Friday, March 25, 2011

What We Learned About Bulgaria

Cities look very different than anything in the states.  The roads are very small and the driving is absolutely crazy.  People will pass you by creating their own lane--into oncoming traffice or up on the sidewalk, if one is going the wrong way, they just make a U turn wherever, and the parking is wherever one feels like parking.  Some people purchase a parking spot outside their residence or business and they install a lock system that prevents others from parking in that spot.  They then pull up, stop in the middle of the street, unlock the locks, and park.  It is very difficult to find things and get directions, as even the locals do not know the names of the roads.  Some of the roads cannot be distinguished from sidewalks.  While driving around, you may see a horse-drawn carriage in the midst of the traffic.

Most people live in owned apartments in buildings four to six stories high constructed in the Communist era.  These buildings are made of cement and have no insulation.  Owners of individual apartments will pay to add insulation to their apartment and this is evident by the addition of three to six inches to the exterior of the building for their particular space.  When they do this, the also will paint their section a different color including purple, pink, green, and blue.  It has recently been determined that adding the insulation and painting the outside is not allowed.  The buildings are old on the outside but often times when you walk into the individual apartments they reflect nothing of the outside appearance and are beautiful and well maintained.

In the states you typically know the location of good and bad neighborhoods but here you can have a mansion right next door to a dilapidated home.  Down the road from nice housing, you may find a gypsy camp.  We saw a gypsy camp where they had set up small shacks that consisted of a board and canvas covering.  There would be a hole cut out of the middle of the canvas to serve as a chimney.  They live out there when it is the dead of winter and middle of summer.  There is no blockage from the elements as there are no trees around. 

Bulgarian’s are not in a hurry to do anything, except for maybe drive.  The light will turn green and before one can put his/her foot on the gas someone two cars back, will be honking or will just pass in a non-existent lane.  Part of this is how they have set up the traffic lights because they hang directly above where the first car must stop, making it impossible to see when the signal changes.  They also have a countdown to the light change.  We even observed the nonchalant attitude at the drive thru at the McDonalds.  There were seven people in the car and we placed our order at the first window.  After placing the order, which took a while, they asked if we would like to get a frequent buyer card and complete the form.  The form was completed while still at the first window.

In Bulgaria, some gestures and non-verbal communication is different.  Rather than nodding their head “yes”, they bobble their head from side to side.  They nod their head for a “no”.  This was a difficult adjustment.  Children that we have worked with have been very confused when we nod our head but say “yes” or “good”.  While on the other hand, when we correct our nod to a bobble with adults, they laugh.

Bulgarians love their coffee.  There are vending machines on street corners with many different types of coffee drinks for purchase.  They also like to offer coffee or tea to their guests upon arrival.  In one day, we were offered coffee at three separate meetings in a time span of 4 hours.  If you don’t accept their offer for coffee, like Amy, you may just end up with three drinks in front of you. 

Showers also do not have shower curtains.  Imagine our surprise when we looked in the bathrooms at our hotel and apartment where there was not a curtain.  No matter how hard we tried, water was everywhere.  We did manage to keep the toilet paper dry.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Let the Journey Begin

This journey seemed like it was so far off when I first got in contact with Andrea Faris from Reece’s Rainbow in July.  Now the journey is upon us and we are on our way for the first trip of, hopefully, many for BRIGHT Children International.  God has opened doors and brought together many connections to make this trip happen.  First of all, there was the fundraising that had to be done.  God provided many generous people that donated time, items, money, and participated in our inaugural.  The result to date of fundraising is $11, 337.00.  Thank you to all of you that made this a reality! With such success, all event expenses, non-profit set up expenses, and our first trip with instruments to donate were fully funded.  The inaugural fundraiser was a memorable evening with beautiful music, a wonderful setting, and great people all with the heart to support a new venture.  

We are now embarking on the first adventure for BRIGHT.  The bags are packed and movement eastward has started.  Packed in our baggage are 5 gathering drums, 60 kid’s wave drums, 250 egg shakers, 125 rhythm stick pairs, 115 single jingle bells, a 5 hand drum set, 100 CDs with Bulgarian children’s music, a small djembe, 150 printouts of our PowerPoint presentation, and a rhythm CD.  17 boxes arrived to BRIGHT’s office three weeks ago and were consolidated down to 6.  There was thought of shipping these ahead, but costs were prohibitive and it was substantially less expensive to just check the bags as extra luggage and it also provided reassurance that the packages would actually arrive to our destination.  Here are some pictures of the packing process.

Thursday afternoon, Amy and Bessie will depart from Detroit and via stops through Newark and Munich will arrive into Sofia, Bulargia Friday at 12:00pm.  At the airport, Tanja Pankratz a missionary with SEND will greet us.  Tanja has been instrumental in organizing the Down Syndrome parent group in Sofia and planning the conference being held on Sunday.  Friday afternoon will be spent getting settled and preparing for the schedule for Saturday.  It will also involve meeting with those members of the Connecting The Rainbow team with whom we have partnered.  Amy and Bessie will unpack the boxes and group the instruments to be distributed to 51 families with children with Down Syndrome, orphanages, schools, and a safe house. 

The details for Saturday have yet to be announced.  However, this Saturday happens to be a day where everyone must go to work.  It is to make up for a holiday that was given during the week in the past month or two.  Due to this orphanage directors will have to be in the orphanage on a Saturday, opening the doors for us to visit.  We are anticipating visiting at least one orphanage and providing interactive music to the children and donating instruments that will remain at the orphanage with ideas on how to utilize these with the children.  Connecting The Rainbow will also be providing art and other activities and donations.  In the evening, there will be a gathering of families with children with Down Syndrome and the Downs Ed group.  This will be a time for families to interact with other families, those from Downs Ed and Connecting The Rainbow, and us.

Sunday is a big day.  There is a daylong conference from 9am to 5pm with four presentations by professionals who work with children with Down Syndrome.  BRIGHT will provide a presentation regarding Music Therapy and providing examples of ideas on how families, teachers, and therapists can incorporate music to assist their children to develop skills and be successful.  BRIGHT will also be providing an interactive music group for those children at the conference and consultations with families as time allows.  When the plans first started for this trip, there were going to be 30 families and a handful of professional where going to be in attendance.  As of Sunday, there are 51 families, 30 therapists, and 30 “others”—teachers, doctors, etc.  The number is expected to grow.  One thing we have learned is that Bulgarians do not plan ahead and do things last minute.

Over the course of the last few months, Bessie has been in contact with another missionary who works in Stara Zagora, two and a half hours from Sofia.  When Bessie first shared about the trip to Margie, she offered to work a way to work with groups in that area if the right doors opened.  Margie began talking with an orphanage and a women’s shelter/safe house with whom she works; both groups welcomed the opportunity.  Sunday, after the conference, we will head to Stara Zagora. 

Monday will be a day spent at the Nezabravka orphanage.  We will have the opportunity to work with the younger children up to six years and meet with a teacher at the orphanage.  We will possibly have the opportunity to visit Samaritan’s Women’s Shelter.  In the later afternoon, we will return to the Nezabravka orphanage to work with the older, school-age children.  We will also have a dinner meeting with teachers and others who are interested in learning more about Music Therapy.

Tuesday will have another opportunity to visit the Samaritan’s Women’s shelter and work with the children doing some therapeutic music interventions.  We will also have a chance to talk with the psychologist of the shelter to share about Music Therapy and who it could be beneficial to those at the shelter.  We will have the chance to do activities with the donated instruments.  After these visits, we will head back to Sofia to allow us to get ready for our return to the states bright and early Wednesday morning.

Somewhere in the midst of the busy schedule there are two more missionaries that we would like to at least meet and talk with.  We will see what time allows.

We are hoping to provide pictures and blog entries as things happen.  In the meantime, here are some ways that you can be praying for us.  First of all safe travels, there are many connections, details, and miles to cover.  Secondly, a smooth transition to the time zone with little jet lag.  We hit the ground running and will be very busy.  Thirdly, that the orphanages and facilities we visit will be open to what we have to share and accept the donations and actually use them with all children in their care.  Lastly, that we will help empower the parents who are raising their children without supports. 

Thank you for your prayers and support and following our journey.  Keep following along and see what happens.