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Whenever I hear Bulgarian speech in the street, I stop to meet the person. This is how I met a Bulgarian hotel receptionist in the Bahamas, an illegal immigrant pizza deliveryman in Boston, and a manager at CityCo, whose accent I recognized on the phone, while calling about a product in his store.
My German friend Lena once asked me why I always introduce myself to Bulgarian strangers. She heard German speech in Boston all the time, but she never stopped to say hello to her fellow countrymen.
I responded that Bulgarians in Boston are not strangers to me. My country is so small and I’m so far away, that I consider it good luck to meet another Bulgarian. I don’t want to walk past my luck, so I say hi. I feel that simply being in the same place, an ocean away from home, is already something in common and is a great reason to strike up a conversation.
That’s why I buy everything labeled “Made in Bulgaria”: yogurt with Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, Bulgarian red wine Tcherga (ordered online by Lena’s wonderful mother), Lalo Jewelry made by an Israeli artist living near Sofia. If I can’t find genuine Bulgarian products, I replace them with our neighbor’s equivalents like Greek feta cheese instead of our white cheese and Serbian Ajvar instead of our Lutenitza.
My culture is so small compared to the American and international surroundings that I feel the need to acknowledge my nationality whenever I encounter a piece of Bulgaria in Boston. I think this is my way of preserving my identity in the foreign environment.
I witnessed a disturbing sight in nightclub Aura in the Atlantis in the Bahamas: a newly-rich young guy climbed up on the dancer’s podium, while his guy-friends were cheering from their VIP table, and started throwing dollar bills in the air over the dance floor. The guys had several thick wads of money and threw at least 400 on above the dancing people. It seemed like this wasn’t such an unusual practice in this club because the dancer simply squatted and started picking the dollars and stuffing them in her high boots. The whole club was excited to get their hands on some cash, but no one seemed to be as shocked as I was.
Actually I should be used to seeing this. I have often seen people throw napkins in pop-folk/chalga clubs in Sofia before. One can buy these packs of napkins from the club and throw them in the air while dancing. The presumption is that one is filthy rich and carelessly throws money around. I’ve always found the gesture a stupid pose, but in fact, it is much worse than that.
Why is wasting money such a source of arrogant pride and sick delight for a certain class of people all over the world? Why do we engage in such a pompous and egotistical gesture? What does is look like in the eyes of the observers and how does it “enrich” the ones doing it?
We saw a carnival in the Bahamas! The Marina Village in the luxurious resort Atlantis on Paradise Island organizes a mini-carnival on weekend nights (or maybe every night, I don’t know) for the entertainment of its guests. About ten-twenty locals dressed in traditional costumes walked, danced, played music, and sang along the main alley while the crowd of tourists gathered around them and joined in the festivity.
The costumes were gorgeous: long robes and lavish head adornment in bright colors with feathers and beads. The atmosphere was great!
The Marina Village carnival reminded me of a similar event in Bulgaria.
The Kukeri Processions
In January, Bulgarian men dress up as Kukeri, ferocious beasts with coats of fur and feathers and large masks with fangs, beaks, and wings who scare the cold and the evil winter spirits away. The kukeri dance around the streets and ring big copper bells (chans).
By tradition, kukeri are young men and bachelors. They gather in groups and every group has a leader. There are similar characters in every group – there is a bride and groom, an old grandmother, a gypsy man with a dancing bear, a king; and all of them are men. Some of the more flamboyant costumes have wolf and fox fur and heads or paws, and real stag horns. Some masks are funny, and some are literally hideous and scary. The kukeri perform different rituals for fertility and good harvest.
The ritual is very typical of Eastern Bulgaria. The biggest annual kukeri carnival takes place in Pernik, just outside of Sofia.
Instead of a marlin (a type of tuna) and a flamingo, the Bahamian coat of arms should depict a bottle of rum and a conch! Both seem to have a special role in the Bahamian culture.
The signature dish of the Bahamas is conch fritters, which to me sounded both promising and disappointing. I was hoping that a Caribbean island would have better choice of seafood dishes, but about all they had was fried conch and fried grouper (sigh!). Conch tastes similar to clam and mussels, chewy and bland. A variation of the dish is conch salad, which Bahamians claim is an Aphrodisiac.
Aside from the gourmet cuisine, conch is also highly valued for the properties of its large pink shell. Bahamian craftsmen make statues and jewelry out of it. Street vendors sell beautiful conches as souvenirs.
Rum is the other trademark of the Caribbean. Bahamians drink it straight, put it in cocktails, and even in cakes. The rum cake is a must-try, especially with banana or coconut flavor. From the drinks, anything with rum is good – piña colada and especially bahama mama.
Señor Frogs seemed like the most popular place for American tourists in Nassau, although any bar can serve you delicious cocktails. A good place to eat and experience the local culture is the Fish Fry, a street with small restaurants that offer everything from jerk chicken to piña colada prepared in a traditional way.
Read more about the Bahamian culture in my post on “Bahama Papas and Bahama Mamas”
A big shoutout to all my friends spring-breakers in paradise-on-earth the Bahamas!
Welcome back to reality and cold rainy New England!
My spring break was an exciting week in Nassau, the sun-bathed, rhythm – captivated, rum-infused capital of the Caribbean islands of the Bahamas. My friend Eva and I spent seven days in Nassau. I trust that the impressions we gained from this country are worth sharing. Stay tuned.
Read about my previous trip, to Dubai, and share my impressions from this ancient-futuristic world.