Archive for September, 2005
Read Part I.
You won’t find Tsarovo on even the most detailed maps of Bulgaria. I remember being surprised at this fact when I retuned to the states. My grandfather had purchased a very large and meticulous map of the country for me upon my return and one evening I was pointing out various cities I have visited or lived in to my family. When I started telling this story I looked all over the map for Tsarovo. I traced road that the bus took the village. Where the village should have been, there was nothing.
About an hour after leaving the bus depot, the bus left the main highway and drove several miles down a narrow dirt road. To the side of the roads were fields of tobacco. The plants were tall and the leaves, dark green and broad. A few field workers stood near the fence examining the leaves of one plant. The looked up as the bus passed.
At the bottom of some rolling hills, the bus stopped. The doors hissed open and the old women gathered up their bags and hobbled off the bus. I approached the driver and asked when the next bus would head back to Plovdiv.
“Four o’clock,” he said. “If you miss that, you’ll have to spend the night here.”
I stepped off the bus and found myself at the foot of some rolling hills. There were three empty buildings at the end of the road. There were faded signs above the doorways and in the widows. At one time one of the buildings had been a store. Another a laundry service. They were probably stores that were open during the communist reign to keep people employed. Once the communist government was toppled, the stores shut down. In the smaller towns there were lots of empty buildings like this.
But empty buildings weren’t what I had expected to find. I had expected to see homes and people in the streets. Instead there were three empty buildings at the foot of some hills.
“Is this Tsarovo?” my companion said.
I pulled the directions from my pocket that I had written down a few days before. The directions were vague. It said simply to walk down the main road from the bus stop to the village. I looked around and noticed most of the old women from the bus were waking past the buildings, up a road that weaved it’s way through the hills.
“I think Tsarovo is up that road,” I said.
We caught up to the old woman with the bag of sticks on the road.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Will this road take us to Tsarovo?”
The woman stopped and set down her bag. “What business do you have there?” she said.
“We’re here to see friends,” I said.
The woman looked us up and down. Her green eyes were full of suspicion and mistrust. “Who are your friends?” she asked.
“Would you like help with your bag?” I offered. “I can carry it to the village for you.” I wanted to change the subject. Often our presence would cause tension between those we were visiting and their neighbors. Besides, I had no doubt after today everyone in the village would know whom we had come to see.
The old woman pulled the bag close to her. “I can carry my own bag,” she said.
“Tsarovo,” I said. “It’s up this road, right?”
“Yes,” the woman said. “Up the road.”
Up the road ended being a two mile walk. By the time we arrived our shoes were covered with dust. We were hot and tired. We took bottles of water from our bags and took a long drink and looked at the village. Tsarovo was nothing more than a collection of three dozen homes, grouped together on the crest of a hill. It was surrounded by other hills. The other hills were all farmland, a patchwork of greens and yellows.
What surprised me most about the town however was not it’s size, but the streets. The roads were littered with horse and donkey manure. Most of it was dried by the sun but there were a few fresh piles lying around.
“Do you hear that?” I said.
My companion looked around. “Hear what?”
“Listen,” I said.
He stood and cocked his head to one side. “I don’t hear anything,” he said.
“Exactly. There’s nothing to hear. There’s no cars or radios. Nothing. When was the last time you were in a place this quiet? Look at the manure all over the road. Do you see any tire tracks smashing it down. Do you see any power lines sending electricity to the homes? I don’t think the people here have electric power or cars.”
“Who do lives a place like this?” my companion said.
I pulled the directions out of my pocket trying to orient myself. “Let’s find out,” I said.
I stepped over a fresh pile of donkey manure and turned down the first street.
September 30th, 2005
It began with an early morning bus ride.
I was still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and eating banitsa — a cheese filled pastry– and waiting for the bus. At that hour, there were few people at the bus station. Of the dozen or so people in the station, most of them were old women with hunched backs. They all carried bags. Some bags were filled with food. Others with clothes. One woman with grey hair and green eyes had a bag full of sticks. Most of them eyed my companion and I with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity.
We were dressed in the standard summer attire: short sleeve white shirts and ties. I hope it is not necessary to state that we stood out. I checked my watch then approached the ticket window to make sure I had understood the ticket lady correctly when I had purchased the tickets.
“Seven o’clock. That’s when the bus comes, right?” I asked the middle aged lady behind the counter.
She was puffing on a cigarette and reading a celebrity magazine. A picture of Princess Diana graced the cover. “It will come when it comes,” she said not looking up from her magazine.
“Is there a bus later this afternoon?”
The woman looked up from her magazine. “There is only one bus a day to your city,” she said. “When it comes get on it.” Then she returned her attention back to the magazine.
I thanked the lady and walked over to the magazine stand, and tried to decipher the newspaper headlines. By this time I had lived in Bulgaria 20 months. I spoke Bulgarian well but the newspapers were tricky to read. Their headlines used a lot of slang and tricky word conjugations that I found hard to understand. But today’s headline I understood all to well. A car bomb had exploded in Sofia. The subhead line said police speculated it was part of the latest, ongoing mafia war.
The old man selling the newspapers asked if I wanted to buy a paper. I nodded my head indicating no. The nodding and the shaking had been one of the more difficult parts of Bulgarian culture to master because it’s the opposite from the rest of the world. Nodding your head means no. Shaking it means yes. Bulgarians told us that this custom was from the time of the Turkish occupation. Not fond of Christians, the Turks would put the point of the sword under the chin of a Bulgarians and ask if they were Christians. To nod meant death so as the story went, Bulgarians began shaking their head to indicate yes. This helped them avoid the point of the sword while at the same time pacifying their Turkish occupiers.
“If you want to read it, then buy it,” he man selling newspapers said. He pulled the stack of papers toward him.
I walked back to my companion.
“Anything in the news?” he said.
A red bus spewing plumes of black diesel smoke pulled up. The old women in the station picked up their bags and hobbled on, pausing only to hand the driver their tickets. We waited until everyone else had boarded. We boarded the bus and handed the driver our tickets. Only the old ladies who were at the station were on the bus. There were plenty of empty seats. We were encouraged to sit next to people and talk to them but the looks of those in the bus still looked at us with suspicion. Wordlessly we found seats near the back, across the aisle from the old lady with a bag of sticks.
The doors of the bus closed and the bus left the station in a plume of black exhaust.
The journey to a Tsarovo, small village in the middle of the Rhodope mountains, was about to begin.
September 28th, 2005
I was watching the local news the other day about an arrest in murder that happened 13 years ago. I like these stories as I’m curious as to what the big break was that linked the murderer to his victim. (In this case it was a scuff of paint on the victim’s boot matched the paint of a suspect’s car.) This news report (sorry no link to story available) included an interview the former victim’s wife. It identified her as Jennifer Ruff — the victim’s widow.
I then flipped to a different news channel where they ran their take on the same story. I decided to watch this broadcast simply to see if they had any new information that the first station didn’t. Everything in this broadcast was pretty much the same as the first. Same background on the murder, same quotes by the same police officers, and the same mug shot of the suspect. The only thing that was different was the way the portrayed the victim’s former wife. She was identified by her new married name, Jennifer Campbell (some media referred to her as Jennifer Ruff-Campbell), and mentioned that she had remarried, and had other children through her new marriage.
And though not a pivotal part of the story, I wondered why the first newscast hadn’t chosen to mention the fact that the victim’s former wife had remarried or even identified her by her new name. I can’t really think of a reason unless the reporter was really sloppy or the station was trying build up the sympathetic image of a widow who for over 13 years had been wondering who killed her husband.
It’s a small thing (something only I would have noticed) but something I can’t get out my head. And I can’t come up with a good reason they’d leave it out.
September 23rd, 2005
After a fairly strong start to their season, the Detroit Tigers have slid hard in September. They’ve lost six in a row, including three to the lowly Kansas City Royals, and assured themselves yet another losing season.
I didn’t expect them to have a playoff worthy team this season but I did think they’d finally break the .500 mark.
Not this year.
Maybe it’s time I start rooting for the Inidans.
September 21st, 2005
I’m taking a night class at the University of Utah this semester. Haven’t mentioned in the blog because I didn’t think most people would be interested in the finer points of creating database driven websites. However I’ll have to make an exception when it comes to last night’s class — which wasn’t held thanks to the university’s security department.
The instructor for this class is part-time. Therefore he has no keys to the computer lab we need to have our class. For some reason the lab was locked last night and the instructor spent a good 20 minutes attempting to locate someone who had keys. Not being able to find someone, he called campus security to see if they could unlock the door.
Two beefy guys showed up about ten minutes later with a set of keys. The instructor explained the situation and asked them to open the lab. The security guys asked of the instructor had any documentation that showed we were scheduled to use the lab. The instructor produced a roll for the class which wasn’t good enough fort the beefy security guys. They said they needed documentation that showed there was a class scheduled for the lab.
Then I remembered I had the receipt for the class in my backpack, printed on university stationary. It had the class, the instructor’s name, room number and every other piece of information needed to prove that the lab should be open.
One of the security guys looked at my receipt for the class and said, “You could have just printed this out at home. Anyone can make this stuff nowadays.”
The instructor pointed to some campus class brochures in the hall and had his photograph, name and the date and time of the class printed on them.
“I’m sorry. That’s good enough,” the security guys said again.
“Yeah,” I muttered under my breath, “We probably just printed them off at home.”
We went back and forth with campus security for ten more minutes trying to prove that we really belonged in the room but to no avail. Campus security would not open the door and the instructor was finally forced to call the class.
My favorite part of the whole exchange was how the security guys kept saying “I understand” to everything we said.
“I understand you want to get in the room.”
“I understand this is frustrating for you.”
“I understand you can’t teach the class without computers.”
It’s great they’re trained to understand, but would it hurt these guys to think a little? If we were intent on stealing from the university’s computer lab, do you think we’d call campus security to let us in?
What was the most frustrating about the whole incident wasn’t the fact that security guys didn’t have a brain, but that class was canceled. This is a fairly intense class and I’d much rather have a makeup day then try to cram the missed material over the next few weeks.
I hope we don’t have this problem tomorrow night.
September 20th, 2005
Spent many days this week up at Snowbird, Utah for a company conference. The conference was long and tiring (but very worthwhile). But if you’re going to spend some time at a conference, Snowbird is a beautiful place to hold it.
Some pics from Snowbird.
September 16th, 2005
I had Chinese for lunch today. As always, the most disappointing part of the meal was the fortune cookie. Nowadays it’s rare for fortune cookies to contain actual fortunes. Instead most of them aren’t fortunes at all. For example a collection of “fortunes” at our table included:
Always have old memories and young hopes.
Cooperate with those who have both know how and integrity.
Not really fortunes. Instead they’re more like feel good or inspiring sayings. Other fortunes are so general they remind me of horoscopes or something a psychic would tell you. Some “fortunes” along these lines at the table today included:
Everything will soon come your way.
Your good nature will bring you much happiness.
It’s like talking to one of those 1-900 psychics or reading your horoscope. Will everything really come my way? Everything? The Tigers are going to win the World Series this year? My boss is going to give me a six figure salary?
Are there no real fortune cookie writers anymore? Perhaps I’ve missed my calling. If someone would hire me as a fortune cookie writer, I promise I’d come up with real fortunes. Like the following:
Your car is a lemon.
Your spouse knows what you’re up to.
You’ll be shot playing poker.
Albeit slightly depressing, they are real fortunes. Notice how specific these fortunes are.The first one informs the recipient is being specifically about their car. The second one talks specifically about the person’s spouse. The last one tells the person how they’ll die. Forget broad generalizations, these fortunes speak to the individual recipient. How about:
You will meet your soul mate at a baseball game.
Santa Claus will bring you coal for Christmas.
Don’t be a skeptic, or the Monkey Man will make you believe.
I’m selling my services to the highest bidder. Any takers?
September 14th, 2005
As if anyone in Utah needed further proof our state is run by a bunch of tax and spend happy politicians, check out these headlines and excerpts from Friday’s edition of the Deseret News.
Suspension of gas tax isn’t likely
Any possibility of suspending the state tax on gas, which Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. pointed to Thursday as a way to ease pains at pump, may get buried under a whopping revenue loss…. — Deseret News, September 9, 2005
[State Budget] Surplus is officially record $170.4 million
After months of rapidly escalating estimates, the final surplus for the 2005 fiscal year, which ended June 30, is $170.4 million, according to numbers released Thursday by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. — Deseret News, September 9, 2005
September 12th, 2005
Just posted: Dating Advice for (Young) Widowers.
Excerpt: When I started to date after the death of my first wife, I wanted to talk with someone who had found themselves in a similar situation. I wanted to know about their dating experiences and how they handled awkward situations that may have arisen. Unfortunately I had no one talk with and was left to work things out for myself. But my dating experiences did teach me some things and I’ve decided to share them in hopes they can be helpful to others. (If there are young widows who read this and find it helpful, please let me know. I’m curious to know whether or not the same issues apply.)
1. When you decide to date again is up to you
I started dating five months after my first wife died. Too soon? I know some friends and family who thought so. But five months was when I felt ready to at least test the dating waters. In reality there’s no time frame when one should start dating again. Grieving and moving on is a process that is unique to each person. Some people take years, others weeks, and then there are those who choose never to date again. Whatever you do, don’t let others tell you you’re moving to fast or waiting too long. Make sure it’s something you’re really ready to do before you take that step.
Read the entire article.
September 9th, 2005
About 10 days ago Marathon Girl and I were in bed. Marathon Girl was engrossed in a novel. I was trying to write. Unable to write further and feeling like snuggling, I changed the screen saver on my computer to read “Get Naked Now!” then told Marathon Girl my computer had a suggestion for her. She laughed and put her book down. I turned off the computer and snuggled up next to her without changing or thinking about the screensaver.
Fast forward to Sunday. I have a great lesson prepared for the teenagers we teach in Sunday school. It worked out this week that all of my notes for this wonderful lesson are on my computer. Since we don’t have a printer at home, I opted to bring my laptop to class and refer to the notes that way.
Admittedly, I was a little worried about bringing my computer to church. I didn’t want it to be a distraction to the class. I turned the computer the screen was facing one of the side walls, thus making it visible to myself and two students. The lesson began. And it was a good lesson. The class was participated more than usual. They were having a good discussions, asking good questions, and providing well thought out answers to my questions.
“Finally,” I thought. “I have a lesson that’s really reaching them.”
Then one of the class members said “Nice screensaver,” and started to laugh.
I looked down at my computer. There in big, bright letters spinning on my screen were the words “Get Naked Now!”
I immediately closed the laptop as if that was going to make a difference.
Those who hadn’t seen the screensaver demanded to know what it said.
“Get naked now!” said the class member that saw it.
This of course sent waves of laughter throughout the room. Any semblance of reverence that was part of the class was gone and never coming back.
“Was that intended for us?” another student asked.
“No, it was for my wife,” I said.
“That was more information than I wanted to know,” said a third student.
“You need a computer to get some loving from your wife? That’s pathetic,” said a fourth.
This last comment sent another wave of laughter through the room.
I thought about where this incident was headed. A rumor was going to spread through church about the screen saver. By the time it reached the ears of the bishop, the message of the screen saver would have changed to something very bad or it would be said that it was intended for someone in the class. (Stay tuned for the post of me getting kicked out of church or not teaching Sunday school.)
I was finally able to restore some sense of order to the room but teaching was almost a moot point. Though the lesson went on, but there were sporadic outbreaks of laughter and, lets face it, who can take me seriously as a teacher after that incident?
The only upside about the whole thing was that Marathon Girl wasn’t in class that day. (She was home with Aidan who was not feeling well.) Had she been there and not died from embarrassment, I’m sure she would have killed me.
September 7th, 2005
Since hurricane Katrina slammed into Louisiana and Mississippi, local, state, and federal government bureaucracies, politicians, and political organizations are doing what they do best: pointing fingers at each other and assigning blame elsewhere. A swift response from any government agency, even in times of crisis, is rare. There are rules and regulations to be followed, forms that need to be filled out, papers that need to be processed. No matter what “reforms” are made, I doubt the response time will change much next time a similar disaster strikes.
There has been much made about the lack of leadership from local, state, and the federal governments, but the lack of leadership on the ground while help was “on the way” was equally appalling. When it became apparent that help was not soon coming to those stranded at the Superdome, for example, where was the leadership of trying to evacuate those people in small groups or making some kind of attempt to find supplies and bring them back to those stranded?
The lesson of hurricane Katrina is not what government can do better next time a disaster strikes, it’s what can we do to better prepare ourselves should we find ourselves in the midst of a similar catastrophe. Sitting in waiting for someone else to help is one option. Taking charge and finding a way out of difficult circumstances is another.
Knowing how fast bloated, bureaucratic organizations tend to move, should I be finding myself in similar circumstances, I’ll be taking matters into my own hands.
September 5th, 2005
The hurricane that struck Louisiana yesterday was nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service. Its real name is global warming.
When the year began with a two-foot snowfall in Los Angeles, the cause was global warming.
When 124-mile-an-hour winds shut down nuclear plants in Scandinavia and cut power to hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland and the United Kingdom, the driver was global warming.
When a severe drought in the Midwest dropped water levels in the Missouri River to their lowest on record earlier this summer, the reason was global warming.
– Ross Gelbspan, The Boston Globe, August 30, 2005.
Dear Marathon Girl,
I know I should have mown the lawn several days ago. Yes, your right, our yard is beginning to look like a real jungle and if I don’t mow it soon, the HOA will be all over us. But before you ask me again to mow it, I think you need to realize, it’s not my fault the lawn needs to be mowed. The real reason is global warming.
Because of the increased carbon dioxide and heat trapped in the atmosphere, the lawn is growing faster than it normally would. So fast, in fact, no reasonable person can be expected to keep up with it. In fact I’m thinking about petitioning the HOA to wave the grass cutting rule entirely. When they realize that global warming is at fault, I’m sure they’ll understand.
Then there’s our lawn mower itself. Sure it’s only a year old but don’t think congress has passed any kind of bill regulating emissions from lawn mowers. I could be spewing out tons of CO2 when I start it. I think I’ll wait for the wise, elected representatives in Washington to tell me when it’s safe to mow the lawn. After all, when it comes to global warming, one must think of the children. Do we really want Aidan living in a world where lawn mowers can spew out filth? I think not.
Then there’s our garden. We’ve referred to it all year as the Miracle Garden. We should start calling it the Global Warming Garden. It’s not our fault the squash and zucchini crossed pollinated creating some inedible yellow-green atrocity . The real culprit here is global warming. Pumpkins not turning orange? Tomatoes still small and green? It’s because of, you guessed it, global warming.
Then there was the wind the other night that tore off a single or two from our roof. Don’t bother driving to Home Depot for replacement shingles. That strong wind was due to global warming. And global warming isn’t going away anytime soon. So don’t replace the missing shingle. Global warming is just going to blow it away again. In fact if it wasn’t for global warming, I’m sure there wouldn’t be any wind at all.
Now I don’t mean to alarm you but the effects of global warming have extended beyond our neighborhood. You know the 12 straight losing seasons of the Detroit Tigers? It’s not the result of poor decisions by management or inept ballplayers. The Tigers are simply a victim of global warming. So when ESPN highlights the latest Tiger loss or incompetent pitching, they’ll be no more moaning from me. I’ll just chalk it up to global warming and know that I’m doing my part by not mowing the lawn.
These are hard and trying times but if we stick together, I’m sure we can make it through the most difficult times humanity has ever faced.
Thanks for being so understanding. I’ll get right on the lawn as soon as this whole global warming thing goes away. Be sure to keep an eye on Aidan as he walks through the grass. You never know when a Jaguar will leap out and devour him.
All my love,
September 1st, 2005