Skalitsa Man from Eden to Heaven

Things change and this week there was another chapter closed in the road I live in Skalitsa. Another member of the Skalitsa community passed away last week, my closest neighbour Dino. He was 73 and fell asleep in the field of sweetcorn never to wake. A very peaceful ending for a man who never stopped working all his life but always had time for people. His wife departed some 10 years ago now is joined up with him again in Heaven's garden having both spent their lives in the Garden of Eden.

His family are working his farm now but on a scaled down level whether it carries on as a farm or whether it gets put up for sale and turned into an ex-pat home is up in the air at the moment. But as trends go this is what is happening in the villages. He had helped me personally no end with learning the ropes of farm life and took me into the community with such warmth and friendliness and I miss him being there now.

Dino was a man of small stature, he have a severe curving of the spine hence he was bent forward permanently, quite common in many older generation smallholders. Never really found out what the cause of this was whether inherited or from the labours of the land. He was well known to everyone as are all the people who live in Skalitsa. It was quite strange about Dino's relationships with most other folk in the village but they never ever commented on whether they like him or not. They didn't have an opinion of him he was just Dino and nothing else. Of course everyone talks to everyone else all the time and Dino was no exception and often villagers on their way past his farm they would pause to sit on his bench outside his farm talking sometimes for hours as the sun sinks down the Bulgarian skyline.

The produce Dino had on his farm made him completely self-sufficient bar bread, lemonade, gas and electric. He works very hard never having taken a day off in his life, that's a fact I found out when speaking with him one evening. His farm is large and livestock comprehensive with every food on his doorstep. He makes money out of his livestock and together with his feeble 80 pounds a month pension makes ends meet. Not a day goes by in the three seasons where free is gathered food for his animals from neighbouring community shared lands. Once a week the accumulation of muck is taken away by his horse and cart to one of the Skalitsa village municipal dumps, namely an allocated field up the road!

Rakia and wine was made on an industrial scale with his own distilling system in one of his outbuildings. I remember him taking me in to see his rakia making in action, he had 10 x 120 litre barrels full of sliva fermenting away, the fermenting fumes could have knock you out there and then!

Many an evening no matter what season he would come around with a small bottle of homemade rakia and tomatoes either fresh or bottled depending on the month and we'd sit in or out and just talk. It was the case that he considered my rakia better than his as by the end of the evening it was always my bottle of home made rakia that has seen it's way to the bottom and his untouched. It took quite a while to realize that he was a skilled master at poaching other's rakia by praising it! That's all part of his make up.

I always remember him asking me for 1000 leva for a Lada car as he said his horse was too old now - this was asked for not as a loan but a gift! He thought that this Englishman was lined with gold after seeing the inside of my house with what I thought was very humble personal belongings. Even until the day he passed away he was sure that I had more money than I needed and he never gave up asking me.

He used to swear a lot, I knew this solely from the tone of his voice, routine first thing in the morning and last thing at night and a sporadic basis in between these times. The reason being that his sheep and goats never did what he wanted. Most evenings he was chasing them up the path by my house trying to get them back into his pen and I often wondered in his wisdom why this wasn't solved many years ago. I asked him this very question and he would just shrug his shoulders and not give me an answer then carry on where he left off, yes he's Bulgarian alright!

Quite often when the flocks of sheep and goats come by and fleece off to their well trodden ground back home Dino would have forgotten to shut his big farm gate and flocks of sheep and goats wonder in his yard to eat his hard earned hay for his own herd. I used to watch this with humour from my kitchen window as I knew at any moment after, the swearing and cursing would start and the waving and beating of his stick to get them away from the free feed and back in to the road. Again, after all the years he has been here working why does this happen? I don't bother asking as I know what the answer will be...

The day before he passed away I was helping him pull up his broken water pump, service it and put it back down his well. This is the least I could do as it served me well when I had no water in the first few months here in Skalitsa. It now worked perfectly after six months of non operation. He was a very happy man at this point, he had his well water back and of course it didn't cost him anything to fix, even more reason to be happy.

He loved having his picture taken. The very first time I gave him a print of himself, (sitting on the rubble that had been dug out for my septic tank.) I went to his house a few months later at Christmas and in his living room this photograph was the only picture in the room sitting as the main feature on his side cabinet. This make you feel so humble about things you take for granted.

Dino was part and parcel of the character of the the street and now he's gone his cursing and nose for good opportunities to poach rakia will be missed. His companionship will be sorely missed but most of all the simple fact that you knew that he was there all the time, it may seem quite strange thing to say but that how it feels.

So as another chapter unfolds, the old population in villages are gradually being faded out and no one to carry on the farming tradition. Towns and Cities give the call of money to the new generations and you can hardly blame them for seeking a 'better' living for their families. Opportunities in towns, cities and other EU countries for that matter now are ever increasing and the villages leaving a void to be filled. These homes are turned into holiday or retirement homes for ex-pats in the main, others are bought and just left to rise in price but vacant.

I felt compelled to write about Dino and so I have but this epitaph could have been written for many other older generation Bulgarians in villages throughout the country.