Christmas and New Year Celebrations in Bulgaria - Phew!

Christmas, New Year, Celebrations, Bulgaria, Yambol, Xmas, Rakia, Father Christmas, Guests, Party,
Guests Enter Here
It was a relative short lead up to Christmas  in Bulgaria which really started at the beginning of December. Albeit foreign and global based companies tried desperately to influence and gate crash with advertising in November. Bulgaria has ignored and fended them off for now, but for how long? So, it was quite refreshing to have a Christmas that was in your face so to speak at Christmas time.

Decorations went up in the first week of December, modest but make a statement of modern time Christmas spirit. Some people, myself included know that traditional Christmas's are a legacy from Victorian bygone age and the Father Christmas as we know him a Coca Cola designed invention as recent as 1931. Well far be it for me to dilute the celebratory atmosphere with facts of Christmas history, we proceed under the disguise of the media vision.

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A Vegetarian Start to Christmas Eve
We were suddenly made aware that on Christmas Eve we were to be the hosts to Galia's son, his wife and child. With this it was three days of preparation of traditional food to be laid out on the table for that evening. In case you were not aware, Christmas Eve evening is the main time for gathering of families in Bulgaria to celebrate Christmas. The evening is spent wining and dining a non meat diet up until midnight when the meat is paraded in and tucked into. It is also at this time when presents are exchanged. When we celebrated Christmas in the village with neighbour we also had traditional party games such as the trying to bite hanging apple from the ceiling. Not this year though, just wine, dine, music and talk.

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Bulgarian Music Next Year
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Galia's Son, partner and Grandson
Table laid and family guests arrive, after a couple of hours, the cover was off the piano and an attempt to get everyone to singalong with Christmas carols failed totally. Apart from the melody from Oh Christmas Tree Oh Christmas tree, not of the carols were known. So I resorted to some Beatles hits such as 'Yesterday', 'Hey Jude' and 'Yellow Submarine', but everyone except me w were passively tongue tied with their lack of lyrical repertoire in English. BIG learning curve for next year where I will try and get Bulgarian Songs ready from performing with hopefully a more proactive audience.

Food gradually diminished as the evening progressed, then midnight struck and the rabbit made a grand entrance. a local village bred rabbit, a not a supermarket frozen job that could put you off for life. The meat was sweet and tender and well worth the trouble and wait, Stuffed with rice that had absorbed the rabbit's juices it was real Christmas treat. After small presents exchanged and a few more drink the guest left leaving Galia's Grandson with us, which meant I was sleeping in the living room by the Christmas Tree on the sofa this Christmas night.

All done and dusted for another year the next day was traditionally a day of rest and recovery from the night before. It was a trip to the City Park to see a fantastic display and sound of Bulgarian traditional dance an music respectively. Transfixed on the event for over two hours amongst literally thousands of locals. However there was a annoyance from locals I spoke to about Christmas and New Year celebrations. It was more than noticeable that Gypsies attended these Christmas celebrations in many areas of the town they far outnumbered the Bulgarian. They do not have Christmas in their religious calendar coming from their Islam faith so why do they all gather in a Christian celebrations. Well the answer I got in the main was for money. Asking and begging for money is more fruitful at Christmas with Christians being charitable. There is also a lot of pickpocketing and other sneaky criminal elements that are practiced to a mainly unsuspecting public. I was warned not to attend the New Year City Centre event as even more Gypsies were looking for opportunities to steal. I had other plans for New Year anyway, but took note on the advice seriously. All said and done, I loved the music and dance a true heart warming Bulgarian event.
In between Xmas and New Year we entertain a long term friend who used to be my good neighbour in Skalitsa. It's funny how many times coincidence hits home. She is now my neighbour in Yambol in fact living even closer to use than before unbeknown until we moved over here again. We entertained her playing board games and talking about old times in the village. 
A few days later we were at her apartment seeing her son who had now married with a son. I hadn't seen him for many years since he moved to Burgas many years ago. It was a wonderful treat to rekindle our friendship that was cemented in Skalitsa and now plan to see him in the Summer in Burgas.
So, just the New Year to get through now and the plan was made to play host our closest neighbours. We had recently been guests in their home so it was quite fitting to invite them. The food definitely wasn't vegetarian as I had barbecued kebapche, kufta, pork steaks and a few Bulgarian sausages beforehand.
All prepared and ready to receive our guests and they duly turned up and we had a ball with music and dance all evening. Some 5 year old homemade rakia was brought as a gift and naturally led to talk of rakia making with tips and wrinkles which went on for ages.

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New Year Guests
The evening went far too quickly with midnight rushing towards us. Our plan was to venture outside and celebrate the twelve chimes into the New Year with other locals. this didn't go to plan as directly the New Year arrived it was like Beirut outside with bombs being set of at random, being thrown out of tall apartment block buildings and rockets being fired sidewards in the street. It was darn dangerous out there so we watched and celebrated with some sparkling wine in the relatively safe confines of our balcony. I have to admit that this was the noisiest New Year celebration I have every experienced anywhere. Unforgettable in terms of inhibition of actions going against all advised regulations ensuring safety of fireworks. The local hospital must be on red alert on such occasions with casualties from burns.

The evening went on with more dancing, more food and drink and a special banitsa made with fortunes to be told in each piece taken. Mine was 'Marriage' and Galia's 'Good Health'. Of course I don't believe a word of it, but good fun.

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Yambol's Cemetery
The next day was a trip to the cemetery to pay our respects to Galia's mother who died on 1st January five years ago. So quite s sobering start to the New Year. I was a glorious sunny and warm day and refreshing to see so many shops closed as there is no such thing as New Year Sales in Yambol.

The party goes on with name day celebrations and party invites from other neighbours coming up the following weekend. As always in Bulgaria, any excuse to party and socialise. Since coming back home to Bulgaria it feels like I have been freed from what felt like a jail sentence in the UK with all work and no play.

A Yambol Hairdresser Trying to Rip Off a Brit

A simple trip to a hairdresser in Yambol evokes such a conundrum of incidents since I have been living in Bulgaria. Each time there is a story to tell, this one has a funny ending or in a strange way proving that crime doesn't pay. 

barber shop, brit, bulgarian, crime, haircut, hairdresser, rip Off, sexist, turkish, women, yambol, There is a hairdresser I regularly go to which is run by a Turkish couple, most clients opt for he man and often wait until he is free. This is not because he is a better hairdresser, it is just that men prefer men cutting their hair in Bulgaria. Is this sexist? I find ti refreshing that there is still choice that exists. Is it any different from picking one of two men at then end of the day. If there where two women would the hairdressing business close, it is not a hairdressing saloon just a plain barber shop? Nevertheless The woman is usually always free in view of this and I use her as I'm not too fussed about whether a man or woman cuts my hear.
Every time I visit I am accompanied by Galia and the routine is exactly the same each time. this is namely to have the cut short on the left and right side as well as the back but only a little trimmed on the top. I explain this each time in Bulgarian and it is understood and implemented.
When the work is finished I hand over 4 leva and thank you to the woman. All is fine and everyone happy.. No issues, simple transaction of service for cash which incidentally is clearly advertised on the wall in the shop. I do know that because Galia is there there will be no issues anyway. Often I do wander what would happen if she wasn't present with me. Actually I have been to other local hairdressers many time on my own and there is a prejudice on many occasions, so would the same thing happen?
Today, I went to this particular hairdressers on my own for the first time since have been back here in Bulgaria in April this year. My gut feeling was it wouldn't be the same without Galia. The woman was free and a little queue waiting for the man, normal as mentioned earlier. I was invited to take the woman's chair ready for the work to begin. I explained yet again in Bulgarian what I wanted. This was understood and the work commenced.
All completed and dusted down, I rose and fetched a 10 lev noted from my wallet handing it over. The woman gingerly felt into her pouch on her apron and slowly raised up a brownish pink coloured 5 lev note. My mind was thinking is there a 1 lev coin held and hidden on the back of the note being handed to me? I looked her in the eye and it was a slightly nervy look she held on her face. With this expression and body language I knew it was a sole 5 leva note being passed over. She was trying it on, and who can blame her for trying as I imagine most would just accept that as it is the British way to just complain after they have left the scene.
Against my British cultured ways, I questioned why the cost was 5 lev and not 4 lev and also pointed and referred to the price list on the wall. She explained that she did a little extra work with my hair on the top. Now I know what she did, and it was exactly the same as all the other times I came here with Galia and was charged the normal going rate of 4 lev.
All said and done she was trying to rip me off for an extra 1 lev and the only reason this was the case that I can think of is that I was not Bulgarian. As stated before, you can't blame her, 1 lev would buy a loaf of bread and give change with it.
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The Haircut
If Galia was there this would not be the case. I more than assume that most think that I am lined with money being a Brit, well that is not the case and I asked for that extra one lev to be handed over. I was expecting some form of protest or argument with that demand. She showed no hesitation in revisiting her apron pouch and drew up a shiny 1 lev coin which she handed over. There was a sense of guilt by the way it exchanged hands. Directly the 1 lev left her hand she turned away to another chore which wasn't there as if she needed a distraction to end the interaction. As I said thank you and goodbye with her back to me, there no reaction from her; and she did hear me. It felt like she had her tail between her legs as she wondered off into a small cabinet to get away from me.
Will I go there again? Of course I will because now she knows I will not be tried to be ripped off again. I'm sure she will remember me. The question is, will she lower the standard of cut in retaliation? Only time will tell. If she does, then I think I will do like so many other there and wait for the man to do the cut.
The funniest thing about this event is if she hadn't had tried to rip me off I would have probably given here a 1 lev tip in anycase.

Being Ill in Bulgaria

Seeing people of my own age around me draws me to compare health. Of course you can't tell how healthy a person is just by looking at them. however you can see how they walk, posture and general body language to give you clues to their wellbeing. One of my great pastime is people watching anyway so when my focus is on someone akin to my age there is bound to be comparisons with myself.
We all have been ill at some point and now it was my turn for a change. Pain is something I can bear when I am in control such as pushing myself physically on my bike or cycling, but pain caused by illness is at the very least an intolerable scenario.
As you get older you put up with aches and pains, it grows upon you gradually that is acceptable it is a message reminding you you're getting older and can't run around like a spring chicken anymore. That doesn't mean you become stagnant, just more careful with excursions for example proper warming up and warming down before and after exercising or thinking first before running for a bus or picking up that heavy box. It took some painful experiences to come to terms with that way.
Well now back in Bulgaria and putting up with a painful left hand for months, which I put down to a history of tension initially taking up the viola after puberty, (long story). Then working in Bulgaria full time in a boiler factory in Bulgaria back in 2007, basically with an active drill in my hand 8 hours a day (I'm left handed). The latter did the most damage. I started up the piano again for a least and hour a day a few months ago and the left hand was giving me problems with tension and stress which gradually got worse, but I persevered. Perhaps I should have read the signs and given it a break. On top of this my cycling requires hours on end of grip on the handlebars, which doesn't do the wrist any favours especially when the weather turned a little damper and colder. So come the end of November it wasn't very comfortable at all.
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The Barrels That Did The Damage
27th November arrived and it was the evening before Rakia Making Day. I had to help get two big barrels full of fermented wine out of my garage and onto a van. It was a cold evening pouring with rain and I had been waiting for half an hour for the van to arrive on the street in these condition. A cold man with no head cover or gloves and soaked through with the thought of rakia making motivating him. The van duly arrived and as I began to lift the first barrel my left wrist cracked under the strain accompanied with a sharp dagger like pain. I worked through the pain on the second barrel and struggled with four heavy sacks of wood. That was it I thought, give it a rest overnight and will be fine in the morning. That evening I took a couple of paracetamol and an early night to bed for a 5:30 rise in the morning and very excited for the Rakia Making Day ahead.
The following morning on waking up before the alarm, I should have gone to the Doctor, but with the excitement and adrenalin of Rakia making in front of me I pushed through the pain and got through the process one-handed, including the driving to the village. It didn't end there, the pain was becoming very close to intolerable now and apples had to be peeling and cut to add to the fresh rakia crying out for them. Galia insisted she should do it but being the fool I am for some reason I have a compulsion for self-suffering and a steeped history for working through pain just for the hell of the challenge. The apples were duly albeit painfully prepared and my left wrist was now transformed into constant pain rather than intermittent with movement. Something quite wrong there now I thought. Still I will rest it overnight and tomorrow with no plans to do anything. It will be fine.
Bed at 11:00 and the pain now was constant increasing to the degree I couldn't sleep no matter what position my hand was in. By 02:30 I was at the end of my tether end and in tears with pain. The wrist was compressed by wrapping in a pair of socks around it to support, but that made no difference. The agony now was completely out of my control and that's where the decision was made to visit the hospital. But I was feeling light-headed and dizzy almost to the point of passing, so I reluctantly had to wake Galia who was in a deep sleep next to me for assistance.
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A&E My First Hospital Call 2:30 am
A taxi was called and we arrived at the local hospital some 10 minutes later. I was seen immediately and examined thoroughly by a team of at least four Doctors in attendance with three nurses in turn. I was laid down on a bed and put on a drip for three hours. I was shaking from cold and nerves as they mentioned that I might be suffering from a stroke!! Bloody Hell was my reaction to that, after all the fitness I do and this? Can't be! I was left to ponder that for quite some time. During this time I was distracted by an argument right by the side of the bed I was lying on with a Gypsy Mother and Daughter demanding a prescription off the Doctor. The argument lasted ages and was very heated in the end they were ordered out of the treatment rooms and had to wait until the day shift started to be served. I found out that this was common that Gypsies often come at night with a free taxi service and free treatment and drugs just because they are treated differently to Bulgarians. they take advantage of this and when given the free drugs sell them on for 100% profit. We (or should I say Bulgarians) have to pay for taxis, medical treatment and prescriptions!) This incident however didn't detract me too much with the pain I was in and the shaking continued.
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Second Hospital for X-Ray
5:00 in the morning and it was a transfer to another hospital, (with a taxi we paid for!) for an x-ray. This hospital was where Galia's Nephew works who I cycle with on occasion. We turned up and an x-ray was made within 10 minutes. Then it was another hospital for an examination from another specialist with addition tests to be made. Another taxi taken and now the third hospital in the space of 12 hours.
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Third Call Yambol's Polyclinic
Whilst waiting to be seen, there were six other parties there all with the same appointment time of 16:30 to see one Doctor. How was that? I was examined and told that there was no stroke but probably just an infection and further blood tests would be taken early tomorrow morning. I was given a prescription two series of injections, (hate those!) one set of tablets, and a powder compound to be mixed with water and drunk. All this cost money including the visits and Doctors seen with tomorrow the promise of more costs. No avoiding this unless you are a Gypsy apparently. Doesn't matter that I'm British and paid National Insurance throughout my working life not that I expect any special treatment as a Brit. 
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Current Medication!
Another night but this time I slept well after a bout of two injections one on each cheek and other prescribed medicine. I  was told no food or drink in the morning prior to the planned hospital tests and duly adhered to instructions turning up with a rumbling stomach. 
Fees paid for blood and urine specimen test although only blood was taken even though we paid for both. the queuing system here is absolute chaos and only though who have no scruples about running up to the treatment room get seen first. A classic case seen here where an overweight man crawled up the corridor as if it was his last walk on earth, then once the surgery door open he was an Olympic Athlete sprinted to the door and getting in before those who had been waiting for their turn. I find it strange that no one complains. I have been told to just keep quite in these situations as many Bulgarians are prejudice on finding out I'm English in confrontational situations. This advice has kept me out of trouble for years even though it is difficult not to express an opinion seeing what goes on..
The blood test was good, all normal, a relief and it was now time to continue with the given drugs and become a passive person for a week. No fitness, no piano, no work on repairs or rebuilding my bike and no driving. Difficult!
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The Cost!
I'm feeling a lot better now, but am reminded again about how old I am and how I should behave. The total cost of this episode amounted to over 100 BG Lev. You just can't afford to be ill here without private health insurance which is something I cam considering right now. But will it get overlooked and on the backburner when I am fit again? Probably......That's what the vast majority of people do here in Bulgaria anyway, take it as it comes, they just don't have disposable income for a, What if?', scenario on health.
So now when I people watch and see individuals my age and compare health, I know that at any point in time health can change without warning, that doesn't stop you trying to look after yourself though to reduced the risk factor which I will continue to do. Beside I feel that investment in fitness is cheaper than investment in health insurance which I can 'Ill afford,' on my small pension here.