Gift Giving

For a brief time I tried to include every possible future cost in a budget. I say brief because I’m referring to a period of maybe 2 hours when I tried to write that personal budget and, finding accounting for the future to be impossible, stopped.

Still, not having reached that kind of perfection that time didn’t alter my notion of “perfection,” of including and accounting for everything.

More recently I was reading one of these books that’ll take me a year to get through, reading only a few pages too a chapter at a time and then coming back to it later, like a favorite, but rarely eaten food, when I want a nibble or a bite. The topic that happened to be before me was that of gift giving, a very relevant topic in Bulgaria.

Written there, as barely even an aside, was a simple statement saying that you should live below your means so that you can afford to give gifts freely, or in my mind, without having to have accounted and saved for them previously.

One man’s, “Duh, idiot,” is another man’s, “My God, it’s genius!”

I read this as I was waiting at the bottom of our village’s road for whatever car was to come next, returning villagers, friends of mine no doubt, from whatever errands called them out of the laze or bussle of the village that day. This means I was already planning my day, my return home based on the notion that someone would afford me a small favor, a gift, picking me up and driving me home.

When I got back I ran into a friend who, as is customary in the Villagio (my snazzy Italian-ese name for the village), promptly asked me where I had gotten lost to (a somewhat awkward translation), because we hadn’t seen each other recently. 

“I’ve been here,” I said, “except for today, I was picking up some things in the county-capital.”

“Ohhh, excellent. Do you have potatoes to eat?” She asked.

“No I fried the last ones I had a couple of days ago.”

“Oh well wait here, I’ll get you a sack (~5kilos), don’t go running off anywhere!”

And just like that she hustled, sort of, to go fetch me a bag of potatoes they had grown on their various acres around the Villagio. 

It’s already baked into their habits, yearly plans and forecasts, none of which aren’t actually conceived, discussed or written down, that they will grow “a bunch” of potatoes sell “a (smaller) bunch” and than have “a (also smaller) bunch” left over for “themselves, their family and friends and whomever else needs some.”

People here may live poor but they aren’t on the razor’s edge of anything. When it comes to planning things that are out of routine pretty much anything can derail a (always unwritten) plan, but when it comes to food, beer, brandy and wood for the winter, it would take a true cataclysm to eat up the reserves my neighbors here very commonly maintain.

It is a lesson I hope to not forget anytime soon, to live below my means, to have resources left over to give, without calculating how much or how often. So that I not only have potatoes for me, but plenty for you as well.

Thanks again Bulgaria


2011 July 22 Running and Working

From 2011-07-18 Road shots for subor invite (that’s the new road the government just finished building using Euro-Union infrastructure money).

During up-periods I tend to think a lot about specific quotations from various people that happen to resonate with me. It’s one of the reasons I admire the various holy books in the world as pieces of cultural technology – written and spoken word, meant sincerely or with purpose grants the recipient a kind of canvas on which to paint their own meaning. Jesus says “X” and you hear it as “X+Y.” That’s what I’m talking about. The recipient adds their own meaning.

The last week has been excellent. Excellent in the getting things done, staying disciplined and keeping a routine sense. It being an up-period I’ve had a couple of lines on my mind.

Huelo gave me this good one which she got from one Chris V-J:

“You’re only a runner if you run when you don’t want to.”

It’s a good thing to repeat to my self, say on Wednesday morning when I got up at 415am to go run 8 miles before traveling all day. That’s the only time I was going to have that day so the choice was obvious: If you have to run, you have to run when you have time, I didn’t have anywhere to be that early, but we were planning on leaving the village at 630 so there we go. What’s most important is that you really can replace the word “runner” with anything.

In fact, you should.

Outside of ascribed statuses, where someone holds a license or a title granted them by some board somewhere (like being a contractor or a lawyer etc.) you really are what you do and if you’re not doing something much, you’re not much of that thing. In fact if you’re not practicing law, despite your license to do so, I’d say you’re not much of a lawyer. (Of course there are other lawyerly activities that use the same skills so don’t take me wrong here.)

If you want to do or be something. Start. Do. That’s what I take from it. Communication always being a two-way street, you’re welcome to come up with something different.

Something else that’s been getting me out of bed earlier and earlier, which has been the flavor of the last week is something one Denny Plyler told me:

“Champions train while others sleep.”

Now I’m not going to be a champion of anything in the near future. Being a “champion” is actually not something I’m planning on. Being great is, however and in thinking this over I equate the two absolutely. If I want to be great at anything, if I want to have an impact on peoples’ lives in the way I seek to, there is a kind of vigilance this desire demands of me, of us. It requires more than showing up and accepting what the world serves me, excuses and successes both. The world being inflexible in certain ways, I must bend to meet it.

The last couple of words that keep coming back to me come from Seth Godin an it goes like this:

A definition of a leader…

Leaders lead.

Is that too simple?

Writers write. If you want to be a writer, write. And be sure to have people read what you write.

And leaders? Leaders lead.

If you want to be a leader, go lead.”

Again, replace “leader” and “writer” with any ambition of yours and you’ve got your road map, marked only by that single imperative. Once you decide to go, your compass only needs one direction on it anyway.

Fear of failure, especially under circumstances where I’ve seriously applied my self, has always been a fear of mine. I can’t imagine that’s unique either. Having been put through a situation where no amount of work on my part could have resulted in my normal rate of success (Pre-Service Training) has done a lot to push that fear elsewhere. Swimming almost entirely in unknown waters since then has done a lot more. I’ve been just as affected though, and perhaps in an interdependent manner, by the notion that failure is irrelevant in many areas of life that otherwise are perceived to be governed by hard, pointless rules and thresholds that must be met or all is hopeless.

It simply is not the case.

And even if it were, “we must become the change we want to see” in the world, right?

The Familiar and the New

Sooooo today I found myself doing something I’ve done far too many times before, installing Windows XP on a computer that will no longer work:

windows xp

For some context I took a picture of how super green the 2nd World has become in the last two days:


The Osama-ning

I’m happy that “Osama ‘been shot.” (Like that little pun there?) The world is better without such a jacka$$ running about plotting and executing senseless and mass violence.


So since we all, probably, agree on that, let’s take a moment to consider the “next thing.”

What that is, is: was Osama Bin Laden worth two wars, over $1 trillion, countless lives, a dramatically more divided country and a fundamentally changed international dynamic?

I’d say, “no.”

Why? Because we should be treating terrorists like criminals rather than like terrorists.

By calling a terrorist such, by having a war on terror, we immediately let them win. Sure we can pursue them (for decades) and spend government-crippling sums of money doing it and maybe eventually “get ‘em,” but in taking such an approach, we ensure that our struggle against extremism is crippled, protracted and more likely break us while it emboldens our enemies.

Terrorists are not special, they are just a different breed of criminal.

It does not matter why someone tries to rob a bank, whether for religious, cultural or monetary reasons. The bottom line is that they are committing a particular offense and should be pursued and tried accordingly.

We call them terrorists because we already know that it is their intent to provoke a disproportionately large reaction from us by committing an offense whose main significance is symbolic.

They want a never-ending war on terror where we spend all of our resources, act beligerantly, dirty our reputation internationally and make their ranks swell by taking actions that they’ve predicted we’d take and which they’d describe as aggressive signs of our imperialist intentions. Proving them wrong is possible, cheaper and it’s the right and responsible thing to do.

Basically, terrorists are saying, “I want you (America) to freak out, and start another Vietnam-style war, and then another after that until you’re bankrupt and hate each other so much you can’t even pass a budget (…).

And when we started and then continued the War on Terror, we answered, “Okay.”

There are plenty of ways to condemn or legitimize what we’ve done since September 11th, 2001. The past is done, however.

What we have to remember now is that, if we ever did before, we certainly no longer have the luxury of making rash decisions and acting on national and untempered anger. We cannot allow ourselves to be played in such a way again. For one reason we cannot afford it financially. For another as the last remaining super-power, the de facto biggest kid on the block (for now Re: China) we have a responsibility to the world to act prudently in the name of peace and global stability.

We may still be a young nation by world-standards, but we cannot act like it.


When to Not Tell the Weather What to Do

(The spoilers:)

Fanka and I
the crew

Wednesday we met in the center of town around 8:15, heading out around 8:30 for a trash clean up a half mile outside of town. It was a good solid half day of work, though it was somewhat exhausting. 12 of us picked up and hauled away some 80 large trash bags from the drop-off off the side of the road.

I think we made a dent in the total amount of trash but the general experience was that when someone would pull a plastic bottle or something else half-stuck in the ground, up and out, they’d uncover still more trash, deeper in the topsoil.

We were cleaning up this plot of land because the mayor is responsible for cleaning it up by law since it was reported while he was in office, even though the trash could be, and is reportedly, from years before he was elected.

People have been dumping their trash off the side of the road for decades. And we aren’t talking about candy wrappers, no we’re talking about large things, parts of beds, gallon water jugs, whole bags of trash. It’s been used as an actual trash dump. It’s disappointing and frustrating to say the least. What’s more, while we were working, some guys on the clean-up crew were actually working to bury some of the trash so it wouldn’t be visible, because the whole purpose of the clean-up was to remove the trash so he wouldn’t have to pay the fine he’s legally on the hook for.

Ideally this would be an all volunteer event (probably most of the people there were on the social-jobs program), with the mayor leading the way toward volunteerism and community service. It would be planned in advanced and attention would have been paid to inspiring and mobilizing people. Instead it was totally last minute, haphazard and devoid of narrative or ascribed meaning.

There are good things though, the work did get done. There is that much less trash sitting in a forest in Bulgaria now and additionally, those who took part were able to see how much we could accomplish in such a little amount of time – an important lesson and victory as well.

We were all set to go out again on Thursday and then…

Thwarted by the weather

As you can see from the first two pictures at the top on Wednesday there was no snow on the ground and it was a pretty clear day – even warm out. Everyone had been saying, “it’s going to rain by lunch and we’ll have to stop working.” I told them “I’ve decided it’s not going to rain today so we can work more.” They laughed and it ended up being true, but then it appears there was a greater cost inherent in that decision.

I will now add, “either rain today or snow tomorrow,” to my ever growing list of life’s trade-offs, and I’ll try and be more weary of telling the weather what to do lest I get my self into another Faustian deal again.

1/2 Marathon, Abrupt Seasonal Changes, too many Trips to Big Cities and MORE!

Sooooooooo…I ran a 1/2 marathon Thursday. 13.5 miles, 2 hours and 13 minutes.

I had wrapped up some work a little early, came back to the office to catch up with the Boss-Man and found our office full of people having some kind of less-than-formal meeting so I simply said, “hello,” to everyone and, “another time,” to him.

As I left the office the weather was gorgeous. It was too good. A term I use often, but never lightly.

On my 2-minute-long walk home from the front door of the mayorality I asked myself:

-“Alright Cameron, how’s your energy level and are you hungry?”
-“Good and no.”
-“Well I guess we’re running right then, aren’t we?’

By the way, it’s okay to talk to yourself, if you’re the only person who speaks English in a 25 mile radius – who else are you going to talk to (in English) anyway? Somebody has to hold the fort down.

So pants become shorts, the running shoes go on, “I’m good,” becomes “I’m gone,” walking becomes running and happy becomes ecstatic.

Life is too good.

I set out on the usual training route, to and from the gazebo and water fountain, a round-trip distance of about 4.5 miles. Half-way through I decided I had time, energy and interest in another lap and then half-way through that I decided I was too close to beating my previous distance record to not go for it. So that’s what happened. I’ve not been running as often as I’d have liked but I’ve apparently been kicking up dust on trails just enough to move the standard forward, mark-by-mark.

This is excellent.

I was able to do this of course, because we are no longer in the clutches of Bulgarian Winter, which, honestly, is kind of a candy-a$$. Yeah it’s really cold, and yeah there’s a lot of snow and it’s dark and so on, but really, compared to what it had been built up to be, and compared to a lot of places in the US or elsewhere, our snowfall here was not even that bad. Winter basically meant this: “You will go outside less and spend 400% more time doing activities related to keeping yourself warm.”

Additionally, it was only ever snowing and terrible for a couple days at a time – a week, tops. Other times it looked like this:

Beautiful Winter

and this:

beautiful winter 2

Training during winter, when it was possible, looked like this:

Winter had come,  just as all of the other seasons here have, abruptly. One day it was characteristic of whatever current season, the next day it was darker and 20 degrees F colder (summer to autumn) and then that happened again and it started snowing too (autumn to winter). Recently, we had cold but clear weather and then…BAM! 72 DEGREES OUTSIDE.

That was March when the switch happened. It’s also a time marked by a month-long tradition called “Baba Marta” or “Grandmother March.” At the beginning of the month people go around putting red and white bracelets, called martenitsi, on each other and then when you see either a stork or a flower budding you hang one of or all of your “martenitsi” on the branch of a nearby tree. It’s a cute little tradition…with littering built right into it!  – I kid ye Bulgaria!

March is also called the “woman’s month” or “Zhenski mesets,” because of how much and how often the weather changes. This is something that is often chuckled at and responded to with the phrase “zhensko vreme,” or “woman weather.” Why? Constantly changing weather, female moodiness, you get the picture. Apparently Bulgaria also has mundane, low-level sexism…AND it’s just funny to hear old guys say it.

Finally, since the new year, I’ve spent entirely too much time in the big cities, mostly the capital. It’s nice to go there and have the creature-comforts that I’m used to. To be able to wander a city with music playing in the headphones, to people-watch, to order food traditionally made in countries I’m not currently in, to be able to buy things I need while on a walk rather than after a couple hours of travel by foot and by car. It’s also nice to be around a lot of young-ish people with generally similar interests. That said, I could have done without perhaps half of the time spent there, and I would have if it weren’t for:

  1. A trip to meet one of the cabinet members of the Prime Minister to talk about the construction of a paved road to our village.
  2. A tourism workshop in February
  3. The national tourism conference the same week
  4. A couple of trips to the dentist for a crown that fell out while I was chewing some banitsa.

(on the way to meeting the cabinet member in his FANCY building):

fancy building

On one particular trip I had decided it was too nice a day not to walk:

(In these)

sweet shoes

(Down this)

down this

While in Sofia I discovered that Bulgaria has awesome monuments and that the Red Cross/crescent is ready for anything.


Another time we met for a friend’s birthday and my camera took this magical/kaleidoscopic picture all by itself:


Good job camera, I didn’t know you had it in you.

A couple weeks back I met up with some other volunteers from the region as well as some good friends visiting from other parts of the country around St. Paddy’s day. We were actually meeting to discuss a conference we’re putting on to learn about how to plan the sustainable development of our villages through tourism.

While in town we went to the resident volunteer’s work’s art exhibit:


Later that evening, I ate a pickle:


Coming out of the school after a pretty normal “well that didn’t kill me” English Language lesson with the kiddies this happened:

not bad outside of the school

Not bad Bulgaria, bravo.

Another interesting development is that I’ve had to buy some new clothes recently and I’ve been shopping for/buying H & M (it’s a trendy brand, maybe?) at Bulgarian thrift stores. I’m quite pleased with the cost-to-garment ratio.

In February my boss, a friend from the village and I hiked to the peaks near the town (7-ish hour round-trip) where we had a small camp fire and an awesome and super-classy picnic:

the peak

Pork-fat shish-kebab (it’s like the best part of bacon only sooo much better):

bbq'd pig fat

Some seasoned/preserved homegrown veal, bread-rolls, olives, salami and “domashno vino”//homemade wine:


Classy gents:

the guys

Some guy dressed too well:

wine from the top of a water bottle
hot cocoa

“The Rhodope Sea” as we’ve come to call it:

The view

I made a filing cabinet out of a package-box I got a while back, and if you look hard enough, you can see the manila-style folders I also made because they don’t exist in Bulgaria. The material they are made out of is flat, uncut thai cigarette-box board you can even see large black-boarder warning labels:

We had gnocci (from homegrown potatoes) with the mayor’s family:


Everyone was blown away that A) you could make pasta out of potatoes and B) that pasta came like that.

So all told, BG has been great. The language has been getting even better. I’m enjoying being in-site (in the village) more than before and finding more meaningful work.

Things, in short, are ramping up and everything is going swimmingly, even the downs.