I was very lucky as all through my week-long stay in Bulgaria the weather was super nice. Being April and all, I was expecting rain, showers and even an occasional snowfall (according to some deep-seated memories of bygone times), but no – it was lovely and sunny, and very, very warm.
Just the weather to go outside, sit in the garden, in the park or on the beach and let the sun caress your head.
Well, I didn’t do any of these for the reasons explained in the first part of this blog post (click here to read it, if you haven’t already), but late in the afternoon I would grab a few minutes on my own on the balcony under the pretext of checking if the clothes on the washing line had dried.
I would look at the sea, so blue and calm, the grey configurations of Varna’s panel blocks of flats, the large hill on the horizon, serving as a backdrop to it all. Right underneath the balcony there were a handful of fruit trees in glorious bloom (hence the pictures illustrating the two parts of this blog post).
It was really peaceful. The street was deserted of cars. The people in the neighbouring yards had just gone inside to cook supper and watch the news. A gentle breeze was coming from the sea and I could feel spring in the air. So green, so calming, so full of the conviction of the youth.
It was a really nice feeling – giving me hope, making me complete.
Now, let me share with you the rest of the things which marked with their emotional ups and downs my week-long stay in Bulgaria at the start of April 2016.
I have spent most of the last twenty years translating. And not just professionally, you know. Even in my private life, I am constantly interpreting, localising and transmitting information in at least two languages every day. This is what happens in intercultural marriages and, especially now, that we are doing our best to raise a bilingual child, I am constantly fleeting between English and Bulgarian. Singing a song to my little daughter in my mother tongue and then explaining its patriotic undertone to my husband. Then, when he teaches her new words in English, I am constantly trying to out-speak him throwing their Bulgarian counterparts in the conversation lest she knows how to say something in English and not in Bulgarian. And then, at the shop, at the doctor’s, at the local cafe I need to add a smattering of Italian to the mix and some days it can get really rather linguistically messy to the point of some miscommunication fireworks flaring loud and bright. So, it was really lovely to have a week to myself when I only needed to speak Bulgarian to everyone around me without having to translate, interpret and localise.
Bulgarian Books / Books in Bulgarian
One of the things I enjoyed the most during my short Bulgarian stay was shopping for books. I really wanted to get as many children’s books in Bulgarian for my little daughter as my luggage weight limitation would allow me. Living in Italy, we find it very easy to buy English books online and have them delivered to us within a couple of days. I have never had much luck ordering Bulgarian books abroad though. Friends and family have always been really kind to give us Bulgarian books as gifts and I wanted to expand the small Bulgarian section on our bookshelves. As it turned out even the tiny local bookshop where my parents live had a great selection of classic fairy-tales, books with children’s poems and many contemporary stories. I even found Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat beautifully translated in Bulgarian, which was quite amazing, as my husband had been reading this book to our little daughter right before we left for Bulgaria and I had been wondering how difficult it would be to adapt it to other languages. In the end, we returned to Italy with about 25 new children’s books and several sets of educational toys helping you learn the Cyrillic letters. Success!
We were at Bergamo Airport waiting for the check-in desks to open. A thin and long queue was curling and coiling in front of them. People were patiently chatting, checking their documents and, generally, doing all those little things which help you pass the boredom of being in a queue. Just then the two check-in desks opened and suddenly a wide wave of people surged forward and created a queue parallel to the original one in front of the second check-in desk. Until then, the unspoken agreement had been that we would all stay in a single line, and the person whose turn it was would go to the check-in desk which was free. But, there will always be individuals who violate unspoken agreements, so this is exactly what happened here. Several people carrying small children got really upset and tried to talk politely with the infringers from the other queue, appealing to their good manners. The infringers looked elsewhere and smirked, but didn’t budge. Sterner words were professed to no effect. In the end, a tall suited man who had been one of the first to rush ahead and create the infringing queue took it upon himself to completely spoil the mood. Unlike his suited appearance, his words were rather uncouth. Foaming at the mouth he shouted: ‘Who are you?!’, hence employing the favourite expression of any not-very-civil Bulgarian who feels that his or her position is being questioned and hence he or she hastens to undermine the authority of the person having the gall to question him or her in the first place. ‘Who do you think you are?!’, he changed his refrain a bit. Then he unleashed a barrage of abuse, ultimately shouting down the nicely dressed and very polite mother of two teenage children who had asked the infringing queue to disband. She stood up to him (good on her!) and eventually didn’t allow him to jump the queue right in front of her. All this brought to me some bitter memories of queues and queuing in Bulgaria when I was growing up. People, usually men, would push in front of youngsters without anyone around saying anything at all. There were lots of queues in Bulgaria at the time – at shops, at bus stops – there was always a big crowd of tired, anxious, pernickety people trying to get what everybody else was queuing for. It felt really nasty to be pushed and shoved aside by someone who thought they had priority over you. And because we were told not to argue back and because it was instilled in us not to make a scene in a public place in case people around us thought we were fools, such an act of small aggression left an even bitterer taste, as I didn’t have the tools to stand up for myself. So, even though it was an ugly scene at Bergamo Airport and even though the infringing queue didn’t really budge much, it felt good to know that people in Bulgaria, albeit a small number of them, are not afraid anymore to stand up for what is right.
On Safety Belts and Seats
OK, here is the thing which really upsets me every time I go back to my home country. A very small number of people there, it would seem, use car seats for their babies and toddlers or strap them at all in the car. When my little daughter was a baby and we needed to get a taxi in Bulgaria, I was dreading it. Because I knew that the conversation would go like this:
Me: ‘Excuse me, where is the seat belt on the back seat?’
Taxi Driver: ‘There isn’t one. Why do you need it?’
Me: ‘To securely attach the car seat with my baby in it.’
Taxi Driver: ‘Why do you need to attach it. Just hold it with hands.’
‘Yes, because this would help me so much if you crash the car’, I would mutter to myself, look in despair at my husband and ring for a new taxi. Sometimes, there were variations of the above dialogue:
Taxi Driver: ‘There isn’t one. Why do you need it?’
Me: ‘Because it is the law in this country to wear a seat belt on the back seat.’
Taxi Driver (shrugging like I had told him an excellent joke): ‘The law?! Who cares about the law?!’
Yes, good question. I am not sure who actually cares about the law in Bulgaria. Especially about the law to make your own children safe when driving them around in your car. Maybe I am easily shocked. Maybe I should trust the taxi driver a bit more (as one of them suggested). But the problem is not limited to taxi drivers only. Many parents in Bulgaria get in the car with their young children un-belted and un-secured on the back seat and even on the front seat. During this last visit, I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen for years. As I was crossing the street on my way to the pharmacy, a car beeped, a hand waved at me and then the car stopped. I recognised my acquaintance, we exchanged the necessary pleasantries and all the while I couldn’t stop staring at his wife. For the only reason that she was sitting in the front seat with no safety belt on and in her hands she was holding the couple’s newborn baby.
And this is the end! The end of my long, emotional, angry at times blog post. In all honesty, I wanted to add another point to it – that of customer service and its pitfalls in Bulgaria – but eventually decided that this is such an ample topic, I better dedicate it a blog post of its own. It will be alive and kicking on the website very soon, so keep coming back and in the meantime let me know what you think of my ranty rants and emotional shares above. Ta!