In the middle of the Stara Planina Mountain, 10 km from Troyan, in a neighborhood of about twenty permanent residents, who get a single bus every three days, I spent unforgettable summers as a kid. We had a villa and we were from Sofia, among other villagers looking for the tranquility of the mountain, though sometimes without running water. The big ones were gathering for coffee in the afternoon, which grew into an evening brandy and ended with politics in the middle of the night. While we were teasing our expensive jeans, sliding on piles of hay and destroying imported sneakers, sifting in mud and other brown, soft, warm things left by the cows. Around the neighborhood, there were many local grandparents still wearing ancient rural village clothes. The women wore two braids under their headscarves and colorful aprons. They lived from animal husbandry and what the SCCs provided. They often came to our hospital to visit my grandfather, a doctor from Pleven, who, although on vacation, always enjoyed seeing them.
One of my favorites was Grandma Stefanka. Her house, built back in Turkish times, had a huge yard, a garden, a barn for sheep, cows and pigs. There is no doorbell. One just goes, yells and sees her sunburnt face, from some angle. Remember the day I and ours, and probably my grandparents, were born. We bought fresh eggs from her ("fresh" according to Grandma Stefanka meant straight from the goose ... and from the hen) and milk from the cow. I was the urban kid who saw the most hamster in the neighbors, and was fascinated by her sheep, chickens, pigs and goats. Sometimes I even tried to milk the cow. I hated to drink milk (especially with cream), but if it was from her cow, I would not miss it. Grandmother Stefanka spoke a dialect that I often didn't understand, but always managed to understand, and I felt close to her. If we were on the road after 9 in the evening, we would hear her sing folk songs after she had drunk a little bit of "home".
She can talk for hours about her animals, the rains of the season, who last died in the neighborhood, how peppers grow. For the hidden bacon in the basement that would gladly share the red pepper sprinkled with the obligatory homemade plum brandy. She had never seen a fitness club, but she always "chewed me up" with her ability to run up and down hills while grazing animals. I can't remember ever getting sick or complaining about anything, or smelling bad, even though the day is moving according to the animal schedule.
She is always curious to hear about my life in America, and is especially happy when I shoot her because she knows that her photo will be released "on the Internet." Each time I meet her, she charges me with her endless energy, eternal smile, humanity and gratitude for life. Makes me ashamed of the vanity of the world I come from. It reminds me every time of how humble, yet spiritually rich and meaningful one can live.
In fact, I wonder if ever, even for a moment, Grandma Stefanka wondered about the meaning of her existence, what is this "Happiness" or what does she live on this earth for? She is who she is. She just lives and is grateful for whatever she comes for.