Since our first visit to Bulgaria in 2006, there have been so many occasions where help and assistance is freely offered, often by complete strangers who refuse any recompense for their time given. The generosity of the people and strong community spirit helped us move here from UK in 2011 and since then, we have nothing but praise for Bulgarians.
One person who stands out is Mumun, the man we bought our house from and who agreed to be guardian while we worked in England to pay for renovations. The house he built in the 1970’s with the help of his neighbours, is the most robust house for miles around, with all walls 60cm thick, including internal. But after years of ravage by the mountain weather, it was in need of some TLC. Nothing has been replaced since it was built and all the windows and the roof needed birthdays. There wasn’t any running water installed inside the property and the electric cables were worn out. Split on 2 floors with an external staircase, we immediately saw the potential for a guest house and set about planning a home for us downstairs and a luxurious self contained apartment upstairs. Having such a blank canvas, with not even a shelf on the walls, meant we could use our imagination. Unrestricted by plumbing pipes or internal structures, in all honesty it was a shell of a building though the traditional way the house was built from natural hand shaped stone, meant we couldn’t alter it’s floor plan and ‘knock through’ any walls or the whole building might collapse! We were able to use our western wages to improve Mumun’s house beyond his wildest dreams and he told us we have done what he wanted to do, but couldn’t and is extremely happy to see his house fully utilised. He welcomed us into his family and treats as one of his children. Our ages fit us in well with his 4 true-born who have moved far away from home but all come to visit at least twice a year.
Mumun has become our most trusted neighbour and when a stray puppy turned up mid-renovations, he agreed to look after him while we lived overseas. Jakal has turned into an extremely well behaved dog and shares his life between us, a hound with 2 homes.
Despite the fact he is retired, Mumun is always prepared to get stuck in and assist with work around our garden and never asks for anything in return but it’s a pleasure to be able to give something back. We are proud to be experienced enough and able to adapt quickly to his self sufficient lifestyle, and not be the ‘city’ folk who don’t know how to work the land or keep animals.
I’m sure this pleases him too as at age 75 he doesn’t need to feel obligated to help with more than a few suggestions and even though he is incredibly strong and fit for an elderly wiry man, we can physically help him too. Although I admit, scything hay is still a skill that will take many more years of practice to get anywhere near his standard! Luckily, having worked in the UK with horses, I am competent at forking hay up to him on his haycock while he balances atop, building the stack high to overwinter. And then when his cows need food, helping take apart the cock and load a donkey to take it to his cow shed. There are no machines here, no labour saving devices, and with most land on these steep mountainsides being very sheer, using the age old methods is by far the most practical!
Of course the internet is a great research tool and helps us a lot but up here, 2500 feet on the crest of a mountain not far from the Mediterranean, the weather, seasons and timings are very different from the UK. His years of experience means he knows when to plant as the ground stays colder at this altitude and when to trim the fruit trees to get the best harvest. We have tried to make a few changes, like building a greenhouse frame strong enough to over-winter so harvesting spinach when it’s snowing is much easier, but he had a good laugh when the ferocious winds ripped the roof covering off!
Mumun likes a chuckle and I think this is what keeps him young. He regularly spins a yarn, telling us something with a very serious face to see how gullible we are. Like the first September we visited and sitting in the garden, could hear roaring sounds from across the mountains. We asked him what animals these were and he told us ‘Mechka’. “Really?!” we asked as we knew bears lived in the Rhodope Mountains but were amazed they came so close to human civilisation, giving the country’s history of bear mistreatment, but the remoteness of our village with a very small population and no industry or light pollution made it very feasible. We were extremely pleased that we had bought a house even closer to nature than we first thought… Mumun didn’t put us straight and it was another year before we realised they were stags rutting! Which actually is still an amazing sound to hear and bears do indeed come that close as we have seen the paw prints… they are just very quiet about it!
Another time I’ll never forget, was when we came home late from a day out and Mumun, who keeps an eye on our animals for me, said an eagle had been seen flying over and swooped down and took one of my chickens. I was very sad… He told me I should stay with them all day tomorrow as the eagle would be back. He was winking at Lee but I had fallen for it until the next morning when I opened their house to find all hens present. None had been taken! So later I got him back by dejectedly knocking at his door and telling him I was a bad woman as another hen had been taken by an eagle… the shocked look on his face was priceless but all was forgotten when I announced ‘joke’ and smiles and laughter broke out.
The thing that makes Mumun so special is his whistling. Whist scything hay, restocking his wood pile, mucking out or feeding his cows, he is always rendering a tune. Not only does this make us feel happy, it lets us and any visitors sunbathing know when he is not far away! He is always welcome here yet whistles to announce his presence and observes reverence. Mumun holds our greatest respect for his cheery outlook on life, the fact he has lived a tough life in these mountains yet still pauses to look at the beautiful mountain scenery, is always laughing and smiling, even when a heavy delivery truck, bringing materials for our latest enterprise, collapsed into his cow shed and a whole wall had to be rebuilt quickly before the impending rain… and best of all, he always finishes conversations with ‘vsichko hubavo’ = every things lovely 🙂