A Long Way From Home

by Petya Tashkova (Bulgaria)

Making a local connection Bulgaria


An empty plastic bottle in each hand, I walked with long swinging strides, raising dust with each step. The pavement was so damaged one could easily sprain an ankle so I opted for the street instead, skipping left and right to avoid the cracks in the asphalt. It was just after 6 and the sun was hanging heavily over the sleepy rooftops. It was to be another hot summer day – in July, it can reach 40°C in Bulgaria. “Good morning!” The old woman, sat on a crooked wooden bench, raised her gaze with a puzzled look. She squinted and miniature wrinkles cut through her weary face. She was about 80. “I am looking for Magda, I was told she could sell me some fresh milk if I come early,” I waved the bottles, worried she might not hear well. Magda’s shaky hand reached for the wooden stick propped next to her and, with strenuous effort, she got to her feet. In two leaps I found myself next to the old woman but her disapproving look warned me she needed no help. Yes, she can give me some milk; she was just about to milk the cow. Yes, she is sure; who else would do it anyway. She must give me some breakfast first though. So appallingly skinny I am, does no one care to feed me! No, it’s not too early for breakfast. No, coffee doesn’t count. We chat over crispy banitsa – cheesy filo pastry (just like my nana used to make it) that Magda had baked earlier “in case someone stopped by”. No one stops by. Magda talked of how thriving the area once was. Now it’s one of over 550 villages in Bulgaria with less than 10 or no permanent residents. After the socialist government resigned in 1989, agriculture lost its significance for the country’s economy. All land previously consolidated into cooperative farms was returned to the rightful owners who often had little incentive to manage it, leaving only a small share in large-scale production. The lack of work in the rural regions forced the younger population to the cities, but, with one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe and salaries five times less than those in Western countries, people fled abroad to seek better opportunities. Magda's son lives in Milan. “My grandchildren are foreigners,” she stared out the unwashed window with a heavy heart. Magda handed me the bottles. The milk felt warm through the plastic. She didn’t ask for money; I had paid her with my company. “Will you be staying much longer?” “Another week and I must return home,” I said, instantly regretting it. “Where’s home?” Magda asked. Reluctantly, I answered: “London.”