Category Archives: SE Balkans 2014


Learning Bulgarian time

Oct. 5DSC_2282

Time flies.

Our first assignment once we had settled into Bansko was to head out into town, find a cafe, order a drink, and sit for at least 2 hours. Andrew stressed the importance of this assignment: in the Balkans, afternoons are leisurely and time is understood relatively. Here, productivity was not measured in activities completed, but rather, in relationships maintained and bolstered by quality time. Elated, many of us were convinced that we had just been given the easiest assignment. We trotted down the cobble road in pursuit of a cafe, loudly and obnoxiously excited, breezing past the locals seated on benches along the road.

The challenge of our assignment became apparent 20 minutes after ordering our drinks, when quite caffeinated, we twiddled idle thumbs and tapped our feet, anxious to move once again. After all, the reality that we were finally in Bulgaria had just set in — and we were ready to go, to explore, to document. Somehow, we persevered, sitting through our allotted time, before dashing off on the next adventure.

Eventually, we were able to appreciate the leisure, but not before being sufficiently frustrated by it. To name a few testing moments: We have had dinners at 10:00 at night, had waitresses forget about us, and learned to sit in traffic. Slowly, but surely, our eyes began to register the beauty of the minutia events; people watching and journaling became favorite activities, and waiting lost its excruciating pinch.

I knew that our group had embraced Balkan time when one afternoon, I passed by Amber, seated with two babas on a bench. The babas had enveloped her in their arms, whispering to her. Amber was immersed in the interaction, smiling and squeezing the women’s hands, affirming their words, but doubtlessly not comprehending any of their Bulgarian wisdom. But no matter, she was creating relationship and engaging her present surroundings.

Nearly always, we are given the opportunity to soak in the sweetness and goodness of the present. All we are asked is to tune in and engage. This revelation transformed my experience, and I am confident that this narrative is shared amongst the group. Together, we have been actively seeking out the divine and the lovely, which we discover in both the ordinary and the extraordinary.  God has revealed Godself to us as we are overwhelmed by natural wonders, but we also sense God in smaller moments. Conversations with waitresses, taxi drivers, and housekeepers have left us amazed. In broken Bulgarian – English, we have pieced together life stories, full of both joy and suffering.

Now, a month into our cross-cultural experience, the first few days in Bansko feels worlds away. But we carry with us our significant learning, and are eager to apply it to our new context: Plovdiv. The city dwarfs meager Bansko, offering endless activities and excitement. For the first few days, we scurried round the city, trying to do everything that the city offered, before realizing the impossibility of this effort.

We are asked now to be intentional about how we spend our time, where we engage, how much energy we put forward. In a city, with opportunity around every corner, we have to be intentional about taking time to appreciate each activity and interaction to the fullest extent. We are continually learning how to slow down, how to open our hearts to the present, how to listen for God. For now, we are encountering the divine in silly moments with host families, in the creativity of street art, and the energy of the bustling city.

We are milking each moment, loving it entirely.

-Hanna Heishman


Relationship beyond language

Oct. 3, 2014

BabasYana, my beautiful Bulgarian host, is a typical Bulgarian grandmother through and through. Two things I have come to realize throughout the past week and a half of living with her is that 1) She notices everything, and 2) slippers are key to success in life.

When I was first dropped into her apartment in Plovdiv, Bulgaria I was unsure of the possible success of the situation. Here I was a 20 year old from a small town who spoke minimal (and that’s being generous) Bulgarian, and I was supposed to live in a big city with a woman I didn’t know. A woman who doesn’t speak any English (besides the word hockey)? I was pretty sure the entire thing was going to be a disaster, but it is not. The whole arrangement is working quite well, and I hope it continues to do so.

Yana is so gracious. She is constantly over feeding us delicious food, wondering if we are wearing enough clothing, and packing us snacks to take to our Bulgarian lessons (that’s after the ten course breakfast we eat). She keeps the chuckling at my misspoken Bulgarian to a minimum, and tries to inform me what is going on whenever we watch television, whether it’s Bulgaria’s version of Big Brother or the news.

Sometimes it’s frustrating when I can’tPlovdiv get across what I want to communicate, or sometimes it’s sad when she is desperately trying to tell me something important that I can’t get. Both of us get exasperated sometimes, but whether we straighten it out or save it for another day, I believe that the needs of both parties are being met. I feel the most connected to Yana when we are doing the simple things, like making food or sharing photos. We have found ways to connect without using language. Through love, food, laughter and our general flawed natures we are recognizing each other’s humanity and forging bonds that will hopefully last for a long time to come.

-Devon Fore

SEBalkans hike

A beautiful beginning

Goodbyes and hellos
Well wishes and bus rides
Finally getting there
Jet lag

Gazing out bus windows,
Picturesque landscapes.
Flashbacks to past travels
Tight, cobbled streets
Breathtakingly beautiful
Babas and stray cats

Greeted with bread and the salt of life
Settling in and finding ground
Traditional architecture,
Romantic stone walls holding histories
Red roofs and red roses
Geranium leaves

Venturing out to the
Pirin mountains, a hike to crystal waters
Slippery rocks
A divine energy embracing us
Endless skies and endless love
Exploration of God’s creation

History lectures
Smoke clouded memories of
Stories of empires and communism
Incredibly in depth
On sight, hands deep learning

Meals shared
Full of pastries and cheese
Meat and potatoes
Piping black coffee
Juicy fruit
Endless calories and conversation
nourished bodies, fed souls

Roma day camp
Smiling faces
Musical exchanges: hymns and Bulgarian ballads
Flower crowns and sticky bouquets
Tiny fingers clutching mine
Heavy hearts, but full embraces

Sunday mornings,
Smiling translator
Familiar melodies, sung in a different tongue
Flickering candles
Blessings to children
Shining icons, gleaming gold

Dance lessons
Edno, dve, tre–1,2,3
Gendered dance off
Joy in mistakes
Laughter in learning

Continued excitement
Departure for Greece in the morning!

In the past week and a half, we have been blessed with a multitude of experiences and sacred moments. It would be difficult to provide any concise and complete picture of our first steps into a semester of adventures. So, we provide what we can: fragments and phrases from a beautiful beginning. From our first departure, to day camps and dancing lessons, we have been richly fulfilled.

-Hanna Heishman