September 28, 2006

WordPress sucks.



September 28, 2006

I have requested people around the world to send my students postcards, first so they can practice their English, second so they can see cities outside of Bulgaria.  The project has kind of taken on a life of its own, so I’m moving Postcard Project info here.

Update for yesterday: I received cards from Las Vegas, Florida, New York State, Manchester, and Scotland.  Excellent haul.

September 9, 2006

My friend Lisa recently asked if it’s true that the Jewish community in Bulgaria was not turned over to the Nazis during World War II. This is a true story. Bulgaria was, by the way, a Nazi ally. Mischa Glenny, in his book The Balkans states that this is not entirely due to altruism and the king of Bulgaria only stopped the deportation trains because he had political reasons to (and it should be noted that Jews living in Bulgarian-occupied territory were deported), but not a single Bulgarian Jew was deported during the Second World War. This is due to a few factors:

First, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church simply refused to go along with the deportation orders. The higher ups in the Church badgered leading politicians into resisting the Nazis. At one point, the head Church dude in Plovdiv said that if the trains left the city, he’d lay down on the tracks.

Second, Bulgarian Jews wouldn’t comply with Nazi-ordered humiliations. They wouldn’t wear the yellow star, and those few that did were, according to Glenny, would be ostentatiously greeted by non-Jews, to counteract the intended ostracizing effects of the patch.

Third, as indicated already, there wasn’t really any widespread anti-Semitism in Bulgaria. Bulgarian Jews were considered Bulgarians, and people were furious that the Germans would try to abscond with their citizens. There’s a book on this subject called Beyond Hitler’s Grasp, but I haven’t read it so I don’t really know if it’s any good.

Anyway, the Jewish community in Bulgaria is pretty small today, having largely relocated to Israel, but there are still operating synagogues in Plovdiv, Vidin, and Sofia. Bulgarian Jews are Sephardim, incidentally, the descendents of refugees from the Spanish expulsion of 1492. I’ve heard that they speak a mishmash language of Spanish, Hebrew, and Bulgarian. Yikes! I’m going to Plovdiv for Rosh Hashana so maybe I’ll have more information after that.

Anyway, I haven’t updated much lately. It’s certainly not because I’ve been so busy…in fact, it’s probably the opposite. I just don’t have anything to report! I’ve been teaching English three hours a week, to the young kids. Bulgaria is beginning to feel less alien every day. Working on my language skills. I adopted a nutso cat, named Max. School starts on September 15.


August 22, 2006

Major thanks to my friend Jeff for hosting these on his Flickr account. 

Welcome to Pavel Banya!  We hope you enjoy your stay.

A Mercedes passes a horse-drawn cart.  Welcome to Bulgaria!

The sunflower field outside of town.  Those are the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina) in the background.

Next time…maybe some actual pictures of PB!

Alive! Hating WordPress!

August 14, 2006

Hi! I’ll write more when the software starts behaving nicely. (I wrote this WHOLE LONG POST and it all disappeared. Argh!)

Cancel the emergency cheese shipment!

July 25, 2006

I went to Plovdiv last week.  Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria, and it’s about an hour and a half from Pavel Banya by bus.  It is nice.  Almost makes me jealous of the volunteers there, but I really do like my little town.  Anyway, you know what you can get in Plovdiv?

1. Peanut butter.  I found it in a health food store!!!

2. Tofu.  Didn’t buy any, though, as it’s rather a schlep, and it was very hot.

3. CHEESE.  cheesecheesecheese!  I found a fancy meat and cheese shop in the city center.  They had brie and cheddar and gouda and…everything!  Yes, it was too hot to carry around cheese for a few hours, but you know that when it cools down, I will be back.  Oh yes, cheese, you will be mine.

I also went to BILLA, the closest approximation of an American supermarket in Bulgaria, where I bought rice cakes from Hungary, and they are a nice treat with my peanut butter.

So, things are pretty good.


July 17, 2006

I like cheese.

A lot.

Especially nice sharp cheddar, and brie.  Oh, and this white cheddar with cranberries purchased at the CHEESE CASTLE of Kenosha, Wisconsin, can’t go wrong with that stuff.  I must stop here, before I start crying.

There are two kinds of cheese available in Bulgaria.  TWO.  Cirene and kashkaval.  Cirene is pretty much identical to feta, a little sharper and not quite as crumbly.  (You can grate it, and Bulgarians are very fond indeed of grating it on top of everything.)  Kashkaval is a mild yellow cheese.  I pretty much have no use for it at all.  I liked cirene at first, but am already pretty much sick of it.

So, what I’m saying here is…if you can figure out a way, um…send me cheese.


I’m getting desperate.

(Okay, this entry is in jest….mostly.  Okay, it’s totally serious.  Well, not really.


No, it’s not.  But I do miss good cheese.)

P.S. Send me cheese.

Ethnic Bulgaria.

July 7, 2006

Volunteers do not end up in their sites by accidents.  Peace Corps asks us what kind of place we want to live, and then they try to match us as best they can to the available sites who have requested a volunteer.  My requests were: I wanted my own classroom (it’s common for teachers to move from class to class, while the students remain in the room; I wanted my own room so I could decorate it), I wanted a town bigger than 2000 people, and I wanted to live someplace multiethnic. Bulgaria does not have a homogenous population.  Most people consider themselves to be “ethnic Bulgarian”, whatever that means.  (Since the Bulgarian population is a mixture of the original Slavic inhabitants and Turkish invaders from Western China, thousands of years ago, people who claim to be ethnic Bulgarian can be blonde or dark or anything in between.)  The two largest minority groups are the Turkish and the Roma.  The Turkish are Bulgarian citizens, but would never call themselves Bulgarian – they’re Turkish. They’re mostly Muslims.  The Roma sometimes call themselves Turkish as well, and are either Muslim or Christian.  There are no strict lines with ethnicity and religion; there are Pomacks (ethnic Bulgarian Muslims), too.  I’m still working on getting a handle on all of this.  I can’t tell who’s Turkish and who’s Bulgarian, but the Roma are pretty easily distinguishable – they’re very obviously of Indian origin. In Boboshevo, almost everyone is ethnic Bulgarian and Christian.  There are, I think, two Roma kids in the school.  But Pavel Banya is a more diverse place and I’m a little confused. I see a lot of older women wearing what appear to be headcarves.  They don’t look like the headscarves I was used to seeing in Chicago.  Rather, they just look like kerchiefs, tied under their necks.  If I had never been anywhere else in Bulgaria, I’d think it was a Bulgarian thing, but because I never saw anyone wearing these in Boboshevo, I wonder if the women are Muslims.  I know there are Turkish villages around Pavel Banya, but I don’t know if these women are Turkish or not.  They could be Pomacks. Now, the Roma.  I’ve heard the plight of the Roma compared to African Americans in the US, but in my opinion, this is a faulty analogy – the Roma are in a <I>much</I> worse situation.  It is perfectly socially acceptable to openly discriminate against them.  (One of my classmates told me this anecdote: when he visited his site for the first time, his counterpart told him that there was another volunteer in their town, working with Roma kids.  She – the counterpart – then said “If you help her, I won’t be your friend.”)  There are a number of superstitions, like, “If you sing at the table, you’ll marry a gypsy”.  Nice!  In theory, the schools are integrated, but in practice, there are still Roma schools and Bulgarian schools.  Even in more integrated schools, Roma kids often don’t have textbooks or class materials.  I have been informed by volunteers who work with the Roma that their culture doesn’t value education very highly (they value having a good time in the present, and don’t worry about long term planning), and most girls drop out of school at 8th grade or so, to get married. Needless to say, there are very few images – positive or not – of the Roma in the Bulgarian media.  With one exception: <A HREF=””>Azic!</A>  Azic probably requires his very own entry.  Next time.

At site.

July 5, 2006

I made it to Pavel Banya on Friday.  I am really pleased with my site – it’s small, but so cute and busy.

When I was here in May, my apartment was so not ready to be lived in.  It didn’t have running water, for heaven’s sake.  Now, the bathroom works.

The kitchen?  Not so much.  No fridge (when I mentioned how much I’d like a fridge to my counterpart, she described this as being “a big problem”.  Great.), my oven is nowhere near an outlet, and I can’t move it myself, AND there’s no running water in the sink.

So I’ve been eating out every day.  Getting really sick of it.  I like Bulgarian food just fine, but…I want to eat something ELSE.  My OWN food, something with not so much oil.  But anyway, these are just temporary problems, because if they don’t come up with all of these appliances, the Peace Corps will move me to another apartment.

BUT, a washing machine is not a Peace Corps requirement.  Now, if you know me well, you will know that I actually quite enjoy doing laundry.  I like folding clothes.  It’s sort of meditative.  Plus, as a side benefit, you get clean clothes!  Without the washing machine, I am washing my clothes by hand, which, gotta say, not a fan.

But today I went to Kazanluk (the nearby actual city) and bought myself a little boombox.  If I gotta wash my socks by hand, at least I can rock out while I’m doing it.

Communist architechture.

June 29, 2006

Communist architechture has something of a bad reputation. And you know why?

Because it SUCKS.

Right now I am in Dupnitsa. Dupnitsa is in such a pretty location. There are mountains all around the town, and some even still have some snow, even though it’s painfully hot down here. It’s so jarring to look away from the mountains to find, not graceful old European buildings, or even aesthetically pleasuing new ones, but instead, horrible, dirty, gray, monotonous Soviet-style apartment buildings.