3 June 1997
As I told you via e-mail, I am now receiving your e-mails; it was great to hear from you. I am also receiving snail mail at the Zlatograd address and it seems to be working well. I am now getting mail in 2 weeks or less; the first week of May being an exception because of a weeks vacation in Bulgaria to celebrate Orthodox Easter. The other benefit is that I now think I am receiving it; I had another weeks mail from Sofia go missing in March and again in April. I have been trying to get caught up on "stuff" since Bulgaria's Orthodox Easter week (28 April to 1 May). We PC Volunteers were not so lucky; we got to travel to Bourgas for 3 days of In Country Training (IST) in Bulgarian. For me, and perhaps 1/2 of the Volunteers, that required a full day of travel to get there and a day to return home. I needed to be in Gabrovo on 14 May for a one day PC Business Program meeting and having never traveled there before I asked Milka, my counterpart, for advice. She called the bus companies and obtained information that indicated that I could leave Zlatograd at 0615, transfer to another bus in Kurdjali at 0930, then change again in Stara Zagora at 1330 - I would then arrive in Gabrovo. AAH if such things were only so simple! The first parts worked well; that is to say I got to Stara Zagora at about 1130. However, upon making inquiry at the State bus station I was informed that there was no bus to Gabrovo. I then asked the private mico-bus drivers about a bus to Gabrovo and they said that I could go by mico-bus, or State bus, to Kazanluk then transfer to a State bus that went to Gabrovo. So I returned to the State bus station for a second time and asked "is there a bus from Stara Zagora to Kazanluk and from Kazanluk to Gabrovo?". This time the answer was YES!! Remember that these conversations are going on in a language that I am certainly not very good at, but I can generally ask if a bus is going some place and when. So it is obvious that I asked the wrong question the first time; I asked "is there a bus from Stara Zagora to Gabrovo?". The answer is NO! (You must go through Kazanluk and transfer to another bus to go to Gabrovo - however this information was not offered, only NO) So as a sign of protest against the State bus service and the principle of the thing I catch a mico-bus from Stara Zagora to Kazanluk, arrive at about 1400, and discover that there are no State buses from Kazanluk to Gabrovo on Monday through Thursday. You can check on your calendars but I will make it easy for you; I am traveling on 13 May for the meeting on the 14th and guess what the 13th is - a Tuesday - NO bus! Obviously I asked the wrong question again; I should have asked "TODAY is there a bus from Stara Zagora to Kazanluk to Gabrovo?". So I wait around for a train at 1630 that will take me to Gabrovo; the same train I could have caught in Plovdiv at about 1300 or in Stara Zagora at around 1500. The train then requires 2 additional changes in towns that I know nothing about; but (with my great Bulgarian language skills) I elicit the help of a couple Bulgarians that are also going to Gabrovo and do finally arrive. YES, after only 250 Km, one bus, two mico-buses, three trains and a total of 14 hours on the road I arrive. When I returned to Zlatograd (by another route I can assure you) I asked Milka how she had gone to Gabrovo; she was attending a Counterpart Training Conference on the 15th. She happily said that she had gone to Sofia then to Gabrovo; it was a total of 10 hours on two buses but a friend had told her that it was easier!!!! Between 3 April and 15 May I put in about 60 hours of sitting on buses and trains. A good 1/4 of my work time here is spent sitting on public transport!
When I got back from Bourgas we finally had spring here in Zlatograd. Within the 5 days that I was gone everything just took off and the town was in bloom when I returned. The weather in Bourgas, on the Black sea, was cloudy, cold, and rainy while we were there so it was just as well that we had IST and couldn't be out much. Had one field visit to a town called Nesebur that dates back to the times of the Tracians. It has also been home to all the subsequent civilizations that have passed through this part of the world; Greeks, Byzantines, Roman, Ottoman, and now the Bulgarians. Has the look and feel of a Greek island town or what I picture the sea side towns of southern Italy to look like. Some of the ruins of previous occupants are visible and there is a museum (not open, which is not uncommon in Bulgaria; museums seem to be repositories of things versus places to go see such finds). If you wish to visit a museum in the smaller towns you must: find out who the curator is, track them down, make an appointment to visit, and hope they show up to unlock the museum at the appointed time for your visit. I never thought of it but Bulgaria is cover with Roman ruins and there are museums in almost every town that have ancient civilization artifacts stashed away; the secret is to get them open up for viewing. Money is part of the problem as it is in Russia but only a part of the problem; the other is the attitude or mind set that is present. During the Communist years the curators were responsible for the "stuff" in the museums, and I suspect that responsibility was a scary thing to have. Therefore, to avoid possible problems it probably made sense to lock it up. This is supposition but it seems to explain the behavior.
Well, I have got everything together and took my new bike out on Sat & Sun the 24th and 25th. First real ride that I have done for almost 2 years; I don't count the short jaunt that I did in Sofia as a real ride. I had the bike, and a Postal Express package that contained a missing computer transmitter, delivered to me by the Director of Peace Corps Bulgaria on May 21st. Later than I had originally planned but I got everything. Then, as is common in Bulgaria, I faced another small problem. As I think I told you, the wheels are not quick release so I needed wrenches to get the front wheel off to put on the transmitter. This took some conversation and inquiry but I found that my buddy Vladamir had wrenches and it only took him 3 trips to come up with the correct size. We got the transmitter on with little difficulty but then found that my mechanic in Sofia had mounted the computer bracket to the handlebar facing in the wrong direction. Changed that, and then proceeded to try to get a signal to the computer for at least an hour. Finally found that the computer was not making complete contact with the bracket - locked it into place and presto I was in business. Well almost; I couldn't get the computer off the bracket without moving the bracket on the handlebar because it locks so tightly. Had been doing all this work at the office on Friday afternoon so called it quits for the time being; took the bike home and shimmed the bracket, tightened it down and all was well.
I did only 16 Km on Sat with 18 Km on Sun with 116 meters of climb on Sat and 84 meters on Sun. The Sunday climb numbers are probably closer to correct; when I set the altimeter on Friday we were having a rain storm come through so I think a lot of the Sat climb was simply change in barometric pressure. This route is toward the East and the return has almost all of the climb; not much of a climb but enough that you know you are going up. The bad thing about the route is that it is the EASY one; everything else will be more difficult. I will be giving you more information about the terrain as I expand my range and fitness. I was impressed with your 128 miles on the Natchez ride (with one day of 44 miles!) after not riding for so long. I am going to ease into it more than that!!! You will also get some practice in converting from Km to miles, and Meters to feet as you get my riding reports; I have set the computer to metric because of the maps and road signs that I have to work with. That is another thing that makes riding here even more of an adventure than in the US. I have three maps of this area; two auto road maps and a tourist map set - none of which agree with each other in all respects. Distances are shown as being different, or not shown in the case of the tourist map, towns are labeled with different names or are to be found in different locations. The tourist maps are the most detailed, I don't know how accurate, and they are at a scale of 1 Cm to the Km so I can estimate distances reasonably well.
I submitted the following to the Peace Corps Training Officer in Sofia with the recommendation that maybe some of these issues be talked about at this years Pre Service Training (PST). Maybe the questions would not be answered but just talking about them would perhaps shed some light on Bulgarian customs/character. Maybe they also give you some better idea of those same customs/character?
THINGS I NEVER LEARNED IN
PST CROSS CULTURE
- Why do Bulgarians cluster together like a swarm of bees, or livestock during a storm, while waiting in what Western society would consider a queue or "standing in line"? Not only do they form the cluster but they then push, shove, and jostle each other; all the time complaining about their rightful place in the non-existent line.
- Why do Bulgarians "curb their children" as Western society curbs their dogs? That is to say; why do they assist their children to urinate or defecate in public places?
- Why do you get a very general answer when you ask a Bulgarian for specifics? Conversely, why do you get to hear everything the person knows on the subject when you ask for a summary? If you ask what time it is; they tell you how to build a watch.
- Why do Bulgarians make left turns in front of oncoming traffic? This is true of all modes of transport be it walking, bicycle, car, truck, or donkey. There is no concept of yield to on coming traffic or yield the right of way.
- Why do Bulgarians prefer to eat their food cold? Even IF it happens to be served hot to the table they will wait, or toy with it, until it has assumed room temperature.
- How do you politely get a Bulgarian to go home, or leave the party, when you have invited them for drinks and or dinner? It seems that if they are left to decide this on their own it is the old college rule; they leave when all the booze is gone.
- Why is it chic to have a pedigree dog and is there any social ranking attached to the type of dog you own? Does the dogs barking continuously add additional cachet to the owner? This does not seem to be simple liking for pets.
- Why is there great pride in the literacy of the people of Bulgaria yet it is so difficult to get anyone to commit anything to writing? It appears to be an oral society not one of letters.