Tuesday, May 20, 2008


It is worth putting a picture of a typical construction site in Bulgaria, which is completely different looking than construction sites that I was used to seeing in the states. In Bulgaria, there is not so much of the wooden frame approach, or even too much in the way of metal I-beams. This is a small addition to my work building, a new separate enterance for this portion. You can see almost all the steps, from the concrete drying in its scaffold supported mold at the top to the brick fill at the bottom. The concrete is poured around metal re-bar. In this case, the workmen carried the concrete in buckets up the steps as they built them.

At another work-site near my house, I once saw a man kick a board loose from the concrete mold to free fall to the ground...FROM 4 STORIES UP. And this mold was for the ceiling of the third floor, which meant that he was standing on the fourth floor with one foot, and vigourously kicking in mid-air with the other. Can you imagine how quickly an American construction worker would call his lawyer if he were asked to do that?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sex sells....

...but cucumbers? Do we really want to think about the further implications here? It is a dark path, and this blog will not go there.

This is an advertisement in a food store window near my apartment. They do, in fact, sell cucmbers and I often buy them to make delicious traditional salads.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Field day with falcon boxes!

So, we spent last Thursday in the field installing nest boxes for the Red Footed Falcon, which is a globally endangered species. Historically, Red-Footed Falcons do not build nests, but use the nests from old Rook colonies. Rooks are not so popular with the farmers, so they have been "persecuted" in recent years, and their colonies have been in decline. Also, the falcons like to live in tree stands near open areas (like agricultural land), so that they can hunt for insects (the falcons are pretty small).

So, we placed some nest boxes out among some tree stands near agrilcultural land. Often near water swarming with all sorts of "falcon food." We did this loop during the day in northwest Bulgaria, covering quite an ammount of territory actually. Where we were is much flatter than most of Bulgaria (most of which is just chock-a-block with mountains), but the region is scattered with rolling hills with some limestone outcroppings up above river valleys. We passed through all these dreamy-quiet little villages of ramshakle little old houses with gorgeous flower gardens full of tulips at the peak of their blooming. It makes me happy to see that even in the poor regions outside the more quickly devloping larger towns, that people still have some beauty in their lives. We passed over the Iskar (among other rivers I believe); it was brimming with spring runnoff and far enough away from the bigger roads to be relatively free of litter.

Frankly, I am not sure how to react to the litter problem here. My instinct is to condemn it! To scold Bulgarians that I see littering in the same way that I would scold any American that I saw littering back home (full disclosure: I was once a volunteer park ranger, so shaming people into picking up after themselves was part of my JOB!). In the US, we are told from a very young age, "Don't through that on the ground! It is bad for the animals!" I remember all the education campaigns about birds getting their heads stuck in the plastic rings for soda cans, and endangered sea turtles dying from ingesting plastic bags that resembled jellyfish. Plus, in the US, there are signs everywhere warning of steep fines (I've seen $1,000 posted) for littering.

The hidden linchpin in the American system is this: we have had for years, and continue to have, a dependable and efficient waste collection/disposal system. Despite the fact that we are filling landfills and as a nation, produce far to much trash, that trash has a destination. And when the land fills are full, they are capped, burried, monitored and turned into parks! In Bulgaria, I have seen trash heaps on the side of the road, and official landfills and are not nearly as well contained as the ones I grew up seeing (and I grew up going to the dump with my father, as we didn't have collection in our town). Here, if you throw your trash in the dumpster, it is possible that it will be collected in a timely manner. It is also entirely possible that it will stay there until the dumpster overflows and the trash blows around on the street.

In any case, I picked up a few pieces of trash at the end of our field day (causing the Bulgarians to scratch their heads), at our last falcon box site. It was near a fishing pond, with islands in the middle, that happened to be home to a breeding colony of White Egrets (Бяла Чапла) and Night Herons (Нощна Чапла). I had never seen Night Herons before, so it was a highlight for me! Here is a wider shot of the pond.

Here is a "close up" in relatively speaking terms. The white things in the trees are the egrets!

Friday, March 14, 2008

My Best Day Yet!

So, just a quick one on what I think was my best day yet as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

On my way to work the trees looked like this:

I went to a village and presented to a room full of kiddos about migratory spring birds. I think it was almost all the kids who were in school that day. They were SO attentive, and knew a fair ammount about birds, from living in a small village. They have at least one stork nest there, but the weather was bad so I didn't get a chance to see it. In any case, I had a great time presenting, and the kids were very welcoming. I like to have a little fun when I present, so I made them sing like cukoos, which they did wonderfully. In the photo with me and the two girls, the girl on the left was my little helper...I gave her the "job" of pressing the arrow on my laptop to advance my presentation. She took it SO seriously, and being one of the younger kids I think she was kind of proud that SHE was picked.

Then I had what is arguable one of the best lunches in Bulgaria, called Surmi. Little bundles of rice and meat wrapped up in grape leaves and steamed. Mine were served with yogurt. There are vegetarian versions and versions with cabbage as well, all delcious.

After lunch, I did a little bit of translation for BSPB's website, which I is challenging, but teaches me better Bulgarian. Then, I had my Bulgarian lesson, and would have normally been headed for home, except I had an operetta to go to.

A musical theater company in Veliko Turnovo was putting on "Die Fleitermaus" (English: "The Bat" Български: "Прилепът") by Johan Strauss. They did a FABULOUS job, and I thoughoughly enjoyed the show. I had heard lots of the music before; Die Fleitermaus is supposedly one of the examplars of the genre, and for good reason. Operettas are supposed to be "lighter" in subject than operas, and this one is a society comedy set in old Vienna. The plot has all sorts of kniving behavior and intrigue, and was well acted as well as well sung. Plus there were some only in Bulgaria touches, aside from being performed in Bulgarian. At one point the scantily clad bat dancers (who attend the midnight ball taking place in the second act) let out a pretty distinctive whoop, that is very similar to what you hear from young girls doing traditional folk dances.

Here are some pics from my up high seats (I got comped). I did not manage to capture the bat-dancers unfortunately!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Spring? Maybe?

So, it being March, and I being from the American Northeast, I will not say that I have survived my first Bulgarian winter just yet. I think the places where I have lived in the states have prepared me well for the fits and starts of spring, that may happen here.

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about my role as a PC volunteer here. The economy here changing rapidly. One of the surest signs of economic growth that I have seen is the new construction projects that seem to be all over the place in Svishtov. And these are not just personal homes, these are pretty big buildings with retail and living space going in. Having lived in some rapidly growing areas in the US, the sound of hammers has always been sort of symbolic of economic growth to me.

Now of course, that doesn't mean that there isn't work to be done here. The economy is growing, but that doesn't mean that it will help everyone equitably, nor does is mean that it will grow in an environmentally sustainble fashion. While I know some Bulgarians would disagree with me, the problem doesn't seem to be the money. The problem is what is done with the money.

I think it is difficult for Bulgaria, because this is all happening so rapidly. They have not had time to mature as an economy like many western nations. The EU is having conversations about limiting carbon emissions, corperate social responsibility and sustainable development. This is something that western nations are arriving at after many years of economic prosperity, whereas here, it was only 10 years ago that they had to whack three zeros off the currency because of runaway inflation. To many Bulgarians these concepts seem to be luxeries that only rich countries can afford, whereas westerners see them as things that we can't afford to ignore.

In any case, I am not sure what to make of it. Far be it from me to post a conclusive statement on issues that are still playing themselves out. What I do know is that spring is beginning to arrive, flowers are popping up, and that everyone here seems to be cheering up. I have been visiting some classrooms, and I am trying to wheedle myself into a group of teachers that really care about enviromental education, and try to meet some of their needs. More on the day to day stuff later, I was more in a big picture mood today.

OH.....before I sign off, if you are reading this anywhere in Europe and you like birds, being a nature geek, being outside or the arrival of nicer weather, you should log onto www.springalive.net There are at least versions in at least 2 dozen languages! So righteous!