– About the Book

A Breeze in Bulgaria, book cover

A fresh breeze blowing through a classroom window on a sweltering summer day.

“Bulgaria? Uh, yeah, sure. I met a girl from Bulgaria once. Or was it Bolivia? Nice girl…”

Eastern Europe. Bulgaria. Can you find it on a map? Easy, right there above Greece. But what’s it like there? That’s more complex. Beautiful mountains, fertile fields and old Soviet-era apartment bloks. Ancient ruins, tired cities, intricate music and folk dances. Scattered remnants of the old industry struggle for survival, glimmers of hope among rusty abandoned factories.

“Grim, huh?”

No, that’s not it! More like awakening. Exciting. Big changes going on. Stirring, sweeping changes. New ways of thinking, new opportunities. School hallways ring with the laughter of bright-eyed, eager children, and young people go to discos and wear fashionable clothes, drinking coffee in sidewalk cafés for hours, exploring ideas. Baba selling corn from street cart in Pazardjik, BulgariaAll around them, politically and economically there is tumult and change. Everywhere there are entrepreneurs in a newly free society with apples and cabbages for sale from a cart or a table by the sidewalk. Democracy too, with whatever that will bring. Determination and hard work define what is needed in everyday life.

“So, what’s in the book?”

This Peace Corps memoir is about people. Strange customs, unfamiliar assumptions and ways of thinking, austerity and living close to the earth, sure, but really about people. Friends and neighbors who loved their country and its proud heritage, and were sometimes a little sensitive about its place in the world. Warm-hearted, generous, curious, practical people.

Bulgarian revolutionary hero Hristo BotevHardy and resilient, the Bulgarians traced their history back to the fair Thracians, then through the Roman and Byzantine empires, and the powerful Slavs. Then the Ottoman Empire, “five hundred years under the Turkish yoke,” finally ended by Heroes of the Revolution, reverently remembered.

And it’s a love story. The volunteers’ own story had a dramatic turn of events, one that took determination and hard work to overcome. The heroes of this story are many, and courage is proved in adversity.

A Breeze in Bulgaria is available as an eBook. The print edition is sold out but is sometimes available from resellers (see Print Edition).

Historical location Assenova, Bulgaria Horse-drawn carts are still a common sight in Bulgaria. This one is in Panagyurishte. View of Panagurishte, Bulgaria from soviet-era monument on hilltop View of sunflower fields from train to Straldja, Bulgaria 020710 Panagurishte (11).jpg Soviet-era monument to Bulgarian revolutionary heroes in 1876 Uprising, Panagyurishte, Bulgaria Bulgaria, winter: stork's nest waiting for spring Bulgaria, Roman amphitheater in Plovdiv. Plovdiv was known as Philippopolis in the Byzantine era.

About the Author:

Bruce McDonald was an Air Force pilot, then an international subcontract negotiator for an aircraft manufacturer. After his years in industry he asked the question, “What next?” The answer, for him and his wife together, was the Peace Corps. As it always does, the Peace Corps enriched their lives beyond measure.

Recent Posts

A Perfect World

In a perfect world, the ideals that America would exemplify would be a shining light, a bright star that could not be missed or misunderstood throughout that perfect world. Peace. Democracy. Freedom. Civic responsibility. Equality. Strengthening and spreading those ideals is a big part of what the Peace Corps was established for, and the mission is still carried on today. In the early 2000s, when Stormy and I worked in Bulgaria not long after the fall of the Soviet system, those ideals stayed discreetly in the background of everything we did, but they were always assumed to be a part of our work. Here at home, we sometimes forget to call them up. 

I met my brilliant and passionate friend Piper through a mutual acquaintance, shared interests, and my own good luck. She is a lawyer by profession, a lung transplant survivor, a highly visible advocate for CF research, and… well, she mentions some of her roles and avocations in her essay, which I feature here as a guest blog.

Photo by Nick Busselman, 2002 Fourth of July Party for Peace Corps Volunteers in Bulgaria

Piper posted this on Facebook on the Fourth of July, expressly as a thought for that celebration. Although it’s a few days later, the thought is enduring. It should not be just a one-day-only special. It guides us toward the highest and purest ideals to which we can aspire in healing this country. And healing is needed.

Guest Blog Article by Piper Beatty Welsh

I grew up loving every single thing about the US Constitution. I vividly remember in 3rd grade writing a short essay on an American hero and having my lawyer dad casually suggest a kids biography of Thurgood Marshall. From the moment I read about his commitment to rights and justice in the face of serious adversity — and his refusal to give up on a country of laws that at times failed to live up to its own promise — I was hooked. Avid reading about every Associate or Chief Justice I could find followed, regardless of his/her political leanings. By 5th grade “constitutional lawyer” or “Supreme Court Justice” was my standard reply whenever anyone asked what I wanted to do with my life (hey, dream big!). When my mom got her hair cut I tagged along just so I could wear one of the black smocks at the salon and practice my Sandra Day O’Connor impression in the mirrors.

Like most Americans, I believe in the fundamental promise of this country. I believe in rights. I believe in equality. I believe in standing up for what is right and good and honest and human, first and foremost, no matter what the cost. I believe in the fallibility of leaders and laws and in the responsibility of the citizenry to make our voices heard. More than anything, I believe that the pendulum of history swings always toward justice in the end, and that ultimately we will be judged not by the money we make or the structures we leave behind, but by the way that we treat other people. To me, the mark of civilization will always be found in its humanity.

I’ve been quieter these past couple months for a couple of reasons. The first is that, though I’m grateful for so many things, balancing cancer, radiation, a career, and a life is HARD. I’ve been staying afloat, but not without a couple of life rafts, and I just haven’t had the energy to dive into deeper waters. The second is that I, who love this country and its potential and its promise to the point that it physically aches, haven’t had the words or the voice to say much lately. But I think, I HOPE, that we can all agree on this much: people are people, no matter where we come from or what we believe. And people, as people and as fellow members of creation, deserve to be treated as such. If we can ever imagine a world in which we, too, would flee with our children to find somewhere safe(r) or kind(er) or less violent, it is up to us to reach into our hearts and treat others the way we would hope to be treated in such a situation. That’s not rocket science, it’s basic humanity.

So to ALL my beautiful friends this weekend, happy 4th of July. Enjoy the day as you celebrate the ideas, hope, and promise of this nation that has never been even remotely close to perfect, but that has slowly and consistently bent towards the notions of equality and human goodness. Remember our flaws, our errors, and our shortsightedness as you celebrate a country that was built to withstand change and political awakenings. And, if you feel so inclined, maybe pick up a biography of Justice Marshall or one of his colleagues in the fight to expand and celebrate the idea of justice. It just might change your life.

Happy Birthday, America. May your stars shine brighter every year.

You can follow Piper Beatty Welsh on Facebook.

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