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Village Life
08.08.2007   Libby Andrews
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Bulgarian cottage

Temperatures have reached 40 degrees; skies are clear blue with barely a cloud to take away the optimism that represents the Bulgarian summer. Fields full of golden stubble left from the corn harvest blend against the burnt grassed hills. Sunflowers bow their heads towards the light and swallows float and dive in and out of the swimming pools. 

Summertime in a Bulgarian village is idyllic. Neighbours spend all day tending their gardens, home-grown fruit and vegetables are in abundance. Animals roam everything from dogs and cats to turkeys. The village is peaceful, no blaring radios or the roar of traffic, just the occasional bray from a donkey grazing on wasteland nearby. 

I sit on my terrace enjoying the gentle breeze from the Black Sea watching my neighbour, Boris peel his tomatoes ready to make gallons of homemade tomato juice. He looks up and smiles, then nods, “heide, piy edna Rakia” (come and drink a Rakia). It is four o’clock in the afternoon, reason tells me it is too early, but when has reason ever prevailed? I cross the dirt track road and enter his garden. The scent of the hydrangeas overpowers me. He pours me a glass of the fatal liquor, we clink glasses and look solemnly into each other’s eyes and say “Nazdrave” (Cheers). The yellow liquid burns the back of my throat with its fruity flavour, yet I continue slowly to down my glass. After a few sips we pause to check the progress of his grapes, which hang from a vine over the porch. It will be another good year for Rakia. Boris sits on a wobbly old bench finishing off the tomatoes. Sweat pours from his round tanned face. In the background a cockerel crows, the gate opens and more impromptu guests arrive. Boris’ son and his girlfriend sit down beside us at the rickety old table. The bench creaks and we all laugh and make jokes about our weight. Simona, the girlfriend, goes to collect some more tomatoes and a couple of cucumbers; I get the bowl and cutlery. There’s no point in having Rakia without a salad. My sons dash up the road chasing a beautiful chestnut mare. “Zdraste,” (Hello) they cry and in the blink of an eye they disappear up the lane. Slowly we eat the salad whilst joking about a neighbour’s donkey. My husband shouts across from our terrace, “Does anyone know whose horse this is? “ It is rolling around on our attempt at a lawn. We all toast him with more cries of Nazdrave and he comes over to join us, bringing with him a bag full of apricots picked from a tree on a deserted piece of land. My sons settle down at the table and pick at the salad before going off to feed Boris’ chickens. As the evening progresses and more neighbours join the party, each bringing with them an offering of food and drink, we start to tell stories and jokes. Boris attempts to sing the Bulgarian national anthem, but we know more of the words than him. He only remembers the old version. 

As the sun sets and the moon casts its silver shadow over the sea, we shake hands and retire to bed. As we cross the dusty road, we shout back to Boris, “Don’t let that cockerel wake us at six o’clock tomorrow morning.”
“I’ll tie his beak together he replies.”
“Would you swap this life for our old one?” my husband whispers.
“Not for the world.” I reply.

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