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The Odyssey, of the Lev.

By Gene Maynard
December, 2002

When I first come to Bulgaria on October 5, 1993, I knew nothing about the money that they used here. At that time I got 18 Levís, (This is the old money system.) to the dollar. But that was in the hotel that I was staying at in Sofia, for the first five days of my first stay in Bulgaria. And everyone knows that it is not a good idea to change money at a hotel, because they donít give you a good rate of exchange. But what can a person do when you donít know the system or where to change money in each and every country that a person goes to, when traveling. And it would even be worse if a person was to go out on the street and exchange money there. More then likely, you would get counterfeit money on the street.

So I was lucky in that I had a friend that showed me how the system worked, here in Bulgaria. After a week I was an old hand at changing my money, here in Bulgaria. The first time I stayed in Bulgaria was for only one and a half months and the money was already starting to devaluate. By the time I left to go home to Kenosha, the Lev was 24 to the dollar.

I left Bulgaria on about the 18th of November 1993 having gotten married to a Bulgarian girl and already starting a divorce. Gene is strange!! But what else did I have to do, as the saying goes?

I had met a nice girl from Vratza while waiting to catch the plane to Sofia, (This was the start of my first trip.)on the way to visit the girl that I was thinking of marring and after seeing that the marriage was not going to work. Since I had an invite to visit Vratza, I did. This girl introduced me to another girl from Vratza. So after meeting the two nice girls in Vratza on my first trip to Bulgaria, I though to myself that I might as well go back to Bulgaria to see what is happing, as life was not very exciting in Kenosha! Also I thought that it would be fun to show up at the hearing for my divorce, as I had never been divorced in a foreign country before!! So this is what I did. On the 4th of February 1994 I arrived back in Bulgaria all set to stay for four months. My new friends in Vratza had found me an apartment with a old woman, who I called, (Old Horse Face.) and she really did look just as I say here.

Anyway by this time the Lev was 35 to the dollar and as you can see this was almost 100% deflation for the Lev. By the time I left Bulgaria on June 3, 1994 to go home to Kenosha, to sell most of my furniture and car, as I was going back to Bulgaria to get married again, as I had fallen in love with a woman called Yura, the Lev was 45 to the dollar.

When I arrived back in Bulgaria on the first of August, 1994, two months later, the Lev was 48 to the dollar and on my wedding day, which was 10th of September, 1994 the Lev was 50 to the dollar. The next two months were a blur, as remember, I was in love (Temperate out of a personís gourd.) and so it was not until November, 1994 that I was paying attention to what was going on around me again. Now the Lev was 58 to the dollar. Three times higher then when I first arrived in Bulgaria, only a little more then one year later.

On the first on January 1995 and living at (Old Horse Face.) apartment, as at this time there was only the two of us, (Yura and me. ) we were not yet planning on having a baby called Sasha. So rolling along singing a song, sort of thing, the Lev was up to 62 to the dollar. Not so bad, not so good. We didnít like (Old Horse Face.) as the landlady was stealing our money by charging all of the building (Old Horse Faces home. We lived up stairs and she lived downstairs.) utilities to us and she was charging us $100 dollars a month rent and telling the authorities that she was only getting 35 dollars a month rent from us. It didnít matter to us as this was still very cheap to old Gene, at the time.

Yura and I talked over an idea about having a baby. We were thinking that it would be a good idea if Yura was to have a baby, as she had never been married before. So after going to Sofia for tests, because Yura wanted to be sure that everything was good to go. After tests, we did decide to plan for Sasha.

We decided to relax and light up a Camel, kind of thing, and went to Kyustendil for the mud baths and mineral baths. Kyustendil is in the mountains in southeastern Bulgaria (Very pretty scenery.) near the Rila Monastery. This also is the highest point in Bulgaria, for mountains. Many, many people go to Kyustendil to see if they canít improve their health and increase their chances of having a baby. Old wives tales, I am sure, sort of thing. So while there, Yura was having coffee at a outside cafe, while I was inside at my mineral bath and a young man started talking to her and offering to help her have a baby. A lot of young women fall for this kind of thing, as they are desperate to have a baby and will try almost anything. Yura told this man to get lost, as she was not that desperate.

Back to Vratza and work for Yura and Gene was still getting use to the very different type of life style here in Bulgaria. This was September 1995, only one year after getting married and the Lev was about 70 to the dollar. The Lev stayed rather stable for the next six months, but in the summer of 1995, the Lev started to go up again and was now 100 Levís to the dollar. I remember thinking that there was now 1 stoltinkie for each penny there was in the dollar, as there is 100 stoltinkie to each Lev.

In early fall of 1995 we were pretty sure that we were going to have that baby Sasha, even if we didnít know whether the baby was going to be a girl or a boy at this early part of the game. Sasha can be either a boyís or a girlís name. We had already decided that.

In early 1996 the Lev was about 150 Levís to the dollar and even 200 Levís to the dollar by late summer. I remember in November of 1996 when I went to change money that the Lev was now 335 to the dollar and I was feeling bad for my Bulgarian friends, that the Lev was not worth much and life was getting rather difficult for them.

In December of 1996 I was now getting 500 Levís to the dollar and in early January of 1997 I was now getting 1000 Levís to the dollar, and thinking, when was the Lev going to stop its rapid rise. But more was to come. In late January of 1997 I went to change money and the exchange rate was 1400 to the dollar. The value of the Lev was really, really falling. Now I was getting worried as most people knew that I was the only American in Vratza and had American dollars, so I felt unsafe on the streets. The very next day, when I changed money I got 2800 Levís to the dollar and Yura was the leader of the local Democratic Party and was to help man the barricades, as the Bulgarian people were starting to protest the government of Bulgarial for relief to there problem, with the local money being devaluates so badly. I had to take a plastic bag to the change place, as I could not get all the money into my pocket. I sure felt scared to be walking down the street with knowing that the local people knew what I had in the bag. I was looking all around me as I walked and the next day, I was going to ask one of my friends to go with me to change money, But surprise, surprise the next day the Lev was 2000 to the dollar and two days later the Lev stabilized to 1400 Levís to the dollar. Remember this is the old money system.

The Bulgarian people were successful in getting rid of the Communist Government and things started to look up for the Bulgarian people. Too bad it was all a lie and the Communist Government made a secret agreement with the Nationalist Political Party to share the political power and the money part of government. The Nationals took the political side of government and the Communist kept the money side of government. Guess what, he who controls the money is the one who has the real power.

The Lev by law, through the monetary policy in Europe, Bulgaria agreed to tie the Lev to the German Mark and so the Lev was now stable.

It is known that most of the day to day value of any main stream money system, as in America or any of the top five monies in Europe are mainly controlled by the political system. As an example, if the Secretary of Treasure in America opens his big mouth and says that he would think it would be a good idea if the dollar was to weaken in value against the French money, then right away the dollar will lose ground against the Franc. There is no reason for the dollar to fall. Except that it is a political decision.

So getting back to the Bulgarian Lev, if the German Mark falls in value the Lev does the same, it also works in reverse. So it does not mater if the Lev is over valued or not, the Lev is in lock step with the German Mark. This is 1999 and Bulgaria has decided to change to a new money system. The Lev, because of its steep decline in value is using 1000 Lev notes and 5000 Lev notes and a loaf of bread cost 5oo Lev and it doesnít work so well. Now Bulgaria has brought out the new 1,2,5,10,20, and 50 Lev notes, and the old money was also good for six months. But the bread costs about one half a Lev, instead of 500Levís of the old money. What Bulgaria did was to drop three zeroís on the new money and it has worked well.

The only thing is the average person in the street does not know what his Bulgarian money is worth and since the Bulgarian money is not convertible, every time they want to leave the country, they must change their money before leaving Bulgaria as the Lev is only good inside Bulgaria. This makes me feel rather paranoid as who knows when the Bulgarian Government will fall and the Lev will be worthless. I have been through three major government changes. Not like in America where the Republican and the Democratic Party are really one and the same thing!! There are 300 different Bulgarian political parties like there was back in the early 17th Century in America and 99% of them are of no value. Remember America almost failed two or three times in the early 17th Century.

This tying of the Lev to the German Mark and now to the European Euro really has me upset, because now that the Euro is of higher value then the dollar, because of political considerations, I am losing over $200 dollars out of every $1000 I change into Levís and that really hurts. In the new Bulgarian money system I am only getting 1.89 Levís for each dollar (It is expected that the Lev will go to 1.80 Lev to the dollar.) instead of the 2.35 Levís that I was getting only months ago. This is why when Paul OíNeal opened his big mouth and said he would like to see a weak dollar, I moaned, loud and clear!!

Gene

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