Sunday, March 16, 2014

Travels and Traditions

I've essentially taken a three month hiatus from blogging. Exciting things just kept happening and I never found much down time to share with everyone! Съжалявам!

So what's been going on in my life, you ask? So much. So. Much.

First off, lots of travel! I took a nice tour of central Europe over the winter holidays, spent a long weekend in Norway (lifelong dream, check!), and just recently took a night bus to and from Istanbul (No...sleep...til Turkey!). Christmas in Vienna, New Year's in Prague... what is my life? My favorite pictures from the cities can be seen below.


Left: the church where I attended Christmas Day service in Vienna; Right: decorations that hung all over Dresden


Lennon Wall in Prague

THE BEST statue outside of the Turkish baths in Budapest

Norway gets two pictures because IT'S MY FAVORITE.

Also noteworthy, five of my brilliant students competed in a national English speech and debate competition, the Bulgarian Forensics League. The League was started last school year as a Fulbright initiative, and now students from all over Bulgaria have the chance to meet other English language learners and practice their skillz. I bonded with my students and we had a truly magnificent time. They make me proud and inspire me!

The MOST noteworthy experiences in the new year have been, for sure, all of the Bulgarian traditions that take place in the spring months! Find a comfy chair, grab a glass of rakia, and let your mind wander to Eastern Europe, where ancient traditions are still thriving and people are dancing horo like it's their job.


Kukeri are the name for costumed Bulgarians meant to scare away evil spirits and ensure a bountiful harvest (and fertility maybe?) for the coming year. Think old, rusted bells hanging from the waists of fur-clad, masked drunk men. Huge headpieces. Wooden, snarling masks. Feathers. Babas who are secretly men in drag (or not so secretly...I've never seen grandmas with such hairy chins). And, what I can only describe as a tendency to "party boy" any observer who looks warily upon the festivities.

Festivals take place all over the country (and throughout the Balkan peninsula) during the spring. Some are small, local celebrations. Others are larger and take place in cities. I've attended two so far. One was the international Surva festival in Pernik, BG, which was actually a contest between different groups, and the other was a village celebration in the breathtaking mountain town Shiroka Laka. The village celebration was much more intimate and felt more like a living part of the culture than did the Pernik festival, which was more like a fond homage to an older, fading Bulgaria.

Перник Кукери (Pernik Kukeri)

Широка Лака Кукери (Shiroka Laka Kukeri)

I cannot begin to put into words how big my heart felt while I was in the Rhodope Mountain town right amongst the bagpipe players, the horo-dancing Bulgarians (a large, circular folk dance), and the buzzing life of it all. Love it.


So in Bulgaria, the arrival of spring is celebrated with a beautiful tradition called Baba Marta (Grandma March). On the first day of March, Bulgarians give red and white bracelets, called Martenitsa, to their friends and relatives as a wish for good health (symbolized by red thread) and happiness (symbolized by white thread) in the coming year. Bracelets are worn until one sees their first stork or blossoming tree of the year. Yes, I said storks. The nests are everywhere! I thought my students were joking at first...I think the only stork I've seen is the stork on the Vlassic pickles jar (is that even a stork?). Anyways, these first signs of spring mark the moment a person should remove their bracelet and either tie it to a tree branch or hide it under a rock. Spring!

My wrists are heavy with bracelets from my students, colleagues, Fulbright friends, and random others! The martenitsa can be seen on branches throughout the year, as a vestige of each spring. It's so cute. Trees all over my town are decked out in red and white as we welcome spring breezes, sweet rain, new growth, and sunshine. I even gave some bracelets to my family when they visited so that a little piece of Bulgaria can make it's way back to lovely Ohio!

ETA's on the 1st of March!

(Martenitsa selfie with my 8б class)

The first blooming tree I saw, in Plovdiv!
(photo cred goes to Annie Craycraft on this one)

The new months of 2014 have been very rewarding and have been a great opportunity for me to learn more about the annual traditions in Bulgaria. Very soon, my students will compete in a folk dancing competition against one another and their teachers, we will all be taking a week off for break, and the cold months of winter will disappear behind us (THANK THE MERCIFUL HEAVENS). I keep telling my young people that, though Americans tend to "go big" on holiday celebrations, not many of our traditions have the same sense of unity as those celebrated here. I like the difference!

Chau chau, y'all.