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7 January 1998

Well, I have made it into the New Year and the year that I leave Bulgaria. From this vantage point it seems that September is a long way off but I know that it will be here sooner than I think.

I don’t think that I told you about the Bulgarian work schedule last Christmas and New Year. If I did, bear with me because I think it is so bizarre to our way of thinking but at the same time something that we should consider emulating (some companies do). The week preceding Christmas called for an official work day on Saturday the 20th and we then took off the period 24 – 28 December as the Christmas Holiday. Worked the 29th and 30th and then took off 31 December to 4 January for the New Year Holiday; working the 10th of January to make up the time off(?). All of these Holiday and work days being officially proclaimed by the Parliament and/or the Governmental Cabinet and dutifully published in the official paper of record. It is the governmental process and pomp that I find most amusing even when they do have a good idea! The mid-November time period in the United States is no time or place to be a Turkey; similarly Christmas week is no time to be a pig in Bulgaria. Last year I wrote about the slaughter of a pig during this period that I watched from my apartment balcony. Didn’t witness that same process this year from the balcony but noticed at least 4 slaughterings going on in town during the 24 – 28 of December. One of the ones that I missed was my counterpart/interpreter and her husbands pig becoming a Holiday treat (I received a portion of it as a post Christmas gift). Last year I wrote that it was VERY quite here in Zlatograd during the Christmas Holiday with most of the celebration happening during New Years. That was true this year also but there were some slight differences. Last year there were few restaurants and shops open during the period; this year almost everything was open as usual. Last year also saw almost no Christmas decorations; this year most of the restaurants and shops have some kind of decorations – Christmas trees are present in some numbers this year. There were two large trees erected outdoors that competed in size and ornamentation with the official Municipality tree that graced the Town Square in front of my office. This is the tree around which the citizens of Zlatograd danced the Horo on New Years Eve. The Municipality also put some decorations on the tree this year (donated by a business in town) whereas last year it was the barest Charlie Brown tree you would ever have wanted to see. So there are some subtle changes going on; but, you have to look hard and wait the long wait!

The other difference this year had to do with the fact that I have been in Zlatograd for over a year now and have developed a social life of sorts. Last year I had been here about three and a half months prior to the Holidays and didn’t know that many people yet so I got few invitations. This year I received presents, invitations, and was involved in activities that were not readily open to me last year. I spent Christmas dinner and New Years Eve with the Bulgarian family that has adopted me; they also gave me a nice gift. One of my regular restaurants gave me a gift and a second one gave me free deserts during the Holidays. The second one also invited me to come in and talk with the owners son from Samolyan (who didn’t show up) with free drinks and dinner if I had wanted to eat. I got home made wine, a cabbage casserole dish, and some of the freshly kill pig from my counterpart/interpreter. Went out for drinks with my English Conversation Group one night and then we did a hike on January 2nd. This was the first hike that I had been on since last April when I went with the ecology group during the weekend water testing project. Was great to get out again after doing nothing since my week bike tour in early October. I need to do some more of this between now and February or March when I will try to get in some bike training rides. It is going to all be weather driven.

Which leads me right in to a discussion of our weather. But as an opener to that topic I offer a Johnny Carson routine.
Johnny: It is so cold in Bulgaria that …It is so cold in the winter in Bulgaria that …
Audience: HOW COLD IS IT!
Johnny: It is so cold in the winter in Bulgaria that exhibitionists don’t “flash”; they just describe their genitals to their victims!!

That was the news here in mid December; it was COLD – COLD – COLD. We had about a foot of snow on the night of the 15-16th with light snow falling most of the 16th. Then everything turned to a sheet of ice on the 17th with temperatures staying below freezing most of the day on the 18th and 19th. I think the morning of the 19th was the coldest with the temperature at day break being around -15 Celsius (that is about 5 Fahrenheit). But we then warmed up some and got rain on and off through the 23rd; this melted most of the accumulated snow and more importantly got rid of the ice problem. Since then the weather has been cold mornings and nights but the days have been mostly clear and warm for this time of the year. The mid day temperatures are in the 40’s to low 50’s with no more rain since just before Christmas.

The pictures in the top row were taken from my balcony looking toward the south where the newer apartment blocks have been built and toward the west (note the dried chilies). The two on the right are also from my balcony but I am looking directly below my apartment at the “Bulgarian rug cleaning post”. The weather has warmed up somewhat and the owners of the rug are probably getting ready for the Holidays. The one on the far right is the same gazebo as shown in the center but during the summer when it is actually in use.

The improved weather is what made the January 2nd hike possible and is what has now got me hopeful that I can get in some more hiking and bike training before the 11 April start of my tour.

My hiking group by a waterfall that shows how the snow melt is running off but it probably freezes up at night. This is not just my hiking group but is also the “core” of my weekly English Conversation Group. The young man was also a many times hiking and biking companion; his sister is standing directly behind him. The white spot in the center of the third picture is Startsavo, our goal for today’s hike where we will catch a bus back to Zlatograd. In the foreground, which looks very bare, summer grazing will be available for the cows in the area, however, there are more cows than the grazing can support. In the far right picture the cloud of smoke that you see just over the nearby ridges is Zlatograd and the many wood burning stoves in town.

Other things on the agenda in the near term. I am working on the job application with Peace Corps for the Admin. Officer position that I wrote of last time. I have heard from a couple of people that were misled by me or misunderstood; the potential job will not be in Bulgaria. I hope to stay in the Europe, Mediterranean and Asia Region but the Admin. Officer in Bulgaria is not scheduled to leave before mid year 1999. I am looking for a position that would let me start work around 1 January 1999. I have a Small Business Development meeting 26-27 February in an undisclosed town (rumor has it that it will be Plovdiv). Also will be away from Zlatograd on 12-14 March for the Close of Service Meeting (COS); the thinking is that the meeting location will be in Bansko where it was held last year. So when you add 2 travel days to each of those trips plus trips to Sofia between now an the end of March I will be away from home 12-15 days in the 1st Quarter.

I wrote some time ago about the problems of milk and cheese production in Bulgaria and thought I would up date that discussion. I am quoting from the Bulgarian Business News and I think you will see why I have restricted me cheese consumption since last July!

Declaration and registration of all milk livestock became mandatory under a new Ordinance on the Purchase and Certification of Liquid Milk, approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Land Reform. The National Veterinary Service will issue veterinary cards for all milk producing farm animals so as to keep track of their health condition. The Ordinance sets requirements to the raising of the livestock, milk storage and transportation, said Mrs. Antoaneta Georgieva, expert at the Ministry…. The country’s purchasing stations are in perfect condition and do not need additional equipment, Mrs. Georgieva said. The Ordinance will take effect on January 1st, 1998 along with a new standard classifying Bulgarian milk into extra, first and second grades.
Five Bulgarian dairies will be making white and yellow cheese for the EU countries, said the Minister of Agriculture Ventsislav Vubanov. A total of 30 have applied, but 25 fell short of Western Europe’s requirements for hygiene and sanitation.
The designated five dairies have been inspected twice by EU veterinary officials, Mr. Vurbanov said. If they pass the last check, in January, the temporary ban on export of Bulgarian milk products to the West European market will be lifted.
The ban was imposed on July 16, 1997 after a commission of the EU veterinary authorities found during an inspection in April that some Bulgarian processing enterprises do not comply with EU production hygiene standards

So, as the article points out, the problem was first identified with inspections made in April. The reaction at that time was one of denial by Bulgarian officials and expanded testing was asked for and the problem was found to be even bigger; therefore the EU imposed the import ban in July. This is also a good example of the timely action that the government is capable of; even after the ban by the EU is still took them from July to December to enact an Ordinance. If it had required a new law, passed by Parliament, the process would probably still be under way! I might add that one important question that the article does not address is WHAT ABOUT DOMESTIC PRODUCTION? There were 25 producers that failed to meet the standards for EU export but it says nothing about them not selling into the domestic market nor does it talk about those producers that did not apply and therefore were not inspected. I continue to eat some cheese; after all the meat situation is probably even worse – I just haven’t seen anything in print about it.

More on last months discussion about the fight against crime and another good example of prompt action. From the Bulgarian Business News under the headline “Incumbents Declare War on White-Collar Crime”.

Representatives of eight public institutions gathered at the end of December in the office of the Prosecutor General of the Republic Ivan Tatarchev to discuss specific measures for combating white-collar crime. This meeting, which local political analysts described as unprecedented, came shortly after it was reported that the European Union is granting $10 million to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria, for the fight against corruption… After the meeting, it emerged that criminal justice legislation must be urgently amended. An ad hoc parliamentary commission, probably know as the Anti-Mafia Commission, which was formed last autumn, will become a standing committee in 1998, said its Chairperson Ekaterina Mihailova…

There is nothing, I say again NOTHING, that creates faster action in the Bulgarian government than the opportunity to get some grant money. You know of course that grant money is money that need not be paid back; it is a gift, and everyone here is after grant money, will do/say whatever is necessary to get it. But real change – I will keep you updated. The standing Commission approach with lots of talk is what I expect!