Yesterday I helped clean up Mt. Vitosha. I picked up more than 100 cigarette butts! (That’s a personal record I’ll have you know.)
I also picked up plastic bags, beer bottle lids, bits and pieces of glass bottles, crumpled up aluminum foil, what had been at one point a sweatshirt and tons of unidentifiable pieces of paper.
Why would I spend my Saturday doing this? Well, I volunteered to be a chaperone so that ACS faculty and students could participate in a Bulgaria-wide volunteer day, sponsored in part by the American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria (“AmCham”). The project we picked to participate in was cleaning-up Mt. Vitosha.
Basically, we chose to devote a Saturday to picking up other people’s garbage. To cleaning up the Nature.
Yep, you read that correctly: the Nature. I know, I know. Grammatically, it’s incorrect to say “the nature” you don’t need the article the because we always speak generally about nature in English. This said my students and widely speaking Bulgarians regularly make this mistake and add the to nature. Making it “the nature” that they are speaking about. This mistake makes the English teacher in me grimace but yesterday it really did feel like we were cleaning up the Nature. Vitosha was incredibly beautiful.
At 8 am when I was leaving my apartment with about 10 layers on, I wasn’t really sure what I’d gotten myself into. It was 2 degrees celsius or right above freezing for those of you who speak “farenheit” and we were told that regularly temperatures on Mt. Vitosha are 5-10 degrees colder than in Sofia proper. I had a backpack full of snacks, sandwiches, water and my hat and gloves.
When the other teachers and I got to Vitosha, a mountain that overlooks Sofia and is about 15 minutes away from the American College, I thought: Wow! I am a chaperone and this mountain is really big. Ultimately there were 10 chaperones and almost 80 kids. That’s a lot of kids to keep an eye on. Luckily our kids are generally really good and as a result we didn’t have a single problem. Phew.
Anyhow, we divided into groups and were assigned different parts of the mountain to clean. Pretty straightforward. The challenge of course was keeping an eye on the kids as they scrambled all over the mountain side looking for garbage.
Along our stretch of Vitosha, there were lots of curious Bulgarians both young and old who stopped to ask questions about what we were doing. Usually these questions were directed to me as the adult but the students were kind enough to step in and explain in Bulgarian. (Thanks!) The Bulgarians were generally full of thanks that the students would be doing this and in one case, a couple asked for their own bag to collect any garbage they came across. That was pretty cool.
At one point in the day, I heard an impassioned: Ms Emigh! My first thought was: Oh no. I thought a student must have hurt herself. It turned out that a student had found a half-full 2 liter bottle of beer and wondered if she could pour it out. Phew.
Then I had the thought: what if one of our kids finds a dead body? Followed much too quickly by: if anyone finds a dead body on Mt. Vitosha let it be our group. (I know, I know. That’s a horrible thought. I must be watching way too much Law and Order.) Needless to say, in the end I was relieved that no one found a dead body. I mean frankly, I am not trained to deal with something like this.
So I stuck to picking up cigarette butts and there seem to be enough of these to keep a girl busy for a life time not just a Saturday.
The kids though kept lamenting the lack of garbage to pick up. They wanted more. I understand though, it’s not very satisfying to scramble around for a few bits of paper. They kept saying: why didn’t we get sent to X or Y path–there would have been plenty of garbage there. It’s pretty funny to hear kids complaining about the fact that there’s not enough garbage to collect.
After collecting garbage for the better part of a day, I went downtown to have dinner with some language-school friends who I’ve known since my first month in Bulgaria. On the walk from the metro to the get together, I couldn’t stop seeing garbage. It was everywhere. I thought: huna, it might have been more satisfying to clean up Vitosha Street than Mt. Vitosha today.