Tony Buckby – Director British Council Bulgaria from 2007 to 2011
Just bring us chocolates every day and that will be fine they said, so I thought I would stick to that advice initially and I put my new broom away in the cupboard.
Time and time again when speaking with ex-colleagues who had lived and worked in Bulgaria I heard them exclaim ”What a privilege it was to be in Sofia!” After driving across Europe to get here at the end of 2007 and entering the city only to crash violently into potholes that I failed to spot because of the torrential rain I must say that I felt like turning the car around. Getting back to more familiar and firmer ground seemed a better option!
However I stayed and embarked on a search for those benefits I had been told about. We needed to find somewhere to live and I set off with my wife to see a delightful house in Boyana. You’ll experience complete freedom up here we were told but unfortunately as the fog began to envelop us we felt that ‘house arrest’ might be a more accurate definition.
Those privileges and benefits still seemed elusive. Then however we had a bit of luck as an apartment became available which suited us very well indeed. The 6 minute walk to my office didn’t seem bad and my wife did not have to risk using her only form of transport, an Italian Vespa, to get around the centre.
So when did the sense of privilege really start? Well that is when I had the chance to meet my colleagues at the British Council and quickly discovered that they were a marvellous group of people and gave me such a warm welcome that it almost seemed (though I don’t really believe it) that they had no worries about those strange ideas and plans that new Directors often bring with them. Just bring us chocolates every day and that will be fine they said, so I thought I would stick to that advice initially and I put my new broom away in the cupboard.
Gradually during that first year I came to understand that Bulgaria is special indeed. I decided it was an extraordinary mix of what is beautiful, infuriating, fascinating, impressive, frustrating and totally charming. I still cannot work out the exact combinations but I am hoping that our British Council science group can help me with the formula I need to define how I feel without resorting to all those contradictions.
My work has been a real roller-coaster and there are times when I have felt pretty inadequate for not managing to get to three British Council events all organised on the same evening. I was assured that the planning hadn’t been a mistake but simply reflected colleagues’ confidence in me and their belief that I could do it. I failed I’m afraid, but I did subsequently learn to be in two places at once if not in three.
I have seen Bulgaria changing over the last couple of years and not only because of all the new shopping malls. I have noticed a growing confidence and if our work in providing people with international opportunities is increasing this surely means that the demand for those opportunities is increasing. So I have now understood why exactly there is a real sense of privilege in working in Bulgaria. It has to do with the feeling that we are truly in a position to enrich the cultural relationship between our two countries and it is an additional privilege to be able to do so by working with so many wonderful partners who share an ever increasing sense of openness, mutual respect and determination to make life better for everyone.