With so many changes happening in our lives, and since “the view from where we are” is no longer a very appropriate title for our blog (I mean, who wants to see a picture of the interstate in Fayetteville or the apartment buildings across the courtyard from us), I decided to start a new blog.  You can find it here.

We spent this past weekend camping at Petit Jean State Park with James’ parents and had a wonderful time.  Both of us really missed camping while we were in Bulgaria, and the weather was pretty much perfect for it this weekend–neither too hot nor too cold.  It was good to have a weekend away from things here, like job searching and thinking about which direction we’re headed next.  We had a fun time just relaxing, doing some hiking and playing cards.

It’s been a while since I have updated on Baby Covington, mainly because it’s been quite a while since we’ve seen an actual doctor.  Today I finally got to meet my new doctor here in Fayetteville.  It was great to finally deal with all of these things in English, and also have the assurance that they are doing everything they should be doing.  I think that before today I had already had at least twice the number of ultrasounds that the average woman has during her whole pregnancy in the States, but they went ahead and did another one, just to make sure that they were getting the same measurements and estimated date of delivery that the doctors got in Bulgaria, and to confirm that the baby is indeed a boy like the Bulgarians said (yes, he is still a boy).

We were very pleased to get some great pictures this time around.  Although we always saw good images of the baby on the ultrasound screens in Bulgaria, the doctors always chose the strangest pictures to actually give us.  We have quite a few pictures of the baby’s heart, a picture of the top of his head, and his rear end.  Today we actually got a nice profile view.  He’s coming right along, and is actually in the 50th percentile as far as size and weight go, which the doctor said was great, since that means he’s right on target and not too big or too little.

Here’s the face.  It’s a little harder to make this picture out, but if you look closely you can see one of the eyes pretty well, and I think the nose, too.

And I really liked seeing his cute little feet.  He seemed to be just chilling out during the ultrasound.  He was laying on his back and had his arms up above his head and his legs crossed at the ankles, like he was just lounging and having a good old time.

And finally, confirmation that Baby Covington is a boy.

And finally, the long-awaited picture of the belly.  It has been a long time coming, because honestly, there hasn’t been a whole lot to show off.  It’s still pretty small, but it has changed a lot in just the past couple weeks.  This picture was taken last Thursday, at 23 weeks.  I will be glad when it gets a little bigger and I stop hearing questions like “Where’s your baby?” and “Are you sure you’re really pregnant?”.

In remembrance of Bulgaria, I thought I’d do a little comparison of the experience here versus the experience in Bulgaria.  Like James said, the differences in medical care are like night and day.

Language: This one’s pretty obvious, but here I am able to understand 100% of what my doctor says.  None of the doctors I saw in Bulgaria (and I saw three different ones) knew hardly a word of English.

Waiting Rooms: For one, waiting rooms actually exist in all clinics in the U.S. (as far as I know), and these waiting rooms can be pretty plush.  In Bulgaria, a person typically just waits in line right outside their doctor’s door.  At the second hospital I went to, I actually did have to make appointments and there was a waiting room (though very simple), but this confused some of the Bulgarian patients, who didn’t seem to understand that they couldn’t just run up to the doctor’s door and cut in line.

The Basics: By the basics, I mean weight, blood pressure, pulse, medical histories, etc.  No doctor ever took my weight or blood pressure in Bulgaria, and I never filled out any sort of information about myself or my medical history.  The doctor never asked me more than a question or two either.  As far as I know, the hospital in Bulgaria only had my name and Bulgarian ID number on file.

Medical Files: I just alluded to it above, but I don’t think the doctors in Bulgaria had any sort of file on me.  If they did, the only thing it would have had in it was my payment history and name/ID number, because I never gave them any other sort of information.  This created a slight headache when coming back to the U.S., because the clinic I was originally trying to go to (where I had been a patient before), would not let me get an appointment until they received my medical records from Bulgaria.  I explained that the doctors there didn’t keep records, but they still wanted me to scan everything I had (ultrasound pictures, test results, etc.) and send them in before they would consider setting up an appointment.  This was slightly humorous to me, because everything I had was written in Bulgarian, so it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway.  Thankfully, we were able to get into another clinic here that didn’t make me go to all this trouble.  But, that just goes to show that there is a lot more to the system here in America.

Knowing your name: The doctors never, and I mean never, spelled my name correctly in Bulgaria.  I realize it’s not a Bulgarian name, but I did get a little tired of seeing my name spelled a different way every single time (Alisan, Alasen, etc.)  They also put me on file as Allison Covington Kidd, instead of Allison Kidd Covington, and when I went to get this corrected, they changed it to Allison Kidd Kidd.  At that point, I just gave up and decided I would deal with it later.

Ultrasounds: The Bulgarians were crazy about ultrasounds.  That was the standard procedure for every single appointment, and that was just about all they ever did.  We were glad about that, though, because it did allow us to see our baby at a lot of different stages.  My doctor in Bulgaria also did echocardiograms with all her patients, so we got to have a special ultrasound that took a close up look at the baby’s heart.  It was interesting, but neither of us understood much of what the doctor told us, because they were words we wouldn’t even necessarily know in English (like words for specific arteries and chambers of the heart).  Luckily, we did understand that everything looked just fine.  When the nurse here found out they had done an echocardiogram, she looked both shocked and scared, because they only do those here when they suspect a problem.

Costs: Medical care of any sort in Bulgaria was dirt cheap in comparison to the U.S.  Just to give you an idea, an appointment in Bulgaria, including an ultrasound, was about $15.  Here, an ultrasound alone is nearly $300, and the technology is not really any different.  I am not complaining, though.  I am just super thankful to have good medical care and to be able to understand everything that is going on, so the cost is well worth that.

These are just some of the differences that really stood out to me.  I wouldn’t say that my experience dealing with this overseas was negative, just very different, and a little scary since it’s all new for me.  It does make me very thankful for good health care, something I probably took for granted in the past.

Bulgarian men are pretty serious when it comes to the grill, and so are these guys.

James & Jon grilling some burgers on one of our last days

I mentioned in my previous post that the hardest thing to leave behind here in Sofia is the people.  We have been so fortunate to be able to spend lots of time with Jon, Andrea and Samuel over the past several days, as they have graciously allowed us to stay with them until we leave.  We will miss having them so close, but know that we will still remain friends despite the long distance.  There’s a special bond that exists when you’ve gone through everything we’ve gone through together–moving overseas and being so far away from friends and family, learning a new culture and a new language, and the list goes on.

Yesterday we had gorgeous weather here, so we all decided to spend the day up on Mt. Vitosha.  We see Vitosha everyday, since it’s one of the dominating landmarks in Sofia, but we have just never gotten around to going up to the top.

We took a gondola lift almost all the way to the top.  It was about a 30-minute ride.  The lift is really just a couple miles from where we lived, so I can’t believe we just now got around to doing this.

We stopped for lunch near the top at a cafeteria-style restaurant.  This is also a ski hut in the winter.

We had good intentions to hike to the top of the mountain from the lodge, but the trail was much steeper than we were expecting.  The combination of a dog, a pregnant woman, and a baby made the steep climb very unappealing, so we came back down.  We still managed to get some pretty great views without making it to the top.

From close to the top we could see down into Sofia really well.  These pictures show our neighborhood.  For some reasons, the blocks look a lot better at a distance.

I was so glad that we got to spend part of our last weekend on Vitosha.  Not only is it something we have wanted to do the whole time we’ve been here, it is also a major part of the city and one that we both wanted to experience before leaving.  It was a good way to kind of “say goodbye” to this city that we’ve called home for the past nine and a half months.

Many of you probably know, but this Tuesday we will be boarding a plane bound for Arkansas, and we’re not sure when we’ll be back in Bulgaria.  We’re still in shock that we’re leaving.  We thought this was going to be home for the next 10-15 years.  But, sometimes life takes turns that we weren’t really expecting, and we are excited to see what God has in store for us next.

One of the hardest things about leaving is saying our good-byes, more than anything our good-byes to our teammates and other people we’ve come to know here.  There are also lots of little things we will cherish and miss.  I will miss our wonderful apartment here.  When we are back in Fayetteville and I look out of our apartment and see a parking lot or a street or a field, I will think back to our ninth floor apartment here that has a great view of the mountains during the day and the buildings lit up at night.  We will miss speaking Bulgarian (I don’t think that’s going to come in handy back home, but who knows).  We will miss the relentless snow in the winter, and the nice summers.  We might even miss walking to the store and carrying back all our groceries by hand.  I think I will be in shock the first time I return to Wal-Mart and am able to get a whole week’s worth of food in one trip, and not have to worry about it being too heavy to carry home.

On Thursday we said several good-byes.  We both said bye to our language helpers, and we also had farewell ice-cream with our landlady and her daughter, who is visiting from Spain.

OK, so maybe there aren’t any reports of flying saucers here in Bulgaria, but this monument nearly had us fooled.

This was one of the most intriguing sights we saw in our travels with James’ parents, and I thought it deserved a post all of its own.  We were originally looking for the “Shipka Monument”, a mountain-top memorial to the Russian and Bulgarian soldiers who fought for Bulgaria’s independence from the Ottomans.  We thought we had found it when we came to a parking area and spotted a trail-head across the street.  The fog was so dense that we couldn’t quite see what was on top of the mountain.  From the parking lot, all we could see was a portion of the tower and “flying saucer”.  We just figured that the Shipka Monument was up there somewhere in all the fog.  James and his Dad went to go check it out, while his Mom and I waited down in the car.  We weren’t too excited about all the climbing, so we sent them off with the cameras to take lots of good pictures.

As it turns out, the monument we were looking for was elsewhere.  This “flying saucer” was apparently some kind of former Communist monument that had been completely demolished on the inside.  We did a little research when we got back to Sofia, and found that the monument is called “Buzludzha” and was a former Communist meeting place, housing gatherings of 30-40,000 people.  It has been basically destroyed since the wall fell.  The only way to enter is through a broken glass window.

The next day we all went up there, since James and his Dad had figured out that we could drive up to it.  It was still shrouded in fog, which just added to all the eeriness.  Here are some pictures of the outside and inside.

Buzludzha

If you read my last post about Bulgaria, then you may remember that I mentioned a restaurant serving “vinaigrette with estrogen”.  At least, that’s how it appeared in their English translation of the menu.  The Bulgarian word on the menu was nearly identical to our word for estrogen, so we assumed that this was some kind of new-fangled food craze that we had yet to hear about.  When we looked up the Bulgarian word in the dictionary, we couldn’t find it.  We only found “естрагeн” (meaning estrogen, like it had been translated into English), but could not find “естрагон”, which was the word used on the Bulgarian menu.

Last night as we were eating with Jon and Andrea, we mentioned this to them, wondering if they had any clue as to what this was all about.  They were puzzled, too, but then Andrea suddenly remembered  a packet of seeds she had bought for their garden.  She went and grabbed it, and the big mystery was instantly solved.  The word we had seen on the menu was the Bulgarian word for “tarragon”, incorrectly translated into English as “estrogen”, all because the Bulgarian words for “estrogen” and “tarragon” are exactly the same except for one letter.

Vinaigrette with tarragon sounds like something I would try, but vinaigrette with estrogen?  Not a chance.

I think if any of you out there would like a job in editing, then you’d find plenty of work here in Bulgaria.  This particular restaurant would really appreciate your services, because I’m pretty sure that no English-speaking person in their right mind would ever order that menu item.

We have been blessed to have both sets of parents come visit us this summer–my parents in June and James’ parents right now.  We spent this past week touring Bulgaria with the Covingtons.  We were so excited for the chance to finally see Bulgaria outside of Sofia.  This country has so many great places to visit, and I feel like we only scratched the surface.

It’s impossible to describe everything we did, so I’ve made some highlights, one for each letter of the word ‘Bulgaria’.

Black Sea: Located on the other side of Bulgaria, the Black Sea is the favorite vacation spot of Bulgarians.  In August Sofia is supposedly desolate, because anyone who can afford it is at the sea.  We have already noticed that the streets and buses are much less crowded.

So, in order to be true Bulgarians, and in order for the Covingtons to get a proper introduction to the country, the Black Sea was a mandatory part of our tour, even if we only stayed on the beach for several hours.

Unending fields of sunflowers:  In Bulgaria it can take a long time to get a short distance because of road conditions.  The beautiful sunflowers (not to mention the mountains) break up some of the monotony.  Sunflower oil and sunflower seeds are very plentiful here, and now I understand why.

Landscapes



Great Food

This is ‘kapama’, one of our favorite Bulgarian dishes.  Since we rarely see it on restaurant menus, we were thrilled when one of the places we were staying told us that they had just slow-cooked a huge pot of this stuff.  Basically it’s cabbage, rice, spices and a variety of meats cooked together in a clay pot.  It may not sound like anything special, but it’s pretty great.

I realize coffee doesn’t exactly qualify as “food”, but I had to include this.  Bulgarians are so crazy about instant coffee (particularly Nescafe) that they even have roadside coffee vending machines in the middle of nowhere.  No one in Bulgaria has a good excuse for falling asleep at the wheel.

Doner kebabs are more Turkish than Bulgarian, but they are everywhere here in Bulgaria.  This is basically a huge spit of meat that is cooked as it rotates.  It is then shaved off and placed in a tortilla with onions, tomatoes, lettuce and a special sauce.

On our last day we drove through a little town that would be comparable to a town in the middle of nowhere in Arkansas.  We were looking for a place to eat and weren’t having much luck finding a place that looked very promising, so we decided to follow the signs to “Almond Hotel and Restaurant”.  We finally found it up on the hillside above the town and since we were all starving we decided to give it a try.  Little did we know what an extravagant restaurant we were going to.  It was the most upscale-looking restaurant I have seen in Bulgaria.  Many of the menu items were things I have never tried (or heard of), like quail eggs and “vinaigrette with estrogen”.  You may have to click on the picture below to be able to read this and some of the other interesting English translations.  I would appreciate it if anybody could explain to me what “vinaigrette with estrogen” is supposed to be.  I told James to stay away from it.


Animals:  In nearly every little town across Bulgaria, you can spot numerous stork nests, perched up on telephone poles and even church bell towers.

Rock Formations:  We took two half days to drive through the Rhodope Mountains in south central Bulgaria.  The Eastern portion of this mountain range is less mountainous and more rocky.

This particular formation is known as the “Stone Wedding”.  We re-enacted our wedding ceremony here.

Here are the “Stone Mushrooms”.  James thought they were pretty tasty.

Near Rila Monastery, you can take a short hike up the mountainside to a small cave where St. Ivan Rilski lived for his last 20 years.  Years ago, pilgrims were required to pass through a small hole in the cave before they could enter the monastery.  It was believed that if they could not pass through the hole, then they had guilty consciences.  These people were told to go back home and repent for a year before coming back to try again.  Luckily, James and I both passed the test.

Interesting Churches

The Shipka Memorial Church was built in 1902 to honor the Russians and Bulgarians who died fighting for Bulgaria’s Independence.  The vibrant colors and different shapes really reminded me of Candy Land, but this picture doesn’t show enough detail to do that justice.

The Rila Monastery is a must for all visitors to Bulgaria, so we went back with James’ parents.  It was great the second time around to be able to take in more details from the murals.  They are really impressive.

Many of the murals are depictions from the book of Revelation.  Here are angels blotting out names from the Book of Life.


Ancient Tombs:  The Thracians lived in Bulgaria during ancient times and left behind a number of burial mounds with tombs inside.  Some of the tombs are open for the public, but we decided to go the more economical route and just go inside the replica (if you ask me, it’s not worth $15/person to go inside a hill of dirt).

Tomorrow James and I celebrate three years of marriage and a new addition to our family.  Most of you reading this have probably already heard the news, but we’re having a baby in January!  We couldn’t be happier, and feel so blessed to have this privilege.

It has been a fun adventure experiencing all of this in a different country.  There’s not enough room to recount everything here, but here are some of the highlights.

After two positive pregnancy tests, I made an appointment at a private clinic within walking distance of our previous apartment.  We saw a doctor several days later, and he immediately took an ultrasound.  Here was the result:

Do you see anything?  We didn’t, and neither did the doctor.  If you look closely, right between the two white markers, you can see a tiny black speck.  He speculated that this was probably a baby, but he couldn’t be sure since it was so early, so he said to come back in two weeks.  Hmmmm…..I thought they could prove these kinds of things with blood tests, but apparently that is not the norm here.

Needless to say, it was a long two weeks.  We really just wanted a doctor to tell us it was true.  To make matters worse, when I called the office to schedule an appointment for two weeks later, I had no idea that they would be closed for alphabet day.  Yes, that’s right.  Alphabet day.  The Bulgarians got a three day weekend for it this year, and my doctor took off four days to celebrate the Bulgarian alphabet, so our appointment was postponed a little longer.

Well, our doctor must have really enjoyed celebrating the alphabet, because I got a call the day before my appointment and was told I would either have to reschedule, because he was still on vacation, or I would have to meet with a different doctor.  I decided a different doctor would be fine.

This time the doctor immediately confirmed that yes, there was a baby in there.  However, she was unable to see up close and see things like the heartbeat because my bladder was not full enough.  She told me to go drink a bunch of water and come back in thirty minutes.  We went across the street, bought some water, and came back early, to secure our place in line (you have to wait in line here outside your doctor’s door, and I didn’t want to be miserable waiting for several people to go in front of me).  When thirty minutes passed, she came out and told me that we should wait just a little bit longer, so she would see me after her next patient.  At this point I was dying, but I couldn’t exactly argue with her.  Lucky for me (and everyone else in the clinic), I only had to wait another 15 minutes.  This time we got to see a lot more, but it was still very tiny.  I think this is around seven weeks.

There wasn’t anything really negative about my first two appointments, but I also wasn’t super impressed, and since I knew I wanted our baby to be born at a particular hospital here in Sofia, I had to make our most recent appointment at the hospital itself.  It’s a very nice place, and one American even told me that she had a better experience here than in the States.  Today we had our first visit there, and I was very impressed.  My doctor (go here and scroll down until you see Dr. Lazarova if you want to see her picture and bio) is very warm and friendly, and even though she doesn’t speak a bit of English, she is very good about slowing down her Bulgarian and making sure we understand.

Today we got to see so much more detail, and the doctor confirmed that we are right around 14 weeks along.  Our baby actually looks like a real baby now!  She pointed out the heart, lungs, spinal cord, bladder, etc.  It was also very active.  We got to see lots of kicking and squirming, even though I still can’t feel a thing.  Our baby also happened to be in a very good, though not terribly flattering, position when it first showed up on the screen. If you look closely, you might notice what I’m talking about.

Can you tell what we’re having??  If you can’t tell from the picture, you can probably tell from the drawing our doctor made at the bottom of the paper.  It’s a boy!!!!  We were absolutely shocked to find out this news today; we didn’t expect to find out for at least another month.  It’s a good thing we were planning on finding out, because she didn’t hesitate to tell us right off the bat!  James said I had a really delayed reaction when she told us, but that was mainly because I was making sure I heard correctly.  The words for boy and girl in Bulgarian are nearly identical, so I didn’t want to get confused.

Anyway, we are very excited, and look forward to meeting our baby boy sometime around January 13th.  We’ll keep you updated on the progress!