Bad BG, Part 3

If you have read the book, then you will know that Holes is really a lot of metaphors. Yes, there are the literal holes that are dug by the not-so-happy campers at Camp Green Lake, but just about all of the characters in the story have holes, flaws or gaps or something missing from their characters. The palindromic hero of the book, Stanley Yelnats, is missing a lot of things: luck, friends and then his family, after he is sent to Camp Green Lake. Zero has a huge emotional hole: his mother has disappeared from his life. Even the evil Warden, a sort of latter-day American Cruella de Vil, has an emotional hole, the desire for the outlaw Kissing Kate Barlow’s missing loot. (KB also had a hole in her heart, after her black boyfriend was murdered by the lynch mob.) 

And there go your shockabsorbers.
But the biggest hole in the whole story (no pun intended!) is one that the novel touches on again and again, but does not really fill in properly: what do you do with “bad” adolescent boys? If they have broken the law, will a harsh regime like Camp Green Lake somehow turn them into good little American citizens? At Camp Green Lake, which is neither a camp, nor a lake, and certainly not a green lake, the cure for juvenile crime seems to be even worse than the illness.

Holes are a problem in Bulgaria too, but here they are the real thing, and lots of them. Dupki is the Bulgarian word and yes, there is no shortage of them here in Kalotina. Sometimes the roads in and around Kalotina seem to be more dupki than tarmac. The partial and occasional efforts that are made to repair the country roads in Bulgaria are half-hearted affairs. A sharp frost and some heavy rain and the repairs need to be repaired - or rather they will need to be replaced by a brand-new road.

Country roads in Bulgaria are a patchwork of different bits of tarmac and stretches of concrete stuck on at different times, holes, more holes and bare dirt, where drivers have driven off the road altogether to avoid the holes. Winter is not the worst time to be driving because the snow sometimes fills up some of the holes, but the spring rains usually make the holes worse each year.

And what is being done? The Bulgarian government, thanks to some EU pressure and no doubt some EU money, is keen to do some showy and obvious things, like the underpasses by the Lions' bridge, the Sofia ring road and the roads from Sofia to the coast. Little or nothing has been done or is being done about the country roads, the roads that connect the country villages to the towns. 

Not surprisingly, country people seem to have a mixture of anger and apathy. Like many Chinese youngsters, the few young people that there are in Bulgaria cannot wait to leave the countryside, as they think that either the (comparatively) bright lights of Sofia or else a foreign country are their only chance for any kind of future. The lousy state of Bulgaria's country roads just underlines the point that the countryside is really only for old people, for despair and decline. For many young Bulgarians, the best road they will ever see is the one that leads to the airport. In fact, a new and faster route to the airport has just been completed. (Sofia's new airport terminal was, of course, built with the aid of EU funding.)

Holes, therefore, are a metaphor for what is happening in Bulgaria. Yes, the cities are more or less still alive, but the countryside is dead or dying. Although the holes in the road are one rather obvious sign of neglect, even more serious are the other “holes”: the power cuts that seem to be happening in the rural areas more often and for longer periods. They are NOT a good advertisement for country living in Bulgaria. We have now been back in Kalotina for almost three weeks and during that time we have had many "outages", as our American cousins prefer to call them. Sometimes the power just goes off for a second or two, but at least twice we have had power cuts of an hour or more. And this is in June and July, so what is going to happen with the electricity in the winter months? In many ways, the infrastructure here in Bulgaria is almost as bad as what we experienced during our two years in Kenya, where power cuts and dreadful roads were par for the course. Question: Which side of the road does a Kenyan drive on? Answer: The side with the tarmac.

It is not all bad news, however. Yesterday we were in our nearest town, Dragoman, paying our taxes like good Bulgarian residents. The BG equivalent of car tax for our Nissan X Trail was 128 leva (that is about 65 euros or maybe 50 pounds or perhaps 500RMB, if you are one of my Chinese readers). In the UK, Vehicle Tax is usually more than twice that amount. The property tax (what in the UK would be called "Council Tax") for our villa was 16 leva. Yes, that is about 8 euros or may five pounds for an entire year! Recently I checked on the Internet and the average Council Tax bill in the UK is £1,671. 

So yes, there are holes in Bulgaria, but there will not be many in my pocket.         


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