Stay Positive. Go far

 

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“When you begin your day with a smile, you inevitably end your day with a smile.”

Pavel Djunev, a 31-year old Ph. D. student of high-speed computer networks, always looks on the bright side.  It was his positivity coupled with a keen interest in computers and the internet that led to the conception of a news website to celebrate the good aspects of life in Blagoevgrad.

The year was 2000 and Pavel’s “Virtual Blagoevgrad” proved to be too innovatory.

“When it was time to think about the realization of the idea, or in other words, to figure out how to finance it, we turned to local companies for support, offering them to advertise with us. But they told us: ‘Are you crazy? We have our clients and credibility, we cannot advertise on the Internet,’” Pavel said.

After a number of firms deemed the prospect of internet advertising too novel and risky, Pavel was forced to halt the project.

However, he never gave up on his idea. In 2009, after finally securing a long-term contract with a sponsor, Pavel revived his project under a new domain name (Blagoevgrad.eu).

Pavel rolled out the website with the intention to stay positive and break away from the prevalent bleak news reports.

“The truth is we were fed up with news that filled our heads with negativity,” he said.

Well into its four year now, the news website enjoys broad popularity in south-western Bulgaria, Pavel said. Although he cannot entirely avoid covering tragedies, the knowledge that he also brings positive news to people delights him.

However, every success comes with a price to pay. For Pavel it is the endless hours of gazing into a computer’s screen and the stress of coping with sudden internet failures.

“I exercise a lot to fight off the stress – fitness and football every other day and tennis once a week,” he said.

Often present at Pavel’s football games is his son Iliyan, 4. Pavel’s voice softens and his brown eyes glow when he speaks about Iliyan.

“When you have a kid, you push everything else to the background,” Pavel said, adding that Iliyan stands at the center of both his biggest joys and fears.

Father and son spend a lot of quality time together, going out for a stroll, a delicious meal or some fun in the park. Pavel tries to give little Iliyan the happy, care-free childhood he had on the street, where he played with his peers from dawn to dusk.

Pavel smiles broadly when he reminisces about his childhood and adolescence. Those were the exploratory years of many “firsts”: first sea vacation with friends, the exciting first kiss, the first girlfriend, whose name, however, he cannot remember.

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Pavel’s nine-month compulsory military service in 2000 is another treasure trove full of memories and funny stories.

Pavel served as a corporal in Sliven, an ethnically diverse town home to Bulgarians, Bulgarian- Turks ad Roma. One day he had to teach 100 of his peers how to march and yell in exultation when greeted by their commander.

“When all those mouths dropped as wide as possible, I could not help it but turn around and burst into laughter. Before me I saw 100 people exposing either gold teeth or a lack of teeth. Moreover, it was a sunny day and the gold teeth reflected the sun light. It is still vivid in my mind,” Pavel said, unable to contain his laughter.

Listen to Pavel share his dreams and most important lesson he has learned so far:

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Dozen of Juicy Apples

 

Georgi

“Girl, these are the best apples you will find in town. Besides, they are really cheap! You simply cannot pass by them!”

The broad smile and warmth in the elder man’s eyes made me stop and buy a kilogram of red, juicy apples. The next day I bought another kilogram and by the end of the week I had a mound of apples under my desk and a new, talkative acquaintance.

The elderly man is Georgi Angelov, 77. Since the beginning of the academic year at the American University in Bulgaria, Georgi has been spending his mornings eloquently and skillfully promoting his home-grown apples and grapes to the students who walk the alley along the river on their way to classes.

“I have two gardens of apple trees outside Blagoevgrad. My life now revolves around them,” Georgi said smiling.

But he has not been a gardener all his life. In 1953 then 17-year old Georgi enrolled at the railway transport school in Sofia and served as head of Blagoevgrad’s railway station for 20 years. After that he took a swift turn in his life and taught metal processing at the local high school for 14 years.

However, Georgi does not talk much about his professional career. The part of his life he most enjoys reminiscing about is how he met Todor Jivkov, Bulgaria’s Communist party leader.

“My daughter, Valentina, was accepted at Sofia University to study medicine. We received a confirmation letter from the university, but when we went to Sofia, we were stunned to find out that her name was erased from the list of accepted students,” Georgi began the story of the memorable meeting.

Nobody at the university could give him a plausible explanation why his daughter’s admission was suddenly revoked, so Georgi decided to take the matter in his own hands. He quickly figured out that the only one who can get his daughter back at the university was Todor Jivkov.

“I went to the guards at his residence and told them I had an appointment with Jivkov. They let me in,” Georgi said.

To Jivkov’s secretary Georgi said he is a good friend of Blagoevgrad’s then governor and has a meeting scheduled with Jivkov.

“Once Jivkov heard the name of governor Aleksiev, he decided to meet me. They were very close friend. So there I was, in Jivkov’s office. I told him about the revocation of my daughter’s university admission and he assured me he will get her back in,” Georgi said.

Well, it turned out that back in Communist Bulgaria it was easier to meet Jivkov than to send your children to university. Jivkov did not fulfill his promise and Valentina married. Eventually, she studied medicine in Blagoevgrad and now works as a nurse in one of the private medical centers in town.

Another story, Georgi loves recalling is the story of a pair of shoes.

A couple of years ago, Georgi was selling his apples in front of the South-Western University in Blagoevgrad. One day a student approached him with a request to borrow 50 levs to buy a new pair of shoes.

“I am 77-year old. Many people in my long life lied to me and took advantage of my amicability. So, I was skeptical at first and asked him whether he had parents to take care of him. The boy said he was an orphan. Although I did not believe him completely, I took pity on him and gave him the money,” Georgi said.

Four days after that, the boy came to Georgi wearing a new pair of shoes and gave him a box of chocolates.

Although a broad smile graces Georgi’s wrinkled face most of the time, his eyes become teary when he mentions his son Slavi, a military officer, and his futile attempts to find a job for seven years now.

Hear more about Georgi’s dreams and hopes for his son and the hostility he sometimes has to deal with as an apple seller:

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Blagoevgrad’s People Through a Foreigner’s Eyes

Isn’t it interesting that we spent a considerable part of our lives, surrounded by strangers? On the streets, in the stores, in restaurants and cafes. But do we really notice them?

The other day, I caught myself doing something I had never done before.

 I was strolling down the main street of Blagoevgrad and everything was painfully familiar: the colorful clothes in the shop windows, the cooking aromas, coming from the restaurants, the people, milling around. But, wait, at the same time, it was fascinatingly different!

The crowd of people had a face. It had numerous faces, actually. For the first time, I was paying attention to people’s faces, not to shop windows.

And while I was walking down the street, shifting my eyes from one face to another, I wondered who those people were, what they did for a living, where they were going, what they were thinking at that moment. Did they see me gazing at them?

I cannot put it in words how enthusiastic I am to launch this blog and get the opportunity not only to gaze and wonder but to SEE people and see them through their own eyes.

But before I embark on my journey, I wanted to see them through someone else’s eyes, a foreigner’s eyes. That is why I talked to Sorin Petrov, a sophomore at the American University in Bulgaria, double majoring in journalism and business administration. Sorin comes from Chisinau, Moldova, and has been living in Blaogevgrad for a year now.

 “I was surprised at first, because Blago is generally a small town, so I’d been thinking that [people] would be more conservative but they are really open to new people, new experiences,” he said.

“[People in Blagoevgrad] have this difficulty in communication,” Sorin said.

Locals use a mixture of Bulgarian and the few English words they know, sprinkled with expressive gestures to communicate with the numerous foreign students, he explained.  As a result, interaction with locals “is a fun experience most of the times,” Sorin said, smiling.

Here are some more of Sorin’s thought on Blagoevgrad’s people:

You can also check his blog, dedicated to “small, just small excerpts of conversations that I find to be the funniest”: http://admitthegeek.blogspot.com/

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Welcome to my blog!

Welcome all to my blog,

Ever noticed  the street musician you just passed by or the elderly couple, strolling aimlessly hand in hand. Probably you did not even see the homeless man, sleeping on a park bench. Well, all of them and many, many other eccentric and interesting individuals will come front and central to Blagoevgrad Narrates.

I  am so enthusiastic to go out and meet people from all spheres of life and bring their stories to you. Stay tuned!

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