This speech was given on March 10 in Sofia as part of the kick-off ceremony for 50 years of the Peace Corps.   

Ken Hill (Turkey 1965-67) wrote me that “Bulgarian is a tough language to learn.  This is very impressive!  Be sure to watch the video!”

From Martha Forsyth’s Facebook page: This speech was given (in Bulgarian!) by Nathaniel Broekman in Sofia, Bulgaria, as part of the kick-off for Bulgaria’s celebration in honor of the Peace Corps’s 50th Anniversary.  You can watch and listen to the speech in Bulgarian at

Here’s what Nate Broekman had to say. I translated it for you! (Just kidding.) But also listen to Nate’s command of Bulgarian.

Esteemed Mrs. Fandukova, esteemed representatives of the Bulgarian government, esteemed Mrs. Sutton, esteemed Mrs. Lowman, dear guests and friends,

Today, I want to talk a little about numbers.  One of the things we’ve done as part of our 20 year anniversary is to gather statistics on the impact that we have had in Bulgaria. 1,269 volunteers.  845 schools.  1655 organizations.  130,509 students.  These numbers help us to understand that which we’ve achieved here. They are a source of pride for us in the work we do, and help show the first of the three goals of Peace Corps - Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.

But these numbers do not show the whole story.  The second and third goals of peace corps are instead focused on cultural exchange - promoting a better understanding abroad of American culture, and for Americans to better understand the different cultures of the world, in our case, that of Bulgaria.  Now, I don’t want to take away from the significance of these numbers, but after a little time with a calculator, I came up with some statistics that I felt would better portray to you the other two thirds of the volunteer experience in Bulgaria. 

Now, I am not a statistician, and these are very rough estimates.  The margin of error here is quite wide.  I ask that you bear with me as we explore the “alternative” numbers.

Let’s begin with the month of March, as it seems appropriate.  By my estimate, if each volunteer received and gave out about 30 martenitsi a year, this amounts to an exchange of about 76,000 martenitsi over each volunteer’s 2 year service, a certain percentage of which were later placed on trees or under rocks.

In the cultural sphere, I would argue that 85% of our volunteers know how to dance the Byala Roza, and it’s one of the first horos that we learn.  At 12 times danced a year and 4 minutes and 20 seconds per song, our volunteers have danced approximately 1,900 hours of Byala Roza.  This doesn’t even take into account any similar horos danced nor kyucheks.

While there are maybe only 50-100 volunteers who know the words to “Palatka,” there are at least 6 times that many who know the words to “Edna Bulgarska Roza,” and I’m certain that all sing it from the heart. 

Buses aside, volunteers have spent about 104,000 hours travelling on Bulgarian railways - with perhaps 20% of this time spent discussing pickling recipes with the baba sharing the same compartment, about 20,000 hours.

Our volunteers have gone fishing about 8,000 times, and have fished in at least 70% of the rivers and bodies of water in Bulgaria.  The number of fish we’ve caught however, is comparatively low.  Sometimes I think Bulgarian fish are just smarter than us foreigners.

My calculations show that Peace Corps Volunteers have helped distill over 200,000 litres of rakia, with perhaps 65% or so of those distilled on wood and the rest on gas. 

We have spent nearly half a million hours going na gosti in these past 20 years. We have eaten over 50,000 mekitsi.  The number of palachinki is easily 3 times that.  We collectively know about 5,200 ways to prepare banitsa, as each volunteer has had anywhere between 3 and 5 people show them their personal recipe over the course of service.  I will not mention the number of shopska salati, turshii, or shkembe chorbi consumed over this period. I will, however, say that the total amount of boza drunk is probably relatively low.

Now however absurd these numbers may sound, they help us to measure the unmeasurable.  Peace Corps is not just an agency focused on development, but perhaps moreso on cultural exchange - establishing close personal connections and better understanding between our two nations.  When we asked ourselves what makes us unique as a development organization, we saw that there is nothing that can replace an American living in a Bulgarian village or city for 2 years.  These “alternative” numbers simply grasp at a way to measure this personal contact. Certainly for us, as volunteers, this is what our service is really all about.

I’ve been given a tough job today.  It is nearly impossible to communicate the experiences of 1,300 volunteers over the past 20 years in Bulgaria.  Each volunteer has had their own favorite stories that should be told here. Each has had a Bulgarian grandma and grandpa for whom they have become “my child.”  Each has had his/her best Bulgarian friends in town and favorite students. 

However, one message I’m sure every volunteer can agree on stems from one of the first Bulgarian words we learned.  Thank you.  Thank you to everyone who ordered us inside their homes for coffee, even when we barely understood what you were saying.  Thank you for the kurabiiki you brought over last week and the many banitsas you’ve made.  Thank you for teaching us all 3 games of backgammon.  Thank you for taking us into your schools, your offices, your homes and your hearts.  I don’t have a number for how many times we’ve been asked the question: “You’re never going to forget Bulgaria, right?”  Rest assured, I simply don’t know how that would be possible.

May you live long and be healthy, and thank you.

– Nathaniel Broekman. 10 March 2011