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Published: July 11th 2008
Staging took place in Panichishte, a beautiful place at the base of the Rila mountains.
It's been three months since I've arrived in Bulgaria. Now, in the comfort of my apartment overlooking the Black Sea and the ever so glorious Helios Bay, I write about the journey I have traveled up until this point. I am coming to grips with the Cyrillic tongue faster than I ever imagined, sometimes finding Bulgarian at the tip of my tongue before even breeding an English thought. Such is novel to me as it has been awhile since I have been forced to twinkle my synapses. There is much to say about this country. Ridden with mountains that reach around 3,000 km and the sea whose waves cleanse the soul, the country is beautiful to say the least. Being a girl from New York City, embracing the nature around me has taken a new facet of my life. I dare not say that I stop to smell the roses or pick the flowers in the fields, but anyone observing my walking pace would be shocked to discover that it is me. There is a phrase here in Bulgaria - Има Време. There is time. It says much about the way people think and the rigors of life that prevail.
A walk into the woods
After a long day of sessions, a walk into the woods ensued.
What has perhaps been most shocking so far is the outright hospitality that strangers are willing to extend to me. You will never starve if you befriend your neighbors and you will never get lost if you look helpless in front of a baba (a grandmother). "Going na gosti" is a common practice, and it literally translates as going to guests. It is not anything special but is a direct reflection of the importance of hospitality in this culture and usually lasts for many hours; the fact that such a phrase is used to frequently signifies the importance of such a ritual. These casual gatherings of friends almost always involve the eating of Кюфтета and the drinking of Ракия, a rather potent and deadly drink made from essentially any fruit. Almost all families make it at home as gardens adorn each household here. The fruits and vegetables furthermore are delectable - it is probably the first time I am tasting such produce in their natural states, without the nutritional supplements, a.k.a. pesticides.
The country of Bulgaria is rich on traditions, and depending who you ask, has a 1500 year long history of oppression and suffering by the Turks and
Where are we?
The Peace Corps Volunteers gather around embracin the beauty.
more recently was a Soviet bloc under the reign of Communism. This largely accounts for the rather cynical approach to life and dark humor found among its people. The concept of corruption is secondhand and generally accepted by Bulgarians as is the disparity in wealth. As with any country, inflation is prevalent but salaries remain constant. My experience these last few months is limited, I must qualify. I have lived in a small town of around 800 in southwestern Bulgaria and will be home to a town of around 2,000 for the next two years. Residents here travel elsewhere to find jobs during the fall and winter seasons because opportunities are limited. Many locate to nearby countries such as Turkey and Greece in hopes of providing for their families. Pension is 100 leva a month so though retired, many continue to work. Despite this however, gatherings almost always involve singing and dancing - the traditional dance is called the horo and is a communal ritual in which young and old join hands alike and rejoice in their steps. There is a genre of music called chalga, or pop-folk, whose catchy tunes are generally disliked by the older generation, but the
long blond-haired singers belt out tunes much to my liking.
The animals here inhabit the streets and are rarely found indoors. Dogs, cats, rabbits, hens, along with goats and donkeys parade the dirt roads looking for food and shelter on a hot day. The idea of domesticating animals is a foreign concept and thus petting such creatures usually results in the infestation of fleas, which I will tell you, is not a fun experience. Bio-kill however seems to do the trick.
Holidays in Bulgaria vary in their importance and birthdays are minor celebrations compared to name days, during which anyone who knows anyone with a certain name is obliged to visit and bring gifts. The individual with the name is rather busy, cooking and providing for his or her guests. A good host must always be stocked with food and drinks; frequent trips to the store are expected. On birthdays, the special individual is to treat friends and family, sometimes resulting in a rather large dent in the wallet. One word you will hear commonly in Bulgaria is chestit or some variation thereof; chestit praznik is exchanged on a holiday, chestit "___" is said in response to a
new purchase and "chestito," depending on who's saying it can be "great" or imagine a rather sarcastic tone - the irony of it all.
Since arriving in Bulgaria, I find it rather comforting that an idea of good time need not be a $100 dinner or a night out on the town, but involves simply a gathering of friends of food and drinks at someone's house. In a country where entertainment monopolies are absent and tight pursestrings serve as constant reminders of the bare necessities, people can rejoice through good natured conversation and 5 minutes can easily turn into 5 hours. Bulgarians are smart (celebrities include the inventor of the computer as well as the world's best chess player for a long time) and intellectual conversations frequently ensue after a few "nazdraves," what people here say when clinking glasses (literally translates for "to health"). There is much for me yet to learn about the culture and language, but I can say that I am off to a good start.
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