Babin Den or Mid-wives Day in Bulgaria

It was Babin Den or Mid-wives Day on the 21st January in Bulgaria. Everywhere they celebrated with Babas up and down the country. It has become the tradition for men to dress up as Babas with false knee knockers, grey wigs and the full make up, but I'm not so sure whether this was a tradition steeped in history or whether those that take these steps do it for another reason. I will remain silent on that one for now.

The day past and all was forgotten about Babin Day for a while. Next year the same thing will happen again I thought. Then on Monday evening, nearly a week after Babin Day our own Baba walked in the house with a single carnation and a serviette packed full of food, including banitsa, cakes, dried sliva (prunes), biscuits and bread. She had just come back from the school across the road where the children had given a concert of performances including reciting scripts, poetry and singing from memory, acting and a report on what they are studying at school currently. This was all in aid of the children's Babas all of which attended.

At the end of the performance in which all the children had some role to play, the Baba's were individually given a flower and food. Then their Baba was publically wished good health, happiness and luck in the coming year from their grandchildren (great grandchildren in many cases.)

This traditon goes back centuries as it was usually the Baba's who acted as the mid-wive and this day is to celebrate these acts which have to be performed. The rituals vary around the country with wine, rakia, food and dance involved in every one.

I have put forward an extract from one such tradition....

This day is celebrated in grandmothers' honour - midwifes for the health of children and pregnant women. On this day three rituals are performed: children's bathing, a feast in grandmother's home and grandmother's bathing.
From the Annunciation, grandmother prepares butter, honey, millet, a bunch of geranium and red wool. Early in the festive morning she visits each house where she has assisted in childbirth. There she baths the children beginning from the smallest one and she sprays lasses and young girls against the evil eye. Then she spreads the children with honey and butter. This spreading is called "painting red" and it is made for children's health.
(Courtesy of

This is just another example of family communities that have bonds which are fast disappearing in this world of selfishness. The schools here in Yambol apparently do this every year, but this is not typical of the whole of Bulgaria. It is an essential part of the children's social education, which I feel is more important than many other academic subjects taught in the curriculum. How long before the curriculum will be changed to rid itself of this as it may offend ethnic minorities? Negative? Yes, but also truthful.

'Foul' Chicken From a Bulgarian Supermarket

In view of Galia not being in the best of health it was a trip to the dreaded supermarket for some convenience food to make life a little easier for her this weekend with the meals we were to have.the last thing we wanted was for Galia to exhaust herself preparing for home cooked food which take up time and effort. So we were faced with a decision as to what we can buy that was cheap and easy to cook.

Foul Chicken From a Bulgarian SupermarketIf I had my way I'd just forget the supermarket and just get some frozen meat that we had been using from last year's slaughtered lamb, goat and pig. We still had lots of stock of this meat, but the preparation took quite an effort. Galia just didn't feel it was right that I should be assigned kitchen duties this weekend. As she argued, "It was time for me to relax as well as her!" Well she did have a point, but only from her side of the fence. What she doesn't take on board is the fact that I don't find cooking a chore and it helps me relax whilst doing it. It's a bit of a turn around that Galia get stressed with me doing the cooking and I get stressed seeing her fingers being worked to the bone. Hence letting her just get on with choosing a meal from the supermarket.

The trouble right now with Bulgarians is that they believe everything they see and here in the advertising mediums. On the television, on the radio, in newspapers and on massive bill boards and posters, which is on the increase in Yambol. So, when is a supermarket the advertising ups another two gears it is a advertising and marketing tactical hybrid in action and the poor Bulgarian don't stand a chance in the face of such a monster. This particular supermarket called Kaufland. this is a German based company who excel in conning people into thinking the food there is good for you. Me, being a far wiser shopper from days gone by, knew better of it and certainly knew far better than 99% of shoppers there whose minds were being polluted before their guts were.

Foul Chicken From a Bulgarian SupermarketGalia had chosen a frozen chicken and a packet of dried chemical enhanced herbs and spices. This 'herb and spices' packet has a separate compartment where there was a plastic bag in which the chicken and chemicals, sorry herbs and spices, are introduced and whacked in an oven. Galia had seen this particular brand advertised on television, not once, but many times so it had been embedded subconscious mind and came to life when the product was recognised on the supermarket shelf. She at that point had just followed the planned advertising campaign as the fat cat advertisers sucked her into the world of false promises s we were to find out.

Now I knew that ever since first stepping onto Bulgarian soil and eating home produced chicken that anything else just wouldn't be the same afterwards. Was this going to be the case we with this supermarket factory produced frozen chicken and mainly artificial flavoured marinade. Galia was quite excited about it, she had seen the television advert and the picture on the packaging as a scrumptious occasion we should enjoy. What she didn't know is that the pictures of the chicken on the plate she had seen TV and on the package was probably painted with coloured lacquer and was of course totally inedible from the cosmetic make up that it had gone through to look like that. I didn't briefly try to explain, but the power of the advertising were too strong for my points raised. I decided to shut up and let her get on with it. I knew that the meal that we will end up, just wouldn't live up to Galia's expectations.

Foul Chicken From a Bulgarian SupermarketTo cut a long story short, I knew that the frozen chicken might be 20% water as they inject the meat with water before freezing, I was right. When the chicken had completely defrosted the was such a puddle it overflowed on the plate it was defrosting in. We had paid good money, for this chicken, nearly 5 Lev a kilogram and 20% was now water not meat! Moving on, the meal was cooked exactly to the instructions laid out in 8 different languages and the plastic bag that was the cooking environment was opened once out of the oven. The chicken didn't look anything like the pictures on the package, then we tasted it.

Both Galia and I took one bite and just couldn't face any more. It was cooled and to be taken back to Yambol for Baba to do something with it, nothing wasted here of course. Galia had to agree with everything I had preached before, she was quite embarrassed about the whole episode. I had to remind here that we had been spoilt with the poultry we had eaten over the last few years. We realise that in the main, others who buy their frozen chickens from the supermarket on a regular basis, just don't know the difference, many if not most never having had the opportunity to taste home produced, free range chicken meat.

Foul Chicken From a Bulgarian SupermarketWill Galia ever buy frozen chickens from the supermarket again? Maybe as over time one forgets and the advertising may get back at her, but she is much more the wiser now. We both agreed on how lucky we are and are now talking about having chickens in the garage and yard in the Yambol house with eggs produced a added bonus!

A Weekend Retreat

A Weekend RetreatGalia is now making good steps on her road to recovery from her first operation before having to endure another operation in a few weeks. I really to feel for her as she has been in pain throughout the ordeal, sometime you can't see the benefits ahead with this upon you. Reassured, time will see her through and the pain will have been a forgotten history in due course.

This weekend, we relaxed in Skalitsa at the farmhouse, we both love it there and if it wasn't so far away from town we would both be living there full-time. It just takes too long and is far too expensive to commute to Yambol and back on a daily basis. I used to do this and know it is not practical, and Bulgaria is all about being practical.

So two days in the Skalitsa farmhouse what did we do?

A Weekend RetreatThe answer is quite simply, Galia did nothing, I wouldn't let her. She wanted to cook clean and all the usual things that Bulgarian women are brought up to do. She knew it was wrong right now to exert herself with these chores so she just lay down on the sofa bed and watched television, while I did my English thing of not being able to relax.

While Galia was engrossing herself with Bulgarian television, I was drawn to the farm and land, big ideas again on the horizon about what to produce on this fertile land this year, I was almost in a trance as I walked around the grounds planning away. There wasn't much I could do outside right now, the ground was sodden and we all know there will be another major bout of snow and sub-zero temperatures before April, which is when work takes off here. I do have plans to start another blog about managing a farm in April when the new season starts, there will be a lot of work involved, but then who's scared of work? Back to today, there was one chore that could be done right now, that was to prune the fruit trees and a walnut tree that was impinging onto the summer house, so it was cutting and sawing branches for a couple of hours.

A Weekend RetreatWhen I went back into the farmhouse to check up on Galia, she had dusted, vacuumed and mopped the whole house while my back was turned. I could never be angry with Galia, but just had to accept that not allowing, or trusting in my case, men to do housework is something that has been bred into women here for generations, so why be any different today? Galia also knew that when I did get back in the house after the pruning, I would have been doing these household chores instead of her despite her unwillingness to allow me. Well it was now all done and dusted and Galia was none the worse for it, seemingly. I was now in the house for the remainder of the day and was allowed to cook dinner that evening, something that I haven't done for a while.

Having now both completed necessary work inside and outside the farmhouse respectively, we relaxed in our own company. Well actually relaxing with our laptops with no work other than top up the wood burner ever few hours, but that's not a chore that's a pleasure. There is the story about the supermarket chicken this weekend, but that will keep until the next post.

Bulgarian Soup Kitchen For All

Last Friday I took Galia out for the first time for a short walk. This was the first time she has been out since her operation. It was a lovely sunny day with temperatures around 18 C, not bad seeing as a couple of weeks ago it was - 18C! Mind you, if it was any colder we wouldn't have been going anywhere with a poorly Galia.

Bulgarian Soup Kitchen For AllWe left just before lunchtime and decided to eat out for the first time this year. Money is tight as Galia wasn't getting paid for being off sick and my income is almost nothing right now. Passing a few places we came across a cafe that I hadn't been to for over three years. I remember it very well as it isn't s fast food joint, but an eating place for poor Bulgarians who can't afford restaurant prices. I also remember it being very much like a soup kitchen, in fact soup is the favourite item on the menu and customers bring their own bread bought from the shop next door to dip in, the rest of the loaf is taken back to their families for the evening meal.

Many things are changing in Yambol, but this place hadn't, it was exactly as I remember it, spotlessly clean, busy and nothing but Bulgarian food on the menu. No chips no burgers, pure Bulgarian staple cuisine.

We ordered Shkembe Chorba, chicken soup, 2 Bulgarian kebab (pronounced kebap) three slices of bread each, a triple layered cream sponge cake, rice pudding and sliced tomatoes alongside. The bill was not quite as cheap as it would have beenthree years ago, but came to just over 8 leva and we got a napkin and a couple of toothpicks thrown in as well.

This place is so simple, the food is freshly made daily, the turnover of food during the day is continuous and of course, unlike some expatraites who don't even try it, the Bulgarian food sold and served here is second to none. It feels like home cooked and baked food in many respects. Many foreigners never get to come here, mainly because its not an easy place to find tucked away in the midst of many other little shops.

Bulgarian Soup Kitchen For AllThis calls back the call of communist Bulgaria where everyone is equal in this eating house. The wealthy business person in for a quick snack and, right down to the down and out come to feed themselves here. I could spend hours just sitting in the corner of this place watching the interesting and diverse characters that step through the door.

-Picture of what was left of the meal - I didn't think to take a picture before we started - Doh!-

When we had finished our wholesome food, it is required that you take the dirty dishes and cutlery back to a table at the back of the cafe next to the kitchen area. No one left there dirty plates or trays on the the table they ate at before they left. This is so refreshing to see this taking place.

It is a worrying moment as we left thinking how long can this place survive in the fast pace of feast food taking over. It will be a crying shame when it does fall to the steamroller of fast food coming from the American and Western Europeon eating habits. It is at the same time a privilege to be here at time when total change hasn't affected Yambol.

Bulgaria Is Very Different And Not For Everyone

Bulgaria So Different - And Not For EveryoneI had recently changed the subtitle of my blog to read "Bulgaria isn't for everyone - As you'll find out."

I had known this for a few years, but had been in the habit of keeping quiet about it as my previous work involved promoting Bulgaria from a business point of view. It was quite difficult as first to keep pushing Bulgaria as the perfect retreat for retirees, property investment and other business investments. Never for one moment were any lies told, it was just that nothing much was said negatively to allow a 'too good to be true,' picture of Bulgaria to become distorted. On reflection, as a result of this near perfect portrayed Bulgaria, many people have come here and found that it was splattered with problems.

Homes here are built differently to those in the UK, along with the manner in which 'builders' built them. The struggle expatriates have here to get their new homes renovated or built is unbelievable. This is not just different from the UK, but worse. Guarantees on building work just aren't worth the paper they are written generally. This subject really needs another chapter to example the disastrous experiences I know some expatriates have had here, not just with with Bulgarian builders but British (expatraite) builders. Again, if someone tell you that building a renovation work is easy - they know nothing about Bulgaria or are trying to rip you off.

Bulgaria So Different - And Not For EveryoneThe main problem was the language alongside the fact that is wasn't like Britain at all. Only 2000 Kilometres from my ex-home, Britain and Bulgaria are so different in so many ways. Many expatriates just can't adapt to the Bulgarian ways and some haven't bothered and subsequently packed their bags and gone back home for that very reason. They have been surprised that it wasn’t the paradise they had been promised. In fact it was only because it was only on wave of being cheap that brought them here in the first place. Cheap living in Bulgaria is another massive topic, depending on what the word ‘cheap’ has behind it.

The language is difficult I must admit, I had known this before I moved here and made a big, big effort to get this on board. It was harder for me than most being dyslexic, this was something that I felt I must master to survive here. This was is still is the biggest hurdle for those who want to come here to live. This has been discussed before in another post that still stands firm from what I have said.

Other differences are a main contention for many expatriates coming here. The bureaucracy is horrendous; many just can't go with the flow wanting things done now. This is frustrating, not just to expatriates, but Bulgarians who have the patience of Saints, most expatriates don't.

Driving - another chapter, another major difference and another instance of driving like a Bulgarian or not getting anywhere. Stressful for many who come here? I know some expatriates who flatly refuse to drive here.

The food, so much has been written about the food here that my blog was beginning to look like a food and drink blog. Many expatriates that come here just don't like Bulgarian food purely because it's different. I needn't say anything else on the matter,

"The weather is either too hot or too cold." This was a quote from a Bulgarian who just couldn't understand why I had moved here. She has a more than valid point. It is too hot or too cold here and certainly wouldn’t suit many pensioners that might think about coming here to retire. They would have to spend most of the time indoors with the air-conditioning systems on all year! If I could sum up the weather here in one word it would be 'extreme.' Don't let anyone fool you otherwise.

Bulgaria So Different - And Not For EveryoneGardening is so, so different here. Everything I tried to grow in the first year didn’t really work because I did it the English way, I know now and found out from my mistakes. It didn't initially take much advice from Bulgarians, I thought I knew better than them. It took a couple of seasons to 'swallow my pride' and conform to Bulgarian gardening ways. I did know lots about growing crops to eat, I'd been doing it for countless years in the UK, but knew nothing about how to grow crops successfully here. I do now.

Crime, it does go on here no matter what anyone else says and it is on an increasing scale, it mainly depends on where you live, but not always. Again many expatriate homes have been robbed because they just couldn't blend their homes in the Bulgarian environment. Their homes stood out like a sore thumb with rich pickings and the rich pickings happened for that very reason. Crime is a worldwide problem and Bulgaria is not in the top league of country with crime problem, but certainly isn't excluded.

This won't be the last time that a post shows how different Bulgaria is from the UK or America for that matter. Many people will continue to make mistakes here, usually ending up having to pay dearly for their mistakes - I did, but had to persevere.

Finally, there are expatriates I know here who have taken the rough with the smooth and accept that. Bulgaria is more than just a bit rough at the edges or difficult, it is impossible sometimes, but within that are adventures with big rewards that you just can't buy. Bulgaria certainly isn't for everyone and certainly those with money would prefer a more comfortable option that exist somewhere else.

No Chemist Queue, No Waiting, But Never Easy

No Chemist Queue, No Waiting But Never EasyA simple trip to the chemist to get some medication for Baba should have been plain sailing, but this is Bulgaria and things like that just don't happen.

The day before I had dropped off Baba's personal medication booklet in which all prescribed medication is recorded. The chemist didn't have stock of one type of tablet and this was due to be picked up the next day (today) with payment. The book was left with the chemist so it could be recorded signed and stamped ready for collection. - Simple so far isn't it.

On turning up to the chemist shop there was no waiting as there were no queues. this makes a change from many shopping and bill paying chores I'd done recently in Yambol. I also saw the same person who served me the previous day. She told me that there was no medication booklet for Baba here and I was to try another chemist 100 metres down the road! I told here that I saw here yesterday and personally handed over the booklet to her, but she still insisted the book wasn't there and again to go the neighbouring chemist.

I was completely mystified initially by this complete lapse of memory of this middle aged chemist assistant, added to which an ever growing suspicion that perhaps my Bulgarian wasn't fully understood and this was quite depressing.

So off I tramp to the next chemist knowing fully well that the booklet wasn't there and I would be wasting their time and my time when I get there. Time isn't important here, so I carried on regardless to practice my Bulgarian if nothing else.

Again, no queues no waiting as I asked it there was Baba's medication booklet in their hands. A couple of women assistants who deal with me in tandem understood me completely and started searching for the booklet. A few minutes later they came back an told me what I expected to hear, there was no booklet. They then went away to get a man in the chemist office who spoke a little English. This was a complete waste of time as I told him the story in Bulgarian and he confirmed back to me in very bad English that he understood completely, but there is no booklet here.

It was back to the original chemist, yet again, no queues, no waiting and saw the same assistant once again. I explained that the book must be here and for her to look for it again. She went away to return a moment later with the booklet along with the prescribed tablets that were delivered today and rubberbanded to the booklet. Bulgarians in the main don't normally apologise from my experience, well according to most they are never wrong and this was the case here. No apology just a comment saying, "Sitchko dobre," or "Everything is okay."

So Baba finally got her medication and I got my speaking Bulgarian confidence back. It is funny how on so many occasions that a simple task is never really a simple task in Bulgaria.

Galia Joined By Donatello in Yambol

Galia Joined By Donatello in YambolIt’s all change in Yambol as Galia is out of hospital and at home recovering, the operation was completely successful although she will need quite a time to recover.

Needless to say she won’t be starting work for at least another week possibly up to three weeks. I won’t allow her to go back unless she is fully recovered. The weather has changed from – 18 C to 0 C during nights and reaching +12 C during the day.

Having had a couple of days in Skalitsa, having a whale of a time sorting out an iced up farmhouse, I return to Yambol late Sunday evening. The following morning we were without water again! No freezing temperatures, just a normal occurrence, we knew it would be back on in the evening and it was Ivo and I tossed a 20 stotinki coin to see who took a shower first – he won.

Ivo had recently acquired a new friend, which he said was going to live with us. We thought, ah ha, at last he has a girlfriend, but it was with great disappointment that when he brought his friend home it turned out to be a buck rabbit named Donatello. The disappointment didn’t last long as the rabbit now has the free run of the house and we discussed that fact that a rabbit is cheaper than a women and certainly much less of a headache for Ivo. It is a great concern of all of us that one day as the silent roaming rabbit will wander and that Baba will eventually accidentally sit on him!

Rabbits aside, our neighbour the priest has his house up for sale – we were gob smacked at the value he is putting it up for. Almost the equivalent of £100,000! Fair do, it has been done up really nicely with all the modern fitting you would find in a modern westernised house and a garden that is mainly lawn, but for that money it is only Mafia or foreigners that could afford it. It is not typical of a Yambol town house, it is as if it had been done up for a foreign buyer with no vegetables or other garden produce being grown. It has been observed and documented before in this blog that priests in Bulgaria are astute businessmen so perhaps it is no surprise that the home was perhaps a business enterprise for this holy man.

Finally, back to Galia, it is great to have her back home again and to be quite honest we both feel quite lost without each other.

Water Returns - Then The Ice Strikes

Hurrah, we have our mains water back after seven days. It suddenly came back to life at 7:00 in the evening after settling down and resigning ourselves for another night of inconvenience. To be quite honest we were so used to the routine of economising with water we could have gone on indefinitely without mains water.

There was a big cheer from us all as the initial muddy water spurted from the tap in our one and only heated livingroom/diningroom/kitchen/bedroom combined space. There were little dances and jigs as the toilet was flushed in celebration. Another reason for a party this evening, well it would have been if Galia weren’t still being treated for her illness and hospital operation.

It is really quite a turn around as I am more than used to being without water and electric on many extended occasions in the village so this wasn’t such a hardship for me at all. But in Yambol City, to be without water for so long was unprecedented to Bulgarian townies in recent times. This was looked on as a big problem by all the Bulgarian household except me, but then like I said, I am hardened to this from village life and secondly I am entirely grateful for being part of this family now and certainly won’t complain, even if I had reason to from the lack of water.

So, water now in the town house and today I went to Skalitsa village to check up on the farmhouse there. I had not been there for two weeks and the severity of the sub-zero temperatures left me thinking there would be a problem there.

I arrived and as I suspected everything was frozen. The water in the toilet cistern was jammed with ice and accompanied with a solid block of ice in the basin. There was no water coming in or out it was rock solid. Looks like back to the outside toilet again, that never fails, it was like visiting a long lost friend.

The electric immersion boiler in the bathroom was also frozen; it couldn’t be heated up until it had thawed out. There was no water coming in or out it was rock solid. Switched on the little electric convector heater I had from a previous village life here and left it full on in the bathroom for a couple of hours.

Switching attention to the kitchen, I have a 30-litre barrel full of water this is kept by the side of the sink to use when we get cut off with mains water. The whole 30 litres was a block of ice, (pictured) solid right the way through and no water in the kitchen of course. It was out of the frying pan and into the fire, no water at all here. The well had water in it but the standing water in the plastic piping had effectively iced up blocking the route for the well water. No chance of that defrosting for at least another day or so as it was still bitterly cold here today at least another 3-4 C lower than Yambol.

No panic, I was in the village now, no rush to do anything this weekend as I gathered wood for the wood burner. At least the wood burner never fails I thought. I was right. Five hours later after roasting a few rooms from the travelling heat from the wood burner backed up by the heater in the bathroom there was now movement. By 7 o’clock this evening everything is running very smoothly on the water front, I can even have a shower before I go to bed.

I was in my element today, I just love the whole day solving problems, dealing with nature that had taken hold of the farmhouse, using the outside toilet, gathering and chopping up wood, even having time to go for a jog on this very bright, sunny, but very cold day. This was the main reason I came to Bulgaria to get back to basics and experience what real down to earth life is all about. The stresses of modern living just doesn’t exist here in Skalitsa on the farm. The second picture is of the scene from Skalitsa I took today, it's there because I liked it.

I am due back to Yambol tomorrow to tend to Galia who is certainly under the weather in more ways than one. Hopefully we can return here to give here a bit of convalescence next weekend.

Expatriate Statement - Untrue!

It was commented by an expatriate today that Bulgarians have loads of time off work for celebrations and festivities, whatever the cause, but don’t have any money to fully take advantage of the party times. This comment was taken and put in perspective when mentioning that it was the opposite in the UK where people have lots of disposable income, but no time off from work to spend it on partying.

Generalisation just makes my blood boil and this is a fine example of that. How can anyone make a statement like that and label everyone as being the same here in Bulgaria or likewise in the UK? Why say something like that, is it a reaction they are after or is it just being too lazy to draw more into the observation, which actually isn’t an accurate observation anyway?

I took the essence of the comment and made the point that many Bulgarians don’t need money to celebrate or party, they just need company and there’s plenty of that around with their normal socialable habits. Good cheap homemade food and drink with company and a television provides a formula for celebrations that cost no more than a normal evening meal anyway. In fact it is cheaper to have a get together and party as the savings on heating just one home rather than several makes good economic sense.

It is always a cold winter here and most people are tucked away in one heated single room whether entertaining others or not, why do they need riches to be happy in joyful communities?

So for someone to say that Bulgarians can’t afford to party is a categorical lie.

It's Who You Know In Bulgaria That Counts

It is with great worry that I saw Galia go into hospital yesterday. She had a check up and they took her in straight away to be operated on. She has kidney problems and other complications that others and I never really had any idea about because she would never say. This is the way with most Bulgarian women; they just work until they drop!

It's Who You Know In Bulgaria That CountsGalia never normally complains about anything, other than jokingly about my English habits, the rising cost of living and the cold winters, but that in the main is just small talk. She has been in pain for some time now, I know being so close to her, but this is kept a secret as she doesn't want her family to know due to the stress it will cause them, especially Baba. She often tell me to not say anything to Baba.

So right now as it stands, Galia has been through one operation today and there is another on Saturday. Baba and I sit here this evening in silence, praying that she will be okay. We are both worriers, but how we deal with this is very different. My appetite has gone with worry, but Baba insists that eating will ease the worries, a definite conflict there.

Baba was in tears knowing that she wasn't going to be at home at least until next week. Consoling Baba is difficult and the only way I can take her mind off it is to put the television on, but even this is a drop in the ocean as to what is going on in her worried head.

We just hope that Galia pulls through. I will skate to the hospital tomorrow if I am allowed by the doctors to visit her.

We count ourselves extremely fortunate that we have two doctors in our family, one that consulted and referred Galia to hospital; the other actually supervised the diagnosis and operated on her today. Without this we would have been on a waiting list and probably been sent to another City hospital for treatment. It is so true that it is whom you know that counts every time in Bulgaria!

Sliding Along The Tunnel of Light

Sliding Along The Tunnel of LightJust when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, it just shuts off and you wait for it to appear again. This is what it felt like today as we tried to go with the flow on the weather front.

We had to be at the Yambol clinic for a medical check for 9:30, this we felt was quite achievable as we normally start work some two hours before this at 7:30. No problem. But no problem means big problem in Bulgaria.

The light at the end of the tunnel was the rain that we saw falling from the sky. After five days now we still had no water and the sight of rain was optimistic that we might see water soon from the tap.

This hope was for about an hour until we put our foot outside and ended up arse over tit! Luckily, it was just our pride hurt. The whole of Yambol was sheet ice. The rain had fallen and instantly turned to clear ice wherever it landed. This included the Lada that was caked in solid ice, effectively welding the doors together, we just couldn't get in, but that wasn't the worst of it. We just couldn't walk on the roads or footways, along with all the other pedestrians. The 100-metre walk to the hospital took 10 minutes as we edged our way in the most gingerly fashion towards the main road that had been gritted.

Sliding Along The Tunnel of LightThe school had just closed due to ice and lack of heating from gas supplies still not here and the children were in fits of laughter as every few moments someone else was on their backside. It was like an old 1920s slapstick comedy, but in colour. A taxi finally skidded into our path and a further 2-3 minutes was spent just trying to cross the road to the taxi.

I have to admit, this was the most serious case of ice I have ever seen, but no one here complains, they just get on with it the best they can. We saw old and frail people being helped along by young people from the school and younger shopkeepers coming out to help without any need for prompting. It really does lift your heart to see this. Everyone thinks of everyone else, not just themselves.

The ice stayed with us all day and tomorrow will be the same, as overnight nothing will change with more freezing temperatures. And as for that little light at the end of the tunnel for us getting our water back? That will have to wait another day.

Freezing Weather? Village 1 - Town 0

The problem sub-zero temperatures create is something that is more than an inconvenience and it is quite amazing how quickly one forgets how is was in years past. I looked back over my diaries from three years ago and found that dealing with the extremes cold isn't that difficult if your heating energy is not from a third party.

Freezing Weather? Village 1 - Town 0Last year, we missed the winter here, the year before that we were in the village all winter and although more difficult that in other months the fact we had a wood burner solved most of our problems. Even without water, gas or electric on occasions the wood burner dealt with most of these problems. A wood burner provided heat for the house and for cooking. It melted the snow from the garden and when on to boil the water. It gave light, much more than any candles could give and of course kept us warm all through the night as we lived, ate and slept in the same room. It wasn’t noisy like air-conditioning systems (klimatik) and bottled gas fires. We also like the romantic side of it as well.

Freezing Weather? Village 1 - Town 0In the town it is much more difficult. We don’t have a wood burner just bottled gas fires and an air conditioning system for the main room, which is on all the time at the moment as Baba sleeps in that main room. The two bottled gas fires are for Ivo’s bedroom (which is a living room) and our bedroom. These are used just 20 minutes to warm the room up before going to bed. Our bedroom is well below zero at 6:30 in the morning when we wake. My glass of water that sits on the chair by our bed had ice crystals in it the last three mornings. The number and the weight of blankets we use to combat the cold at nights gives us a work out everytime we want to turn over. We are of course fully clothed, pyjamas just aren't warm enough. This is not needed in the village with the wood burner!

For the last three days we have had no water and no gas in the Yambol City home, and ithe snow in the City, unlike the village, is not edible. The advice that stands of don’t eat yellow snow is the best advice right now. With Yambol City being snow-covered for the last two weeks, the toiletry habits of Bulgarians show up quite clearly. Toiletry footprints are all over the place which backs up the theory that Bulgarians prefer to use the outside toilets and public places rather than inside toilets!

Freezing Weather? Village 1 - Town 0It has been more than difficult to get water, which has had to be bought. Washing in freezing cold water rationed to a margarine tub each first thing in the morning is tough for our family. I quite like roughing it, that is partly why I am living here, but I feel sorry for the rest of the Bulgarian household having to go through this. I commented on a friend's site who had a interesting article about 'Weather talk in Thailand', it was mentioned that is wasn't only Brits talking about weather, but Bulgarians love to talk about the weather just as much as the Brits. Well it's not surprising as the weather really does affect the way of life here right now.

With temperatures not getting about freezing point both day and night for the last 10 days or so and set to continue, we cannot see us getting any running water for quite a while to come. As for the gas, we will have to wait and see?

There are many other things that are affected, but this is a blog not a novel.

Charity Doesn't Start at Home in Bulgaria

Charity Doesn't Start at Home in BulgariaI have been following a more than interesting story about a kind-hearted Canadian woman and the support of an English Estate Agent in Yambol, who had the idea of exporting hot water bottles from Canada to Bulgaria. The reason for this was because she had seen the poverty of the old folk who suffer terribly from the severe cold of winter in Bulgaria. This was started many months ago with the plan to get them to Bulgaria before the start of winter.

The idea of hot water bottles was a very good one and on paper it was a simple exercise of collecting donations of hot water bottles and sending them on.

It is now mid winter here, it was –10 C last night and even more snow fell. We have no gas being pumped into Bulgaria from Russia and it is a very big struggle right now for everyone to combat the cold let alone the elderly. Never has there been a greater need for hot water bottles for the old and infirm in recent times. The hot water bottles are still not here, but tucked away in a storage point in Sofia Airport with customs officials refusing to release them on a ridicules Bulgarian bureaucratic whim, which basically involved trying to get as much money out of a charitable gesture.

Charity Doesn't Start at Home in BulgariaThere are two sites I'd like to you visit, one is Our Bulgarian World where the whole saga is logged on their forum. The other is where a journalist has reported on the story. By the way, the journalist apparently know nothing about Bulgaria and it was alleged he didn't even know where it was on the world map!

7th January is Ivanovden in Bulgaria

7th January is Ivanovden in BulgariaThis evening there will be festivities in our Bulgarian household as Galia's son called Ivaylo (Ivo) and he has been in party mood all day as he presented with banitsas, boza and a big smile at 7:30 this morning. The wine and Rakia will be out again this evening as another Bulgarian celebration takes hold. The beauty is it doesn't cost much to celebrate here, it is just families gathering together, the food and drink are celebrated everyday anyway. Why the celebration?

Today 7th January in Bulgaria is yet another special day of celebration; it is Ivanovden or Ivan Name Day. It is the name day of everyone associated with the name Ivan such as Vanyo, Vanya, Yoan/Ioan, Yoanna/Ioanna, Yonko/Yonka, Yoto, Ivaylo, Ivo, Ivona, Kaloyan, Jan/Jean, and Janna. These names and equivalents mean 'God's Blessing'

In Bulgaria where the name days are so important as part of the culture here, the ritual is of course food based as well. Foods that are prepared and eaten on this day traditionally include: boiled wheat, boiled beans, stewed fruit, banitsa, baked blood sausage, baked loukanika sausage, pork and cabbage stew.

Ivan is the Bulgarian version of John, which is why on Ivanovden the Orthodox Church celebrates this particular day dedicated to St. John the Baptist. It was St John who baptized Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. The day before (6th January) was Yordan Imen Den (Jordan Name Day) where the church blesses the River - The very next day, it is 'John (Ivan) The Baptist' who is celebrated and his namesake followers.

Ivanovden is an established traditional folk festival and all part of and a seemingly never-ending cycle of festivals starting from Christmas and running well into the New Year.

It is also the tradition that St. John (Ivan) is the patron saint of the 'Best man' or 'Brotherhood' and in some place the tradition carries on. This recently married couples bringing ritual bread, meat and some wine and lay out the food on the table. The men step on red-hot embers with their right foot, this known as the 'Ivanovsto Ritual' making a vow to become fellow brothers and the wives fellow sisters. No newly-weds around here today so we won't be hot footing any of these traditions this evening.

This is the last celebration for a few days in Bulgaria who are treating Saturday as a normal working week day as it was taken as an extra day of holiday in lieu last week with an extended Christmas and New Year break, so it's not all celebrations.

Yordan Imen Den (Jordan Name Day) in Bulgаria

Yordan Imen Den (Jordan Name Day) in BulgаriaToday 6th January is Jordan name Day or Yordan Imen Den, yet another day of celebration in Bulgaria for all those who have the name or derivative to the name Yordan. The name day is not a coincidence as the Epiphany for the Bulgarian Orthodox Churches believe that Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan. Therefore the name day follows this belief and they have a Great Blessing of Waters on this particular day.

I went to St Nikolai's church early this morning and witnessed the ceremony. My neighbour, who is the priest of the church, was working very hard collecting money from all the brave pilgrims that travelled to St Nikolia's Church through the cold and the snow that had started up again this morning. More money was made from the sale of candles that were lit; on average I calculated that each person bought at least three, and not the smallest and cheapest either. My neighbour should therefore have enough to feed and warm his family this winter.

This was the second day in a row were I witnessed long queues, this time however it was mostly women. Only 5 feet 10 inches tall I still stood like a giraffe dwarfing the countless Old Bulgarian women who accounted for at least 70% of the crowd there.

As with most religious occasions in Bulgaria, the church is full of regular religious devotees that attend to be blessed and experience the yearly ceremony. The blessings are made amidst pre-recorded chant that echoed around the church with an antiphonal effect it was hard to distinguish that there wasn't a live choir there. I could see lots of food and drink that had been prepared ready to serve later including big barrels of wine. After being blessed myself, I left the church which was getting even more crowded and made my way to the Tundzha River that flows through Yambol town. This was where the church procession will make its way later to give a blessing to the waters.

Yordan Imen Den (Jordan Name Day) in BulgаriaI waited along with hundreds of other Bulgarians, this time all men and Gypsies. After the waters had been blessed, a cross is thrown in and volunteers dive in from the bank to retrieve it. The person who gets the cross swims back with the cross gives it back to the priest. The priest then delivers another special blessing to the swimmer and his family.

I find it very strange that Gypsies made up the vast majority of volunteers who went diving into the freezing Tundzha. After all Gypsies aren't Bulgarian Orthodox, more closer to Hindu. I asked a few people why there were so many Gypsies at this festival. Most said they didn't know, but one old man said that they like the event and it was now traditional for them to do it. This surprised me in view of the far removed religious roots. I've yet to see a Gypsy in the church, they are only outside begging for money, which incidentally I experienced once again today.

It was still snowing after smiling policemen who had travelled there in a Lada Police car had roped off the diving area for the swimmers. The cross was thrown and around 12 brave young souls dived in after it, a little mayhem in the river as the scrambling began, but one young chap called Ivan a 23 year old student managed to secure the cross. To be quite honest I wouldn’t have minded having a go myself, it looked great fun, but I’m too old for this now.

Yordan Imen Den (Jordan Name Day) in BulgаriaSlowly the river emptied of swimmers as they made their way back up to the bridge via the river bank, having to cut some ice on the river to get there. Most were greeted with a towel and a cup of rakia, well deserved and needed. Most of us couldn’t see much as we were standing on the riverbank, only participants in the ceremony, VIPs. Mafia and official press were allowed to have privy of the final blessing. No doubt it will be on regional television this evening.

The lasting impression of Yordan Imen Den was the number of people attending these ceremonies on this otherwise ordinary Tuesday. Why aren’t they working? Why wasn’t I working? Making time for numerous celebrations, name days and festivals are built into Bulgaria’s culture – Far more important than work here.

Bulgarian Road Tax - But Not Just Yet

Bulgarian Road Tax - But Not Just YetAs I walked around Yambol today it was a winter wonderland, the scenery with snow just changes the character of the town. The change from a bright café society culture a few weeks ago, into a cold winter coat clad society, left us all treading carefully around the snow and ice-bound roads and pavements.

The reason I was in Yambol was to get my vignette sticker or more understandably the yearly Road Tax sticker. Nationally, it is due on the 1st of January and of course all Bulgarians leave it until the last day and beyond. There had been warning of fines on the TV for anyone found with an out of date tax over the last few days. Without this campaign, Bulgarian drivers would just put off buying it further into the year.

Bulgarian Road Tax - But Not Just YetI’ve said it before and will say it again, most people here believe most of what they hear and see on television, I have always had a great suspicion of most things on television, but in Bulgaria some of the stuff I see is laughable for anyone to believe, but Bulgarians do - Another chapter another time perhaps.

Back on track:
I’d wished that I had bought my ‘Road Tax’ before the New Year, there wouldn’t had been any queues then and it would have been warmer. The queue, which was winding around the outside wall of the main Post Office was something I expected, but not to this decree. There must have been around 40 to 50 men waiting to give their 67 leva away for a little plastic sticker for their car window screens. Yes, there were all men in the queue, as dealing with cars and car business is a man domain here.

Well the sight of the queue was enough to put me off buying it today. Besides my Lada was under half a metre of snow, no policemen could possibly see the car windscreen right now without the aid of a snow shovel. I’ll try again tomorrow and if that fails, I’m not that worried as more snow is forecast tomorrow anyway.

Snow at Last - Cause for More Celebration in Bulgaria

Snow at Last - Cause for More Celebration in BulgariaIt has been quite a worry over the last month or so that we have had no snow. It is quite unusual for Bulgaria not to have a white Christmas or at the very least to have had snowfall prior to the festive season. This year it has been different.

There is much talk and concern at village level of the low well water levels that were almost run dry last year. Without snowfall this winter, they fear that this year this will go from bad to worse. Villagers rely on the water from their wells for their produce and home use. Many homes don’t even have water main supplies and will have to resort to shipping water supplies from natural springs in most village centres, this of course is fine for domestic supplies, but for smallholding that depend on water for crops, impossible.

So the New Year came and the talk was of drought this coming summer, then yesterday, the snow finally came, and lots of it. There is forecast even more on its way throughout the week, this is cause for even more celebrations and that’s how it is right now. Even though many villages are now snowed in, there will be more celebrations beyond Christmas, New Year and countless name day celebrations.

New Year's Celebratons x 3

New Year celebrations somehow didn't seem as important as we attended three parties on three consecutive evenings in three different Bulgarian homes. The highlight was on New Year Eve, but not because it was New Year Eve, but because of the people we were with.

This particular New Year's Eve was not according to what we had originally intended, a last minute change of plan saw us in a village with a Bulgarian couple we'd not had a chance to see for many months, needless to say the talking took priority for the best part of 11 hours.

New Year's Celebratons x 3The countdown to midnight didn't really happen although we did know as the TV was on throughout the evening with non-stop Bulgarian traditional music and pop folk in the background. Sporadic dancing took hold of us on many occasions; somehow we just couldn’t help ourselves.

A quick mention on food - "Top Notch" (Deserves a blog on it's own.)

It was bed at 3:00 in the morning and a walk just before midday in the glorious winter sunshine which was enhance with a sprinkle of snow in the village due to it's elevated position some 1000 metres about sea level.

No chance to rest as we returned to our village of Skalitsa where another party in the evening was held on our behalf as we'd missed the previous evening with our neighbours - And tonight? We are due another party, but being of old age and feeling quite infirm with all this partying we had to decline do to exhaustion and heavy snow outside right now.