Archive for April, 2011

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.