Jeff Ploetz was a Peace Corps Volunteer, 1997-1999, in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. He helped develop parks in the Central Balkans. Jeff was both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at http://peacecorps.mtu.edu/ .
Jeff and Kerry Ploetz in Plovdiv. The ruins of a Roman amphitheater are in the background.
Sept 7, 1997
Jeff's comment: "The environment and its problems mostly go overlooked. The going joke is 'Hey, we could be eating bugs and living in a mud hut in Africa' and that provides some relief."
[Editors Note: But ... from an anonymous PCV from Malawi, quoted in the Peace Corps manual A Few Minor Adjustments -- "All in all, Malawi is a really nice place to live and work. The people are friendly, the beaches are great, and the fried ants are delicious."]
November 5, 1997
"We have snow, about a foot last week. The good news is they turned the heat on in the building. We now have something that resembles heat coming out of our radiators."
January 20, 1998
I have returned from the [wolf] expedition. We spent two full days of walking head down studying the logging/access roads for tracks. We were in 3 teams of three. I had the good fortune of working with Bulgaria's "best", whether trackers or biologists. We were successful in finding many tracks but unfortunately no visuals. I was amazed at the number of boar tracks we came across. My knowledge of tracks increased greatly this weekend. I can now identify the various tracks of: wolf, dog, bear, jackal, boar, Red deer, Roe(?) deer, badger, and fox. As well as many forms of shit. All in all it was a good experience.
February 10, 1998
"Parking tickets seem so silly now. The distance we would drive to Tech seems so short now, but then there was no way we would walk it. Its funny how your perspectives change with a little time in a very different place."
Does a family in the industrial world really need two or three cars to exist?
Fiji representative at the October 27-30, 1997 Joint Assembly in Lomé.
"March 2nd was a national holiday in Bulgaria, celebrating their independence (now a 150 years) from the Turkish Yoke that controlled them for 400 years. (It results in a four day weekend) People buy Martinitza's (little red and white designs made from thread) and give them to friends, on the 1st people where them until they see a stork (a symbol of good luck) and then hang them on a tree. Current tradition allows for seeing a flowering tree rather then a stork since there aren't many left."
"Up at 6:00, train at 7:00, got reserved seats this time. Two trains, one bus and a total of 3.5 hours arrived in Belogradchik. The nine of us found a trustworthy lady with a little shop in the train station to watch our bags, she would not take money, we tried to buy some Martinitza's she proceeded to give them to us, we left money anyway. We head out the door and went to wait at a cafe until the next bus arrived. We needed to ensure a bus would be coming later in the afternoon to continue our expedition. Good luck, there will be another bus (you never know here, schedules are meant to be broken). We head out to see what we came for, Rocks. This town is the best kept secret in Bulgaria!! I guess it would be comparable to a smaller version of Red Rock. There were some incredible formations and the weather was equally as nice. We continued our exploration to a nearby Fortress. Built into and around some rock formation this fortress had 4 different occupiers and expansions, absolutely amazing. I ducked through a short doorway while exploring. Turns out to be the place where many Bulgarians lost their heads during the Turkish Rule. The people would be forced to walk through, having to duck to get through an axe was waiting for them as their head passed the threshold, nice huh?"
More Mid-March - Peace Corps and Led Zeppelin Both in Bulgaria
So, there we were standing around waiting for the late comers to arrive. Heidi saw some photographers go inside, so she went to investigate. One turned out to be from London, interesting. She returned to the group to tell her findings. She then proceeded over to one of the two small groups of people he was with and asked why they were there. I will quote the conversation so as not to miss details:
Heidi: Do you speak English?
Man 1: Yes a little.
Heidi: Why are you here?
Man 1: For a concert
Heidi: Us too! (Man 1 proceeds to turn and walk over to the other small group)
Man 2: That was Jimmy Page you were just talking to, I bet you feel pretty stupid!
Heidi: Ah yeah, I guess I do.
So there in front of the cathedral we meet, the group walked past us to take some photos. As Mr. Page passed us we asked for an autograph, he flatly said "NO", Robert Plant on the other hand said, "In a minute".
So we waited, watching as across the bricked road the photographers took some pictures of the "Voice and guitar of Led Zeppelin". Their cars pulled up and Kerry and I made our move. Walking toward them Page quickly said "Oh, there're coming for us" as he got in the car, I replied "Don't worry, we're harmless". Plant stood there waiting for us. I must say I was impressed with my dialogue at this point.
Plant: Hi there
Kerry: Hi, I'm Kerry
Me: (shaking his hand) "I'm Jeff, we are Peace Corps Volunteers"
Plant: "I don't have a pen"
Me: "Here you go, and thanks"
Kerry: "Good luck tonight"
And there you have it, a signed ticket to a concert and a signed 500-lev bill. We proceeded back to the group and made our way to the concert. Led Zeppelin in Bulgaria, who would a thought. I was not aware they had released a new album. Anyway they are on tour throughout Eastern Europe. To us, it was just another concert, but to the Bulgarians in the crowd it might be the only chance of this lifetime. Just 8 years ago it would never of been possible.
Two (or is it one?) beech trees in Bulgaria.
Jeff and Kerry took a vaction in Greece. The description is rather long so it has its own page.
July 29, 1998
"Five separate groups of school children ranging in age from 12 to 15 spent time in the [Central Balkan] park. Each group hiked to one of the many huts in the park, there they participated in some eco-education, eco-games and conducted a cleanup of the area. Every participant received a T-shirt designed for the project. Each excursion was filmed as well as most of the talks, readings and games. This film will be edited and much of the audio will be overlaid with the readings of essays from the competition. When completed the final 20 minute short film will appear on local television stations, if completed in time it will be part of the annual Eco-film festival in Veliko Turnivo, organized by a fellow PCV. "
"Through our affiliation with the local YMCA our eyes have been opened to the heart-breaking situation of the orphanages here in Bulgaria. Other than camps, occasional meals, and some clothing for the local orphans, YMCA can do little since money is scarce. I have written to my church in Ohio requesting help. Hopefully some motivated member of the congregation will take it upon themselves to help organize some fundraising to aid the local orphanage. We will see, we can only hope and pray."
"Here is a scary statistic; Bulgaria is the fourth largest exporter of Herbs in the world. Now think about that, Bulgaria is the size of Ohio! Most herbs are harvested from wild areas, often illegally from parks and reserves. This is obviously not a sustainable practice. The stalling of Parliament in passing the new Protected Areas law is not helping. Current laws do not prevent even those who are caught from harvesting again."
"On a brighter note, my office recently received a set of high quality maps of the park produced by the Wilderness Fund. These maps cover all aspects of the park from ecotypes to forest cover."
Email from Jeff on October 1, 1998.
Sorry I have not written much as of late, I literally have
not had time to shave! Here is a quick recap, Monday morning we
are leaving for Bansko to assist another PCV with a Chamois population
survey project in the Pirin Mountains . We will be in the mountains
from Wednesday to Friday afternoon (Monday is for Travel, Tuesday
is a short training course).
Prior to leaving I have had to do: Prepare two reports, one introducing the concept of fundraising in schools (resulted in a 10 page report explaining the concept as well as about 50 possible activities, thank God for the internet!!), the second report pertains to forming eco-clubs in schools (resulted in a 5 page report, covering everything from what clubs are, how to form them, structure them, reasons for them, and possible activities.) These reports are for the second in a series of conference that I a taking part in with the GEF project to create environmental education curriculum for Bulgarian schools . I had agreed to compile this information at the last conference and intended to start compiling it after returning from Bansko . So, of course this past Monday I was informed the second conference begins this coming Friday afternoon (the day I leave the mountains) . So, it had to be done! I will drop the reports off Monday morning at the GEF office on my way to Bansko so they can be translated for the conference.
Also on Monday before leaving Sofia for Bansko, I have a meeting with Dr. Peev, he is the head of the Botany Institute in Sofia, that I had to prepare for . This meeting is to begin coordinating our efforts to produce the "Traveling Herbarium" idea I came up with.
Let's see what else, oh yes this weekend we also learned to make Lutinitza, a tomato/pepper paste type thing, with Sylvia's parents . That required a total of about 10 hours.
Also on top of everything, Mary is leaving for the states . :( Now Mary's apartment (4 floors down from ours) had much better and bigger appliances (stove and fridge) as well as a washing machine . So, these items were transferred to our apartment last night . My back is killing me!
I also had to finish the audio portion of the film I am having made from my Earth Day project so the video can be edited so the film can be included in an Environmental Film festival that will be in two weeks in the town of Veliko Turnivo . Kerry and I will be participating in this and teaching a classes at a local school.
October 26, 1998
"Halloween in Transylvania!! PC Romania plans a Halloween party for anyone in the region that can come. Previous years volunteers and random travelers have come from all over, Albania to Kazakhstan, Macedonia to Poland, Bulgaria to the Czech Republic, this years party will be just as grand.
"I will be a devil, Kerry, of course. an Angel. For horns, well for lack of time and anything better I have decided to fashion some red peppers to my head! Gotta be flexible to be a PC volunteer!"
Jeff as the devil (red peppers for horns) and Kerry as an angel.
Dracula's birthplace with Jeff and Kerry in front and Dracula's Castle.
Romanians at the Halloween party.
November 14, 1998
1. The "Postcards for Education" proposal was completed and submitted to the EBDP in early September. The EBDP, European Business Development Program, is a funding source through the PC Business Department. Grants are given for projects that promote small business development in Bulgaria. It was a hard fought battle at the review meeting, in the end 95% of the requested funds were granted.
The project is currently about a week away from going to press. 16 postcards, 8 from artwork created by students from the art school in Kasanluk created during a 9-day excursion to the park, and 8 photographs from the park. As described in the proposal, revenues from the postcards will go to fund other office projects.
The question of how to sell and distribute the postcards is close to finding a solution. Currently the park office is not permitted by law to take part in the sale of any item. Work on new laws changing this situation is currently underway. While we are waiting for them though we are looking into the possibility of a loophole in the current law, i.e. if the revenues from the sale of such items are earmarked for other projects can we in fact sell.
2. Poster from the Earth Day Project
It has been a long time in the making. After months of miscommunication, waiting, meetings with artists requesting ridiculous amounts of money, constantly changing ideas and formats, the base design and species content for the poster has been decided. The title for the poster will be something related to "National Park Central Balkan - Species Diversity" or "Park Life Diversity".
The idea for a second poster in conjunction with the Earth Day project originated from one of the students' artworks. It was created in such a manner that if printed into a poster format it would convey a wonderful anti-littering message. With funding being freed up by GEF printing the original poster concept it was only logical to pursue the making of this one as well.
Of course nothing is simple. It was decided to have students from the Art-school in Kasanluk recreate the concept in a higher quality. Currently, if all is understood properly, the poster is being done on computer by the computer aided design class. I have been pushing for them to submit their design ASAP since until it is printed I can not submit the final report to the SPA committee about the Earth Day project. This lack of closure inhibits future potential project submissions. I am hoping for this matter to be closed by mid-December as well.
4. Parks Web Site
Aside from the submission of new materials by other PCV's, there has been no progress in terms of this project.
5. Protected Areas law
Finally, it's passed!!
6. Education conference
In early October, the GEF project hosted its second conference concerning the creation of new environmental education curriculum for the Bulgarian school system. The "Conference on Conservation Education for the regions of Rila and Central Balkan National Park" brought together more then 50 participants, mostly educators from around the parks region, as well as representatives from Central Balkan and Rila parks, several NGO's, international organizations, and the staff of the central teachers training college. Peace Corps was represented by 3 PCV's (myself, a PCV from Rila and another working mainly for Environmental Education) and our program manager.
Much ground was covered since the first conference in June of 1998. The draft of the future base curriculum for all subject areas was created during the first working period and was discussed and ratified at this conference. Discussion groups were broken up into subjects where possible lessons were discussed and motivated teachers presented various lessons ideas. Three textbooks, created by NGO's and international organizations, containing environmental lessons were distributed for use in the pilot schools.
I prepared and presented two conference topics concerning the formation of Eco-Clubs and Fundraising.
7. Earth Day Video
The video recorded during my Earth Day project is finally being edited and should be ready to fill the airwaves with environmental messages any day now. Depending on the amount of useable footage and potential messages, one to two, twenty-minute shows will be produced. Local and maybe national television stations will then air the show(s).
8. The Veliko Turnovo Environmental Film Festival
This now annual film festival is in its third year. This year
for the kids to receive free tickets they had to listen to us
babble in a classroom for forty minutes about any ecological topic.
For participating PCVs to have a free ride while in Turnovo we
had to teach two classes. After making it past the security guard
of the school the classes ran smoothly. There was one film I recommend
tracking down, it is called Micro-cosmos, it is a French production,
well worth it and interestingly fun for all ages.
9. Pirin Excursion
The end of September Kerry and I found ourselves hiking the hardest terrain of our lives. We were in the Pirin Mountains in southwest Bulgaria acting as the control for a species snap shot survey. The survey was actually only one day; another day was dedicated to training another to reaching the various trailheads. In 2 days Kerry and I hiked for a total of 19 hours, exhausted but invigorated, we conquered two peaks that are among Bulgaria's tallest.
The survey was conducted to provide quantitative proof that poaching is threatening the survival of the Balkan sub-species, Rupicapra rupicapra, the Balkan Chamois. The survey did just that with a final count of around 120 animals. Just two years ago the population was over 200, ten years ago over 600. Now the work begins to stop the poaching through education and enforcement.
Jeff and Kerry in the Pirins.
10. Astronomy Club
Kerry and I are helping the YMCA Astronomy club gather materials. Together with some club representatives we have written a letter to NASA for any educational materials they are willing to send our way. The address was found in an education catalog as a location for free materials. We are also going to write to the US Partnership Program in hopes of acquiring a new telescope for the kids to use.
Letters have been sent, possible donation sources found. It has been determined that most of the money that does come in will be used to host day camps and weekend seminars for the orphans to help them prepare for society. It was decided to do something that will benefit in the long term and not just the short. A matching program has been found as well.
Early November - Learning to Make Lutineetza, a delicious tomato-pepper paste.
Kerry prepares lots of peppers.
Jeff roasts them with a propane torch.
After the work is done.
February 4, 1999
"I just received word from the GEF project that everything I requested money for has been approved by Washington. This is ~ $6000 worth of projects! Most importantly the Traveling Nature Display!, and the poster I created that has been waiting to go to press.
"I will send two your way as soon as they come off the printing press! One so you can show what your students are doing and the other so you can keep it safe for me. This poster was designed as an educational poster and will be distributed to ALL biology classrooms in our region, I am quite proud of the final product, even if it is still only on the computer, in my eyes with or with out being biased it is the best poster I have seen in Bulgaria. 1500 in all will be printed.
"I also received money to print the covers for the postcards I created. The covers are to enable us to sell them in sets. The postcards have received rave reviews as well, and should enable my office to have funding for future projects without relying on grants. A big step forward. Any chance Tech would be interested in buying some? There are 16 different cards, 8 from artwork and 8 from photographs (mine is one of them).
"Money for the Traveling Nature Display includes funds to produce an information leaflet as well. Now that money has been guaranteed I will start on this as soon as possible, hopefully it will results in something suitable for my Masters requirements.
"The other project approved was for the recreation of 2 education pamphlets from the states. One is about freshwater invertebrates and the other is leaf litter invertebrates. Both include information as well as a flow chart with pictures for identification of species. They are meant to be used to aid students in identification in the field and to determine the health of a stand or a body of water.
I apologize if I am gloating but an average day has just turned extraordinary. Hope all is well and hope to hear from you soon."
Jeff and Kerry's Trip to Macedonia:
Jeff and Kerry by Lake Ohrid, Macedonia.
Last week we took and extended weekend and advantage of a Bulgarian holiday and traveled across the boarder to Macedonia! What an amazing time. For those that need a Geo. lesson, Macedonia is bordered by Bulgaria to the west, Albania to the East, Greece to the South and KOSOVO to the north. Needless to say the tensions are a little high in the area. The country is about the size of Vermont and is mostly mountainous. Due to the situation in Kosovo, UN and NATO troops are all over the place. The language spoken there is Macedonian although many Bulgarians will say it is just a dialect of Bulgarian. In any case, we were able to speak and be understood as well as understand them which made the trip a lot easier and the desire to learn more languages that much greater! It is an amazing feeling to speak with people in their native tongue.
Jeff and Kerry's view the UN in Macedonia.
The capital city od Scopie was quite small with a great old town (mostly filled with shops run by Albanians and Turks) for this reason most locals don't like it. Prejudices in the Balkan region is high and one major stumbling block for progress! A large part of the city only dates back to the 60's because most of it was destroyed by an earthquake.
Here is an interesting fact, Mother Teresa lived in Scopie as a child. A brass plaque and markers adorn the spot in the middle of a main street were her house once stood.
From Scopie we traveled to Lake Ocrid, the main travel destination for most people visiting this country. The Lake and the City are both listed on the UNESCO list of protected areas. It was truly an amazing and relaxing place. The lake is surrounded by picturesque mountains, Albania on the far bank. Beautiful and peaceful historic monasteries are found in many places along the coast of the lake.
One of them is at the far end of the lake on the border with Albania, we attempted to walk across to the nearby town but when we were stopped by a solider at the military check point and were informed that he needed to get permission from his captain to cross we choose to turn around.
Ocrid is filled with Americans right now. All American that were working in Albania with international projects such as USAID or other organizations were evacuated several months ago and now operate out of Ocrid. We were the only country that evacuated their people from Albania for a second time. The first time was right after Kerry and I got our PC invitation to serve there when the social system collapsed and anarchy ruled, at that time armories were raided and you could buy a machine gun on the street for about $1! This time our people were pulled out because of intel that suggests many international terrorists have taken refuge in the chaos and are operating out of Albania.
Anyway.... We had a wonderful time in Macedonia, the people were all welcoming and friendly. Hotels and food were all relatively cheap and CD's were only $3. They also had more then 2 types of cheese!!!!!!! You try living in a two cheese society and see if you don't get excited by a great selection! By the way Lake Ocrid is home to a specie of Trout that only lives there. If you ever get the chance to visit, I highly recommend it, absolutely fabulous.
A few excerpts from Jeff's quarterly report, focusing on environmental education:
a. Postcards for Education
Tangible products at last, yes, the postcards as well as the advertisements were printed. Of course not with out problems In the time between submitting the project proposal to the time of paying for the printing, there was a dramatic drop in the value of the dollar; it of course by now has regained most of the lost ground. But at that time the money received for the project ended up being short and not covering all costs of the project. A request for additional funding to compensate for this USD drop was submitted and granted. Along with this request for additional funds was a new aspect for the project.
Covers. A new idea was born, covers to create sets of postcards, promoting greater sales The idea was rejected by the EBDP. But that did not stop me, I went to my faithful friends at the GEF project and they agreed this "cover" idea sounded worth while so they granted the necessary funds. These covers allowed us to provide additional information about the park as well as contact information and other materials such as a map of the park.
These covers are more work then anticipated! In an attempt to get the covers folded and stuffed in a timely manner, I have introduced my office to the assembly line. We are almost finished but now they refer to me as the slave driver!
The question of how to distribute was troublesome. I spoke with several people about the dilemma, from PCV's to heads of the Ministry. In the end a solution and partnership was found at a local bar over a couple glasses of Jonny Walker Red Label.
Having explored the various options this new arrangement seemed to have the most potential; it only had to be cleared with the boss and a few others. The end result was the formation of a partnership between the Directorate for National Park Central Balkan and the Rotaract (Junior Rotary Club) Club of Gabrovo.
This new partnership will work as follows:
· The Rotaract Club will distribute and sell the postcards around Bulgaria utilizing business connections and other Rotaract Clubs throughout Bulgaria.
· A separate bank account will be formed for the money raised through sales.
· A committee of 2 Rotaract members and 2 NP Central Balkan employees will meet quarterly for financial review and discuss options for future joint work.
· Money raised will be used in two ways:
· For the funding of future Environmental Education projects;
· Production of promotional and profitable materials for the park, i.e. additional postcards, maps, calendars, patches, mugs, etc.
The postcards have received great acceptance and show great promise. To my satisfaction this appears to be a sustainable project that will continue to benefit both the NP office and the Rotaract Club for years to come.
b. Poster from the Earth Day Project
Finally they are done!!!! After a year of planning and problems, the posters are now complete and are being distributed to all biology classrooms in the region. Those posters destined for the classroom are laminated with metal strips at both top and bottom to ensure a long life. An additional 1000 (without lamination and metal strips) were made for general distribution to other areas and organizations.
Again to my great satisfaction, those that have received the posters to date are ecstatic with its quality and content. Educators have commented on the posters varied and numerous uses for lessons.
A. Work with PC
There have been several IST's this past term, 2 language (one for each ½ of Bulgaria) a Parks PCV IST and an Environmental PCV IST. At the language IST, I helped administer sessions pertaining to technical environmental Bulgarian. There was an auction at the latter IST of food items donated by ex-pats, the money raised was placed in an orphanage fund. I found my true talent, as I was the auctioneer for the event. Some how people knew I was from the Midwest, hum interesting. They organizers have already booked me for the next auction to be held during this summers PST.
March 19, 1999
"So, Kerry's birthday was yesterday. We had some people over for dinner - Pizza, various hor'derves, and a Pineapple Upside down cake made by yours truly. Many a bottles of Bulgarian Red Wine were drank throughout the evening. Kate came to the party with Trivia Pursuit, it is amazing how much easier the game is now compared to 10 years ago!
"Today, I finalized the pre-press for an anti-litter poster, it will be ready by next week and should be distributed throughout Bulgaria in time for Earth day. The rest of the day was spent pretending I know something about computers installing some new software so I could download some materials from the internet.
"We have several people coming over this weekend to continue
the celebration of Kerry's and Kate's birthday. The dishes will
April 5, 1999
The past two days have been left me needing... Let me explain.
Thanks to generous family donations, the YMCA here in Gabrovo was able to host a week long camp for a group of the local orphans ages 6 - 11. Kerry and I took part in the last two days. I can honestly say that these two days were the most rewarding time I have spent in Bulgaria.
The feeling we received from spending time with these children can not be expressed in words. Helping a child break free of inner fears, to feel loved, simply to smile, provides personal rewards that left me speechless. It was honestly difficult to say good bye, only being able to promise that we will see each other again.
We can never understand the feelings of these children. They live most of their lives without the joy and pleasure of human affection. Just to touch them, hold their little hands, hold them on your lap and hug them brings them such joy.
To see a child break free is amazing...
I implore you, if it is at all possible to take some time to spend at a local orphanage or to be a big brother or big sister to a child in need, do so. Find a local organization who works with an orphanage and get involved, you won't be sorry. If you are not able to give time, please consider donating to those who can. You may just find the fulfillment you've been seeking, the void in your life filled.
We must give love to be loved...
No matter how you feel/felt about your parents, you know you are/were loved. Now, image living life without that knowledge.
April 8, 1999
The weather is great, Mulan is playing in the movie theater next week - we are going to take the kids from the orphanage, it should be a great time.
April 28, 1999
Mulan finally came! Yesterday afternoon, along with some volunteers from the YMCA, we took 20 orphans to watch the film. All had a wonderful time and enjoyed some movie munchies as well. The best news from the day was of an adoption! One of the girls, Annie, that Kerry and I fell in love with during the day camps was adopted by a family from the States!
May 18, 1999
a. Traveling Nature Display
To date the physical structure of the display and the herbarium sheets are complete. The only remaining work is for the completion of the educational pamphlet that will accompany the display to schools.
Currently the display is set up in the Gabrovo House of Culture until the end of this month. It is being used as a promotional and information tool to inform the public of EUROPARC Day which is the 24th of May. A general informational sheet was prepared for the display while the pamphlet is being finalized. It is hoped that by the end of the working day on the 17th, all text and materials will be prepared, allowing for me to do the computer work and graphic design during the evening. If all goes as planned I can print on Tuesday. It is a long shot I know but I must have faith in my coworkers, though it has been tested as of late.
And some closeups ....
b. The "other" Poster
The "other" poster has been completed and distributed throughout Bulgaria with the help of PCV's just in time for Earth Day. The demand for posters from both PCV's and other organizations was so large that all 2000 posters have been distributed with a few reserved for future use.
Its message was simple and to the point. The poster consists of a yellow background with a gray trash can on it. The continents are painted in green on the trash can. Below in red letters is the message "Will we let this happen?" Several small anti-litter symbols border the right and left side of the poster.
c. Invertebrate Fold-outs
The project for the reproduction of the two informational fold-out leaflets produced by the FSC (Field Studies Council) is just about complete. The translations for both the "Freshwater Invertebrates" and the "Leaflitter Minibeasts" have been checked by the experts from the Zoology Institute and will be picked up on Friday. After that it is simply the matter of the pre-press and printing. All should be finished both months end.
d. Parks Web Site
Finally some headway! After months of waiting, it was realized that nothing would be done unless I could find the means to pay for a domain name and the necessary web space. Initially, we were going to try and use free space.
I approached the GEF project with a brief proposal and the costs for establishing the domain name and the web space for a 2 year period of time. They accepted the proposal and have guaranteed the money once the contract between my office and the web designer is finalized. Work will begin by months end.
The local distribution of the postcards has not yet been realized. We must wait until the Rotaract Club is registered to undertake such activities They have their chartering ceremony this week, with the expected court date to be registered next week. It is hoped distribution will happen shortly afterwards.
In the mean time, I have asked the regional offices to begin looking for potential stores that will be willing to sell the postcards.
Jeff with a baba at a firewalking festival.
She said that a lot of people would like to remember that life
was better in the past, but they are wrong. Life is much better
in a democracy.
August 11, 1999
All is going well, the heat is +39 here and miserable! We did have a great viewing of the eclipse, close to 99% here! We went up to the Roman ruins and had a picnic with a former Japanese volunteer and her new Bulgarian husband and a new Japanese volunteer, it was a good day. Strange communicating with people in a second language for both parties!
Viewing the eclipse.
Yesterday Kerry and I went to the camp for the orphans that Rotaract organized, they are having a great time away from the home and getting great food. We also brought some outdoor games, the soaps and toothbrushes for them. They were very excited and happy to see me and Kerry. They are great kids, ... If we were more established, there are a couple we would bring home! With the left over money from church we will be buying school supplies and new underwear. We had a great time.
Jeff's Final Thoughts as a PCV, written a week before COSing - mid-August 1999.
The summer and the last three months of our service past faster then the much anticipated solar eclipse (which was 99% complete here). As I write, with precious few days to go before we leave our home of Gabrovo forever as PCV's, I can only reflect upon our wonderful and fulfilling experience and stress about all I must do in the next few days. The realization of our PC service coming to an end has not hit me yet, as I seriously have not had time to ponder it.
All I can say is I will never regret the time we served here, as it truly gave to us more then we could ever have given back. The friends, the memories, and the experiences will remain with us forever. Our world has been expanded, far more then I ever imagined. To reflect back only two years, I was a different person. Never once was I truly concerned about life beyond our country's borders. My mind was closed to the outside world for it never effected my daily of life. Well, my eyes have been opened
What aided in my success here? My father always thought I was too "laid back", well this "flaw" of mine along with my ability to be flexible has been truly advantageous. My education was not used in my work per say, but rather my life lessons. The ability to look at problems from a different perspective and approach challenges with a logical process different from my Bulgarian counterparts.
International development work was never a field I considered. Now, after our experiences here I find the concept most interesting and desirable, at least for a while. I find that living abroad and integrating with the local culture is helpful not only in understanding the world but also for understanding the States. You gain a new perspective for your home while abroad, different from any other that could be achieved while living there.
Along the lines of living and working oversees is learning of new language's. A second language was never a priority or an interest of mine while growing up. After learning the true personal joy and satisfaction that comes from the ability to converse with people in their language, I only desire to learn more.
In short, as lame as it may sound, I have become more worldly. With every passing day I desire to experience more and more of life abroad.
In time, when we settle in the States, you may just find "Ploetz's Bulgarian Lutinitza" in a store near you. For it is a well kept secret of the Bulgarians that desires to be shared with the world. Not to mention the Rakia!
3 September 1999 - Watching Sea Turtles in Crete
STPS (The Sea Turtle Protection Society) is a great organization doing some wonderful work. We are proud to be a part of it. Before arriving we thought we may have time for some side work... Nope. Our day generally starts before sun up. We need to collect our data before the beach combers and tourists destroy any trace of our little turtle tracks. Too date I have personally saved 2 hatchlings that had lost their way to sea. It is a good feeling knowing that you had just saved a highly endangered species (even if only 1 in a 1000 make it to adulthood), at least I got it past the beach and the blazing sun that can fry the little guys in minutes.
Anyway... There are many different jobs... Morning Survey, Shading (attempting to "shade" the nest from night lights from hotels and streets so the little dudes do not get disoriented to the sea and wonder off to their death), PR (in several info booths), Night Guarding (informing tourists on the beaches at night about the hatchlings and that it is illegal to be there), Excavating (digging up the nests that have finished hatching for data collection purposes), maintenance, etc...
We are thoroughly enjoying ourselves although Crete is much more expensive then we expected. The tent is great and the biggest on the site! Then again there are two of us. Our campsite is not a permanent place, the land is loaned to STPS for the summer. It is on an olive orchard! So, all structures are temporary, including the shower, toilet, kitchen, office, etc. Very reminiscent of Gilligans Island! Bamboo is the preferred construction material, it is free!
Currently there are about 25-30 volunteers. I have just been put in charge of the longest stretch of beach (A-C), since I am a guy (towards the end staff will be limited, they can not have just one female on this stretch for morning survey so, if #'s are short it must be a loan male, me) and will be here till the end, it is now my duty to know all that happens there.
Don't know what else I can tell you, that is it for now. We are good and fully adjusted to camp life and not missing Bulgaria at all! At the end of hot long shift - - hit the sea!
Check Kerry's page for more on sea turtles and Crete.
The summer of 1999 was spent in the town of Rethimno, Crete, Greece. Our work was with Archelon, the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece. This non-profit organization is the only environmental organization on Crete. The STPS, newly named Archelon, was founded in the late 1970's by a few concerned Greek men. Their original work was met with much hostility and sabotage by locals who did not understand their mission.
Since that time Archelon has continued to grow bigger and stronger with project sites on Crete (3), Zakynthos, and the Peloponnesus (3), as well as a rescue center outside of Athens. Their work has led to the establishment of the first marine park in Greece, located on the island of Zakynthos. Their initial activities of monitoring the endangered Loggerhead, Caretta caretta, have since then expanded to tagging, research, public relations,environmental education, programs to educate fisherman, legislation improvement, work with hotels and municipalities, etc.
The majority of all work done by the STPS is conducted by international volunteers, such as myself. Throughout the nesting season of the Caretta caretta (which ironically is identical to the tourist season), their primary nesting beaches throughout Greece are monitored. On paper this translates to about 2,500 nests yearly along 75 km of coastline, checked every morning and evening.
The story of the Caretta caretta nesting on Crete goes like this...
According to genetic analysis, the Crete population of Caretta caretta began nesting there about 12,000 years ago, descendent of the population currently nesting on the beaches of Florida today.
With few exceptions, Sea Turtles only nest on the same beaches where they were born. Returning 20-30 years after they hatch and first enter the sea. There are many theories to how they know where to go but nothing certain. Magnetite in their head and navigation via the magnetic poles is the best explanation to date.
A female turtle will nest every 2 to 3 years. During that season, she can lay up to 4 or 5 nests with about a 2 week interval between each nest clutch. Under the cover of darkness, the female comes ashore, pulling herself to the dry part of the beach. If she feels safe and finds a suitable location she will dig a body pit, then an egg chamber about 1/2 a meter deep. She will deposit on average 120 eggs (each the same size andshape as a ping-pong ball, yet they are soft so they do not break as the are deposited) in each nest. After finishing, the female will camouflage the nest to protect it from predators such as sea birds, weasels, foxes, dogs,etc. She then returns to the sea never to see her hatchlings.
The eggs incubate in the warm sand for about 2 months (55 days) before emerging during the night. In a perfect world they head straight to the sea, guided by the reflection of the moon and stars on the sea. Unfortunately, often the hatchlings are disoriented by artificial light sources at the back of the beach. If they do not make it to the sea before the sun rises, they may die of dehydration and exhaustion or from predators.
On Crete, sea birds are not a large threat as the locals have effectively eliminated virtually all birds from the island for sport.
About 70% of each nest hatches and heads to the sea, although only 1 or 2 hatchlings actually survive to maturity.
Adult Loggerheads have no natural predators, with the exception of an occasional over-zealous shark. The main threats to the survival of this species are some human activities. 1000's are caught and injured or killed every year in fishing nets. Many are also injured or killed in collisions with speed boats. Archelon has a large support network throughout Greece and sighted injured turtles are brought free of charge to the rescue center. Floating plastic bags also are a threat as sea turtles consume them, mistaking them for Jellyfish, their primary food source. Sea Turtles can consume their body weight a day in Jellyfish! Loggerheads also eat sea urchins as well as some crustaceans such as crab, but not fish as many fisherman believe (for this reason they try to kill the turtles).
The main threat to the survival of this amazing species though is the loss of their nesting beaches to development. As the turtles return to the same places where they were born the loss of these beaches means few nests, fewer hatchlings and a dim future.
Our project site, Rethimno, consisted of 11 km of beach that we monitored every day. Much of this beach was overdeveloped and a direct correlation between the number of nests and the level of development at the back of the beach was painfully evident. This season there were 401 nests. This will roughly translate to about 40,000 hatchlings to the sea and of those onlya bout 40 surviving to adulthood. Now take into account there were about 30 adults killed this season around Crete by speedboats (with oblivious holiday loving water-skiers or parasailers) the numbers don't look good.
The average day of an STPS volunteer in Rethimno consisted of any combination of the following activities. Personally, many of my days consisted of about 12 to 14 working hours.
- morning survey - walking your assigned section of beach, noting any changes in the last 24 hours. Human, natural, etc. Each nest is check for changes as well such as dipping, hatching, inundation by the sea, disturbance of some sort, counting of hatchling tracks, following tracks,etc.
- Kiosk - our main information station, had 3, 4 hour shifts everyday. There we sold items such as shirts, books, postcards, etc. It also is a main contact point with tourists. Our main duty was simply the distribution of information.
- Night office - a table set up in the old town of Rethimno. Same as above just fewer items.
- Slide Shows - bilingual slide shows (general German and English) were conducted in many hotels, on average there were about 18 shows a week.
- Nest Shading - placement of "shades" around the nests that will have disorientation due to artificial light sources at the back of the beach
- Excavations - nests that were finished hatching were excavated for scientific data. Only a few of us (me, Kerry and 4 others) were"certified" for this job.
- Maintenance - everything from constructing new donation boxes (I was maintenance man), to painting new signs, the office, etc.
- Camp Keeper - the most unloved job...
-SSI- slide show invitation. Going to the hotels and telling the guests there will be a slide show that evening.
Our camp was in an olive grove, over-looking the town of Rethimno and the Sea. The Camp office, storage room, "dining room", and kitchen, and showerhad a strong resemblance to Gilligan's Island as it was all made from bamboo. We will not mention the toilet... After an extremely strong "freak" storm,I reconstructed all roofs to make them capable of withstanding another monsoon, thanks to Murphy's Law it never rained again!
The two months I spent on this project were the most rewarding two months of my life. I truly loved the hands on conservation work and felt a deepsense of satisfaction for everything I did. The end result an overwhelming desire to continue on this path for years to come.
Bonus: My ability to speak Bulgarian was very useful several times as wellas getting me breakfast one day and a discount at the Internet center!
From Zanzibar, 26 November 1999
We are now on Zanzibar. We spent a few days with Josh, he is well and says "the report is on the way". [Editor's note: Josh Amend is another student in the Peace Corps/Michigan Tech Master's International Program.] PC life is very different here, that is for sure, but I don't think I would trade in mine!
10 February 2000
November we found ourselves in Tanzania. A lifetime of TV specials and classroom lessons will never due justice to the real thing. Africa was always just a place to me, one full of mystery, hardships, civil strife, pristine natural beauty, and other such descriptive phrases. While the area of Africa we covered was minimal, it was amazing.
Six days of our travels were devoted to the traditional budget travelers' safari. A Landrover, Moses the driver, Isaac the cook, new friends, campgrounds and five amazing parks. After two years of work with Central Balkan National Park, aiding in its development, I found myself comparing the Bulgarian Parks and the Tanzanian Parks. I could not help but compare. While these parks developed in literally two different worlds their similarities were astounding. On the surface they are extraordinarily different but on levels that the average person overlooks, the similarities are shocking.
Physically, in geologic and biologic terms they obviously differ, the similarities that I observed were in their parallel paths of development. Most of Bulgaria's parks are much younger then their Tanzanian counterparts. The current battles in Bulgaria such as boundary disputes, poaching, land use, park fees, education programs and initiatives, conservation issues and missions, ranger training, the need to be viable entities, etc. are all issues that have been encountered and many overcome in Tanzania.
While in Arusha National Park, we had the opportunity to walk with a rifle toting park ranger named David. An amazing individual, David was well trained and deeply knowledgeable on all aspects of the parks operations and biological inhabitants. It was during this walk that I realized the level of similarities. Most of the current issues and battles in Bulgaria were fought and won sometime during the seventies in Tanzania.
This revelation gave me some hope for the future of Bulgaria's Parks. Of course these parks developed under different socioeconomic circumstances, the funding and assistance alone going towards Tanzanian Parks were and are much greater. But the recipe for success is there, and I believe Bulgaria will someday accomplish it.
The road will not be easy though. Tanzania had many things going for it that Bulgaria does not. Mainly, exotic animals that visitors are willing to pay [a lot] to see. The Bulgarian Parks system desperately needs international visitors that will stimulate the local economies of those municipalities that gave up their land for the Parks creations. Individuals that lost their right to use the parks land for financial gain or for sustaining their families need to see some benefits soon. The philosophical line about preserving for future generations does not carry much weight when they can not provide in the present.
Now, Tanzania enters its next step of conservation development as Bulgaria battles to retain their first. The Tanzanian conservationists are now beginning to fight for the reestablishment of certain wildlife corridors that once existed between parks and over the years have slowly been encroached upon and diminished. The loss of these natural corridors has resulted in the isolation of herds of animals, restricting migration and in the long term, if not corrected, will lead to the weakening of gene pools.
This next step for Tanzania will bring their work full circle. Returning to such issues as who has the ultimate right to the land. People will be displaced along the corridor to Arusha National Park and connecting wildlife refuges. Most of those effected have established homesteads over the last 10 years. But in the end people will again be displaced for the sake of nature. A concept hard to understand for many.
Moving on to Zanzibar, particularly the East Coast, I finally witnessed people who primarily live from the sea. While the western side of the island is amazingly fertile growing many of the worlds spices, the eastern side is mostly barren in terms of its ability to support farming.
The small villages make their living from the sea. The man fish the fertile reefs while the women farm seaweed. This seaweed is not farmed for their personal use though, it is sold to the government as a cash crop. The extremely labor intensive process is one of the main economic incomes for many families. The families that do farm the seaweed must sell to the government for a fraction of the crops true worth, barely making enough to get by. The government then sells primarily to Japan for a huge profit.
Sunrise: A Woman Farming Seaweed on the Coast of Zanzibar
(Jeff won the Study Abroad photo contest with this picture.)
The fishermen are starting to see the effects of over-fishing on the reefs. When we adorned the snorkels and fins we witnessed a beautiful and bountiful undersea world. We could also see the reefs are ill. Huge portions of coral die off and fields of already dead coral mean only one thing. The reefs are dying. Even though they are still amazing they are nothing compared to their former glory. Unless action is taken swiftly the reefs that sustain so many families and drive the booming tourist industry will disappear leaving the locals in dire straights.
We returned to a world that was no different then we left. The US, remains the superpower, experiencing phenomenal growth, yet it sickens me. After experiencing so many things in so many regions and areas of the world the attitude of the average American disgusts me. Big is not big enough and more is better. Friends working for the Big 3, making six figure salaries honestly admit that their paycheck far outweighs any negative impact their work has on the environment. In many aspects we are no different from the fishermen on the reefs. If we do not begin to change our ways, our "fertile world" will continue to decline. I fear true progress in terms of environmental welfare will continue to wait until such a time as it is to late.
I await eagerly our next adventure away from the madness of
the Detroit area.
[Jeff and Kerry also spent several months in Xalapa Mexico.]
Jack Wilder Ploetz, born 23 August 2004.
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Most recent update: 3 October 2004.