I’ve been a Peace Corps Volunteer living in Chirpan for almost 16 months. Chirpan isn’t a large city, and it’s not a small one either-the perfect size to think you know everything and then get surprised. One such surprise is meeting some awesome people who are involved in the community, but have never heard of them before now.

Video. Yep, that’s his real name. I met him through his wife, a new dancer at my dance troupe. His English is perfect and he’s the Bulgarian representative for a farm supply company. He’s lived in England and spent some time in Texas. He’s often out of town travelling and has invited me to join him on one of his Bulgarian business trips when he’ll be meeting other English speakers. He’s very keen on introducing me to his English speaking son. I look forward to hang out with more people closer to my age!

Mikhal. He’s the son of one of my friends who works at the cashier’s office in the municipality. He recently finished his PhD in biology and as part of his docotrial work, he discovered several new species of insects and fauna. He’s a wonderful guys and speaks some English. I’m meeting with him on a weekly basis to help him with his English.

Petar. OK, this is an interesting story that happened today. I met Mikhal for coffee this morning, but he couldn’t stay long. We were speaking in English and this old man walks passed where we’re sitting and gives a funny look. This tends to happen when people hear a foreign language here. He leaves and Mikhal follows shortly. I turn to my note book and work on my Bulgarian homework. The old dude returns and askes me if the seat in front of me is free. I say yes, expecting him to just take it to another table. Instead, he sits down. “Do you speak English?” he askes in Bulgarian. I tell him I do. “Good! Now, I would like for you to write a letter for me in English”. I was thrown off guard but agreed to help him “Dear friends” he begins. “I am writing to let you know I have living in Bulgaria for two years…” I start to wonder what the hell I’ve gotten myself into “I am able to help, however, since Bulgaria is a recovering Communist country…”. I stop him (and I’m seriously wondering who this letter is for) and repeat everything I’ve written to make sure I’ve gotten it right. He pauses. “Are you a Bulgarian?” “No. I’m American.” “Really!? I thought you were Bulgarian! Your Bulgarian is wonderful!” I can see the giddiness of a young child in his pensioner eyes. He explains that he’s writing a letter of recommendation for one of his friends to get a job as a handiman with a British ex-patriot couple in a nearby village (though I have no idea what the “recovering Communist country” has to do with that!). It seems he has so much to get off his chest, he’s a virtual encyclopedia.

He starts by telling me for is love for America and is grateful for the US presence in Bulgaria (referring to the NATO bases throughout the country. However, most Bulgarians don’t share his appreciation). He continues by telling me that considers himself an “American-Bulgarian” and launches into a short review of American history (mostly related to the Civil War). He can’t stay on one topic and jumps around. He tells me how much he loves Jazz and American movies (classic Hollywood). He was a solider in the Second World War, but loved America despite being at war with them. He would save his money to go the movies and watch his favorite stars (Clark Gable being at the top of the list). When the Soviets invaded (shortly after Bulgaria switched to the Allied–too little too late), they barred American movies and music. The Soviets started propaganda demonizing American and capitalism, which, if I understand correctly, only made him more interested about the US and US culture.

He is stunned, impressed and proud that the US has elected a black man as president. I could see it in his eyes. It’s meeting people like Petar that makes me see how much influence America has on a very personal level.

Petar, by the way, is the local journalist and news photographer. He, like Video, have offered to take me on trips around the Municipality of Chirpan and Bulgaria.

There’s never a dull moment in the Peace Corps!


3 Responses to “Friends”

  1. va Says:

    Yea, Jim, you’ll see many such folks in Bulgaria. Truth is, though, most people are fiercely anti-American. They consider the old days of Communism well… heaven?! It’s a long story either way. I myself consider myself – beyond average – pro-American. If my mother tongue warn’t Bulgarian, I’d emigrate to the US without even thinkin’! Yeah well, what I wanna say is that I find it great that ppe like you are here. It takes a lot of courage and I’d say, Bulgaria will actually prosper exactly because of ppe like you – open-minded, intelligent, ready to face the unknown and just … well.. work it all out!

  2. Natalie Says:

    I just read this entry (late, I know) and your story about Petar just made me so happy. It’s nice to hear of someone in another country appreciating the good in the USA. I know we are not flawless and I don’t expect that foreigners will support all the decisions our leaders make. It’s nice to know that we still have people who stand with us, no matter what steps we might take in the wrong direction, and that they appreciate the good we try to do rather than focus on the bad that can happen as a consequence.
    Thanks for sharing, Jimmy!

  3. john beaton Says:

    Hi Jimmy,I’m a Scot living 7 km south of you in Zetiovo. Are you still in Chirpan? Might be good to meet for dinner sometime.(I have a Bulgarian girlfriend).Like your comments,and know Petr the photographer well. Email me if you fancy it.

    Best regards,John.

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