Comment: All of these letters were retyped (with no attempt to correct spelling errors) from the originals that Shirley had saved and gave to me in 2000. The term Lifers was our name for the bicyclists that were riding the total x-country distance. Others on the ride were doing lesser distances and were called "weekies".
26 June 1996
A brief note to let you know that I have arrived in Bulgaria and all is well. Was a LONG trip getting here from Washington D.C., but after a couple of days it worked itself out. The group of Volunteer Trainees I'm with remind me so much of our x-country & Western Tour groups. We "bonded" almost immediately because of the commonality of our purpose. Many different types but ONE purpose at this time. It is all very exciting! I know that high will drop off just as it did week by week for the Lifers but it is sure fun now.
We are about 90Km S.W. of Sofia in a town called Kyustendil (KOOSTENDEL) that dates back to Roman times. A hill rises on the East that has ruins of a Roman fortress and they have found many artifacts in the town itself. The area has many mineral water springs and the Roman town had a Bath that was famous. The Kyustendil valley is called the "orchard" of Bulgaria. Has cherries being harvested now with almost any fruit you can think off from a cold climate area yet to ripen.
Going to Sofia on Fri the 28th for a Reception hosted by the Embassy. The occasion is the 5th Anniversary of Peace Corps Bulgaria. Should be a "do" and the opportunity for us Trainees to meet and be met by some of the Americans here in Bulgaria.
We started language training on Fri the 14th of Jun. That was the day after we arrived in Kyustendil. It's now 4-5 hours a day 5 days a week. Also live with a non-English speaking "host family" that give me another 4-5 hours/day + all of Sat & Sun exposed to Bulgarian. The language is tough but I'm convinced I'll learn it. We finish our language session like we have done hard labor. Then get 4 more hours/day of Technical, Cross Culture, or Health & Safty training. Is the best prep I have had for anything in my life. It is intense! "The hardest job you will ever love" is starting to become a reality.
Won't know until about August where I'm going to be for the 2 years as a Volunteer. I may make Sofia with a Junior Achievement project that is underway. Or who knows?
Hope you are doing well!! If you make it to the Mississippi ride say hello to everyone, I'll try to keep some correspondance going from this end but right now I'm BUSY. It is a break to sit and jot something in English, but the Bulgarian hasn't helped my English spelling at all.
Comment: I have added this to the original letter as a place to post the pictures that I took while at Kyustendil. Two or three of these photos were taken by others and then given to me.
Two pictures of Kyustendil from the hills that border it to the east. My “host family” (The Miladinvi's – Ivo, Silvia & Svetly) at the Peace Corps swearing-in and party (I think I'm about half in the bag). There was a younger daughter (Adi) that did not come not did the Grandparents or the brothers family (we all lived in a three story family house). My study desk in the children's room; they were moved out so the family could get the money for my staying there. Everything I had with me was in the large bag on the floor to the left rear.
We went on a “field trip” to Rila Monastery which is a must see in Bulgaria. I took more pictures than these four but the developing in Zlatograd was so bad that the prints are almost worthless (this is the best Photoshop job that I can do on them). The group picture is when on another Peace Corps “field trip” to Samokov that was intended to teach us how to travel in Bulgaria. That is Kristina (Bulgarian Language Teacher) in the center with Elisabeth to her right and Vangie to her right rear. I'm behind Kristina with Bob on my right and Bret to my left. The other boy and girl were our servers for this evening meal.
Comment: After receipt of the Acceptance Letter shown below there were a couple of telephone calls. In the fist one the Peace Corps asked me if I would be open to accepting a Volunteer Position in a "former Soviet Union country"; I told them yes. For a couple of weeks I thought it would be one of 'stan' countries in Asia. Later, in the second call they asked me if I would accept Bulgaria; I told them yes. I had the opportunity to decline Bulgaria and they would have offered me a second country but it is VERY doubtful that a third country would be offered (you would be considered not serious and dropped). I was told by someone in the Peace Corps that for 1996 they needed to fill 10,000 positions. There were something like 500,000 inquiries and 100,000 completed Applications were received to get those 10,000.
I received this letter from The White House soon after the Acceptance Letter. At that time I made a 5x8 framed copy of it and had it hanging on my wall at work until I left for Washington D.C. in June of 1996.
I don't have any of the paperwork that got me to Washington but I was sent instructions and a plane ticket. All the Volunteers in my Group met there for three days for orientation and then flew as a Group to Bulgaria and bus to Kyustendil.
In one of the 2 or 3 missing Letters written from Kuystendil I may have told about how some of the Training was individualized and the placement of Volunteers certainly was. The Pre-Training Questionnaire shown below helped the Peace Corps Staff in this regard.
This is a picture of our Group (B-6). All Peace Corps Volunteers are special but this Group was unique in a very special way. Only one of this entire Group went home early and that was because of a medical problem. Also, that one individual felt so strongly about her Peace Corps experience that she returned to Bulgaria, at her own cost, to participate in our Close of Service activities in 1998. I have also shown the list of Speakers at our Swearing In Ceremony.