Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Happy Belated Holidays!

Hello again!
What a winter it's been already. I have become a pro at taking the overnight train, let me tell you. We began the holiday season here in my town with lots of holiday treats, a student directed Christmas concert, and a school banquet filled with dancing, food, rakia, and homemade wine. After the banquet I hopped a night train to my host family's town on the other side of the country. All in all, the trip was about 13 hours, but I managed to make it there for Christmas Eve, or Budni Vecher. It was great to see my host mother, grandmother, and host sister and brother again. Although I missed everyone dearly back home, a Bulgarian Christmas is not all that different from my American Christmas. There is lots of eating, Christmas music, drinking, dancing, and Christmas specials on television to be enjoyed. The tradition for most Bulgarians that celebrate Christmas is to eat a vegan dinner on Christmas Eve with an odd number of dishes (7 or more). Each year there is a bread called a pitka with a coin baked inside. Each person rips off a piece of the bread and the one that finds the coin inside will have lots of luck and success in the year to come. Also, little slips of paper are baked inside banitsa, or a filo dough and feta cheese breakfast dish (delicious and dangerous because of how much it causes new volunteers to gain weight) and these little slips of paper will have fortunes or 'kusmetche'- 'little luck' inside. My kusmetche said that I will have a big beautiful house with a terrace and a pool....I'll keep you updated on that.

I went with a group of volunteers around New Years by train to Athens. It was a great trip. Although it was more than a little more expensive than Bulgaria, we did our best not to break the bank. The scenery couldn't be beat and it was nice to see palm and orange trees in January. We walked all around the city, shopping, viewing Greek ruins, and sampling the cuisine. Overall it was a well-needed break and a little therapeutic for those of us that missed cosmopolitan areas. The people we met along the way were interesting too. One of the men who worked at the hotel, named Hristos, was just like the father from the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." His delivery was perfect and he even explained the way international words came from Greek. Cosmopolitan comes from Cosmos-world and politan-citizen, citizen of the world. Makes sense, right? We met another very charming old man who had worked in American and called himself George the Greek. A retired sailor, waitor and businessman, he promised us he would write down his life story.

When we first wanted to go to Athens, we weren't sure about the security situation because there had been riots, looting, and property damage (like hanging a banner on the Acropolis and burning down the city Christmas tree) after a Greek policeman fired a warning shot and accidentally killed a student. The riots had continued and the rioters had promised to do something on New Years Eve (according to some reports). When we got there, we were able to travel safely and didn't notice any suspicious behavior or anything more threatening than graffiti.

However, an unexpected situation was waiting for us when we got back to Bulgaria. Russia, because of its allegations that the Ukraine had been stealing gas from the pipeline that brings gas to Europe, decided to cut off the gas supply. Unfortunately, approximately 80% of Bulgaria's gas comes from Russia. This translated into a very cold school week for my gas-heated school and even though many people use electric heat, it's more expensive and we have to be careful of overloading the circuit. However, my work week has been decreased quite a bit since the school's schedule keeps changing and classes are shortened (not a bad idea since we teach in coats and mittens). Russian and the Ukraine have finally come to an agreement (with the help of the European Union in negotiations) to begin resupplying the pipeline, and we should have heat by Friday at the latest.

So that's a lot. Tell me your Christmas stories! Let me know if you're still alive in the Western Hemisphere.

Wishing you lots of health, luck, happiness and love this holiday season,

P.S. Attached are the pictures of me and my host sister, the town center during Christmas, the Parthenon, and a couple more random ones from Greece.