Sunday, June 02, 2013

Bulgarian Consulate

The package containing every single piece of necessary paperwork for my Type D Long Stay Bulgarian Visa was not delivered by Fed Ex on Thursday. Instead, they left a sticky note on my door saying I had to pick it up in person at the Fed Ex store near the State College airport. Fraleigh and I drove after dinner to grab it. The rain really started coming down as we pulled into the parking lot. By the time we sprinted inside and then back to the car, we were drenched. But I had the packet and it was time to sort it all out.

Paperwork makes me angry. Maybe its the seeming randomness of it. Or the amount. It took me a few days of staring at the instructions to understand what needed to be submitted (seriously, how many ways and times can you ask for my passport?). Then, it became clear that I needed to in person to the Bulgarian consulate. D.C. In. Person. No sending things in overnight. I had to be there.

Well, okay then.

I also found out when I called the consulate that the visa process takes 45 days. No more. No less. With no sneaky and clever way to speed up the process. Hm. It was worth a shot anyway.

Last Tuesday night around 6 pm, I decided to drive to D.C. to get the beast taken care of. Talked Fraleigh into coming too and make a road trip out of it. We pulled into Bethesda around midnight and bunked with Natalie. True to form, I had to be dragged out of bed in the morning. As Natalie left for work, we started up the gps to get us to the Bulgarian Consulate.

There were several blocks that a lot of the consulates were housed in. Large, beautiful stone town homes with elegant national flags flying, the street parking full of "diplomat" license plates. And the day was hot. Humid and hot. One of the first of the year.

As Fraleigh navigated traffic and traffic circles, I tried to answer the questions on my visa application form. Seems that in the flurry to arrive in D.C. I hadn't actually filled out the application. And the questions were nearly impossible to answer. "What is your current employment?" Umm... campus minister. But wait... will the Bulgarian government be okay with that? Better word it differently. "What is the address of the place you are living and who invited you?" Wait. Someone had to invite me? I thought the Bulgarian government (resigned and interim as it is) invited me. I don't know where I'm living. The school? A hotel for a few days? Oh. I can't read the website for the hotel I'll be in. That prevents that answer. "How long is your stay?" Well. it depends on when I get my visa. If I get my visa. Can I leave the end of June? Will you not give me my visa if I put a date you won't give me my visa in time for?

Grumpy, grumpy Dana.

We approached the front door up 8 very steep stone steps. The iron gate on this place was rather imperial looking. Rang the door bell. A short and well groomed older woman answer the door. "Dobrade!" she said.

"Uh. Hi." I answered.

"Oh okay Hi" she adjusted.

"Where do I submit visa paperwork?" I asked.

She waited a moment and then smiled broadly. "You cannot use this entrance. You need to go around the side of the building to R street entrance." I then noticed that there was a large plaque on the door explaining this information.

We back tracked down the steps. "I guess that was a really nice, 'Oh you poor stupid things, bless your heart,'" Fraleigh noted.

The other entrance was around the corner and through an alley past the dumpsters. "Yes," I thought. "This is more like it." A rusted metal stair case led us to the open back door. Another woman walked out to meet us, this time in street clothes and thick glasses. "Dobrade!" she said enthusiastically. Then they realized we were American. The room was a faded tan color, florescent lights making it almost green in tint. They waved us around the side of the clearly nonfunctioning metal detector with a "Da! Da! Da! Come in, come in. Here, here, da da." (Da means yes). The unairconditioned atmosphere of the small back room accented the lack of deodorant worn by the people in it. And some other kind of smell I couldn't place, except that it smelled like a street in Sofia. How was this possible in D.C.? I went to the glass window to talk to the person actually working there. She too seemed surprised that I wasn't Bulgarian and coming for some sort of usual problem. A visa? Why yes. She could help me. I fumbled for each piece of the required paperwork. She very sweetly pointed out the blank spaces in my application, the ones I hoped against hope that she would help me answer. She very slowly explained that I had to answer somehow. When I didn't understand, she repeated herself. No, I had to have an address of where I was staying. Eventually I decisively wrote down the school's address and hoped no one would look too closely if every box was filled in. Behind me, the older woman who had greeted us and an older man had cornered Fraleigh and were asking him questions.

"Da, so you are going too?" No, no he wasn't. He explained the Fulbright and what I was going to be doing. The old woman insisted, "But you are her boyfriend, no?" Well, yes. "Then you must visit!" Oh yes, he would visit for a few weeks. That was the plan. "No. That is not good. You must visit long time! Several months!" He smiled and tried to avoid any further commentary on our relationship. The woman was distracted by then telling the older man that he was filing his paperwork incorrectly and occasionally turning back to Fraleigh to roll her eyes.

After 10 minutes of fumbling, all of my paperwork was in, my picture taken, and a serious explanation 4 different ways that I couldn't speed up the application process and that I would have to come back in 45 days to get the visa.

Back out into the alley and the hot morning sun. I started giggling and Fraleigh was chuckling too. "I don't think you could have had a more clear experience of Bulgaria without going to Bulgaria than you had right there."

Transition: Cue Panic

"The Somewhat True Tales of Robin Hood" was probably my favorite high school play. The homeschoolers from Hershey EFree Church got together under my mother's creative direction and pulled off a play that made us giggle. I played Maid Marion's Lady in Waiting. This was an over the top, dim witted, hypochondriac screamer. I fainted, yelled, mocked, and heart stopping screamed my way through that play. For the awkward nerdy drama queen in my blood, it was perfect. Throughout this comedic, slap stick retelling of the famous Robin Hood, we also interacted with "Mr Technical Director" who would create fade ins and fade outs and flash backs ("Flash Back! Flash Back! Flash Back!" we would chant). My character rather enjoyed the spin and fun as Mr. Technical Director faded me out of a scene and into another part of the story. As Maid Marion declared in wonder as the lights faded from the castle into Sherwood Forest, "Oh! How wonderful! I've never faded out before!"

I wish transitions could sometimes happen that easily and quickly. Just an adjustment of the knob on the tech board at the back of the room so I could slide in and out of new phases. A little mood music. A voice over introduction to the next scene. I wish I could think they were as hilarious as they were in this play.

Next: Scene Change to Dobrich, Bulgaria.

I was going to just let this blog thing sit until I left the country on June 25th. I thought what I needed was a break until my feet touched Bulgarian soil again. But I've come to realize that that would be cutting the story short.

Let me back up.

This coming year, I will be teaching English in a high school in Bulgaria. I will be gone from July 2013-July 2014, a complete calendar year. A first for me. I've never been away from "home" for that long, much less my country. It seems daunting and overwhelming to me, the newness that I know it will be. At the same time, hundreds of American youth choose to do something similar every year. Maybe even thousands. For my program (Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship), it is hundreds around the globe. It isn't new or original or ground breaking.

And yet, it is ground breaking for me.

And I'm terrible at transitions.

Transitions happen to me like disapparation happens to a new wizard: noses and ears and body parts get left on the other side of the room in the practice trial. Don't even try to make them disapparate to another geographic location. My insides literally feel like they are different places and have been ripped from the primary unity of the self.


I get depressed. Moody. Demanding. I go numb and wallow in feeling numb and depressed. You can remind me twenty times a day that You wanted Bulgaria. You applied for this. You didn't want to leave Bulgaria last summer. You've been trying to get abroad since you were in undergrad 3 years ago. It's time. The job at Calvary has concluded smoothly. Just go. And still, AND STILL, I'm wailing about having to change. Moving stuff. Throwing things away. Saying goodbye to my personal library. Not checking my Calvary Elements mailbox 20 times a day. Not getting worried when I don't hear from Steve or Erica or Kristen or Josh.

All of this is to say: I want to take you with me via this blog to Bulgaria next year. I want to include all the new stories and adventures and what its like to go to the grocery store and how I botch my first complicated English lesson and awkward American mistakes and learning the language and getting on the wrong bus and all of the things from every day life that will feel like grand narratives to me. But to do that well, I need to invite you into the transition. Hurrah. Yay. Gross. Stop. It.

Blogging is back in the schedule. You'll be hearing from you again soon.