The school year thus far has undoubtedly passed quickly. On September 17 I blinked; when my eyes opened again the winter had arrived and the calendar read "December 21." In fact there were many days which seemed to pass more like a desert tortoise crossing the road, creeping drowsily by. On those days I became convinced that before the school day my students gathered to deliberate the best ways to bother, pester, annoy, agitate, aggravate, and irritate me. But those days are long behind me now. Though I remember the troubling moments, those times I felt helpless, I cherish the breakthroughs, the glimmers of hope, the students whose actions, unbeknownst to them, motivated me to keep moving forward.
Winter vacation came as a great respite. Fortunately I was invited for Christmas Eve and Christmas to another volunteer's village. Byala is a beautiful village nestled in a village high in the Stara Planina mountain range. It lies a few kilometers of the city of Sliven. To get there you follow a narrow mountain up, and up, and up, twisting and winding your way through the beautiful snow-covered mountains. After a time you crest a ridge and in the valley below you can find your destination. It is sublime.
Truth be told Byala faces a major challenge, one that many small villages throughout Bulgaria face: a dwindling population. There are many reasons for this but the main one is quite simple: opportunities are not in the villages but in the cities. Major holidays are different. On major holidays Byala's population "explodes" from 500 to (more or less) 1500 people. Families escape the hustle and bustle of the cities--Sliven, Varna, Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Veliko Tarnovo, Sofia--and return to the quiet, calm, and subdued villages where grandma and grandpa live. I think many Americans have the same traditions. New Yorkers escape the island and maybe head upstate; San Franciscans flee the City to the smaller towns in the Bay Area or to Lake Tahoe.
What I really want to express here is my gratitude toward the people in Byala whom I met and with whom celebrated these holidays. You all gave me an "authentic" Bulgaria Christmas and you will forever have a special place in my heart and in my memories of Bulgaria. Thank you so much. You were my pick me up this holiday season; it was the best gift I could have ever received.
|This is Byala|
|An old building in Byala.|
|Some time ago Seth and I trekked up Vihren Peak.|
|A picture from the trek.|