Day One — We arrived after a very long trip (leaving Austin at 11 a.m. CST and arriving in Sofia via Washington, D.C. and Munich, Germany at 12:15 p.m. Bulgarian time) to find a beautiful welcoming city and great accommodations. We met up with our Bulgarian hosts – Svet and Martin.
We walked through the downtown area and saw a fascinating combination of old and new – both architectural and anthropological. We spent our first morning establishing the details of the process families will follow, including meeting with local travel experts to ensure families have a safe and productive travel experience. We are on our way to see Bulgaria’s most famous monastery – Rila – located near the tallest mountains on the Balkan peninsula.
Day Two — We’ve had a very busy day, starting with breakfast at the hotel – typical European breakfast buffet with cold cuts, cheeses, fish, a variety of breads. It was actually very tasty, and there was some great white sheep’s cheese that Sonya plans to become hooked on. The Bulgarian yogurt that is served is much like a very thin version of US sour cream, but even more tart! Tastes just like the Bulgarian yogurt at Sprouts back home in Austin! For families who aren’t so adventurous in their eating, there are plenty of familiar fast food establishments in Sofia – we’ve seen McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, Starbucks, and I’m sure there are others that we just haven’t encountered yet.
We then presented Martin and Svet with LSS pens and windbreakers, which they really appreciated and liked. Martin and I spent most of the morning reviewing the guidebook that Karalyn (Karalyn Heimlich, title) had completed a draft of, to become familiar with and better understand the Bulgarian side of the adoption process. Much has changed since the adoption of the Hague and Martin and Svet are still refining the details of their understanding as well. We hope to clarify any remaining questions and ambiguity when we meet with the Ministry of Justice officials on Wednesday.
Sonya and Svet meanwhile went to Premier Tours, the travel agency that New Beginnings had used in the past, and were able to rent a car and make a valuable face-to-face contact. They are very interested in providing inter-country and intra-country travel arrangements for our future families and have a long history of providing those same services to US families who were in the country to adopt before the moratorium.
This afternoon and evening were spent driving to Rila to the most famous of the Bulgarian monasteries. It’s an Orthodox monastery, and while we were there, we were able to observe some of the monks chanting, which was quite fascinating! We toured the monastery which was established by St. John of Bulgaria in 876. It was beautiful and is being well maintained. It is close by, about 90 kilometers, but high up in the mountains. Takes a while, but is worth the trip. Families could easily take advantage of this local history.
On the rather winding road back from the monastery, we had an interesting discussion about adoption and its acceptance by Bulgarian society. In the past, families never told a child they adopted that (s)he was adopted, and in fact until recently there was a law with mandatory jail time for anyone who informed a child of his/her adoption, without the parents’ permission. Society has become more open now, according to our facilitators and families generally inform their children of their adoptions. The politics of adoption in Bulgaria, however are such that the government provides grants, i.e., financial support to families for up to three invitro fertilization procedures, but provides no financial support of any kind to families for an adoption – maybe in a few years, Svet thinks.
We also learned that the Bulgarians have a totally opposing viewpoint as we do in the U.S. about foster care. Young children are placed in orphanages, because it’s believed that they have the best chance of finding a permanent home; foster care is generally for the older children the officials believe will not realistically be adopted. The issue of bonding/attachment doesn’t seem to factor into this decision making process, as far as we were able to ascertain.
Well…..that’s all we could absorb in one day. Hopefully there will be new and exciting information to share tomorrow!
Sonya Thompson contributed to this story!