Sunday, August 2, 2009
First Week in The City
For years as Mike and I looked forward to retirement, I fantasized about living in a city environment for the first year of retirement, a place like Boston, or San Francisco, a city manageable in size, a place with a history, a place with universities and opportunities for continued learning and cultural events a plenty. Never did I imagine that my dream would come alive anyplace other than in the US. But it has. Our home city for the next two years will give us all that I imagined and more.
We have been here for 6 days now. We have already enjoyed two free evenings of international folk dance, set in an old Roman amphitheater, dined in a Turkish restaurant with other PCV (volunteers), checked out the upcoming schedule for the State Philharmonic Orchestra, navigated our way across town on buses, and found the bare essentials for our apartment on our own.
Our neighborhood provides a small safe haven. It is a labyrinth of short dead-end streets squared in by four main thorough-fares. It is a mix of Communist era bloc apartment buildings, new contemporary apartment buildings, single family homes dating back 80-100 years and 3-4 story older multi-family homes.
There is a large school filling the block next to us followed by another block of green space where young families, bubbas and friends gather particularly in the evenings. Every street has at least one little store, vegetable stand or outdoor café. There are restaurants, clothing, shoe, flower and book shops on the ground floor of many of the newer apartment buildings or old bloc buildings along the edges. All the essentials can be found within this square. There is a vet, hairdressers, seamstresses, insurance agents, liquor and tobacco shops, dollar (or lev) stores, hardware and auto parts stores, internet offices etc. Missing is anything resembling a chain or box store. Reminds me a lot of the neighborhoods of NYC as seen through the eyes of Shawn.
Other than a bed, wardrobe, table with 6 chairs, 5 glasses, and 8 bowl/plates our apartment was bare when we arrived last week. One of our counterparts went home and got us a sheet, comforter and two pillows for the night. With the few groceries we had picked up and a jack knife we brought with us we were able to put together a salad for dinner. However, Mike had to walk the streets for 45 minutes just looking for forks so we could eat. The dollar store was our first stop on day two. We’ve since gotten sheets and turned the one given to us into a bedroom curtain taped to the window with two sided tape. The pillow shams have been sewn together to cover the glass door. Without them, we felt like the ladies of Amsterdam. Dinners are usually spent staring back at the lady across the street on the second floor who is staring at us through our uncovered living room window. As soon as I figure out how to bake without measuring cups or ingredients I recognize, I’ll introduce ourselves with some sweets!!
Laundry had piled up during the last week of training and the first week here. Our dilemma in taking care of it was how to dry it. In Bulgaria, about 80% of homes have a washing machine (most often in the kitchen). We are one of the 80% so washing the clothes was not the problem. Rare though is a home dryer! No problem! Take them to the Laundromat. No there are none and our apartment does not have the clothes lines strung across the balcony like EVERYONE else has. We’ve been warned to be observant of culture and were not sure how hanging our clothes over the edge of the balcony would be accepted. So we held off as long as we could. Finally, I did what PC has suggested over and over again regarding grass root projects and used available resources. I did have a broom and a mop, when laid from one ledge to the other created a mini drying rack. With the hot afternoon sun helping and a few items laid to the inside edge of the ledge we got the clothes dried. We are still working on a permanent solution but are struggling with making the lines reachable for me without strangling Mike. Maybe Mike should hang the clothes out to dry!
Along with all the new aspects of daily life, we are pleased to see many carryovers from the village life we have experienced for 10 weeks. Smoke wafting into our second story window alerted us to the fact that our neighbor was canning on the street below. A fire pit was set up on the sidewalk topped with a half barrel of boiling water and filled with jars of fruit being preserved. This is how my family in the village preserved food. While watching over the operation dayado (grandfather) and friends pulled up old stools or crates set out a backgammon set and enjoyed the time together. Two hours latter only the lingering smell of smoke and a charred circle on the sidewalk gave hint of the afternoon’s activities. We have seen ladies with tree branch brooms cleaning the sidewalks, people walking in the streets, and two horse drawn carts trotting along side city busses. There are still young mothers with baby carriages everywhere you go, loud talking between neighbors, and a few cars older than Scott on the streets (though not nearly as prevalent as in the villages.)
Public transportation has been the biggest headache so far. This is discouraging since we are dependent upon it. After the Folk dance performances on Fri evening we waited about 45 min just off the main walking blvd of the city for our bus but it never showed. The cabbies must be we aware of the inconsistencies as they were lined up ready to serve as people gave up on the buses. Yesterday (Sat) we wanted to go to a larger store on the outskirts of the city. Mike and I spent an hour looking at a very good map of the city with bus routes laid out clearly. We traced routes and finally found the one from our neighborhood to the store. #4 was a mini van, came in a reasonable amount of time and off we went. OOPS! There is also a Bus #4 that follows the same route but makes the critical turn toward the store. We were on the van, not the bus. That mistake cost us a long walk in the sun. Today we wanted to get to a park on the west side of town. We packed our bag and set off after consulting the map. Again after waiting 45 min. with no #17 bus in either direction we gave up. We will have to find a source that gives us the information about how often the buses run, if there are weekend exceptions etc., but our experience in all of Bulgaria is that there is a reluctance to print any of this information (even for trains). Could be a cost issue, frequent changes or just not wanting to be held to it and endure the wrath of those who could come back and complain. Whatever the reasons, I’m sure there will be many more of these incidences before we find the information we are looking for or the experience to know what to do. Better Bulgarian would also help. We can probably ask the questions at this point but understanding the answers is another thing all together!
I’m sure this city will offer all that Mike and I dreamed of for retirement along with the additional benefits of learning about and living within a new culture. We are excited about our work yet have a realistic view of how difficult it will be. (More to come on the work later)
PS Recommended book about Bulgaria: Street Without A Name by, Kapka Kassabova