September 26, 2001


MAJOR CHANGE: We have been notified that our first "packet" has arrived in the mail and is waiting in Yambol for us to get it through customs. It seems that ANY packet (even a padded manila envelope) has to go through customs and no one else can pick it up except the person whose name is on the envelope. I will need to leave school, go to Yambol and pick up any packet that comes in my name. Because of that, we’re changing our mailing address to the Peace Corps office in Sophia. They (Peace Corps) have a process set up with customs where they can show a copy of our "Lichna Karta" and get packages through. Then they will either send it to us from there or we will pick it up when we are in Sophia. SO our new address is: P.O. Box 259, Sophia 1000, Bulgaria. All mail to either of us should come to this new address.

During PC training, we got mixed messages about where we should get our mail. We were told we could get it at our place of work, or where we live, or Sophia (particularly if there were boxes). I was also told that packing in manila envelopes would help get it through. They may help from getting it stolen but they don’t seem to make it any easier getting it through customs. I also think part of the problem is that the Sophia office didn’t want all PCV mail coming to them (at least 100 of us). But now that I have to leave school and go to Yambol to get it, they are telling me to have ALL our mail sent to them. I am happy, though, to get our first package; there will be about three or four more to follow with my school address. For those of you who have already mailed a package, I’ll let you know as soon as it arrives…

Well, I was wrong on two counts: Power tools ARE used here because we heard one on our walk the other day, possibly cutting wood for winter. And younger professional women DO wear pantyhose with their short-skirted suits – probably moreso now since the weather is getting colder.

Yesterday at school Rosie told me I would need to prepare a speech for a "pedagogical" meeting on Thursday afternoon for the teaching staff. This is the first one for the school year and I think it is similar to a teachers’ training or in-service meeting in the States. I am to speak on the American educational system, the differences between it and the Bulgarian educational system, and do it in Bulgarian – all within two days!! (I will describe the American system as I understand it and let them deduce the differences.) The easiest way I could figure to do it was to be as concise as possible, using as few words as possible so that there is less to translate into Bulgarian (my tutor, and Rel, will help me do the translation). I’ve completed such an outline and will supplement it with drawings on a chart sheet – again so I can use fewer words. If I don’t know how to SAY it, maybe I can point to it or act it out – just like I do with the students in class. They seem to understand and like it so maybe the teachers will to.


What a job that was! Writing a description of our educational system alone was rather overwhelming. Narrowing it down to few words was another challenge; then working with the tutor for almost two hours to translate it into Bulgarian was tedious. Then Rel helped me that evening by keying it into the computer using the Cyrillic alphabet. But the biggest challenge was to get up in front of the Director and staff and read it all in Bulgarian! Although I would have preferred that Rosie, my counterpart, read it for me, she felt it would be much better if I did. So, with my tongue sometimes behaving and sometimes not, I got through it (much like a first grader just learning to read aloud). Rosie explained later that the staff understood my talk; they have been curious about the West and wanted to know more from someone who has lived there. When the Communists were here, not many American films were shown and the Communists always said that what they (Communists) had was much better than what was in America. So this was the chance for the staff to find out what was actually true.

There are so many differences here in the way the school day progresses (something I did not elaborate on in my talk). Each day my schedule is different. I teach four classes (maybe) four days a week with Wednesday off. (Wednesday is set aside for me to work on a secondary project – with teachers, or students, or a group in the community.) I say "maybe" because Rosie and I are team-teaching the sixth grade. On Monday she said she would teach both 6th grade classes that day and I could teach them on Tuesday. Monday was great but I was exhausted on Tuesday! As you can see, there isn’t much prior planning that goes on here. This is the culture – schedules mean little. It is the relationship with family and friends that is top priority. So I’m learning to "go with the flow."

It’s also great being a volunteer. I found out today that I won’t have to write "formal" lesson plans for the whole year as the other teachers must do. And I don’t have to sit through teachers’ meetings either (there’s not much I can understand anyway).

There’s probably not a day that goes by, though, that I don’t ask myself what I’m doing here. As I walked to school this morning in the cold and blowing rain, I saw through a lighted window an older man sitting at a table reading. He looked very warm, dry, and comfortable and I said to myself, Oh yeah, I remember that – that’s where I’M supposed to be: warm, dry and comfortable. WHAT am I doing HERE?! But I keep walking – and when I get to school, the students are so curious, so eager, (and also rather exasperating at times), and so lacking in some basic needs that I feel guilty for having such selfish thoughts.

Several students have eye difficulties: one young man has only one eye, several girls have almost crossed eyes – these are things that might be more unusual in the States because of available health care (at least more available than in Bulgaria). One of my fellow teachers has difficulty seeing small things; she doesn’t seem to have reading glasses. I see these things that, in the past, I’ve taken for granted and now I wonder: what allows ME to have had the benefits of living in America where I’ve experienced many more advantages? It is true that there are pluses in being Bulgarian (with the emphasis on family), but in the "meeting basic needs" category, Bulgaria needs much help. That’s why we’re here…

We got a message this week from another volunteer who has gone home. Although the reason wasn’t clear, it seemed to be family-related rather than Peace Corps-related. We begin to wonder if we’ll be the only ones left…


We spent Friday night and Saturday at the Mayor’s home in Sliven. He had heard we were interested in shopping there and invited us to ride home with him on Friday, stay the night, shop on Saturday, then his driver would bring us home. There is a supermarket chain here called "Billa" which is German. It is about the size of our regular supermarkets in the States but here is considered huge because it has so many more selections than stores in the small towns. We wanted to buy groceries there that we can’t find anywhere else. Sliven is about 30 kilometers from here so it requires coordinating bus schedules and allowing time to walk to stores and do our shopping. So the Mayor’s invitation for our first visit to Sliven was appreciated. We now know where to go and how long it will take.

The Mayor and family (his wife is a teacher and he has two daughters both at University) live in a "bloc" also. And the outside of their bloc is like ours – rusty trash bins, high grass with trash caught in it, really no different than ours. But the inside of their apartment is very nice. Their apartment is large with about five rooms plus "water closet" plus "banya" (a bath with a shower AND bathtub!). The apartment has been remodeled with tile and wood, has modern and good quality furnishings and is very attractive. The floors are all hard wood. But there is a problem with them. The wood has buckled in many places causing high ridges that we had to walk over. Whoever put in the wood floors didn’t put in anything to protect them from the moisture in the concrete underneath. Either that or wood should never have been put down.

Since the apartment faces north, it is also very cold. Even with two blankets on the bed at night, I still got cold. I was very happy to get "home" and be warm in our south-facing apartment…

I don’t think I mentioned that the Mayor is also a medical doctor. Prior to becoming Mayor, he ran the hospital in Sliven. But he felt that his career was going nowhere. He grew up in a small village right outside of Straldja and his mother still lives there. By becoming Mayor, he could try to help the area where he grew up and get paid approximately the same as he did in the hospital.

One more observation. In the States, if I get stopped by a police officer for speeding or some such, my feeling is one of embarrassment that I could be so stupid, or a feeling of frustration that I’ll I have to wait for a ticket and also have to pay it, but there’s no feeling of terror. Here it is different. Each time we’ve ridden in a car, the driver scrambles to put on his seat belt when he sees a police officer ahead. It’s not done at a leisurely pace but very hurriedly. Cars slow down at the sight of a police car but not out of curiosity as much as "we’d better do this or else…" When the Director told me I had a package that was waiting to go through customs, she had this look of almost-fear on her face. It all seems to me to be a "left-over" from earlier times. Under both the Turks and Communists, local citizens could not leave their local community to even to go a nearby town without first receiving permission from a Committee. They could not leave the country without permission from the government. Even now, there are no local police. They are all hired by the government. There seems to me to be an underlying sense of real fear when having to deal with authority here. It’s almost as if there are no rights of appeal or recourse. I really don’t know enough about the facts as they are here now. I just get this feeling that there are fears that may either be a left-over from the past or still may be reality now…

I’ve got to get back to preparing my lessons. It’s really quite fun teaching like I do here: half-acting, half-talking. The kids like all the drama. I have to act out a lot of what I mean and also get the students involved. Like the other day, I was teaching "May I?" and its meaning to the 6th graders. To do it, I had a student come up front, be the teacher while I was the student. I asked the student "May I go out the door?" and had the student say "Yes, you may." Then I would go out in the hall and shut the door. I did this about three times so they finally got the meaning. After teaching them "No, you may not," then I had a temper tantrum because I "couldn’t go out the door." The kids love it. (Then I tried teaching "Simon Says…" but that’s going to take much longer getting across.) The teachers here sit at their desks (they are up on a platform at the front of the room) and teach from there. So this is all quite different for the students – and fun for me!

Enough for now… Edith