Bog Standards in Bulgaria

Bog standards in Bulgaria are quite a revealing subject. The toilet and sewerage systems are dated and seemingly have no real master plan from the town planners who deal with such matters. If it ain’t broke don’t fix is the policy here and who can blame them putting money ‘down the drain’ for something that works in essence.

What it really boils down to is each individual household to deal with such problems and repair and a municipal service to patch up other areas outside private and business household jurisdictions.

It is so noticeable that 1 in 4 houses we pass have tell tale sign of sewerage work being down or recently having been done. The remnants of sand/cement left behind or the mismatched cement repairs that replace uniform pavements are testimony to work having been done recently. It is no surprise then that Galia’s house next. It had been put off far too long purely on insufficient financial grounds.

Living just out of the centre of Yambol most of the time with Galia and her family, it has over time become apparent the same ideals of not fixing things until they cease to work. This applies to everything! The toilet and sewerage system are no exception.

While Galia and ~I were in England there was a major problem, raw sewerage was spilling up from the drains and flooding the yard. Something had to be done in our absence. Luckily we had left some emergency funds with Baba Mama to cover such events.

Who do you call to fix such a messy, smelly and unhygienic predicament? Well Dynarod doesn’t exist here and no Bulgarian would want to tackle such a job so it is the Gypsies who get all the work.

The message was that 25 lev was paid and the system was cleared using a Gypsy and a metal rod. Baba’s stress levels went down and we were relieved 2000 miles away that the problem had subsided. The Gypsies (two of them) were only there for ten minutes, who says they don’t get paid much Galia comments. Maybe taking advantage of an old woman more like while we were away!

We got back and nothing unusual was found in the toilet and connecting systems. There had always been a smell of human waste inside and outside of the house but you get used to that living there. It becomes normal but obtrusive and foul to non-Bulgarian visitors. But this is Bulgarian and we live within this the Bulgarian way, I accepted this as normal.

After a week or so the sewerage rose from the depths and flooded the yard again, Baba was up in arms with the thought that the 25 lev she paid was for nothing. We had to agree, the job of clearing the pipes wasn’t done all they did was get rid of the overflow but not cure the blockage.

We called the Gypsy back again and he again did the run with the metal rod but this time trying to run it further up the piping. He came to a dead end, the piping beyond two metre to running to the neighbours house was blocked solid. Nothing could shift it. Because Baba was on her own before this wasn’t ventured with the Gypsies, we were there now and questions were asked and seemingly answers now given.

The system was old in fact we worked out that the sewerage hadn’t been looked at, cleaned out or serviced since 1985 under the communist rule where things actually got done and the citizens in the town were looked after by the state! Nothing like this happens now under the banner of ‘freedom’!

It was a big job as we agreed to the Gypsy workers to get on and repair and replace whatever was needed. In the meantime it meant that until they had finished the job we couldn’t run any water and obviously had no toilet facilities until the final cementing had dried. This was at least two days worth of roughing it but we are all used to this, this is Bulgaria after all.

The Gypsies have no problem with working in such conditions. The leader of the duo, as I watched had his arm up to his shoulder in raw sewerage trying to source the pipe! No protective clothing, just a pair of sandals, short and a t-shirt, all of which was soiled from the work. The smell was enough to make you sick but they were un-swayed with the working conditions they found themselves in.

Having now waded in the crap barefooted to get to the drainage point, the still couldn’t get a way through the big clay pipes and had to resort to digging even deeper and smashing them up to remove them. Only then did we see that the clay pipes originally some 25 cm in diameter had been reduced to 2 cm due to the build up of human waste and residue. Effectively the crap had set to form a concrete type seal within the system over the last thirty years or so. The complete system had to be ripped out and replaced.

My services were required, as the Gypsy workers didn’t have any transport. So it was taxing them to find some cement and tools. We went to an area called Benkovski. It’s place well know as a Gypsy encampment and Gypsies rule there. It is basically a no go area for Bulgarians and police. I had travelled through the back streets there once before with some English friends, it scared the shit out of them with what they saw and the poverty before them. It is a threatening place to be in, almost exactly like being in an Indian town.

We got to his house and tools taken then we visited at least five different shops throughout Yambol to find some piping that was the right diameter. I had to fork out 15 lev for that, as I was the only one with money. Added to this more money was paid out for a bag of cement (6 lev). Back to the work place and they finished at 8:30 that evening and due here again in the morning. They wanted 120 leva to complete the job so I gave them half now and promised the other half on completion. Normal ways of doing things here and they got a lift home as part of the deal.

God are these men messy, they leave everything where they leave it as it is the job of the women to clean up behind the men. Even great chunks of concrete, solidified crap and bricks have to be gathered and disposed of by the females of Bulgaria. Baba and Galia think nothing of it and total acceptance of having to do this. If I try and help they tell me off!

End of day one and the routine of toilet going had to change. We couldn’t go in the street until dark in the evening, again this is normal! And we used a big paint tin for washing and watered the garden with it afterwards. – Well what do you expect here?

The following morning was more difficult as going for a wee was easy enough but the other end is slightly more difficult. How the women coped I don’t know but it was plastic bags in the bucket and out to the bin on wheels in the street for me. God know what the Gypsies that rummage the bins every hour will think when they find a opaque plastic bag tied up with a warm package inside!!

Part of the fees we paid was for sand and the hire of a horse and cart and low behold, 8:30 the next morning the clip clop sound of hoofs on Yambol cobblestones filled the air as we peered to see the horse and cart arrive laden with sand. The horse had a fowl astride only one week old. Again this was quite normal to see in Yambol but I took a picture in any case.

But other materials were needed this very morning with my Lada being called up to be the delivery vehicle. Three different shops and the home in Benkovski were driven two. Four bags of sand bought of one of his neighbours for 7 lev, divide that by four, it doesn’t go so I think that was a rip off but I was on Gypsy territory and felt threatened so paid. Next stop another neighbour deep in the heart of the Gypsy threshold. The tracks between the built up illegal housing was just dirt and stained with open sewerage, how did this Gypsy therefore know about sewerage systems with this in place here.

The amount of children, barefooted, children here are indescribable even more so when the school was open and filled with school aged children. They were like swarming ants running everywhere and parents shouting form the confines of their shacks. I stranger in their midst and the swarms took to me like iron filings to a magnet, a rare occasion of a white man in Gypsy territory meant interest abound. I waited for a delivery of bricks, not new but recycled - they still had old cement straddled around them. I spoke to some of the children but they were stunned into a silence pause, as my Bulgarian didn’t seem to be understood. This was due to their Roma language being spoken solely prior to schooling age.

Twenty-two second hand brick were placed in the car boot and the charge? 5 leva, again my suspicious mind told me that part of someone’s shack/house had been partly taken down for a quick profit!! Joking aside, bet I’m not too far off the mark either.

Relieved to get out of the Gypsy village it was off to get another sack of cement and have to pay another 6 lev from a conventional shop albeit Gypsy owners taking the money. We run straight back to the house and I get on with my writing and the Gypsy gets on with his work.

By 2:00 that lunchtime the job is complete, time for the remaining balance of 60 lev owed to be paid over. The total cost of repairs including materials and previous prodding was 160 lev. The place looked like a bomb had hit is as the women again took it upon themselves to clear all the mess left. 30 minutes later there was a clean swept yard with fresh laid cement sealing the new sewerage system.

And outside, a pavement only showing the sign that there was sand been mixed there at some point and another house that gives away work having been done on the sewerage system. How many other households have gone through the same process? More to the point, how many households still put off what needs to be done due to being unable to afford it? Without fund brought over from the UK the cost of this is two months pension from Baba. That just puts things into perspective.

Well, there were many showers and toilet flushes that next morning and the foul smell from the toilet and drainage points that I thought was normal, has totally disappeared. We can now have food and drink outside but is has cost money to get to this stage.

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