Archive for November, 2007

Thanksgiving, Bulgarian style with 18 PCVs

28 November, 2007

Thanksgiving 044
Originally uploaded by kingsmen6

Since American holidays are regular working days for PCVs there were a bunch of PCV Thanksgiving gatherings scattered throughout Bulgaria. I went to Kazanlak to celebrate with 17 other PCVs at Anita’s apartment. She had been cooking up a storm. We had plenty to eat and plenty to drink. There were two turkeys and several side dishes people had brought to share. We had a fantastic time. I’m pretty sure that my Bulgarian will atrophy with so much English.


A very busy day

24 November, 2007

Today has been one of the busiest days I’ve had so far in Bulgaria and I was quite excited for it. I woke up early to catch a ride with the municpality driver to Stara Zagora. My Bulgarian ID card, the Lichna Carta, was ready. Driving in Bulgaria can be a terrifying expirence since there are only traffic “suggestions”. It takes about an hour by train to get to Stara, 45 mintues by bus and roughly 20 mintues via driver. It was hair raising expirence because the seat belts were removed and there was thick fog. I made it there and back without incident.

Since the Peace Corps was coming to inspect my apartment, they gave me the rest of the day off. I spent this new found free time to run a few errands around town. I went to the train station and bought a youth discount card. It will save me 50% on all train tickets and is vaild for a year. I think it’s a very wise investment because with trains I get to see more of the country and they run at all hours of the day and night.

Today was also my counterpart’s last day at work. We had a small get together at the end of the day. She will be working at a local bank. I wish her well. I really like her and was sad to see her go. I’m not terribley worried about fulfilling my responsiblites without her since all of my colleagues are very helpful and friendly.

After wishing her good luck, I went to the school festival in the Obshtina presentation hall. It was packed and a would have given a fire marshall a heart attack. I couldn’t evem walk in the door! I later learned that the school chose this venue over the much larger theatre in town because the theatre was much colder. Bulgarian superstion at work again! Some of my students gave me a flower which I now have in a vase in my apartment. I didn’t stick around long because it was really hot and very crowded.

I went to resturant for the party. All the teachers were very pleased to see me. I told one that I now have my ID card and wanted to see it. She then announced to the room that I am now a Bulgarian. There was applause. She then took my photo holding my card up. I spent the rest of the party chatting with teachers and (surprisingly) learning dirty jokes from some of the English teachers. At 9 I went to pick up another PCV who was staying the night at my apartment before we headed out to Kazanlak for Thanksgiving. I hung around the resturant for a bit longer and then went to Andrea’s apartment for dinner.

She was hosting two other PCVs for Thanksgiving. All of the B-19s there and myself had trained in Rila. We had a lively evening and ate dinner around 1 am because someone forgot to turn the oven on. All in all, a very good day!

Best day so far

22 November, 2007

It’s been a good day. I showed up to work not expecting to do much. But shortly after getting there, I was whisked away to a budget meeting with the vice mayor about the hospital project I’m going to be working on. The medical center I’m going to be working on is in a different village but still needs a lot of attention. After the meeting I went to the school to teach my computer class. The children were unusually well behaved and I feel like they learned something. A great feeling!

After that class was over, I stood in front of my classroom, waiting for my next class. One of the teachers grabbed me and took me to lunch. I started to protest “I’ve only got five minutes!” “Let’s go! There’s time!”. The caf was serving Muska, which is the Bulgarian equvolent of Shepard’s pie. Very tasty. I rushed back to my classroom only to find that the school had canceled it for rehearsal as tomorrow is a school festival. A bunch of the teachers caught me in the hall and invited me to a party after the school play. I eagerly accepted.

I headed back to the Obshtina where I was informed that I would be going to the village to inspect the medical center. I was going with people I had vaguely met before and none of them spoke any English. We piled into an old Soviet-era car with no seat belts and drove off into vast farmland. In typical rural Bulgarian fashion, we shared the road with several horse and carts. We got to the village and picked up the mayor. The medical center is much nicer than the other one I was going to be working until the mayor walked into a closet and literally fell through the floor! Before leaving, I was invited to the mayor’s office for coffee and biscuits. I felt like I was invited not because he felt like he had to but because he wanted to. It was a great sense of belonging. I tried to explain to them the history of Thanksgiving but I have no idea what they understood. However, they complimented me on my Bulgarian skills which was a great confidence booster.

After work I went to my tutor’s apartment where she commented that my Bulgarian was getting noticeably better, even though I’ve only had less than a month’s worth of lessons with her! And there were few mistakes with my homework. I then headed to dance practice where I met my site mate, Andrea’s boyfriend. After class I went to her apartment and had a beer with them. It’s been a good day and I’m starting to feel like I’m being accepted here.

A pretty random day

21 November, 2007

Today I was the first day I had to teach class this week. I was prepared; I had a lesson plan and everything. My back pocket was full of hopes and dreams of having a successful class. I get to the school and walk into the teacher’s lounge. I plop down on the couch and just loaf until time. Andrea and I walk across the hall to the classroom and wait. We chat about this and that. Times ticks by. “Ok…they should be here any minute now” goes my inner monologue. More time passes. No one. “What is going on?” I wonder. I hear a lot of chanting, screaming and cheering outside. I hadn’t paid any attention to it until now. We get up and walk outside. Unbeknownst to me, the school had canceled my class to hold a school sanctioned, first through fourth grade, arm wrestling tournament. It was the last thing I was expecting but totally awesome. I stood there watching what is the competitive drive (and attention span) of elementary athletics. It was a mob around a table full of loud, shirll, exclusive chanting. It was quite a sight (actual picture ->)

On other (less interesting) notes, I got a haircut today. I have shed that homely look I’ve had for the past several weeks. It was probably the most intensive haircut I’ve ever had. I was the only one in there and when she was done, I knew it was the most attention anyone has ever put into my hair. It cost me 3Lv (roughly$2.25). I gave her 4 and when looking for change! I told her to keep it and she was very appreciative.

This evening, Andrea came over to do her laundry. We decided to make Shepard’s Pie. I went and bought the groceries. I felt guilty for “cheating” on my baba and buying my vegetables elsewhere. So I went to her stand and asked for five potatoes. She was so thrilled she kept patting me on the back and asking dozens of questions what I’ll be using them for. I assume they were questions because she was speaking so fast and my Bulgarian still isn’t where I want it to be. So I said “Pie” since I don’t know what “Shepard” is. I’m sure this only provoked more questions but I hastily left her in a stupor.

That Pie is probably THE best thing I’ve made in Bulgaria so far. I kept eating it even though I was full. (My excuse was it won’t be nearly as good the second time around but in reality, I couldn’t stop eating it). It was so easy to make. My culinary repertoire is growing quickly. The next time she comes we’re going to be making chili and cornbread!
<-Look at it in all of it’s splendor! Next to mister oven thermometer (thanks mom!)

The past week

21 November, 2007

I haven’t done a really good job of keeping my blog up-to-date so here’s a rundown of the highlights (as well as the lows)

  1. It rained for five days straight
  2. My roof cannot take five straight days of rain and I now have running water in my kitchen, down the walls
  3. I had dinner with several teachers from the school where I teach as well as an RPCV who served here in Chirpan from 2001-2003.
  4. Amber, the PCV in Stara Zagora for the dinner. We ate at the Flamingo restaurant and had awkward conversations (in BG) with the teachers. But I’d be surprised if I could hold a conversation that wasn’t awkward.
  5. I went to Stara and had lunch and a beer with Shane, another PCV.
  6. I took the train to visit Cindy and Roger in Karlovo via Plovdiv.
  7. I discovered that Plovdiv has three train stations.
  8. There is no train to Karlovo from the Trakia train station
  9. It costs 4.06 Lv to catch a taxi from Trakia to the Central train station, where I should have gotten off in the first place.
  10. The train to Karlovo doesn’t leave from track 6, despite what the sign said.
  11. I nearly got on the wrong train…back to Chirpan.

That’s more or less the past week in a nutshell.

(those were meant to be manly Arabic numerals but Blogspot converted them in to emasculating flowers.)

My dance teacher saved my life

16 November, 2007

if I were superstitious, that is. Let me start from the beginning. I went to dance class where we practiced a really difficult horo. By the end of class I was pretty sweaty. I went to put on my sweater. There was a baba sitting there who started to yell at me. I had no idea what she was saying, but she was quite animated. I just turned around and ignored her. I then saw my teacher come in and told me to take off my shirt. I objected, but she insisted. Not wanting to make a bigger deal out of it, I did. She then took my shirt and proceeded to wipe my sweat off. Making sure she got it all, she raised my arms and turned me around, using my shirt as a sponge. All of this happened while standing shirtless in the middle of the room. She gave me a shirt which was waaaay too tight. The entire class was concerned that I would catch a cold while walking home and die.

I’ve noticed several superstitions while being in Bulgaria so far. The biggest one is the fear of the течение, or the Draft. There seems to be a very sincere concern for their life when the feel a draft. During my training in Rila, it was incredibly hot riding in buses because no one wanted to jeopardize their, or anyone else’s life, by opening a window. I, in fact did this, and was severely scolded by an old man. However, when there is a draft, and it cannot be avoided, everyone covers their neck. I was riding in an ultra-hot bus when the A/C kicked in. People were frantically trying to turn their nozzle off. When that didn’t work, they put on a scarf or popped their collar. I could only help but chuckle because for me, it was a welcome relief!

There are some other superstitions that I’ve heard about, but never seen practiced. Some of them are odd, like, if you don’t finish your bread, you’ll be attacked by “the Gypsies” or if you sing at the table, you’ll marry a drunk. Some of them, however, I’ve heard but never seen practiced. For example, filling someone’s unfinished cup with more alcohol is bad luck. We were told this during training if we politely didn’t want to drink anymore. Not the case. Oh well. My family told me my Bulgarian gets better after I’ve had a little to drink.

Cleaning my kitchen

5 November, 2007

I arrived home from work tired. I wasn’t too hungry since I had a large lunch. I sat down at my computer in the living room, put on the latest Foo Fighters album and decided to do my white laundry, which I had neglected to do this weekend. So I go into the kitchen and start the load. I figured I could just lounge in the living room while my washer did the work. I’m sitting reading political analysis and the situation going on Pakistan listening to Dave Grohl serenade me. 6:30 rolls around and I need to get going to dance class. I walk into the kitchen to turn off the washing machine off. As I open the kitchen door, I had feel some resistance and step in. I see it before I can feel it, my entire kitchen is flooded. I have at least an inch of standing water in my apartment. The hose from the washing machine, which I had put in the sink, had come out and was lying on the floor, spewing water. I am really angry at myself. Because when I put the hose from the washing machine in the sink while thinking “Hey, this probably won’t stay in the sink”. But that was the end of that thought process. I’m just standing there, looking at the pool of water. How the hell am I going to fix this? I stand there for a good five minutes trying to comprehend what has happened. I find the mental capacity to call my counterpart. She can’t understand me. I grab a broom and try sweeping the water into a bucket. Believe it or not, that is not a good way to remove water where it should not be. I find a towel mopping. “This is going to take forever” but I have no other options. It’s cold and (surprise!) wet. My counterpart comes with her boyfriend. “Great” I think, “this will be the second time he’s bailed me out” (pun intended). The three of us start mopping my floor and ripping apart my floor to the concrete. At least my kitchen is really clean now, right? As I’m hauling parts of the floor and my rug to hang outside and my counterpart pulls the windows wide up I think “Hey, at least is not sno…” Oh yeah, it’s going to snow tomorrow. Damn it.

Now my kitchen is in complete disarray, I turn to my counterpart “Well, it looks like I’m going out for dinner tonight”. They hadn’t had dinner yet so the three of us go to the Flamingo. We had a lovely dinner together and I had a great time. It made me forget that just a few floors above me, my kitchen was underwater. I was introduced to duck hearts cooked “hunter style” which was awesome. I’ll definitely be eating that again. That was pretty much the only highlight of my evening. At least I don’t have to go to work tomorrow.


5 November, 2007

This weekend I met up with several volunteers in Stara Zagora (the biggest town close to Chirpan. It’s the fifth largest in Bulgaria). It was so good to see familiar faces! And I spoke the most English in two days than I’ve done at site for three weeks!

I met Barb on the bus to Stara and met up with four other PCVs at an Italian restaurant. Afterwards Barb, Amber, Anita and I went shopping for groceries. We went to a magazine for some wine and vodka. I don’t own a corkscrew so we asked the cashier where we could buy one. She handed Barb a pair of scissors to open the bottle in the store. It failed miserably. We then went grocery shopping for our stir fry. We then walked briskly to the train station. I tried to buy three tickets to Chirpan but the ticket lady told me to buy them on the train. We rushed to the platform and seconds after we boarded, the train pulled away.

We found a compartment with two Bulgarian guys in it. We sat down and laughed about how close it was. The conductor started to roam about checking tickets. He started with the Bulgarians and then asked us for ours. I told him “Hello! Yes, we tried to buy the tickets at the station but the ticket lady told us we could buy them on the train”. Unfortunately, it came out as “Woman….train station…say that…ticket…in train.” He smiled and left. None of us had any idea what was going on. Is he not going to charge us? Or is he going to find a police officer and fine us or kick us off the train? It didn’t help that moments after he left, the train stopped in a middle of a field. He came back and I tried so hard to explain our situation. It wasn’t helpful having two other Bulgarians in the compartment while facing the possibility of a fine up to ten times the ticket price. Thankfully, he just issued us a ticket to Chirpan (Although I’m pretty sure it was much higher than it should have been but we gladly paid it as a fine would have been much higher).

We got some chicken and tonic water at the grocery store and then it was onward to the apartment for the kupon! The chicken was the shape of the packages and it more or less looked completely disgusting. In fact, it started to peel went we put it in the boiling water. But boy was it good! We made stir fry and had real soy sauce! It certainly gave me more hope that I could be more creative and adventurous when it comes to cooking.

We stared to watch Superbad, a movie Barb as been talking about for weeks. Sadly, she fell asleep and missed most of the movie. Lamezzz. This week is going to be so long after having so much fun this weekend. And it’s supposed to snow this week. Here comes winter!

Finally! Pictures!

3 November, 2007

Here are some pics of my apartmentA view from the outside. The Flamingo restaurant in on the ground floor. I discovered a fish market on the ground floor as well. Thankfully, it’s out of business.
Perhaps the warmest room.
Living room.
That bed is probably the best investment I could have made. It’s so comfortable!

More address info

1 November, 2007

I forgot to mention that if you send anything, the customs form should read: “Items for personal use/no commerical value”. I recieved an email from a fellow PCV who got a package from home. The person sending it listed the value of it and she was forced to pay $175 (about 230 Leva) customs fee! So if you send anything, be sure to correctly fill out the form and don’t write any values down.