Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Beautiful Bulgaria

This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to one of Bulgaria's famed cities. Veliko Turnavo, a city located in the center of the country and north of the Balkans, was the former capital of Bulgaria, and remains one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen! Like several cities in bulgaria, VT has an old city, and a new city. The old parts of these cities are always the most interesting; with their cobblestoned streets, homemade jellies, and architecture you won't find anywhere else in the world, you can almost transport yourself back 100 years. The streets are lined with domashni stoki (homemade goods) and shopkeepers who are usually not only glad that you are willing to spend your american wealth on their handy-work, but are so very proud that you can utter a few sentences in bulgarian. at the very end of the old city, there is a fortress. These remains remind us of the bulgaria that was- a place where much of modern civilization was born and fought for.

But what was I doing, exactly, in VT? Well, I was singing! Back in february, I joined a women's choral ensemble in pernik. we aren't really that good, but after a small introductory concert in pernik, we were invited to perform in VT's annual Folklore Festival. Early saturday morning, the choir joined pernik's youth dance group, and we loaded the bus, and headed for VT!! Our concert was held in a beautiful cathedral which is reminiscent of the Alexander Hevski Cathedral in sofia (when you visit me, you'll see!). I had envisioned a normal concert, but instead, our performance was more like an event at the state-fair. We were scheduled for a certain time, and when that time came around, visitors and folk-lore-goers came to watch. It was pretty cool because we were also filmed!! so now, this moment is forever captured in bulgarian folk-lore history. After our concert, we received several awards- one for participating, one for my solo, and one for our director. I think it was a good experience over-all, and I was especially happy because BEN and JEN of Shumen came to the concert! I was so happy to see familiar faces!

after roaming about town with Ben and Jen, I jumped on a Bus to sliven. my good friend Christin is a PCV from my group (b18s) lives in sliven, and works for an environmental branch of the local municipality. a big plus about her town, is that is it directly south of the Balkans. So when she looks out her windows, she sees a stunning backdrop of mountains and foresty things (contrast this to my view...old communist style apartments (which are falling apart), and factories...something isn't fair here!). We decided to go hiking..for 6 hours!! I definitely got tired and I'm surprised I didn't pass out on the mountain somewhere!! One of the funniest things was that we took a ski-style lift back DOWN the mountain. Oh, Bulgaria... But in general, good times were had in sliven- hiking, making pizza, watching grey's anatomy, and just seeing the sites.

oh my trip down to sliven, i had a small "layover" in VT. While waiting for the bus, a Roma lady decided to strike up a conversation with me. She has asked me a question about the bus (she also was traveling to sliven), and after identifying my accent as one of a foreigner, became increasingly interested in me and my life here. She was a really nice lady, and even offered to let me stay at her family's home, to go 'na gosti,' and in general, to pledge life-long friendship to eachother. She saved me a seat on the full-house bus, and merrily chatted with me the entire bus ride about my work, my opinions of bulgaria, and some of the differences between my country and hers. Though it may not seem like a big deal to most people, these are some of the moments that are most valuable to us as peace corps volunteers. Sure, some people write projects with 300,000 euro budgets, some people open movie theaters, some people get married to bulgarians... but for those average PCVs among us, its these everyday conversations we have with bulgarian citizens that makes our time here worth-while. America is a totally foreign land- people only know America from the movies. Anytime we have the opportunity to tell about people about America- that we have problems, that not everyone drives a BMW, that kids like to read books- we have an opportunity to show someone a piece of america thorugh a very different lense than that of a hollywood camera. and from a non-egotistical american's standpoint, its always good for bulgarians to see foreigners treat Roma people with respect. One girl on the bus was so rude as to deliberately change seats on the bus, simply because she was sitting next to a Roma person. I always hope, that on some level, people reconsider their opinion on Roma citizens when they see foreigners speaking with this minority group. I know that's really too much to hope, but sometimes I think it makes people think twice.

okay, here is a picture of me on the hike in the mountains!


At 3:37 AM, Anonymous Angeline said...

Sorry for not paying attention, but why do some people look down on Romas?

At 3:40 AM, Anonymous Angeline said...

CONGRATS on an award for your solo!!!!!!!!! You make me so proud :)
Remember those nights of singing/playing guitar freshman year? They really paid of ;) Or maybe it was concert coir...whatever.

At 4:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some volunteers get married to Bulgarians? That's crazy talk!

Randy D

At 6:22 PM, Blogger CarreraGT said...

I have lived in Veliko Tarnovo almost all of my life and I'm really pleased to see that you like it so much. I'm quite interested in why exactly you have chosen to come to Bulgaria.

And about the Roma people (it took me a lot of time to figure out what did you meen by that)... I know it doesn't look right from your sight, but believe me, most of us have reasons to be negative about them.


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