Friday, February 26, 2010

Almost the Same…. In the Midst of Change - - Flashback to a Previous Life.

Almost the Same…. In the Midst of Change - - Flashback to a Previous Life.

During the last couple of weeks, I have been hit with several “flashbacks” to my previous “corporate” life - - but always with a twist.  This past week, the NGO I work with has been exhibiting at very large agricultural trade show.  It happens that the exhibition center is just across the river from our office, so it makes it easy (and very inexpensive) for us to have a small booth at the show.  My NGO works with Roma and other disadvantaged minorities helping them to build small farms.  Because of that, they represent small farmers, and lobby for their welfare.  We also had a half day seminar for local government officials explaining the plight of the small farmers we work with.

So…. during the week, I found myself helping to set up the booth, checking to make sure there was enough literature in the stand, stuffing packages for the seminar,  and helping out at the booth a little.  Actually it was very little, because my Bulgarian is not quite good enough to explain the intricacies of planting peppers, or taking care of vineyards, or making sure bees have enough flowers to make great honey. 

But it seemed almost the same - - well almost!  Instead of large booths filled with sophisticated computer, or network, or safety equipment, we have a very small booth filled with small booklets which we sell for 2.00 Leva each ( about $1.40).   And instead of other large competitor’s booths nearby blaring their messages over loudspeakers, I had a few head of sheep bleating from a booth in one direction, and rooster crowing from a booth in another direction.   There were also rabbits nearby, - - but they were quiet. 

The show was really quite large, with companies from all over Europe attending, and as you can see from the pictures there were a lot of attendees.  But thankfully, we only do this once per year.   So this is it - - until next February.  And then, I hope I may be able to actually help out in the booth. 

As if attending an international trade show was not strange enough, the week before that I had another “flashback”.  All of the 3Mers reading this blog will appreciate the irony of this next one.   I was asked (along with Lynn and a few other volunteers) to attend a meeting of the Peace Corps Bulgarian staff to help with their STRATEGIC PLAN!   Yes – strategic planning seems to be everywhere - - even in the Peace Corps. 

After having gone through as many plans and “annual agony” strategy sessions, I actually was looking forward to this two day meeting to see how others would do it.   There were some things which were the same, but mostly it was very different.  Here are some of the differences.

  • This plan was completed and sent to Washington in just THREE WEEKS!
  • Our budget INCREASED.  This is the first administration in decades that has actually put money where its mouth is – They support the Peace Corps, and showed it with more than words.
  • We were told to develop a plan to double (if possible) the number of volunteers in three years.  We were told to expect continued increases in budgets.
  • The budget discussion took about 90 minutes!  There were no large excel files.  There was one sheet of flip chart paper with three lines on it creating three spaces – one space for each year.  I found myself having excel withdrawal pains.   I wanted to grab my laptop, and run to the front, and show them how chart budget trends, employ pivot tables, and sync multiple worksheets.  But in the end…. I sat on my hands (well most of the time), and tried to ask probing questions about space, equipment, transportation, training, and skill sets.  It really was a lot of fun!
The Bulgarian PC staff is an awesome group of people.  I have said that before.  There are only three Americans on staff, and they represent most of the “senior” staff.  So… those three people have taken all the inputs, thoughts and ideas from our meetings; and in 15 working days developed the final 13 page plan.  It will be sent out to DC March 1.

OK – I know we are lots smaller than any of the companies, or divisions I have worked for.   But I found the process fascinating, and learned a lot while doing it. 

So… that has been my life for the past couple of weeks.  The more things change … sometimes the more they stay the same.  Who knows what I will be doing in the next few weeks.  But what ever it is, my guess is that it will be interesting. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Beauty And The Mess!!!!

Beauty and The Mess!!!

As many of you may know, I have always been a “weather geek”. Since we have been in Bulgaria, I have been surprised at how the weather in America is sometimes mirrored here in Bulgaria (or nearby in Europe). Such has been the case for the past week in Bulgaria. Yes – Philly and DC have gotten more historic snowfalls, but it has been snowing for days here in Bulgaria. It has even - - finally - - snowed in Plovdiv.

Plovdiv got about a foot of snow between last Saturday and Monday, and then it got another 5 inches on Wednesday. It was really pretty on Monday. Both storms were a heavy wet snow, and it clung to the tree limbs, wires, and anything else. Most of the main streets were clear and wet, but all of the side streets were untouched by plows. You could hear spinning car tires everywhere. Other than those sounds, it was very quiet. The air was almost “heavy” with the snow falling. It was really nice. Lynn had school, but I was able work from the house. However, I did go out at lunch to get some pictures and see what was happening.

While Plovdiv was getting many inches of snow, the villages in the mountains were getting several feet of snow! But the city is not any better to handle the inches they got, than the villages are to take care of the feet of snow they have gotten. Things were not too bad after the first storm. But they went downhill fast after the Wednesday storm.

First the added snow just turned to ice on the side streets. Actually, it appears that Plovdiv does a good job on the main roads, but takes a more “Southern” approach to clearing the side streets. They don’t plow at all! They just wait for the sun to melt the snow. But when the sun is not really out much, the melting takes a long time. When the warmer (in the 30’s) temps arrive, they do start to melt the snow very slowly. As that is happening, everything turns to slush, and large puddles (or small lakes) appear everywhere. Walking becomes even more of a challenge than it is usually. The sidewalks are impassable. The streets are like cow paths, and you have to play “dodge-em” with any cars that are trying to move on the side streets.

Lynn and I have decided to just stay in for a few days till the snow does finally melt. That assumes there is no more snow, and the temps stay above freezing. In the meantime, the pictures give you an idea of what happens here when it snows. Although the snow is not as deep as the mid-Atlantic region at home, the impact is the same.


Sunday, February 7, 2010


I’m sitting on a train waiting to return to Plovidv. There are about 15 minutes before departure, but sitting in a warm comfortable train sure beats the cold hard bench in the dreary little train station.

My view from the window is of kids, adults and dogs romping in last night’s snowfall. The consistency….perfect for snowballs, snowmen and snow forts.  This group has put together a fort, probably about 3-4 feet high, in an open area across from the station. Behind it a street parallels the tracks. They have globbed together and shaped the fort to look like a giant meatball with an entrance resembling a bear’s den.  The opening is just the right size for kids and dogs……no adults allowed. The German Shepherds are racing around, distracted from each other only briefly when a snowball comes their way.

Earlier in the day as we walked through one of the many beautiful parks in Hissar, we stopped to watch two families sledding and making a snowman.  I smiled at the sight of the sled with the metal runners. I don’t think I’ve seen one of those since my own childhood. The snowman was “man” size.

It is moments in time like this that help highlight the similarities between Americans and Bulgarians. To me these scenes were about family and the importance family plays in the lives of people from both countries. I could easily have been back home watching this very same scenario in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Philadelphia or even the nation’s capital.