Thursday, December 18, 2008

Аз Пътувам със Автобус!

So last week my grandma had surgery on her back. Her Parkinson's has been getting worse and she fell hard enough to break it. I'm not sure exactly what breaking your back entails, but it sounds horrible. She has not been recovering well and so I am driving down to Florida with my family on Saturday. It could very well be the last time I see her.
It's not going to be a fun Christmas.

In other news. I ride the Ypsilanti bus almost every day, and almost always something interesting happens. I thought the public transportation in Bulgaria was insane, and it was, but some of the stuff I have seen gives it a run for it's money.

1. College age girl talking on cellphone at station:
"I don't eat hamburger meat unless I have a hamburger, and I only eat hamburgers if I have a George Forman grill because I don't like greasy food... And I only like chicken if it's fried... And I don't like fresh vegetables except corn on the cob." I can't even count the contradictory statements here. I mean does she really eat corn on the cob fresh? Like straight off stalk?

2. A grown man an woman were having a quite argument behind me, when out of nowhere the man grabs her, hits her, and push/throws her over the seat. She gets up, says she will press charges and leaves. He leaves too. I assume to call his lawyer, or his babymomma.

3. I thought that only in Bulgaria did people carry around ridiculous shit in plastic bags, but no. There is usually at least one person who takes up the isle with a few giant garbage bags full of god knows what. And the crazy part is that they always get off the bus, jump on their bikes with the bags and take off. This is a feat I cannot figure out how to manage, but somehow they make it work.

4. At the complete opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum: There was a man sitting across from me, wearing a really expensive looking coat and hat, with his iphone in one hand and in the other, a giant wad of cash. I mean really. Come on

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Говорите Български? Или Рускии? Nevermind.

The other night on the bus to work I definitely heard a woman speaking either Russian or Bulgarian/Macedonian on her cell phone. I assumed it to be Russian, because the odds of the other are pretty slim. There were plenty of "Къде Си?" A a whole lot of "Кажа Ми" along with the few other things I could pick up from across the bus.

I felt really compelled to go speak to this woman, but what would I say? "Excuse me, but that language you are speaking... I know some of those words. Lets be friends." Somehow I don't think it would have worked out. I used to be so good at talking to strangers in a different language, and by good I mean moderately bad. But still, I feel like I missed an opportunity for something. What? I don't know.

Then today I was in Boarders with a friend who was looking for something, and I felt myself oddly drawn to the travel section, and of course to the Eastern Europe shelves. I found the two books about Bulgaria and almost broke down when I saw a picture of the Virhin mountain. I used to look at it outside my window, and it somehow seemed reduced to that picture. In a guidebook. That no one ever looks at. It was all a bit too much.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Brother, can you spare an alternator?

Our car has been sitting in the parking lot of Auto-Zone for a couple days now.
It's cold and pouring outside.
I have never fixed a car before.
But here we go.

In other news, our landlord is completely obsessed with us. Well not us, and not our apartment. But with us getting a giant Christmas tree in the apartment. Literally every single time he see's us he asks "You got a Christmas tree in there yet? It would look great in there, one over seven feet." This has long ago moved past the point of slightly annoying to downright pushy. Yesterday some friends came to visit and he happened to be around, and the first thing he says to them is about our lack of Christmas tree. I'm thinking about telling him we're Jewish.

Maybe if he pays for my car to be fixed I can afford a giant tree. As it currently stands, I have other things on my mind.

luckily it was just the battery.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Moving On

When first arriving back to the states, I had two major feelings going on. The first was that I really missed Bulgaria. The second was that I hated living in America. And while I still strongly feel the former, luckily, the later has subsided.

It helps that I love our new town and apartment. (I'll post either a video or some pictures of it soon.) I am withing walking distance of almost ten of my best friends from college, an amazing coffee shop with the best espresso I have ever had, a really great food co-op that ensures I rarely have to go to a large supermarket, several great bars, and a park by the river where Wes can run around.

This is the first time I have ever lived anywhere indefinitely. At home, college was in the future, during college I knew I would leave after my four years, then in Jackson, we knew we would leave the country in eight months, and PC had a time frame as well. It's a strange feeling to not know that I will leave. It also helps that I can actually see my future beyond this week or month. Now that jobs are settling in, Liz and I are looking at grad school options and long term plans.

I promise to try and update this more often. Things happen to me, I should write about them. I don't. I apologize.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Orientation at new job today. I'll be a Server Assistant at the Chop House in downtown Ann Arbor. The job is more or less glorified bus boy, but the shifts are 5pm-10pm, and I will usually pull in $80-$100 a shift. And I can move up to server pretty quickly, which means even more money per shift.

We also found an apartment in downtown Ypsilanti. We will be moving in this week. It's a great location, beautiful space, and really cheap. It's going to be nice to have our own place, and get back in to the flow of things. Transitioning always kind of sucks.

Ok, after being back a while I have a list of things that I definitely notice more after living abroad.

1. Parking Lots - I saw one parking lot in all of Bulgaria, and it was tiny. Every time I see one here I'm always thrown.
2. The space between things. -From houses to grocery store isles, I can't get over how much space there is in between things.
3. The size of cars - I saw maybe 2 pickup trucks in Bulgaria, and even small/midsized cars here seem huge to me right now.
4. Warning signs - I saw a warning sign on a window letting you know that children can fall out of them. Compare that to the doors of death (a.k.a. the people's doors) on the Sofia pubic trams.

and last...
5. The meaninglessness of life - OK, lemme explain. I'm having a hard time putting meaning and value to things here. I think that because in Bulgaria, nothing came easy, everything was more meaningful. It was a huge deal when we bought a blender. A giant accomplishment when we properly communicated to the lady at the post office. And visiting friends seemed so much more urgent and necessary, and it took so much effort, that it was always incredibly meaningful. I think that because things here take so much less effort, they feel a bit cheapened.

I can feel myself starting to slide back into things, and I think overall this is a good thing. I gotta look ahead, gotta stay positive.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The future is food.

With all the changes in my life over the past few weeks you would think I would have something to write about other than cooking.
I'd rather not talk about the other stuff right now.

Tonight I made probably the best pizza of my life. A lavender dough topped with fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, parmesan, tomatoes, garlic-stuff olives, chicken, arugala, and a tomato-pesto sauce. And a salad with arugala, spinach, honeycrisp apples, pecans, strawberries, avocado, and gorgonzola, with a honey-lime vinaigrette.

Good food and drink are about the only things keeping me sane in America. I love having access to this stuff, I just hate how much it costs. I'm probably either going to be working as a cook at whole foods, or serving at a really nice restaurant in Ann Arbor. Either way food is in my future. Hooray.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Closing Time

I would say that I hate goodbyes, but let's be honest, everyone hates goodbyes. I've never met someone who has said "Man, I love saying goodbye." If that guy exists, he is either a liar or an asshole.

That being said, there is no way for me to put into words how difficult these past few days have been. It's been harder to let go here than it was at home. And even though I know it's for the best, I really don't want to go. I'm not ready to go. I have too many people I want to spend the next few years with, too many experience I want to have, too much everything. And while there are so many people and things I am looking forward to seeing and doing, it's hard to focus on that when everything I will miss is still staring me right in the face.

Life will go on. I will readjust. I will be OK. I will feel much better in a week or two.

To everyone who came or wanted to come see us off, I appreciate it more than you can imagine. I needed that closure.

To everyone back home. The one thing keeping me sane is knowing that I will see you soon. I'll be at the Town Bar in Jackson this Thursday, Spring Arbor for the weekend, and in Ann Arbor next week. Liz and I will probably settle in the AA/Ypsi region.

In the prophetic words of Semisonic, every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. I'll try to remember that as I drink this last bottle of Rakia.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Will it blend?

I never wanted to be one of those teachers who slams textbooks on desks in front of kids and makes them copy dictations for entire classes, but here we are. I have run out of ways to get these kids to shut up for two seconds and care about the present perfect tense.

When I signed up for Peace Corps I didn't exactly envision myself in a room full of 11th grade boys at an auto mechanic school, listening to their mp3 players and yelling at each other while I was teaching. Hell, I didn't even envision teaching. And I'm not sure how to make them care, when quite frankly, I don't care.

It's not that I don't care about them, I just don't care wither or not they learn English. Honestly, these kids can have a fine, productive, and meaningful life in Bulgaria without it. Most of my students want to be bus drivers, mechanics, ect. which are not things you need English for, and in lots of ways knowing English hinders that "sustainable development" we heard so much about. When someone here can speak English, they usually do one of two things, they leave their town for a big city, or they leave their country all together. It's hard to feel like I'm not encouraging the brain drain. But then again, it's not like these kids are learning anything from me anyway.

But we got a blender.
It's making everything ok.

The other night, because I actually found lettuce, and the heirloom tomatoes are still in season. I made some golden sandwich bread and my own mayonnaise to go along with some creamy cauliflower soup.


Making Mayo

Soup and Sandwich
I forgot just how much I love sandwiches. This is going to be a regular occurrence from here on out.

Monday, September 29, 2008

What do we always say is most important?

I am continually baffled at what passes for breakfast in the country.

Things I do NOT see Bulgarians have for breakfast


Things that I DO see Bulgarians have for breakfast.

*Pizza covered in ketchup and mayonnaise
*Cheese wrapped in fried phylo-dough
*A slab of mystery meat on piece of white bread
*Packaged croissant filled with chocolate
*Whatever was left over from dinner
*A Beer

I didn't realize just how breakfast conscious I was until now. I guess all those food pyramid programs in elementary school actually paid off.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Yesterday, while taking attendance in class, some of the students were laughing at my pronunciation of names such as "Svetsislava" or "Blagoegigiv" ect. I needed to get back at them.

So I decided that because the Bulgarian language has no 'soft G' sound, no 'W' and no "Th" diphthong I promptly wrote the name "Gweneth" on the board and asked them to say it. The result was something along the lines of "GENET." Now it was my turn to laugh.


Here's one straight from the man himself. I like it so much I made it twice this week.

Note to people in Bulgaria (or anyone else really):
I can't find lavender, but I've used parsley, dried thyme and dried rosemary. All have worked really well. And I just used a cheese grater for the shredding.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Just for the record. I wanted to be a community organizer way before it was cool for republicans to make fun of it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Saturday in the Park

Yesterday Liz and were walking in the park in Botevgrad, talking about our lives in Bulgaria, our lives back at home, working situations, general feelings of uselessness, you know the usual. But when we turned to the topic of our students I came to a hard realization.

The students Liz had last year in Jackson need so much more help than the ones in Botevgrad. And for that matter, my home city needs so much more help than here. When I walk around Botevgrad I don't see an eviction notice every five house, I don't see bums outside liquor stores, I don't see furniture lining the street, (ok, I do see boarded up windows but most of those are former communist buildings that no one wants anymore.)

Liz's students last year had issues like parents in prison, not enough food on the weekends, no beds to sleep on, and being raised more by pit-bulls than their dads. Our students now have ridiculously expensive cell phones, go shopping in the capital on the weekends, and mostly just act like a bunch of spoiled brats.

It's just hard to justify acting like some great humanitarian when I know that I left somewhere that needs more help. And I have tried just looking at this as "working and living overseas" rather than the expectations I had for Peace Corps, but I didn't come here for that.

But then again, at home I was working in a call center. I guess at least this is something.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


On my walk to school each day I pass a building that has been, and probably will continue to be, perpetually under construction. All summer there has been no one working on this thing. It's just four floors of bricks.

So Friday, as I am walking down the street next to it, a large piece of lumber, maybe a 8 foot long 2x4, flies off the top floor and lands in the middle of the road about 20 feet in front of me. This wouldn't have been so bad if it had not been followed by a giant wooden door. Apparently work has begun, and as we all know, the first rule of construction is to throw large dangerous objects from high places onto the middle of the street.

I wonder how much time I could have gotten off from work if I had been hit. I should have just fallen down and pretended.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Conversations with my counterpart pt. 1

I realized that I really need to start documenting these.

Me: What is the name of the textbook we will be using this year?
Her: There aren't.
Me: Yes, I know. I will go get my own book, but what is the name?
Her: I don't know...Only this.
Me: So there are no books that I can get?
Her: Yes, in the store.
Me: What book can I use?
Her: Tomorrow.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's been comin down

Today I learned that the weather is controlled not by God, but by Bulgarian school children. They informed the skies that the first day of school is today and asked to please stretch out summer as long as possible. Saturday was sunny and in the mid 90's. Then, Sunday evening, the first school night of the year, the clouds rolled in, the rain started, and the temperature dropped thirty degrees. Summer ended in all senses.

First day of school and I was lucky enough to receive my schedule and find out what classes I will be teaching. Other volunteers have not been so lucky. I will be teaching all in the morning and only earlier than nine once a week. I couldn't have asked for anything more perfect.

I also have something to go on for a secondary project. A teacher at my school took me to a 3 day seminar/training for Junior Achievement which is a program where students create their own company, are given start-up money, provide an actual product or service, create business plans, administration, give themselves salaries, pay taxes, and buy shares in their company. At the end they can enter their product and business plan in national and international competitions. I wasn't too sure about it at first, but honestly, anything that will get these kids thinking about something other than their cellphones and hair can't hurt.

Also, if you are ever in the Balkins, I highly recommend Plovdiv

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

For The Tames

To James and Theresa: Congrats.
In your honor I am blogging about a meal that I loved, that is vegetarian, and contains only things that James can find in his stupid little village.

Now get ready to forget everything you thought you knew about Stuffed Cabbage.

  • First, saute some onion and garlic in oil in a pot. Once it's cooked a bit add 1 parts lentils & rice and 2 parts stock, broth, or water, let cook.
  • Meanwhile, Core a cabbage and tear off a bunch leaves and steam them. Once they get flexible take them out.
  • When the lentils and rice are cooked lay portions on the cabbage like so.

  • Then wrap them up and put back in the steamer

  • Steam another 10 mins or so, and eat.
Let me know how it turns out, this one might be a good submission to the cookbook. I also made a lemony lentil salad the other day that turned out all right. Last night, Seth was talking about ratatouille, and the eggplants downstairs look really good today. Now if only I could find a decent Bordeaux. Oh well, maybe in two years.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


In Bulgaria each town has it's own town holiday called a Sabor [сабор]. This past weekend I attended the Sabor in Krupnik, the village we trained in for three months. It was my first time back since training and I had a really great time. I drank too much, ate too much, drank too much, danced to much, and slept too little.
Here are a few pictures.
Perin Mountains and rooftops


Folk Dancing
Going back really made me feel better about living in Bulgaria. As nice of a town Botevgrad is, there is still a really big part of me that wishes I was back in a village. It was also really refreshing to see my host family and all the people I became friends with there. Maybe someday I will feel the same way here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

1st of September/Първи Септември

More than the language barrier, more than the cultural differenceс, and more than the general lack of organization, the thing that distracts me most during meetings with my school director is the stereo in his office. It's big. And while I love Rick James, Abba, and that song from Dirty Dancing it makes it a bit difficult to concentrate to anything he is telling me.

I don't feel like I accomplished much on my first day at school, but I did get a free pen. And even though all the teachers were only there for about an hour, and no one seemed to do much of anything, we are all coming back every day for the next two weeks to do it again.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Горе, На Там!

Yesterday Liz and I had to go into Sofia for a pre-school-year meeting with the Education staff. So we got up early, I made omelets, and we headed out.

Note about Omelets.

Omelets are way underrated. This was a zucchini and kashkaval omelet that only took about as long as the toast. I've started making them for lunches too. They really are perfect when you want something delicious, filling, and really quick. Also, in America most places use at least three eggs which I think is complete overkill. Two eggs is more than enough to cover any number of toppings.

So we catch the bus into Sofia, catch the tram to the other side of town and had our meeting. It was a bit boring, but we got some really good info and gradebooks/schedules that will come in really handy. All though this meeting quelled some of my fears about teaching, it also intensified others. Apparently it's really common for the first month or so of school to not know what hours you are teaching until the day of. The first day for teachers is this Monday but no one from my school has called me or let me know I should come in. I have no idea what grades I'm teaching, what books we are using, or even how many classes, and apparently I won't know these things for some time.

After the meeting a few friends met us near the historic end of Sofia and we took a mini tour. We saw the oldest Mosque in Europe, a giant cathedral, the main government buildings and monuments and had a drink at this ridiculously expensive cafe. (My fault guys, I will never trust the NYT about Bulgaria again.)

After that Liz and I went back to our bus station only to find out that there is a problem with the 7:00 bus and we would have to wait an extra hour for the next one. This leaves plenty of time to make up for the expensive cafe by drinking really cheap rakia at the bus station. By the time we got home, exhaustion took hold. But we felt pretty accomplished. До После. Чaу.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Basketball Jones

One thing I really like about Botevgrad is that people here love basketball. Throughout most of Bularia (and the rest of the world) basketball takes a back seat to soccer, and often other sports. But for some reason our town is different. The B-Ball players get far more attention than the soccer team, and there are several outdoor courts to play on.

So in the evenings I've been going and playing. There's usually a gathering at about 7pm, which is perfect for august because it's way to hot to play during the day. It's been a good way for me to meet people, especially younger guys. Most of the guys I play with are quite nice and don't really fit they chalga-loving-ultra-egotistical stereotype of bulgarian youth.

However, the guys here play a bit differently. First off, they don't play nearly as physical as we do in the states. And because I always played power forward, I'm used to posting up a lot, this is something that is also rarely done. I think this probably comes from people more or less teaching themselves how to play, rather than getting training from coaches. These things are not so bad.

The only thing that really bugs me about the games here is that they are ALWAYS half court, not matter how many people are playing, and they don't use the rule of having to clear the ball (past the key) after getting a steal or defensive rebound. So the person on offense can work their ass off to get open, get the ball, and get into position to take a shot, but if they happen to miss the guy who has been playing lazy defense and just standing under the basket gets an easy layup without having to do anything. And then they play make-it-take-it, so not only do they get an easy bucket, but they get the ball again too. At first I thought this would be something I would just get used to, but every time I play it bothers me more and more.

I have often felt like trying to tell them that they are playing all wrong, but I think it might be a bit early for that. I'll wait for the perfect moment, right after I knock down the game winning fade-away-three-pointer (nothing but net of course) and say in perfect bulgarian "Now let me show you how we do it in the land of the free."

Until then I'll just keep posting up and wait for someone to figure out what the hell I'm doing.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Once we finished training there hasn't really been a lot going on. Because it's summer and we don't really have a ton of friends here yet, usually the most exiting thing I do during a day is cook. So I've decided to start blogging a bit about that.

The other night a couple of friends came over for dinner and so I made some fresh pasta with a garlic & olive oil sauce with walnuts & basil, along with some french bread. The baguettes turned out to be some of the best I have been able to make in our tiny oven that only reaches 250F. I also think I'm getting better at making pasta, this batch wasn't too sticky or too floury. The sauce was good and simple and the walnuts added a heartiness that vegetarian meals can often lack. I was overall pretty happy with the outcome.

Last night we had some people over and I made pasta again, but this time with an uncooked tomato & basil sauce, bread, carrot salad with a orange & cumin dressing, and cauliflower with buerre noisette.

Volunteers here put together a cookbook for Bulgaria and I think I will be adding a few recipes to the next edition. Right now there are a lot of recipes in there that are full of things you can't find here, in any season, and some of the stuff just doesn't make any sense. One recipe is called spicy mexican hummus without tahini. I don't know how that qualifies as hummus and not Spicy Bean Dip.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pool Harvest

One main difference I have noticed between America and Bulgaria is entitlement. Today Liz and decided to go to our town's pool, we get our swim gear on, buy some lunch, and head out to the edge of town. When we arrive there is a sign that says "On Tuesday Pool No Work." Resigned to a day without swimming headed home.

The pool looked perfectly fine, there was a guy working there and yet still there seemed to be no need to give a reason for "Pool No Work." A sign like that in the states would say something like "We apologize for the inconvenience but due to _______ the pool will be closed until ______. It will reopen tomorrow at _____. And as an American I felt entitled to be given a reason. Bulgarians don't seem to have quite that same sense. Rather than entitlement, the overall feeling seems to be more resignation.


I can't stop listening to Neil Young's Harvest right now. Every time I put it on as background music it ends up taking over and I can't concentrate on anything else. I have learned to not even try to read while listening to it. I just end up staring into space like and idiot... Like just there. I took a good two minute break from typing because I can't get over the chorus in Alabama. In fact I'm just going to stop blogging now.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Way of the World

So a new book just came out called The Way of the World by investigative journalist Ron Suskind. It makes several claims that seem like old news at this point. The Bush administration went to war on false pretenses, they knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, and a lot of other things we already know. BUT this is the first time someone has real evidence of it. Granted there was the Downing Street Memo's showing the White House and Blair's administration planned to go to war no matter what the evidence, and the whole Joe Wilson/Valarie Plame incident, but while those were evidence that they probably knew there were now WMDs, Suskind's book shows that they actually knew.

In addition, he also lays out how the White House ordered the CIA to forge a letter connecting Al Quieda to Iraq after we invaded and everyone was starting to realize they had been duped. This is where things could get interesting as far as impeachment hearings go... or not.

So far the New York Times and other major papers haven't covered the allegations in the book, and while Suskind has done interviews here and there, the book doesn't seem to be getting the kind of press it should. And even though Rep. John Conyers says he's leading and investigation, we'll see if it materializes. I don't really think Nancy Pelosi or the other Democrats in congress want to start that whole process now. It would make them look partisan, when really it's a long over due examination.

Also the main article in the last Newsweek we got by Fareed Zarkaria was a bunch of bullshit, but I won't go into that. He's been disappointing me lately.

Friday, August 15, 2008

you think what?

I never considered myself a superstitious person, and I've always rolled my eyes a bit at people who are. This is something I need to stop doing if I want Bulgarians to not hate me.

Most of the the superstitions here are pretty harmless. Things like women shouldn't leave their purses on the floor because they will lose their money, make sure you make eye contact when toasting drinks, ect. But then there is the techaynea.

The basic idea is that if you are inside you cannot have two doors/windows open at once because if you do you could get very sick. This would seem to make sense if it were the dead of winter, but not when you are on a packed public bus in august. Or anywhere in august. We asked our language trainer about this.

Us: So why are people superstitious about the techanynea?
Her: It's not a superstition.
Us: Oh.

Us: So a draft through the house makes you sick. Does the wind outside make you sick?
Her: No.
Us: Oh.

from there it proceeded to get awkward.

And apparently this death draft only effects Bulgarians. We have been told that the reason is because they have another superstition that for the first six months after a baby is born it isn't supposed to go outside or come into contact with people other than the family. This somehow is the reason that moving air makes sickness. Therefore Americans are immune.

It is also unclear whether the draft causes you to get sick or whether it is the sickness itself. Another volunteer worked with a woman who had a stroke on a bus. When he asked his coworkers, they told him that the doctor said she had the techaynea. Apparently she fell asleep on the bus, and then someone opened a window. In her sleeping state she was unable to fight off the draft. He asked "so the techaynea caused her to have a stroke?" they replied "no, she HAS the techaynea."

All I know is, it's 96 degrees out today. I'm throwing a techaynea party.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Life is a horrid thing to do to someone you love,
and hope a wretched thing to give to another man.

I hope to God I find life.