Bulgaria…and Can These Kids Speak English!
My Bulgarian experience started in Ruse, a delightful, small city on the Danube, followed by a bus trip to Veliko Trnovo.
It was intriguing seeing the Bulgarian countryside, mountains, snow just about everywhere. I even got to see the phenomenon of “orange snow.” That occurs when a late snowfall coincides with winds from the African desert, a strange mixing snow and sand.
The village of Veliko Trnovo is working hard to cater to tourists – they sell lovely silver and rose attars there, though they are still in a learning mode. The roads and sidewalks were in the process of being upgraded, and this made walking slippery and treacherous on the main (only) shopping street. Once inside these ancient buildings, the wares were appealing, but steep steps made entry and exit dicey. In one such, we had to exit backwards!
The next morning, we arrived a Vidin, a quaint town complete with exquisite synagogue, now fallen into disrepair mosque, and orthodox church.
The local imam met with us and told of his small congregation and its collegial relationship with the church across the street. The groups meet monthly for dinner and fellowship. He seemed sincere and authentic, though I’m sure he was working hard to put his best foot forward. Vidin also has one of the best-preserved fortresses in the world, Baba Vida, but I must tell you that, by this time, I was getting pretty fortress-weary.
What I do remember most about this town is the children that we met. They are in a special after-school program where they study English. Now, all Bulgarian children study a second, and third, language, but this group was spectacular. Ranging from nine- to eleven-years-old, they did an outstanding job of introducing themselves and telling us about their interests. THEN, the surprise. They came around to us, one-by-one, holding a picture of an animal that we couldn’t see. We were to guess the animal, based on questions that we would ask – in English, of course. And these kids, they understood us, just about all the time, even with all our accents. So they not only learn to speak English, but also to understand it, American-English, at that.
This group of dark-haired, shy, fetching, disarming children stole our souls, and while they may not have understood all those adjectives I just rattled off, I know that they felt a connection.
I don’t think that life is easy for the every-day Bulgarian, but the land has a dark, sometimes foreboding, beauty that will stay with me. I hope to return and see more of this thought-provoking country.
Next week: Serbia and Croatia