36. Village Life, Part 1

by | May 27, 2011 | Bulgarian life | 0 comments

A day or so after arriving, we had our first exchange with a real life villager – in Bulgarian. We’d been out and returned to the house to find an old man letting himself out of our gate.

“Er, hello. This my house.” I say in broken Bulgarian.

“Ah” the man says slapping his head in a comedy Doh! style.

He then jabbers away in Bulgarian gesturing at our house and ignoring our pleas of “We speak only little Bulgarian” or “We don’t understand”. Eventually we follow him into our garden and find he was talking about his donkey, happily grazing on our grass. Our next-door neighbour has a donkey and we’d previously agreed that it could graze in our garden (good for the donkey and keeps our grass down). But this was a different man, different donkey! They must have worked out some sort of timeshare. Anyway, we say it’s fine and then the old man, Vassil, says something we finally understand.

“Rakia?”

Five minutes later we’re sat at his kitchen table (four houses away) drinking cherryade while he’s loading us up with various treats; a bottle of rakia, a huge block of cheese and, curiously, a bag of animal fat. Vassil indicates the fat should be eaten raw alongside a glass of rakia. We smile, nod, say many thankyous and leave with our goodies. We never did eat that fat but it seemed rude to turn it down. Vassil shows us a picture of his wife and talks sadly – about what we don’t know, we can only really understand the words “wife” and “work”. So, either his wife is dead but she was a good worker (Rob’s guess) or she is alive and kicking but just at work (my hopeful guess). Two days later the matter was solved when we walked past and saw Mrs Vassil watering the flowerpots. Hurrah, she’s not dead! She was just at work!

 

Vassil’s donkey chowing down. I want to keep him!

 

We’re lucky to have a lovely next-door neighbour, Svilen. A couple of nights after arriving, Svilen calls us over and we sit outside with him and his friends on his front porch, eating fried pork and drinking whiskey. In Bulgaria you must chink glasses with everyone at the table before you take a sip, looking each person in the eye and say “Nazdraveh” as you chink. This can only be done with alcohol – very bad luck with water or other soft drinks apparently. Again, we can’t speak or understand much of what they’re saying, but it’s all very friendly and they seem to find us mildly amusing. Svilen lives with a woman – we can’t yet tell how they’re related, but related they are. They’re probably married but it’s difficult to tell. Anyway, the woman’s style of communicating with us is to SHOUT VERY LOUDLY hoping we’ll understand through sheer willpower and VOLUME.

That baba sure can cook though. She and Svilen take us in and feed us several meals over the next week, always delicious and always accompanied by whiskey or rakia and Bulgarian folk music on the TV. At the end of the week we take Svilen a bottle of whiskey and give Vassil a bagful of food to say ‘thanks for the fat’. The last night, after just returning from a lovely big dinner at a nearby pizzeria, Svilen invites us over for yet more food. I tried to explain we’d already eaten but I haven’t yet mastered how to speak in the past tense in Bulgarian, so either they don’t understand or just won’t take no for an answer. So, we end up eating a second meal at their house. Later, when I pop in to see Vassil and his wife, they also offer me yet more food and rakia. This time I manage to politely decline (the food) for fear of it descending into a Vicar of Dibley Christmas sketch.

We made another friend in the village – the local shopkeeper. She’s a lovely, smiley, grey-haired lady who puts up with our faltering ordering in Bulgarian. It’s a funny little shop that sells a surprising amount of stuff and even has a couple of tables where you can have a drink in front of the TV if you like (providing you don’t mind more of the Bulgarian folk channel). We stop and drink our beers there and we find out the shopkeeper is originally from Russia. While we enjoy Folk TV, she scoops up her little yappy dog and starts to howl at it. “Okay crazy lady” we think, edging away. But then, lo, the dog starts to howl back – quiet at first but then louder until the two of them are singing together. Very strange. This is what happens when you can’t communicate with people using actual language – they do very strange things to avoid silence…

There are a couple of other bars in the village. Another coop-turned-bar kind of place that seems to open and close whenever the owner feels like, contrary to the opening times on the door. I managed to buy a broom in there one time, that’s all. Another bar is a very small, seemingly men-only place, and seems a little intimidating – somewhere to venture when we know a few more people I think, and can communicate a bit better. There is also a proper restaurant/bar right on the river that only opens on Saturday nights. Sadly, when we went there, for reasons we couldn’t understand, they were not serving a lot of food (either no oven or no cook, couldn’t work it out). So we ate chips and cheese (a Bulgarian favourite) and listened to blaring Bulgarian pop music for an hour. The place had a glitter ball. Another weird village experience, but we sort of liked it. Last but not least, about 15 minutes walk beyond the end of the village is a little tiny holiday complex nestled between the mountains consisting of a few chalets, a pool and a lovely bar/restaurant. Again, at this time of year, they open and close as it suits them, but they’ll be open more in the summer. The bar is lovely, right on the river with plenty of seating outside. And – bonus – for a small fee I’ll be able to use their pool!

 

Curious place for a holiday village. Nice pool though.

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