It's cold outside. I know this because 30 seconds after stepping out the door my eyes start to water. Two minutes into my fifteen minute walk home from Dani's my throat starts to itch. Four minutes later my nose is running and my eyes now itch as well, all orifices function as water spikettes. Three minutes from my front door I start to cough, with no apparent benefit. As I walk in the door I notice my chin is numb, but that is the least of my worries. I gulp down a glass of water, wipe my eyes, blow my nose, and breath in the clean air of my apartment. Winter is here. They did warn me.
Most families use a wood (among other things) burning stove to heat their houses in Bulgaria. At first I thought this was "nice" and "cute," to have a fire burning to heat you. Now I know otherwise. Every night, and sometimes day, the air fills with smoke from these household warming devices. Everything is burned in them: plastic shopping bags, diapers, food scraps, papers, wood, books (ok, so no one is really burning books...), any other trash that might need to be disposed of. It really cuts down on the garbage. My predecessors did tell me, "Just wait for winter, when the fires start burning. The air will barely be breathable." Did I believe them? Maybe. But how was I to know just what they meant by this; I had never experienced a Balkan winter. Now I know. The Bulgarians feel it too. As much as we all love the warmth we hate the smoke. But there is a trade off for all things and this one is just more visible and immediate than most.
Coming to Bulgaria there were many trade offs. Some I haven't yet experienced, some I'll be experiencing my whole time here. I left my family. I have a large family, most of whom read this on a semi-regular basis (thanks!). At least one grandmother, two parents, two brothers, one sister, two nephews, two nieces, four aunts, four uncles, nine cousins, and assorted other relatives I don't see on a yearly basis were at home celebrating Thanksgiving the other week. I missed that. But I did get my trade off: a Bulgarian-American Thanksgiving Extravaganza! Two Bulgarian Teachers, six American Fulbrights, two Bulgarian Boyfriends, seven American Peace Corps Volunteers, two turkeys, four kilos of mashed potatoes, two kilos of glazed carrots, two kinds of stuffing, numerous amounts of other food, and a guitar all fit into the confines of Roz's two-bedroom Vratza apartment. It was wonderful! There is no day designated for giving thanks in Bulgaria, but the concept is not foreign here. We cooked and talked, ate and drank, and then we sang. We sang, or rather, I should say one of the Fulbrights studying traditional Bulgarian music sang a few traditional Bulgarian songs for us. Roz sang a couple songs in Hebrew from Isreal for us. Then we all joined in for traditional American folk songs and Christmas carols. It's funny just how few people actually know the words to the carols. After hearing the same songs for years and years you'd think we'd be better. Second verses were the most challenging and "Do songs even have third verses?" was the response after a few mind boggling rounds of the same verse of Silent Night and Joy to the World. But we all stumbled through together and had more fun for it.
I guess this is the easiest trade off to tell you about, especially since it's so recent and confined to one day. But there are so many others that may be more complex, but are all the more beautiful. Too bad words don't go far enough.