A blog by a British expat living and working in Balchik,Bulgaria, but not exclusively about Bulgaria.A forum to discuss happenings both here and in the UK.Full of advice,assistance and property offers,particularly for Balchik and the Dobrich and Varna areas.
In the summer of 2003 I was a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria, having
finished my first school year of teaching English. For one of my summer
projects I got involved in setting up and working at a summer camp for boys
in Balchik, on the Black Sea coast. Tough duty, but someone had to do it.
This story is excerpted and condensed from my book, A Breeze in Bulgaria.
My arrival in Balchik, after a long bus ride, was
inauspicious. I had written down some directions on finding my starting
point, the "Fisherman's Plaza." A plaza, or ploshtat, was usually an
attractive open area with a monument or two, with trees and benches. I stood
in an abandoned, crumbling parking lot, wondering how I had misread my notes.
The parking lot, it turned out, was in fact the ploshtat. At the far end down
by the water there were a few fishermen under the shade of some trees, slowly
waving branches over the day's catch to keep the flies away. So it was a
fisherman's plaza after all.
The camp was held at the Hotel
Supersnob. Really. We called it Camp TO BE. The Peace Corps had already
established a recurring summer camp for girls, Camp GLOW. The acronym meant
"Girls Leading Our World" and it was a model educational project teaching
girls about peer pressure, boy pressure, self-confidence and leadership.
Being a woman of power in a changing world. Maturity, responsibility,
independence. In addition to centering on those concepts of character it was
an English-learning experience, teaching the language with the approval of
the Bulgarian Ministry of Education. During the previous year a small group
of volunteers decided to do something along the same lines for boys. "Boys
Leading Our World?" No, that wouldn't work. Not at all.
say it would be about how TO BE a man, how TO BE responsible, all that. So it
was "Teaching Our Boys to Excel." We had T-shirts made up with the logo. One
of the Junior Counselors asked me the meaning of the word
For breakfast the first morning in the hotel we
shared the dining room with a camp load of young Russians. They were cute
little kids, but deadly competition in the rush for protein and sugar. We
called them the piranhas. Small as they were, they could overwhelm our troops
with sheer numbers in getting to the food supply at the self-serve table. In
the succeeding days the hotel staff started separating the meal times, and
the method of serving was changed from banquet style to individual servings.
When the little Russian kids were replaced by slightly older Ukrainian girls,
it was not the food allocation that seemed to be the danger. Fortunately for
us in our chaperone and referee roles, most of the girls were a little too
young to be of interest to our boys. Borderline,
We started each day with a game of some
kind. For example, everybody stand in a circle and toss a ball to someone,
say the name of the person who tossed it to you and then the name of the
person you toss it to next. Then go back through the same cycle in reverse to
the beginning. We always had announcements about the day's activities, and a
Each day was broken up into sessions of
about one and a half hours, usually alternating sit-down-and-discuss with
games and activities. Each afternoon after lunch we all had free time, which
usually meant beach time. The boys would tell us if they were going to the
beach or to the Center, and we would make a note of it. They had a great deal
of freedom during this period each day, and I think they appreciated it. They
were good about satisfying our easy requirement of telling us in those
general terms where they were going.
The hotel had a pool and
that was a popular spot too. Two of our counselors started giving
swim lessons to two of the boys who reluctantly admitted they were afraid to
go in. The next day there were ten who wanted lessons. That might have been
the best thing that ever happened to some of those boys.
our daily seminars, topics included communication, sex and AIDS prevention,
democracy, Bulgarian history and culture, alcohol and drugs, advertising and
the media, music, stereotypes and diversity. The session on democracy was a
nod to the Democracy Foundation, which provided a sizable grant covering a
portion of the expenses of the camp. A session on sexual harassment and date
rape was a real eye-opener and it was rewarding to have our boys
participating with such maturity and sincerity. We also conducted all kinds
of "team building" exercises such as trust falls, problem solving in a group,
and games like getting everyone in a circle to take the hand of someone else
and then untangle the resulting "human knot."
day trips to local attractions, including Cape Kaliakra where we saw
centuries-old fortifications and, from the cliffs overlooking the sea,
dolphins. We went to a forest nearby, where one of the counselors, a forest
ranger, told us all about the forestry situation in Bulgaria, the life cycles
and the disease problems of some of the trees, and conservation. Then we went
to a section of highway and picked up litter, gathering 30 or so big bags
full in a stretch of a few hundred meters. Not everybody got the message,
though; on the way home I saw one of our boys toss a wrapper from lunch out
the bus window.
We also went to Balchik's biggest local
attraction, the "Summer Palace" of Queen Marie of Romania (Princess Marie of
Edinburgh, granddaughter of Queen Victoria), dating back to when the region
was part of that country between 1913 and 1940. The gardens overlooking the
sea were a tourist attraction, and everyone I had told about going to Balchik
said I must see them, especially the cactus garden. The cacti did not
particularly excite me, but the interesting buildings and formal gardens,
alternating with lush areas kept in a more natural state, with the views of
the sea were spectacular.
The next evening we attended an
opera recital. Several of the boys were chosen to present bouquets to the
singers. For some of the boys it was the first time they ever listened to
serious live music. Most enjoyed it, some
After the banquet on the last night
everyone was allowed to go to "The Disco," an enormous bar with an open-air
dance floor overlooking the sea. It had laser lights piercing the sky and
music reverberating off the hillsides along the beach walkway. It was exotic
and it had been forbidden to the boys during the week of the camp. Some of
the boys had gotten into trouble by sneaking out to the disco, and were sent
home for it. That special night, the last night, they could stay there until
two. They loved it. I left around one, and I heard the music for the entire
way back to the hotel, a nice long walk. When I got in bed I could still hear
it, at least for the 10 seconds it took me to fall asleep.
we were done with closing up the camp, I took the bus to Varna and then took
the train home to Pazardjik, arriving in the late afternoon. I was supposed to
go to a planning meeting for the following week's activity, but instead I
went back to my apartment to decompress.
still hearing the music from that disco.
Bruce McDonald is the author of A Breeze in Bulgaria, which is published
in paperback and as an eBook. It is available from his website
bulgariastories.com and from Amazon, B&N, Apple iBooks and Kobo.