Beautiful Bulgaria

The Bulgarians already knew too well that the old Soviet system of keeping everyone separate for easy control was not efficient. They were the ones who experienced on a daily basis the fact that there was no way from an economic standpoint to replace all the broken and worn-out equipment in the laboratories set up for each and every department and clinic. But changing that old system would be very, very difficult and would demand a whole new culture of cooperation. 

Friday, March 26, 2004

At 10 a.m., we conducted the needs assessment on the respiratory and lung hospital. Dr. Ivina Kammanova was the director of the facility. She had access to almost no diagnostic or therapy equipment. Her tuberculosis patients were not confined but had access to roam and intermingle with the other patients, as well as those from dermatology and psychological hospitals. 

At 11 a.m., we assessed the psychological hospital where Dr. Mihalov was the director. The whole institution and its function reminded me of some scene out of a terrible Woody Allen movie. At one end of the fourth floor the really bad patients were secured behind metal restraints. Most of the rest of them were free to go visit their friends on the upper or lower floors or even the nearby neighbors. The psychological department was also responsible for conducting tests on the local citizens as a requirement for them to receive licenses such as for marriage, driving or carrying a gun. 

The lady doctor who was the child psychologist held the distinction of being the only child psychologist in the region. She was very sweet and appeared normal, but some of the other help at the institution caused me to study them quite closely to determine whether they were part of the help or the helped. 

We hurried back to Haskovo to meet with Dr. Damianka Kolchagova, who was the director of the large city’s outpatient clinic. She was a talented lady and was really trying to efficiently run the clinic of 4,500 patients a month. She literally begged for medical supplies, as well as simple pieces of diagnostic equipment. 

Following a very successful meeting with the Ministry of Health on Friday, I met with the head of the “regional municipalities association,” Rayna Yovchera. Much like the health ministry spokesman, Rayna wanted Project C.U.R.E. to not just play favorites with Haskovo, but to also spread our help through her organization to every municipality across Bulgaria. 

Saturday, March 27

I was going to be in Haskovo the two extra days because I had not been able to secure any return seats on flights back to the US until Tuesday morning. Saturday morning, I was picked up at the hotel and we traveled a couple of hours across the country to the north and west to an old Roman city called Plovdiv where the old Roman marble amphitheater and Roman walls could still be seen. 

Now a newer city with a population of 500,000 had been developed adjacent to the ancient city. Many of the old homes and stores and opera houses dated back to the 1700s and 1800s and many had been refurbished since the fall of communism. It was a wonderful place to visit and soak in the ancient atmosphere of the conquering Romans. 

I had been observing the excellent work that had been accomplished by Laura Marzahl in preparing for the assessment trip. Every detail had been well administered. I had covered a lot of territory in the brief hours of my visit to Bulgaria and the success was, quite frankly, due to the pre-planning and coordination of the trip. The Peace Corps could certainly be proud of Laura’s work. 

On the trip I was able to talk to Laura and suggest that when she finished her tour with the Peace Corps in July she should consider, since her home in the US was in Memphis, Tennessee, going to Nashville and helping our Project C.U.R.E. people there with our organization. Ed, Tommy and Carol could certainly use her energy and talents. Surprisingly, she said that would be very appealing to her since she had grown to really appreciate and admire Project C.U.R.E. and its worldwide work in just the short time she had been acquainted. “Project C.U.R.E. is going to change Haskovo and its medical approach in the future, and I can already see what a great influence it will have on the world.” 

Sunday, March 28

Pavlina, Dmitri and Deedow insisted that they wanted to take me to see more of the beauty of Bulgaria.We stopped along the roadside and grabbed some breakfast on our way. 

Our Sunday trip took us to the borders of Romania on the north then to the east about 50 miles from the Black Sea, close to Serbia on the west, then again south toward Turkey. 

On the way we visited Shipka, high in the pine-covered mountains of central Bulgaria. There a monument sat atop a hill commemorating an 1877 battle where Russian and Bulgarian troops had lost their lives fending off an attempted invasion of the Turks. 

In addition to the stone monument, an Orthodox church had been constructed in the antique style of the 17th century “Moscow Baroque” orthodox churches. There were five, onion-shaped domes clad with real gold. The center dome was the largest and in front of the golden domes was a magnificent bell tower containing 17 bells, the largest of which weighed over 12 tons.


From miles away I could see the splendid golden domes shining from the mountainside, nestled in the bright green fir and evergreen trees. We stopped and lit candles in the chancel and marveled at the beauty of the paintings and hand-hewn woodwork inside. 

Further to the north we stopped at an ancient village that had been set aside as a preserve called Etur Ethyographical Museum. It was in the old Gabrovo region and prided itself with a whole village operated by waterpower. They had years ago harnessed the small river and run it through the village’s mini factories to power lathes, spinning wheels, metal working machines, and other pieces of equipment. My new friends were so proud of their history and culture, and I loved every minute of their sharing it with me. 

What a fortunate man I was to be able to travel around the world and share so many things with so many special people. Recently, I told someone that if they stood across the room in my office and threw a dart at the world map hanging on the wall next to my desk, and if the dart hit some place other than snow or water, somewhere within three inches of that dart I would have a friend who knew me and loved me there. Indeed, I was a fortunate man! 

Monday, March 29

So much for vacation on Saturday and Sunday. Monday was back to work! Following two meetings in Haskovo on Monday morning to make sure we had all the necessary details covered for the shipping of the future container loads of donated medical goods from Project C.U.R.E. into Haskovo, I checked out of my hotel room and started our trip back to the capital city of Sofia. I was accompanied by Pavlina Passeva and our driver and “bodyguard” Deedow. Before we left Haskovo I had given Deedow my “Project C.U.R.E.” jacket, which he wore with great pride. 

Our trip to Sofia had two objectives. First was to get me back to the capital city so I could catch my airplane flight back to Munich, Germany, early Tuesday morning. But the second assignment was to meet with the US embassy people in Sofia. I was eager to meet them and they were likewise eager to make the connection with Project C.U.R.E. since it was possible that we would be ultimately pouring into the country several millions of dollars worth of medical goods. 

Actually our donations to the hospitals would almost be as an extension of their gift of over $300,000 to the regional hospital’s renovation project. 

Once in Sofia our US embassy contact people were Mark Watkins, chief, and Olajide Ijadare, deputy chief. Olajide Ijadare was born in Nigeria, so, when I told him the story of my being made a royal chief, “Chief Uzoma of Nkume People,” on one of my trips to Nigeria, he just beamed with smiles. He then started referring to me as “chief.” It was a great time and a great meeting with the US embassy folks. They were so appreciative that Project C.U.R.E. had agreed to come alongside the healthcare institutions in Haskovo and asked if there would be any possibility to extend our help to other areas of Bulgaria. 

I was certainly not going to be leaving Bulgaria being able to say that we had run into closed doors in that country. The doors of opportunity were not just wide open, but they had been completely taken off their hinges to allow Project C.U.R.E. to freely enter the country and set up shop. That would be easy for me to be a part of because I had quickly fallen in love with the people of Bulgaria.

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

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