– 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.

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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.

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