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I first visited Bulgaria in August 2016. I was drawn to Lynda's project at 'Yovovski Yetts' found through HelpX.net - who wouldn't want to volunteer at an eco-school in the mountains, with a mad Scottish couple?
My journey got off to an interesting start - a hiccip at Ukraine airport had resulted in my baggage arriving late - which meant that I would complete the HelpX in the clothes on my back, along with my hand luggage - which consisted of a note book, my camera, and a plastic duck that a Chinese police man had given me at the airport. Thank God I had the important things.
The bus ride to Lynda's place in the mountains was breath-taking. The houses I glimpsed were rustic and run-down, kind of shack like. I liked it.
When I arrived at Triavna, I was greeted by Lynda and her partner, John. With big blonde hair and wild glinting eyes, Lynda had a mad laugh that assured me I was going to be in for an interesting couple of weeks.
Lynda's project was essentially an off-grid
We pulled up to the 'ginger bread house' after and I was thrown into what appeared to be a rather awkward conflict. The group of orphans who were staying there were accompanied by two teachers, who apparently were not happy about the 'no running water' situation. "This is what they signed up for!" Lynda had remarked, as we passed them bottles and bottles of water that we had collected from the pump in town. The children seemed unphased, and were happily chatting amongst themselves and ogling at the newcomer who had arrived.
After transporting my luggage to the HelpX quarters (a beautiful bedroom with a bunk-bed), I emerged again outside to meet the children and my fellow HelpXer - Dirk, a social worker from the Netherlands. European men are certainly different from Australian men. Dirk spoke with a dramatic flare and charm that not only engaged everyone around him, it kept them leaning in - waiting for more. His arms would move about him as he spoke, as if he was painting a picture for you as he spoke.
Only one of the orphans there could speak English - what I regard as a rather magnificent feat considering her age and the complex differences between the two languages. Bulgarian, FYI, is considered as one of the most difficult languages to learn because you can say things in so many different ways. For instance: in English you can say "I want to go to the gym now", or "Right now, I want to go to the gym". Same words right? Well in Bulgarian, just because the order has changed, the words will change too. In fact for each English word there are three Bulgarian words.
The next two weeks consisted of various activities - building, interacting with the orphans there, visiting the town and getting more resources for the projects going on. Dirk and I came up with a few activities to engage the children with - mine were drama games, his was a treasure hunt with a mouse.
When I needed a shower, I would bring my water bottle into the shower and tip it onto myself. Luckily it was very hot. In the evenings we would play "Bullshit" - a wonderful card game! The orphans put on a talent show, and I joined in the dancing numbers, clapping and singing along.
A few days after I had arrived, a couple from Czech republic joined us. The girl, Zuzanna, was a linguist and expert in yoga; so led some yoga workshops for the orphans. Sadly, I slept through these by accident so cannot reflect on any 'chi' moves I perfected.
Lynda and I visited markets where I was able to glimpse even more of the culture in Bulgaria. The colours all seemed so vibrant, the produce fresh. One of the men flirted boldly with Lynda, but she wouldn't have any of it!
I learnt a lot of lessons from Lynda. It's somewhat remarkable, really, what she has done. An ex-hair dresser from Scotland moves to Bulgaria and inhabits a building deep in the mountains to start up an eco-school, where she can teach disadvantaged children about being environmentally conscious, for free. She gains no money out of this, and relies on her own brains and inventive flair to build and design resources. Of course there are volunteers who come to help out and do what they can, but travellers come and go, and really aren't all that useful in the long run.
I will always cherish my time in the Yetts, and do hope to return some day soon - hopefully with more skills up my sleeve to assist in a more effective way. Lynda and John had me to stay in Edinburgh as well, and I designed a poster for her latest program - a retreat for 'wild woman' - aimed at Scottish ladies who yearned for a rather different sort of holiday away from the stresses and qualms of regular life. (But what, really, is regular?)