Edith's Bulgarian Newsletter

April 2002 Archives

April 5, 2002 News from Bulgaria

We've just experienced one of the "perks" of serving in the Peace Corps: getting to travel inexpensively to places of historical interest. In the past, we have traveled to several different towns for Peace Corps meetings (indeed one reason for holding them in different places around the country is so that volunteers can see and appreciate ALL of Bulgaria) but this was the first time we traveled just to "sight-see;" going to a town but not knowing exactly how we would get there (from Bourgas) or where we would stay.

We took a two-hour train ride to Bourgas (this was called the "slow train" because it stops at every village along the way), then caught a 30-min. van ride (found it with the help of a taxi driver) to the town of Nessebur, located on an island just off the Black Sea coast and just north of Bourgas. It is connected to the mainland by a somewhat short causeway that displays on it an old wooden windmill (unlike Dutch windmills, this had very narrow long slats and was used to grind wheat into flour - we saw another one across on a hill on the mainland as we left).

We entered the town through a narrow gateway that was originally the opening to the fortress from Roman times and which also at that time had a drawbridge. Much of the fortress walls still stand near the entrance. We started up toward the center looking for some offices (cited in the guide book) that would refer us to a "guest house" for our overnight stay. As we stood there pondering which way to go, a 35-40 year old man approached us and asked in English if we were interested in a guest room. He had one available in his home on the island (less than a kilometer long and 300 meters wide) and would take us there in his car. Also his prices were much lower than what the hotels charge (we paid the equivalent of $10 each for a room and "continental" breakfast).

He drove us, with his 3-yr. old daughter, through the narrow, uneven cobblestone streets to his two-story home, located on a high point of the island, not far from the water below us. Our room was on the second story and was quite comfortable, with one double bed, two singles and a small table with stools around it. Along with our room, there was a kitchen/dining room and one or two other smaller bedrooms. The bathroom/shower was a new, small separate room built outside at the top of the stairs. The whole second story is rented out through the summer to tourists since Nessebur is one of the busiest and most popular tourist towns in Bulgaria. (On the partly-underground lower level the next morning, we were served breakfast in a large room with a TV, small kitchen, and three or four tables and benches - this is where the family fixes meals for tourists who wish them.)

We spent our day walking the perimeter of the island. Just because it's a small island and an old town unto itself, it reminded me a lot of Key West. But Nessebur is much older; it was here before even the Slavs or early Bulgarians arrived. In fact, Nessebur was founded by Thracians at the end of the second millennium BCE (for those who may not know, Thracians were a conglomerate of numerous tribes that preceded the Romans, Celts, Germans, Slavs and Scandinavians and go as far back in the Balkan Peninsula as the new Stone Age). In the 6th century BCE, the Thracian settlement became a Greek town after Greeks migrated here and called it Messembria The Greeks were seafarers, merchants, and craftspeople and got along well with the Thracians who were stock-breeders. Their government consisted of six "strategi" who were supervised by both a senate and a council consisting of the 500 free citizens (total population was less than 2000). Temples were built to Apollo, Dionysus, Zeus, Aesculapius and to the Egyptian god Serapis and goddess Isis. (The site of the Acropolis is underwater as are several stretches of the fortress wall since the island is now only half the size it was then.)

As a Greek colony, Messembria was fortified against attack by barbarian tribes from the north and it is parts of these fortress walls that can still be seen. They were so well fortified in fact that the town was considered impenetrable until 812 ACE when Khan Krum (Bulgarian) used battering rams for 20 days to breach the fortress walls. Over the next 600 years, the town changed hands many times between the Bulgarians and the Byzantines. In the 11th century, it became an important trade center and "served to solidify the role of Christianity in the eastern Byzantine Empire." Under the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander in the 14th century, many of the churches in Nessebur (so-named by the Slavs) were granted privileges and, under the Ottoman rule, many of those churches were retained.

Ten of these old churches still exist (most just remnants of what they once were) and seem to be the oldest buildings in town. One or two are still being used as churches and several as art galleries. We visited all of them as well as the Archeological Museum. It was in here that we got to see many of the artifacts dating back to the Thracians in the 12th century BCE. There are "marble tablets which are engraved with town council decrees and were displayed for citizen viewing at the temple of Apollo; others were at the temple of Zeus and chronicle administrative life of the town, with friezes of local 'strategi' magistrates attending ceremonies honoring the gods." (Since we couldn't read all the Bulgarian used to describe the displays, the above came from our guidebook.) The most shocking part of our visit was to see many of the heads of the people carved on these marble tablets missing, like someone had taken a tool and just hammered them out. It was explained in our guidebook that these marble tablets were "unfortunately defaced, as are many other museum figures, presumably by later Christians who objected to their predecessor's glorifying pagan deities." If true, no matter how reasonable it may have seemed at the time, the defacing has served only to deprive succeeding generations from appreciating, and learning from, their own art and cultural heritage. Even in this day and age, we have the Taliban destroying ancient Buddha's in Afghanistan, despite requests from countries all over the world not to. It is a piece of our history that succeeding generations will never see. (What is that quote, "In order to understand our present, we must first know our past?" - something like that.)

Another difference from Key West, other than its age and history, is that most of the town is built on a hill which centers the island. As we walked the perimeter along the water's edge, we had to look high up to see homes sitting on cliffs of land (we ate lunch and dinner on high verandas overlooking the water, with a spectacular view of the Black Sea - pizza lunch was $6 for the two of us and fish dinners were $12 total). Most of the homes are very old and have stone foundations with wood second stories built out over them, and with red-tiled roofs, in typical Bulgarian style, like we've seen in old town Plovdiv and in Zheravna. In fact, in 1983, Nessebur was designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sight.

We chose Wednesday to go because the weather forecast was sunny and warmer; it was almost perfect weather for our walks through town. However, Thursday started out cold and windy and, after breakfast, our host offered to drive us to the train station in Bourgas. On our way into town, Georgi took a side trip out toward a small village and stopped along the highway. Off to the side of the road was a natural mountain spring (there are many, many springs like this all over Bulgaria). Backing the spring was a large concrete slab (almost like a cemetery monument) which had two doves carved into it with the words, "Dedicated to Peace" carved beside it. This was interesting because Georgi said the slab was about 30 years old (put up during Communism) and it was printed in English. Was there some interest even then of making "peace" with the west?

Upon arriving home, we were chilled and, without thinking, turned on so many electrical appliances (two heaters, burner and oven for fixing lunch, and the distiller for water) that we blew a fuse. It took sitting in the apartment until after 6 pm before Ditchko came over and discovered we'd not only blown the fuse in the apartment (which we had already changed) but also the fuse in the basement of the building!

Whoops! I just finished laundering some towels and Rel was dumping the laundry water down the toilet (the shower drain stops up with laundry water) when he let out a yelp. He saw something purple go right down the drain with the water - a washcloth I'd forgotten. I just hope our sewage system doesn't get stopped up somewhere along the way because if somebody finds it, they'll know just where it came from; there are no such things here. The loss of electricity and the possibility of sewage stoppage served to get our feet quickly back on the ground! More later…Edith

April 10, 2002 News from Bulgaria

It never ceases to amaze me at how resourceful people here can be. On Sunday evening, we received a call from Peter (English student of Rel's and part-owner of a local hardware) that the Tai Chi instructor had made it to Straldja; I told him we'd be right down since we hadn't seen her for several weeks. As we walked toward the Centre, however, he pulled up beside us in a car with Nadost, the instructor. It seems they were unable to find a room to hold the lesson and it was too cold to meet outside. So Rel suggested we go to a café for a cup of coffee. Peter said he knew of a place in a nearby village, it would be more interesting and we could go in the car that he'd borrowed from his father.

We started out of town south toward the high hills that aren't quite mountains but are still very high. The day was very cold and windy but, even with no heat in the car, we stayed relatively warm (I'd worn only light slacks and tennis shoes planning on moving easily for the exercises). About five miles out of town, the car engine began to choke. Peter explained that there were two fuel tanks and one was getting empty so he would switch to the other one. (His father had told him we could drive at least 100 kilometers without getting more fuel.) After trying for several miles, he was unsuccessful and the car came to a stop (the car was a Yugo and he was trying to switch from propane fuel to gasoline). We were sitting in a wide open area where the wind could whip all around us. As Peter jumped in and out of the car to check under the hood (he said the pump wasn't working), several cars went by. I was hoping against hope that someone would offer help. This wasn't like America where we could pull out our cell phone and call AAA for a tow truck. And I dreaded the idea of walking in the cold wind for even a mile or two to the village we could see across the fields. Eventually a car did stop. The young men spoke a few words to Peter, he responded and the young men left without getting out of their car. And I thought, "Oh, great! Now we really are stuck!" More cars went by while Peter continued to work and my hope of getting out of there without walking was getting dimmer and dimmer. Finally, Peter grabbed a light with a long cord, used a knife to cut the cord and began to strip both ends. He then connected one end to the engine and the other to the pump. We could hear the pump begin and when Peter tried to start the car again, it took off. (That's what I mean about being resourceful!)

I gave a big sigh of relief and figured we would be turning around, heading toward home for a café in Straldja. But no, we kept heading south and side-tracked over to the village to see if they sold fuel. Now it seemed that Peter was not only concerned about his "hot-wired" pump but that we might also run out of fuel. But alas there was no fuel sold in that village. So Peter decided we probably had enough fuel anyway and we continued on toward the high hills. Since there was nothing else to do, Rel and I went along "for the ride" sitting close to each other to stay warm (he had worn only a light jacket with his "hunter" vest underneath). As we started up a high hill, the car began choking, and stopped again. Peter said he was having trouble with the gear shifts: I don't think they liked the hill. He got the engine started, we climbed further until the car finally refused to go any more, wouldn't even move in first gear. So Peter said it was only a little further and we could walk the rest of the way to the top.

Even with the cold and wind, we could appreciate the view. Down below were long stretches of green fields, several villages (one was Straldja) and the high mountains as a backdrop to the north. Hurriedly, we climbed up to a large cement building set in a wooded area near the top. It was inside that we found the café and a wood-burning fireplace (so this was the café we were coming to!). Despite the hot chocolate and periodically standing near the fire, it was difficult to stay warm because the room was so large. And the rest of the building was unheated (mid-elementary students were camping there and seemed to be enjoying themselves anyway).

When we left and started on a shortcut down through the trees, Nadost wanted to demonstrate one Tai Chi move. It was difficult to concentrate when it was so cold but eventually we made it back to the car. Rel reminded us it was all down hill from here (Peter had tried to use a phone to call his father to meet us but there was no working phone in the building). Part way home, Peter laughingly pointed out we were only a half hour's walk from home. And within sight of Straldja, informed us we were just a 10-minute walk from home. Happily we made it the rest of the way without having to walk. It took Rel and me about an hour to get totally warmed up after arriving home to our apartment. This time we were very careful not to blow all the fuses!

A friend has asked what our purpose is for being here in Bulgaria, a legitimate question because I sometimes need to be reminded of the answer. As Peace Corps Volunteers, we have a three-fold mission. First, we are "to help the peoples of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained men and women;" second, "to help promote a better understanding of the American people on the part of the peoples served;" and third, "to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people." In other words, promote PEACE and understanding. I feel we are currently working on all three areas.

The first goal is to be accomplished through the actual training that we give: me with the school children and Rel with the wider non-governmental community organizations (like the orphanage, Roma school, pensioner's club, etc). In teaching English, I'm helping the students be better prepared to interact in a world that depends increasingly on communication in English - as with computers for example (and teaching as a native speaker also helps tremendously with idioms and pronunciation). Additionally, sharing technical skills and demonstrating a work ethic with colleagues is part of that process. For example, most Bulgarian teachers stick closely to the textbook and use "learning by rote" as their major teaching method. And since their salaries are so low (they have been demonstrating in Sofia for a salary of 250 leva - they WOULD LIKE to be paid $125 a month - and they WOULD LIKE to be paid regularly!), there hasn't been much incentive to be in class on time. However, I've noticed a difference in some of my colleagues. Even though Rosie doesn't actually come in and observe my teaching methods, she does observe the classroom. She has been using some visuals that I prepared (words of greeting) and has hung them on her walls, when before there was nothing. And tomorrow for the first time, she is going to do a project with her fifth-graders that involves designing T-shirts with English words, an extra project suggested in the textbook (she ended up doing better than I). I've also noticed that there are times when the second bell rings for class and other staff join me to teach class, rather than to continue sitting and talking together in the storage/planning room. So with the first goal of Peace Corps, there seems to be some progress.

However well that may be done, we have been told by previous volunteers that the actual teaching that we do will be the least of the impact that we have on our communities. The greater impact will come as a result of interacting regularly one-on-one with people in our communities. Rel and I demonstrate a living style that doesn't quite coincide with TV shows like Miami Vice (everybody here knows where Miami is and they all think that it is very beautiful!). We are the "reality check" for people here to understand a wider picture of what America and its people are like. We don't all carry guns and shoot people; we don't all live in mansions or drive Rolls Royces; we don't all wear clothing in the very latest style; we don't all wear make-up a mile thick; and, hopefully, we aren't observed as "ugly Americans," with an attitude of arrogance and superiority. Instead, we hope to demonstrate that we have much in common with the Bulgarians we work with, giving them a greater understanding of a more diverse and, maybe, a more "down-to-Earth" America.

The third goal is currently being met by the sending out of our newsletters. By sharing with you some of our day-to-day activities, happenings, disappointments, accomplishments, we hope to provide a better understanding of the people here and of Bulgaria as a whole.


Most of our new textbooks have arrived! Many of you donated toward the postage of the books that Leslie Zoroya was able to provide through her contacts - and they are now here. They will be very useful because they cover all aspects of learning the English language: grammar, spelling, composition, vocabulary, and even some books with good literature selections. In addition, there are multi-level books, so that both slower and faster students will be able to use them. They will serve as a much-needed supplement to what we are using.

Over spring break, both Rosie and Valentina, School Director, set up a room just down the hall for our new English Resource Room. They brought in tables, chairs and shelves. Yesterday several students, with Rosie and me, moved all of our books sent from the States to the new room. It's really quite amazing to think that several months ago, there was nothing; and now, there's a good variety of books that cover almost all topic areas (some sent by individual friends), at all levels (even some for advanced), and a good assortment of magazines sent by individuals. I think Rosie and Valentina are quite proud of their new acquisition. The room wasn't only furnished but also had plants placed down the middle of the room!

That was the best part of my day. The rest of it was pretty frustrating. I think I will just have to give up and figure the students will cheat on individual work and tests no matter what I do (I would really prefer that their marks reflect what THEY know, not what their neighbors know). Some of the most difficult aspects of teaching here are (1) trying to stick to the textbook because that's how it's done here (those students without textbooks rarely finish their lessons and I can't keep xeroxing lessons for them) and it's so boring anyway because the textbooks are lousy to begin with but yet we were cautioned to follow them!! And (2) putting up with blatant, not concealed, cheating (while I stand at the back of the room, one student asks another what his grades are in the gradebook laying on my desk - and she tells him with me standing right there; during a test, they talk to each other asking for answers - no matter how much I tell them not to talk; most of them continually look at other students' work for answers; while I'm watching one or two students, others take advantage - what I need are eyes in the back of my head!).

After getting all tied up in knots about it and thinking I don't want to spend another minute in that school (!!!), I ask myself that if no one else worries about it (students themselves, parents, whomever) why should I??? They were following these methods long before I ever got here. There's only so much I can do anyway and I don't think this is a value that is as important here as I'd like it to be. I just confirmed that notion by talking with Rosie. Her answer is that "This is just the way things are done here; they've been doing this since the first grade." And she also suggested I not worry about it.

This is Friday and a much better day! I followed Rosie's suggestion, worked with the students as best I could and we actually had fun together (which is really most of the time anyway). It may have also helped that four of my disrupters were absent!

Several pictures of 6th and 7th graders going through the books from Okeechobee are now up on the web (my camera got overloaded and I didn't save some great shots with the 8th graders). That site is: More later…Edith

April 14, 2002 News from Bulgaria

The "pazaar" downtown this week was bigger and more interesting than it has been lately (this is our once-a-week market). The spring has brought more variety. Not only were there the usual items, like clothing, shoes, some hand-made babies' booties, household items, olives, but there were also farm animals. Infant chicks, toddler chicks, elementary-age chicks, and teen-age chicks in all different colors were in cages chirping away. There were also two teen-age pigs lying in a cage right next to each other, shivering with the cold. Since people keep their animals inside their courtyards, I guess this is a good place to buy/sell animals. One of my students was telling me the other day about the original use of lower floors of homes, ones with stone foundations/walls. I had been describing the homes in Nessebur. She said that originally the lower floor was used to house the animals and the upper floor with the wood exterior was where the people actually lived. When it would really get cold in the winter, the family could go downstairs and stay warm up against the animals. It would also make sense that heat would rise to the upper floor and that the animals below would serve as a "heat generator" as well. Now, in Straldja, families live on both floors and animals are kept in sheds in the courtyard.

Last Saturday, Rel and I planned to take the train to the "Billa" store (German and largest grocery store around) in Sliven. We were all out of some items that can only be found there (like good oatmeal and muesli) but they still don't have things like peanut butter (we've gone through all that has been sent from the States; my 8th graders loved it when I gave them a taste!) or regular instant tea (what they have is flavored and all of it is chunky, not the powder - my sister sent a batch of a tea recipe almost like Constant Comment that uses instant tea). We got up early on Saturday so that we could catch the early train, get our groceries and be back by noon. When we arrived at the train station to leave, however, no one was standing around waiting for a train. No one answered Rel's knock on the ticket window (it is covered and closed when no trains are due). After about 10 minutes, an elderly man came by and said a train wouldn't arrive until noon and that we would have to take a taxi. Instead, we walked back to the Centre to see if there might be a bus waiting. No bus, and no offices open on Saturday to ask someone about the bus schedule. An older acquaintance of Rel's came by, and we asked him. He walked across the street to the outside wall of a store and looked at a notice that had been posted there. It said that the train tracks were being repaired and that a train wouldn't come through until later (not sure how much) and a bus wouldn't arrive until 2:00.

Our decision then was: Do we go home then come back for the train or bus, then have to catch a very late train or bus back home, probably evening? Or do we take a taxi over? Or do we just forget the whole thing? Since I awoke around 5 am just to make this trip, I opted for taking the taxi over, getting our shopping done, then being back home and still having a good part of the day left to do other chores. Although Rel had reservations about taking a taxi because the locals would consider it very extravagant, he agreed. This was one of the few times that I could have cared less, that there are times when waiting for mass transportation gets just a little too frustrating - and this was one of them! The taxi over cost us 17 leva (about $8.50) and the trip back was 15 leva ($7.50). Our groceries came to 40 leva so the taxis cost us about as much as the groceries we bought, but much cheaper than what it would have cost us in the States to drive about 70 kilometers round-trip.

Rel is gone again this week, attending a planning/working PC seminar in Hissaria, on making changes in the training for the new volunteers this summer. It sounds like a very intense 3-full-days workshop so I'm glad I didn't receive an invitation (he's in very high demand among training staff!). Rel can use the break from Straldja and the Municipality - he STILL has no desk, no phone, no computer - they seem to be real believers in "getting something for nothing" (it's also true that they don't have much money). Instead, Rel does all his work across the street at a desk and computer in the JOBS office. He does good work for them (and the Municipality too) and, as a result, has been invited to attend the regular JOBS managers' meetings every month in Sofia (more traveling!).

We're really beginning to experience spring now. On my way into the school building this morning, an older man said something to me and waved me to follow him into the "cafeteria," where much baking is done and sold not only to students but to other small businesses in the Centre. He called to someone from the back and, in a few minutes, a freshly-baked, still-warm "Easter bread" was brought out and given to me. He waved me away when I offered to pay for it; it was a gift. I took it up to our teachers' room and shared it with colleagues. It is more like a sweet bread with lemon flavoring than a cake (Rosie says they use lemon extract). It has the consistency of bread and there is a nice brown crust on the outside. However, both the bread and crust are soft, not crisp. It is eaten by pulling pieces off with our fingers and it practically melts in our mouths. It's only two weeks until Easter here so we're getting an early start with the celebrations.

Every day now, there are flowers not only in the gardens I pass on the way to school but also on the table in our teachers' room. It seems that Straldja has some kind of flower blooming all year, except for the snowiest and coldest days of winter. There are beautifully big, red tulips and yellow ones (took a photo of one front courtyard just covered with huge red tulips); petunias; what looks like Lilies of the Valley; even lilacs. The lilacs look a little bit different than ones in our Midwest and the fragrance isn't very strong; it doesn't fill the room like the ones at home. I was walking from the Centre yesterday and had my camera along, taking photos of the flowers in gardens as I passed. One of the pensioners came running out of her garden and stopped me as I was taking pictures. She brought me a bouquet of variegated gold and brown flowers that looked something like petunias but were taller. A neighbor, another pensioner, invited me into her courtyard and while I took photos of her colorful garden, she picked a bouquet of tulips and a green plant with small purple blossoms and gave them to me. The green plant seems as if it may be an herb because of the strong aroma from the leaves, but I can't be sure. By this time, my arms were loaded, which ended my picture-taking for the time being.

Other signs of spring in Straldja are the baby animals alongside their mothers. In an empty lot today, there was a mare with her young foal grazing nearby. Wagons with mares pulling them have the foals running alongside. Lambs baa in courtyards. And bells on the herds of sheep and goats moving through town sound more clearly. I love this part of Straldja, the "rural-ness" of it…

When I finished teaching today, I unlatched an outside window of my room, leaned out, and beat my chalkboard eraser against the outdoor windowsill (the eraser is a large sponge). Every time I do this, I think of the old one-room schoolhouses in America and the "school-marms" who would have students take erasers outside and beat them together to clean out the chalk dust (is that still done in schools?). That's me, except I'm doing it now and in Bulgaria. Another activity reminiscent of pioneer times was played by elementary students outside today. They had large sacks that came up to their waists and were hopping in them like early pioneer children in potato sacks, and even like some students may do today in special celebrations or competitions in the States.


Bulgaria celebrates International Earth Day, which was today, April 19. Classes were called off at school and a school-wide cleanup was planned. As I joined the parade of students walking to school this morning, I noticed most were carrying a hoe, mostly long-handled. It was clear then what the cleanup would be. Students used their hoes to dig out weeds between stone tiles in the schoolyard, beside the building, and along the drive and concrete play areas (it was clear in watching the evening news that schools all over Bulgaria were doing the same thing). Except for older students who seemed to think it was their job to survey everyone else, all students worked really hard, digging at the weeds, even the youngest students. Some students, with their teacher, were planting trees near an entrance. After taking photos, I joined them by filling several plastic bags with trash. What was amazing was that broken glass lying in various places around the schoolyard was not part of the cleanup, even for adults. It was almost as if it were taken for granted that there would be pieces of broken glass and no one seemed to take note or to clean it up. Another problem was that the garbage bin became so full to overflowing with dirt and weeds (couldn't this have been recycled?), there was no room left for trash. For a cleaning woman and myself, there was no place to put our collected trash except on the ground beside the bin. So after an hour's worth of work, the blustery wind probably put it right back out where we found it.

There's another reason Rosie is so proud of all our books from the States. She was telling me today that these resources, and the new Resource Room, may help keep students in school in Straldja. So many of the better students leave in the 7th or 8th grade and go to language schools in Yambol or Sliven. Because those schools advertise that they teach "intensive English," parents think they are so much better. It's kind of like private schools in the States. Because the private schools charge lots of money and have a selective student body, the quality is supposed to be so much greater than that of the public schools. However, having worked in both (as a public school principal and as a private school headmaster), I know the quality of teaching in most private schools does NOT meet the standards of those in the public schools. And that's what Rosie was saying about the language school teachers. Many are trained in Russian or other languages. Then, after several weeks or months of training in English, they teach it as though they were experts. Rosie has had five years of English training and her pronunciation is very good (she had British teachers). With her background and experience, with the new resources from the States, and hopefully with the new equipment for which we are now writing a grant (computer, printer, scanner, TV, VCR, copier, more tape players, and more dictionaries), there's no reason why Straldja couldn't keep her students through high school, and maybe even attract some from other areas. So pat yourselves on the back, donators (and e-mail writers for keeping us going)! We are having an impact!!! More later…Edith

April 25, 2002 News from Bulgaria

We had no classes last Friday because of International Earth Day and we have no classes this Friday because our school is celebrating P.K. Yavorov Day. He is the namesake of our school and is celebrated each year one day in April.

Peyo K. Yavorov was "the most tragic poet in Bulgarian literature. He was born in 1878 into a poor farming family in Chirpan, located between Plovdiv and Straldja. He attended high school in Plovdiv but couldn't finish due to lack of funds. He started writing poetry at a young age and, in fact, had written his best poetry by the time he was 23. When the love of his life, Mina, died at 19 years old, he wrote a poem about her and called it "Fair Pair of Eyes:"

Fair pair of eyes. Heart of a child
In two fair eyes; music and flares.
They make no plea, no promise wild…
My heart says prayers,
My child,
My heart says prayers!
Passion and despair
Tomorrow shall enfold them
A veil of shame and sin.
A veil of shame and sin
They shall not be enfolded in
By passion and despair.
My heart says prayers,
My child,
My heart says prayers…
They make no plea, no promise wild! -
Fair pair of eyes. Music and flares
In two fair eyes. Heart of a child.

Yavorov was also known as "the father of symbolism in Bulgarian poetry." He represents in words a lot of what I've observed in Bulgarian sculpture, and that is suffering (some of the sculpure depicts just pure agony). It seems to be a dominant theme throughout Bulgarian history, its art and Yavorov's writing. "He wrote of the suffering of individuals, of society, and of national suffering."

He made his living as a telegrapher in several towns, one of which was Straldja (there is a statue of him near the post office but my students tell me he did not like living in Straldja for the year he was here). Another town was Pomorie, on the Black Sea, where there is a special festival of poetry held each year in his honor. Later, as a young man in Sofia, he met and married Laura, the daughter of a prominent and influential family. He was involved in supporting revolutionary activities (the struggle for the freedom of Macedonia from Turkish domination) and also very much involved with other poets in their get-togethers. Laura was very jealous of his attention to others and in 1913, shot and killed herself. The retribution he suffered from Laura's family and their family connections caused him so much difficulty that he also shot himself but succeeded only in becoming blind in one eye. However, in 1914, at the age of 36, lonely and sick, he tried again and this time succeeded in taking his own life.

In celebration of Yavorov and his poetry, there will be no classes on Friday and students in the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 11th classes will put on a performance at the school for the public at 5 pm. The students told me there would be "theater," singing, and dancing. In the main hall of the school, there is a display already set up of student art work, some of them by my students. Every time I see such work, I am impressed again at their talent. The art teacher must be very good (Rosie agrees) to get such variety and skill out of his students.


The special program on Friday evening did indeed include a variety of performances. It was held in the school cafeteria to a standing-room-only crowd of families and community leaders. There was live music with individual students singing Bulgarian folk tunes accompanied by an accordian player; groups of students not only sang a cappella but also lip-synced and danced to taped music; there were skits with props carried on and off the "stage" as needed; and there was even a group of fetching 6-8 year olds dressed in what were presented as "western" costumes and hats, dancing as a group to an American country and western song - about "big wheels a'rollin.". That was the only song in the whole two-hour program that I understood! The program ended with a group of girls dressed in traditional costume dancing the horo to the accompaniment of drum, accordian and gaida. The audience joined in with the dancing as did I - it was fun with all the movement and people and just a great way to end the evening.

Afterwards, the school faculty always gets together at the hotel dining room in their biggest gathering of the year and celebrates with their own singing, dancing and drinking (as Rosie said). Since Rel was still tired from all his travels, I stayed home with him and will have to wait until next year to report on this faculty tradition.

Saturday afternoon we received a call from Peter to drive to a nearby mountain with a small group of people and see the lilacs, which are now in full bloom here. This time he drove his own van and, except for using first gear on the steepest part, we made it to the "mountain hut" in a short time and on a beautifully warm and sunny day. I think "mountain hut" may be the literal translation but doesn't adequately describe the facility. It is one of a network of fairly large (some with four or five stories), stone with wood-trim-buildings located throughout Bulgaria, available for use by tourists and hikers. They are surrounded by wild nature, mainly mountain-and-valley terrain, so can only be reached by walking. Peter's mother has hiked over much of the country and, as we looked through an old book of "hut" pictures, she explained that prior to 10-12 years ago, the huts were in good condition. That isn't true now of the "Mountain Hut Lulyk" (lilac). Although there are several stone cabins and even a small wooden one, the main building is missing some windows and doors on a part of the building that extends away from the main section. We did not go inside so I can't report on that. What makes the "camp" so attractive is the beauty of unspoiled nature that completely surrounds it. Indeed this is one of the things that makes Bulgaria as a whole so attractive: its natural beauty away from cities and towns, unspoiled by any kind of human touch.

We followed a trail up towards the top of the mountain and could see Straldja and the village of Loznitz down below us. After veering to the right and walking through some shrubbery, we found ourselves in a large grove of lilac bushes and totally surrounded by them. This is the first time I've seen them growing wild and with so many in one place. They did have the same fragrance as the ones in the Midwest. There were even several varieties, one darker than the other. There was also a variety of herbs and beautiful yellow and purple wildflowers along the trail. As we have the opportunity this summer, it will be good to get out and do more exploring and hiking just to enjoy this part of Bulgaria. More later…Edith