ready to create eco-clubs in their schools and get started with a project.
An environmental IST was held from February 16th - 19th. I presented the session, "Environmental Education- How to make environmental education enjoyable for students". We also discussed community development, eco-tourism, and the economic situation of Bulgaria as well as a round table to discuss project ideas.
I continue to work with the Astronomy club in Gabrovo. We are in the process of writing a proposal to receive funds for a telescope, camera, and other materials.
On March 5th, I attended the conference "Strengthening the Partnership Ties", held in Stara Zagora. The participants were the Youth Cultural Information Center of Gabrovo, the Agency for Economical Development of Stara Zagora, and the Agency Community Development of Zlatograd. USAID, the Local Government Initiative, and other municipalities had representatives attend. The centers presented their recent projects and discussed how to work together and how they can help each other out.
May 18, 1999
What have I done during the spring?
Much of my time has been spent working on my Masters International Project, pertaining to the usage of herbs in Bulgaria. I have completed the seemingly never-ending process of compiling the data, making one master sheet for each class set of surveys. The next step began, logging all this information into the computer. This is important because it will give me the capability to analyze the data more efficiently. Not to mention ensuring that the data is not lost in the shuffle of leaving, as I will be able to send it electronically to many places.
Environmental education is still my primary work. The school year is coming to an end, May 31st is the last day for 1st to 3rd graders, and the older students finish on June 30th. Partner teaching has been very successful. Already, all of the teachers I work with are requesting to work with my replacement volunteer next year.
Teaching English remains as my secondary project. I usually have eight classes a week, with age groups ranging from three years old to forty-five years of age. In April, during a spring party, the kindergarten children sang a small song in English and recited all the "spring English" words they knew to their parents. Also in April, I went on a field trip with one of my adult classes to a nearby historical town, with the rule of "only English".
The eco-center I mentioned in my previous report has been realized. The remodeling is finished, the furniture is in place, posters are on the walls, and the bookshelves are beginning to fill with environmental resources. During April 16th to the 18th, Jeff and I facilitated an eco-seminar in a nearby mountain hut. The participants were 25 eco-leaders that are representatives from most of the schools and youth NGO's in Gabrovo. The themes were environmental education and the process of planning and implementing a project.
· We discussed environmental education the first day of the seminal. Aneta Varcheva, a teacher from a local school was the guest speaker. She split the group into separate teams and gave them different topics to discuss and brainstorm about.
· The day started with a session on what the Directorate for National Park Central Balkan is currently working on. Jeff was the guest speaker for this.
· A round table discussion, focusing on how the young people of Gabrovo can get involved with environmental issues.
· Jeff and I had a session on how to write project proposals. They split into groups and wrote practice proposals to possible eco-projects, which were later critiqued.
· Jeff and I discussed how to form eco-clubs. School clubs are a foreign concept in Bulgaria. There are no incentives as in the US for joining a club as they do not have any influence when applying to Universities or jobs. The very basic guidelines have to be taught, such as having a regular meeting time and how to plan events. One of the concerns raised was that their schools wouldn't give them a room to use as an eco-club meeting room. They found it difficult to accept when we told them, they don't need their own room, that they can use a classroom after hours or meet in a park or café.
· Jeff shared various fundraising ideas for clubs.
· A roundtable discussion on how to make the eco-center an efficient resource for the eco-clubs.
· A session about teamwork. We planned many teambuilding activities.
YMCA - Astronomy Club
The astronomy club was thrilled to receive two packets of posters and leaflets from the NASA educational department in response to a letter we wrote as an English class assignment. Today, we finished a project proposal that will be submitted to the "Peace Corps Partnership Program". This program searches for private contributors in the States for the project assistance requests. The astronomy club is requesting a telescope and related technical materials. The proposal took only two days to write, but the actual process of gathering all the necessary information to write the proposal took about six months. I told the members of the club what information we would need to write the proposal, and that it was their responsibility to find everything. I informed them that I would only advise and write the proposal, because they don't have the necessary English skills. They needed to find invoices for everything they were requesting funds for, and they had to talk to the YMCA director about the minimum community contribution of 25%. This was a great learning experience for these fifteen-year-olds!
Earth Day 1999
Earth Day 1999 was a success this year even though we were forced to have a smaller celebration this year because the municipality would not contribute. We held the festivities at a local school on the morning of April 22nd. YMCA volunteers were there as leaders for eco-games and the eco-leaders from the eco-center were responsible for judging the art and essay competition entries. A children's traditional dance ensemble performed, various people gave speeches, the children formed teams and played eco-games, and there was an eco-quiz. Early that evening, the eco-leaders planned a celebration at an outdoor theatre. They played some games and danced.
Easter Vacations Day Camp
YMCA held an Easter vacation day camp for thirty Gabrovo youngsters, from ages six to eleven in the beginning of April. Children from the orphanage also took part, sponsored by our fundraising efforts in the States. The children had a wonderful time, even though the weather was awful. I think they were amused with our big accents and us!
19 July 1999
"I can't believe we're in the last six weeks of our service. Some days, I can't wait to leave and other days the thought of leaving is depressing. But, I think 2 years is the right amount of time.
"It is hard to say good-bye to all my friends. They ask if I will come back and visit and I always say 'Yes, of course," - but will I?
"The new group of trainees arrived last month. They are so American and they question so many things we accept, like 'Why does everyone smoke?', 'Why do the women wear supershort skirts?"
An anti-Nato demonstration in Sofia.
August 17, 1999
"Last night we were awakened a little after 3am to our apartment building rocking. We live on the 16th floor of a cement building in a country with questionable building practices, it was very freaky! We considered setting up our tent outside, but the movement stopped. This morning we found out there was a big earthquake in Turkey, and the tremors reached into Bulgaria. My first earthquake.
We are in the final 10 day countdown to finish our service. Life is becoming more hectic every day. Trying to figure out who to give our stuff to, saying good-byes (over and over again), and trying to tie up all the loose ends in our work. Greece is starting to look really nice!"
Children in traditional Bulgarian costumes at a youth festival.
Kerry's Final Thoughts as a PCV, written a week before COSing - 22 August 1999.
Living and working in Gabrovo, Bulgaria for the last two years has been an amazing experience. Making the decision to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer was one of the best I have made. In the beginning, I thought a two year commitment was a long time. Actually, the time has flown. As I spend my last week in the country I have come to love, my second home, it is hard to believe that my service is almost over.
The most difficult challenges here have become very rewarding experiences, such as learning a foreign language, Bulgarian. It is a Slavic language, with a completely different grammer structure than English, and it was difficult to learn. Now, I feel comfortable with this language (even though I still have a small child's grasp of grammer!), and it has opened so many doors for me. I have the opportunity to speak to Bulgarians, in their language, which gives me the opportunity to really "get to know them" and this culture.
Another challenge was learning how to work effectively, in this country. The first couple of months at site, I went crazy, desperately clinging to the American way of work. As soon as I accepted that time is relative, that a deadline in Bulgaria is a loose concept, connections are everything, and that meeting at a cafe a couple times a day is an important part of every job description, I began to have small accomplishments, Bulgarian style.
Although there are some things about Bulgaria that I will never like, such as the post office women who have defined the art of how to be as rude and disagreeable as possible, the good things far outweigh the bad. The beauty of the country; the mountains, the Danube River, and the Black Sea are captivating. I have accepted that a two-cheese society is not as bad as I originally thought. My taste buds will miss the "Bulgarian Kitchen", and the endless na-gosti's (visiting, usually for dinner). I will miss the ease of public transportation, and the stories I hear while travelling. I am constantly amazed at the generosity of my friends, who share everything they have and would give me anything they own, just to make my life easier here.
That is what I will always remember about my experience in Bulgaria, the most important part, my friends.
30 August 1999. - [Editor's note: For a few months after Peace Corps Jeff and Kerry will be working with the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece.]
"We made it to Crete early this morning, about 5:30. We slept on the deck of an overnight ferry from Athens, under the stars. The sleeping pads came in useful. We have spent most of today sleeping and eating, winding down from the craziness of last week.
"Tomorrow we will take a short bus ride to Rethymno, the town we will be working in for the next couple of months. We still don't know the specifics of our work, we'll let you know soon. Right now we are in Chania, and we have seen an informational booth set up from the organiziation (STPS - Sea Turtle Protection Society) that we will be with.
See Jeff's page for more on sea turtles in Crete.
Early October 1999
Jeff & I have both been trained as excavators. we dig up the old nests to find out how many hatched, how many dead, why there are unhatched eggs, etc. it is really interesting, but I wish I spoke German because I always have a ton of German tourists around me, and sometimes they look at me in horror- like I'm digging up a live nest. usually my mime skills and 5 words of German help!
Early November 1999
Being a volunteer with Archelon, The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece was an amazing experience. Greece hosts the last remaining nesting sites for the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Caretta caretta, in the Mediterranean. Being a volunteer consisted of conservation work to save this endangered species.
Archelon is a non-intrusive organization, with minimal human contact with the turtles.
Caretta caretta is named the Loggerhead because of its broad neck and head. They can grow to be about one meter in length and live over eighty years. They feed mainly on sea urchins and jellyfish.
Adult sea turtles have virtually no natural predators, except the occaisonal shark! The main threats to their survival are from some detrimental human activities such as pollution, drowning in fishing nets, and the eggs and adults being hunted for food. The biggest threat is the destruction of the beaches, for tourist development.
The Loggerhead spends most of its life at sea, but will drag itself ashore to lay eggs. The female turtle will only return to the same beach where she was born. The turtle will dig a nest with her rear flippers, about 50 centimeters deep, in which she deposits an average of 120 eggs. She will then cover and camoflage the nest to protect it from predators. The turtles will return to the sea, never to see the hatchlings as they are capable of growing up on their own.
I was a volunteer on Rethymno, Crete during September and October of 1999. The duration of the project was from the end of May until the end of October. There were about 20 other volunteers while I was there. We all lived in tents, in a makeshift camp (resembling Gilligan's Island) in an olive grove. A typical day consisted of working about three shifts, each lasting three to five hours.
The shifts were:
MONITORING Morning Survey: 11 kilometers of beach are monitored every morning, at the first light. The beach was split into sections, and a team of two or three people walk that section of beach, looking for any changes or disturbances. We check each nest (401 in total), marked by a nest cage, looking for hatchling tracks (as they usually emerge at night) or disturbances. We also look for any hatchlings that may be stranded on the beach. Hatchlings find the sea by heading toward the brightest lights, the reflection of the moon and the stars on the sea at night. Unfortunately, they are attracted to artificial light sources, and are often found at the back of the beach, disoriented. We help them to the water by shading them from the sun, and sometimes digging a trench that will lead them to the sea. All of our observations are recorded.
Nest Shading: Archelon works with the local municipality, hotels and tavernas to try to get the lights turned off, on critical nesting beaches. When this is not possible,we make trenches and place shades, made out of old straw mats and bamboo, around the nests and leading down to the sea. When the hatchlings emerge at night, they will only see the natural lights in front of them.
Excavation: Most of the nests were excavated after they completed hatching. The number of hatched and unhatched eggs are recorded, as well as the number of live and dead hatchlings within the nest. The number of unfertilized, early embrionic stage and late embrionic stage are recorded for the unhatched eggs. We also record any evidence of bacteria or parasites.
PUBLIC AWARENESS Safegaurding: Volunteers are placed at public access points on the beach at night, from 9pm until 11pm. We inform the tourists about the sea turtles, and the dangers of stepping on the hatchlings at night. We ask them to please stay off the beach at night.
Informational Stations: Various informational stands and kiosks are set up throughout Rethymno where we can answer tourists question, as well as sell our items.
Slide Shows: Eighteen slide shows are conducted in the hotels every week in German and English mainly, and sometimes Swedish.
OTHER SHIFTS The other shifts consist of the maintenance of the camp, office, and various other things for the project.
This was a truly rewarding experience, with volunteers coming
from all over the world, sharing the common goal of saving one
small part of the environment.
Mid-November 1999, In Tanzania
We arrived safely in Dar Es Salaam on tuesday morning. We have relaxed here for the past 2 days, and we are both feeling healthy and ready to move on. Tomorrow, we will take a bus to Arusha to organize a safari to Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, etc. The people are very nice and we shouldn't have any problems. We're also planning a trip to the island Zanzibar and possible a trip to visit a PCV here.
13 February 2000
I have been dreaming about going to Africa for as long as I can remember. Exotic stories and National Geographic television specials about the exotic animals, fantastic landscape, and a tribal culture fueled this desire. This all became a reality to me on November 7th, 1999. Jeff and I arrived in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, not knowing what to expect. After exploring this scorching, dusty, noisy, congested city for two days, it was time to move on.
Arusha, in the north, was the next logical step because that was where most of the safari companies were based. After an interesting eight-hour bus ride along dangerously curvy roads, overloaded with people, produce, squawking chickens and other small farm animals, we arrived. The number of people representing safari companies, waiting at the bus station, was overwhelming. They all wanted us, the "rich mzungus" (white people). This crowd of people, offering every deal imaginable, was so large that we couldn't move out of the bus entrance. The bus driver shocked us when he started beating people with a bamboo stick, to allow us to move from our pinned position.
We quickly signed on with a six-day camping safari to visit Tarangire Park, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, and Arusha Park. The animals and the landscapes were spectacular. Each park holds distinct memories for me, my first time seeing these animals in their natural habitat. When I think of Tarangire Park, I remember hundreds of elephants, so close to our vehicle that we could almost touch them. The curious monkeys got even closer to us, stealing our food out of the truck and our hands at lunchtime. Thinking of Lake Manyara calls up images of bubbling sulfur springs, dense forests, giraffes and zebras. Ngorongoro Crater was special because we met some young Masai warriors and because the animal concentration is so high. We saw five Black Rhinos, at a distance. The Serengeti is amazing because of its vastness, plains as far as the eye can see. Big cats were the specialty here, including cheetahs, lions, and leopards. A couple of hyenas had fun that night, circling our tent. Arusha Park was wonderful because it was the only park we were allowed to take a walking tour of, with a park ranger. David, the ranger who guided us, was a wealth of information about the history of the park, the triumphs and the failures.
These National Parks are some of the greatest resources Tanzania has. Every year, thousands of visitors come to Tanzania, to visit these parks. They leave in awe. These visitors bring in money, and provide many jobs in the tourism business. While many poor countries are forced to destroy their natural areas, Tanzania has learned how to use them as a benefit. The parks have some negative attributes as well. The safari vehicles cause a lot of noise pollution, and they get to close to the animals. The animals are now accustomed to vehicles and people, to a certain extent. The Ngorongoro Crater has had a devastating effect on the Masai people. When it became a national park, the Masai were no longer allowed to live there, but they still have grazing rights. They are now forced to live on its edges, in many settlements that resemble poor Native American reservations. The Masai, who formerly had no need for money, now stand at the side of the road in their native dress waiting for tourists to stop and pay to take their pictures. Are the parks destroying the culture of these indigenous people?
One of my favorite places was Zanzibar, the Spice Island. Zanzibar is beautiful, covered with palm trees and surrounded by the greenest waters with reefs that are world renowned for scuba divers. 99% of the Zanzibarians are Muslim and they are proud of their certain degree of autonomy from the mainland.
While in the capital, Stonetown, we took a "spice tour". A mini bus took us to various spice plantations throughout the island. We had the opportunity to sample jackfruit, starfruit, cacao fruit, cloves, cardamom, and many others. A great deal of labor is required to harvest most of the spices. Unfortunately, most of the spices have to be sold to the government, at ridiculously low prices, to be prepared for export. The Zanzibarians are not allowed to sell them on their own.
We left for the coast, after a couple of days in Stonetown. Jambiani was a beautiful, peaceful fishing village with a population of about 300. The locals welcomed us kindly. Children would invite us to share dinner with their families, for a small amount of money. The food was always delicious. It was usually prepared with coconut milk, which gave everything a slightly sweet flavor. I learned that the coastal people utilized every part of the coconut.
Most of the local people based their days around the tides. Zanzibar is strongly affected by the tides. At low tide we would have to walk half a mile from the shoreline to be knee deep in water. While walking down the beach I noticed that many of the women would dig holes in the wet sand during low tide and bury coconut husks. I could not figure out why they were doing this. After asking around, I found out that they bury the husks in the wet sand for a couple of days and then dig them up and make rope out of the fibers.
The coastal Zanzibarians cultivate seaweed. When the tide is low, they will make small plots ready for seaweed farming. They make several lines by connecting string to two sticks. They plant the seaweed and it wraps around these lines. Unfortunately, the seaweed is sold to the government, at a low rate, to be prepared for export. Just like the spices, they are not allowed to sell it on their own.
We left Tanzania on December 7th. One month was not nearly enough time to see all that I wanted.
Jack Wilder Ploetz, born 23 August 2004.
Jack giving a stump speech, summer 2006.
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Most recent update: 10 August 2006.