Bulgarian peasant ninjas

Ninjas

Christmas concert Balkan dancing success. Now onto vacation (Christmas in Egypt)!!!!!

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I must be famous or something

I have joked about this, but honestly a longer post about what it is like to live (and teach American literature) in a largely racially homogeneous country is eventually due.

For now, though, I will simply share this anecdote: While waiting in line at the FujiFilm store to get photos printed as part of a Secret Santa gift, I was standing behind a man and his daughter, who was maybe around 6 or 7 years old. The store was busy – lots of people getting personalized Christmas cards printed – and the man was sort of spacing out, gazing around, waiting his turn, etc. His daughter, however, saw me and froze absolutely still, her mouth hanging open. She stared at me for a good few minutes. I caught her eye a few times and then pretended to be looking around the store, only to see out of the corner of my eye that she was still staring at me. 

This happens to me here on occasion. Despite the fact that I have seen other Asians here (sometimes several all at once) and there is apparently a Vietnamese-Bulgarian community, you do sometimes run into 6-year-olds (or, for that matter, adults) who have never seen anyone who looks like you and can’t help gawking. 

One of my co-workers said next time it happens, I should just start chatting at the kid in Bulgarian. I’m afraid her little head might explode. 

Five simple rules…

When I took AP Biology in high school, my teacher introduced the course by telling us that there were 5 major answers in biology, and if we got stumped on the AP exam, we should just write these (in no particular order):

  1. Increase surface area
  2. Liver
  3. Leafy green vegetables
  4. I think the 4th one was about genetics…maybe something like, “It’s a mutation”

I can’t remember what the 5th one was (something about protein, maybe? I think it had to do with cell parts), but for 11 years after I took the class, 3 and maybe 4 out of 5 ain’t too bad.

I’m thinking of adopting something like this next year to launch my senior classes instead of the typical letter-to-the-teacher deal, which is what I usually do. My little 10th graders are so earnest and eager to please and wrote me these lovely personal letters at the beginning of the year, but the 12th graders are so jaded and have done the assignment a million times before (not to mention these seniors have done it in multiple variations for some subset of their 14-15 teachers every year) that I think I need a new spin on it. The five major answers I need to know to figure you out. But to do it, I need the 5 major answers for my class – what to say when you’re stumped on what a text is “all about.” So far I have

  1. Sex*
  2. Power
  3. The human condition (define this however seems appropriate in the context)

Other ideas??? Help me, people, please!

I managed to wake up my 8th period seniors yesterday by telling them all the possible slang sexual connotations of “jazz” and “die” in the poem they were reading. Then they found lots more on their own (“strike straight,” “golden shovel,” “sing sin,” etc). Then they were all, “EWWWtalkingaboutsexinEnglishclassgrossssss!” I love doing that to kids – see also: CHS AP Lit last year.

 

Getting in the spirit

My students kept asking me if I was going to decorate the classroom for Christmas, which made me feel like I was being a horrible scrooge because I wasn’t planning to (but seriously, my classroom is the size of a shoebox and is already full to the brim with student work). I’m still not going to (probably), but the thought did make me pick up some lights at Carrefour this afternoon to decorate at home, at least:

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I do like having the lights, although in a strange way they also can make me sad.
And in the spirit of housekeeping, these are very old photos (from around 2 months ago) that I forgot to upload. They are from my walking commute to school and then on campus, to give you a better sense of my neighborhood and work environment (the building on the left in the second on-campus picture is where my classroom is):

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Sentence of the week

I haven’t written in a long time because I’ve been so busy: busy with grades, busy with Thanksgiving, busy going on vacation, busy getting back to work, launching two new units, having parent-teacher conferences, gearing up for Christmas and attending relevant parties (I know – what a life to complain about! But the rest really has been a lot). So busy I haven’t had much time to study Bulgarian and I think I’m regressing. However, I was still able to offer this helpful tidbit when a co-worker and fellow apartment resident needed my assistance:

Брат му е в бания и нямаме ключът.

Translation: His brother is in the bathroom and we don’t have the key.

Our apartments in Sofia have locks on every individual door. No one really knows why – I’ve just always chalked it up as another Bulgarian quirk that’s probably somehow related to the legacy of communism. My living room door’s lock has keys dangling from it which I’ve never bothered to take out (the cat likes to play with them), but I’ve never even tried to see if I have the keys for the other doors in the apartment. There’s just never been any need. The bathroom has a bolt on the inside and a keyhole on the outside, but again, I’ve never had any need to use it.

Well, one day recently, my upstairs neighbor and co-worker knocked on the door and asked if I had ever locked myself in my bathroom. Apparently, his bathroom lock sticks sometimes and he once was unable to unlock it for about 20 minutes. His older brother, who also teaches at the college, had just gotten himself locked in the bathroom and they’d been trying to free him for the past 30 minutes or so with no luck. I offered him the envelope of all my spare keys to see if he could find one that fit the bathroom door. He said he’d be back if they were still having no luck.

Ten minutes later he was back. No luck with the door; he’d called a couple of Bulgarian administrators at the school and learned that there is a locksmith across the street from the apartments, next to the vet. Would I be willing to come with him to find it, since 1) I knew where the vet was already, and 2) I spoke some Bulgarian and he didn’t.

This was another situation where I knew enough Bulgarian to state the situation (I didn’t even have to look anything up), but then completely lacked the vocabulary, both receptive and productive, to be able to conduct any follow-up conversation – and of course, there are bound to be some questions when you lead off with, Брат му е в бания и нямаме ключът. The first one being, why do you feel the need to lock the bathroom door when you live alone or you’re only in the apartment with your brother?

Anyway, long story short, the locksmith came over to the apartments, tried unsuccessfully for about 30 minutes to pick the lock, went back and got more tools so that he could break and remove the entire lock, then install a new lock. All told, my co-worker was in the bathroom for about 2 hours. And these are small bathrooms. But at least we now know it is possible to get yourself rescued from a bathroom in Bulgaria with only rudimentary knowledge of the language.