Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Wandering the streets of "Rakia"

“Nyama internet,” is what I was told last night when I entered the internet café. It wasn’t working since the afternoon, so the guy who takes my lev every time I go in there was sitting around with his friends – drinking and smoking. Of course! Why should we go out and fix the problem when we could sit here and smoke and drink like we do when the connection is working just fine? Hey. What do I know? Maybe they have someone on the job right now. I choose to believe that they’re sitting around hoping it will fix itself though – which it probably will somehow because that’s just how things work here. The other day, Angel and I came across a group of people standing around talking while looking at a hole in the ground. “That’s how work gets done here in Bulgaria,” Angel explained. As we walked away, someone put the lid on the manhole and everyone dispersed. “Guess the problem was solved,” I said. Anyway, I love Bulgaria. It just gives me more opportunities for bonding time with my laptop. Moving on….
Every calendar day is assigned to a saint. For example, let’s imagine that there’s a Saint Rori. In this imagined scenario, July 11th is Saint Rori Day. Anyone named Rori would be expected to show up on that day with sweets for colleagues, friends, etc. Just about everyone in Bulgaria has a name day. Of course, you’re expected to bring in sweets on your birthday as well. Yeah, you treat on your birthday. Interesting, huh? Of course, you still get presents from loved ones, but you’re supposed to reciprocate with candies or something. Anyway, back to name days. Yesterday was Nicolai’s name day. Apparently St. Nicolai is the patron saint of all sea creatures. So, in his honor, Bulgarians eat fish on December 6th. It’s strange, because some people (don’t ask me what religion this pertains to or if it’s just a cultural thing) have decided to abstain from meat and other animal products for forty days before Christmas. But, they get to eat fish one day during this meat-fast. On Christmas Eve, a lovely feast is prepared – sans meat. It’s left out overnight for the spirits (or maybe just hungry dogs… I really can’t pin this down) and then they come back on Christmas Day and eat again – adding meat this time. Please check it out for yourselves. It's quite interesting, I'm sure.
Well, my landlords invited me over for lunch yesterday. Milka fried up some fish, and Enyo was all excited about this because it meant that the vegetarian would eat meat. He has been trying to save me from vegetarianism ever since he learned that I (90% of the time) don’t eat anything with a face. (But hey, what else is a chicken good for – besides eggs – if not for eating? I ask you. And those turkeys are just asking for it on Thanksgiving and Christmas.) We go back and forth. Milka, who doesn’t care much for meat either, sticks up for my preferences once in a while. I ask Enyo why it’s so important to him that I eat meat, and Milka says it’s because he wants a partner-in-crime. Enyo says it’s because he wants me to be strong. “Yeah, yeah. You may have been a vegetarian in America, but now that you’re in Bulgaria….” So we’ll see how long I can hold out. And then there’s the alcohol….
Enyo, like many Bulgarians, makes his own wine and rakia (national drink much like brandy). He’s constantly trying to get me to drink his “domashno” (homemade) beverages. So yesterday, we started with some rakia. Fortunately, he had watered it down a bit. It’s really potent stuff. Then he asked me if I wanted wine or beer. What? The rakia isn’t enough? Wine. So Milka goes out to get some wine, and she returns with white wine, which she pours for me. Enyo is put out, because it’s not the red wine he makes. So he goes out to get the red wine, and he starts pouring it into a glass sitting in front of me. When I insist that I don’t want more wine, he says that it’s not for me; it’s for him. Just try it and tell which is better: the red or the white. “I like both,” I tell him. Okay… so it’s not for me. Why is he pouring another tall glass in front of his plate and drinking from that one? So, I’m sitting there eating (I think it’s cod?) and I have three drinks in front of me. They didn’t listen to me the first time I said I didn’t want more fish. So, I had seconds. The second time I was offered more, I actually had to touch the fish fillet with the palm of my hand to keep Enyo from putting it on my plate. Fortunately, Milka stuck up for me this time saying, “Leave the girl alone. She doesn’t want to get fat.” Yeah. Sure. That’s it. Enyo smiles and tells me, “Bulgarians like their women a bit plumper.” Yeah, tell that to all the slender, surgically-enhanced chalga singers who strut around on TV and all the girls (not to mention males) who watch them wiggle their assets hour after hour.
Fortunately for me, someone called on Enyo to take them to Velingrad (he runs a taxi service), and I was able to get away with only drinking the rakia and the half-glass of white wine Milka had poured for me. When asked if I wanted more wine, I was able to wave it off easily by saying I was already a little light-headed. It’s true. I’m a light-weight. So there I am though - heading back to work after lunch, and I’m slightly tipsy. I thought, “How silly it is that I’m wandering the streets of Rakia.” I meant to think “Rakitovo.” Now it’s bad if you say it, but how bad is it if you think it?
My landlords are great. Milka does her best to make sure I’m not lonely – that I’m well-fed and taken care of. She says she’s going to teach me to sew. Enyo likes to joke around with me and ask me what words are in English – trying to see if they relate in any way to German. (I don’t think he’s forgiven me yet for not speaking German, too.) He’s so well-liked, that people show up at all hours to ask him to drive them somewhere. He keeps asking when we’re going to play chess. I’ve played chess a couple times with Sashko, Valia’s cute little boy, but he nearly beats me! How can I compete with a good-natured, German-speaking Bulgarian? Anyway, the point is: I like my landlords, but do you think that I can stave off invitations for the next two years? I’d like to protect my dignity – however much is left. I’d like to keep from wandering the streets of “Rakia.” In other news, we’ve had some problems at the office. We’ve lost one of our workers due to ill-feelings and possible negligence. The jury is still out on the negligence part, but the worker is gone. The thing that’s interesting about Bulgarian office etiquette is that it’s entirely different from anything I’ve ever experienced. Case in point: If the boss has a problem with you, he tells you in front of all your colleagues. Everyone gets to sit there and listen as your faults and inadequacies are laid out on the table. I don’t know if this goes for every office in Bulgaria, but it certainly goes for ours since we’re more or less six people in a tiny room.
If you want to disagree with someone, you just talk over them – and louder. Pretty soon, everyone’s speaking at an elevated volume, and I’m not sure if they’re actually having an argument or if they’re just conversing. I’ve learned enough Bulgarian to know generally what’s going on most of the time, but usually I just trust the tone of the room. My first day there, they had a disagreement about something. I had no clue what was going on, but they were having something out. In my discomfort, I spaced out. We lost a worker soon after that, and now we’ve lost another one. I believe that, so far, I’ve been the token child of the group. They’ve worked really hard to get an American volunteer from the Peace Corps there. If anyone has a problem with me, they don’t say. They’re more concerned with whether or not I have a problem. The tone changes with me, and since I’m pretty much useless in the office anyway, I don’t have many – make that any – responsibilities.
Maybe this isn’t so different from the states, but nepotism is popular in Bulgaria. In a place where unemployment is rampant, it’s important that you look out for those closest to you. In my office, Yanko is the boss. Ani, his wife, is the Children’s Coordinator. Valia, Ani’s sister, is the Youth Coordinator/Office Manager. Then there’s Angel and me – the volunteers.
Work schedules are fairly lax. Actually, the people in my office work incredibly hard, but it’s a little more sporadic than in the states. We show up at the office at 9 o’clock. If there’s no pressing work to be done, we’ll leave for lunch at noon. The office opens again at two, and I’m usually there. The previous office manager would open the place, but now that he’s gone, I don’t know how the schedule is going to be. Angel is supposed to have school in the mornings and part of the afternoon, but if a teacher is sick or something, he’s free to come in the office at that time. Otherwise, he generally shows up around 3 o’clock. We hang out until around 4:30 or 5. Yanko is usually off on business in Velingrad or some other place. Just about everyday, Ani and Valia have work with the kids up at the clubhouse after lunch. Then, three evenings a week, Angel, Valia, and I have meetings with the youth. Ani usually shows up for a while, and so does Yanko. In addition to this, Yanko and Ani have two kids: Maria and Reneta. Valia also has two kids: Sashko and Janette. I have no idea how they work all day long and still prepare food/take care of their kids. It’s a recipe for burn-out. I don’t even think they know how they do it. I’m tired at the end of the day, and I don’t even do that much. Plus, I just have me to worry about.
Dear Readers, if you’re a child, go hug your parents. If you’re a husband, go hug your wife. If you’re a wife, go hug your husband. If you’re a parent, go hug your child. If you’re a hermit, go hug a tree. Hug someone who gives you reason to work to the point of insanity – and yet keeps you from falling over the edge. As for me, I’m going to go hug my heater… or a bottle of rakia to keep me warm. Ciao!


Amanda said...

lol. ::hug:: I love you and miss you like crazy.

Maegen said...

I'm glad you have some folks to help keep you warm... from the rakia, the company, the food, the love. It makes a big difference. Thanks for stopping by my blog! Keep blogging beh!