I spent the Christmas weekend with my former counterpart's family. It was an absolutely traditional Bulgarian Christmas! We slaughtered a pig, then feasted until we passed out! For three days!!! This is such a strong piece of the Bulgarian culture, many Bulgarians have tried to take it with them as they immigrate to the USA. I kept hearing stories of Bulgarians who got arrested or deported for slaughtering pigs in their new suburban American neighborhoods. One stuck with me. A friend of a friend bought a pig to raise for the year with the intention of having a Christmas feast. No one else in the neighborhood had a pig and the kids loved it! They named it John and played with it all year long. John the Pig was a big hit, but that Christmas morning, kids woke up to John squealing his brains out! They all came running to see what was wrong – and they found Mr. Bulgarian preparing his Christmas feast.The neighbors were so upset, they called the police, and Mr. Bulgarian ended up getting deported! This is a perfect example of a cultural misunderstanding. But since I understand cultural misunderstandings, I enjoyed every bit of the holiday!
I was super impressed at how efficiently the pig came apart - and how quickly everyone worked together. They used every last piece of that pig! It was a lot of hard work but all the helping hands made it go by very fast. The positive attitudes were great, too! They were obviously all very prepared and aware of what needed to be done. And everyone did it. It was a very beautiful team effort.Family dynamics, however, are like nothing I've ever seen. It may be true that I've not been exposed to enough to form even a general opinion, but I like forming general opinions anyway. My former counterpart's family are great people! They love having me over – and I love coming over – it's always a very pleasant overall experience. However, there are some moments when I'm extremely uncomfortable. They fight with each other a lot! I can't keep up with the language when they're cursing and speaking in village dialect, but I certainly understand the yelling and the hand gestures flying through the air! I usually try not to get in the middle of anything when one of these outbursts erupts. Especially since everyone's working on the pig – they all have a knife in one hand.One example is with the grandfather who is 88 years old and can't really take care of himself. He usually sits in the corner and watches things – speaking very rarely. If he moves, it's to go to the bathroom, which is an outhouse in the back yard. He moves like a three-toed sloth so the whole trip takes him about 15 to 20 minutes. The family helps him onto his walker, and into his chair, but they seem to curse him during the entire event. If he makes a mistake or moves too slowly, they yell at him. It's the saddest thing you've ever seen. He had his finger in a sling, but took it off to eat dinner. His finger is obviously broken and swollen and I asked what happened. “He's old.” the family casually informed me. On the 24th he ate with us in the big dining room, but for Christmas dinner he sat down below. I thought I heard that it was because he drank too much the night before and it was difficult for the family to get him back to his corner – but when I asked, they told me he didn't want to eat with everyone else. Maybe they were talking about my drinking?
On the other hand – the family goes out of their way to take care of him. Clipping his fingernails, catering to his dietary needs, waiting on him for other needs. It's so odd to see the change from contempt to coddling happen so quickly. And it was true for all of them. There's a very clear and strong sense of family, and it's respected at the same time it's abused! It feels like any one of them would take a bullet for another – yet they despise each other at certain times. It pulls me back to the comment I made in front of a group of kids about how I celebrate Christmas back home. I said we eat dinner with our families – and I thought that sounded super lame because they do that here all the time. But as I look at it now, I can say that my celebration of Christmas is a lot less lame because none of us really have temporary fits of hatred towards each other - and that's really special.Overall, the holiday weekend was full of really, really good food, good fun, and good people. I couldn't have asked for a more enjoyable time. I waddled away with a full belly, a smile, some new recipes to try, and a big bag of food and booze to last me to the end of the year!
Like grant proposals through the hands of USAID, these are the projects of my life!
University for Peace! 2008-2009
Peace Corps! 2005-2007
An obligatory disclaimer: Everything I have written, has been written by me. All of my own views, expressed hereinafter, are my own views. If you needed to read this disclaimer to know these things, you're a silly goose!