Edith's Bulgarian Newsletter

March 2002 Archives

March 4, 2002 News from Bulgaria

March is the month of several traditional celebrations in Bulgaria. March 3 is Independence Day, a federal holiday which is similar to our Fourth of July. The Bulgarians won their independence from the Turks on that date in 1876. Since March 3 fell on a Sunday this year, Rel thought maybe offices might be closed on Monday but they were open. We didn't see any outward celebration on this day.

The other celebrations, however, have been highly visible. Have you ever wondered at Americans' use of the rabbit's foot as a symbol of good luck? When we were celebrating "Baba Marta" here on the first of March (it continues through all of March), the students explained to me what they knew about the celebration. The martenitsas are used as a symbol of "good luck" for the coming year, particularly for the upcoming spring and summer. Upon hearing this, I gave them examples of what some Americans use for good luck, such as our "rabbit's foot." When they heard this, their faces became wide-eyed and rather horror-stricken and they reacted with, "Ew-w-w." I had to admit that it didn't make any sense at all and that I had no idea why it is an American tradition (maybe the reproductive capacities of rabbits symbolize the wish for reproduction of good luck!). If they could have used such an expression, they would have said, "Gross!" However, Dobie explained later that older people use the rabbit's tail (just skin, she said) as a good luck charm, something younger people don't do any more. In times like this I wish I knew more about our own traditions, their origins and history. Learning others' traditions makes me question our own…

It really seems like the rabbit skins aren't as strange here after all. This weekend (March 9, 10) is the celebration of Koukeri, The Mummers Tradition. This marks the beginning of the spring calendar. Here in Straldja, the celebration includes groups of Koukeri's (mummers) who parade down the street with a drum and a gayda (Bulgarian bagpipes) playing. They wear colorful masks, vests, maybe dancer-type "aprons," special leg coverings but the most distinguishing feature is the belt of bells that they wear around their waists. Every move they make is accompanied by the bells ringing (sheep and cowbells that sound similar to bells on a horse pulling a sleigh - only the sound is at a lower register). They are intended to drive away evil forces and sickness. What seems to be a rabbit skin hangs from the end of long sticks that several mummers carry (Dobie says it may be an animal skin or a piece of rubber). As we watched, these mummers would run up to people and, using the stick with the skin, slap the ground hard in front of, and behind, that person (makes a loud WHOP! sound that is really kind of scary). Again, we understand this is to drive away evil spirits from that person. As Rel and I walked back from town, a mummer came up to us and slapped us both on the back twice (with his hand only!), thus driving away evil spirits.

In the past, making the masks was a competition showing off great skill and craftsmanship (don't know if all the ones here were hand-made) so that no two masks were alike. They were covered with beads, ribbons (as some of these were) and woolen tassels and were sometimes made of animal hides. An important element of the original "carnival" atmosphere was the symbolic ploughing and sowing - a token of a rich harvest. The leading mummer's heavy swaying movements represented wheat heavy with grain (particularly appropriate here since the major growing crop is wheat). Ditchko says that 10 years ago, there would be as many as 200 mummers participating in this carnival. Nowadays, here anyway, Koukeri consists basically of several groups parading down the street (starting on Friday and continuing through Sunday), slapping people (with hand or rabbit) and carrying a box for money donations (this was also a part of the Coledari singers at Christmas). We wonder if the request for money donations has taken on a bigger role because of the current economy. Rel didn't want to stand around too long watching another "parade," (the first one I'd seen) because he said he "gave at the office" on Friday (mummers came in then, danced, played music, slapped Ditchko on the back, and carried a money box).

There is another tradition that seems similar to our own. The other day Ditchko told a joke and the punch line was based on the fact that the joke took place on the first of April. When I asked him if Bulgaria had April Fool's Day also, he laughed and nodded his head yes.

Sofia trip

Women's Day (March 8) in Sofia was celebrated with flowers. As Elizabeth (another volunteer) and I walked to the Peace Corps offices in the morning, we saw many, many flower vendors along the main streets. When we arrived for our meeting, Valya (our Bulgarian meeting coordinator) wished us "Chestit Praznek," which means "Happy Holiday - The best to you in luck and love." Steve (Country Director) and all the men in the office bought roses for all the women and had a short ceremony to present them. The young male volunteers also bought some flowers on the way to the office and presented them to all the women on the SPA Committee, along with pieces of chocolate given to women who were guests. It did remind me very much of our Mother's Day but it is for ALL women and girls. So on our way back to the hotel at the end of the working day, almost all women we saw were carrying flowers.

Being in Sofia for several unhurried days allowed the opportunity to meet an interesting retiree and to find several restaurants we hadn't known previously. The retiree is an American who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria two years ago. For almost a year now he has made Sofia his home (an involved and arduous process is required to obtain a "permanent residence" card). When asked why he chose Sofia for retirement, he cited the fact that money goes much further here and the fact that he has many friends within the Sofia music community (he plays a saxophone). We also found a Lebanese restaurant where the food is good and inexpensive (a good Italian restaurant is much more expensive) and a "pub" where we can buy an American-style breakfast with eggs, bacon and toast (but not very early!). If Bulgarians eat breakfast, it's usually a cup of Turkish coffee and a pastry like bonichka; there are no early-morning breakfast places like we have in the States. Not even McDonald's serves breakfast.

Traveling to and from Sofia alone was another "growing and learning" experience. No problems arose on my way there that couldn't be handled. I purchased my return ticket prior to the trip back, made it up and down the train station stairs carrying my luggage, and found the right train home - and felt so good that I had done it alone!!! (To reach a train, you must walk down under the tracks, find the right exit, climb the stairs and, when reaching the top, expect to be at the right track where your train awaits.) Growing and learning like this is a little like a mythical character called "Coyotewomon" who is a trickster. It is her job to "trick" people into growing. In my case, a part of me wanted to grow but needed to be tricked into taking that chance (I wouldn't have chosen to travel alone to Sofia if there hadn't been a real good reason for doing it!).

The view from the train through the mountains was fascinating and full of color. It was such a change from the scenes that we had seen last winter. Spring was in the air with many trees covered with fluffy, white blossoms looking like popcorn. With snow still on the mountain peaks, evergreens next, and the white-blossomed trees at the foot of the mountains, it was a nice contrast. The more distant mountains showed up as a hazy blue, with darker blues, greens, and purples covering the closer mountains. The purple almost seemed to be a trick of my eyes; it looked like a purple moss growing in the shadowed parts of the mountain ravines. As we got closer, however, the "moss" was actually trees that were still bare - but I'm not really sure about that (it's hard to believe that bare trees, seen at a distance, could be such a beautiful color!). On farm land nearer the mountains, there were larger trees planted in rows - looking a little like pecan trees in Georgia - and still bare from the winter. Moving closer to the plains and still in hill country, more trees changed from large white to smaller white, then pink, blossoms. Reaching grapevine country closer to the plains, I saw workers out in the fields burning (dead branches?), raking and harrowing between the rows of vines. And the planted trees changed from larger, more stately trees to smaller, fuller ones that were probably fruit trees (maybe cherries).

The train stops at many small towns and villages along the way and people embark and disembark at each station. When the movement of people is completed, the uniformed station worker at the side of the track waves a paddle toward the engine. The paddle has a long handle with a small round circle at the end. On one side of the circle is red and the other, green. When he waves the green side to the engine up front, I hear a short burst of the whistle and our train begins moving again.

Later in Straldja

If Rosie, my counterpart, doesn't get back soon, there will be no students or teacher left! Either I will have done away with the students or they with me! This is the second day of gray, cold, blowing rain and we're all ready to kill each other. Whatever made me think I could teach kids again?! Yesterday (Sunday) was to be the first lesson in Tai Chi for Rel and me down at the Centre (the instructor drives over from Sliven). I didn't go because of the rain (it wasn't clear where the group would meet) and missed our first lesson. Instead, I stayed home and planned all my lessons carefully for Monday, thinking I had things well in hand. Hah! This was a typical day in the life of a control freak who is currently operating under a type-A personality. Got to get back to my mantra of "just go with the flow" and give up the misguided notion that I'm EVER totally in control. Until next time…Edith

March 16, 2002 News from Bulgaria

Kostadin, one of my "slower" students, really surprised me yesterday. My 8th grade SIPclass has been reading a small collection of some young children's books received from the American Embassy earlier in the year. They were the only books in the school (besides their textbooks) written in English. But also, with fewer and more simple words, they were a good start to reading successfully. Kostadin had missed several of our classes due to illness and, on his return, had asked for one also. Then, during the week, he came up to me after class asking for help to define some English words that he had listed on a paper. It was a long list and I wondered at the time where he had gotten so many English words. Yesterday, when he told me he had a book to read, I said he could read it to me in SIP class. He did a very good job, mispronouncing only a few of the words. When he finished, he showed me the paper again of his long list of words. That's when I realized that he had made a "retchnik," a dictionary of all the words in the book that he didn't know. Besides the word itself, it included the pronunciation and the meaning of the word. A lot of work in order to read one book! Later it was explained to me that this is the method used to learn words once students begin studying English - and that all beginning students use this method. Nevertheless, I was impressed with the time and energy he applied to something not required by me or the school and to a book written for much younger students. (The previous week, Xenia, one of my "faster" students, had read one of the stories aloud to a SIP class of primary students.)

NOW, we have a much wider variety of books to choose from. Four bags of books have arrived from Central Elementary School in Okeechobee where they had conducted a book drive last fall (and there are more coming!). I pulled out all those books so all the classes could see them and they spent some time at the beginning of each class looking them over. What was so interesting was that, even though many of these books are for younger children, all my students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades quickly became involved in going through them. If they couldn't read well, they focused on the pictures. Those students who could read became engrossed in reading one book; they were ready to keep the ones they had chosen. However, we have not yet got our "Resource Room" set up so have no place where we can display the books. We will need to figure out how to organize the books (without the room) so students can begin to have access to them. (We also need a session on how to care for the books; no writing in them like they unconsciously do on desks!)

There were books that I immediately began using in the classes. The 6th grade had been learning the rhyme "This Old Man," and that book with pictures was included. They had also been learning about squids; there was a book about manatees. So I used that book to extend their knowledge about sea animals, and to familiarize them with animals unique to Florida. There was the children's poem about the "Itsy, Bitsy Spider" and the 8th grade had been reading about spiders so I used that with them (this went a little bit TOO far). Books (or even rhymes) that wouldn't even be considered for use at certain grade levels in the States, however, are really a gold mine here - for all children. It may be hard to imagine how wonderful it is to have such a variety of material to read when previously what we had was so limited (magazines, pictures, cards have been great also to supplement and to display on our walls). We have taken photos with the students and these books and will get them soon up on the website.

Rosie finally made it back and arrived on a Thursday. Her trip to Spain in February (by bus) to help a friend was her first trip outside Bulgaria. She was in Barcelona for a month, mostly in the hospital, serving as interpreter for a friend undergoing surgery on her leg. She hasn't said a lot yet to me about the trip except to say that Barcelona was "very beautiful" and that she spent a lot of time in the hospital. We immediately returned to our original teaching schedule which allows me less "textbook" time with the students and more creative time - through the SIP classes. My plans for the 6th grade SIP class are to get involved with school clean-up and recycling. (When picking up trash later in the schoolyard, the girls used small plastic bags to make gloves so their hands wouldn't get dirty! But it's also true that there is no soap in any of the school restrooms.) Rel bought a rake for cleaning our "bloc" yard and paint for the dumpster. Hopefully, the 6th grade will be enthusiastic about getting involved at the school, actually doing something; then maybe the idea will spread further. International Earth Day is also on March 20 and we'll continue working on a recycling project through to the date of America's Earth Day, which is April 22.


Sunday, March 17, was the celebration of "Zagovezni," the beginning of Lent. The previous Sunday, people were supposed to have given up meat for Lent. Then this Sunday was the day to give up other meat products such as eggs, milk, cheese. (Although originally they fasted until Easter, now many families abstain from meat or meat products for just three days.) Families cooked things like banitsa, halva and eggs in preparation for a very large meal in the evening. After the meal, younger family members asked, and received, forgiveness from older family members and kissed their hands. Outside a fire was built and members jumped over the fire - for good health and good luck. This is a very old tradition dating back 3,000-4,000 years to pre-Christian times.

We were out of town most of the day on Sunday. Three friends and English students of Rel's invited us to a village north into the mountains, a direction we had not traveled before. Neither of us knew where we were going until we arrived in Zheravna (about 30 km), a quaint, picturesque village that seemed very much "off the beaten path" - there were no big signs or arrows pointing to this place. We seemed to be one of very few vehicles parked in the center of town that was just mainly concrete. When we started walking up a narrow ancient cobblestone street (all stones were uneven with odd shapes and sizes) and began to see the buildings, however, I realized this place was very special; the buildings were very old and absolutely beautiful with all the wood, stone and varying architecture. We found out later that it has been declared a "national architectural reserve. There are more than 200 ancient homes, most built by unknown masters from wood and stone over 300 years ago." Eighteen of those homes have been "adapted to the needs of tourism," meaning we could pay for a tour through them. (We were told later that the town does not have as many tourists nor is it maintained as well now as it was prior to 10 years ago, when the Communists were in power.)

The first home we visited was that of Sava Filaretov, a great Bulgarian educator, who founded the first school for girls in Sofia. Detailed carvings trimmed the wood in the rooms as well as out on the covered terrace (we toured only the second story). Colorful handmade carpets covered the floors. In this home, as in the second one we visited, the "living room" was the largest room and the room where the fireplace was located at the far end. But there was also a raised dais that took up the whole length of the left side of the room and this is where the family slept - Asian-style, our guide informed us. The second home was a one-story structure (considered poor at the time; most were two stories) and the birthplace of Yordan Yovkov, a writer of the early 1900's. His early and successful short stories were taken from the life he lead while growing up in this village. Our third visit was to the local church, a beautifully maintained structure, with colorful icons on the walls and gold trimming on much of the wood. Our lunch was at an out-of-town hotel, sitting on the terrace with a "front row" view of a mountain river with fast-moving waterfalls. As we walked toward the falls later, our friends pointed out a large and very deep wooden barrel embedded in the earth at the edge of the cabin compound. It is used to launder hand-woven carpets. When ready, all that is needed is to open the gate to a diverted section of the river and the river water comes gushing down into the barrel - a natural agitator! Our last visit was to Kotel, a town famous for hand-made carpets. We didn't see any (they are woven now in private homes) but did tour the local science museum where one section was devoted entirely to dried herbs and showed, on a graphic, parts of the body that are affected by the healing powers of those herbs.

Since the first day of spring occurs this week, all students from the school were going to be bussed on Friday about eight kilometers north into the mountains where the Straldja municipality owns land and a cabin. It is a trip taken each year by the school to celebrate the coming of spring. Everyone takes a bag lunch and just generally enjoys the out-of-doors. Unfortunately, it has been too cold this week (down to freezing last night) to take the trip.

However, over spring break (first week in April), Rel and I are planning a trip to Veliko Turnovo (capital of Bulgaria 1185-1396) to tour a castle from that time period and see ancient crafts still being practiced. Since Rosie had attended the university there, I asked her for suggestions on the best way to travel and best places to see (we were figuring to be gone about three days). Unbeknownst to us, she and two other colleagues (Naska and Tanya) began planning how to find "wheels" so that we could all go together to both Turnovo and Gabrovo, another interesting town. With Naska navigating the route, Tanya providing historical narrative and Rosie acting as interpreter, we should have a top-notch tour - in just two days! More later…Edith

March 23, 2002 News from Bulgaria

"When does a Bulgarian youth 'move out' of his or her parent's home?" This was a question asked of us in culture class during Peace Corps training last summer. The choices for an answer were a) Never completely, b) Upon marriage, c) When going off to college. In America, the answer could be the second one, third one or even a fourth one. In Bulgaria, the answer is the first one. All of the single young people we know (twenty- and thirty-year olds) who live in Straldja continue to live in their parents' homes.

When we first arrived, we met a young woman (home from college) who invited us to "her place" for a "na-gosti," a small get-together. Naturally, I pictured "her place" as her own apartment when she pointed it out to us outside her bloc. Come to find out, however, it was her mother's apartment and she still lives with her mother. Dobie, one of Rel's colleagues, has graduated from college and works full-time in the JOBS office. When I first met her last fall and asked where she was staying in Straldja (she went to college in Varna), she pointed out a house near the school. Since we lived in a bloc, I wondered how she was able to find space to rent in a house. It was later I found out that it was her parents' home. Both she and her younger brother still live there with their parents. Ivan and two other friends of Ditchko (the one young woman is a judge in Yambol) all live with their parents in town. Economically it's more feasible, of course, but it also is a long-running tradition here.

Maybe that is part of the history of generations of families living for years in the same town. Rosie tells me she grew up with her grandparents (her father' parents) living in the same household here in Straldja. Not only did her grandparents grow up and go to school here, but also her great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents, as far back as she knows about. It seems that when the oldest son marries, he moves his wife in to live with his family and inherits the property. Since Bulgarian families have only one or two children, this doesn't seem to be much of a problem (Georgi, in our host family in Panagyuriste, was the oldest son but left the family home to take a job in a mine and it is his younger brother and wife who have stayed with the parents). This certainly adds stability when generation after generation lives in the same town.

However, there seems to be discontinuity when it comes to the wife's side of the family. Rosie's mother's parents also live in Straldja but, since Rosie grew up with her father's parents, she doesn't know as much about her maternal grandparents' history. Even in Rosie's immediate family there is discontinuity since both daughters (Rosie and her sister) have left home to live with their husbands (her sister moved in with the husband's family). While waiting at the Sofia Airport in January for the first leg of our flight back to the States, we met a young man who was returning to Utah (where he lives with his wife and child) after attending his father's funeral outside of Plovdiv. He was an only child and was concerned about leaving his mother alone in the small village. When his parents married, his father brought his new wife to the village to live. After having stayed there for many years, his mother had broken the strong ties she had had to her own family in Plovdiv so that now, as an older person, she had no connections she could turn to when alone. In the village, our young friend told us, families "look out for their own" and, since his mother had no family there, it was a source of concern that she had no one to look out for her.

Some of this sounds familiar with families in the States. The difference is that, in the States, there can be discontinuity in BOTH sides of the family with moving because of job change. Many children grow up without grandparents or extended family close by. Here, most children live in the same household with their grandparents. When I tell my students that they are lucky to have grandparents near them, they don't understand; it's just taken for granted. While Rosie was attending the University in Veliko Turnovo, she married and had her daughter, Martina. Rosie and her husband were living with her parents at the time. There was no interruption of Rosie's schooling because she had both her mother and her grandmother to care for Martina. And it's still true. When Rosie is gone on trips (Peace Corps or to Spain), Martina stays with her grandparents (Rosie's husband owns and manages a restaurant).

The past two weeks have been more like winter than spring. We first had just gray, rainy days but it has now become very cold, gray, rainy days. There is a weather "low" that seems to be spinning around above us and keeps bringing down cold air from Russia. Rel put the winter lining back into his coat and I zipped my hood back onto my winter jacket. But at least I am feeling better, despite the cold. Several days after Rosie returned, I began feeling very tired, weak, and had an upset stomach. It took me about a week to discover that I just needed rest; it seemed to be a reaction to all the energy expended while Rosie was gone. My body finally said, "Enough!" so I took off several days from school. It was during this time that both Rel and I wondered if we could stick out another year here. We are down now to one year and four months left (hopefully, we both will be finished on August 1, 2003). It's hard to think that we will have to go through another winter like this - it just doesn't seem to end.

This Sunday, of course, Easter is celebrated in the States. However here, with the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church, Easter will be celebrated the first part of May. As I understand it, last Monday was the name day for a patron saint, Blagovest, (one of my students' names is Blagovesta so it was her name day) but was also the Day of Anunciation for the Orthodox Church. In addition to the regular spring break next week, we will also have a week's vacation in early May because of the Easter celebration. It seems that our trip to Veliko Turnovo, north in the mountains, will be postponed until then since this next week may be too much like winter. Monday, April 1, is called the "Day of Lies" and jokes are played on each other just like our April Fool's Day in the States.

Today (Wednesday) Rel and I leave for Burgas, an hour by train to the Black Sea. Peace Corps is holding our LAST (thank goodness) language training seminar. After our two days' training, we hope to see more of the Black Sea coast and visit some historical places. All this depends, of course, on the weather. If it remains cold and gray, we will come home and try another time. We do plan, however, on staying over Friday night to meet up with another married couple who are volunteers in a nearby town. They are interesting because they are closer to our age but also because they got married less than a year before entering Peace Corps (second marriage for both). He's an attorney and she was in corporate marketing. The stresses and strains of living here are difficult enough for "older" relationships but must be moreso for the "newly married." Another "older" married couple (volunteers) lives north in Shumen. As a young couple with children, they joined Peace Corps and served in the Dominican Republic for two years (their children are now grown with their own families). Talk about stresses and strains! There was a short period of time when Peace Corps accepted whole families as volunteers, but no more.

Plans are now in high gear for training the new Peace Corps Volunteers that will arrive in June (we get to sit back and let THEM go to all the training seminars next year!). It is expected that about 75 volunteers will be arriving, more than our 54 last summer. The almost-three months' training will take place again in Panagyurishte and Rel is considering serving as a "resource PCV" for the new trainees (I may do so as well) if they need him. That would add a little variety to our summer (along with some travel hopefully). The tendency for one-year volunteers is to "lord it over" the new trainees; after all, we've made it through one year! But I didn't like that last summer and hope that I wouldn't do the same to the new trainees.


One of the biggest "eye-openers" for me since living here is the realization that there is so much more to the world than just what happens at home. I used to get so tried hearing on TV news about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since I was neither Israeli nor Palestinian, what did that have to do with me??! However here our two English-speaking TV channels (international CNN and EuroNews) have provided more information about what is happening in the WORLD. I have a much better understanding of how that conflict definitely impacts on us in the States and on other countries as well. There is so much more happening in the world than just what happens in the States (as possibly the U.S. news now reflects). No longer do I get impatient with world news but have really learned to appreciate the differences in perspective that living here provides. It no longer seems to me that the U.S. is the ONLY important country in the world but that we all (all countries) are in this together. What one does effects the others, as was shown by Sept. 11. So I listen and watch and learn from what goes on around me, and on the news as well. This is probably one of the most valuable lessons learned in serving in the Peace Corps - so far. I'm sure there will be more before we're done! Later, Edith

March 31, 2002 News from Bulgaria

Wow! Am I impressed! We spent the last two days in Bourgas at a language training seminar. The result is that I have learned so much more about Bulgarian history. It is much older than I realized and, from the very beginning, has sustained itself even to this day while other cultural strains have died out along the way. (Slavic history is very much intertwined and makes up a significant part of Bulgarian history.)

This new awareness came when our instructor, Ani, made several presentations on different aspects of Bulgarian history. As a part of the workshop, she spoke in Bulgarian so I didn't understand all of what she said. However, she used "picture books" to assist her explanations and it was those pictures along with her anecdotal stories that sparked my imagination and interest. In the past, as in our summer training, we were provided with some history information: an outline of significant dates and activities, names of important Bulgarian heroes (Vasil Levski for one), some discussions, and the clear understanding that Bulgarians are not only knowledgeable about their own history but very, very proud of it. I am just now beginning to understand why and now have a greater interest in researching Bulgarian "roots."

Before we left Bourgas, Rel and I picked up several books on Bulgarian history from a local bookstore and have been reading them voraciously. I expect I will look for more to assist my learning (not all books are translated into English so are difficult to find in bookstores; even those books translated into English are at times difficult to understand because the translations aren't clear). My maps of the world and of Bulgaria are lying out on the bed so that I can trace the history as the books dictate. Along this "path of learning," I will share with you my understanding of Bulgarian history. You may find it just as interesting as I do. Each of the upcoming newsletters will have something of that history included. (I also stand willing to be corrected when an obvious error has been made!).

According to two different sources (see below), it is agreed that the Bulgaria of today stemmed from the combination of two groups: the Slavs and early Bulgarians. The Slavs, originating in central Europe, lived a settled life, engaged in agriculture, cattle-breeding and took up arms against borderlands of the Roman Empire. Eventually they defeated the boundaries of the Roman Empire and, at the end of the 4th century, had begun to resettle, moving out into all directions of Europe and eventually occupying all of the Balkan peninsula. However, the Slavs' "powerful tribal striving after independence" prevented them from building up a State, an organization like the Roman Empire. It was left to the Bulgarians to provide that.

Although the early history of the Bulgarians is a puzzle for historians, sources seem to agree that the Bulgarians came out of Asia. "Bulgarians are registered on the map of Central Asia as early as the 1st millennium BC." It is believed that they traversed the northern frontier of China and that maybe even "the Great Chinese Wall was built to hold back their stormy raids on Chinese lands." On their way west, some tribes settled into western Siberia, as far south as India, and by the 3rd and 4th centuries, they were settled into Europe. They could be found in what is now the southern Russian plains, Caucasus and Armenia, and came into contact with Persia and Byzantium. The State they formed was called "Great Bulgaria" by ancient authors.

A distinguishing achievement created by the early Bulgarians (between 2500-300 BC) is the "Bulgarian calendar," a solar calendar of the year, which makes up a 12-year cycle (the old dating of this calendar can also be found in Chinese sources from 206 BC - 25 AD). The calendar was so accurate that in the 1970's UNESCO considered adopting it as "a model for a universal world calendar." It is based on 364 days, making four seasons of three months each and 52 weeks total. In each season, the first month has 31 days and the other two, 30 days. The first day was conceived as the year's beginning and most probably fell on Winter Solstice (Dec. 21/22). Each date falls on exactly the same day of the week thereafter, including holidays.

Bulgarian astrologer-priests created in their own people the idea that "historical continuity is lived; it does not simply happen like some unforeseeable torrent. Historical continuity cannot be situated in Linear time. It is performed in Cyclic time…[which] is the oldest mathematical notion of measuring time. It is usually explained as a deciphered annual circle, but also contains an exceptional feature. If history is conceived of as a sacred zodiacal completeness, then living through it becomes an everlasting return. Ancient astrological wisdom, however, never brings one back to exactly the same unchanged initial point. It teaches people, who observe the world and create the world, to come back to their own selves in any situation, to come back to their solid system of values" (from THE BULGARIANS). I think this describes how Bulgarians feel about their long history. Although there has been defeat in the past, there have been uprisings when Bulgarians have "come back to their solid system of values," are continually reborn, living and sustaining themselves, as in a cycle.

By the way, this solar calendar is an interesting contrast to the current solar calendar we use (from Roman times). July was named for Julius Ceasar and has 31 days because it wouldn't do for him to be named after a short month. Then there is August named for Ceasar Augustus. It also has 31 days for the same reason. These two months were added after the initial calendar was created obviously because September used to be the seventh month, Oct. the eighth, Nov. the ninth, and Dec. the tenth month (maybe it wouldn't do for their months to occur in the dead of winter either!).

On the evening of our last day in Bourgas, Judith and Doug joined us from Aitos and we walked along the beach of the Black Sea. Because of the cold and wind, it reminded me more of the western, or even northeastern, coasts of the United States rather than those of Florida. There were distractions of course, like lack of maintenance on the beaches themselves and on some surrounding areas, and the ugly construction of an "entertainment" building right at the base of beautiful, wide, old stone steps leading down to the beach. But overpowering those distractions was the beauty of the sea and the walk, bordering the sea, for miles through gardens that are currently filled with blooming flowers (a flower show is scheduled in several weeks) and many trees. The view of the water is unobstructed: no tall condominiums or privately owned beaches to obliterate the view. The gardens extend not only along the paved walkway that borders the beach but also through a large park. Closer to our hotel, many tall trees lined the walkway and also provided a natural setting. We were situated on a bay of the Black Sea because we could look out across the water and see fingers of land extending inward from both sides (the closer one covered with hills). Freighters could be seen in dock and some out on the water. Indeed our hotel was located near the port where the ships come in. Although it's a large port and much older, it looked like a "pale cousin" to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale - not nearly as big nor as sophisticated (with large machinery).

In the evening, we attended a symphony concert at a downtown hall (Judith is a cello player and Doug plays the clarinet; both brought their instruments with them into Peace Corps). There was no "dress code" so we wore our slacks. Although Judith said that the hall is too small for such a large orchestra, it had good acoustics and I thoroughly enjoyed almost "sitting right on top the orchestra," seeing and hearing everything very clearly (we had seats in the first row of the balcony). The music was great! We particularly enjoyed their version of "Rodeo" by Aaron Copland. Despite the beautiful music, however, I understand that the members are paid by the state because, otherwise, they would not be able to subsist on ticket sales, which were not large in number.


On April 1, "The Day of Lies" or "Day of Humor" which is a nicer title, Rel and I attended a program presented by the Pensioner's Club and in celebration of this special day. The meeting room was set with many more tables than usual, all covered with plastic, and arranged around the walls of the room leaving the center of the room open. We had been invited to bring a snack and drink and could see that others brought theirs as well and they were scattered around on the tables. Although the time of starting had been set for 8 pm, the actual programming didn't start until around 9 pm. Georgi, the leader, was waiting for a person to come with his gaida (Bulgarian bagpipes) and play for us; he didn't show so Georgi started without him. ("No shows" are fairly common. Rel and I had arrived for a Tai Chi lesson several weeks ago but no one came and no one told us ahead that there would be no class. When asked, Ditchko didn't know what happened and didn't seem too concerned. As I've said before, time is not of the essence here.)

The "history" of the day was read first and, from what I could understand, a satirical "history" at that. With each presentation of folk singing and different skits, people laughed, clapped and gave flowers to participants. As Rel could understand more of the language than I, he informed me that much of what was said by these pensioners was probably more raunchy than what would be said by American retirees at such a program. I'll have to take his word for it since I could catch only a few words that I knew. However, we danced to recorded Bulgarian folk music and really enjoyed ourselves, despite the language barrier. And, before finishing the program, Georgi asked me to again sing the old American tune TELL ME WHY - something I've done regularly for them since singing at their request when we first arrived. And he translated it into Bulgarian (although limited, he's a self-taught learner of English). We left feeling much loved and appreciated and loaded down with many flowers.

More later, Edith


THE BULGARIANS, edited by Dr. Alexander Fol from research compiled by the CENTRE FOR RESEARCH ON THE BULGARIANS, published by Tangra All Bulgarian Foundation, 2000.

BULGARIANS: CIVILIZERS OF THE SLAVS by Bojidar Dimitrov, published by BORINA, 2001.