Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Highlights of Eastern Macedonia

Our last day in Macedonia was relaxing. We woke up rather late, and then our Macedonian friends gave us a tour. While Western Macedonia has Ohrid and some beautiful mountains, Eastern Macedonia is more farmland and country. This doesn't mean that it wasn't beautiful. We took pictures by the lake, went to a fish restaurant, and saw the centers of the nearby 'cities'. One thing we noticed is Macedonia's obsession with frappes. They drink them all the time. 11 PM? Why not go to a cafe for a frappe? We also stopped by another friend's house whose entire family is Deaf. It was great to meet some people that have been immersed in Deaf culture since birth. The all have GREAT sign language.

BH can fly!

NOTE: If you ever travel from Strumica to Sofia, know that not having a bus on Sunday at 3 AM really means that there is no bus on Monday at 3 AM. We found this out the hard way, and had to go first to Skopje and then on to Sofia. Rough.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Deaf Festival in SE Macedonia

Saturday morning’s breakfast was delicious. French toast with an eggplanty – peppery spread. And it was spicy. It was similar to the red pepper sauce called lutinica in Bulgaria. I asked our friends’ mother how to make it and she gave me the recipe. However, this was for like 20 kilograms of sauce (I’m assuming to jar and use all year long). I’ll try to figure out a simpler recipe. 
Similar sauces at a grocery store in Macedonia
 The first part of the Deaf Festival was a soccer game in a town close to Bogdanica. It was an indoor match, which was slightly a shame, because the weather was amazing. I think the original plan was much larger than the actual turnout, but there were three teams from Macedonia and one from Greece. Better than nothing. 
Super Fans!

We watched the games for a while, but after a bit, we headed back to the house and our friend, Z, gave us both haircuts. I don’t think BH was especially happy with his, but I really enjoy my new cut. And it was only 3 dollars. Wonderful. I also walked around Bogdanica for a bit. Eastern Macedonia is not really a tourist destination. It was great, however, to just get away from the bigness and grossness of Sofia and enjoy the calm country life. 

Saturday night was the actual festival. I thought it was going to be a big celebration with dancing, but it was a little disappointing. It was pretty formal, and the social interaction at our table was a little awkward at first. Or maybe I was just awkward. There was a lottery at the end, but I didn’t win. Shame.
A big group of us went to the one dance club in the city afterward at the casino. Since Bogdanci is close to the border with Greece, there were a bunch of casinos. In one of them, there was a pretty good dance club. Sipping uzo (Greek anise-flavored alcohol) and chatting with the younger Deaf people was a great end to the day and the festival.    

Strumica, Macedonia

A couple of weeks ago, BH was invited to a Deaf festival in Eastern Macedonia. Our savings are running a little low, but we figured we could go for the weekend. I finished Bulgarian language classes on Friday, and we left at 3:30 to catch the bus that leaves daily from Sofia to Strumica. Our friends picked us up at the airport, and we had a ‘Macedonian’ dinner. Last time our Macedonian friends brought us out for Macedonian food they gave us pizza. This time it was pizza and pasta. We still haven’t had a traditional Macedonian meal! 
BH was brave and decided to just point at something random on the money, but he ended up with liver. Sad. 
Who doesn't want worms?
Dinner was followed by some quick sight-seeing. Strumica is a really ugly city. I would not recommend going to Strumica for the sake of Strumica. Luckily, this was just the first stop on our trip.
Pedestrian Area

Goltse Delchev
Ugly Tree

We ended up at a café downtown in a mall that apparently never closes. We got there at around 11, and it was pumping. In a kind of gross way. Music from all the different restaurants and bars were mixing together in an awful way. Pop-folk and techno do not mix. I was sort of a tuckered out guy, and eventually we left. We headed an hour south to the city of Bogdancia to spend the night with our Deaf friends from Macedonia.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Final Exam and Presentation

I finished up my Bulgarian class on Friday. It went by pretty quickly. Three weeks, five days a week, five hours a day. 60 course hours.
I started the class really unsure and awkward. I'm still unsure and awkward. But hopefully less so. And I definitely met some nice people. Like me, they want to learn Bulgarian, so outside of class we mostly spoke Bulgarian. I still have a LOT of vocabulary to learn if I want to be able to have decent conversations. It will be weird to finish this class. March was the first time I was actually busy this year. It was a nice change.
I also had to give a presentation in Bulgarian. I decided to talk about the political party I'm studying in Sofia, and what research I plan on doing in the future. This may sound difficult, but, luckily, a lot of the political words are very similar to their English counterparts. I showed the survey that I am working on as well, and they gave me some much needed feedback. April, here I come!

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I was on the bus yesterday and sat down next to this kind of shady guy. He kept trying to make eye contact, but I didn't really feel like talking to anyone, so I just tried to ignore him. He eventually said something, and, not understanding, I said 'what?' and he showed me this.

He slowly pulled out this creepy saw bladed knife out of its scabbard. And stared at me the whole time. I didn't know what to do. If I was in the states, I would probably start screaming and call the cops or something. But I'm in Bulgaria. I moved to the front of the bus, but for the rest of the time I was super paranoid. This knife couldn't have been legal. It was probably around a foot long. And evil.
Of course, we ended up getting off at the same stop. He walked in the opposite direction, but I kept thinking that I got myself mixed up in this crazy mafia gang war or something. I expected to get stabbed at any moment. Luckily, I made it home safely. WTF!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bulgarian Class

I've started language class this month. It is good, but intense. Monday through Friday, from 9:30 - 12:30. That is a lot of language lesson. I somehow tested into the high intermediate level, and I am struggling. I am definitely the worst student in the class of three. My vocabulary is so limited! The class has been focusing on grammar, but I really need to practice listening and speaking. We'll see how it turns out.
Following our class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we have a Bulgarian history lesson. It is conducted in Bulgarian, so I have been attending to practice my listening skills. I had a Bulgarian history class in English a couple years ago in Veliko Turnovo, and the teacher's lecture was so full of nationalism and anti-Turkism that I stopped attending. This time, the teacher has been pretty balanced, but I'll keep my ears open to make sure she keeps this balance.
The first lesson was just about ancient Bulgaria. The original inhabitants were the Thracians. In the sixth century, the Slavs spread out from central Europe and some of them settled in the Danubian plain. There was also a tribe (the Bulgars) that came from Asia, either the Altaic Plain or the Hindu Kush, and settled in the Caucasus and around the Volga in the 2nd century. These three peoples are the ancestors of modern day Bulgarians. The one thing that I found a little suspect was her mentioning that the Thracians may have had an influence on Egyptian hieroglyphics. I had previously learned that the Thracians had no written language, but apparently some runes or scraps have been found that bear resemblance to Egyptian hieroglyphics. A Bulgarian American scholar has proposed that the Thracians language was adopted by the Egyptians. I've tried to find some more information, but for now, no luck.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I'm an uncle!

My older sister just had her first child. His name is Miles. Born on March 9, 7 lb 15 oz. Way too cute.
This means my step-dad has his birthday on the 3rd, mine is on the 6th, and now Miles is on the ninth. Wonderful.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bulgarian Birthday

I celebrated my birthday on Saturday, March 5th, by having a little get together at my place. We had just gotten back from Ukraine, and apparently a lot of the Fulbrighters were currently in another town for weaving. While we had a great party for BH, mine turned out to be somewhat of a bust. A handful of people showed up. One of my presents, however, made me feel much better. A homemade bottle of rakia (Bulgarian whiskey). A couple of shots of rakia, and although there weren't many people at my party, I didn't really care. However, I did make a resolution that for my future birthdays, I will try to do something I have never done before. Like skydive or scuba dive, or some other sort of diving.
BH got me a gym membership for my birthday (ouch!) so this means going to the gym and getting fit. Dieting, working out, and living more frugally. It's like New Year's all over again!