Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bulgaria Report, The Unabridged Version :)

There's also an earlier update available at Louise's blog...

So, after we’ve said “we should really write an update” literally a hundred times, here we are, sitting, typing and doggedly punching an email out to you. If this gets to you, we’ll have succeeded :) The truth is, nothing short of a lifetime has passed, and the thought of putting that all on paper is daunting indeed… There’s so much to tell about!

Ahhh… now Louise is back and is asking “Now, where do we start?!!” We know this is horrendously long: it’s the unabridged version of an email –sorry!

Todor & Daniella’s, Pomorie --Ruth
After the Bombadils’, we moved to Pomorie on the coast of the Black Sea. Here we met Todor & Daniella, and their four (!) children (four kids in Bulgaria is almost unheard of… it made us feel like we were back home in the Dutch community :) Dariel is the oldest; he’s the boy that wrote us before our trip, declaring that he enjoyed having “salutary” conversations (and no, we certainly didn’t know that word before our ESL student taught it to us ;) He enjoys books like Narnia and LOTR (which seem to be universal in Bulgaria), has a glint in his eye which reveals his love for fun, and was a most appropriate wise man for our play, (despite his short 12 years of life experience :). Then there’s Debora (not “Debra”, but Deb-o-ra, as she was careful to correct me), who’s 11. Debora is one of those people who take a little while to get to know, but are well-worth knowing when you do. She likes creating things, being artistic and the apartment was full of her creations. The small apartment was also very full of her little sisters, who were always close behind or around their big sister. Jessie is a five year old with big, beautiful eyes, and Becky (3) is a bundle of energy that was always popping around some corner and calling out a cheery “HELLO!”
We may have mentioned something about the way time works in Bulgaria; it, well, sort of doesn’t work. The truth is, Bulgaria has a time zone all of its own: a slow and meandering one, where the sun is the only thing that really regulates things and prevents Bulgarians from squeezing in 25 or 26 hours into each day, as they’d like to. We really felt (and enjoyed :) that at Todor and Daniella’s. Each night found us cozily in their kitchen, talking until 2 or 3 in the morning. Todor and Daniella spent 10 years volunteering abroad for Youth With a Mission (a Christian outreach organization), and the stories they have to tell are truly amazing! They really experienced the meaning of “God will provide” as they traveled about with 4 children in tow! This email is getting long, though, so I’ll stop here. We have some of the stories safely secured in our journals.

Yordan and Kalina, Pomorie – Louise
Okay. Get ready for the love chapter. Ha! got you worried, didn’t I? ;) we’ll tell those stories later… ;) but for now, we want to tell you about this special family; they were particularly demonstrative in their show of affection – I hope the following memories and descriptions are not too sappy! J love, love, love; I love love, do you love love? hehe :)
From the moment that we entered Kalina and Yordan’s home, Ruth and I were wrapped up in love and welcomed as part of their family. Upon our first meeting with Ralitsa (12) and Mariela (7), we were welcomed with such wonderful, heartwarming hugs as I’ve never experienced before – hugs which were more than those momentary ‘flash hugs’, hugs which one could sense more than words could say. Their home was happy and fun filled, full of singing – singing ALL the time! during our time there, we taught them various English songs including “There was an old woman…” but oh, we never wanted to hear about that old woman again! we must have sung that song a thousand times! yet they never tired of singing these songs over and over again J Kalina instilled in her girls a love for music and song; they’d even all listen to music together with Yordan over Skype. Just 10 days before we arrived at their home, Yordan had moved to Finland, where he and his family are hoping to emigrate as soon as the conditions are right with his job and community. It is very hard for each of them to be separated from each other; there was more than a few tears shed for his absence. It was so touching to hear Kalina talk about her husband and to hear the delight in each of their voices and to see it in their eyes when they heard his voice. From what we heard about Yordan, he is a wonderful family man, a romantic husband, and one who cares so much for the environment that his family grows up in. Yordan and Kalina decided to move to Finland to seek a better future both for their children and themselves; they’re both quite fed up with Bulgaria, especially with the Communist history and post-communist mindset and the immoral culture.

For lack of time (and possibly by this point, interest on your part ;)) The memories from our time at Kalina’s house are much to special to let them pass by unsaid, and yet there’s so much to write about. And besides which, Rome is waiting outside our door, yet here we are, typing, typing, typing away….) so point form will have to do.

* Kalina: petite, young-looking (and young :) mom who is “one of the girls” and every bit as spunky and fun as a young person. We enjoyed many talks with her after our late night dinners, extending into the wee hours of the morning.
* 1AM walks on the beach by the moonlight
* singing ALLLLL the time – silly songs, happy songs, Christian songs, fun songs
* searching for sea shells by the Black Sea shore; exclamations of the girls on the beauty and design of each one
* creating a picture/design with sea shells and rocks that we had found
* I got to play piano here! it was so delightful… I just can’t wait to get home and play my piano again though…
* learning about all sorts of things in our various ‘classes’ when we were going through their homeschooling lessons
* listening to the girls play piano and practice for their concerts and recitals
* We were a little dumbfounded at the girls’ love for bacteria and spiders and fungus – it seemed slightly out of character, considering that their home was the most UNFRIENDLY place for such creatures. Their home was always incredibly spotlessly clean, due to the tireless efforts of Kalina, who took great delight in making their home as neat and clean as it could be.
* their impeccable manners – each of them was an amazing hostess, always asking us first and checking if we needed anything, or if we needed a nap or tea or something to eat etc etc.
* their pet history: while we were there they were taking care of a rooster named Chernovsky “blackie”, and a turtle (forgot his name). They had also had pet pheasants, pet rabbits, and parrots/love birds… this family looooves any living thing!
* Kalina takes care of a sweet little 3 year old Jacqueline; she’s almost like their adopted sister… we had fun getting to know her a little bit
* some quotes from the girls: “I am sooooo happy right now”… “I love you so sooo soooooooooo much!” [while giving us vigorous and lengthy hugs] “I’m going to miss you”
* goodnight kisses/hugs
* going out for dinner to a nice restaurant in Nessebar, an old town/fortress on the coast, with Iavor, Jishka, and Kalina, and spending the majority of the evening in religious debates…
* going to church in Burgas and meeting the wonderful people there including
- Iavor (the pastor), his wife Jishka and their 1 year old son Javor
- Maria, 20 years old, sweetest girl ever, whom we convinced to visit us in Canada
- Meetko and Yanny, the 2 guys in the youth group; both were so sweet and friendly; Meetko had been to the States before, and will again going when he gets his visa ready
- Julia & Mishu and their 3 year old daughter, our next hosts
- Meetko & Elena, a sweet young couple, recently married; Meetko runs a hotel and Elena’s an opera singer
- Lily, a professional piano player/ music teacher
- there’s others too, but this is all I can do for now

One last memory to segue into the next home: during our stay at Kalina’s, I got sick with my second sinus infection EVER – for 2 days straight I was trying to turn the faucet of my nose ‘off’ but it just kept running and running until it was raw… not a fun time… and then poor Ruth got it too (we’ve been sharing everything else on this trip, why not share the germs too? :P). However, Ruth’s version of this cold went straight to her chest, and such a nasssty cold/cough it was! poor girl… she got lots of sympathy – but having a cold made for a difficult time at the next home we stayed at (Mishu & Julia’s). Both of us were still drained from being sick.

Mishu & Julia’s, Bourgas --Ruth
Perhaps Mishu & Julia best illustrate just how excited and committed Bulgarian Christians are to homeschooling. It really has affected their entire home. Their daughter Lily is just three years old, and still mastering Bulgarian. Despite this, they were quick to take part in every opportunity available: they were excited to host us and to glean English from our conversations, and Julia and Lily faithfully attended the final conference in Pomorie. Mishu & Julia are teaching Lily English as well as Bulgarian, so that she will be well prepared for the English homeschooling programs. Lily is a bouncing, pig-tailed little girl who likes to learn. Her 3 year old rendition of the ABC song is something else :) Mishu works for AVG anti-virus, and “all that sort of thing”, and his computer speals were interesting but quickly went over our non-techy heads :) Mishu met Julia in university, where they both studied together. She enjoys translating Reformed/ homeschooling materials into English.

Hasovitsa Conference --Ruth
On May something we set out for Hasovitsa. The curving, twisting road followed a meandering river, and Lou’s ever-responsive stomach reacted accordingly. Of course, car-sickness is bad of itself, but when you have two car-sick little girls draped across you, one gets a double-dose. Thus we greeted Hasovitsa with varying sighs of relief, the loudest coming from the turmoiled depths of poor Louise. We stepped into the “Rodopian Region”.

The Rodopian Region, for anyone who likes Geography/ History --Ruth
The Rodopian mountains span much of Bulgaria. In many ways, the region is a nation of its own. It is entirely different from the westernized Bulgarian coasts and plains: it is old Bulgaria, or Bulgaria as it once was. The landscape is different, for one: Hasovitsa is a little village perched on the edge of a mountain. Towering evergreen forests alternate with alpine meadows that always made me feel like running to the top of the mountain. The village itself is filled with authentic “old-ness”: old men and women walk about the streets dressed in knit sweaters & shawls, embroidered skirts and traditional wear (and no, this wasn’t a re-enactment for tourists!) They tended goats and brown cows, but the chickens and geese ran loose through the streets. This is all quite useless; we’ll have to show you pictures of the place because words can’t describe the village aura.
The Rodopians have a saying, “The mountains bear people and the valleys bear pumpkins.” LOL, coming from mountain people, it sounds a little assuming, doesn’t it? The history of the region, though, reveals its truth. When the Ottoman invaders came and conquered Bulgaria, many people stayed behind in the cities and valleys. They capitulated and “converted”, and still today are known as half-Turks. On the flip side many people chose to remain Christian; the dissenters fled to the mountains and established another, true Bulgaria. These are the Rodopian mountain folk, the “people” (or non-pumpkins) of the saying. Today there remain duplicate villages: there will be a lower village peopled with former “half-Turks” and a mountain village established by those who fled. This history, perhaps, explains the pervasive Rodopian pride which they mix with humour. It’s always good for a laugh: their word for fork, for instance, is “forkalitsa”, which they like to joke is the root of the English word, not vice versa. Same with “potatnik” and “potato”, and even “Shapin” (or something close to that), which is an ancient Japanese (!!!) title :) Hmm, it was so interesting… and there are so many more stories to tell, but we also have those securely locked in a journal :) (Oh, one other thing: this isn’t necessarily 100% accurate, my memory and notes aren’t always that great!) And those are the real “people” of Bulgaria :)

Back to the Hasovitsa Conference --Ruth
The villa we slept in was as picture-perfect as Hasovitsa itself. It was heated only with fireplaces, built of concrete, block and tile, and could sleep 20 people in BEDS! (Have you ever heard of such a place?) We were heartily welcomed by our two hostesses, Zlatka and Tinka. The two ladies are sisters who live with their extended family in a huge house in the nearby city of Smollyen. Zlatka is a computer programmer and Tinka is a home-maker. They were so incredibly unique! Both had a hilarious sense of humor, a warm heart and vast knowledge of mountain herbs. There was hardly a day when they weren’t collecting something from the mountain-side, whether it was pine sprigs for pine honey (mmmm…) flowers for juice (!!!), or the like. LOL, they even pointed out the source of Viagra :) Zlatka has a sweet imp of a boy named Bobby (6 years). Bobby wore a wily, smily look about him and always had “a trick!” or knew “this trick!” We’re pretty sure he’s going to be a magician when he grows up :) Ninka (8) is his sister and the daughter of Tinka. When a girl is as sweet and kind as Ninka is, it’s a bit hard to describe her. She was a bit quiet, and obviously treasured every moment spent with friends. When Louise and I remember Ninka, we are also most encouraged by what God has enabled us to do for our Bulgarian friends. At one point in the week, an English friend of hers (Cindy) spoke to her mother. Hearing the English conversation, Ninka exclaimed, “Mom, Cindy speaks Bulgarian!” The truth is that Ninka wasn’t used to understanding English! That was SO exciting to hear :)

Elian & Radoslava --Ruth
I haven’t mentioned one of the main organizers of our trip yet: Radoslava. Before traveling to Hasovitsa, we stayed a few days at Elian & Slava’s house. They have two wonderful and lively daughters, Teddy (8) and Vicky (5). Teddy likes surpass the boys (she’s a confirmed tomboy), and yet she likes to dress up and dance. We’ve established her future career to be a lion tamer :) Vicky is constantly singing –in fact, due to her 5-year-old English skills, this was one of the main ways we got to know her. She loves to hold hands or hug. She’s also got an eye for fashion, and we’ve set her out as a future fashion designer, in the classic style of frilly flouncy dresses. Their father Elian works with computers as well and works admirably hard at his and Slava’s small business. By the end of the trip, Slava felt like a very close aunt for me. She’s a historian, and has a unique story or saying for every little custom or site one comes across. It was so sad to leave her, her girls, her wisdom and stories behind.

Jivko and Iliana – Louise
Jivko and Iliana have three children: Stephan (5), Gabbie (3) and Sammy (1). Jivko is a computer programmer and has his own business. We didn’t get to know him very well, because the only time that we had to talk to him was when we went out for dinner one night with his family and Elian and Radoslava’s family. The majority of the evening, their heads were huddled close as they debated and discussed the latest technology. During their deep conversations however, Ruth and I were able to talk with Iliana and Radoslava and get to know them. Iliana studied a total of five years to become a speech therapist, after which she promptly became a secretary for her pastor. Sometimes it’s strange how little we use our degrees and diplomas in our professions! Eventually she met and married Jivko (their love story is sweet and quite funny as well). Each of their three children are the sweetest, bubbliest, most giggling children you ever could meet. Their ability to speak English was low, yet they understood a lot more than I thought they would. They went absolutely berserk when we’d tickle them; it was hilarious to watch their antics when we played the ‘tickle game’ with them.

More Hasovitsa Happenings (because we know this is WAY too long already!) --Ruth
-Enjoying coffee with cow-fresh milk (after fishing out all the floaties, of course!)
-Delicious Rodopian cooking: potato banitsa, croissants Bulgarian-style, flower tea, etc. etc.
-Feeding the multitude with pizza and quesadillas, thanks to the integral part of the ladies…, also made Terra Tor (a cold soup of cucumber and yoghurt) and Banitsa R-rr-rrruttt! (“Ruth” Bulgarianized –be sure to roll the “r”)
-The late nights continued… lots of planning, knocking our heads together to gather “lesson” plans or game plans for the next day (there’s a pun in there for you, Dad ;)
-Lots of late night talks over tea: telling ridiculous stories, jokes, past experiences… We learned the “Ruchenitsa”, a traditional Bulgarian wedding dance (no worries Mom, we don’t expect to put that to use ;)… Practising the chicken dance (some fun pictures from that :P)
-The crafty Tinka teaching us how to say “I want to be a Bulgarian bride!” :)
-The never ending songs of the children… every time the first words of “My God is so Big” were shouted, we would groan internally, grit our teeth and exuberantly (aka dutifully) join in :)
-Seeing lines of children holding hands, walking along a mountain path and singing “My God is So Big” because they wanted to…
-Walking along mountain paths... hmmm, beautiful
-Meeting Elena, the daughter of Tinka. At 14, she discusses the Scriptural references of CS. Lewis and Tolkien with her strongly atheist teachers! She was sweet, intelligent, always questioning the reasons behind concepts, always looking deeper. In two short days she became a good friend.
-Walking 3 km to the nearby village of Pisanitsa (or “Pizzanitza” as we joked with the kids) to buy ice cream. When the shopkeeper was nowhere to be found, we walked to his nearby home/ hotel, and from there received a ride back to the shop in a very old, sputtering Mercedes Benz that looked as if it would like to shoot off the mountain side
The week in Hasovitsa is definitely precious among our memories of Bulgaria!

So that’s a small snippet of our experiences in Bulgaria. We hope to update you on the continuing adventures of Lou and Ru :P upon our return (internet access has been difficult!) God is blessing us and keeping us safe. We thank those of you who have been praying - we’ve really felt the Lord’s protection and guiding hand throughout the entire trip.

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