Archive for the ‘Bulgarian traditions’ Category

Kukeri 2009

19 March, 2009

This is how you ward of the demons (from the beginning of the month). These photos were taken in Shiroka Laka. I was there last year.

From Kukeri 2009

Kukeri 2009


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:



19 November, 2008

My biggest concern when I first joined the Peace Corps was learning another language. It was a reasonable fear seeing that I took six years of Spanish and still had trouble navigating a menu in a Mexican restaurant. Bulgarian is much (much) tougher than Spanish. For starters, it’s a different alphabet. A “P” in English and Spanish is actually an “R” in Bulgarian. And then you’ve got dudes like this: “Ю”. Having 16 months under my belt makes the Cyrillic alphabet a cinch. It’s actually much easier than the Latin alphabet-everything is straight up phonetic. “You spell it with a “P”, as in “Psychology”. That joke doesn’t work in Bulgarian.

Can I speak, read and write Bulgarian? Absolutly. However, I only write it for my tutor and I rarely read it extensively. But speaking, yet. My vocabulary isn’t where I’d like it to be but my pronouciation and grammar has lead people to confuse me for a Bulgarian. Though they haven’t told me if it’s a slow Bulgarian who says things like “something you put high in a room to make light” (нещо която слагиш нагори в стая да прави светлина) or “a light bulb” (електрическа крушка). Yea, I get lots of weird looks. But not as often as I once did.

Can I communicate? Yes I can. Am I confident when communicating? Ususally. I think that’s the key to learning a new language, powering through your obvious mistakes to get your point across. And not only do that, but do it with a smile. Can I understand what’s going on around me? Yes. Usually if it’s on a topic I don’t have much vocabulary, it takes more energy. But I can usually form an opinion on the subject and convey it.

So where do I stand on fluency? I, by no means, can speak like a native. I can’t put up a newspaper and understand all the front page stories. Or listen to the radio and understand everything. I’m also horrible at Bulgarian riddles (why some people aske them, I have no idea). However, I’m going to define it as “being able to overhear things and understand what people are talking about when you don’t want to”. Listening to people talk about the Roma, people with dark skin and sometimes the President-Elect all fall into this category. It’s also getting harder to fake ignorance on the language. It comes with the territory, I guess. I’ll take that any day to prove my junior high Spanish teacher wrong. 🙂

A year in

24 October, 2008

I’m a bit late with this. Actually, I’m pretty late. On the 18th of October last year, I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and moved to Chirpan, Bulgaria.

Time has flown by so fast. I can’t believe that I now have less than a year in my service. As I look back on the last year, I can see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown. Looking forward, I see how far I have to go and how much I will still change. As far as changes go, I’ve noticed that I am more comfortable with ambiguity, carry myself more confidently and look at the world in a far more “human” perspective. A more human perspective? you say. Well, living and working in the poorest country in Europe where the hope that a single person can make a difference is like a candle in the rain, you see who people truly are, not masked by “stuff”. This isn’t to say that there aren’t materialistic people, just a lot less.

What I’ve learned (in easy to read list form):

  • Being poor is only an economic condition. Having had the incredible fortune of growing up in middle class America (an upbringing I appreciate more and more every day), I’ve had very little daily contact with people struggling to survive. In my experiences here, these seem to be the happiest and most content people I’ve come across.

More after the jump–


The First Day of School and Classes

7 October, 2008

The 15th of September was the nation-wide first day of school. It was a cold and wet day, but that didn’t stop the festivities. I would have photos of these events BUT, my batteries were dead. I, of course, found this out as soon as I pulled my camera out. You’ll just have to rely on my vivid words. I said before, the weather was foreshadowing for the new students. All the parents and students huddled around the front door. A Bulgarian-Orthodox priest chanted hymns from the Bible and sprayed water on the already damp congregation. Some school children put on a play about a new girl not wanting to leave her mom and start school for the first time. After a visit from a fairy, she naturally changes her mind. The children assured that they will have great time and the director gave speech about the upcoming new year. She introduced the new teachers since there has been some turnover as well as gave me a shout out. I didn’t catch everything she said, but I’m sure she pleaded the parents of the kindergarteners not to beat up on the hapless American and his bumbling Bulgarian.

The first day of school is different in Bulgaria, namely, no school work gets done. The students go to their class and the teachers tell them what they need (books, materials, etc) and their expectations. It’s pretty much every grade-schooler’s dream: a party at school. AND a half day. I headed to the teachers lounge with the bigwigs that showed up for the day. This sounds like the set up for a joke, but it actually happened: “A Bulgarian-Orthodox priest, vice-mayor, school superintendent, school director, a Peace Corps Volunteer and a dude that looks like Richard Gere walk into a teacher’s lounge…” Long story short, I drank a few glasses of whiskey with these guys as they ate my chocolate chip cookies. It was one of those surreal Peace Corps moments. Oh, and the priest called my cookies “sweet balls”. I tried not to laugh. Hard.


Chirpan’s Day

14 September, 2008

Last Saturday was Unification Day, the day that modern Bulgaria became unified after being split up after their freedom from 500 years of Ottoman rule. Several towns, inculding Chirpan, have their city’s celebration. If I understand correctly, every village and city have a town celebration. If the city is named after a saint or have some sort of relation to saint, the celebration usually falls on the saint’s feast day. (Rila, for example, has their “sabor”, as it’s called in Bulgarian, on the feast day of St. Ivan of Rila).

I didn’t attend the feastival since if you’ve been to one sabor, you’ve pretty much been to them all. Now it looks like I’m not integrating BUT Chirpan had a similar celebration on May Day. Not only did I attend, I danced in a concert. So there.

There was a ceremony by the Unification Day statue intown where the mayor and representatives of the city’s political parties and community leaders placed wreaths.

While I was there, one of my friends found me and invited me back to his house. He was there as part of Bulgaria’s Youth Commandos. From what I understand, the Youth Commandos are like the ROTC, but with out the future military obligation. However, I think it’s more like the Boy Scouts but with much less community service and a lot more ammunition. I went back to his house where he wanted to practice for the following day’s military games. He told me that he was going to compete in the target shooting

and AK 47 loading. Yep, you read that. One of the events is how fast teenagers can load 20 rounds into an AK 47 magazine.

I never would have imagined that I would have learned how to properly load an assault rifle in the Peace Corps! (Note to PC Administration: They were dummy rounds and as per PC policy, I did not fire any firearms).

The following day, I biked out to the field where this would be taking place. I found out that everyone would be taking part in all the events. The other events were the obstacle course (tire run, tunnel and rope climb), ninja star throwing and grenade toss. The day’s events were started with some military type people giving a hokey (and testosterone filled) demonstration on how to take out a “terrorist”.

It was pretty over blown with three guys dressed in sniper gilly suits tackling the dude and then loading him into a hatchback and speeding away. However, it impressed all the youths.

The events started and were really really slow. I lasted about three hours and each team had only completed two of the events. I left early. However what really drove me home was the ridiculousness of it all. I mean, you have about 30 teenage boys all trying to out man each other being overseen by middle age men who were trying to relive their glory days of conscripted military service. Oh, and all the men there had a handgun tucked into their pants. I have no idea if they were real, but it was all pretty exaggerated. It was pretty much one giant pissing contest. There were girls as part of the youth commando teams but it looked like they weren’t allowed to compete, just allowed to hold up the placard representing their team and spending the enter afternoon looking disinterested. I don’t think I missed much. However, it was good to get my face out there and seeing some of the teenage boys that I’ve had a passing interaction with as well as seeing some of the people from the municipality again.

Awesome site mate’s wedding!

8 July, 2008

My awesome site mate, who will be heading back to the US next week, got married last weekend. After the day camp in Plovdiv, I headed down to the village that she served in before Chirpan, called Slashten, with several other PCVs. The trip took us through the beautiful Rhodpie mountains to the city of Gotse Delchiv. There we met my site mate and her fiance. There, we went to a cafe to recharge from out five hour trip through the mountains. Our group split up and we took two taxis down further South to Slashten. We were stopped at the internal Bulgarian border since you can see into Greece from Slashten.


Karlovo Rose Festival

3 June, 2008

Last weekend I went to the Karlovo Rose Festival and had a blast. Bulgaria is the world’s largest supplier of rose oil and related products. How much they supply varies from survey to survey. I’ve read everything from half to 75%!

The most interesting part about the weekend was non-rose fest related. It took place at a party that we happened to be invited to because we were walking past the restaurant. The background: I met up with another PCV in Plovdiv on the way to Karlovo and met up with one of the PCVs who lives there. It was the three of us for the whole weekend. We got dinner and then started to walk back to her apartment. As we were walking through the center, a drunk man came stumbling out. The Karlovo PCV has been working with him on a project. He recognized her and invited us into the party. As we made our way to the back of the restaurant, he pointed us out to everyone “Look! Here are Americans!”. As that didn’t make us stick out enough, it was a very fancy event. All of us were where jeans; everyone else in suits and dresses, sitting on chairs covered in silk. It was kinda embarrassing.



28 May, 2008

On Saturday, my former counterpart (she left the office to work at a bank) got married to her long time boyfriend. Under Communism, the central government tried to replace the role of the church. In attempts to do this, wedding ceremonies take place at the municipal building. As far as I know, the ceremony its self is really short (signing papers) but the party afterwards is the big deal. Unfortunately, I wasnt’ invited to the wedding since she and groom have large extended families and there wasn’t enough room. However, I went to the municipality to congratulate  her and the groom and to wish them the best of luck.

Driving up to the municipality

My co-workers with my former counterpart

Wedding procession into the municipality

I wish her and her husband the best of luck!

For more info on Bulgarian weddings, here is a good site. My sitemate is getting married next month and I’ll be posting a detailed entry with lots of photos.

Cyrillic Alphabet Day

28 May, 2008

Last Saturday was the Cyrillic Alphabet Day, the day to celebrate the alphabet developed by brothers Saints Cyrill and Methodius. The street infront of the municipality was blocked off and in front of the giant Soviet statue in town students from all over the city preformed.

The event lasted about two hours or so and it involved choreographed dancing, singing, marching and other preformances. This is probably one of the biggest holidays in Bulgaria, after St. George’s Day.

The introduction of the Cyrillic alphabet was of enormous importance. More that any other development it prevent the absorption of the Bulgarians by the Greeks to their south or the Franks to their west. It enable the Bulgarians to create their own literature. …The new alphabet also faciliatated the production of important secular texts such as legal code, Zakon Sudnii Liudim (Закон Судий Лиудим); and without an alphabet it is difficult to imagine how the Bulgarian state could have carried out administration in the Slavo-Bulgarian language. Above all, however, the new alphabet enabled the Bulgarian church to use Slavo-Bulgarian as the language of the liturgy, and had it not been able to do this it would have been impossible for the Bulgarian church to escape total Greek domination. –A Concise History of Bulgaria

As you can see, the Cyrillic alphabet had a huge impact on Bulgaria and its course in history. Without Cyrillic, Bulgarian culture would have been desemated during the “Turkish Yoke” that lasted 500 years. Bulgarian traditions, culture and language survived in the monasteries throughout the country and made a revival in the 19th century. Bulgarians realize this and they rightfully set aside a day every year to celebrate their language, and by extension, their 500 year survival during the Ottoman Empire.

[Ottoman] domination was without a doubt at times extrememly repressive but the Bulgarian nation, the Bulagrian  church, and the Bulgarian language survived. When the Ottomans departed from Bulgaria the Bulgarians still spoke Bulgarian and Bulgarian manufacturing has flourished as a supplier to the Ottoman army; when British rule ended in southern Ireland the Irish language was almost dead and Irish industry had been stifled to prevent competition with British manufacturers.–A Conciese History of Bulgaria