Thursday, October 21, 2010

Visiting Villages #3 The Difference

Visiting Villages #3
The Difference 
This blog will be the last in this series about visiting villages.  The first two “Visiting Villages” blogs talked about specific events (i.e. a walk in the woods, and picking potatoes).   However, the real important aspect of visiting villages is the DIFFERENCE!   Visiting a village is very different from our life here in Plovdiv.  Plovdiv is a relatively modern, cosmopolitan small city.  In the villages, it feels like you are stuck in some sort of time warp in the year 1930 (or a little earlier) anywhere in rural America.   I think there are several reasons for this “flashback feeling”.    
The community - Villages are definitely a community.  And like any small group, they are tightly knit, but with a few “stray” pieces of thread.  They have their local drunks, and town politicians (most towns have a mayor), and problem children which the entire village knows about.  There are probably several “baba benches” where many old ladies will watch to goings-on in the town, and gossip.   Young volunteers can never get by one of these groups without being asked “Where are you going?”, “Do you need food?”,  What are you eating?”, or “Your hair is wet - - you will be sick tomorrow!”.   In some other part of the village, there is a group of old men sitting around a chess board or playing cards.  They are generally complaining about something, and pinning for the “old days” when things were always better.   An early version of “Mayberry” without Sheriff Andy often comes to mind when you are in a village.
The work – lots of it - - Another thing that binds villages together is the work.  Everyone has a garden!  It is the center of their home.  There are no grass lawns where families play, and husbands pick weeds and dandelions. Every square foot is used.  There are no shade trees, but there several fruit trees in many yards.  If there are lots of flowers, then there may also be several bee hives in the back yard. Oh – and there are generally some chickens running around a pen.  The shade comes from the grape vines and the arbors they grow on.  And then there is the garden which is full of tomatoes, peppers, beans, potatoes, onions, and anything else you may be able to eat or can.   And in August when it is dry, every plant will be watered by hand with a bucket and a ladle - - every day.  There is not modern power equipment to take care of the garden.  I have watched old men with 50 year shovels turning the dirt in the spring.   And if they are lucky, a neighbor with a horse and plow may come by and give them a hand.  Villagers are in the gardens every day working with old hoes, picks, or shovels so there never seems to be any weeds in a village garden.  In the fall, at harvest time, the wood fires are started on the sidewalks, or backyards, or outside stoves to begin the canning process.  This will go on for days, and they will literally fill up an entire room with jars.  The small “walk-in pantries” we have in the US are puny compared to what you find in the canning room of a village home.   From Spring to Fall, the work is almost endless. 
Sharing everything   - Another important aspect of village life is helping and sharing with others.  Volunteers are particular targets of this sharing.  I know some volunteers who will get tomatoes, peppers,  wine, rakia, and cucumbers just walking home through their village.  During PST, there were constant examples of this trait.  My host dad had four bee hives.  He was constantly giving honey to people for any help they gave him.  I remember one night during dinner when another village folk stopped over with a very large pail of fresh picked strawberries.  His crop had come in, and there was more than he could use.   The next day, we were cooking strawberry jam!  One day in Plovdiv after a storm, I found an old couple trying to clear a tree limb from the road using an ancient axe.   The old man had a cane, and it was almost comical (if it was not so sad) to watch him trying to swing that axe.  I came up, took the axe, and had the limb cut up in about 15 minutes.  As the old ladies dragged the cut wood toward their home (they wanted the wood for their stove in the winter), one of them went off and came back with a bottle of homemade rakia for me.   Everyone helps, and everyone gives something back. 
The connections -  One night after eating at the only restaurant in the village, we were heading home.  We had to pass by the local bread bakery.  Our village volunteer knew some of the people who worked there.   They worked from 8PM to 3AM every night, and made all of the bread products for the entire village.  It was close to 11pm, the door was open because it was a warm Fall night, so we went over to say hello.  It was great to see this operation.  There was bread coming out of the big old ovens, other breads in pans raising, and still others fresh out of the oven.  The manager offered us parts of a large circular bread by pulling pieces apart.  It was still warm.  Then she spread a black jam-like substance on the bread.   Now what – I thought.  What is the “tar” on the bread.  Well – I didn’t know what it was, but it was wonderful.   Even though we had just finished dinner, we polished off the bread (and tar jam) before we left.   The following day on the way back from our walk, we passed some villagers picking red berries about twice the size of cranberries.  They grow on high-bush plants.  They were called Drinki.  Our friend stopped to talk to them and we ended up with about 5 pounds of berries to take back to Plovdiv with us.  But – we found out they were what the “black jam” we had at the bakery was made from.   Two days later, Lynn and I figured out a way to make the jam from the berries (even though it has pits), and we now have 6 jars of that great Jam.   Connections like that happen all the time in a village. 
The Seasons - Probably the most important factor in village life is the seasons.  Their life is still dominated by seasonality, and the weather.  The preparation, growing, and harvesting are the major cycle of village life.  Even though they may be watching TV at night, they are still growing, and harvesting the same way it was done decades (or more) ago.   And when winter comes, the village shuts itself down.  There is less bench sitting, and fewer parties in the street.  However, there are still lots of celebrations.   During December and January (in addition to Christmas and New Year), most of the name day celebrations are held.  These are like Birthdays on steroids!   It is the day of the saint you are named after.  Those days are when the home made wine and rakia are spread from home to home.  Thankfully, everyone can stumble back to their own home when the days are done. 
Lynn and I are so lucky to be able to experience village life in addition to our city life.   In America people take trips to Plymouth plantation, or Williamsburg to learn about our history, and the way life used to be in America.   Here – you don’t have to pay money, or make a long trip to the East Coast.  All you have to do is take a short 40 minute drive out of any city and visit a village – and travel back in time.  Lynn and I are very happy with our city life.  But we also love having the chance to experience village life with other volunteers.  It is all part of the Peace Corps experience, and as they say in the MasterCard commercials – it's priceless!!!!
Thanks for reading. 

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