Suddenly this is starting to feel real, people. My departure to Bulgaria, which once felt like a distant milestone, is now merely 3 weeks away. It’s hard to pinpoint anything specific that brought me to this abrupt realization. Instead, I think it’s the combination of many things–buying my airline ticket, selling my furniture, booking a hotel for my first night in Sofia (the capital), and starting to set aside things to pack. Perhaps the event that most alerted me to the reality that I’m down to 3 weeks in the U.S. was my brother Andrew’s wedding last weekend. While it was an overwhelmingly happy and fun weekend, it ended with saying goodbye to Andrew and his now-wife Kelly, as our travel schedules will prevent us from seeing each other again before I leave. Whatever the cause of my change in thinking, I know that August 8th will be here in no time, and that I have many more “to-dos” and tough goodbyes ahead of me between now and then.
Andrew and Kelly’s wedding in the Duke Chapel
All that said, the most dominant feeling I have is excitement. Travel and culture are two of my biggest passions, and I’ve got an onslaught of both heading my way. Thinking through my first couple moves after landing invigorates me. How will I navigate to my hotel? How do I avoid getting ripped off by taxi drivers (I’ve heard that’s very common for visitors)? Where will I find my first meal? Previous travel and living abroad experiences have helped build my confidence, but the reality is that this will be unlike any other challenge I’ve faced. Not only is the language (Bulgarian) foreign to me, but it’s based on an entirely new alphabet (Cyrillic)! I’ve got my work cut out for me; and I can’t wait.
I’ll leave you with a youtube video I stumbled across today that made me smile. It was filmed in Silistra–the town I”ll be living and teaching in for the next 10 months. Looks like there is plenty to be HAPPY about!
As I mentioned in the “About this blog” section, one of my key responsibilities as a Fulbright grantee is to enhance understanding between Americans and Bulgarians. In my mind, a crucial part of this entails sharing updates on current events in Bulgaria. Back when I first started my Fulbright application, I signed up for Bulgaria Google Alerts. Essentially, this service sends a consolidated e-mail every day summarizing the top news stories in the region. Several major stories impacting Bulgaria and the Balkan region over the past few weeks jumped out at me, and I wanted to give a quick summary of the most impactful ones.
1. Heavy flooding in June killed 12 people and caused significant damage along the coast of the Black Sea. Varna and Dobrich (the 3rd and 9th largest cities in Bulgaria) were amongst the hardest hit, with many people losing electricity or experiencing extreme property damage. A national day of mourning was declared on June 23rd to remember those lost.
Cars and even homes were swept away by the force of the flooding
2. A massive pipeline project in Bulgaria has been delayed due to considerable political pressure from the European Union. The South Stream pipeline is planned to run directly through Bulgaria, and pump natural gas from Russia to the rest of Europe. There is rising concern in the US and EU that completion of the pipeline would increase European dependency on Russia for energy, and ultimately give Russia too much power. There are also ramifications for the current crisis in Ukraine, as the pipeline would allow Russia to limit energy to Ukraine without impacting the rest of Europe. This Wall Street Journal article gives some interesting historical context about why that’s important.
Planned route of South Stream pipeline
3. Five people were arrested yesterday for their involvement in a plot against some of the top banks in Bulgaria. The conspirators used text messages and e-mails to spread false rumors about the instability of banks, which led to a mass withdrawal of ~$550 million in just a matter of hours. The government quickly approved an emergency credit line of more than $2 billion, which restored stability. President Rosen Plevneliev has been working to increase confidence in the banks, saying “We have sufficient reserves, means and tools to deal with any attempt at destabilization, and we stand behind each bank that becomes the target of an attack.”
Thank you Dave Gross for sending me the NYT article about the South Stream pipeline!