June 24, 2001
Got back yesterday to our apartment to find some lovely creations in our refrigerator. It’s amazing how Mother Nature deals with old milk, raspberries, and an uncovered piece of tomato. After that, I tried to pry into our freezer box when the door fell off because of the amount of frost on it. No problem – a hammer was my friend for a while as chips of frost and ice went flying all over the kitchen for about fifteen minutes.
Kate is in Spain until Wednesday – visiting with her mom and sister. I’m still here, got another week of school. Kate flew out of Sofia on Friday and we said our goodbyes on Boulevard Vitosha at, where else? – the McDonald’s. I jumped into a tram and headed towards the bus station to catch a bus to Troyan. I was going on a mini-excursion of my own. The third-largest monastery, the Troyan Monastery was three hours away by a direct bus and I was planning on spending the night there. The tram down Vitosha was being cut off by cars and eventually I just jumped out and ran/walked to the bus station. I got to the bus station with less than a minute before the bus departed and I got the last seat.
Earlier in the day Kate and I were at the Russian Embassy working on our visas for our summer trip to Russia. (I’m not even going to get into all the hoops we have to jump through to get into Russia . . .) We didn’t have enough time to wait in line and decided to do it another time. We got in a tram back to the center and as I entered the tram, I heard light accordion music amid the crowd of people. Eventually I pinpointed the music to a man sitting just ahead of us. Okay, some traveling music, I thought, – not bad. I kept my bag and pockets closely guarded and tried to look as un-foreign as I possibly could, as usual. After the music stopped, the man got up and held out a shoebox for donations. No one gave him any change. He wasn’t too happy about it. He yelled out at the first lady who didn’t give money and then began dramatically slapping himself on the forehead. He let out these Darth Vader sounds as he did it and I was wondering if we needed a priest for a quick exorcism. Actually, it was quite upsetting and people clutched their bags a little tighter and focused their gazes as far away as they could from him. Back towards the back of the tram he did it again and Kate said she wanted to get off the tram. He got off before we could and then spat, in dramatic fashion again, on the window of the tram. It was a friendly reminder of the traveling music as it dripped down the window for the next five stops or so.
But getting back to the monastery . . . I caught the bus to the town of Troyan and then waited for the local bus that took me to the monastery. I looked at the bus schedule out of Troyan for my trip back the next day and my heart sort of sank because the bus that I had hoped would take me to Veliko Turnovo, which has a direct bus to Silistra, was non-existent. Okay, well, I’ll figure it out. I left that problem for the next day and got on the bus to the monastery. A woman helped me with where I should get off – although it was completely obvious when we got the monastery gate that that was the stop. She asked me a few questions and gave me a grandmotherly smile through her words. We talked for a bit over the rumble of the bus and she pointed out some other places that I might want to visit after the monastery. I got off the bus and entered the gate. I asked for a room from a man who was painting and he pointed me to another man. The second man asked me if I was hungry. I said no, I’m looking for a bed. Then I thought of that – what a welcoming question. Are you hungry? Do you want to eat? Maybe I should have said yes. I got my room after the lady janitor gazed at my Bulgarian ID (lichna karta) for a while and took all the numbers down on a little piece of paper. I went up to a little room with two beds and an amazingly clean and modern bathroom. The monastery gets flooded with visitors in August, during one of the holidays. But I was almost by myself. I went out for a little walk and fed myself at a little restaurant across the street. I walked through the village nearby and caught glimpses of village life in Bulgaria that I don’t see too often. I wrote in my journal . . . I went to the 6pm worship, which was over in about 20 minutes. That was about the shortest Orthodox service that I had ever been to. I was late to it and I only caught ten minutes of it. It seemed that there were only about seven or so monks at the monastery. The chanting in the chapel was thin because of the few voices, but sacred nonetheless. The monastery looked like it held more than a hundred monks at one time. It also boasts of hiding Vasil Levski, the Bulgarian “apostle of freedom” for some time while he organized the beginnings of the fight for freedom against the Ottoman Turks about 100 years ago.
The next morning I rose early to catch a little bit of the worship service and to catch the bus back into town to figure out how I would make my way back home. I ended up taking a bus north to Lovech, another bus north to Pleven, then a train that originated in Thessaloniki, Greece and arrives in Budapest came through Pleven. I took the train to Rousse – four hours. After Rousse, I took another bus to Silistra. Then I caught a taxi to our block, which is on the other side of the town. All told, eight hours of traveling over an eleven-hour period. If I had a car, I could have gotten home in about three hours. But that’s all part of the adventure and it’s fun to put all the pieces together and get where you want to go.
I got home to find all the nice creations in our refrigerator and then realized that we had nothing to eat. I went out to the stores to pick up some chow. After greeting a couple teachers from Kate’s school, I went into a store where the clerks know us. The lady suggested that I try another juice instead of the powdered Tang that we usually buy. She thought it was better. I put it off for another day, but I appreciated the suggestion – she knows that we buy Tang all the time. I then walked down to another store where I picked up a couple more things and then headed back through the bazaar. I stopped at the last booth that was open – the man in the booth winked at me and shook his head like Bulgarian men do to other Bulgarian men – he knows me. He handed me the tin bucket and I put in one kilogram of tomatoes. We had a little conversation. I then walked past one last lady selling raspberries in old yogurt containers. I bought one. She knows me. We buy flowers from her quite often. I then walked down the street to our block, past one my students who graduated this year. He waved and said hello. I don’t think I ever experienced anything like that in America – especially in the cities that I lived. Who cares that our block is disgustingly dirty our freezer frosts itself into oblivion every other week? When people treat you like that, I’d rather live here than in a beautiful home in America with overly private neighbors. I can remember speaking with another returned PC volunteer before we got here and she said that she loved returning to her village in Africa because it became her home and everyone greeted her when she returned. Yep, I can understand that now.
Copyright 2000/01/02, Josh and Kate Miller.