Like grant proposals through the hands of USAID, these are the projects of my life!

Peace Corps Response 2011-2012
Peace Corps Response 2010-2011
University for Peace! 2008-2009
Supercross08! 2008
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!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Jump In The Village And Stay Drunk All The Time!

People love teaching me slang. One of the words they throw around as a goofy insult is 'galosh'. It's the same word in Bulgarian and English, but with a Bulgarian accent, and people have been asking me if I knew what it meant. The literal meaning is the same, but the slang, obviously, is different. Something close to 'idiot'. I like to take this opportunity to tell them that that's our word, and that they stole it for their language. Inevitably someone will tell me I'm wrong, and that it's probably a Turkish word. Then we stare at each other for a moment till someone raises a glass, or changes the subject. During one evening gathering, I decided to pull out my trusty iPhone that I found in the trash, and ask Google. I proudly read aloud Google's unquestionable knowledge: It says Late Latin, Old French, and Middle English. I didn't understand what that means, but I considered it a victory. However, in a world where everyone has a smartphone, someone else had an opinion. One of the guys across the table also asked Google, in Bulgarian, of course. When I finished, he laughed and read what Google told him: A Galosh is a Russian rocket!

Far from the current iCulture, is the village life in Bulgaria. I recently read an article that spoke of the silence in the village, and I recognized what the author was talking about right away. It's an incredible thing. The real, absolute absence of any kind of sound. Eerily peaceful. Until 4am when that damn rooster thinks it's his job to wake up the entire village... I don't know how they survive when everyday they break this beautiful, pristine silence.

Iliyan and I spent one weekend in Ezerets, a small village in north eastern Bulgaria, with our old colleague, a French gal named Helene. Helene and I both volunteered for the Public Environmental Center for Sustainable Development for all of 2006. We became pretty good friends, and to this day, I believe she's the most beautiful person I know. She's fun, insightful, wonderful, and has an unbreakable moral foundation that sets an incredible example for all the people in her life. She inspires me every time we interact. Iliyan's father, Ivan, used the term 'manly' to describe her a week later. He meant it as a huge compliment, as in, she can do anything a man can, and more. Bulgarian gender barriers and dialogue are not what they are in other countries. Nevertheless, he meant well.
In any case, Helene lives with her husband, Krasimir, in a home they built with the help of their friends. She's nine months pregnant, and has to be told to stop working so hard and relax. But there's a lot to do. Krasi and Helene keep bees for their main income. They supplement with odd jobs here and there, but I think they get by mostly on cultivating all their own food from their garden and their livestock. Krasi is an artist and reminds me of The Ruler of the Universe in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He's the real deal version of a good person.
Iliyan and I arrived to a lunch that was almost ready to go. My main observation is that most everything done in the village is done for food. I don't know how long they prepared our lunch, but we spent a few hours consuming it, along with some of Krasi's delicious homemade wine. Put mine to shame! The act of preparing and consuming a meal with friends in the village is such a beautiful thing. It's exactly the Slow Food Movement. I love experiencing this because it's so distant from my life in Portland. Back home, I put a very high priority on my nutrition, but almost no priority on how I obtain it, prepare it, and consume it. I consistently keep myself too busy with "other things" to truly enjoy the beauty of something so simple. I'm not saying this village life is better or worse - it's just something I find to be so wonderful and amazing, and I love experiencing it!
We went on a walk through the village just to get some air and some movement after being around a table for a few hours. It was a simple walk that felt really nice. I was reminded again that I was a city boy when I thought to complain about my hiking boots getting muddy. I'm glad I kept my mouth shut, but I was embarrassed for thinking it anyway.
The following week, Iliyan and I headed to his parents' home in Kaspichan to celebrate Christmas. Iliyan's father, Ivan, met us in the street as we parked. His face was cleanly shaved, his arms were so stretched out for a hug that he looked like he was going to take off, and he had a smile on his face that translated into so much pride that I was there! It was incredible! He looked at me as if I were his son, returning from years away, successfully completing a PhD, and getting elected President at the same time. He was immeasurably happy to see me, and I felt it - and it was great!

We went inside and they poured us some of Ivan's homemade wine - some of the best I've ever had. I sat down next to Kuncho, Iliyan's uncle, who asked if I was afraid to be sitting next to a communist. I asked him if he was afraid to be sitting next to a capitalist, and we both laughed and raised our glasses. We spent the next few hours eating, drinking, and being merry!

After that meal finished, we "rested" for a bit and then the preparation for the next meal began. A couple hours later, we were all around the table again for several hours of the same. Sitting around a table of good people, having endless conversations over bottomless carafes of wine is a really, really great time!

That whole first day was based around food, just like at Helene's place. There were small distractions to check on the three wood stoves that were heating three rooms, but otherwise, there were hours spent preparing, and hours spent enjoying. Incredible! Incidentally, by the time dinner rolled around, it was 85 degrees in that room!

Our time in Kaspichan was a four-day affair in which we slaughtered and butchered two pigs, a sheep, and a rabbit. There was a lot of work to be done, and I tried to help as I could, but I really didn't know what I was doing. The main "slaughterer" was the same age as I, and was very, very skilled. I can't explain how inadequate I felt. This guy, Vlado, is a police officer by day, and a hunter/farmer/butcher by day off. The guy could do anything - and do it well. Well, anything important. I'm not sure he can compete with my mastery of Google. My city boy roots were apparent to all, but even if I could have contributed like I wanted, they wouldn't have let me. I was a guest, and as such, the hard work was not available to me. I did manage to learn a fun new phrase, though!

Folks are quick to cuss here. It appears as a shared short temper or not much self control, but I think it's closer to not holding in stress that bothers you because they seem to move passed their frustrations very quickly. So, the phrase I learned, Без майка ти, работата не върви!, is roughly translated to: Without 'Shit!' or 'Fuck!', the job will not get done. It makes me laugh on its own, but within the context it was extra funny, and I needed a laugh at the time.

Although I've been to many of these events before, the slaughters hit me particularly hard this year. Watching the animals get their throats slit and bleed out very quickly reminded me of last year when my neck got slit and I very narrowly avoided the bleeding out part. It made me sick to my stomach - more so than seeing my food being processed, though I figured they thought I was queasy from all the guts, sounds and smells. It really messed with my head. A week later, as I write this, I'm not as queasy anymore, but it's still in my head and is still making a pretty negative impact.
After the killings, we sat around the table and feasted and drank for a solid six hours! You have to go slow if you're going to make it all the way through, but you're allowed to take small breaks in consumption if you need them. The conversation, however, roars on no matter what. 

Ivan told me on the third morning that he was "very satisfied with me last night". Ha! He meant that he was impressed that I ate and drank the whole time with everyone else. But my internal translation made it sound funny. I laughed and told him I was satisfied with him, too.

Two years ago, in the middle of one of our long-hour feasts, Ivan had asked me for an ice cream maker and told me he'd pay whatever it costed. I told him I would send him one as a gift if he promised to teach me how to make wine. His smile disappeared and he got supper serious - even took away my glass and started instructing! It was an intense lesson, and in the fall of 2012, I made my first batch. And, it was drinkable! I ran through the process again with a batch of plums in the summer of 2013, and as far as I can tell, they taste the same. I brought a bottle of each to Bulgaria to share with my instructor.

He tasted the first with an open mind and told me it was good. Then he reiterated that he wasn't lying, and that he can't point out any mistakes, but he really emphasized that I needed to find good grapes. Not grapes for dessert, but grapes for wine. Good grapes! I took multiple pictures of Ivan and his wife, Snejana, and they all came out same. Ivan never stopping to explain something with a passion that is way out of context, and Snejana seemingly rolling her eyes at everything he says.
The plum wine did not go over well. I think they couldn't get passed the fact that it was not made from grapes. But, he is the expert, maybe it's not the same flavor I think it is.

At the end of four days in paradise - more food and drink than a person could handle, but one tries anyway - it was time to head back to Varna and prepare for my favorite holiday. Ivan walked me to the train station. We got there a few minutes early and he bragged to someone he knew that I had been his guest for Christmas. As the train arrived, he told me that they thought of me like their own son and welcomed me back any time. I told him that I couldn't think of a better place to spend my Christmas, than at a table with him and his family. I told him that I thought of him as my Bulgarian father, and as I did his eyes filled with water. Ivan is a hard man. Like Vlado, he's a man well equipped with important skills. He can do anything he needs to do to have food and shelter - even at 68! He's quick to lose his temper with anyone, and is a my way or the highway type of guy. But, he's a softie. He cut me off and asked if I had remembered my keys and told me to get on the train before it left without me. =)

Back to my iCulture, and building a resume of skills and accomplishments that don't really matter. I guess they might matter in my Google World, but it's so far away from real living. I will really miss spending full days of eating and drinking, where taking a break means a break from indulging - rather than 30 minutes to use the bathroom and have a quick meal. Back to living like a galosh.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope you used your best Ryan accent
"The job will not get done!"