I have already mentioned on this blog Vassil, who lives in the village of Rasnik next to the summer house of my mother in-law. Of all villagers whom I know, he is the best and the one with whom I really can talk, however different our lives have been.
During his most active years, Vassil has been a miner and a steel worker. He has told me how in the Socialist era he had to get up at 4 am to reach his workplace in time, because he hadn't zhitelstvo (permission to live in a particular city) that would allow him to rent an accomodation closer to his work. Democracy gave him the right to live wherever he wished and he prefered to return to his village after retirement. He couldn't step on the rails of a typical Bulgarian retiree, staying idle in some overcrowded urban flat and complaining that his pension doesn't suffice for anything. He chose instead to become a subsistence farmer in a village without regular water and electricity supply, sewage, pavement and - possibly worst of all - doctor.
Vassil is living with his wife and his sister, whose husband died many year ago. Both he and his sister have sons who live elsewhere. Vassil is the main worker in the household. With the help of the women (and of his son on weekends), he manages a cow, a dozen of sheep, about 20 chickens, two dogs of the Karakachan breed and, in most years, a pig. These animals produce much of the food consumed by the three subsistence farmers and even something remains to be sold. We occasionally buy from them fresh eggs and milk. Last year, they even found time for volunteer work on the construction of a new Evangelical church in the village. It is small, resembling an ordinary modest house and located just beneath our house.
At age 70, Vassil is hopelessly behind the modern fashions in farming. He can work without rest and pasture his cow in any weather, but he could never fill and submit forms to the EU buraucrats in order to receive taxpayers' money for nothing. I regularly argue with my husband about European farm subsidies. I am against them, he says that they must be sound after they are universally accepted in the EU. He said once, "Without subsidies, our farmers will be driven out of business - from where will you buy milk then?". I answered, "From Vassil's cow - she wants no subsidies".
On Sunday, we saw Vassil's wife coming back from church. She told us that Vassil had suffered a brain stroke 20 days earlier and was still in coma in a hospital. His loved ones could only pray for him to come back alive. The two women knew, however, that even in this case he would never be the pillar of the family again. He would depend on their care, and they were prepared for it. They started to dispose of the animals they couldn't look after. The cow had been sold the previous day (Saturday). Talks were under way with some relations to take over the sheep. Even the chickens were to be reduced in half. How easily our deeds go away.
Update: Vassil died on May 29.