Archive for December, 2007


27 December, 2007

Merry (belated) Christmas! As you probably know, I went to Rila to spend the holidays with my host family from training. But the weekend before I was in the old HUB (combined training with COD and YD) site in Dupnista. There were several other volunteers and it was great seeing everyone again. On Christmas Eve, I set out to Rila, getting in around noon.


I had forgotten how much I ate while living with my host family. Sure enough, during the first six hours I had been fed three meals! The PCV who stayed with them before me was also there. I was impressed, as well as my host family, how good my Bulgarian has gotten. We had several long, fluid conversations. It was odd being back in a place that was so familiar and it seemed like forever ago that I left. (more…)


Everything is clean!

20 December, 2007

My day didn’t start out very good but it certainly ended on a high note. I slept on the floor because my bedroom was frigid. I was told that the repairmen were coming in the afternoon. However, they came early. A lot earlier. I let them in; one goes to fix the sink (now working with a metal clamp and not tape!) and the other to the bedroom to fix the window. The one in the bedroom calls me in to show me something. Apparently all the banging by the repairman yesterday as well as the cold has broken a lot of the putty. So now I have to wait for anotherrepair person. He was getting a little frustrated with me because my Bulgarian is still pretty elementary, especially when it comes to carpentry and glass windows. However, all of them have been very nice and understanding. He’s trying to tell me something, but I have no idea what. I call one of my colleagues and she comes over. It turns out that the repair guy from yesterday cut the glass to big as well. Things start getting fixed and I head to the school to teach.

I had baked the teachers some chocolate chip cookies. They were a little skeptical at first but once they tried them, the whole plate was eaten in an instant. They were a hit because 1) It was “American” food, 2) it was something tasty they had never had before, and most influentially, 3) a guy had made them! Once they discovered I was the chef, I got several hand shakes and pats on the back.

I was then asked to join the first graders as they went to the Kindergarten (translated to “Children’s garden” in Bulgarian) to sing Christmas carols. They were dressed in traditional Bulgarian dress (similar to my horo costume). I was kicking myself for leaving my camera at home. I did get a picture with some of them and I’ll post it when I get it.

I then went home and my counterpart and I cleaned my apartment. Clean as in, I was on my hands and knees scrubbing my carpet. I don’t think my place will ever be as clean again. In fact, I was so impressed with how clean every thing is, I ate cereal for dinner. I was planning on stir fry before I was informed of my Bulgarian cleaning lesson.

Fixing the apartment

19 December, 2007

For those of you (all four of you) who have been reading my blog know that I’ve had a few problems with my apartment. A summary reads like this:

The common theme with these problems is water. Typically (especially with the first one) where it shouldn’t be. Now these problems are problems I may be currently enduring or have been fixed. I now have hot water and the washing machine is no longer a big nuisance. The kitchen sink is hit or miss seeing that whenever it gets repaired the solution involves a little more tape than last time. However, “broken window in bedroom” can now be replaced with “gaping hole in bedroom wall”.

I was informed that repairmen would come to my apartment after 1:30 to fix the window. When they arrived, I showed them the damage. They were a bit surprised (much to my chagrin). I was told it would cost me 30 leva to fix. I protested since this problem was here long before moved in. They saw my point and I won’t be charged. An old man came in with a tool kit and proceeded to scare the living daylights out of me. He yanked and pulled on the window until it opened. That window, by the way, is incredibly old. Part of the wood used to make the fixture still had a branch. He continues to tinker with my window, chiseling away at the frame with all sorts of tools (including a knife from my kitchen). He then stands up on the window ledge. I start to freak out-it looks like he’s honestly going to fall to his death out my window. After a prolonged increase in my blood pressure, he finally gets the whole window removed (I didn’t realize this was the goal. I thought he was trying to make opening the window more fluid). The repairmen take the window out of my apartment…and that was the last I saw of them. They left about two and a half hours ago and I have no idea when they’ll be back. I hope it’s really soon because the sun is already setting. The worst part about this whole ordeal is I’ve had to miss the Christmas play my students were putting on this afternoon.

A few other comments

The political situation hasn’t changed much. From what I understand, both candidates have claimed they won legitimately. No one knows who the mayor is and people at work joke they have two mayors. I don’t think it’s going to be resolved soon or easily. And to make matters more interesting, I was caught on camera leaving the mayor’s office. I had to fax some paperwork to the Peace Corps headquarters in Sofia. When I left the office, there were news crews shooting footage of the office door (as filler footage I assume). But the Peace Corps Volunteer is now caught on camera leaving the office of the mayor in dispute. I hope they don’t air that part. One of the bedrock Peace Corps policy is not to get involved in local politics. Otherwise, it’s a ticket home.

Updated 17:54
The repairmen came back with a window. However, it doesn’t fit. So tonight I have to sleep on the couch. I was told to spend tomorrow at home to wait for more repairmen (the sink still isn’t fixed) but I have to teach class. They also want to find someone to clean my apartment. I’ve told them about the class and I’m perfectly capable of cleaning my own apartment. I’m starting to get frustrated with all of this.

Хоро Kонцерт

19 December, 2007

Last night was the horo performance that I’ve been practicing for for about two months. It was a tremendous amount of fun. It was another lady’s first time dancing the horo in front of so many people. The rest of the group joked that she was in the “Peace Corps group”. She was quite nervous and smoked at least a half pack backstage. She also had a flask of whiskey that she kept offering to Andrea and I. “ликвиден кураж!” (liquid courage!) she said every time she took a swig. Before the show, Andrea and I were presented certificates and wooden Bulgaria plates. The certificates state “You will always have friends in Bulgaria”. I am truly integrating.

dance troupe

 The entire dance troupe.

 More here.

First snow in Chirpan

16 December, 2007

Yesterday, since I didn’t have to go into the office (with no one knowing who the mayor is, it’s difficult to get anything done) Andrea, my site mate, and I went out to lunch and then walked around Chirpan in the snow.

More here

Political turmoil

13 December, 2007

It’s been an odd day here in Chirpan. About two months ago elections for every single local government in Bulgaria were held. The election for mayor here went into a run off, which was held two weeks after the first one. The mayor was re-elected and sworn in about a month ago. It turns out, the election may have been flawed, and the number two guy challenged it in court. The election board recounted the ballots and re-certified the re-elected mayor as the winner. Today, the court in the providential capital, Stara Zagora, issued a ruling, essentially reversing the election board’s decision. In order to preempt this court order, the city council met yesterday (illegally, I’ve been told), and appointed a interim mayor until everything gets sorted out. I’ve been told they guy they nominated isn’t very well liked and this drew protests against the council’s decision. So when my colleagues found out about this ruling, they all (pretty much everyone-lawyers, secretaries, accountants, janitors) went and stood outside the mayor’s office to 1) show their support for the mayor who was re-elected and 2) pressure the interim dude out of the mayor’s office, where, if I understand correctly, he had been holed up.

I headed up stairs, not wanting to be seen (and violate the PC policy of getting involved in local politics) one of the city lawyers was heading up too. “Ah, Democracy!” he said. I thought to myself, kinda reminds me of Florida in 2000…

As of right now, I have no idea who the mayor is. The courts rule the mayor isn’t the mayor, but he’s already been sworn in. I wonder what’ll happen next. I also have no idea what either of their platforms are. The current (?) mayor was very helpful of the PCV I replaced and I’ve met them both and they’re pretty nice. Who knows.

Well I don’t think it’s that bad

11 December, 2007

I’ve encountered a few problems with my apartment over the past few days. The biggest one by far has been the complete lack of hot water. Yes, this means I haven’t been showering for the past few days. The pipe under the sink has also broken (Again. Good money says it’ll be fixed with tape. Again.) as well as the freezer box door, which is now dripping on my food. And there is water damage from last week’s rain on my kitchen walls. I tell my colleagues at work about these problems and they, as always, are always attentive to my concerns (not just about my living situation).

I was told that they couldn’t get a repairman to my apartment then. It wasn’t a big deal; I’m oddly calm about everything. I started out with “Well, my apartment might be frigid, but at least I have hot water” I just rolled with it and changed it to “Well, I might be able to see my breath and can’t take a hot shower, but at least the pipes aren’t frozen”. Glass half full kinda stuff. But still, it got me thinking, if I lose power? I’d probably just shrug my shoulders “meh” and stick it out to morning. Odd, don’t you think?

So back to the story. Today, my colleague gets a phone call saying my land lady is going to meet me at my apartment to get the boiler fixed. Thankfully, it’s still under warranty (it was installed four days before I moved in). I get to the apartment with someone else from the office and she and a repairman are already there. I walk in, still wearing my boots, and notice everyone else is too. My land lady points to all the Bulgarian words and verbs I’ve taped around the foyer and smiles. She asks me for something from the kitchen, I go in and walk across, still in my shoes, to get it. She is horrified! And goes on about not wearing shoes in the apartment.

The boiler gets fixed (it turns out it was just a fuse) and I head back to the office. I walk in, and my colleague is on the phone…with my land lady. She (my co-worker) gets off the phone and tells me my land lady is very concerned about how messy my apartment is and the fact I wore my shoes into the kitchen. She goes on to tell me about how Bulgarian children are taught never to wear shoes in the house and that my land lady has offered to show me how to clean my apartment! My colleague then offers to show me how to clean my apartment as well! I’m sitting there thinking, ok, yes, I am a guy living alone, but it’s not that bad. Should I be grateful or mildly insulted? She then calls my land lady back to assuage her. “Jimmy,” she says laughing, “she wants to know what day she can come over and show you how to clean”. I think she’s joking, but no. She’s coming over Sunday morning to teach the hapless American. I told my site mate I was going to pre-empt her and clean before she gets here. She just laughed at me “There is no way you can clean better than a Bulgarian” (she’s lived in a small town in Bulgaria for over a year).

So that’s my Sunday. Oh, and I have to work on Saturday (but I get the 31st off).

Dance party!

9 December, 2007

Last night was a holiday celebrating university students (“College” in Bulgaria is like a commuity college in the US). I was invited to attend a dance party at the bar/restaurant where I usually eat dinner with my colleagues and their friends on Fridays.

We walked in, and the place was starting to fill up; mostly with university students. We sat down and started to order. I ordered a Coke along with my meal. This got immediate attention from the people around me “without alcohol!?” “Do you drink?” “Are you ok?” I guess the people assumed I’d be drinking since it was a celebtration. My colleage leaned over and told me “I heard you didn’t order any alcohol. Do you want a glass for our wine?” I agreed and all the questions stopped.

The evening was full of eating, drinking dancing and general merry-making. I danced the horo (I’m sure to the amazment of several people) as well as had some converstations in Bulgarian and met several people. I grew tired and left around 2am. I later found out that my colleague left at 5am and several other people left around 7:30. They don’t mess around with partying here. I was told, laughing “It was practice for New Years”. Last year, they didn’t go home until 8 or 9 after their New Year’s celebrations. And I plan on joining them.

Name Day

4 December, 2007

Today was the name day for everyone named after St. Nicolas (Nikola, Nikali, etc). Name days are the feast day of Christian Saints and in Bulgaria, they have the same significant as birthdays. According to tradition, the person celebrating is or her name day is supposed to treat everyone. Usually this is a drink and some sugary food. For closer friends, the person takes his or her friends out to a drink or a meal at a restaurant. As far as I know, hardly anyone celebrates the religious significance of the day.

I went to school to teach the computer class. When I walked into the teacher’s lounge, the table was covered in cookies, nuts, bon boni and soda. The teachers kept telling me to eat. I wasn’t going to argue about sitting in a warm room being told to eat cookies. After teaching class, I went back to work. When I got there, I was informed I needed to contribute some money to help one my colleagues pay to help him celebrate his name day. The time came to go to his office. When I got there, there were several people crammed into his small office. The cover table, once again, was covered in nuts, cookies and candy. The only difference compared to the teachers’ party was the half empty bottle of whisky. So I sat in an office drinking whisky with secretaries, lawyers and other people in the administration. The whole situation a was a bit surreal.

I ate dinner with my site mate; she made some awesome chili, cornbread and chocolate chip cookies for dessert. We were both stuffed to begin with from the name day, but that chili was_so_good!

On a sad note, I expirenced my first blatant bigotry towards the Roma. I was in a conversation with someone about the town. They told me where I shouldn’t go in town, which quickly degraded into an anti-Roma tirade. I won’t summarized the converation other than it made me feel really uncomfortable and I wondered how an educated person can hold such beliefs.

A few cultural notes

4 December, 2007

One of the hardest things that I’ve had to get used to here in Bulgaria is simple gestures. In the rest of the world, shaking your head means “no” and nodding means “yes”. But Bulgaria is the only country in the world where it’s the opposite. And it can be maddening (at least at first). When I first got here, I was completely thrown off. I had no idea what people met. And in smaller towns, such as Rila, they do a head bobble. It was very frustrating. I thought “why do they have to go against the grain on this? Why be so different on such a simple and universal thing. This is silly”. But that was when I didn’t know the history. Bulgaria has been the crossroads of history and is the gateway to the Middle East and Central Asia. All of the Crusades had to go through Bulgaria. So you can imagine, Bulgaria has been occupied by several empires and has been an important battleground of European history. For over 500 years, Bulgaria was under the Ottoman Empire, a period of history they refer to as “Turkish Yoke” They have only been independent of Turkey for just over 150 years, after being freed with the help of Tsarist Russia. Animosity towards the Turks is still high and during the final years of Communism, the Turkish minority was subject to a program to “Bulgarianize” them in an effort to assimilate them into Bulgarian society. This involved the suppression of Turkish traditions, language, Bulgarianization of Turkish names and sometimes, forced relocation. The Bulgarians, during the Ottoman rule, had what can be described as a mutual understanding. When they were ordered to do something by the Ottomans, they would nod, appearing to agree to their Turkish master. But it was universally understood amongst the Bulgarians that they were actually saying “no”; a silent defiance. After they were freed in the mid-19th Century, what they actually meant stuck and nodding became “no” and shaking became “yes”. It’s starting to become a habit now with me and it can be really confusing when I get together with other PCVs. “Wait…is that a Bulgarian “yes” or an American “no”?” As time goes by it’s slowly becoming “yes”. I’m sure things will get interesting when I travel to another country and when I move back to America in two years.

The superstitions are still playing a role here in my life. I finished dance practice last night and I was unusually sweaty. But it was hot and I didn’t put my sweater on. It was someone’s birthday and there was plenty of food and drink. As it got late, I decided to leave. I hadn’t put on my jacket when I several of my classmates, including the teacher, callout to me to put my jacket on. They were all very concerned since I was told I’ll be performing with them on the 18th. They didn’t want to lose one of the few guys by catching a cold and dying!

My site mate had a frustrating time when she was in Sofia (the capital) over the weekend. She was with her Bulgarian boyfriend and was planning on spending the night at his cousin’s apartment. His cousin was so excited that they were coming to visit, that he called his family in the small town where he is from (roughly 1,000 people). Unbeknownst to him (and my site mate for that matter), she and her boyfriend had gravely offended the family and were forbidden to pay his cousin and his wife a visit. They didn’t attend the wedding of a distant relative of her boyfriend; someone she had met nor heard of and was completely unaware of the event. She told me it was frustrating having to deal with the “protocol” of a small town. Hopefully this fo paux will blow over quickly.

Side notes:

I’ve been asked by the office I work for to hold off on writing the grant for the medical center until after my In Service Training where I will get more information on how to apply for this particular grant. It’s ok since it’s not due until late February and the office is on top of things. The whole project will cost a little more than 27,000 leva or about $19,000. The grant is for a maximum of $5,000. The Municipality will cover the difference.

I will be meeting with the “Sports Minister” tomorrow (the nickname given to him by his colleagues in the Obshtina because he loves sports and setting up games) about setting up a charity football (soccer) tournament in the spring (late March, early April). For the PCVs out there, stay posted for the details! I hope to form a few PCV teams.

I’m starting to get some Christmas packages from home as well as a few letters. Thanks so much! It’s great to hear how everyone in the US is doing.

It’s supposed to snow tonight. Not sure how I feel about that.