Bucket listing

Living abroad anywhere will inevitably lead to many unique experiences – that’s part of the fun of it, after all. Over the last three years in Bulgaria, I’ve experienced a number of firsts – my first (short, little) earthquake ever, my first holy-crap-this-is-an-earthquake-WTF-do-I-do-and-am-I-going-to-die earthquake, my first fire at work, my first fire in the building I live in, etc. but I feel like I’ve given myself a number of strange experiences in this past year from a king of bucket list mentality. In my first year, everything was a new experience; even shopping for food, buying appliances, or paying your cell phone bill was an adventure that I, for the most part, embraced. In my second year, I was totally over adventure-seeking; I just wanted to be able to buy goddamn contact solution without having to walk into an optika and ask for it, or send my own mail, for crying out loud. Now that I know my third year will be my last, I feel like I’ve taken on an attitude of, “Well, why the hell not?” when it comes to doing things that seem intimidating.

There was, of course, the trip to Tanzania this winter that yielded a lot of bucket list experiences, such as being injected in an airport in a foreign country. Then a few months ago I purchased glasses in Bulgaria. I never got around to writing about it, but this ended up being a far more involved procedure than originally intended, since the frame I picked out the first time ended up being too big for my astronomical lens prescription, which leads to 1) really thick lenses and 2) extreme distortion at the lens edges (a fact that I knew from opticians in the States, but had forgotten). They technically worked, but I decided to man up and ask the optician to cut down the same lenses (to avoid being charged twice) to put in a different, smaller frame. This required a lot of very crappy Bulgarian explanation on my part and not always fully understanding what Vyara, the optician, was saying to me, but I stuck it out and I did it, and now I have a pair of Bulgarian glasses that I like wearing.

I gave myself another bucket list-worthy adventure this past week. I’m returning to the States in the fall to get my doctorate, and the university requires a negative TB test within the past year prior to enrollment if you have ever lived in/visited for over 1 month basically any country that is not in North America or Western Europe. The medical forms are due in mid-June, and I don’t finish with work in Bulgaria until July. Originally I was just going to get the TB test done after I returned home sometime in July, before my medical insurance ran out; I even got permission from university health services to send that one form after the deadline. But then I thought: Well, why the hell not? Let’s go get a TB test in Bulgaria!

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Die Klinik am Frankfurter Flughafen

Got back from Tanzania earlier today and stepped out of the airport into classic Sofia winter fog. I was stripping down to my tank top at Kilimanjaro airport and now I need a coat again. So it goes.

So much to tell that will probably never get told here (I’m honest about my limitations, i.e. laziness), but I thought I should at least follow up on the previous post as far as the technicalities of visiting Tanzania. Obviously, as I’ve just returned from there, I got into and out of the country just fine. They didn’t even ask for my vaccination booklet at Dar es Salaam, and H didn’t get asked either when she arrived on her later flight. However, she said she did see a door for the clinic across from the visa processing windows, which I missed probably because it was 2:00 a.m. and I’d just spent the previous four hours crammed into my seat on a tiny 2 x 2 plane with an extremely large (not fat, just large) Australian man next to me who didn’t really fit into his own seat and therefore ended up reducing the size of mine due to the overflow.

Let’s back up a bit.
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Life maintenance

So far this year, with my new position, I haven’t had much work I’ve had to take home. When I leave my office for the day, I’m basically done. This is a pretty novel concept to a teacher, and is perhaps the most concrete signal that I really am in a different line of work now.

It means, though, that I’ve been able to do more Normal People Things in the evenings. Like exercise. Or go grocery shopping. Or watch TV. Or cook and try new recipes. Or write blog posts.

Tonight I cooked quinoa for the first time:

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I’ve eaten quinoa before, but never made it. I have a feeling it might fall into the same category for me as lentils–that is, the “This is so easy to cook, why didn’t I discover it sooner?!” category. Despite some recent increased domesticity, I find my preferred method of cooking still entails a lot of leaving stuff to simmer and then coming back to find that a meal has magically expanded in the skillet while I was watching the latest Colbert episode online. Lentils and quinoa are both really good foods for this lazy culinary style.

This recipe is adapted from one I found on Allrecipes. The only differences are that I added some chopped red pepper, as a few users suggested, and I also stirred in some leftover white rice that I haven’t been able to finish off. I also didn’t actually measure the corn and beans, just spooned it in until the balance looked right.

While still being pretty delightfully easy to throw together, this dish is a litle bit more difficult to make in Bulgaria than it would be in the States, for the following reasons:

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Look Toto, we’re in Kansas!

So I’ve been getting some gentle prodding lately from a friend who wants more blog posts. I know I’ve fallen sadly off my Year 1 pace, and I’ve resolved to try to be better next year. Maybe I’ll even do some flashback posts to cover the trips and events that I didn’t write about last year.

In the meantime, I’m midway through my summer and currently in Lawrence, Kansas for a workshop/conference related to the work that I’ll be doing at my school next year. It’s my first time in Kansas and my first time even remotely in this area of the country (the closest I’ve ever come is Michigan). It might not be as exciting a location as others I’ve been to this year, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how many Americans only visit a fraction of the 50 states, so there’s something to be said for knowing your own country along with visiting others.

Impressions of Kansas so far: hot, but bearable so far; and people are really, really nice. The airport shuttle driver mentioned to me that it’s much more humid here in eastern Kansas vs. western Kansas, likely due to the proximity of the river, but I have to say, if this is what Kansans consider to be humid, they should consider themselves lucky. The bank display in downtown Lawrence was displaying 99 degrees today at 6:45 pm, and it may have been a couple degrees cooler than that in reality, but typically when Boston hits 90+ degrees you’re just about ready to kill yourself.

Also, everyone I’ve encountered is super friendly. Even the college-aged kids at the sandwich shop or the man in the qwik-e-mart just seem genuinely happy to help you, ask how you’re doing, wish you a nice day, etc. I’m luckily a little more primed for this than I would ordinarily be because I was in Scandinavia last month, where people are also really nice, but it’s quite an adjustment coming from Bulgaria, where the notion of customer service doesn’t really exist. Bulgarians, especially Sofians, make Bostonians look like Kansans (Kansans would just be beyond the comprehension of most Bulgarians, an alien species). The thing is, most Bulgarians are actually really sweet, generous, lovely people…but only when they know you. If they don’t, they’re standoffish and unwilling to extend themselves on your behalf until they’ve ascertained whether it’s worth it. So needless to say, I have a hard time not reacting with instant suspicion when these Kansans are just so gosh-darn happy to see you.

I also can’t handle American money at all, apparently. The bills feel too long and the paper feels wrong, plus they’re all the same color so you have to actually look at each one to figure out what denomination they are. The coins feel weird, too – quarters are too thin, and the sizes of pennies and nickels feel different than they used to. Compounding my problem is the fact that I still have stotinki and euro cents mixed in my change purse, so all these nice Kansans think I’m a nutcase as I have to dump out all my change into my hand and peer really closely at all the coins to determine which ones to use. I guess the whole, hold-your-handful-of-change-out-and-let-the-local-pick-out-what’s-needed strategy is a lot less excusable in your home country. Also, the contents of my wallet right now would baffle anyone: the qwik-e-mart guy tried to be helpful by pointing out a penny in my hand, but it was actually a 2-cent euro piece (which then prompted him to ask where I was coming from and whether I had just moved to Kansas, which in turn forced me to tamp down my instant stalker suspicions and just answer the nice Kansan man).

This was not a very exciting blog post, but I just have to get myself back in the habit of writing, so consider it a warm-up. There’s also not a whole lot to do here after my workshop wraps up at 4 pm each day, so I expect I’ll be back. Right now I’m off to use the hotel gym. There’s really nothing like working out while watching the Olympics; it both motivates you and shames you at the same time. Last night I was running on the treadmill while all the track events were being aired but I gave up doing the math on how much slower I was than Olympic athletes, for one thing because I’m still no good at metric conversions even after two years abroad, and for a second thing because it was depressing.

The beautiful game

Last Friday, I attended my first professional football match in Bulgaria (and my first in general since I was in middle school) — a UEFA European Championship 2012 qualifying match between England and Bulgaria at Vassil Levski Stadium downtown. Going into the match, England was in first place in Group G with a record of 3-2-0. Bulgaria was fourth in the group with a record of 1-2-2 (the other members of the qualifying group are Montenegro, Switzerland, and Wales).

It was cool to be inside Levski for the first time, and national anthems are always fun:

(The first time I watched the playback of this video, I could swear they were singing “Tessie” at first, probably due to the drunk Germans behind us who were belting tunelessly along)

Nice moment with the BG anthem and the patriotic crowd:

Long story short, Bulgaria was pretty overmatched. It was 3-0 England at the half, and you could tell they weren’t even really trying in the second half, just kind of kicking the ball around to each other and Bulgaria still couldn’t do much. Bulgaria only had a few shots on goal and a couple of corner kicks all night. Final score stayed 3-0, England.

However, here are the more important questions that emerged for me from this experience… Continue reading

I’m alive

Yes, I’m still here.

The lack of any posting or communication from me pretty much sums up all of May, in which we had something like 10 days off, but scattered throughout the weeks so that we only had one full week of school. Given that we don’t see our students every day, this led to some CRAZY scheduling and left everyone feeling a bit out of the loop.

Along the way, I visited Belogradchik and, unexpectedly, Vidin, graduated my first Bulgarian seniors, attended my first Bulgarian prom, did my first clothes and shoe shopping in Bulgaria, and went to Thassos, Greece on a pretty much perfect vacation (and did not get Raptured on May 21). I also returned from Greece after 5 days away to find 50 emails in my inbox, 46 of which could be deleted instantly. Although I use the internet every day, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in Bulgaria it’s how very disconnected you can let yourself be, even with technology at the tip of your fingers. This can be both good (I can go on vacation on an island with no internet in my accommodations and not feel compelled to get online or check email) and bad (I know jack shit about any current events happening throughout the world) and humbling (it’s a little weird to know you’ve been away for several days and the world – including everyone you know in it – continued without you and didn’t really think about you), but it’s been an interesting change/discovery nonetheless.

More on some of these accomplishments (hopefully) in the days to come. Meanwhile, here is a pretty picture of Thassos:

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Baba Marta

Честита Баба Марта to all! Today was my first experience with this holiday and tradition, and while I had heard about it, nothing prepared me for how charming and lovely it was in real life.

There’s nothing really to it, and I think the simplicity is a large part of the appeal. It’s not tied to any religious holidays, there are no ceremonies, rituals, or stressful dinners associated with it. It’s just a day for friends, family, and co-workers to give each other мартеници for health and happiness and wish each other “Честита Баба Марта” and await the spring.

What are мартеници, my American readers ask?

These are мартеници:

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