A dead end to Dobrinovo

Down a dead end road in south-east Bulgaria lies Dobrinovo, a village seemingly in death throes. Along it`s grid system of roads house upon house lies dormant, derelict, slowly sinking into the thick clay it`s thin foundations were built upon. Brick walls have cracked and crumbled; rain pours through fallen roofs; sun shines through fallen ceilings. Amongst the collapse life continues: dogs do their duty, barking outside the houses still maintained; women chat in a small shop selling bare essentials; men fix an old car or chew the fat with friends. Chickens, sheep and goats meander along a stream sniffing out a subsistence living like their human counterparts. All the while a dedicated son spends the small sums of money he earns looking after his ageing father.

(Dobrinovo translates as 'kind place')

A warm greeting from one of Ivan's neighbours.

Dobrinovo`s decline marries communism`s. The village school closed some thirty years ago, the collective farm in 1989. Since then the trades associated with the workers: the baker, the priest, the teacher are no longer required. Dobrinovo`s ancillary services have shut down. The dwindling population has died or gone for good. Notices portraying faces of the dead stare from a thickly plastered village notice board;  no one seeks to fill their shoes. The younger generations have left for the big city or to find fortune on foreign shores.  

Among the decline Ivan looks after his elderly farther in one warmed room of a brick house that`s falling in on them. The floor looks barely able to support my weight as I tentatively step inside. The welcome like the fruit tea, served in a jam jar, is as warm as you could wish for and our mimed conversation quickly turns to laughter.  The room is dark and dank with two beds separated by a table filled with crockery, condiments and empty medication packets. Debris litters the floor. A picture of a pretty girl is pinned above the younger man`s bed and a stove crackles away in a corner.  

Intelligently using his small English vocabulary Ivan tells stories of the time of "totalitarianism."  Using great gestures to act out parts of the characters that come to his mind he climbs to his feet carrying an imaginary gun. He acts out a shooting into a ditch. "Bang!"; irritants to the system it transpires, disappeared.  Another story is relayed of a man who still suffers a depression of shame after being hauled in front of superiors for a dressing down. His crime: being too generous with the Christmas bonus. The desire for more was so frowned upon that the workers hid secret stashes of money in walls. I`m told that If you were seen with more than you should questions would be asked; the secret police were called to listen in.  

Ivan imitates a gun again. When communism came to town those with animals were relieved of them at gunpoint. They, animals and humans, were collectivised. If you had a handful of beasts you won with a better standard of living; if you had many you lost to equality. Everything was provided for; from a house with land to fish and bread; provided you did not question authority or desire for more. So long as you obeyed the rules, or pretended to, everything was fine. For the average person this meant you went to work, had a beach holiday, and tended your plot.

Today the legacy of collectivised land ownership means it`is possible to purchase an acre of land with a semi-derilict building for as little as 8,000 euros, or less. At the end of village, just before the road runs out into agricultural land -and where the next village is a tramp through fields away- an Englishman is building, brick by brick, "A little piece of the good life." And, as well as inexpensive land, labour, materials and food that secret ingredient of life keeps shining down, even in late November: the sun. So the story of Dobrinovo ends with a Springsteen sub-clause: "Maybe everything that dies someday comes back."    

Before Ieaving Dobrinovo I cooked a good meal with meat for Ivan and his Dad. Their poverty is as deep as their generosity of spirit. When I said goodbye they asked when I would be back. The older man kissed my hand...there were tears. How must they be now, in one room, with the cold continental winds blowing outside?


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