Monday, January 15, 2007

The Grass is Greener

It has been warm here, and snow has not yet made an appearance in the New Year in Stara Zagora. Snow improves the appearances of the city, and people here have expressed their dissapointment at a winter so far without snow. Skiing in Bulgaria is not going to be great this year. I, myself, feel a bit deprived of a winter wonderland. If it were snowing now, however, the general sentiment would be that the weather is bad and the cause of illness throughout the city.

I took a friend hiking yesterday in the hills behind our lovely city, and we covered perhaps 10 miles of sunny, snow-free terrain. Dogs, cows, goats and squirrels ran about outside and birds chirped from the woods. I can't help but wonder whether the other shoe will drop soon and we will be hit with an impenetrable front of wind and ice. We'll see.

Last week, I visited Stara Zagora Federal Prison, where I sat in on a group therapy meeting of inmates who had a history of narcotics abuse. They were shy, but warmed and gained confidence as the meeting progressed. At the end of the meeting, they asked me exactly what drugs I've tried. I did not want to distance them with a 'none' answer, and I didn't want to invent an inaccurate response, so I tried to slide by with a vague answer about living in Berkeley, which is known for its drug culture, going to school at UC Berkeley and having friends who have been addicts. They were not thrown and repeated the question. I told them that I could understand their experiences, and they were better satisfied. They opened up a bit and shared some interesting anecdotes. The men in this group have been through rough times. More about the group in later dispatches.

Good tomatoes are gone. The mandarin orange season is drawing to a close as well. This is the time of year that canned goods become important due to a lack of produce. Though Stara Zagora has produce year-round, the quality drops and the price climbs. We'll be out of it in 2 months.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Out of the Frying Pan....

I am in Bulgaria once again after a whirlwind visit to my homeland, the San Francisco Bay Area. I'd forgotten how much I love that place. It was great to see family and friends and to get some long-awaited business done. Some thing I was prepared for, others I did not expect. When I return at the end of this year, I will be looking for a car again - that I expected. The cleanliness of everything - that I expected, but it still surprised me. The absolute waste that pervades US culture - that surprised me, though I have always seen it. How can people throw so much away? How can people spend so much money on simple entertainment? How can real estate be so expensive, even in comparison to average wages?

I am recovering from illness. I developed infections in my sinuses and throat when I got back and have been bed-ridden for awhile. I found mold creeping through the paint in my apartment and I also have bathroom odors from other floors. Quite a nice welcome back to Bulgarian life. This week, I've met good friends for dinner and pow-wowed with my counterparts about good prospects for projects, so life and business here seems to be taking off well again despite the little problems.

Stara Zagora is slowly getting cold, though it is not nearly in the low temperatures it posted last year. The city continues to elude snowfalls and the sun makes almost daily appearances. I have not gone back to my good old cafe "Amadeus" for my Viennese Coffee, but I might this afternoon. That's it for now from this side. Take care and may all who read this have a lucky weekend!