8 December 1997

Dear Shirley,

It is Monday morning, 8 December, and I have finally sorted through the mail that was waiting for me from last week while I was out of the office. Have managed to get answers off to those e-mails that involved work. Now I am starting on this months Long Letter and e-mail notes that had stacked up from the week before my departure.

I left Zlatograd on 1 December to go to Sofia for a meeting with the Country Director and another Medical appointment. Have been on fairly heavy dosages of Ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation and swelling of the first joint of both pinkie fingers. This seems to be working however it does nothing to replace the nails that I have virtually lost from both of those fingers. Don't have the inflammation in the toes but have also almost lost one big toe nail with 2-3 others being attacked and soon to be gone. The more troubling aspects of the disease are in my scalp and I can not seem to get it under control. Have other eruptions here and there on my body and they seem to respond to the treatment that I have been given; the scalp is more resistant. I am now on a regimen of applying a Bulgarian coal tar liquid preparation that has been prescribed by a Bulgarian Dermatologist. This stinky stuff I apply to the scalp every evening and then sit for an hour before shampooing it out. The shampoo never gets it all out and when ever the hair becomes damp I can smell the coal tar. People must think that I have a strange liking for some very unique shaving lotion. But, even with this stuff I am not nearly a "ripe" as many of the Bulgarians that I come in contact with; said contact being 5 or 6 feet in many cases. The meeting with my Country Director was to go over the first draft of a Form 171 (the official Form that you use to apply for employment with the Federal Government). I am applying for a paid staff position with the Peace Corps; specifically I am trying to get hired as an Administrative Officer. The position is an assistant to the Country Director and is responsible for all the operational issues in a particular country. They do all the cash management, budgeting, accounting, purchasing, personnel administration, and generally those things that keep the Peace Corps working on a day-to-day basis. I also plan on submitting a similar application for the position of Auditor, Peace Corps Inspector General. This position works out of Washington, DC but I would spend about 2/3 rds of my time in countries where Peace Corps has volunteers. The job is to audit the work of the Administrative Officers, particularly the financial records, and issue reports; each country assignment taking 2-3 weeks. The Auditor position could allow me to visit almost every country that PC is in, almost 100, within the 5 year work period. The Administrative Officer is assigned to one country for 30 months with the opportunity to stay for another 30 or to transfer to a second country for the remaining 30 months. You can work for PC as a paid staff person for a maximum of only 5 years. The advice of my Country Director was to forget the Form 171 and submit a normal resume but in more detail than for a private sector job. In addition I indicated that I wanted to work as an AO in this Region so he will send the Resume to contacts that he has to assure me a shot of getting considered. There is the official application channel and then there is the real world channel that you must use to get hired. He is going to try to get me connected with this real world channel! More on this as time goes by.

I was fortunate to catch a ride with the PC van going to Borovets on Tuesday, 2 December. If I had not managed to do that I would have had to take a trolley or bus from my hotel or the PC office, transfer to a second trolley, then public bus or minivan to Samakov, transferring to another bus or minivan to Borovets, and then walk or taxi to the In Service Training (IST) site. With the PC van I got in at the PC office and got out at the front door of the Forest Workers Training School (the IST site); it is small wonder that the PC staff does not understand the trials of travel by PC Volunteers. The IST was similar to what I have written about in the past; more classes in Language. However, I think that I have previously told you that they are not useful for me and I have learned almost nothing by attending the three ISTs that I must attend while here. There will be another one in the spring of 1998 but that one will not require mandatory attendance. To take its place, from required travel at least, there will be a mandatory Close of Service (COS) conference in March. At this conference we will be provided administrative information about leaving Bulgaria, job hunting advice, educational opportunities, etc. Because I am planning on doing my TAB in April I look upon this as an interruption in my opportunity to do some training!

The time that I will have to train before I start the TAB ride is of considerable concern to me because of the weather. When I left Zlatograd on the 1st it was raining quite hard, almost blizzard conditions near Pamporovo, then rain again all the way into Sofia. We also got snow twice while in Borovets. As I was returning to Zlatograd on Saturday the 6th it began to snow in Sofia at about 0900 with light snow until we dropped below the 600 meter snow line near home. Then here Sunday morning we had a light dusting with snow falling most of the day but no accumulation below 500 meters; so this morning the town is ringed with what appears to be snow capped mountains. I prefer it this way, I have always enjoyed looking up at the snow on the mountain peaks but don't want to live in it! If this winter is a severe and long one I am afraid that I will have little or no time to get in some training and that is going to be a problem. Will simply hope for the best and be prepared to endure the pain of riding into shape on the Tour. While in Sofia on Monday - Tuesday I did get to my bike shop and bought a pump, tube, and patches so I am already ahead of the last tour from a preparation point of view. Just now received a telephone call from the Receptionist at PC Sofia that said my package from John & Janis, with panniers, had arrived. Have also talked to about half of the volunteers that I intend staying with on the tour and received assurance that I can stay; will use the COS conference to make additional contacts and get maps/written description of where they live. So, it is coming together. If only I could get someone to provide the same assurance for good weather to train in and to do the tour.

From Bulgarian Business News.
Anti-corruption laws will most probably top the agenda of the Government and Parliament immediately after the Christmas recess, the Floor Leader of the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) Ekaterina Mihailova said." and "When we checked the resorts of Pamporovo (in the Rhodope Mountains, Southern Bulgaria) and Borovets (in Mt. Rila, Southwestern Bulgaria), we came across contracts which are exceedingly detrimental to the State, the Minister of Trade and Tourism Valentin Vassilev said. One of the most outrageous cases is a five-year contract with the private Baumax Company. Under the contract, Baumax installed magnetic card-operated turnstiles at the cableway stations in Pamporovo in exchange for 35 per cent of the takings. In this way, the company received 240 million Leva last winter season (Note: around $130,000). The cost for processing the magnetic cards themselves were for the account of the resort, under the contract. Legally, Baumax may not receive more than 10 per cent for the services contracted with the management of the resort, the Ministry's experts claim. A clause in the contract entitles Baumax to recover $2 million in damages in the event of a termination of the deal by Pamporovo Inc. After the end of the high winter season Baumax removed all facilities and practically terminated the contract, the Ministry argues.
The former Socialist government entered into many of these kinds of contracts during their 6 years in power and it is only now that the UDF is trying to do something about it. However, the Socialist opposition will fight the anti-corruption effort in Parliament for as long as they can and put up as many roadblocks as they can. Why? Because currently there are between 85 and 100 members of the Ministry of the Interior (former Secret Police), customs officers, bankers, judges, prosecutors, and employees of other Ministries under investigation.

Last but not least, because the Christmas Season is fast approaching I want to wish you, and belated greetings to all on the "Tree", MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR.

THE VOLUNTEER'S CHRISTMAS EVE

It's mighty lonesome-like and dear.
Above the Rhodope the moon rides high,
And shows up sharp and needle-clear
The emptiness of earth and sky;
No happy homes with love a-glow;
No Santa Claus to make believe:
Just snow and snow, and then more snow;
It's Christmas Eve, it's Christmas Eve.

And here am I where all things end,
And Volunteers are hurled;
A poor person without a friend,
Forgot and dead to all the world;
Clean out of sight and out of mind...
Well, maybe it is better so;
We all in life our level find,
And mine, I guess, is pretty low.

Stripped to the buff and gaunt and still
Lies all the land in grim distress.
Like lost soul wailing, long and shrill,
A dog barking cleaves the emptiness.
Then hushed as Death is everything.
The moon rides haggard and forlorn ...
"O hark the herald angels sing!"
God bless all men - it's Christmas morn.


(THE TRAPPERS CHRISTMAS EVE By Robert Service - shortened and modified)