Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cultural Highlights from Bulgaria

Bulgaria Time Zone
Bulgaria seems to have a time zone of its own - or perhaps it's like this everywhere in Europe... or maybe it's normal at home too and I just didn't know... but here, everyone seems to be able to stay up all hours of the night and not feel the effects of it the next day!!! it's crazy... I can do that too, but not every day! every night at Peter and Jifka's house we were usually up till 2, 3 or 4AM, and they normally got up at 7 or 8. I tried to do that too - and sure, I could stay up no problem! but getting up in the morning was another story!! It was all I could do to drag myself out at 9!!! :) It was the same thing at Todor and Daniela's, but finally we had to say that we just couldn't do it - we needed our sleep :S I don't know how these people do it - they can work all day and party all night and feel none the worse for it! One person explained it to us, if one makes an appointment for 11:00, it's okay to be there at 11:15. Time doesn't really seem to matter here.

Driving in Bulgaria
Absolutely NUTS! pedestrians can die if they want to, the drivers in the cars plow their way through. Okay, maybe that's extreme, but to be a pedestrian here is indeed very dangerous. Some people even will speed up when we start crossing the street!

Sirene (Feta) Cheese
Used everywhere all the time, and on everything, this delicious cheese is a staple in the traditional Bulgarian household. Salty, crumbly, flavourful, delicious... Ruth and I are set on learning how to make feta when we return to Canada :)

This is a pastry dish that we've had at almost every household. It's so tasty delicious, and can be done many different ways, though usually it's made with feta.

Wafla Moreni
mmmm yummy chocolate.... oh I miss eating chocolate.... wafla moreni is a type of chocolate bar that has peanuts and chocolate covering a waffe type of bar. It's pretty good. chocolate.... oh i'm salivating now!! this is one thing that I've had to get used to (and it's a good thing too): not having chocolate/sweets/candy available ALL the time. I know I know, it's terrible but true that I'm addicted to all things sweet... this is just the trip I needed! :) perhaps I can break the addiction! :)

Kise Mblako

It's like plain yogurt, but different, and definitely better. Not goopy, just fresh and natural goodness... Bulgaria is world-known for its yogurt and dairy product industry. Many of their recipes use this ingredient, including something called Aryan, which is a half and half mix of Kise Mlako and water - a little strange tasting, but once you get used to it, its not bad at all. Also, Tarrator is another favourite Bulgarian food, made with Kise Mlako: in English we`d call it `cold cucumber soup`.... it`s very refreshing and tasty.

Rakia, Boza, and Beer (name?)

Rakia: WOW - that's HOT stuff!!!! a tradition carried in many Bulgarian households is to offer an alcoholic drink called rakia after dinner. You can feel it burn and strangle as it goes down, unlike anything we've ever had! makes you twist your face and wonder why anyone would ever drink such stuff... :)

Boza: non-alcoholic beverage with a very interesting flavour.... can't say that either of us really enjoyed it all that much :S it smells very strongly of I don't know what...(Ruth says it sortof smells like raw meat juices) but when you drink it, it's totally different... and it's so thick and sweet! It's made from some type of grain or something... I always thought I liked everything that was sweet, but now I'm taking that back! :)

Bulgarian Beer: Not bad, though I'm not an authority on beer by any stretch of the imagination :)

Bulgaria - Week 1!

Hello everyone!
Take a deeeeeeeep breath, and get ready for a loooooooong post! hahaa seems to be all or nothin'! :) Our time in Bulgaria has been incredibly busy, spending all our time with the children and their parents, except for when we sleep of course :)

Friday, May 2: Arrive in Sofia, Bulgaria!
Upon our arrival in Sofia we were met by Elian and Radoslava (the primary organizers of our trip, besides our Bulgarian contacts in Toronto). After a 3 hour drive, we arrived in Velika Tarnovo, where we had a brief tour of the ruins of Tsaravitz (a King's fortress). This place was really neat (I think I may have already written about it before...) Following this tour, we met Peter who had come to pick us up and take us to his family's home in Silistra (a 3 1/2 - 4 hour drive), which is in the northern part of Bulgaria, right beside the Danube river on the border of Romania. I think this was where we left you at the last (and only) email :)

Our First Family: Peter & Jifka Porumbachanov

We spent 9 wonderful days with Peter, his wife Jifka, and their three sweet boys George (12), Nikki (5) and Paul (3). Each day was filled with fun things! Instead of teaching English 'formally', our time was spent in conversational English, rather than with books and studying. It was sortof like a holiday for them, a time away from the books and more focused on speaking everyday English. On our first day, George acted as our tour guide and showed us around Silistra, explaining its history to great depths (him and his father are nuts about history - it was really interesting - we learned so much from them). His English is really very good; we had very little difficulties in understanding each other. (Except for our own lapses into poor English -- I really mean "very FEW difficulties"... I'm sorry to say that our English has disintegrated terribly :S We did do some actual schoolwork when we went over some book reports that he had translated and helped with his grammar, word usage and other things that came up, and some pronunciation as well. But for the most part, our time with this family was purely spent in conversational practice. It's amazing to see how much English this family learned solely through extensive reading, watching English movies with Bulgarian subtitles, and listening to music. They have had very little contact with English-speaking people, yet it was impressive how much English they actually knew! --this was the FIRST time George ever SPOKE English!

So much happened in our time at Silistra... to say everything, I think I'd need to write for a year! :) but here's some highlights:

Sunday, May 4
our first "home church" experience

Our second day in Peter's house (Sunday), we experienced our first home church meeting. It was really neat - a small group of people, maybe 15 people, but it was so special. We met some new people there, each of them so sweet: Jovko and Cornelia and their adorable 5-year-old daughter Amy, and their son Samuel (2); also an older woman named Velichka - her name means Grace... such a beautiful name! her husband has been a complete invalid for 2 years, yet she lovingly cares for him day and night; Bobby, a fitness instructor at the local gymnasium; and Maria, another older woman whose husband has rejected the church. Peter is the pastor of this church, and its services are held in his home. The entire service was held in Bulgarian (of course). After singing a few songs, he read a passage from Ecclesiastes, one of the Old Testament books in the Bible. He also read from James (a New Testament book in the Bible), and taught about the use of the tongue. It's so common and so natural for us to talk behind others' backs, to slander, to make others feel stupid, to use our tongues in a sinful way. But God teaches us in the Bible that this is wrong, and that we must use our tongues to build each other up, to edify each other, to speak the truth in love. Ruth and I listened to the message for the first bit, but because it was all "Greek" (Bulgarian) to us, we just read our Bibles. After the message, Peter broke the bread and poured the wine, and we had the Lord's Supper. In many ways I found it similar to how we practice communion in our churches at home, with some differences... After this, we sat and talked for a while with the church and introduced ourselves. Later that evening Peter gave us a summary of what he had taught that morning, which is how we know a little of what his message had been about.

Monday, May 5

The following day we went again for a walk around Silistra, and had a water-fight by a large fountain in the park! it all started when George and I decided to sneak up behind Ruth and throw some water on her from the fountain, and pretty soon George, Ruth, Nikki, Amy and I were running around the fountain, chasing each other and throwing water on everyone! well, maybe not everyone - just everyone in our little group of children :) I haven't felt like such a child for so long! it felt a little strange but we had a great time, though other passersby were looking at us a little dubiously: I suppose it was a strange sight to see two 'grownup' girls (sometimes I wonder about us) and a bunch of children chasing each other, shouting and laughing, having a waterfight in such a place!

A Day in the "Village"
One day Peter and his family, together with Jovko and Nellie's family, decided to take the day off to visit his house in the village. There we went exploring, climbed trees, told stories, chased a sheep :) got out the weed-whacker to cut the knee-high grass for a make-shift soccer-field :) had a picnic, drank Bulgarian beer for the first time, played some football (soccer) and other games, learned to drive standard (!!! :) ) and just had a great time! it was almost surreal.... it's sad but true, but at home it's unheard of to take the day off for no reason, other than to enjoy the day and the fellowship of friends and family. These people have such a different mindset; they've set their priorities on other things than money and things that won't last, and have made a conscious effort to develop bonds with their family and friends, and to make memories that will last forever.
Our second Sunday in Silistra, we first had our church service in the next room, and then packed up, went for a walk, and had a picnic with Peter's and Jovko's families at Silver Lake, a wildlife conservation area in which a lot of endangered species of birds live. Such a beautiful area, and so full of wildlife! One thing that has really struck me about Bulgaria is that there's flowers EVERYWHERE! it's just so beautiful! And there's wildlife everywhere too! it's normal to see horses, cows, donkeys or goats grazing by the road, not only in the country but even in the towns and villages! there's also a lot of horses or donkeys used by the farmers to pull their wagons. It's a little like stepping back in time, seeing what life was like a hundred years ago. It's very quaint; apparently Bulgaria is the only country in the European Union that still does this.

One day Peter took George, Ruth and me to Ruse (about 1- 1/2 hours away). We will forever remember Bulgaria's driving customs. I won't go into great detail, except to say that I find it just totally exhilaratingly thrillingly pleasurable! :) haha perhaps that gives you some idea of what it's like ;) don't worry, we're in safe hands! and the cars they drive are just so cute - these tiny little old Russian cars from 40 years ago are still going hard at it, and their owners sure know how to push them! Anyways... so we were driving to Ruse. There we saw Peter's university, where he is studying law. We toured some parts of the city and had lunch at a quaint little cafe, where we enjoyed the beautiful weather outside and the delicious food. Yuuuuummmmm the food is just so good here - I fear that when we come home we're going to be more than just a few pounds heavier!!! :S Margarita, you warned me about this, but I paid no attention - now I see how right you were!! :) ahhh, but it's worth it!!! I just hope that I fit into my bridesmaid dress for Joyce's wedding!!!! yikes... I better watch it... or else there'll be a pudgy ugly maid of honour waddling down the aisle! :) ahaha... During lunch there was also a live band/orchestra that was playing in the square for the passersby - they played so well, it was really nice. After the band finished playing, the mayor of the city also came out to give a few words, of which I understood nothing except for the final one: Blogoderia! (thank you) :)

The Lost Wallet
On the way home we stopped at a spring to get a drink of water - fresh from the ground! pure, fresh spring water, so delicious... then we took a short run up the nearby hill to stretch our legs before the drive home. However, what we didn't realize at the time was that I dropped our wallet during our vigorous little run up the hill..... :( it was supposed to be securely clipped onto my pants - I've used this wallet so much, but I've never had this happen before. Well, by the time we got home and realized it was gone, it was too late. We made the trek all the way back to the spring again (a 45-minute drive) but by then so many sheep must have passed by and trampled or eaten it, or perhaps someone found it, I don't know. It wouldn't be such a big deal, but we had Ruth's mastercard and debit card in there as well as some cash. Needless to say, we've cancelled those cards now, and now we'll use mine instead. So in the end, it all worked out okay, and it wasn't a great loss... Great start to the trip, eh?! wow... I surely hope this doesn't happen again!!!! now we realize a little more how careful we need to be!!

Land For Sale!!!
On to something not so disastrous.... though perhaps to some of you this may seem so :) Ruth and I have decided (ahem, drum roll please)... we really ought to buy a piece of property in Bulgaria! :) it's such a beautiful country, and land is so cheap, you really can't go wrong! it's bound to appreciate in value, so why not?! ;) we'll build a house, or maybe a hotel or something, and we'll rent it out to you all, since I know that you'll all want to visit Bulgaria after all we've been saying, right? ;)

Pictures are on Their Way!
We hope to be able to post some pictures but for the moment I'm afraid we can't :( I'm sorry... we've been taking tons of pictures though, so get ready :) I'll post some as soon as I can.