Time For A Little Note and Reflection

It really has been quite an eventful few months here and to be quite honest a struggle. Not much time as usual for the things I want to do, namely cycling and blogging, but that is just down to life as it is here. How many of the population here have time to do what they want to do whilst trying to earn a living and grow the food that is essential for surviving through to the next season?

The rains have been prolific over the last few months and the tomato and grape crops are bordering on failure in many household and agro businesses. My tomatoes are just salvageable but the grapes are doomed. No rakia this year from the crops although the sliva is thriving on the rainfall we have had. The only stumbling block there is being able to afford the supplement of sugar needed to make it. The amount of work I do for the money to any western eyes may seem ridiculous, but this is why I am here to experience how it 'really' is in Bulgaria and not on a crest of a financial wave of indulgence. It has hardened me up to appreciate the little good things in life that were just not realised. 

I hope all that read this blog are well in their own blogging circles. I'm not too sure how many have realised that this blog has reverted to the blogspot domain which has now a PR2 rating as opposed to the PR0 of before. Strange how this works with Google....

I will try and write more regularly but it is difficult what with the work routine being the same almost everyday. Besides this it is a time for being outside in the slightly cooler evening air in the evenings after work, not stuck in front of a laptop in the kitchen.

Short Blog But Good Reason

Just to let people know that things are still very much in the fast lane here in Bulgaria. I have also changed this site back to a blogspot domain , (http://bulgarianslivatree.blogspot.com). I just can't see the point in donating $10 which is a whole day's pay.

Needless to say, the working full time and growing part time is going on although this last week has seen torrential rain every day and all you can do is watch as it is too muddy to do anything on the land.

I actually got to go and see Veliko Turnovo the former capital of Bulgaria on a flying visit in connection with work last month. The scenery was impressive but the density of traffic and noise from it and the lack of traffic free areas just spoilt the place. Essentially it is a town geared for traffic not people. Pity.

Short blog again, but at least it is now up to date.

Just a quick update

Just a quick update:

As mentioned in my previous post, there is no time to relax right now and that means that blogging is taking a break for now. In fact I did have planned a day of digging over the factory farm land and planting beans today, but it is raining which is why I am now online and composing this post.

Hope everyone is keeping well and a chance to bask a little in the warm spring sun that has finally arrived. Our Martinitsa bracelets (pictured) are now hanging up on a lilac tree in Skalitsa as we have seen the graceful storks that have settled in their nests now.
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No Time To Relax Right Now In Bulgaria

Just a quick to say that I am off sick with a stitched up finger and busy trying to get well enough to start earning again. With the snow around again not much I can do on the land even if I was fit enough, so quite lucky to be incapacitated during unworkable weather.

All the family are fine and the celebrations are non stop here at the moment in March what with Martinitsa, Baba Marta Den and my Name Day (1st), Bulgarian Independence Day (3rd), Ladies Day yesterday (8th) A Birthday today (9th) all require parties and small tokens of gifts of course.

Day to day has been pretty routine over the last month of so. Work during the day and write during the evening and weekends. Just one visit to the village of Skalitsa over the last month and managed to get a barbecue in with family there as it was so warm that particular weekend. We only really went to check up on the farmhouse and pay our neighbour money for the electric and water.

One thing is bothering me right now and that is the language, I want to know more as my conversations at work are limited not only from the point of socialising but being more effective at work. A whole new load of vocabulary has been learned at work, but it's not enough for me, or others I suspect. To insure my stay in Bulgaria the language must be focused upon more and my blogging taking another step backwards what with work on the land, other books I am working on and learning more formal Bulgarian language in the evenings. There is no time for relaxing right now, but then I thrive on that. 
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Kukeri To Come In Yambol

It was a relieved man who turned up for work and found that he still had work, albeit in a reduced capacity. Bulgaria leads the way in Europe in the recession for cutting back hours and pay and this is true to form in this case. So, I have opted for reduced pay rather than reduced hours and now have to tighten the belt even further - rather that than have no work at all.

In recent weeks lots of things happen on a day to day basis, but I really haven't been in the mood for writing about it, but rather spending more time with new books on the horizon. I must admit, I get excited with the thought of having my say in book form, there is something reassuring about having a hard copy of your own writing on the bookshelf.

One thing I am looking forward is new Saturday, it is Kukeri in Yambol and will be there for the event for the first time since coming to Bulgaria in 2005. It will be a action packed and colourful day and something that is well worth attending if you are in the area. Things to come! 
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Winter In Bulgaria - The Problems

Probable unemployment tomorrow aside, we have had some serious weather here, but things just plough on as normal. It takes longer to do things and some things you can’t do with extreme cold weather and almost a metre of snow that remains part of the long-term feature of the landscape in Yambol now. I think I have mentioned many time before that I just love living in these conditions and adapt accordingly. It makes the appreciation and luxury of the other seasons in Bulgaria so much better.

Freezing weather is fine for most if you are tucked away with a wood burner and a outbuilding full of chopped up wood to burn, winter food that has purposely been stored exactly for this season. Eating, drinking and socialising is a long term vocation for most in the villages up and down the country. This was what I used to do, but now during this particular winter I am based in Yambol City with work to attend daily although we still have the winter store of food and drink that last year brought, in fact it was a bumper crop.

Getting to work has been a problem but only because I still have not fully come to terms with dealing with extreme Bulgarian winters and tips to take up with the Lada. Let me explain…

The previous cold spell at the end of last year taught me not to apply the handbrake as it froze solid and couldn’t be released. I learned from that and now this won’t happen again, bit this is only the start of it. The learning curve was the steepest to date as I found that I shouldn’t lock the doors as not only the lock was frozen, but the inside locking mechanism froze up and no way to defrost it.

The battery was flat after a few days of not running the Lada so I wanted to take it out and re charge it. Oh dear, I couldn’t get the bonnet open as another locking mechanism had frozen solid under the bonnet. Finally I got the bonnet open in the evening with hot water, but couldn’t get into the boot as not only the locking system had frozen, but the boot rubber trimming had welded itself to the metal.

After finally getting the battery out and checking the water level, there wasn’t water there but ice. So it had to be defrosted before putting it on charge. Another two days of taxis to work and back. This actually takes away 30% of my daily wages so I wasn’t too happy, especially having to fork out 68 leva for the year’s road tax (vinetka) this month.

Then the was the problem of the road once the car started, after a slight thaw during the day and freezing overnight Ladas don’t work well on skating rinks, I ended up on the opposite side of the road on the kerb and couldn’t move from there, another taxi was sought again. The comfort was that many other cars had been abandoned alongside me.

I take a packed lunch to work each day and have to put it in the fridge in the office, not to keep cool but to stop it becoming rock solid ice. This happened the first day back last week. I had a frozen lunch that day. I took my hat and gloves off at lunchtime and couldn’t get them back on due to being frozen solid. The toilet had frozen up and of course no water at work for over a week now. We have to melt snow for out water source and work in sub zero conditions.

At home we have not had water now for 6 days, the underground pipe had frozen up last Monday and even though we have had a little thaw over the weekend, still no water. There is colder (sub zero) weather forecast tomorrow, so unless we get some water running by the end of this evening it is set to continue. Our water supply comes from purchased water from shops, which have to be carried as the Lada has been out of action, more expense due to the cold.

Baba hasn’t been outside for nearly two weeks as it is too slippery underfoot. At least she is in a warm house and food is ready for when we get back from work. Both Baba and Galia hate the cold and are counting down the days to spring. We all will be very happy when it arrives, but for me winter is a rest season, not labouring in the fields and gardens, I love winter here and for some reason love a bit of suffering in the cold at work. Even with frost bitten hands from work, I really don’t mind the pain, as to me it is a small inconvenience with the seasons to come.

We are in bed at 7:30 in the evening watching television and for us this is the best place to be from the point of saving on heating bills and total relaxation.

Unemployed In Bulgaria - More Than Likely

Having just got back to work after being laid off with a bad back, it was seemingly back to normal albeit in freezing temperatures and a frozen up Lada that wouldn’t move. Taxi fares took up a third of my daily wage without my own transport and buses that just didn’t go en route to my work place. This is the last thing I need after a week off sick with no pay. Oh well, I thought, once this ice disappears all will be well. Or will it…

Yesterday 5 people got laid off work due to lack of business, today a further two got their cards. The workforce is down from 26 to 18 and on Monday it will be down to 10. Things are in a serious state here. Monday we hear there are more being laid offs with Galia and I two of many more victims of the recession here.

I don’t really feel in the mood for blogging right now, as my mind is preoccupied with contingency plans if more than likely we both get our cards on Monday. Funny, but I just had a horrible thought. Does the UK call? At least I will get Unemployment benefit there if I can borrow the airfare there. A worse nightmare scenario, so stop there Martin.

What am I thinking? We will get through somehow here I know. Thousands of Bulgarians are out of work and have no subsistence money how do they survive? I am about to find out.

Winter Comes To Bulgaria At Last

Well winter has come with vengeance in Bulgaria as I look out of my Yambol window and see half a metre of snow surrounding us and the finely balanced wedges of white fluffy stuff settled on the bare vine trellis that gave us the wine and rakia this year. I it has been a very warm and unreal over the last few months and it was a worry that the normal extreme cold spell would not kill off all the pests for the crops later this year. Even the bears had come out of hibernation due to this winter heat wave. Well they can go back to sleep now for sure at it was –10C last night and due for a drop to –22C overnight at the weekend.

Not that I have to worry, last Thursday night I injured my back and have been cooped up in bed for the last 5 days. The injury was a reoccurrence of back trouble I had not so long ago last winter. Trying to work with a bad back was murder Friday, physical work is not what the Doctor ordered so I have had to take a week off! Galia still struggles into work and back in taxis everyday and I feel quite hopeless and a burden right now. Rest assured I would return to work on Monday, as injections, rakia/aspirin and cream rubs and the prescribed tablets are well on course for the cure.

Needless to say our plan not to go to the farm in Skalitsa last weekend needn’t have been planned at all now with me on my back and unable to drive; it made it a bit easier to accept funnily enough. Baba, who has had a bad back for years yet never complains is currently nursing me throughout with rakia/aspirin massages, banquets of home made foods and attention. I feel so guilty about not working, being tended to with from someone who needs attention herself. Then of course there’s Galia facing the winter elements as well as working like a Trojan at the factory with me in the warm ‘home hotel!’ Strangely enough it was only a week ago when said to her that I felt guilty about me being healthy all the time and Galia having all the niggling illnesses! I wish I hadn’t tempted fate now.

So it remains that I have to sit out (or lie out) the next few days and look forward to meeting my work colleagues again on Monday. I just hate being non-active!

ps No pictures I'm afraid - for obvious reasons

Work - That's How It Is In Bulgaria For Bulgarians

Work - Tha't's How It Is In Bulgaria For Bulgarians
It is a standstill in Bulgaria right now. Even with the exceptional mid winter nothing is happening on the land, which lays dormant until March and then the work begins in April. It is traditional the working land is ploughed in February which should give a finer soil composition after many months of frost and is also the time for sowing garlic to follow on the November sowing last year. Exciting times ahead, if only there were more hours in the day to deal with this.

Working 45 hours a week it is going to be hard work to keep on top of things on the Yambol Factory farm as I will have to work in the evenings there. To me this is a new system, a Bulgarian system of burning the candle at both ends that I hadn’t realised until recently. How else do Bulgarians manage to keep their homegrown produce in full production and hold full time jobs at the same time? Quite simply it is by working around the clock and at weekends. This year will be a new dawning for me on how hard Bulgarian work and would explain they’re ‘leka rabota’ (easy work) attitude. After all you can’t work 100 mph 24/7 from April to October, so they take their foot off the pedal to cope with this. (I actually hate the expression 24/7 - It's such a westernised quote!)

It is no village farmhouse this weekend as we are trying to economise even further and the cost of our weekend trips is expensive and not really commensurate to our income. To put it in perspective the cost of a weekend in Skalitsa all in is the monetary equivalent of over two days work! This is something that cannot be reduced with the car fuel for 74 kilometres round trip, heating and extra food and drink. With the spring and warmer weather we will have to think of a cheaper way of getting there and back. Perhaps sharing the trip with village commuters, which we did on occasion last year.

We currently have a good life here, work very hard enjoy the time not working with the best food and drink you could imagine and a social life that doesn’t cost anything other than time. We don’t travel at all or have holidays other than perhaps an extended weekend on the coast once a year, but that makes it even more special when it happens. If there is one thing on our want list it is a bit of privacy, but that’s just me I suppose.

Another New Year Celebration In Skalitsa

At last we got to get to the village after a month of town life over Christmas and New Year. We have had absolutely no time on our own together throughout this time and we looked forward to the trip and stoking up the wood burner and doing the things we do in the village.

We also had to catch up on the news from out neighbours in Skalitsa who we also hadn’t seen or spoken to since before the festive season. We knew that much of the time there this weekend would be talking and perhaps having a belated New Year celebration with them.

Just of a point of interest, the celebrating has not stopped in Bulgaria after the New Year as the name days and other special days of celebration are now upon us. There seems to be a never-ending stream this time of year. 5th was Jordan name day, 6th was Ivan Name Day, 7th was Baba Day (midwives’ Day) and more to come over the next few months. Well, not much happening in the smallholding world to the design of celebrations days this time of year was thought out well.

It was dark when we arrived and the first job was to empty the water meter shaft of the damp boxes and hay stuffed sacks that were put down there to prevent ice damage. The shaft had ½ metre of water standing due to the tremendous amount of rain and snow recently and had made its way there form the tilt that lies on the main road onto my land. This is something that used to worry me, but now I just accept that flooding of the shaft happens and that’s that. What’s the point of changing the landscape for a little water that truckles in? If I had the money a few years ago with my English brain I would have spent it on re-landscaping the whole area to stop this happening. Glad I didn’t have the money now.

Job done in the dark as Galia had the wood burner going and we could relax for the rest of the evening. It was early to bed as we were both tired from a hard first week back at work.

The following morning it was me up at 6:30 before sunrise, I just can’t sleep in her ein the village, too many things I want to do and before I knew it daylight had arrvived by 8:00 and I had spoken to my neighbour who wanted my help with the slaughtering and butchering of two goats later that morning. He wasn’t a well man, but that’s not the reason I offered my help. I love this type of chore, I certainly don’t mind the killing, in fact I quite enjoy it because I know it if all part of the ways things are here form the point of survival. I also knew that these two 5-month old goats would feed his family through to spring when more would be slaughtered for the same reason.

I now consider myself a bit of an expert in goat slaughtering and butchering having done this, including my own goats, on many occasions so I would be genuine help not a hindrance when I turn up and lend a hand. As so it was to be. By 1:00 there were two goats having gone through the process and it seems so right doing what we do here.

My neighbours being good neighbours and generous to the hilt rewarded me with some goat parts. I used to kick up a fuss about accepting gifts like this, but now take it away without any protest knowing that they were actually just as pleased giving it to me. This was taken back home and put in the freezer no doubt processed into excellent food and returned to our neighbours in the future when they visit.

That same evening we returned to our neighbour’s house for a belated New Year celebration and of course fresh goat on the menu that night – Homemade rakia and wine to accompany the talking, chalga music and dancing just after midnight. Then the short walk home in the pitch darkness with winter stars pinpricking the sky, we wished the walk were longer.

Next thing we know its Sunday and we travel back to Yambol in what has been a busy weekend in record warm temperatures, it didn’t seem like winter at all as we loaded the car up. Skalitsa really is a food factory and warehouse for us as the larders and freezers were raided for supplies of food for the coming week.

A Heated Debate About Bloggers As Journalists

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 30:  Newspapers are se...

What season that has now come to a close. Relaxing and partying on was the name of the game. Funny, but the harder you work the more you tend to enjoy the breaks. 2009 was indeed a very hard year of work, hardly any holiday time – I think we had four days this year - So this Christmas and New Year was especially appreciated for getting out of work mode and into the swing of celebration on both religious and secular fronts.

I have to say with all that went on there was just one thing that has stuck in my mind during this period. It was a heated debate with a professional Bulgarian journalist who I met. He was a friend of a friend and we were acquainted a few days after Christmas. He is now middle aged and has been a journalist since he was 18 years old straight from college. He works for a local newspaper writing about Yambol topics including a fair range of subject from sport to current affair and even recipes. Apart from a few words of English he was from the old school of Bulgarians who dabbled in a bit of Russian for a second language.

It all began when this tall well built, unshaven looking Bulgarian asked what I do in Bulgaria, he was under the assumption like most that I had a hefty pension and was here to party on till death. It was a bit of a shock when I said that I work for a living here. He was even more shocked when I told him that for a living here I work in a boiler factory during the day and have many blogs writing in the evening and at weekends to make ends meet.

Most Bulgarians I meet are cold to start with and warm up only after a few minutes of talking, it was the other way around with this chap. It seemed that once he had found that I write about Yambol and Bulgaria and publish the work I write, including my book that was published just over a year ago, he looked at me as competition and started putting bloggers down. He considered bloggers an untalented group of people who give journalists a bad name as they consider themselves as journalists many without any writing background, training or experience. I explained that in the main blogger write for a hobby and to pick up a little earning if they can to cover their costs and there was nothing wrong in that. He begged to differ saying that blogging as a hobby isn’t wrong, but the reams of junk they write shouldn’t be allowed to be published as 99% of it is substandard!

He was getting really uptight about it and the conversation took a turn to arguing about the freedom to express yourself in writing no matter what level you are at. My best for of defence here was to attack and not try and justify nothing wrong with my writing being published even if it isn’t up to professional standards, (whatever that means!) I started asking the questions now. Having already known he left school at 18, he only had the normal diploma of serving his time in school, something equivalent of a couple of ‘A’ levels. A asked what journalist training he had since leaving school. He avoided the question by saying that he had been writing for newspapers for 30 years now and was a maestro of his trade. I attacked again by saying “So you haven’t had any formal training or any qualification as a journalist!” Again he changed the subject moving on to mention the stories he had covered over the years including an interview with the President a few years ago.

We continued to debate fiercely the question on whether blogger could call themselves ‘journalists’. I argued the case that with an Honours Degree and a couple of Post Graduate Qualifications as well as many years experience teaching student of all ages as well as having my book published (and many having been sold) I was actually far more qualified to be a journalist than he was. (You could tell that chap was getting up my nose a bit). Bulgarians don’t like it up them you know (From Mr Jones in Dad’s Army if you were wondering). His loudness suddenly became subdued at this point and perhaps a degree of respect come out once he had found that working in a boiler factory was in no way commensurate to my educational background.

Our talking was back to talking rather than shouting (although shouting is still a normal way of talking here in debate). We agreed to differ substantially over the question: ‘Should bloggers should be allowed to call themselves journalists?’ He wouldn't even consider the tag ‘amateur journalists. In fact I recall him saying that all blogger should be shot with the bad writing they come out with and publish. It was just as well I didn't mention that I was dyslexic as I'm sure that this would have brewed up another heated debate on whether dyslexics should be allowed to write - And I would have ended up punching the guy!

Well, the evening was quite memorable and like I said sticks in my mind more than any thing else that went on over the last two weeks. I think that this ‘journalist’ has a closed mind and from what I gathered about his opinions I don’t think I would be tempted to read his presumably ‘closed minded’ articles, unless it is a recipe perhaps.

What do you think? Do you feel that bloggers are journalists? I for one read many blogs everyday and in the main it is journalism. By definition a journalist is a person who either is “someone whose occupation is journalism,” which accounts for the Bulgarian newspaper journalist I met, or, “someone who keeps a journal” and this of course meets the vast majority of blogger vocations.

Image by Getty Images via Daylife


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