I did it! Today I gave a lecture in Bulgarian at the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum (IEFSEM) here in Sofia. Some of the research I'm doing is in the archives of this institute, so I was asked about a month ago to do a presentation. Here's the invitation to the talk:
First I told a short story, then explained how it happens that I speak Bulgarian. As many of you know, I lived in Sofia in 1983-84. Sitting in the front today was my roommate from that time, Elka. The last time I saw her, before today, was 1988! We've just both been busy, but plan to meet up soon.
I told how I became a storyteller in my job as a children's librarian in Connecticut, and about leaving that job in 1993 to be a full-time storyteller in Kansas. There is no such thing as a professional storyteller here, so I explained that I am my own boss, with my own business, and that I tell stories in schools, libraries, festivals, museums and other venues, to listeners of all ages.
As an example, I told The Ghost with the One Black Eye first in Bulgarian, then in English.
I explained the core of storytelling, how for me it's about connection: the storyteller connects with the story and the listeners, the listeners connect with the story and the storyteller, and the listeners connect among themselves. I talked about why it's important and various applications of storytelling, and about storytelling in the US.
From there, I moved on to my project, collecting Bulgarian folktales, primarily animal stories and trickster tales.
Of course it was time for another story. I told the first story I fell in love with in the archives, The Wedding of Bai Kotaran and Kuma Lisa. Bai Kotaran is a cat who is chased from home because he keeps eating the butter. He meets the tricky fox, Kuma Lisa and they decide to get married. The other animals get ready for the wedding, but Kuma Lisa suggests that her new husband is kind of a bad guy, so they should hide and see what he's like first. He comes to meet them, but they are hiding. He sees the boar's ear poking out of the leaves where the boar is hiding and thinks it's a mouse. He pounces, the boar squeals, Bai Kotaran jumps into the tree in fright, the bear in the oak tree throws herself out of the tree but lands on the wolf's back and an acorn falls into the rabbit's ear. All the animals run, except Bai Kotaran.
"He cut me on the ear with his sword!"
"He almost got me in the tree!"
"They hit me with a huge stone!"
"I heard the pistol. It was like a bullet in my ear!"
They agree that he really is a bad guy. They head home, disappointed not to have a big wedding feast. And Bai Kotaran and Kuma Lisa? They eat the delicious food the other animals brought and celebrate for a week.
While working on this story, I pictured Bai Kotaran as similar to my own cat, Frankie Bacon, who is being well cared for by friends Liz and Chris:
I then told the audience about the widening of my Fulbright project to include encouraging a Bulgarian "storytelling renaissance." Then one more short story and questions, lots of questions.
I've been working on this talk for the last week. I'm deeply grateful to my friend Tzveta, who helped me prepare, and to all who came to listen. While I stumbled a bit with the language, it was mostly intelligible. It was also a great challenge—and quite fun.
I think I'll sleep well tonight.
Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.