Nice Guy

Bulgaria is full of surprises. I met a Nice guy the other day. That’s the kind of Nice that sounds like niece, not the kind that rhymes with ice. Not that he isn’t nice. He’s from Nice, France. Nice, huh? Rollando, a Frenchman in Bulgaria. If you want to be formal, for example to address an envelope with an engraved invitation to the Ball, you would call him Adrien Rolland Palomba. He also goes by rollandev.com. We met in the lobby of his business, well, virtually of course since his business operates in the online world, and had a nice talk over a virtual cup of espresso.

He is starting to learn Bulgarian, or as he told me, започвам да говоря, “I’m beginning to speak.” He and I communicate in English, mainly because if we had to depend on my one semester of French we could only agree that la plume de ma tante est sur la table. That, and maybe directions to the train station. He speaks a little Dutch too, so if you’re counting don’t forget that one.

Rollando is an IT guy. They’re lucky, those guys, since they can work anywhere. It may be a bit of Gallic understatement when he says he likes to travel. He’s been all over. So he moves to Bulgaria. Bulgaria! Now you may be asking yourself, “Why Bulgaria?” The question has been asked before, eh? (Bulgaria? Why Bulgaria?)

Saint Sofia, representing Divine Wisdom, overlooks the city.

After earning his computer engineering degree, Rollando got started in the business of managing IT (Not it! IT!) and as he says “climbed the steps.” He found himself as the owner and boss of a service that engaged in developing management tools for property developers. After a few years he decided to take a new step and have something of his own. So now that question, why Bulgaria? Let Rollando tell it. “Running a thriving company in France has become a miracle the last decade, unless you have a huge capital and wind at your back. Of course I love France, but I wanted to maximize my chances of success. I found that Bulgaria had a fast growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. Sofia, where I live now, has an efficient airport with cheap flights to most EU destination. Low taxes and low cost of living were a non-negligible bonus.”

A mountain valley, summer. For the winter view, just imagine it all white.

“There were several factors that mattered most in making my choice”, he explained. “First of all, it’s an EU country, even though they’re not using the Euro. It’s just a couple of hours for me to visit France whenever I want to, so being in Europe has that advantage too. And nature, wow! Beautiful! I love the mountains. I happen to like winter too, and temperatures are well below freezing during that time of year. As crazy as it might sound, I like it; I’ve always thought that cold builds spirit and vigor, and helps you feel alive. The seemingly brusque manner of the people is something to get used to, but after all that’s the way of the world.”

That’s how Rollando found himself moving to Bulgaria almost a year ago. He registered his company to sell IT services: developing business process, paperless office, extranet and reporting. Then, as he met partners and developers that he could trust, he decided to start selling websites and mobile apps too which happened to work well. Most of his clients were French or expats living in Sofia at first. “When running a company in Bulgaria, you’d better have a solid network and a big mouth to balance stereotypes that come to mind of potential clients when you let them know where you’re located.” New partnerships recently opened new opportunities in Europe, and Rollando has big clients in the USA in his sights as the next big move. “What I intend to do is show the other side of the Atlantic that Eastern Europe can deliver quality, quickly and at a competitive rate, and that distance or time zones don’t matter if you work with the right persons.”

The Language High School where I taught, named after the German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht. Students learned German, English, French, and Spanish.

Rollando said that many of the young people learn English, “The language of business,” in school. That was a fairly new development when Stormy and I taught English there as part of our Peace Corps assignment, and I felt a pinch of pride for having been a part of it. The Bulgarian system of “language high schools” is an important outreach to world commerce and culture. He noted that there are even very good French schools. Some of the young Bulgarians he has met have excellent accents, he marveled, “and you wouldn’t tell they’re not French.”

The hardest things, he said, have been ordinary daily activities such as grocery shopping or buying bus tickets. Rollando is on his own, and I can hardly imagine tackling all that without the training we got at the outset of our Peace Corps service. An added problem in daily life, besides the fact that the older people running the shops and driving the buses don’t speak English or French, is that Bulgarian has its own way of saying yes or no with your head. The way you nod to say yes means no, and vice versa. “That once brought me to the exact opposite of where I wanted to go as I asked if the bus would go toward the City Center.” (Boy, could I relate to that!) What looks like “Sure it does!” really means “No it doesn’t!” and you’re happily off to the wrong place. “Still,” he related, “it was a nice bus tour, and I found a supermarket that day which I didn’t know existed here.”

His tales of dealing with the paperwork of setting up a business recalled our travails at City Hall and the Police Department over work permits and visa extensions. He found, as we did, some helpful people to ease the process. That’s the way of Bulgaria. People are used to helping each other.

As for Rollando, he says that having been there for almost a year has confirmed his hunch that it’s a good place to build a business. Though he still likes traveling, for now Sofia is his home base. I’ve read articles from time to time about the advantages of locating businesses in Bulgaria, and how the strong and deep technological strengths of the younger generation are potentially a resource for the world. As Rollando described it, it’s a fast growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. Now it has a Nice guy too!

Good things are happening in Bulgaria.

Deja Vu

Late March, late in the evening, and there are snowflakes in the air. Colorado is nice that way, keeping us on our toes with frequent changes. It’s a theme I have taken up before. In fact it was about this time last year. What has changed since then? I think we have been here before.

There are flurries, too, of anxiety in the air. Have we been here before? Those who like our new president are feeling that he is being unfairly criticized, denigrated, hounded, and attacked. Those who don’t like him are feeling angry at every move he makes, and talking about impeachment, profligacy, arrogance — even treason. If I go back eight years and use exactly the same words, with only a different name standing as “our new president,” it is remarkable how the feelings were every bit as vehement, but held by the opposite parties. More than remarkable. The same. We’ve been here before. We are always here.

peace craneAt my church many people have been drawn in to a project of folding origami “peace cranes.” Paper cranes are a symbol of peace and hope. Over a period of two months, a total of 33,215 of the paper birds have been folded and strung together in a massive display. The number represents the number of gun deaths last year in the United States. Doing the origami has been almost a meditative act for some, and a lively social interaction for others. How many people need to turn their thoughts to peace before it makes a difference? Again, I think we have had this thought before. It was about this time last year. Maybe you have read it before. I am thinking of it again, realizing that the world I live in is the world of my choosing. It was the story of a little bird called a coalmouse on a snowy night. Not much of a story, really Nothing More Than Nothing…

 

 

January

I can’t write this month. Here is a news item from Bulgaria:

US Embassy in Bulgaria: No Visa Interviews for Citizens of 7 Countries in Trump’s Executive Order

Business | January 30, 2017
Bulgaria: US Embassy in Bulgaria: No Visa Interviews for Citizens of 7 Countries in Trump's Executive Order BGNES

The American Embassy in Sofia has published a special announcement calling on the citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen or persons who have dual citizenship of these countries not to schedule visa interviews and not to pay any taxes [fees] related to such interviews.

The reason is the executive order of US President Donald Trump related to the issue of visas for citizens of these seven countries.

— from novinite.bg

That’s all.

OK, well, I’ll say this. There are so many articles being written about Trump’s executive order on immigration, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” both attacking it and defending it, that the din is deafening. Moreover, so many adherents of each opposing view (as if there were only two sides) see only their (our) own preferred view, excluding any other view except to treat it with cynicism and mockery. That’s a damn shame. Can we do better in listening to “the other?” Fight like hell for what you believe in. Volunteer. Advocate. Work for the good as you perceive it. But be sure the good as you perceive it is not screaming so loudly that you cannot hear anything else.

There’s no need to point you to the published articles I’m referring to, for and against; you’ve probably read and liked as many of your favorite kind, and read and hated as many of the other kind, as I have. Well, maybe just one. This one.

Discuss.