Bratsigovo Bracigovo Bratzigovo Брацигово

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bye to Bratsigovo

Leaving is bitter-sweet. It is time to move on to other things, yet at the same time I feel as though a good friend has died. I've had a busy last week. We had a German consultant in town helping us with the new information center we just opened. The volunteer who will replace me was also in town for a few days to see where he will be living for the next 2 years. I did a lot of translating and guiding them around the municipality.

This blog was created with the specific purpose of relaying my Peace Corps experience to interested readers. As my Peace Corps service in Bratsigovo has ended, so will this blog. I will end with a list of things I will miss about Bratsigovo.

- The view of the mountains out the window from my apartment.

- Being invited to a friends house for dinner where everything is homemade and homegrown from the meat, eggs, vegtables, and alcohol.

- Taking walks through this small cobble stone road town.

- Living in a place where everyone knows my name.

- The sound of horse hoofs clacking outside my window.

- Visiting the orphanages, teaching the children how to cook, play football (American football), and goofing around with them.

- Going to Tiffani's after dinner and having a drink with Chicho colo, the bar owner.

- Meeting with friends after Tiffani's at a tavern, drinking rakiya, smoking cigars, and joking around.

- Traveling Bulgaria and discovering new places.

- Paying $7 a month for someone to do my laundry for me.

- I'll miss gorchitsa, mayonaisa, ketchup, smily, nyamachka, mexikanets, kruf, and all the other people I gave nicknames to.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Trip home

I went back home for my brothers wedding. He decided to get married. I knew he was going to do this when I was half way across the world. My time there was interesting and it allowed me to dump a lot of baggage off that I won't need for my last three months in Bulgaria.

As soon as I entered the airport in SF, my nose was filled with strong smells. It was wierd to see people eating lunches out of cardboard boxes, talking on cell phones, playing with laptops. I already felt the rush of life here.

Coming back home it was as if I could see Americans as if I wasn't one of them. Now I understand what they meant when they said I would have to re-integrate into American life. My Dad took my to a grocery store and asked me if I wanted anything. I'm used to small little markets. This store had way to many options for me to sort out. I just said I didn't want anything.

I ate lots of food I missed. Chinese buffet's and mexican food. The wedding was really nice. I did a speech and spoke a little bulgarian. Bulgarians gave me a lot of stuff to take to the states. I brought a lot of stuff back to Bulgaria to give as gifts. Vegetable seeds, pork rinds, alcohol, etc.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Istanbul 2006

I just got back from a second trip to Istanbul. It's a city with so much history yet modern at the same time. It's also a very clean city despite the fact that it's very hard to find a trash can to dump your trash after eating a duner kebab. All six of us enjoyed the trip and claimed Istanbul one of our favorite cities of all time. This is from people who are much more traveled than me. The weather was pleasant which added another plus to the trip.

We left Tuesday night from Stara Zagora by night train. It took over 12 hours for us to get there. Last time I take a night train. It only took 8 hours to get back by bus, eventhough Bratsigovo is further from the border than Stara Zagora. Just before we left I realized I forgot my American Bank card, and since I had been to Istanbul previously, I knew my Bulgarian card wouldn't work. So I pulled as much money out of my account as I could while I was still in Bulgaria. I ended up changing this money to Turkish lira once I got to Istanbul. It wasn't enough though, so I had to ask my family back home to wire me some extra funds.

I got to see some things that I didn't see last time. Like Haghia Sofia (pronounced Aya sofia and translated St. Sofia). This Mosque was built over 1500 years ago and was originally a church. I also got to see Topkapi Palace, explore a different section of the Sultanamet district (this is the more historical and touristy district. It's also where we slept), and spend more time in the Taxim district (this is the more modern district with nice shops and the best night life). The city is huge and dense. It is growing by leaps and bounds. About 15 years ago the population was around 1 million. Now it's over 10 million. At the same time the city is very organized and I didnt feel cramped or uncomfortable.

One of my favorite parts of town is the Grand Baazar. This is where you get to see the market forces in real time. The sellars are aggressive. They shout phrases out at you as you pass by. "Yes, please", "Why don't you waste your money on something you don't need", "Looking is for free", "Would you like a water pipe, carpet, tea set, etc","Excuse me." Even outside the bazaar the sellars are aggressive. Men stand outside trying to convince passerbys to eat at their restaurant with phrases like "yummy yummy for your tummy let me help you spend your money." The worst are the parfume sellars on the street. They are relentless. You should never say a word to them. Not even "no." In fact don't even glance at them or they'll hound you. Well, once you get the system down it's not so bad. I bought lots of gifts and souveniers at the Grand Bazaar. It was a lot of fun. I've really learned how to haggle. I wanted to buy some turkish delights. The original price was 2 for 40 lira. I got 3 for 15 lira.

They have an El Torritos there, so I was able to have my first good mexican food in a long time. It was so good I almost wanted to cry. The last day I wandered around the whole city by myself and was able to see lots of interesting parts of town. The only thing I regret is not getting to see is some whirling dervishes. I would love to go back for a third time. I highly recommend Istanbul.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Thanks to the IWC

(This a Dancho, a likely benificiary of this project)

I applied to the International Women's Club in Sofia to provide a transition home for orphans once they gradate. Often times these young adults have no where to go and have as little as a month to find out what to do with their lives. This home will help them adjust to living in a community, find work, and take care of themselves. A big problem in orphanages is that everything is done for the children. They leave not knowing how to cook or clean.

The Women's Club decided to fund half the budget, which includes remodeling a house to be used as the transition home. The other half of the budget includes funiture and appliances. They will try to secure these items through donors in Bulgaria. This project will be up and running by the end of the school year.

Bratsigovo is home to three orphanages. Two of which are among the most well run in the country. We shouldn't have a problem filling up the fourteen spaces in the transition home.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Name days Kick my butt

I know I have a post like this last year. It's true though. These name days come with too much partying for me.

Most name days fall in the winter because traditionally people work on the farm in the summer and needed more reason to party during the cold months. Every name is associated with a saint and a special day. Sometimes these name days can be bigger than a birthday. Bulgarians celebrate by having guests over till wee small hours of the morning. Do you have a name day?

Monday, January 16, 2006


I went snowboarding in a little village called Momchilovtsi. A volunteer lives and works at a snowboard park there. It was a pretty cold weekend. I got to test my skills at walking on ice down hill. Dave is pretty could at it. He had fun waiting for me to catch up with him.

We headed out to the snowboard park on Saturday. I got to test out a drag lift for the first time. It took about an hour for me to get the hang of it. It was exhausting. Not a big fan of the drag lift, but it was great to be back out on the slopes after two years of absence.

That night we checked out the little disco in Dave's village. I was surprised he has one. I live in a town and we don't have one. I warmed up with some tea mixed with a little Rakiah (Bulgarian whiskey). The we headed back to Dave's place for some well deserved rest. He gave me a book to read called "The Black Tulip." It looks pretty good. Check it out!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New Years

During communist times in Bulgaria they didn't have a Santa Clause.They do now and he is called "Grandfather Christmas". New years use tobe the bigger event where they would exchange gifts. They waited for"Grandfather Cold" to bring them presents on New Years. When midnight strikes they pull out the banitsa. It is a salty breadproduct with fetta cheese and egg for the filling. There are fortunes hidden throughout the banitsa. When you get your peice you search for your fortune.

I went up to the mountains and stayed in a cabin with about 17 other Bulgarians. It was a non-stop party the whole weekend. At anytime you could go down to the main room and there would be someone down there playing music, dancing, and drinking. I went to bed at about 5am NewYears day and by 8pm one of the Bulgarians came in to wake me up and tell me to get back down stairs because they were drinking Rakia. I just tried to get some sleep. It was an interesting New Years.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

First white Christmas

Last year it didn't snow on Christmas, making this year my first white Christmas ever. Last year I celebrated Christmas with volunteers. This year I wanted to spend Christmas with Bulgarians. It turns out I spent Christmas with both. I stayed in Bratsigovo and a few volunteers joined me and we celebrated with a few Bulgarian families in town. Here is how Bulgarians celebrate Christmas.

Christmas is a 3-day event. On Christmas eve they cook food without meat. Sermia is very popular. Sermia can be stuffed peppers, cabbage rolls, or stuffed grape leaves. The main filling is rice. Baklava is the traditional dessert on Christmas eve or cake. Typically they celebrate this holiday with just the immediate family. Guests are rare. The head of the house lights up some sage and makes sure the smoke passes through every room in the house. Then he grabs a big round loaf of bread, called pitka, and starts breaking peices off. First to god, then to the house, to himself, every member of his imediate family (present or not), and then to guests that are present. There is a coin hidden in the loaf. The coin brings good luck to whoever finds it in there peice of bread. I participated in this tradition twice and both times the coin went to the house. Then everyone begins to eat. The number of dishes served should be an odd number. Nine is the most common. On christmas day they might have a bigger party with more friends or go to a restaurant. The day after christmas is a day of rest.

Christmas day all the volunteers visiting my town gathered at my place and we did an elephant exchange. I got someones clay teeth mold from the dentist. A great conversation peice! Then we headed up to a local orphanage to give the children presents. Bob Anderson (here and here) sent me a bunch of money to buy presents for all the children who would celebrate Christmas at the orphanage. I filled gift bags full of presents. Each bag a little different. The children sang a few songs for us and we sang "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" for them. I acted as Santa Clause and handed out the gifts. They seemed to really enjoy them.

Later that evening we headed to a party with a Bulgarian family. We made Cheese cake, apple pie, and pumpkin pie for dessert. The main course was a rump roast. That's not something volunteers are use to eating here in Bulgaria. The food was great. We drank, talked, danced, and finally headed home for the night.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Devin Seminar

I went to a three-day seminar in Devin last week. It covered marketing tourism in the Rhodope mountains of Bulgaria. Since I graduated with a marketing degree, I pretty much knew all the material. The interesting part was the conversations between the different Bulgarians present.

Thursday was Student day, so we held a little celebration. It included a raffle of many different prizes. I won a pair of womens panties. It's one of the only things I've won in my life. I hung them up in my living room for all to see.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Thanksgiving Weekend

This year I went to Chepelare to celebrate Thanksgiving with about 20 other volunteers. We had way too much food. Potatoes au gratin, mashed potatoes, stuffing, a casseorole dish, a rice dish, salad, and some other stuff. Instead of eating turkey we slaughtered a lamb and paid some local guy to roast it over a fire on a spicket. It was really good.

We did a little dancing and then called it a night.

On my way back I passed through Plovdiv. They've been cleaning up the center a lot and had some new shops. I found a nice liquer shop that sold cigars resting in a humidor. I bought a Cuban to share on New Years. I also picked a little facke christmas tree to decorate and put in my apartment. They next day some presents came from my family. It feels like Christmas now. I've opened a present just about everyday. Whenever a friend comes over they always want me to open one. I'm just trying to save some till Christmas.