Original article was published in John Martin Taylor’s personal blog. The copyright of the text below goes to him. Here it is:
For several weeks in the summer of 2011, I traveled with Mikel throughout Bulgaria visiting Peace Corps Volunteers. Here are some of my photos, with captions. I have not yet proofread this, so let me know if you find something before I do!
In many of the Peace Corps sites, the volunteers work with Bulgarian Muslims, or Pomatsi. Their villages tend to be in the higher, more remote locations. Sometimes there are two mosques in one village. Some villagers are extremely devout, stopping work when time for prayer is called by the imam from the mosque (jamiya). We were visiting during Ramadan (Ramazan in some dialects) and many of the families, the women often dressed in traditional attire, were fasting. Even so, they offered us food while they abstained. They are a gentle, farming people, loving and kind, as far removed from radical Islam as my Sunday school teacher was from the so-called religious right. They keep bees (the honey centrifuge at left was in the home of the landlord of one of the volunteers in these hills in Southwestern Bulgaria). They grow corn and tobacco as cash crops, and, where the altitude is too high for those plants, they grow potatoes. Though vast fields of corn and sunflowers are grown in the valleys, the sweet corn in the mountains is favored for its depth of flavor. Like the heirloom corn that I have ground me in the mountains of Georgia, this corn is sweet but not cloyingly so, and it tastes like the corn of my childhood.
What doesn’t sell as fresh will be sold as dried or preserved.
Villagers supplement their nonexistent incomes selling mushrooms, jams, fruits, onions, potatoes, yogurt, fresh and dried vegetables, and honey. Mushrooms are gathered from the wild, such as these porcini and chanterelles, and are grown at home, such as in these dirt-filled plastic bags inoculated with spores.
In any town — even in Sofia, the capital, with its million-and-a-half people — horse-drawn carts are a common sight, and you are liable to come upon a shepherd and his flock of sheep, goats, turkeys, ducks, or cows. Cows are rarely fenced, except near major highways. Everywhere you look, there is food production.
Grapevines, peppers, and tomatoes grow in the tiniest of dooryards and on balconies. In Sofia, you can barely walk a block without finding a street vendor of melons.