Monday, January 02, 2006

ЧНГ – Честита Нова Година!

Chestita Nova Godina! Happy New Year, everyone! And welcome to the first blog rambling of 2006. May you all be “jivi, sdravi, vcichko hubavo” and may you have health, love, and good-fortune all year long. If you have a decorated branch near you, have someone hit you with it. At least that’s what the kids do here in Bulgaria (but only on the first of January – so if you’re in a lagging time zone and still awake, here’s your chance!)… and then you should compensate them for the beating (with food or money – your choice). I exaggerate… as usual. I’ll get to the tradition of the “survachka” in a bit.
Kids are still firing wannabe missiles around the neighborhood. I can only hope the madness will end soon, but for now I duck under my table for cover. Again, I exaggerate, but my heart has nearly stopped a few times.
My past few days of “vacation” have been nice. Friday was absolutely glorious for an introvert like me. I stayed home all day (except for a quick field trip to the store) next to the heater. The weather has been finicky recently. It’s been warmer as of late, and we’ve actually had some sunshine. On Friday it was pouring rain. There was no other place that I wanted to be than cozy in my home all alone – drinking tea, listening to music, reading, writing, and cooking – listening to the nearby river rush with intensity. It was fabulous. Later in the afternoon the sun came out and lightened the mood a bit. I was walking back from the store and looking at the mountains on all sides of me. I realized that I love being surrounded by mountains. Yes, I complain about the cold, but people tell me that this winter really hasn’t been as bad as previous years. Maybe it’s those greenhouse gases and melting polar icecaps. It honestly hasn’t been as glacial as I expected. I just whine on my blog for your sympathy. I have to live up to my California girl (who likes to vacation in Hawai’i) reputation.
So, for those of you who may have slept through it, Saturday was the last day of 2005. It was a busy day for me. I got up, went to the local gift store, and spent tons of Peace Corps’ money, and then high-tailed it over to Ani and Yanko’s for the day. Maria and Reneta made me my own “survachka.” I posted pictures of this phenomenon in my last album. Kids make (or buy) these visually-interesting branches. They bind the twigs to the main branch and then weave popcorn, streamers, flowers, ribbons, and anything else that might look good through it. Mine was an interesting combination of purple and blue shimmery Christmas tinsel and a salty snack that resembles Cheetos puffs without the orange. I’ll be posting pictures sometime within the next year. While the girls occupied themselves with various diversions, I helped Ani make “sarmi.” Sarmi is sour cabbage leaves (or sometimes grape leaves) stuffed with seasoned rice and meat. I got to stuff some of my own sans meat. They turned out quite well if I say so myself, and my hands had that nice, pruney, puckered feeling after handling sour cabbage leaves. You can’t beat that! After lunch, I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between watching Cartoon Network and dozing off. I take my late-night festivities very seriously, and you can’t just go into these things without the proper nap for preparation.
In the early evening, I went home because I thought that my more serious students might show up for an English class, but they were probably enjoying time with family, so I ended up getting caught by Enyo and Milka for a quick glass of wine. Their two-year-old grandson was over and apparently he’s been saying “O.K.” over and over again as of late, so they wanted me to hear. “Tell ‘Kaka’ Apryl ‘O.K.!” (Kaka means “older sister”) Of course, he wouldn’t say it. He would just give me this charming, dimpled smile and bury his head in a pillow or look away.
After that, Angel came over for a while, and I got a call from Reneta, “Where are you?!?!” So Angel and I walked back up to the Mahala and he dropped me off again at Ani and Yanko’s. Ani told me that Reneta had been crying. She thought something horrible had happened to me. Being with these girls has reminded me so much of how I was when I was younger. It’s kind of a trip. I remember how I used to let irrational fears consume me until I was reduced to tears.
So we ate some more, searched for the lucky stotinka in the loaf of bread (Yanko got it), and then waited impatiently for midnight. Reneta kept asking about the time and then checking her father’s watch to make sure he was telling the truth. Maria was a little more reserved but still anxious, and again, that reminded me of my youth. About fifteen minutes before the moment, my mom called me! Yay! It was only approaching two o’clock in the afternoon for her, but she was thinking of me. About five minutes beforehand, the president is broadcast on all TVs across the nation. He talked about Bulgaria and the hope of entering the European Union come this time next year. He also waxed eloquent about finding health, love, hope, and happiness among family and friends. Reneta didn’t want to hear it. “Shh!! Stop talking so it’ll be the New Year!” When he finally did sign off, we counted backwards from ten and then toasted in 2006. Then we ran outside to see/hear the local fireworks display. After a few minutes of that, Yanko said, “I think “Dyado Koleda” (Santa Claus) left a few presents under the tree in your room.” The girls raced upstairs like lightening and the rest of us followed behind at a more elderly pace.
Christmas, and the traditional gift-giving I’m accustomed to, isn’t really a norm here. When I would ask people what they’re going to do/get for Christmas, I got many responses saying that they weren’t going to celebrate Christmas because they aren’t Christians. That was interesting to me. Christmas is such a big deal in the states (I know not everyone celebrates, but most people do something special on that day) that I just assumed, and we know what the word “assume” does. The New Year is a bigger deal over here – as far as eating beyond healthy limits and exchanging gifts. It also hails back to Communist days when the celebration of Christmas was forbidden. People just waited the extra week.
So anyway, we got presents. The euphoria in the room was palpable as Maria and Reneta ripped paper into shreds to reveal their new dolls complete with gowns and accessories. Reneta knew exactly what she wanted weeks ago. She tried to play on Santa’s fear of embarrassment by telling him in a letter about the gifts her parents had given her recently. (Both the girls know their dad is “Dyado Koleda”) She saw her doll in the gift shop here and decided it would be hers. Once she saw it was gone from the shelf, she began searching the house, asking her parents where it was, and even going so far as to ask the shopkeeper what happened to it (who astutely told her that her father had bought it).
They were ecstatic about the gift they had gotten me – purchased with their own money. They asked to borrow my ring for a while earlier in the week, and then they kept asking me if I had any idea what it was. Again, reminding me of me. I remember being too excited to keep from being transparent and nearly giving away the secret. So yeah, they got me a ring. It’s beautiful. Ani and Yanko got me this gorgeous blue-knit turtleneck sweater. I gave the girls candies and small jewelry boxes – which they glanced at briefly when they were able to breathe again. I gave Yanko and Ani a set of coffee cups and saucers.
After that, Reneta and Maria were able to pull themselves away for a moment to tap us all with their “survachkas,” and I did my best to try and say the prescribed cantation while lightly smacking people with my own “survachka.” Ani packed up some food (you can’t show up empty-handed as the first guest of the New Year), and she and I went over to Valia’s. Sweet little Janette was drifting in and out of sleep while coughing periodically. We’re all really hoping, obviously, that she’ll continue to get better and they won’t have to take her back to the hospital. I brought Sashko a glass chess set, and he was extremely reserved as he pulled out all the pieces to look at them, but there was this gleam in his eye, and he sincerely thanked me for it. He tapped me with his “survachka.” (That sounds dirty.) He’s such a cute, little man. If you knew the responsibilities and maturity of this boy, you’d gape in amazement. Of course, he’s still a boy. He was lighting a small fortune’s worth of fireworks right before we showed up, but I have friends who do that in the states.
So, are you still reading? Are you still awake? Have you been swallowed up by the minutiae of the last day of 2005? Like I said, you may have slept through it, but here we are in 2006, and I’m looking forward to a year filled with success. After all, I’ve been whipped with sticks that practically guarantee it! If something goes wrong, I’m giving my welts back.


Rebecca said...

Dude you write so much in one post. (that is fine and wonderful I miss you and enjoy hearinng your tales)I haven't picked out a gift yet from Amazon, I willlet you know when I do, I got Video on my blog!, there will be more. Oh I won Johna video Camera at the Christmas party.

Trang said...

Happy New Year Apryl!


Amanda Escalante said...

Loved reading about your holiday escapades. Sounds like you're really enjoying yourself, and you've made great friends and family. Of course we all still miss you, but I'm glad you're happy.

Watch the mail for you Christmas/New Years present! Take care, and watch out for icy sidewalks.



Anonymous said...

well.. it's like I said!