Living "Lа Vida Добре" (through 30, Aug., 2010)

YEAH

-Boris and I

In the conversations I had with my boss leading up to my actually living and working here, there was a lot of talk about me mapping out trails, what he called, eko-pateka//екопътека, or “eco-trails.” I figured these were trails that didn’t have signs and weren’t on a map. “Great,” I thought, “easy, interesting and as far as tourism infrastructure goes, useful work.”

Then I went with Asein//Асен and Boris//Борис to one of the peaks in our vicinity. It turns out that eko-pateka (eco-trail) really means nyama-pateka (there is no trail). We had a great laugh about this later, after we had marched up the side of the mountain through what was essentially waste-high stinging nettles. Luckily they only hurt for a little while, like an hour, and don’t spread like poison oak.

The payoff, however, as you’ve already seen, was well worth it. Here’s one with me and Asein in it.

Asein and I

We had our annual town festival a couple weeks back. It was an excellent weekend. Lots of traditional and pop-folk music and all the dancing that comes with both. Good times.

There was a volleyball tournament, which I was in. I actually showed up early for the competition but it was too late for my teammates’ liking as they had selected another person to be on their team. That’s a little sad because I’m not half bad at the game and they ended up winning the tournament. So it goes, right?

One of my bosses from Peace Corps, MK, came by along with some volunteers from nearby towns. We all had a great time. MK chatted with my boss here in town while me and my colleagues hiked up to the near peak so I could show them the view. It’s nice.

Shortly after, we met up for a semi-formal luncheon with the Mayor the Secretary of the Mayoralty and others. I always enjoy eating shopska//шопска salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, a little veg. oil, some salt and crumpled sirene/feta), “кюфтета” and “кебабче,” which are like meatballs, sort of. Also, the pub we ate in has a truly absurd/amazing view. It has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the valley, and even has a small shot of the reservoir and the monument that’s next to it.

After lunch we all chatted a little business, the mayor bragged about me, even though I haven’t done that much yet. It’s nice to be liked and appreciated even if it’s not yet merited. It pushes me to deserve the praise, ya know?

People here are thankful, and I don’t generally mean of me, they just seem to view things in that kind of way.

The visiting volunteers and I cooked, and hung out back in my apartment. We rejoined the festivities and we got our photos taken with the pop-folk singer who came to sing for the concert. Check it out!

Vs+Rositsa

 The night went on with a lot of dancing and enough imbibing to match.

The following day I got to be in a skit, acting as a reporter from a local town. The crowd lost it when I read my lines. We’ve got good writers so I can’t take credit for any of it.

THERE WERE POLITICAL TYPES

 Political_Types

I LOOKED SMUG

Smug1

THERE WAS CHOREOGRAPHY

 Choreography

AND THEN I LOOKED SMUG AGAIN.

Smug2

Apparently “smug” is my resting position.

Later on that day, during the official lunch with all the political-types, we had the traditional rice and lamb meal that I keep getting to enjoy. I must say, lamb is really growing on me. It’s like chicken in texture, but it has it’s own excellent flavor, whereas chicken tends to not have much flavor at all. Yuuum.

There was a lot more dancing the second night. The songs they play go on for 15+ minutes and everyone joins-in. The Хоро (Horo) is like River Dance, while holding hands, in a big circle or as a snake, on repeat. I love it and it’s also a really fun way to meet people and become more a part of the community.

Кючек’ing//kew-check’ing is a different thing altogether.

The man dancing is this video is a comedian but let me tell you straight – nothing he did in that video was a joke or out of the ordinary for кючек’ing. That’s just how it is.

—-

French Fries and tomatoes are becoming a common theme in my cooking/eating habits here. Also, I bought two kg of raspberries for around $2.80. They made a good desert and sadly I couldn’t eat them all before they went bad.

Pictures of what’s been on my menu below:

http://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

*BG Nachos (House recipe) with deep-fried peppers and covered in grated sirene(it’s the feta-like cheese).

 

I got the chance to go camping about an hour’s hike up from town. There’s a couple of farm patches up there as well as this big eating shelter called a basetka (басетка) and a small trailer with 8 bunk-beds in it. We went up, had some good times, chopped some wood and enjoyed the clear sky and the fire. At the right time of night, before they turn off their street lamps – you can see across the valley to the other mountain towns. It’s pretty cool.

http://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

 

Of course I also worked when these things weren’t happening. I’m going to start teaching English soon so I spent a fair amount of time reviewing the materials PC gave us on the topic. Outside of that there’s a fair amount of researching, looking for grants and Bulgarian Language lessons as well.

The mayor and I went over to the Secretary’s house for dinner. 

His wife made the traditional шопска//shopska salad, which I may have forgotten to mention, is becoming my favorite salad.

We also had a cold soup, which had dumplings that were similar to those in wonton soup only without the noodle part around the meat. The main course was wild boar (Глиган//Gligan) steaks cooked in nothing but itself and some onions. Amazingly this animal tastes just like my mom’s beef stroganoff, which I’m pretty sure includes stewed beef. Apparently wild boars are constantly stewing-about. Who knew?

They taste delicious at any rate.

I tried to patchwork spaghetti bolognese out of local ingredients. I used too few tomatoes for the sauce and didn’t let them cook down long enough anyway. What I managed to recreate was not that famed and delicious staple of Italian cuisine, but rather a pretty solid Hamburger-Helper replica. Yee-umm-kk

Wasn’t really sure what to feel after I was done eating. It occurred to me that I was no longer hungry, so that was good, but it also occurred to me that I had eaten about a half pound of mystery-meat in a single sitting. Hence the Yum/yuk combo above.

 

I met a member of the European Parliament for Bulgaria at a festival my self, my boss and the mayor of a nearby town attended. He seemed like a nice enough guy. One of his assistants paid for our dinners and drinks. It was much appreciated and the lamb was particularly delicious that night. Also, there were BG Bagpies, called the гаида//gai-da. It sounds rad and they had a group of guys playing them being led by a truly legit-looking bearded man.

 Click on the image for the video.

Some friends of the Mayor came to town to deliver and install some computers for our culture center/internet hall. They are fine people and one of them is an America missionary who has been living here for 16 years.

 

She (the missionary) has a lot of interesting insight into Bulgaria and the transitional period it is in. It was also excellent to spend time with her and the Bulgarian nationals that were with her because she could translate and we could have a much more serious conversation about what they thought of their country, where it had been, where it is now and where it’s going. I can get most things done in Bulgarian, but serious political conversations are generally out of my linguistic reach.

Later on that night I had a beer with my landlord, Ivo and his wife Rosa. They have been married 50 years, the gold anniversary. Congratulations Ivo and Rosa!

IvoRosa 

 

Made the long but fairly relaxed journey to Blagoevgrad from our tiny mountain town for a PC conference/training. It was complete with loads of chatting, some leisurely stops for breaks and food, a train ride and a lot of knowledge gained about the transition from Communism to Capitalism and Democracy, not to mention a couple of BG+Communism Jokes, such as: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”

 

I liked that one.

 I did finally get to Blagoevgrad and it is a gorgeous city. Making trips like these always displays the strange contrast of economic circumstances in this country. It’s as if poor people sometimes live in proximity to rich people. Who know, right?

We had a guest speaker on the topic of how the EU conducts project work as well as its general organizational layout. Initially this was very boring until we all realized we may actually be able to get some money for our towns out of it. At that instant it moved from “interesting stuff I don’t need to know” to “Oh, oh really!? Tell me everything you know!”

While there, some friends and I went out for dinner, one of them misread something on the menu and ended up with a plate full of cow stomach – that always makes for a good laugh. Of course then the spaghetti bolognese I ordered had pieces of hot dog in it, so there were surprises all around.

The next morning my System of a Down (that’s a metal band) alarm clock did the trick and got me up and running in record time. The hotel was up on a hill so I got to jog/run down hill for most of the route before climbing back up the stairs at the end. Being able to run faster with the aid of gravity makes the running much more gratifying since you’re going unnaturally fast. I like it. The morning air was nice and the rising sun and the park were gorgeous as well.

The following day we had the chance to observe some of our PC colleagues in the teaching program while they taught kids at a local school. It was an informative experience but perhaps not the most applicable. We’ll see. No one in my program is primarily a teacher so our roles and circumstances will differ greatly. Anyway I’m glad to have seen it at least once before getting into it my self.

We had an AIDs education refresher (there is not a lot of sex education here so many of us will be the primary source of information on the topic) that included playing a game of “sit-down blown-up-condom volleyball.” I’m apparently fiercely competitive about the least-important things as I was shouting “You don’t want it bad enough!” at the other team every time it came close to them missing the ball* (which, again, was a blown-up condom).

Some days later, on the trip back home, I had a Hawaiian style pizza that wasn’t half bad.

In Blagoevgrad there’s a large park that connects from just in front of our hotel all the way back into town. It’s where I did my running and it’s also the way we all walked into town to get a late night bite to eat. It was amazingly beautiful, the air and the sky were clear, the evenings were warm and never chilly.

 

“Thankful,” is the word.

 

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