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One thing I’m really enjoying now that I’m finally on Facebook, I have reconnected with many of my old friends from Vetovo. Using the “Find Friends” feature got me thinking of all the people back in Bulgaria I would like to send my regards to, unfortunately many do not have profiles. One guy in particular sticks out in my mind as having the best insights into what life was like under the Steel Curtain, oh wait, I mean the Iron Curtain (I don’t think L. C. Greenwood ever made it back to the old country). I never knew this guys name, but he lived a few doors down from me, worked at the limestone mine outside of town, and I could pick him easily out of a line-up. His insights come to mind also because after the fucking painfully expensive ($1.6 BBBillion!!!) election, my mind started wandering onto other types of government and how they role. So I thought I would just share a couple of conversations and situations a found interesting.
One of my last days in town, I was at the local restaurant and saw my neighbor. He invited me to sit down for a drink and shortly after, the owner of the place sat down as well. As happens from time to time over there, I started hearing about “the old days” and what life was like under Communism. I heard both sides of the argument at the same time. Lemonade soda was 15 cents. Everyone had work and a good pension. There was no Orange Fanta or Jack Daniels. We had to wait for three hours for bananas on New Year’s Eve. What was so notable about this discussion was that the restaurant owner was the one telling me how great communism was, and the guy that worked in the mine was telling me how terrible it was. Where does an entrepreneur get the idea that redistribution of wealth is the way it should be? Or, why does someone who believes all people are entitled to cheap soda get into the restaurant business? Shouldn’t the laborer think everyone should make the same amount of money? Where rich and poor all drink from the same, Fanta-less refrigerator? Where in their lives did these two (and I’m sure they’re not alone) get information helping them form ideas that sort of contradicted their actions / places in life? These are the types of questions that made my two years over there both difficult and fascinating.
I saw my neighbor on the street once, and we got to talking about the Balkan Peninsula and its history (as ya do) and invariably the “problems” in the former Yugoslav republics. While there have been many conflicts in the past century throughout the region, Bulgaria has remained relatively peaceful. To this, he simply said, “I don’t know if we’re smarter or lazier than everyone else, but whichever one it is, at least we’re all still here.”
The third story from this guy (I really wish I knew his name, but I really didn’t ever know it, so I can’t say “I wish I could ‘remember’ it” because I heard it once when I barley understood the language, and never had the nerve to ask him again.) is something we’ve all definitely read about or heard or seen in movies, but it was just wild to here it told by someone who actually lived it. Years and years ago, his mother used to work at the cafeteria of mine that he works in now. He can remember every month, one case of Coca Cola would be delivered and she was in charge of setting it aside for the bosses. No workers were allowed to have any, and she was not to mention the existence of this case. Every once and a while, there would be a night where the bosses would have drinks in the office, and over indulge a bit. This would open the door for this woman to swipe a bottle or two of Coke and literally smuggle it home. She gave it to her son (the guy telling the story) and he would have to be super hush hush about it. He said he would have to be very careful about who he invited over to share the booty with, but they would break out their best cognac, prepare a big dinner, and enjoy the sweet stolen beverage. Like I said, we all have seen this type of scenario in movies, or read about it in history class, but to hear someone retelling their own personal experiences was something memorable…
I’m not sure why this guy and these stories jumped out at me when they did. It’s not like I’m hoping we go Communist or anything. I think mostly it’s this: Our election process is painful and wasteful, but at least I can fill my tub with Coke or Orange Fanta, submerge myself in it, and eat 7 bunches of bananas… that is if I was into that sort of thing.
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