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16 December 1996

Thanksgiving and the Christmas Season in Bulgaria is a time of unending bus travel it seems. The following has been my schedule of late and my plans for the next week or two. On 29 November I left Zlatograd for Sofia to pick up December money and do some shopping; buy an iron and a paring knife. That was a 6+ hour trip into Sofia. The next day, 30 November, I went to Blagoevgrad for Thanksgiving dinner with the “old people”. The old people is like the OFC of the Peace Corps Bulgaria; any one over about 30 years of age qualifies because they are no longer kids. The old people also had two Peace Corps Volunteers that are marginal in age but qualify because of their engagement to Bulgarian women. The trip to Blagoevgrad was about 2 hours. Returned from Blagoevgrad to Zlatograd on 1 December via Sofia and Plovdiv. Was 2 hours to Sofia, 2 hours to Plovdiv, and 5+ hours to Zlatograd. The trip from Plovdiv was scheduled to leave at 1530 but actually left at 1745 getting me home at about 2300.

When I got off the bus the streets were a river of mud and water. It had been raining since 21 November, almost without stop, in Zlatograd and the south-central Rhodopes with a big storm on the 26-27th and then again on 30 Nov-1 Dec. The second big storm did some serious damage with buildings swept away, homes flooded, and two deaths; one died here in Zlatograd and another in the village of Startsevo near here. A State bus was lost out of the parking lot on the edge of the river where I left from on 3 December; going back to Plovdiv for a Peace Corps Small Business Development meeting on the 4th and In-Country Training on 5-7th. This was another 5 hour trip.

Then on the 8th I returned to Zlatograd again via Haskavo and Kurdjuli. Stopping in Haskavo to locate the PC-SBD Office there and have lunch with a PC married couple that are teachers in Haskavo. Was 2 hours from Plovdiv to Haskovo. Then on to Kurdjuli and a quick tour to locate the PC-SBD Office, the apartment of the Business Volunteer, and have a drink and conversation with her. Only 1 hour from Haskavo to Kurdjuli. Last leg was 2 hours from Kurdjuli to Zlatograd. So in 10 days I managed to put in some 4 days of travel with about 28 hours of bus riding.

This coming Saturday I will be going back to spend the night with the couple in Haskavo for their Christmas Open House on Sunday. Then on Saturday the 28th I will go to Sofia for 2 days; will pick up January money on Monday and return to Zlatograd. That should work out to some additional 23 hours on the bus.

Will be in Zlatograd for Christmas and New Years. The Christmas season started for a few Bulgarians in November with their practicing a form of Lent, or Advent, for 40 days. The tradition in Bulgaria is to eat a meatless dinner on Christmas Eve and open presents at midnight. Then they eat, drink and party for the 26-28th period to make up for the one meatless meal; not a bad trade all in all. Not sure what the New Year may be like but I suspect it is a continuation of the three day bash after Christmas.

On the afternoon of the 11th, the CDC office was the venue for a meeting of local people with the President elect, Peter Stoyanov, after he had toured the town to see the flood damage of 30 November and 1 December. I was simply an observer but was introduced to Mr. Stoyanov, shook hands and thanked him for coming to Zlatograd. This was all captured by our local cable TV cameraman. I am hoping that I can get a hard copy print of the event; if not it is preserved in the tape vaults of Zlatograd. Years from now when people look at such film they will say: “Who is that with Ed Frey”. Ha!

This picture was given to me (no print of my shaking hands). The President Elect is at the head of the table, I’m in the background to the right.

I will now tell my tale of what it is like to furnish an apartment as a Peace Corps Volunteer. First, you must understand that all the propaganda that the Peace Corps publishes states that the Volunteer will live at the same standard of living as their counterparts. This means that the standard may be different from country to country or even within the country. The operative words here are “same standard as their counterparts”. Operating on this principle, I began the process of furnishing the apartment that the Municipality had obtained for me. The agreement between Peace Corps and the Municipality was that the Peace Corps would provide a Volunteer, ME, and the Municipality would provide an apartment that was furnished to specific standards. In Zlatograd the Municipality rented an apartment from the local mining company, GROPSO, and told them (?) the standard that was to be met. When I walked in on 8 September it lacked more than it had; particularly the kitchen. In the kitchen there was a sink! A sink; with the large storage area under it which was wet from the leaking faucet. Attached to the sink cabinet was a work surface of about 30 inches with 3 storage shelves under it. That was my kitchen! The bathroom is not easily described to an American audience but I will give it a shot. First, when you open the door you are looking directly at the sink; however, you can’t open the door completely because it hits the toilet. The sink is cracked and most of the porcelain finish is worn off and the faucet leaks (as do almost all faucets in Bulgaria). The toilet reservoir is mounted on the wall at about the 6 foot level with a unique pipe connection to the toilet itself that provides the flushing action. When flushed the fill valve, with float shut off, sprays water on the walls and anyone that is foolish enough to still be within 3-4 feet of the toilet. The shower is opposite the toilet with a drain in the center of the bathroom floor. There is the equivalent of a Rube Goldsberg design for the plumbing; all of which is exposed and painted a dull hospital green. The painting scheme for the room is another dull cream color for the upper 1/2 over the same green as the plumbing.

In the kitchen, when this picture was taken, I had received a two burner stove that you can see (click on the picture) sitting on the floor to the left. In the bath room, it was impossible to get a picture that showed what I described – there wasn’t enough room so everything shot from inside would be a closeup.

The living rooms are adequate; however, the two single beds have a unique spring system, and mattress, that I lack the ability to describe in this relatively short letter. The living room was furnished with two 1950’s style stuffed chairs and a matching fold out sofa (all in a fetching shade of orange) as well as a kitchen table, 4 chairs, and a combination china hutch/bookcase. All is not bad – the place had been recently wallpapered and there is a new water heater. For the first three weeks it was like Christmas every day or two; I was receiving plates, glasses, silverware, a tea set, a few pots, bedding, toilet brush, a couple of meters of carpet runner. However, I did not have a cooking stove nor refrigerator nor any kitchen counters nor cupboards. The cooking stove finally came at the end of week three, the refrigerator and counters at the end of October or after about 7 weeks of complaining every day or two. By this time it has become cold at night and in the morning hours and I was without any heat in the apartment. Was given a heater, that could not heat the entire apartment, on 23 October. It worked for 5 days, was fixed and then worked for 4 days. So then they came up with an even smaller heater as a replacement. At this point the Executive Director of the CDC was very angry with the Municipality and he bought me a good heater from CDC funds. This brought me to the point, after two months, of having the basic standard furnishings of a Peace Corps Volunteer. You will note that there has been no discussion of a washing machine in this tale so far. A washing machine is not a Peace Corps basic in Bulgaria; my counterparts have machines and almost all, except for the very poor, of the people in Zlatograd do also. It is a Peace Corps basic to have an iron but not a washing machine or an ironing board; figure out that governmental thinking. I was given a Settling In Allowance that was to be used for acquiring the basics when all else failed. Therefore, in early December I purchased an iron and then used the remainder to have my bedroom and living room floors sanded, varnished, and then bought rugs (none of which are basic). On the 12th the Ex Dir. of CDC gave me his old TV and I had the local cable company connect me to 17 channels. Included are CNN, EuroSports, TNT, MTV, and a couple of other movie channels. I am now living almost as well as I did in Reno; maybe better, I didn’t have a TV there!!

I hope everyone had a great New Years Eve and my best wishes to all for a great year of 1997! I look forward to hearing about the ride schedule of the group, and individuals, for the upcoming riding season.