Where’s Wally?

Elephants in Mole National Park, GhanaObservant viewers have noticed that the video of me in the last post features elephants…

Yes, I’m in Ghana. If you want to know what I’ve been up to, check out our team blog at www.dasibatamale.wordpress.com!

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Bulgaria is brilliant*! *My Bulgarian is not.

It turns out that I’m not the only foreigner who is in love with Bulgaria…


If you’ve ever wondered how bad my Bulgarian is, you can check it out at about 1:40

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Leaving on a jet plane

View from a plane

Well, I’m off to work on a charity project in Ghana, which means that I won’t be back in Bulgaria until the summer at the earliest. No doubt I will have an African blog, so do track me down there.

If your loyalties lie with Bulgaria (a sensible choice), do follow this blog so that I can let you know when I’m back! In the meantime, let me recommend the following excellent sites, which have the sort of content that I wish I created myself:

  • PhilinSofia for a Welshman’s insightful and amusing perspective on Bulgaria, as well as international news stories.
  • Mark R Milan for photographs of all of the nooks and crannies of Sofia (which are bound to make me homesick).
  • Blazing Bulgaria for a Bulgarian’s insight into the oddities of his own country.
  • Novinite for Bulgarian news stories in English.

До Скоро!

Zo x

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3. If I only had a brain

Sozofia Venn DiagramI think it may have been shortsighted to entirely ignore search engine optimisation techniques while writing my blog.

WordPress statistics reveal that in the past month, the two most common search terms that people have used to find my blog have been ‘porn moves‘ and ‘ginger jokes,’ while ‘wc‘ and ‘hitler‘ are the most popular of all time.

I’m going to be honest, I worry that I don’t like my own blog readers.

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2. If I only had a heart

Genuinely, what has been most noteworthy about my time in Sofia this year has been the kindness of strangers – the generosity with which Bulgarians have welcomed me into their lives and offered me friendship.

I love the UK. But it has its faults, and one of these is the fact that we are in general a reserved nation – which means that it can be really difficult to meet people. I lived in Bognor Regis for a year, and despite trying almost every activity I could turn my hand to (including archery, karate, netball, rollerblading and singing in a choir) in an attempt to make friends, at the end of the year I had five friends. Two of whom I’d met on gumtree.

In sharp contrast, in Bulgaria I have been overwhelmed by the way in which total strangers have tried to make me feel welcome – including the security guard who met me in my first week in Bulgaria and took me on a tour, despite us not speaking each others’ language, and the young couple who spotted me sitting alone in a bar in their neighbourhood and invited me on nights out with their friends – again, despite severe language barriers.

In addition to becoming more courageous this year, I really hope that a little of the warm-hearted nature of the people that I have spent time with has rubbed off on me too.

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1. If I only had the nerve

Happy New Year / Честита Нова Година!

2013 got off to an interesting start… when I caught the train home at 4am on New Years’ Day, I ended up breaking up a fight between two drunk men in my carriage.

In doing so, I realised how much I’ve changed. At the beginning of 2012, if I’d seen the fight start, I’d have cowered in the corner. But this year, I’ve taken so many risks and been courageous in so many ways that it didn’t occur to me not to pile in and stop the fight. My number 1 brave move in 2012 was the one I referred to in my very first blog post – packing up my flat, packing in my job and moving to Bulgaria. And what an awesome adventure that turned out to be… There have, of course, been ups and downs. The ups have to include:

Sofia Evening Run

Hurrah, not last

  • Having a huge argument with my flatmate, who was insistent that the nonexistent 3A tram came past our house. The argument was resolved when a tram came past going to the depot – ‘ЗА ДЕПО.’ I nearly fell on the floor laughing.
  • Not coming last in the Sofia Evening Run, despite my training regime, involving more banitsas than runs.
  • Coming across a children’s play area called Quicky Land. So, so wrong.
  • The first time I saw Bulgarian leeks. They are MASSIVE.

Some of the downs are probably:

  • The one and only time that I tried boza. Do you know that brown gloopy liquid that is created when you leave lettuce in the fridge too long? Well, I’m pretty sure that’s how boza is made.
  • The moment when a mother arrived to pick up her 7-year-old child from my English class, only to find that the other kids had locked her in a locker. Oops.
  • After getting seriously sunburnt at the Black Sea, being told by a shopkeeper: ‘your face is NOT GOOD.’ Er, thanks.
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Baby it’s cold outside…

National Theatre Sofia

Not everyone can dance around barefoot in this weather

In a previous post, I derided the skanky flip flops that Bulgarians like to give you when you enter their homes. But to be fair, some form of footwear is normally necessary, because it’s cold in Bulgaria. And fuel bills are really expensive – which means that:

  • The average Bulgarian household spends a massive 14% of their income on energy and water bills.
  • Every year, between a third and two thirds of Bulgarian households are unable to keep their homes adequately warm.

High fuel bills are partly down to the fact that Bulgaria is hugely dependent on other countries for its energy sources. But they’re also expensive because housing in Bulgaria is not very energy efficient. According to national statistical data for 2001, 97% of housing in Bulgaria was built before 1990; energy efficiency regulations weren’t even introduced in Bulgaria until 1992. And I’ve not even mentioned inefficient heating systems – a lack of investment has led to a situation where district heating systems (used by 60% of households in Sofia) have low production efficiency and high grid losses.

Apartment blocks in Sofia

The high proportion of multiple ownership apartment blocks is a challenge to improving energy efficiency

So improving the energy efficiency of the residential sector should be a key area of concern for the government. But there are massive challenges involved, like the high proportion of flats in multiple ownership buildings (where agreement between all owners is required for work to go ahead) and inability of many householders to meet the upfront costs of energy efficiency works (the median income in Bulgaria is around 20% of the average income in the European Union).

Energy use in the residential sector is set to increase further, due to the fact that standards of living in Bulgaria are improving. Average household sizes are getting smaller, while house sizes are increasing. Ownership of electrical appliances is also increasing rapidly – in 10 years between 2001 and 2011, the proportion of households that owned home computers increased from 4.1% to 42.9%.

Air conditioning statistics Eurostat

Bulgaria has the third highest consumption of air conditioning (per house) in Europe

Even more astonishingly, Bulgaria’s homes are third behind only Cyprus and Malta in the EU for the amount of electricity used per home for air conditioning, and consumption of air conditioning per dwelling increased by 45% per year between 2000 and 2008 – the fastest increase in Europe.

Turns out that the use of air conditioning should be a pretty hot topic for Bulgaria…

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