Bulgarian Family Trip to the Yambol Cemetery

There was a clue yesterday evening as I got back from my labours on the city farm. Galia had been to the shop and brought back with here lots of sweets, biscuits, cake bars and fruit. I know that these are given as gifts to people on special occasion and tomorrow was one of those days.

Early tomorrow morning we were to go to a Yambol cemetery to visit Galia's Baba's grave. She died 22 years ago and each year the family visit on this anniversary to tidy up, place new flowers and shrubs, give a blessing, light candles, water and give Baba a drink of wine.

Our 86-year-old current Baba was to come with us; we missed the occasion last year in the UK.

We loaded up the Lada with all the flowers and shrubs, that were picked from our own garden rather than being bought. A good supply of water, a bottle of home made wine, some Bulgarian gardening hand tools and the food bought the day before packed in five plastic bags to be presented to today's family visitors to the grave were also loaded up.

We arrived at the same time as the sun that was now beating down on us. Now our Baba insisted we park the car outside the cemetery grounds, as we would have had to pay one Bulgarian leva for entry. She would much rather buy a loaf of bread with this money that she felt would be ill spent. It was nearly had a kilometre to Baba's grave as young Baba stopped every 100 metres to draw breath.

Now I have done this before over the last two years with Galia who attends her late husband's grave each year. I knew the routine and the rituals so nothing surprised me today. The fact that no one felt sad or slightly morbid with lots of talking joking and generally normal bouncy behaviour was normal and I felt quite at ease with this mood this year.

All the graves have pictures of the deceased on the head stone, many is not most with the husband and wife in the same grave, some with whole families of up to five or six. Some graves have sculptured masks of the dead on the headstone, usually a more important figure, but in general in true socialist style every grave area is the same with slight variations of headstone style. All done in a reserved and respectful manner and always understated, no extroverts allowed here.

Beneath each headstone is a base stone with a cavity cut out. This has a glass front and a metal door at the back, which is padlocked entry to a cavity. This is a space for personal possessions and effects are stored, for instance a photograph of the family they had left behind or a book etc., which is probably why it is locked. tis can be seen through the glass at the front. Also the candles that are lit each year is usually placed in side a little hand built shelter to protect from the wind, but most are of an old oil can with one side cut out as they site permanently on the grave browned by the years of rust.

We finally got there and all three of us set about tidying the grave up, it took a good half an hour of graft to get everything looking spic and span. Just as we finished other members of out family turned up - 'Well timed!' we said as we wiped the sweat of our brows after slaving away with weeds and planting in this now blazing April sun. We all exchanged the bags of food goodies, each of us lit a candle and placed it in the freshly dug soil on the grave and said a prayer as we watched the candles burn lower.

We then each took bottle of water and poured it over the grave in a cross motion and exactly the same was done with the bottle of wine saying another small prayer whilst doing it. A few minutes of talking over the grave, again very happily and joyful conversations about when young Baba was going to join her mother whereas we all agree that she would have to lose weight before she passes away as she wouldn't fit in the grave for one and her pension wasn't enough to cover the cost of a tractor to lay here to rest. Like I said, there is no sorrow involved on these occasions, it is almost like another celebrations and of course food and drink involved.

We talked our way out of the cemetery grounds and took Baba for the first time in her life to a big supermarket, Kaufland. She pushed a supermarket trolley for the first time in her life, knocking quite a few people out of the way during the learning process. We only got a loaf of bread there, but spent over an hour talking to people we knew who worked there, this is normal.

So back home and the day is half gone as we tuck into the bag of goodies presented to us including some lovely home made cake on of the family had baked yesterday (riddled with local home grown walnuts!) Mmmm!

Why no photographs taken you might ask? It has nothing to do with respect, as you might be thinking. I took the camera only to find that the batteries were dead when getting there; perhaps I should have buried them and said a prayer while I was there!
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