Thursday, October 13, 2011

Feeling Fine

Living in Sofia is fun. I love exploring all the different neighborhoods (especially some very old and windy streets in the center) and parks (there are a lot of them, but there are probably even more malls). My social life has expanded dramatically over last year, and I'm finding myself constantly meeting friends for coffee/lunch/drinks/etc. I've met all of the American Fulbrighters living in Sofia and some new Bulgarian friends though them, as well. I have two couples in my neighborhood who I can hang out with, which is very convenient (and I always have someone around the corner if I'm feeling lonely). One of my friends took me with her to a yoga studio last week across the street from the synagogue. This was the view from the window:

Amazing, right? That column is coming up from the Moorish-influenced synagogue, the golden dome is sitting on top of a Bulgarian Orthodox church nearby, and the tall bell tower in the distance belongs to the Roman Catholic cathedral. Not visible, but very close to the synagogue, is the only functioning mosque in Sofia. All of these places of worship represent the thriving cultural mix present throughout Bulgaria's long history, even if recent events seem to obscure that. 

I think that I'm really starting to appreciate and put more thoughtful effort into my role here. I feel great working at both of my schools (I started teaching at the First English Language School, as well as at Dimcho Debelyanov) and I'm actually having fun teaching. Last week in my literature classes we discussed oral histories and folk traditions, comparing Beowulf with one of the Raven stories from the indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest coast. We also watched a video about the dances and songs that often tell these stories, which prompted a discussion about similar local traditions, such as fire dancing and kukeri. It was interesting for me to learn my students' perspectives on folk customs in Bulgaria and to see them make connections between the importance of memory and culture in collective identity. 

I definitely feel more organized and that I'm in a position to deepen my involvement through side projects, which are much easier to coordinate in Sofia with all of the NGOs based here. I'm helping some friends to organize a charity music festival this January for an LGBT activist group; it's exciting to meet young people who are so passionate and optimistic about making a change, especially on issues that seem so deep-rooted in ignorance and stubborn attitudes. As a friend of mine said, the NGO community here is small and not as experienced as in the United States, which leaves a lot of room for creativity and innovation. I'm looking forward to collaborating with some other organizations here on new projects, especially related to educational reform.

Now I'm off to grade these students' papers!

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