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Tales and opinions from the expatriate community

Author: Clive Leviev-Sawyer
Editor-in-chief
Date: Thu, Dec 20 2001 1142 Views
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Always something new out of Africa ­ or Bulgaria


Ubuntu.

Now there's a word you may not have seen before, unless you have spent much time where I grew up, a city called Cape Town in the bottom left-hand corner of Africa.

What could the relevance of this word be to the expatriate community here, when what a newcomer to Bulgaria really needs to know are phrases like, "Excuse me, I don't think your meter's working properly," and "Do you stock hangover cures?"

But in the days since starting a new life here, that word has lingered in my head, with the tenacity of the after-effects of last night's Merlot.

In the African life philosophy, ubuntu means living according to a sense of community with others, in a way that instils a feeling of mutual belonging and respect. It is, at heart, about honouring our common humanity rather than emphasizing our differences.

For any foreigner arriving in a new country, the easiest option is to spin oneself a comforting cocoon drawn from a romanticized version of "home."

This can take extreme and even amusing forms, like an acquaintance of mine from South Africa who lived in Germany for 14 months and spent much of her time dressed in kaftans and with her hair braided - an effect made incongruous by the fact that, like myself, she was of European descent.

Had I taken the same route, I should have greeted my new colleagues at The Sofia Echo dressed in an ensemble of gazelle and leopard skins, and bearing a Zulu spear and shield.

`Well,' they might have thought, `this is going to be a change from Brendan.'

The other extreme is to, in the old colonial phrase, "go native" and try to be more Bulgarian than the Bulgarians.

It's an unlikely option for me. For starters, I would have trouble celebrating my name day because there has never been a Saint Clive, and, believe me, I am unlikely to be the first.

This is not to say that Bulgaria, even in my small acquaintance, does not quickly prove an intriguing and seductive place.

I have spent just a little while here, a few weeks in January and again in July.

That has been enough time for a few rites of passage, from my first rakia and shopska salad, to savouring the quiet spirituality of Rila monastery, and, best of all, the exuberance of a Bulgarian wedding - my own.

To say nothing of its politics. Having spent several years as a political journalist, I must say I am captivated by the unfolding story here.

The fine art of living abroad indefinitely seems to lie in charting a course which keeps in sight one's own culture and heritage, and takes the richest route of living in an adoptive home.

I neither want to forsake my roots of almost 40 years, nor trudge the snowy streets resentfully longing for clear blue African skies.

I look forward to walking the byways of Bulgaria in all its seasons, relishing the best of each, and feeling the sense of belonging that ubuntu brings. It is not that I shall never criticize: home is a place where one speaks freely.

As for me, so for The Echo.

A newspaper is, after all, a living thing, a member of its community. Perhaps even more so for The Echo, which must be both the journal of the expatriate community and a bridge to all of Bulgaria.

To paraphrase an American editor, a great newspaper is a community in conversation with itself.

To me, that means a newspaper that can talk business with seriousness and reliability, tell the stories of the people around it with wit and sympathy, sharing their dreams, their laughter and their triumphs, possess enough wisdom to explain a sometimes bewildering world, and hold an insatiable curiosity to hear what people have to say.

It may even gossip a little.

In all of these, that is where you come in. Readers are the owners of newspapers, and the two should always be able to sit and talk and listen as equals, sharing their news and opinions.

That is the way of ubuntu, that is my way, and that is the way of The Echo.

Clive Leviev-Sawyer, a senior journalist with two decades of experience in South Africa, is the new Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Echo.
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Sounding Board is a weekly guest column for members of Bulgaria's expatriate community to voice their opinions or recount stories from their life in Bulgaria. Submissions should be 700 words, accompanied by a photo, and emailed to editor@sofiaecho.com.

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