Friday, May 27, 2011

Violence in Sofia

Last week, members of the nationalist party, Ataka, disrupted the prayer outside the mosque in downtown Sofia. Their demonstration turned violent when some of the members took prayer rugs and burned them. Fighting broke out. I missed it, because I was in Turkey.
This week, however, I made it to Friday prayer. It didn't look like Ataka was there, and everyone was praying peacefully. I stayed for the whole thing, and afterward, I saw a couple of older Bulgarians speaking about how Bulgaria was for Bulgarians- meaning Christians. The camera approached me and I may be on the news tonight on Channel 7. Speaking poor Bulgarian. I hopefully conveyed that I thought multiculturalism is good and a healthy part of society, but I was quite awkward.
The whole situation really makes me sick of Bulgarian politics. I don't know who can take Ataka and their leader, Siderov, seriously. Yet they get around 8% of the votes during elections. The party I study, the MRF, and Ataka seem to live off of each other. The MRF argues that their presence in Bulgaria keeps ethnic minorities safe. Ataka argues that without their presence, the Turks would take over the country. These are two of the smaller parties, but are needed to make coalition governments.
I've been waiting for the response from parliament about this ridiculous and racist incident. They finally made a statement:
"The Members of Parliament condemn decisively Ataka's aggression on May 20 2011 against the prayers in downtown Sofia. What is most outrageous is that the attack took place on Friday, which is holy for the Muslims, during their Friday prayer...The party's behavior is completely untypical for the Bulgarian nation, for its religious and ethnic tolerance...With its aggressive attempt against the ethnic peace, jeopardizing Bulgaria's national security, Ataka has become dangerous for the Bulgarian rule."
Hopefully this means the demise of Ataka and any other party that bases its platform on hatred and racism. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Family in Turkey

Driving in Istanbul was a big mistake. Getting to the city wasn't that bad of a problem, but once we got downtown it was crazy. They have this huge toll road that we needed to take, but we didn't know how to pay for it. Some man charged us for a card that was to be used on the toll road, but he somehow tricked us and we threw away 50 lira. If you drive in Istanbul, remember to buy a card from an actual worker! They should have a vest on or something and will charge you 50 lira, but the card will be good for a long time.
We got across to Asia (during rush hour) but then got lost looking for Kadikoy, which was the location of my parents hotel. I was stressing out like made (I drove again when we got out of Bulgaria) so mom took over the wheel. We kept asking people, but nobody really knew and the signs pointed in all sorts of directions. Luckily, we passed the university near my friend KY's house. BH recognized it and we jumped out of the car and ran around until we found KY's house. While we were originally planning to meet her four hours earlier in Europe, we somehow ran into her as she was going into her apartment. Serendipitous.
This was my fourth time to Istanbul. I brought my family to the big three (the Blue Mosque, Haya Sofia, and Spice Market) but I also brought them to some other areas. We wandered around Ortakoy for hours looking for the Armenian church, but never found it. I guess this means that I'll have a goal when I'm back in Istanbul in August.
My family loved the city. My step-dad even made some friends with antique dealers on the ferry from Kadikoy to Korikoy. The last night we went to Bar Street in Kadikoy. This may be my new favorite place in Istanbul. Four-story apartment buildings rise over a narrow street and instead of residential apartments, they are all filled with multi-story bars. Since it is in Asia, it is also much calmer and free of the craziness in Sultanahmet.
It wasn't all a positive experience. The driving was maddening. We got ripped off twice. The gas was also exorbitant—after Japan, Turkey has the most expensive gas in the world. I guess these things are just part of the travel experience, and I would still love to live in Istanbul. I just need a good-paying job first!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Making our way to Turkey

The rents, Anna, BH and I headed out on Tuesday morning to Plovdiv in a car we rented for a mere 20 Euros a day. Excitedly, I jumped into the driver's seat and we set off along A1 after fueling up and stocking up on snacks and drinks. Good weather. Nice people. All seemed good until we went through a tunnel and were waved at by a little stick with an 'x' on it. Police had set up a little traffic trap. Apparently, the speed limit is 80 in all tunnels across Bulgaria. I panicked, but since we didn't really understand the cop's traffic sign, my mom told me to just slow down and drive in the right lane. Big mistake. A couple of minutes later, the cop caught up to us and pulled us over. He was furious. He made us drive back to the speed trap through a long and windy route; I kept telling my parents we could probably bribe him with twenty dollars, but I was slowly becoming more and more anxious.
When we finally got back to the little police hut outside the tunnel, he brought me into his office and started berating me in Bulgarian. I was apparently going thirty over the speed limit and since I didn't stop right away, I would be charged a ridiculous amount. I was freaking out, and, although I understood what he was saying, demanded to call the embassy (scare tactic). I didn't have the number, though, so I called one of the coordinators in Sofia. She talked to the policeman and explained the situation to me in English. I did understand everything correctly. I filled out some paperwork and was told I would be billed.
It was a freaky situation. They confiscated my license, but then, after telling my sister and mother to leave the room, asked me how much I wanted the license. I told them that I didn't really need it and the cop asked me again how much I wanted my license. It was obvious that he wanted me to slip him some money so he would hand me back my license, but I wasn't going to play along. When I told him for the second time I didn't have any sort of strong desire to get my documents back he just handed my license back and told me that my mom should be the one driving. I was scared of cops for the rest of the trip.
We did eventually make it to Plovdiv and then met Hilary at her place in Haskovo. Stressful day, but great to drive around the country.
Souvenir shopping in Plovdiv


Lamb sache with potatoes, mint, and a lot of cheese. Delicious

This old woman spies on Hilary all the time. Hilarious

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Family in Sofia

My mom, little sister, and step-dad flew into Sofia the third week of May. We spent a couple of days in the capital. Our first stop? Starbucks. Where am I now? A week later? Starbucks. I do feel a little bad that I come to this mini-America once a week, but I have tried plenty of other coffee places in Bulgaria and this is the only place that makes a good iced americano. It is also one of the only places I'll randomly run into English speakers and can hear languages besides Bulgarian.
Anyways, we had our coffees and then we wandered around the 'must see' of Sofia: Alexander Nevski Cathedral, the Russian Church, the National Palace of Culture, Ivan Vazov National Theater, and a couple of other things. I had talked down Sofia a little, so my family was pleasantly surprised. I must admit that there are some architectural beauties in this city.

Mom and John

Little sis...
It was fun to see my family's own perception of the city. Anna and mom were fascinated with all the old women with badly dyed red hair. John was just excited to not be working. They all tried to use some sign language as well, which was nice. We finished the day with a mehana (tavern) and ate some delicious Bulgarian salads and some not so delicious chicken.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Анкета [anketa] means survey in Bulgarian. I will probably never forget this work. I had to ask tons of people if they wanted to take my survey in Shumen (NE Bulgaria) this past weekend. The respondents were not super excited. Luckily, Laura helped out. She knew a lot of the students in the town and made them help me.
BH with some surveys

Laura making a student do a survey
One older man couldn't read without his reading glasses, so I had to read it out loud to him. I did write this survey, but some other people had helped me with corrections and I hadn't really read the final draft. So I fumbled with my Bulgarian, but helped him finish the survey.
We needed to mix fun with play, though. So we decided to climb the monument to 1300 years of Bulgarian history. There were 1400 steps to get to the top of the monument. Built in 1981, it is this huge concrete mass. Not necessarily beautiful, but worth the 1400 steps.
Radiating communism
We also saw the Tombul mosque, which is the largest mosque in Bulgaria. We couldn't get in, but the exterior was lovely.

The evening was spent trying to get more surveys done. We finished about 60. That was a lot better than our try in Haskovo. However, all the respondents were ethnic Bulgarians. I need to find Turks! We tried to go to a smaller Turkish village the next day, but no buses on Sunday. Hopefully I'll have better luck in other villages.