Death and remembrance in a small Bulgarian village
As complete strangers participating in some small scale agro-tourism at a beautiful little self sufficient setup in a rural and ex agricultural village in East Bulgaria, the first thing we saw everywhere were photocopied photos of people sternly staring out from their position on each wooden door.
Throughout the village posters. akin to Wanted posters, were pinned to each farmhouse gate’s wooden door, with their name, and what looked like a description and a date – although we couldn’t be sure because it was in the Cyrillic alphabet. At first we thought perhaps we’d landed ourselves in an avid crime-fighting village, or a village full of criminals….
After asking our British hosts what these strange sights actually are, they confirmed they are announcements of death, and they are kept up almost indefinitely on the doors of the closes relatives. As well as this sort of spooky set of hard copies that would mean you were likely to see your dead relative’s stern face stating out at you wherever you walked in the village; every month the dead’s family go around neighbours distributing food in remembrance. Asked how long they were expected to keep this up for our hosts also answered, indefinitely!
Walking through this small town then it was easy to see that death had visited this place regularly over the last decade. A little bit of observation will also tell you half the houses that used to be habited are busy dilapidating without occupation as the young leave for better opportunities in the big towns in Bulgaria, or, outside the country leaving their parents and older family members to fend off absolute poverty by tending their vegetable gardens, chickens and goats in their enclosures of house, barns and market garden. Women of 80 with bent backs and shuffling feet feeding themselves from their own produce, persevering from necessity in the freezing cold winters of Bulgaria; and even producing enough to be able to jar pickled vegetables for their children to sell for a little money in town.
Whether older Bulgarian generations are contented with this hand they’ve been dealt post-communism is hard to tell, their rather enquiring weathered faces do not give away anything except how hard they must work to provide for themselves, and unfortunately I had zero Bulgarian and most had zero English.
In the meantime, as the exodus continues, rituals of remembrance perhaps bring back memories of more prosperous times.