Archive for February, 2009

Martenitsa: How To

So this afternoon, I went out to buy a few martenitsas and some groceries.  I ended up with more than 20 leva in martenitsas.  They are so cute and it seems so festive.  Also this a truly Bulgarian holiday.

When I got home and figured that I would give making my own martenistas a go.  I bought colored thread/string in red and white.  These are the traditional colors.  Every martenista I saw today had at least these two colors.  Some had additional colors like yellow, blue or orange but these colors were accents.  Red and white are musts.

Thread in Red and White



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Me buying Martenitsas--Thanks for the uber-flattering picture of both of us, Max. We are both actually much better looking in person.

Me buying Martenitsas--Thanks for the uber-flattering picture of both of us, Max. We are both actually much better looking in person.

Two weeks ago table started appearing all over Sofia.  The tables were full of red and white do-hickies and priced from .10 -1.00 Leva or maybe slightly more.  Martenitsas had arrived.  The мартеница are everywhere.

They are made out of red and white string.  I am told that the red and white represent life (red) and purity (white) but I’ve also heard that the red protects you from disease and the white makes you live longer.  Either way they are supposed to bring the wearer good luck.  Some are worn on the wrist like a bracelet while others are pinned on near the neck with a safety pin.

Martenitsas are part of the tradition of spring in Bulgaria.  You buy them (or make them) and give them to friends, family and colleagues on (or slightly after) the First of March.  You are supposed to always give the martenitsas away–you don’t buy one for yourself. Then you wear the martenitsa.  I think this is especially true if you are a child. (more…)

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My Uncle Doug wrote an email to me recently.  He asked me:  “Is there much or any homelessness in Sofia?  You haven’t mentioned that but of course it is not something one would trumpet on a blog.”  It’s true.  Homelessness isn’t very sexy and I haven’t written about it on my blog.  Maybe the closest I’ve come was a post in January on the cost of living in Bulgaria.

Here’s the thing, homelessness in Sofia isn’t a topic that I know much about.  I see people who look homeless every day on the streets, in front of Orthodox churches and even sitting on the stairs in the underpasses but I don’t know what services or support networks if any there are for homeless people.  I also don’t know who to give money to or not when people beg me for change so I don’t give anyone my change.

I worked for a year in Washington DC as a caseworker in a nonprofit committed to serving the homeless and near homeless.  I learned a lot about homelessness in the city.  I saw a lot of depressing things in Anacostia the neighborhood I worked in.  And, I met a lot interesting people with complex and complicated stories about their long journey to  homelessness.  What I learned is that there is nothing cut and dry about homelessness and what I saw revealed how hard it is to escape the cycle of homelessness once you’ve entered it.

But the haves and the have nots are a lot clearer in a city like Washington DC.  The differences between a neighborhood in NW Washington and Anacostia are plain.  One can ride the 30-series  from Upper NW to Anacosita though I’d venture to guess that not many people have and watch the city be transformed from wealthy white neighborhoods to government buildings and finally to the crumbling housing projects of Anacosita.  It almost doesn’t seem like it could be possible in one 75 minute bus ride but the buildings change, the greenery changes, the number of grocery stores change, the color of the people change and still you are in the same city.

Things doesn’t seem to be as cut and dry here in Sofia.  (more…)

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Sofia University

I just taught my first regular class of the semester at Sofia University. The students were great–I didn’t know what to expect because I’ve heard a range of stories about the students, the program and the university. This said, the students had great English, worked well in small groups brainstorming, seemed excited to engage in both reading and writing activities, and best of all they didn’t let on that they thought I was too crazy (phew). Thus I would say that things are off to an auspicious start.

I am teaching a class on Intercultural Communications. Apparently, being an American in Bulgaria with a background in English Literature makes me qualified to teach this class–seriously. Luckily, I love to read and I’ve been pulling together materials to teach a course grounded in critical theory, some literature and a lot of contemporary essays and articles–something that I’ve been well trained to do over the years. We’re going to use MLK Jr as a jumping off point and go from there.

Right now I am super excited about the class, the students and teaching at the university. The class seems like it’s going to be awesome. Lucky me.

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Centimeters of Snow

The view from my Sofia University Classroom

The view from my Sofia University Classroom

We’ve got centimeters of snow here in Sofia.  One of my students at Sofia University told me this recently.  It’s true.  But I couldn’t help laughing inside when I heard it.

I would say that over the last two days we’ve gotten between 10 and 12 inches of snow.  It’s more or less snowed for two days straight.  In my book, that means I can say whether or not it’s exactly 100% true that we’ve got a foot of snow on the ground. (more…)

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I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can learn more Bulgarian and more about traditional Bulgarian cuisine.  It came to me recently.  I need my own Baba.  But how does an American girl go about this?  I know a few teachers at school but they are busy with their families. I know a number of 20-something Bulgarians but their English is so good that they usually talk to me in English. And I know 210 8th graders but I don’t think they can really cook yet.

What I need to do is to adopt my own Baba but that’s easier said than done.  It seems like one option is just to start talking to older people and see what happens but I really don’t want to come across as the creepy American girl hitting on Babas in coffee shops–that and I don’t actually know which haunts the Babas hang-out in.

That’s why I’ve written this: (more…)

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Ever wonder what I do on a day to day basis? Well, I am here on a Fulbright Fellowship and I am teaching English at the First English Language High School in Sofia, Bulgaria. I teach English conversation to 7 classes of 8th graders.  It means that I get to work with them on topics related to American culture, to pronunciation, to vocabulary usage and more.

The school I work at I am told is one of the best public schools in Sofia.  The school used to have the reputation as the best school in Bulgaria (this may be changing but I don’t know how these things are judged).  Based on what I’ve seen, I think it is still a very good school (the thing is that I don’t have experience or exposure in any other schools in Sofia or Bulgaria to compare to).  What’s exciting about my school is that the teachers are serious, their knowledge of English is excellent, their commitment to their students is high and the resources at the school are good (not excellent but good).  What seems to be the most telling about the quality of the school, the teachers and the students is that even though the students I teach have only been studying English for six months, I’ve seen tremendous improvement in their spoken and written English.

The funny thing is–I tell people all of the time that I am a teacher of English (учителка по английски) but I didn’t really think of myself as a teacher until this week when I saw a picture of myself in the US Embassy Newsletter for January/February (page 4).  The class had a visitor from the Embassy before Christmas.  She came to talk about the holidays in the States and brought a staff assistant and a photographer with her.  So the photo he captured of me might not be the most flattering photo but I look like a teacher.

I guess it’s official.  I am a teacher.

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