Archive for February, 2008

Baba Marta

29 February, 2008

Baba Marta (БаБа Марта) is one of the oldest holidays in Bulgaria. It marks the beginning of spring and is celebrated on March 1st. On this day people exchange martenitsa, which are red and white bracelets worn for good luck. The white is a symbol of strength, longevity, the male spirit and sunshine. The red symbolizes the female spirit and is associated with health, blood, conception, birth and fertility. They look a lot like this:

That’s a lie. They look exactly like this. I bought these at the market today for my friends and co-workers (I’ll be buying more. I have more friends than that, I swear!) There are lots and lots of martenitsa vendors everywhere (I didn’t have my camera with me when I was last in Stara Zagora. There was an entire street was lined with them). These bracelets are worn until the first stork or swallow is spotted signaling the beginning of spring. People then take the martenitsa off and tie them around fruit trees or hide them under a rock. The idea behind it is to welcome spring and force the evil spirits away. The ones tied to trees bless them for a bountiful harvest.

However, it is important to note that it is bad luck to give them before the 1st. Doing so curses the receiver and is generally considered bad form. Putting a marenitsa from a cursed person will kill the tree, thus giving you an tool to gauge which of your friendships to reconsider.

All in all, this is one of the most popular Bulgarian holidays. Especially since wearing the martenitsa protects one against diseases, the evil eye and bad luck, and ensures the fertility of one’s livestock, a plentiful harvest and all round prosperity. Plus, wearing martenitsa shows everyone how popular you are. A win-win situation.

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The weekend ahead

28 February, 2008

I don’t think I’ve posted about it, but tomorrow is another dance concert that I’m involved in. We’ve been practice for about 3 weeks or so. It should be a great time, especially since there will be about 10 PCVs and Americans in the audience. The team is very excited at the prospect of meeting so many Americans. The banquet after the dance should be great fun. There will be no shortage of eating, dancing and drinking. My tutor is also planning on being there. Good times ahead! This weekend is a three day weekend. Monday is Liberation Day, the day Bulgaria was freed from the Ottoman Empire. They were “enslaved”, as they frequently put it, for 500 years. This is the 130 anniversary so it’s sure to be a big event. More details later.

This weekend I am going to Stoikite (a town so remote that if we don’t make it there by 3pm, we have to hitch hike) for another kukeri festival. Kukeri are people who dress up as monsters to chase away evil spirits. So much fun! I’ll post pictures and a more detailed explanation when I get back. There is another PCV who works at a school for delinquent children there. We would be crashing at her apartment but she lives in the vacation home of a British family who will be using their property. We’re going to be staying at the house of another British family who lives in the “Orange County” side of town. It’s called Orange County because there are a lot mansions there own by the mafia and chalga stars (the lyrics tend to be quite shallow and the music videos can easily be confused with softcore porn to the lay viewer). I believe this family has about 5 or 6 kids (both their’s and adopted) they are all ecstatic that ten Americans are going to be spending the weekend with them (you read that right, ten). It’s going to be an action packed weekend! More details on my adventures as soon as I have them.

The charity football (soccer) tournament planning is going well. I’m going to review the schedule of events and the flyer with the “sports minister” tomorrow. As soon as I get his ok, we can start advertising.  One of my colleagues wants to advertise using the local tv, radio and newspapers. I’m pretty excited to get that much exposure. I hope we can handle a lot people. I know a lot of PCVs are interested. It should make for a good time.

The surveys for the medical centers are due tomorrow. I hope they’re useful. As soon as they’re translated, we’ll appeal to the Bulgarian Ministry of Health, the WHO, the World Bank, Red Cross Geneva as well as others. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated!

I’m calling it

27 February, 2008

Spring is officially here. It got up to 70 F today without a cloud in the sky. Now let’s hope this keeps up for the next 20 months… I went back and I re-read some of my entries. I realize I’ve written (read:wined) a lot about the weather. But I think you would too if you lived 20 minutes away from Zuma Beach for seven years.

Project updates below the fold.

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Spring?

23 February, 2008

Today has been an incredibly nice day. I loved just walking around town, especially the cafe area. All of the cafes have put their outdoor seating back on their patios and they were packed! There were lots of extra people out since Fridays are pazar (baazar) days. Not a cloud in the sky! I really really can’t wait for spring to arrive. It’s been a cold winter and I don’t want to think that mother nature would tease me like this. I went to the restaurant under my apartment for lunch. It was so nice sitting by the open door and eating there when it was dark and dreary out! I only wished I had brought a book with me. I ate a fantastic (and cheap!) lunch of duck livers (hunter style). I’m adding it to the list of awesome food I’ve discovered while in Bulgaria.

Tomorrow I’m just going to take advantage of the nice weather. Read in a cafe, go running watch the local football team at the stadium. Who knows! I’m just excited at the prospect that it could get up 20 C!

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Meeting the Director

22 February, 2008

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I was invited by the PC BG staff to have lunch with the Director of the Peace Corps. That’s the boss of my boss’ boss’ boss. There were 12 of us total and it was just us PCVs as well as a few PC BG administrative staff (like the country director of Bulgaria. To use to the words of language trainer during PST, the “big cheese”), some of the Directer Tschetter’s staff as well as regional staff (didn’t think about it, but it makes sense the the PC divides up the world of PC countries which are overseen by another layer of administration) and his wife. The Director and his wife served in the Peace Corps in India in the late 60’s.

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Slower Day

20 February, 2008

Not much happened today. Work has slowed down since my flurry of activity yesterday. I’m just waiting to get the surveys back from the doctors, more information about where the money for the football tournament will go and to be introduced to the English high school teachers about the English club. I killed some time before I went to the school to teach class. When I got there, the table in the teacher’s lounge was covered in food! It was a teacher’s birthday. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, on your birthday, you treat your friends to food and drink. There was plenty to eat and drink. And by drink, I mean everything ranging from soda to home-made rakiya. Yep, there was alcohol. Some of them tried to get me to drink some whiskey. “I can’t! I have to teach in 10 minutes!” “Well, how about after class?” “Ok.” “Great! We’ll call the mayor and tell him that you can’t go back to work because you’re drinking with us!”. I couldn’t help but chuckle. Such are the differences between cultures. In the US, teachers would get crucified for drinking at school on the job, even more so in an elementary school!

After work, I headed over to Andrea’s apartment where I met her and her boyfriend. The three of us went to the football stadium and kicked the ball around before dance. I changed out of my long sleeve t-shirt and gym short before going to the cultural center. I’m sure everyone would have had a heart attack if they saw me in shorts! I didn’t want to repeat a previous episode. But thankfully the water is back on that I can take a shower for tomorrow (The entire city lost water again today).

I’ve got to go to Pazardjik tomorrow morning to have lunch with the Peace Corps Director (world wide) as well as give my perspective as a new PCV. That, by the way, I find a little insulting. I mean, here I am, 23 years old, where I am the first American several people have met. I am their outlet for all kinds of questions about America and American life; I’m given a lot of latitude. But to have lunch with the director of the organization I work for, I have to run a gauntlet of what I can and can’t say. Everything double checked, to make it’s appropriate. I suppose some of it makes sense, the PC BG staff doesn’t want to be embarrassed in front of PC DC. But come on! I think it goes without saying that if someone was confirmed by Congress, s/he deserves respect!

Being productive

20 February, 2008

Today has been a very productive day. I got lots figured out including (and most importantly) the schedule of events for the football tournament. The sports minister told me not to worry about getting the awards or arranging the cultural excursion (Chirpan has the oldest monastery in Europe, founded around AD 300). This was such a huge relief! I also made headway with determining what specifically the money raised will be used for; such as for art supplies, field trips, etc. I’ve been thinking I’ve been too personally involved in organizing this event so I delegated this as well as writing the summary for the flyers to someone else in the office. I was able to get the key elements posted on the Peace Corps Eastern Europe and Central Asia Yahoo! group page in case there are any PCVs going on vacation this spring.

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Surveys

18 February, 2008

The office is starting to get some of the surveys back. However, I haven’t been too impressed with the feedback (granted, they all haven’t been translated into English yet). But one of them was missing two pages and another had really incomplete and unhelpful answers. Like “How do you want to improve your youth health outreach program and what issues do you cover? If you don’t have a program, would you like to start one?” Response: “No”.

I really hope that the answers given on them are just concise and not just curt. If the surveys fail, I’ll interview the team from the municipality that inspects the damage and write the budget for the projects.

No one said this was going to be easy…

Back in Action

18 February, 2008

I’m back in Chirpan after spending pretty much all of last week in Hissar for In-Service Training and PDM (Project Design and Management) was part of IST. For the most part it was redundant and just re-enforced/organized what I already knew. It was great seeing everyone again and a little overwhelming. This was the most Americans I have been around since being sworn in. By the end of the week, there were over 200 Peace Corps related people at the hotel. Side note: the hotel had a pool and it felt so good getting back in the water! Especially in February (being a former collegiate swimmer, it felt wrong being out of the water for some seven months).

The one thing I really learn in IST was how much I missed my site. It was odd. It was the longest I had been away from Chirpan and by midweek, I just wanted to get back. The remainder of the week, I felt like I was in a funk. That surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to get so attached to my town so quirky. But I guess it makes sense, it’s my oasis in a sea of unfamiliarity.

That evening I was invited to a party the mayor was throwing. The Bulgarian Supreme Court overturned the Stara Zagora’s ruling and declared the re-elected mayor the mayor.  He was throwing a party to celebrate. As soon as I walked through the door, several people greeted me, wanting to know how I was, where I was and to sit with them. It was such a great feeling to be wanted. I sat down and enjoyed a traditional Bulgarian meal (with what seemed like a bottomless glass of rakiya). But I truly felt accepted after the mayor gave a speech thanking everyone. He then walked over to where I was sitting and personally thanked me for my work. I felt a great sense of accomplishment!

The rest of the evening was spent eating, drinking and dancing the horo. I honestly don’t know how Bulgarians can party so long. I got tired and left after a paltry four and half hours. My new goal to achieve by COS (Completion of Service) is to stay at a party until it ends.

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Won’t be around for a bit

10 February, 2008

I’m headed out the door to In-Service Training (or IST) in Hissar. I’m sure it’ll be largely redundant but at the very least it will be good to see my fellow 22s again. I’ll be back on Friday. Дo sкoрo!!