True BG scene


Saturday afternoon in the Sofia City Garden downtown. That’s the Ivan Vazov National Theater in the background. The couple to the far left with the baby carriage were drinking coffee out of plastic cups with straws. The couple in the foreground were drinking bottles of beer. The vendor whose jacket is hanging on the tree was selling balloons, kites, and popcorn, and this was one of the few moments when he wasn’t yakking on his cell phone. Cigarette smoke was wafting through the air from a nearby park bench, and a brass trio was playing live music under a tree several yards behind me. 

Today was a beautiful crisp sunny day, after lots of cold rain. I took my grading downtown and hopped locales every four papers, which turned out to be a pretty effective strategy overall. 

Things I managed to do successfully today, entirely in Bulgarian:

1) Add 10 rides to my subway card

2) Order and pay for a vanilla cappuccino at Cafe Memento

3) Purchase eggplant and zucchini at the local market on the way home from the metro, verbally confirming the amount of stotinki so I could give correct change

These all seem pretty minor, I know, but seriously, you take what you can get. I prefer this kind of Bulgarian contact to the vehicular kind, at least.

Yup. After foreshadowing it in my last post, I have now ACTUALLY been hit by a car in Sofia. (Maybe “hit” is too strong a word, but there was contact.) I feel like a real Bulgarian!


Having a Bulgarian moment

A few things that have happened in the past 24 hours that I feel are uniquely Bulgarian (or, at least, not American):

1) I walk to school on Aleksander Malinov Boulevard, which is the main street going through the Mladost section of Sofia. Malinov meets Filip Avramov Street at a horrendous intersection where the traffic lights aren’t properly timed, leading to awful backups every morning and afternoon during rush hour. Yesterday, as I was walking back to campus at 7 pm, I noticed the traffic lights at the intersection, plus one or two in either direction, were completely off, leading to a total free-for-all as cars cut past each other, people tried to dart across the street, etc. This morning, as I walked to campus at 7 am, the traffic lights were still off, and as I made a mad dash across the street, my iPod fell out of my pocket and I had to stop in the middle of the road to pick it up. It was like movie slo-mo, looking up and seeing headlights bearing down on me (because there was no rhyme or reason to which traffic was moving in what direction at any given moment)…let’s just say my stint in Bulgaria almost ended at that moment.

When I walked past again at almost 5 pm today, there was FINALLY a cop in the intersection direction traffic. It took over 12 hours to post someone at the worst intersection in the neighborhood when the lights went off. That’s Bulgaria for you.

2) This one is sort of unrelated to the other two, but I was cut in line three times at the Onda Cafe at school today – by two students (not mine) and a Bulgarian teacher. I was standing behind the previous customer, clearly in line, and two girls just marched straight up to the counter to buy pastries, and then the teacher side-swiped me to get her tea. Bulgarians don’t really believe in lines, per se – I actually learned this within my first 10 minutes in the country when I was cut about four times going through passport control.  Continue reading

Аз съм туристка

Thanks to some really hard-core grading all last week (that left me a burned-out, sleep-deprived, shell of a human being), I was able to enjoy this weekend thoroughly and finally got to do some actual sight-seeing and touristy-type stuff in downtown Sofia.

Saturday I went English language book-hunting, visiting three different book stores plus the open-air bookmarket in Slaveikov Square, which has a pretty hilarious selection of books. The open-air markets in Bulgaria basically appear to be completely random people set up in a stall selling off completely random stuff. I’m not sure if you need any kind of license or authentication at all to be part of the market (knowing Bulgaria, you probably need some kind of heavily-stamped certificate that doesn’t actually guarantee you anything), but much like you see the same shoes being sold at every single shop on the same block in Taiwan, each stall stocks basically the same selection (i.e. an outdated-looking mathematics textbook that I saw at almost every stand) with minor variations.

The English books are usually in a box alongside either the German or French books, they tend to be either the classics (lots of Shakespeare) or John Grisham novels, and the classics tend to be the grainy, yellow-paged, badly illustrated children’s editions that in the States would be given away for free by used bookstores – the kind of books that are left on outdoor bookstands even when it’s raining. Here they’re being sold for comparatively exorbitant prices. They’re also gift-wrapped tightly in thick clear plastic that I found impossible to remove without scissors – I actually did make two purchases which weren’t so outrageously expensive (a book of Fitzgerald short stories and an edition of Truman Capote’s “Grass Harp” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” whose engraved cover I enjoyed). I also purchased two travel books from one store and then some Bulgarian language tools at the big bookstore in the Mall of Sofia, which I visited for the first time. 

Today I went downtown again and visited the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral, the nearby sculpture garden, and the Sveti Nikolai Russian Church, all pictured below (I’m not entirely sure what the last building pictured is; it’s in front of the cathedral and I think is some kind of academy for something-something, I couldn’t completely understand the Bulgarian. I just liked the way it looked):

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Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized

Time for the cat story.

Saturday, October 2 was our open house. On Friday night, the apartment-dwelling teachers had dinner together (we do this occasionally) and a couple of the teachers mentioned that they had seen a small white kitten near the front gate of the school that afternoon. One of the apartment teachers is an avid cat lover and has two cats of his own here – his sympathies were immediately engaged. We joked that somebody was going to have to adopt this cat or it would break his heart.

Ha, ha, ha, we all laughed.

Cut to Saturday morning. One of the gym teachers pulls over next to me walking outside the front gate and offers me a ride in (it’s actually a fair distance to walk from the gate to the school buildings). On our way in, we pass the cat-loving teacher playing with a small kitten on the side of the road. 

About an hour later, once open house has officially begun (but no parents have arrived), the teacher comes into my classroom. 

“You have to look out the window,” he tells me and my Bulgarian translator (an alum of the school).

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Minor miracles

It’s past midnight, but I made the mistake of drinking two cups of coffee at about 9 pm when I felt my eyelids drooping over my tenth post-colonialist lens paper, so now I can’t sleep. Bulgarian coffee is either terrible (they are fond of the watery, sugary Nescafe stuff) or like total crack – I’m already addicted to the espresso at school. Plus Romeo is in full on Danger Kitty Mode on my bed, or as I like to call it, her Talking Heads Mode (“Psycho kitty! Qu’est-ce que c’est?”), and it’s hard enough to sleep with caffeine coursing through your veins, much less with a tiny kitten stalking and hunting every extremity of your body. 

Yes, I have a kitten now. I still need to post that full story, which explains why my girl cat has a boy name…along with several Bulgarian variations thereof. 

But I’ve had a blog post percolating in my head for a while and I figured this particular burst of insomnia would be a good time to deal with it. I haven’t written much about my school, mostly because this is a public blog and I’m aware of my role as a professional within the school. While I don’t exactly need to conceal the school’s identity, it’s also not my objective here to write directly about it frequently and open up that can of worms – there’s been enough documentation in the States about teachers posting stuff about their schools and getting in trouble for it. But I figured some general comments would be interesting for folks at home.

Mostly, although I’m really busy because I’m writing brand-new curriculum every day for books that I’ve never taught before and the grading keeps piling up inexorably on my desk, I am still in shock sometimes over these students. After growing accustomed to a fair amount of dysfunction and craziness at my old school in the States (I say this with all the affection in the world), I have at least one moment here every day where I think, “Seriously? How is this possible?” To me, every day brings some kind of minor miracle.

Such as…