Sunday, August 30, 2009

3 of 26: In This Refulgent Summer


In This Refulgent Summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life. My days are spent speaking with people in a language that three months ago seemed so alien to me. There is time in my day to take a 30 minute coffee break, or a 3 hour lunch. And some of the most glorious hiking trails I have ever been fortunate enough to explore. But, what has been most unexpected is the scents of village life.

The village is surrounded by evergreen, pine, and Norway spruce trees. The smell is invigorating. A sweet smell of pine carried on a cool mountain breeze is a good way to wake up in the morning.

Bread-baking has been another smell that has characterized this summer. The house, I live in is a duplex. My landlord and his family live above me, and below me is a small bakery. The aroma spills out of the bakery and finds it way into my room.

There are the scents of coffee in the café and herbs drying in my neighbors yards. There is also the smell of smoke from the fires people use to boil water that seals jars of fruits or vegetables.

The pace of life has slowed down in Peace Corps. It has been good to relax a bit and take it all in. And I have concluded, I am quite, pretty, very lucky. Bulgaria is a beautiful county, with some of the most hospitable people I have ever come across. And I get to live here with them. (and the governments paying for me to do that!)so i guess what i'm saying is... go join the peace corps or maybe go outside.

a joke:

what kind of tree grows in your hand?

-a palm tree!

a cultural observation:

Bars are open till 6 in the morning. Now that's a Chalga Party.

My Two Favorite Colors

A Great Place To Swim

Ready For Winter

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kubb Corps!


Ahh… The first few months of being a Peace Corps Volunteer, where the only thing that is expected of you is to take it easy and become a part of your community. So far so good.

Things are going well. I have made friends with a group of guys in the village who are my age. There has been quite a bit of time to read and drink tea. Ideas for projects are starting to develop. I even remember the names of some of my neighbors! (It is actually kind of difficult. I am not familiar with a lot of the Bulgarian names.)

This week, something quite exciting happened. Something that has made me tremendously happy. Something that no matter what happens with the rest of my service, it has a complete success.

Kubb has been introduced, and warmly received, in my village!

For those of you who are familiar with me and my close friends, you know that for the past five years we have been living, breathing, and eating an obscure yard game known as Kubb. The game consists of throwing sticks at wooden blocks. My friends and I have spent countless hours playing and discussing the game. We have built many different Kubb sets. We founded a club at our college devoted to playing the game. My friends Dan, Keith, and Ryan are even the Midwest Kubb champions for the past two years.

In pre-service training, I was able to describe the construction of a Kubb set to the host Dad of my fellow trainee Val. A few passes through a table saw later, I had a Kubb set! Unfortunately, things were quite hectic towards the end of training and I didn’t get to play much with the people in my training village. I played one game with my fellow trainees C.J. and Meg. They enjoyed it.

I didn’t want to try to push Kubb on anyone in the village so; I waited for the opportune time to introduce the game. The kids around the village spend a lot of time playing table tennis or soccer at the school. One day last week, after a group of kids and I got board of playing table tennis, I grabbed my Kubb set. I wasn’t sure how describing the game play would go; I can hardly describe how to play the game in English. Fortunately, playing the game is the best way to teach it. We played a few rounds, and what do you know, they love it! We have been playing every day since!

One of the T-shirts that I brought was given to me from my buddy Ryan. The front of the shirt is a design of a Kubb set and the back says “Kubb unites people and creates peace on earth”. Perhaps it is just a game and won’t create peace on earth but, I can attest to the uniting people aspect of Kubb.


A bumble bee was chasing a rabbit. Finally the bee turned around and flew away. Why? The rabbit had two b’s already!

Cultural Observation:

People in my village spend a lot of time in cafés. They drink coffee “normalno” (Espresso) or “Duragol” coffee (Americano). Often, they also order a soda water or Coca Cola to drink with their coffee. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you have an espresso and a Coca Cola. Surprisingly, it tastes wonderful. It is also a good way to get your daily recommended amount of caffeine. Next time your at your favorite coffee café, give it a shot. An Espresso shot that is…

Wednesday, August 5, 2009



The internet has been a little difficult to come by over the past couple of weeks. No complaints here. I mean, I am in the Peace Corps after all. Today, I have posted two posts in the order I wrote them. I can’t tell you what to do, but I recommend reading the previous post first. Otherwise you’ll miss a lot of the plot . )

So, here I am. In the real-life Peace Corps, and it absolutely feels that way. Pre-Service Training (PST) wasn’t quite like this. In Pre-Service training, I had 4 American friends who I talked to on a daily basis and I also knew a few kids in the village who knew English fluently. Now that I am in my permanent site I don’t have that anymore. The concept of living two years in a small, foreign village has finally sunk in. “Petrified” might be a good word to describe that initial feeling. After a few days I was able to get out and embrace my situation by talking with my neighbors. That helped a whole lot.

This past week, on the whole, has been good. It was the town “Sepour”. The Sepour is a celebration where everyone in the village and those who have immigrated out of the village come together to celebrate. A lot of my time this week was spent helping with set up. It was good for two reasons: 1. It was manual labor which is a good way to start showing that I am serious about helping out in this village. 2. My buddy Collin, who I met on the first visit, was one of the guys in charge of setting everything up. He is close to my age and doesn’t live in the village but came back to help out with the festival. It was good to have a familiar face during my first week.

The weekend came and the village was flooded with people. The people who came were family to the people who are living in the village. It was actually quite a big deal. There was live music, a makeshift bar/restaurant and all sorts of vendors that were set up in a field near the village. I met quite a few people who could speak English as well.

There was one man that I met named Vincty who is living in Connecticut now. He was shocked to learn that an American had come to live in the village he grew up in. It was nice to meet many English speakers who had a personal connection to the village. They were able to tell me things about it that I didn’t necessarily pick up on. Also they introduced me to other people in the village who are currently living here. Reflecting on this now, I am quite lucky to have had the opportunity to make the friends I did this weekend.

There will be a lot to read today, so I wont go on any longer about the Sebour. I will leave it be with one story;

Saturday night, an all-night disco and bon-fire were featured. Around 4 in the morning, I stood with some friends and other weary partiers around the bon-fire. The bon-fire started to die-out so I took it upon myself to kick the fire back up. Poking around the fire for a few minutes I managed to get the flames to start back up. It was then that I noticed the group of people around the fire weren’t really talking to each other anymore, and instead were watching me. I returned to my place with my friends and watched the fire. It occurred to me how appropriate that felt. In essence, that is exactly what I am trying to do in this village. I am trying to kick up the embers of a fire to get it blazing again.

2 of 26* A Whole Lot of Swearing.


Wow! Here I am, a full fledged Peace Corps Volunteer. It has been a long time in coming but I am finally beginning my two year assignment in the Rhodopi Mountains of southern Bulgaria.

Friday July 24, was the day my fellow B25s’ (25th group of Peace Corps Volunteers to Bulgaria) and I took our oath of service. We swore in as United States Peace Corps Volunteers in Bulgaria. The day was quite exciting. That morning, we met at the Municipal concert hall in Vratsa. There was a crowd of 350 people consisting of our host families, and other members of the community who gathered to see the ceremony. There was folk-singing, speaking and of course, a lot of swearing!

A Huge-Congratulation to my fellow Peace Corps volunteers Jared and Nat who delivered speeches on behalf of our Peace Corps group. They were outstanding! Each of them wrote superb speeches and delivered their speeches in both English and Bulgarian.

Following the ceremony, there was a reception with snacks and drinks. It was a little bitter-sweet. Not because of the sweet and sour chicken, but because all the new volunteers were relieved to have made it through pre-service training and sad to have to say goodbye to many friends.

Immediately following the reception, I was given a ride to the bus station where I had to catch a bus to Sofia. Ivan, Ivanka, and I said our last goodbyes and another volunteer Jon, whose site is near mine, and I left for Sofia.

In Sofia, we had to catch another bus to our sites, and to do this we had to go to a different bus station. Jon had a friend who lived in Sofia and purchased our tickets and helped us get from one bus station to the next. That was incredibly helpful and saved us bit of money because we didn’t need to take a taxi.

The bus ride to my site is very…strange. The bus trip takes me through small neighborhood roads and at one point a rock quarry. When you get into the mountains, the roads are all narrow and winding. Sitting in the bus and looking down at some points is pretty nerve-racking, but great fun!

Friday night I did a bit of un-packing and settling in, but I was pretty exhausted from the hot and eventful day, so I just crashed.

Saturday started off fairly quiet. I went to the café/store to purchase some food for my house. I ended up drinking coffee with some local people for a couple of hours. People here are very approachable, and it is easy to invite yourself to sit with anyone at the café. I went back later in the day and did it again. (Mostly because I forgot to pay for the cup of coffee I bought that morning…great start, right?)

That afternoon, I sat on my porch and did a bit of reading. There was a pop and some smoke on the mountain in front of my house. I thought perhaps it was someone hunting. I didn’t give it too much though and went inside to make myself a sandwich. I came back outside sat down with my sandwich and looked at the mountain to see a few trees engulfed in flames! I could not believe it. Most of my safety and security training in PST had to deal with exactly this, and here I was on my first day.

I went inside, put my shoes on and grabbed my fire-extinguisher. I ran up to the fire and gave the fire-extinguisher to someone who was fighting the flames. Being a Peace Corps worker I am not really suppose to be putting myself in any danger. I went back down the hill and made sure someone was calling the fire department. Then, I ran to get the mayor. After I knew the mayor knew, I called our Safety and Security Officer and reported what was going on. The Safety and Security officer had me pack a bag incase the fire really got out of control and I wouldn’t be able to stay in my house.

The people of my village had the fire contained fairly quickly. It was very impressive to see the response and knowledge of everyone from the village to fight the fire. They were able to have the flames under control using shovels, axes, and one fire-extinguisher (which probably didn’t affect the outcome too much). They had to respond to the fire because the fire department didn’t show up until 30 minutes after they had been called! It is no fault of the Fire departments; it’s just that our village is so secluded that it is hard to get here.

So... a little excitement on the first day, but otherwise very good. I spent quite a bit of time walking around my neighborhood that evening. I spoke with some of my neighbors on the block. Apparently, a lot of my neighbors are family. I like that.