Archive for the ‘Amusing Story’ Category

Pics

30 May, 2009

Here are a few pictures Trevor posted on Facebook. I’ll post more once I take some.


Walking down the main street in the Roma Mahala (Gypsy slum) with (lt-rt) Trevor, Mustafa and me.


(lt-rt) Mustafa, Toby (Trevor’s brother), Tommy. Mustafa and Tommy are fantastic football players and eager students


My class at the church in the mahala.


Trevor and I at the entrance of the mahala

That’s it for pictures I’m going to steal. I’ll post more late

Hitchhiking

13 April, 2009

In response to a request, I am posting a crazy story.

Though I would have never hitchhiked in the US, I’ve done it several times in Bulgaria. It is a way a life for several Bulgarians who live in remote places with little regular, if any, transportation. In fact, the Lonely Planet guide book waives it’s universal rule against hitchhiking to make an exception for Bulgaria! So, as the the title of the post and the introduction suggest, this is an amusing story about hitchhiking.

I was going to Plovdiv, the second largest city about an hour west of Chirpan. I was watching for a bus at the bus stop. It is common practice in Bulgaria for people to come up and offer a ride to people waiting to earn some extra cash for driving to their destination. They usually charge the average bus ticket price. (so…I was a little misleading with the title. I didn’t actually search for a car, it just fell into my lap).

So I’m waiting with a bunch of other people: a few older women with what appears to be a nation-wide edict top have either maroon or electric blue dyed hair, and a super drunk dude wearing camo with a a giant bag of empty yogurt containers. Under normal circumstances, (ie, my life before Peace Corps) this would be an unusual collection of people. However, this is Bulgaria. You become somewhat immune to these situations. Anywho, the dude, Mishu (short for Dimitar), offered me a ride. I accepted since it would get me to Plovdiv faster than the bus.

I got into the front seat of the car and the drunk dude got into the car with me. Mishu started to ask me questions, mistaking me for a Bulgarian at first. After it became evident that I was a foreigner, we moved onto my work here and the Bulgarian language. The drunk dude, grabbed that back of my seat to pull himself closer to me. He spoke into my left ear: “Boy…where were you 7 o’clock last night?” “What?” “7 o’clock. Last night. Where were you?” “I was at the Chitalishte (cultural center). Mishu looks at me with a smile and puts his thumb to his mouth like a bottle; the universal gesture for drunk. The dude seats back into his seat.

A short while latter, we reach his village. He struggles to get out of the car. He gets out and reaches back in for his giant bag of used yogurt cups. Mishu and I roll down the windows to get rid of the alcohlic stench. We continue to talk about my work and languages. He starts to speak to me in French. I don’t know a single sentence in French but for some reason, he is convinced I do. We then reach the invevitable topic of the Bulgarian economy. I’ve heard this same woeful story several times about the lack of work, the stagnet wages and the inflating costs. It turns out that Mishu is a barber and offered to give me a hair cut the next time I need one. I already have a hairdresser and I like her a lot so I politely declined. He started to talk about his son, who is a body guard. Now that looks intense but in English, that translates two ways: body guard and security guard. He then offers for me to hire his son as my personal body guard. Why I would need such a service is beyond me, though I’m sure I’d be the only Peace Corps Volunteer in the world with one! I, once again, decline his offer. At this point, we arrive in Plovdiv. I pay him and thank him for the lift. (I have since gotten a ride with him again).

To recap: I was offered a ride with a barber who spoke to me in French and offered me a haircut and his son for personal protect with a drunk vet in the back seat with a trash bag full of yogurt containers who asked me about my whereabouts the night before.

….just another day as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria…

An Atypical Day at Class

26 March, 2009

It started out as any normal day at class. As soon as I walked through the door, I got bombarded with my kids. Aye! Mister! What iz dis? (point to a truck. I swear, my kids speak better English than the 4th grade!) And then it got weird.

There were two teachers talking to each other about something serious. As one of the teachers left, the teacher that sits in with me filled me in with the details. One of my students stole some important documents and they were trying to figure out who. They asked the person who stole the documents to step forward. Not surprisingly, they didn’t. They asked anyone if they had any information. All we got were shrugging shoulders and “ne znam” (I don’t know). And then they called the police. Whoa, wait what?! Yep. They called the police. On seven six year olds. And, in typical Bulgarian fashion, they didn’t call 166. They called a family member. Not that this is a bad thing; it’s very typical. Most work gets done through friendships and family member–back channels. Since I’m friends with one of the mayor’s drivers, I occasionally get a lift around town, one of the teacher’s husbands is the postmaster and I no longer have to pay a fee for packages. I’m sure this is nothing new for any Peace Corps Volunteer integrated into their community. (also, it’s not like I just take, I do give back to these kind people).

Any way, back to the story. The kids, understandably, were quite concerned that the teacher had called the cops on them and were desperate to prove their innocence. They offered to have their bags and pockets searched. They looked under the cubbyholes, desks tables and chairs and implored each other to give up the important documents. Nothing was working. The teacher took one of my favorite kids (and the biggest trouble maker (you can’t really blame him, he’s six and has younger twin brothers a year old at home)) out of the classroom for further questioning. The lunch lady stood by the window, “I just saw a police car drive by…” I was starting to think that this was just a ploy to get the kids to turn over the documents.

With all the drama going on, I really didn’t have a good opportunity to actually teach. It was snack time and I had to fill out the teacher’s log of the lesson I didn’t teach. With the still mystery unsolved, the teacher pulled the massive book off the self (the book like like, 1 foot by 3 feet) and opened it up to the correct day. And that’s where the important documents were. None of the students had stolen them, they were just misplaced by one of the teachers. The kids, understandably were jubilant. Case solved!

Oh, and they were doctor’s notes excusing two students.

A question gone awary

20 March, 2009

Yesterday I had a meeting with the man I’m organizing the football tournament as well as another project. I wanted to know how widespread Chirpan’s TV coverage is. He called the TV station and I scribbled some thoughts/other questions to ask as he spoke with them. “I’m here with my American friend. He’s very nice and speaks Bulgarian very well…” I cracked a smile as I jotted some notes and thought to myself “I think he’s stretching the true a bit”. He put the receiver down, “Jimmy, the coverage is for the city, the surrounding villages and some nearby cities in the region. And you have an interview in 30 minutes.” “Whoa, wait, what!?” “They’ll be coming to your office. This is a good opportunity to talk about the tournament!”

The result is this:

The sound isn’t too good since I recorded it with my camera off my tv. Note the long windedness of my answers. This is a trick I learned early one: if you talk for a long time, you may answer a question that the journalist wants to ask and thus saves you from the embarrassment of not understanding a question. My fifth week in country I was interviewed on TV and it was a horribly long expirience.  Live and learn.

Turkey

20 March, 2009

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go on vacation to Istanbul, Turkey. Travelling to Turkey seems to be a rite of passage amongst Bulgarian Peace Corps Volunteers; every volunteer I know has gone. I and another volunteer, left from Plovdiv on a midnight bus after going to a very nice Turkish restaurant.

The bus was more or less empty and we hit the road southeast to Turkey. We reached the border around 03:30. As Americans, we had to purchase a 90 day, multiple entry visa for 20 USD. We crossed the border and then had our bags searched (in the most liberal sense).

Four hours later, we woke up at the MASSIVE bus station. Seriously, this bus station is the size of like, two professional football stadiums. According to wikitravel.org, you can get anywhere within 1,000 miles of Istanbul.

We then set out to explore the city. A few things came as a surprise to me as I did research: 1) Istanbul is the world’s fourth largest city with over 11 MILLION people. Pretty crazy. 2) It wasn’t officially called “Istanbul” until Attaturk ingloriously renamed the city when organizing the postal system in 1930. That fact made me feel kinda stupid since I thought it was renamed during the middle ages. And 3) “Istanbul” is Turkish for “the city”, which if you just said that, everyone way back when knew what city you were talking about as Istanbul was the wealthiest and most populous city back in the day (I’m being vague since I don’t know the time frame. This is just want i remember from a tour book in the hostel).
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Friends

12 February, 2009

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. (more…)

What I’m Reading

30 January, 2009

Novinar, via the Embassy Daily Press Brief:

The top story on front page of the newspaper as well as in other newspapers today is the news that Bulgaria will replenish its gene pool with Danish sperm. The sperm from the EU is of higher quality, says a sub headline to the story. Yesterday at the session of the Parliamentary Commission on Health, Atanas Shterev said that for some years now “Danish babies” are being born in Bulgaria. The reason for this import is in the high requirements to the donors, which decreases the quantity in the sperm banks in Bulgaria. This forces the hospitals to enter into contracts with foreign companies. Pg. 1

Not sure what I should say, so I’m not going to say anything at all.

Border Tensions

28 January, 2009

This doesn’t directly impact me or my work here, but it’s been in the news quite a bit recently. Greek farmers have a beef with Bulgaria, saying they have been flooding the Greek market with cheaper commodities and it’s ruining several farmers. In response, several rouge Greek farmers have set up blockade on the main road to Bulgaria (as well as Macedonia and Turkey) and this has been going on for nine days!

Greek roadblocks anger Bulgaria

Picture (Device Independent Bitmap)

Lorry drivers fear their cargoes will spoil while they wait at the border

Bulgaria has asked the European Commission to intervene because a border blockade by Greek farmers is preventing goods getting through.

In a letter to the commission, Bulgaria said its hauliers were incurring heavy losses and it demanded that Greece open a transport corridor.

The farmers want help from the Greek government as their industry has been hit by low food prices and bad weather.

They say an aid offer worth 500m euros (£468m; $650m) does not go far enough.

The farmers are now into their ninth day of protests, which have also shut border crossings to Turkey and Macedonia.

Bulgaria’s main road transport association, Basat, says it will sue the Greek state for compensation. It estimated that by Saturday the Greek protest had caused Bulgaria losses of nearly 10m euros, not counting losses from non-fulfilment of contracts.

These blockades can also make for some humorous stories, such as:

Greek Farmers Attempt to Invade Bulgaria in Protest, Border Blockaded

Click to enlarge the photo
Greek farmers tried to storm the Bulgarian border after midnight on Thursday. Photo by actualno.com

About 100 Greek farmers with tractors invaded Bulgaria’s territory briefly at about 1 am Thursday close to the Kulata Border Crossing Point, the BGNES news agency reported.

Many of the Greek farmers are reported to have been drunk. Their group was accompanied by teams from three Greek TV channels.

The farmers advanced with 15 tractors through the bridge on the Bistritsa River close to Kulata. They were met immediately by the Bulgarian border police, and told them they wanted to enter into Bulgaria as part of their ongoing protests against falling commodity prices.

So yea, my country got invaded by drunk farmers (not to belittle the plight of the Greeks, but it is amusing). Thanfully, we were able to repel them.

Christmastime!

24 December, 2008

This is my second Christmas (Коледа) in Bulgaria (my first is here). This Christmas season has largely snuck up on me since I’m well adjusted to life in Bulgaria and I was in the US for Thanksgiving. It’s very hard to believe that it’s Christmas Eve already! Since time has flown by so quickly, I’ve had a hard time planning lessons for my kindergarten English class. For example, I chose several Christmas related words I wanted to teach them and then play Bingo (a class favorite). I though I would start teaching them last Thursday. However, my class got a visit from this dude:

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(More) Infrastructure Problems

17 December, 2008

I have had several infrastructure problems in the past, a year later should be no different. The past week, I’ve been confronted with a tsunami of problems. Thankfully, they have all be resolved now.

The city has been repairing the water pipes. To do this, they periodically have to shut down the water to parts of the city. They, of course, don’t notify the part of the city affected. Thus, I wake up every so often without water for 24+ hours. Not really they way you want to start your day.

Last week, I also lost power (shortly after getting my water back, getting more bang for my buck). I woke up to the sound of my heater shutting off. I thought that it had overheated and a safety mechanism had kicked in. Not so. Thinking it was like my water problem (and would return shortly), I toughed it out. The next day, I was still without power. I let my colleagues know. It turns out that the woman in the municipality had left two weeks prior and had been replaced with a new lady…who forgot to pay my power bill. My colleague apologized profusely (I kept saying it was no problem), my power was back by the time I returned home.

Another problem was my kitchen sink. I had used my washing machine and the faucet in the sink started to leak. I tried turning the knobs to shut the water off. Nothing worked. I wound up having to shut the water off to my entire apartment. This problem mysteriously solved itself.

As troublesome as these problems have been, none of them, separately or together, match my fridge.

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