Archive for the ‘Photos’ Category

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

13 September, 2009

My Peace Corps adventure is coming to a close.

It is hard to believe that two years can fly by so fast, and yet, crawl so slowly. In the past few weeks, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect over what I have done and my decision to join the Peace Corps and how that decision has impacted my life. Clearly, I am no longer the same person- I now consider a country that I previously only had an idea where it was located on a map as my second home.

I came with only one goal in mind (despite being told to have have no goals or expectations)–to make a difference. Have I achieved this goal? In ways I never suspected I could.  Have I changed? Irreversibly. I now see the world in a much different light, I’ve seen how so many can do with so little, what true oppression and hardship look like and most of all, the influence the allure the United States really has on the world. I was so impressed with how closely my Bulgarian friends followed the US Presidential elections. On female teacher told me that Hillary Clinton was her greatest inspiration because she showed what women can achieve.

But before I learned all of this, I had to go through training.  As part of my 11 weeks of training, I lived with a family of Bulgarians. When I first meet this kind family, I could only tell tell them that I loved cucumbers (which isn’t true) and could ask if there was hot water.

My host family, the Kamzholivis

My host family in Rila

Extreme cultural sensitivity on both sides bridged the language barrier and I quickly found myself a part of their family; traveling six to seven hours to spend Christmases and Easter with them.

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner

This acceptance wasn’t limited to a single family who took care of me during my training. There were many many people and families that helped this hapless American in the first frightening months of service (and it should be noted, those months fall on one of the coldest winters in recent memory). Their kindness and generosity were gave me the strength I needed to get through the winter and gave me confidence that I can to it.

My dance team and I

Me with my kindergarten class, Christmas 2008

Me with my kindergarten class, Christmas 2008

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Buzludzha

12 July, 2009

It was one of the coolest places I’ve been to in Bulgaria. Last weekend I went to the old communist party headquarters. The building was located on top of a mountain overlooking the rose valley.  It would be hard to reach it without a car.

A perfect location for all the head hanchos to meet and lead the country, right? In the distance you can (sort of) make out a little “rook” like building. That is the site where the Bulgarian and Russian armies turned back the Ottomans in 1877-78. It was Bulgaria’s Saratoga.

Given this history of the area, it’s too bad the building they built to rule the country looked like a UFO…

I’m not really sure what they were going for there but it’s interesting nonetheless. A flying saucer with a smoke stack.
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Veliko Turnovo

11 July, 2009

I know it’s been a long time since my last post. There hasn’t been too much to write about and we’ve been having frequent rain showers in Chirpan. This has taken out my internet. I went about two weeks with out it.

Last weekend I went to Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria’s second capital. It was stunningly gorgeous and I regret waiting so long to visit. I took several photos and I’ll let them do the talking. The full album is linked below.


Tsarevets, the fortress in VT


Tsarevets by day


Veliko Turnovo from Tsarevets

Veliko Turnavo

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

Last! Day! of School!

29 May, 2009

Yesterday was my last day teaching my kindergarten class. I’ve been teaching them since the beginning of the school year, four days a week for an hour a day. With this much English, my students can now speak very well. In fact, I believe they can speak much better than the average sixth grader! I was talking with my Bulgarian tutor, who is an English teacher, and she was telling me how depressing it is as they can hardly speak at all. This is despite four or more continuous years of studying. I hope my students will keep up with their interest in learning English. If they do, they will be my gift to my tutor…three years from now.

As it was our last day, we were really light on the “teaching part” and focused more on the “let’s have fun part”. I ran through the commands I’ve taught them (stand up, sit down, run, walk, etc), played Red Light, Green Light and a rousing game of Duck Duck Goose (I swear, that game is like crack for Bulgarian six year olds). Then I asked them all to draw me a picture so I could take it home with me. They were really eager to do this. Here are a few of their drawings:

However, once they finished their pictures and discovered that I had a picture of Pluto for them to color, they became much less interested in completing their picture for me!

I had a blast teaching them and I will sorely miss them. I wish them all the best in the first grade.

Last day of school

Football Tournament

17 April, 2009

Last weekend was Chirpan’s Fourth Annual Charity Football (soccer) Tournament. The even had a lower turnout than last year. This is largely due to the fact that it was during spring break and most volunteers and students were on vacation. But it was the only time the stadium was available so, I’ll take what I can get.

We had four teams: a semi-professional team from a village (the Rangers), a group of Turkish medical students from Plovdiv, children from the Center and Peace Corps Volunteers.

The tournament started out with an exhibition match between the Rangers and PCVs with most of the water being carried by the med students.

The final score was 4-1, Rangers. The med students weren’t too happy about the outcome, but in my book, not getting shut out was a victory in it’s self.

The tournament began with the med students taking on the Rangers and the PCVs taking on the kids from the Center. The med students won and and so did the kids. The PCVs were left fighting for third against the rangers and the kids for first.

The end result was: Med students, kids from the Center, Rangers with the PCVs falling dead last.

But winning wasn’t important; it was all about having a good time, raising some money for the Center as well as their profile in town. After the game, we enjoyed a beer on the field and the PCVs taught the Turks how to play American football. Later that day, we went to the Center to take a tour of the facilities.

All in all, a good day; despite the low turn out. Hopefully this will become a sustainable tradition.

From Football Tournament
Football Tournament

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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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

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.

Dental Project

28 January, 2009

One of the projects I’ve been working on for a while has been to teach my kindergarten class proper dental hygiene. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve been shot down by lots of companies both in Bulgaria and international as well as several professional organizations. In the end, I just asked my dentist from the US and picked up a supply of trial-sized kid’s toothpaste and toothbrushes.

Dental hygiene doesn’t seem to be a high priority for many Bulgarians (purely from my observations) as I have seen several people with poor teeth. It’s usually the older generations, but the youth are no exception. Many kids have cavities in my class and there is at least one student whose baby teeth are rotting out. Hopefully, my project will stem the tide.

I partnered with a local dentist to teach this lesson (since my dental vocab is pretty limited).  We went over healthy foods, dental care and how often you should see a dentist. I covered more of the “how to” part of the lesson. I told them that it’s best to brush twice a day and for at least three minutes (play a song and brush for the length of it. Just don’t pick the Бяла Роза! (it’s like, 45 minutes long!))

Here’s to hoping they make a habit out of it!