Edith's Bulgarian Newsletter

May 2002 Archives

May 5, 2002 News from Bulgaria

Today the Eastern Orthodox Church of Bulgaria celebrates Easter. There is a service at the church this morning but there was also one last night at 11 pm. At 12 midnight, we understand that a procession of the many people attending walks around the church three times carrying lit candles. Ditchko says it is quite a sight to see because it lights up the whole area. As with many other traditions, this one seems to be a carryover from early pagan times…

Students at school explained to me other traditions that are followed this time of year. Eggs are painted on the Thursday before Easter. If not then, they are painted on Saturday. These eggs are eaten. One egg is red and that egg is placed in front of an icon of Mary and it stays there for the next year - for health and good luck. Another good luck tradition is to take one egg in one fist, another in the other fist, and hit them together with one over the other (as with potato skins, eggshells here are very thick). A special bread is baked for Easter, a sweet bread with a hint of lemon. It's interesting, when the students tell me about these special preparations, to see how they laugh and giggle. I think no one has asked them before to explain what seems very normal to them.

After they explained their traditions, then I explained what happens in America. Several of the ways they celebrate are similar to ours: we color Easter eggs and many people attend church on Easter Sunday. In addition, I explained the Easter egg hunt and the Easter bunny. The tradition originally came from Germany in the 1500's and really took off in America after the Civil War. One legend from northern Europe says that there was a very poor mother who wanted to give her children presents for Easter. Since she couldn't afford anything else, she painted eggs and hid them in the forest. The children found the eggs and wondered where they came from. About that time, a rabbit jumped out from behind a tree where some eggs laid. One of the children cried, "It's the rabbit's eggs," and the legend of the Easter bunny was born.

In pagan times, the rabbit was the earthly symbol of the goddess Eastre and was worshipped in the pagan festival of Eastre. Ancient Egypt considered the rabbit to be a symbol of the moon as the moon determines the date of Easter. Egyptians used the rabbit, or hare, as a symbol of fertility and renewal of life -- which fit in with the Christian tradition of Easter and that of Easter eggs. Eggs were a symbol of life and so were given at Easter time by ancient Egyptians, Persians, Gauls, Greeks and Romans.

After the Easter bunny legend and with plastic eggs and Easter candy sent by my daughter from the States, we had an Easter egg hunt for each of the four classes. I used our new English Resource Room to hide the eggs and even some of the 8th graders got all excited about finding them and eating the candy. They were entranced with the plastic eggs. With having to stuff eggs between classes for the next one (there are 85 students total), I was utterly exhausted when I got home.

There are other centers of worship in Straldja. There is an evangelical church (Assembly of God) in town and their Easter celebration probably coincides with that of the West. There's also a Mosque towards the Turkish-Roma section of town. We can sometimes hear their call to prayers over the loudspeaker.

We did not attend the midnight service at the Orthodox Church as we had intended (we had been looking forward to the candle procession) because Rel had wrenched his back during the day, as a result of our travels on the previous Wednesday and Thursday. Earlier in the week, with a donation from Rel and me, Rosie had hired a van driver and his girlfriend to take a group of us (Rosie and Martina, two other colleagues, Naska and Tanya and Tanya's twin boys) to Veliko Turnovo, an historical city on the other side of the "Stara Planina" (old mountain) or Balkans. We left Wednesday morning, walked many miles up and down on both Wednesday and Thursday, and arrived back home Thursday evening. It was a whirlwind trip (we weren't really able to pace ourselves) but we saw a lot and learned a lot from Tanya who was our official guide.

There were three main historical highlights on the trip: The fortress on Tsarevetz Hill in Veliko Turnovo which was the capital of the Bulgarian Empire 1185-1393, peak Shipka in the Central Balkans with a monument marking the sight of a strategic battle for the liberation of Bulgaria from the Turks in 1878, and a Thracian tomb in Kazanlak.

Veliko Turnovo is located on four hills, one of which is Tsarevetz Hill. On its peak can be found remains of the fortress in which were located the palace of the King, the Cathedral of the Orthodox Patriarch (rebuilt), and remains of many shops and homes of those who served the reigning monarch. Although in the first century Bulgarians had moved into the Balkan peninsula where Slavs were already living, it was not until 681 that the first Bulgarian kingdom was formed. By 893, Bulgaria had expanded to reach three seas (Adriatic, Aegean, and Black). However, the Byzantines (Greeks) captured Bulgaria in 1018. In 1186, though, Tsar Assen and Petar lead Bulgaria to independence and that's when Veliko Turnovo was named the capital of Bulgaria. It remained so until the Turks overtook Bulgaria in 1396 and they stayed in power for the next 500 years.

Although Daniel, our driver, took us over to the fortress, we walked through the gates and over then up, up, and up. I felt pretty lucky with my hiking boots when I saw that Rosie was wearing high heels! She was a real trooper though and didn't give up. We climbed up through paths, grass, rocks and steps to see both the palace and the cathedral. It was much easier coming down. But we still had to walk back to the hotel and, on the way, went through the crafts section of the old town. Shops have been set up where people can ply their crafts, like a coppersmith, weaver, woodcarver, etc. After dinner, Rel and I begged off another walking tour and went on to bed.

The next day we climbed back into the van and headed toward Gabrovo. We climbed the Balkan mountains to reach the highest peak in the Shipka pass and, on the way, had to stop so the VW van could cool down from the steep climb. At the base of the peak we parked the van. To get to the monument, we had to climb 1000 steps - straight up. On the way, Tanya told us of the history. During the 500 years of Turkish rule, there had been uprisings to throw off the Turkish yoke, but they were unsuccessful. In 1877-1878, Russia declared war on the Turks (Ottoman Empire) and liberated Bulgaria. It was Bulgaria's Volunteer Corps, under the command of Russian officers, that won the battle at peak Shipka, and was the defining moment of that war. Shipka was a pass in the mountains and it was important to stop the Turks at the point of this highest peak. Bulgarians held it and used all their firepower to fend off the Turks. When they ran out of ammunition to shoot their guns, they used rocks and dead bodies to rain down on their enemies. At the base of the monument, one sculpture shows soldiers fighting wrapped in their winter clothing, another depicts the soldiers throwing heavy rocks, and in a third, women are carrying water buckets across their shoulders to wounded soldiers. The climb was worth it to see the sculptures but to also see the view of surrounding mountains from there.

Our last stop was at the Thracian tomb "which dates from the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 3rd century BCE, when the Thracian kingdom enjoyed a great political, economic and cultural uplift." The tomb itself is covered over with a protective building in which scientific work takes place. However, an exact replica of the tomb is located just down the hill and that is where we saw what the inside of the tomb looks like. Bent over, we walked through a short corridor into a small, round domed room where the actual burial was. The walls and dome hold colorful art work depicting important times in the life of the Thracian ruler buried here. (The tomb was built while he still lived.) "The realistic frescoes in the Kazanlak tomb are the work of an excellent artist from the Early Hellenistic period. The Thracian artist's skill in depicting the Thracian spirit and way of life indisputably indicates the richness of Thracian culture." I wouldn't be surprised if these frescoes weren't a part of the textbook we had in our college art class.

Other sights we visited included several different monasteries since, not only are they very old, but they were also the sites where revolutionaries did their strategy planning for the uprising and were protected from the Turks. (More on this in a later newsletter.) We stopped at a mountain spring where a match can be lit and fire burns on the water as it comes out of the groundpipe (there are also coal mines in the area which may have something to do with chemicals in the water). We saw the first non-sectarian school in Bulgaria located in Gabrovo, visited a museum of wit and humor in Gabrovo and saw many crafts currently practiced in both Veliko Turnovo and in Etar, an outdoor museum set up outside Gabrovo so tourists can observe craftspeople working at their art. We even had an Easter egg hunt for adults and children in a forest near a monastery where we stopped to eat our picnic lunch. So not only did we learn about Bulgarian history on this trip but our Bulgarian friends learned a little about American tradition as well. More later…Edith

May 12, 2002 News from Bulgaria

In spring here, it seems that almost everyone works in their garden. As I prepared plans for my quilting group presentation, which would take place in the evening, I asked Rosie to look it over and give me feedback. The only limitation she saw was that the evening meeting would take people away from working in their gardens, the means by which most people in our town get food - that and their animals. On our way to and from Sofia last week (and to Turnovo as well), we saw many groups of people working on gardens out in the fields. Most used hand tools like hoes and spread seeds through their fingers; others used a horse to pull a single plow while the farmer guided it through the soil; and a few used tractors (more rare). Many people were either making hay, piling a big stack on a wagon pulled by a horse; raking it; or it was just laying out in the fields to dry. In town as well, there is hay drying on rooftops of long sheds; on yard edges along the street; and even on one lane of a street. Around Plovdiv, we saw many small gardens located along the train tracks. They were fenced off from each other and were near big "blocs" (apartment buildings) so I'm assuming they belonged to the bloc-dwellers.

Spring also seems to be the time for cleaning here as it is in the States. On our way to the mountain hut "LuLyk" several weeks ago, we traveled on the main highway out of town through the Roma section. When Peter veered to the left lane with no car coming, I looked to see what he passed. It was a Roma woman with her large rug (covering the whole lane) out on our side of the highway; she was on her knees scrubbing it down with soap and water. With her head away from us, she had a lot of trust that drivers would go around her! When I looked over toward the homes, however, I could see why she used the highway. The roads are dirt and the yards are also mainly dirt, so she really had no other place to do her cleaning.

Interesting development. It's Sunday and I just went to the store to buy some bread, among other things. There is no bread for sale in that store nor in another one next door to us (this is the following week and we haven't been able to find onions for some reason). As I've said before, most bread comes unwrapped and is carried home that way (some is sliced and wrapped but there is little of that available and it is also very crumbly). We think it is baked locally, maybe inYambol, and is delivered only on weekdays, so over the weekend stores run out of it.

Living with ambiguity is a fact of life in Peace Corps. I was thinking about that when we traveled home from Sofia yesterday on the train. We never quite know when we take the same train (Saturday morning, 7:15 am from the same track) whether or not we will travel through Stara Zagora on our way home, which is a little further, or whether it will be Sliven, which is closer. Yesterday it was Stara Zagora. When we got to one mountain town about an hour from home, we waited a long time before the train started up again. When it went into reverse, we knew then we'd be going through Stara Zagora (we've been through this before). In Stara Zagora, we waited again for a long time (for switching the tracks so we would go forward to Straldja). When we were just outside Straldja, we saw that the railroad tracks that veered off to Sliven were being repaired. So the only way to get to Straldja that day was through Stara Zagora.

Changing transportation schedules (train and bus) aren't the only examples of living with ambiguity. School schedules change without much notice. We have school this Saturday (I found out last week) and had school last Saturday when I wasn't here. It seems we're making up days when we were off for vacation. Offices are also open on Saturday to make up the days.

Living with ambiguity is a result I think of not truly knowing the culture we're living in. For example, growing up in one's own culture, like America, means that many traditions, ways of doing things and ways of acting (even some values) are so in-grained that they are not thought about but just taken for granted. It can be disorienting to find out that in another culture there are different assumptions, different traditions, different ways of doing and acting and yet they are still valid for that culture. The first example that comes to mind is the habit of "cheating" - it is very much a part of life in Straldja (interestingly, since I've backed off, my students are trying harder NOT to cheat). I was amused a few weeks back when I entered the planning room to find Rosie seated next to a fellow teacher. She (Rosie) was completing a form while her colleague looked on. It wasn't clear exactly what she was doing until she came to me in class later and asked me to check the work she had done for her colleague. It was homework that the colleague had been assigned for the English class she was taking at the Centre. And I corrected one of the answers for her!

There can also be real problems caused by cultural differences. A prime example is the Peace Corps committee that I was asked to serve on recently. That committee has had problems in the past in its operations and there is a move on to rectify them. I believe that some of those problems have stemmed from differences in culture (the PC staff guide is Bulgarian and the committee itself is American PCV's). Whereas Bulgarians believe that time is not of the essence and are more laid back about it, Americans like me tend to see that time can be an important part of any meeting - in order to accomplish its task efficiently and in a timely manner. It looks as if I may have to remove myself from the committee because of those differences. Although I've chosen to adapt to some things in Bulgaria, sitting through long, rambling meetings isn't one of them.

Unexpected observation. When we visited the fortress several weeks ago on Tsaravetz Hill in Veliko Turnovo, we walked past a watercolorist who had his paintings for sale. He was very good so I bought one from him ($5). As he was wrapping it, he explained that we were the first sale of the day (must have been about 4 pm) and that the Italian group walking ahead of us hadn't bought anything. He knew we were American and not Italian because, he said, "All Americans look alike."

My students are really getting better at their English. On the street last week after our return, I met some 8th grade boys who usually just say "Hi" as I had taught them at the beginning of the year. This time one of them stopped and asked, "Where you go?" (we had been in Sofia since Wednesday). I obviously still have work to do on the use of "did." Several 7th grade girls greeted me with "Hi, I am happy to see you. How are you?" These interchanges are more special when they happen in informal situations, like on the street - where they really aren't required as in class. It helps to relieve some of the frustration I feel sometimes in class when it seems that nothing I'm doing is getting across to them.

I also enjoy the give and take between students and myself, particularly when we meet at those times on the street. Other young people (like immature PCV's or some teenagers back home) wouldn't be caught dead greeting someone over twice their age enthusiastically and with much joy. It's very refreshing to be greeted that way here.

Other observations: I saw an electric lawn mower being used several weeks back in cutting the lawn prior to our P.K. Yavorov Day. It looks as if it's been used again because the schoolyard looks better trimmed. Usually we see people using a long-handled scythe to cut grass - when it's cut. The cut grass is piled onto wagons and is probably used for animal feed, just like the hay that is now spread out drying. The other way to mow of course is to let animals graze on the grass. That happens almost anywhere I look as I walk to and from school. At any one time, horses, cattle, turkeys, chickens, goats, sheep can be seen grazing in empty lots, along the sides of streets, in the front yard of the store next door and are usually tied up with a long lead rope. This morning there was a donkey tied up along the street to graze. Just has I passed, it let out about five very loud hee-haw's. There were answering hee-haw's on the next street.

Babies and toddlers are not carried around in baby seats here (strollers are quite rare). Infants and babies are usually cradeled and carried in their mother's arms. I can't imagine how the mothers do that for any length of time. As soon as a toddler can, they walk beside their parents. Whereas in the States, a child that age might be still in a stroller, here they are walking down the sidewalk beside their parent.

Enough "observing" for now. More later…Edith

May 22, 2002 News from Bulgaria

"Hello, Baby, how are you?" is a sing-song greeting to me many mornings from a young elementary student on our walk to school (she also knows her numbers 1-10 in English). When I say, "Fine, how are you?" she doesn't say anything, so it's clear she doesn't understand. I haven't had the heart to correct her but, when my sixth-graders saw her with me, they later said something. I told them of her greeting and one of the students (her cousin) may correct her. Besides regular pronunciation, other greetings from students include "Helloy," and "Good money" and "Hewo." All around town, even young people we don't know, now give us a greeting - some older ones even (with correct pronunciation). They hear it so much from the younger ones, they love to hear us respond, and they're proud to know some English.

Because of stress related to some PCV committee work, I had been experiencing some flu-like symptoms for several days. When I shared this at school, Naska suggested some tea that she called "Vesel Chai" (happy tea). It is a mixture of herbal tea with cognac. The tea (even without the cognac) does seem to soothe the stomach. There is much belief and use of herbs here (along with rakiya) for medicinal purposes. We received an invitation Saturday evening to go to the mountains with Peter's family to pick "masturka." This too is an herb growing wild in the mountains (wild thyme) and it is always picked this time of year. When we were in the mountains several weeks ago, Peter had said then that the herb would be ready in several weeks (only the blossoms are picked). This was the time - but with Rel's recovery from his overnight train ride and my flu, we begged off and will have to wait until this time next year.

It's so interesting to be living in a place where people live so close to the earth. Not only is their food very fresh since they eat what they grow and kill, but also their herbs are picked at special herb-picking times. Whole families go out and spend their time picking (isn't this the way it was done in America with berries?). As an American, it has been so easy in the past for me to go to the grocery store in the States and just buy what I need at any time - even herbs and herb plants. Here most people live "in sync" with nature: what they eat depends to a great extent on the seasons. We had spinach earlier this spring, when it was in season, but now there is none to be found. We're beginning to see peppers and zucchini in the stores - which means we'll be able to have one of my favorite Bulgarian dishes, "purzheni tikvichki" (literally, "fried little pumpkin"). It is fried zucchini smothered in a keeclo mlyako (yogurt) sauce that is spiced with garlic and salt (people here LOVE salt). Another favorite is tarator soup, which is also seasonal. It is a cold yogurt soup with garlic and cut-up cucumber. These dishes will be a nice break from one of our mainstays over the winter, "gyuvedje." This is basically a stew with whatever vegetables are handy (potatoes, tomatoes, onions over the winter), mixed with herbs, and topped with a nice, thick slice of white cirene (cow or goat cheese), and put in the oven for half an hour. Delicious!

A week ago Saturday when we had school, Naska and Tanya brought in a variety of munchies and bread and set up the table in our storage/planning room. Red-colored eggs were also placed on the table. Before Rosie came in, they were trying to explain to me (through words and actions) the purpose of the food. It was in honor of Naska's father and Tanya's parents. When Tanya mentioned my sister and a "samolet" (airplane), I knew then that the food was in honor of the dead. (I had told them earlier in the week of my older sister's death from a plane crash in the '70's.) Since I had brought a banana as a snack, I offered it also and cut it up for the table. Rosie explained that this celebration takes place several times during the year. This one is two weeks after Easter and that's why there were red-colored eggs. The celebration is called "Zadushnitza" and is like "All Souls Day." It is in memory of the people who have died. Food and drink is given to other people (this happens also when people visit the cemetery on this day) and they say, "(Za) bog da prosti," which is "God forgives." When Ani the Assistant Director came in to share the food, I saw that she crossed herself several times. After she had asked my sister's name (Martha), she said "Marta" and crossed herself again - in her honor. It was strange (all in the middle of a school day) but rather moving. If the moment hadn't passed so quickly, I would have mentioned my parents' names as well.

Januarius MacGahan was an American who was involved with Bulgarian independence in the late 1800's. He was born in New Lexington, Ohio (in Perry Co. one hour southeast of Columbus) in 1844. I mention him now because each year in New Lexington, there is a festival that takes place in his memory (social get-together, floral tribute, scholarships, display of Bulgarian artifacts, Bulgarian music, etc). This year it is on June 7-8. MacGahan was a journalist and war correspondent whose "vivid dispatches from Bulgaria in 1872 [during the uprisings against the Turks - like at Shipka Pass that I've already described] to the London Daily News, detailing atrocities of invading Turkish forces, helped mobilize world opinion to stop the slaughter. These dispatches earned him the title of 'Liberator of Bulgaria.'" (The MacGahan American-Bulgarian Foundation of New Lexington is the sponsor of the event and the previous quote is from their website.) We have discovered that more information can be found on MacGahan here in Bulgaria in Plovdiv, in the MUSEUM OF THE REVIVAL AND THE NATIONAL LIBERATION STRUGGLE. The third floor is devoted to the "April Uprising" and features historical documents, portraits and photos, uniforms and weaponry. One room highlights foreign spokespersons who expressed European outrage to the Ottoman reprisals, "notably Britain's Lady Strangford and America's Januarius MacGaghan." We're hoping to have more time this summer to stop in Plovdiv and visit the museum.

Last Friday was an official holiday so Rel and I took the train to Burgas - mainly to run errands. It was a good day to be there because we saw a parade in honor of this day. We first noticed that along the plaza there were loudspeakers every couple of blocks and they played music as well as people speaking. Rel guessed that it had something to do with the day's celebrations and he was right.

The day was in honor of two Slavic brothers, Constantine (later Cyril) and Methodius. Cyril was born in 827 and Methodius in 815 in Thessalonica. Cyril had great talent as a linguist and writer; his older brother, Methodius, became the "action" behind Cyril's "words." As young men, both were highly educated under the tutelage of outstanding scholars. Both were assigned high-ranking administrative posts. But in 855 they cut short their brilliant careers and retired to a monastery. They served as Byzantine missionaries, spreading Eastern Orthodox Christianity among barbarian peoples. Cyril, at times accompanied by Methodius, was sent to Arab lands, Crimea (northern Black Sea area), and to Great Moravia and Pannonia (in area of what is now Germany I think). It was here in 863-867 that they achieved their greatest work: the creation of the first Slavonic alphabet, the Glagolita. (One of their disciples, Clement of Ohrid in Macedonia, created the second Slavonic alphabet, the Cyrillic alphabet, on which the modern Bulgarian alphabet is based.) Up until this time, Christianity could be professed only in three languages: Hebrew, Greek and Latin. With Cyril's alphabet and Methodius spreading the word, reading and literature became available in a language that many could easier understand, moving east into much of Asia, through Russia and down into Mongolia (the reason of course why the Russian language is so close to the Bulgarian). Eventually, the two brothers were declared saints.

As we walked, it was clear that people were beginning to line up along the main plaza as if waiting for a parade. When we heard a marching band, we joined in to watch. The first group of young people carried a banner that said "Go People Into the Revival [or Raniassance or rebirth]." Other groups carried large paintings of Cyril and Methodius and had banners identifying their groups. Every group walked (and there were many lined up waiting their turn); there were no floats, or cars, or trucks in the parade. Younger children sometimes had on costumes; older groups of men and women wore their "Sunday best." They walked down the street together in a group, and waved and smiled at people along the side. Many of the groups were made up of school classes. In the marching bands (maybe three in the parade), the instrument of choice was one that I've never seen outside Bulgaria. It was silver in color and there were two types. One kind looked similar to a trumpet. The difference was that it was made up of not one fluted section (like the end of a trumpet) but 3 or 4, or even as many as 7 - and the player had to wrap their hands around all of the sections. It looked like many fluted flowers growing together but each coming out a different length than the other. The other type looked more like a saxophone because the mouthpiece was on a bent section while the flower-fluted sections were pointed straight up into the air (wish I could draw this for you!). They sounded no different than other musical instruments but they sure looked different than anything I've ever seen.

It isn't always easy to travel in cities when looking for a specific address, as we had been doing earlier (we had been looking for a book publisher). Street signs and numbers are almost non-existent. We walked for several blocks in Burgas before we knew it was the right street; then we had to figure out what the numbers were. On holidays like this, the downtown center is also busy. And this day was no exception. In the plaza were battery-driven cars like children have in America. Here, those kinds of cars are set out on the plaza so that families coming by can rent them for their toddlers to drive for a limited time. These are not something that can be commonly found at home as they are in America. Enough for now. More later…Edith

May 29, 2002 News from Bulgaria

The teachers go out on strike today for better pay - for one day (their pay will be deducted for this day at the end of the month). This is happening all over the country as I understand it. There had been a teachers' meeting several weeks ago about striking next year so I was surprised to hear they were doing it now. I asked Rosie if the students would come to school, or what they would do once they got there and she wasn't sure. This is my day off and so far, I haven't heard a lot of kids playing down below - maybe they stayed at school.

Last Saturday Rel and I were invited to Naska's place in the village of Loznitz, about 4 1/2 miles away. Luckily, it was a beautifully sunny day since Rel and I had planned to ride our bikes over. There wasn't much traffic along this road; just groups of people out working in the fields, pulling weeds it looked like. We arrived at the village square early so ordered some soda water at the local café while we waited for Naska. It was very pleasant sitting in the cool shade, watching many birds flying around the local cultural center, and seeing an old tractor pull up outside another store. It seemed to be from the Russian era, pretty old, so we got pictures. When we got ready to leave, the café owner refused to take our money; we were his guests, the "Americanitz" coming over from Straldja.

At Naska's we spent all our time outdoors in their courtyard and under the shade of a plum tree. The whole day reminded me so much of farm life as it was when I was much younger and even before my time (as I've heard stories from my Aunt Mabel). Although I had expected to go inside the house upon our arrival, Naska directed me out towards the garden and strawberry patch. A table and chairs were set up under the tree (in unmown grass just like the "old days") and that's where we later ate and talked. After first gathering a good dish of strawberries with Naska, I helped Hristina (one of my 6th graders visiting) pick red cherries from the tree. Naska's husband showed Rel around the garden where our shade tree was. Potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, corn were just a few of the plants growing pretty high already. He saw the over-100-year-old shed that the grandfather had built and, in the house, he got to see cirine (cheese) dripping its liquid through cheesecloth. Hristina took me out to see the four young goats in the shed. Before lunch, Naska brought out and laid in the grass some of the handiwork done by grandparents of her and her husband: hand-woven rugs, table coverings, pillow coverings, hand-made jackets (some lined with sheepwool), dress "aprons" (part of the costumes at celebrations now), long bags.

Naska's aunt came over, brought her distaff and some wool, sat down on a chair and showed me how she spins the wool using a drop spindle (this is something normally done in the winter sitting in front of the fire). The wool is wrapped around the top of the wooden staff and held by a band, on her left side the staff is tucked into a strap around her chest to hold it steady, then the wool is gradually pulled off evenly in strands with left hand while the right hand turns the spindle, which then twists the thread. Once the thread gets long enough for the spindle to reach the ground, she stops and wraps the thread around the spindle - and starts the process again. Of course it looked very easy when she did it but I could barely get the spindle to turn when I tried. Maybe this summer I'll be able to learn.

Several couples arrived (one woman was the school Asst. Director, Hristina's grandmother) and, when lunch was ready, Naska served it to us out under the shade tree. There were a variety of discussions going on around the table, much of which I couldn't understand. However, there was talk and laughter about "Papa," which Rel pointed out to me was about the current visit from the Pope, referred to as Papa. I got the sense that there wasn't that much knowledge about the Pope and that people were basically asking each other what the visit was all about. This was confirmed in a Sofia newspaper that reported on a survey that showed, in general, Bulgarians had "expressed a positive attitude towards the Papal apostolic visit…42% approved of the visit, 25% regarded it with curiosity, 29% were indifferent and 4% firmly opposed it…results also showed that 28% of Bulgarians knew nothing about the Pope."

Prior to the Pope's visit, Rel had received a phone call from the Nadya, the woman who broadcasts the news on local cable TV. She wanted to interview him about the Pope's visit. Her questions indicated little understanding of the Catholic Church. The major orientation here stems from Eastern Orthodoxy which is considered the true church while the Catholics are perceived as the "rebels," the ones who broke away from the true church (the local priest is called the "Pope"). One of her questions was, "What's the difference between Catholicism and Christianity?" She also asked him what he thought of the Pope. There were questions about theology and the symbolism of bread and wine in church rituals, which is one major "sticking point" as I understand between Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Several Bulgarian TV stations televised the Pope's visit in Sofia and his Mass in Plovdiv.


All my months of preparation, sweat and general nervousness finally culminated last night in a quilting presentation (this planning was a lot more nerve-wracking than teaching school!). My goal was to generate enough interest in quilting that the women would want to take a class for six weeks this summer. We would make an "American" quilting block, using donations of fabric, needles and thread from friends and family in the States. And, secondarily, members of the class would be inspired to incorporate patchwork quilting in their already skilled repertoire of needlework - and create something entirely unique, not totally Bulgarian and not totally American but a combination of the two. A combination, in other words, of the two different cultures. It will be exciting to see what comes out of it. There were about 15-18 women who attended and eleven of them signed up to take the class (today, Monday, Rosie informed me that more people were interested and would be attending the class).

I expect to learn much from this venture. Already it was obvious from their minute appraisal of my samples that they not only have a great store of knowledge but also have lots of curiosity about the skill (Rel's photos that he will put on the web show also a lot of touching of, and looking at, the American fabrics). I also learned that some of the quilting skills are already used here, but am not sure yet which ones. For the past year, my focus has been on young people and teaching English. For the next six weeks, however, that focus will change to women (younger and older), their skills and much more about their lives hopefully. I look forward to that.

Although Rosie will be translating the class for me and Naska will provide individual help when needed by students, it's still a challenge to organize the class so that much of my instruction can come through pictures rather than through words. Writing English words on the whiteboard isn't much help if they don't understand them (or Bulgarian words if I don't understand them). My time this weekend will be spent on creating pictures on chart sheets that will convey quilting "how-to's" that can be easily understood. (Interestingly, our class is meeting in the "Club of BCP," the Bulgarian Socialist Party room. It is located in the Centre in a building that once housed the Communist Party.)

This is the week for football on TV. No, it's not the Super Bowl and not even American football - it's the REAL football according to everyone in the world except America, where it's called soccer. The World Cup is taking place in Korea and Japan and, because of the time difference, enthusiastic fans (in Europe at least) are staying home from work to watch it on their TV sets. It brings home the attitude I had about America before coming here. It seemed to me that the world was really just made up of America and her concerns, her way of doing things, her viewpoint, were the only things of any importance (an attitude probably true of many who have not spent much time out of their own country). I'm beginning to see that there's a whole world out here that I knew nothing about and frankly, hadn't really cared a whole lot about. Now it seems to me that the welfare of the rest of the world is directly tied into that of my own in America, and vice versa. I, as an American, am part of a culture that is not the ONLY one in the world but, instead, is one among many. I would not, however, trade it for any other. I do feel more appreciative now for what I have in America but also understand that other cultures have just as much value and much more uniqueness to offer the rest of the world than I had originally thought.

Straldja vignettes: (1) When walking into school the other day, I observed one of the cleaning women standing by the wall with her hand pulling down on a lever - just as the bell rang ending classes. I got partway up the stairs before I realized that she was the one ringing the bell. She does this for every bell, every day. (2) A flock of geese have made the schoolyard their home. On a bright sunny day last week, with the geese waddling beside me down the school drive, I got the distinct feeling that I should look around for "Dick and Jane," the two characters leading a simple life in our school readers many years ago. Also, with the difficulty that day in teaching English to some slower students, I had been wishing for such books with sentences like, "See Dick run. See Jane run. See Spot run." More later…Edith