The mosque in the village of Fotinovo is looked after by one of my neighbours. His name is Hussain and he is an 80 year old man, with a cheeky smile
and a voice like Pavarotti. He would no doubt put many other octagenerians to shame with his vitality and enjoyment of life.
Last month I bought a new scythe, to cut grass and make hay. I was under the impression that these came off the shelf and ready to go. Little did I know.
After smashing my grass for several hours working up an almighty sweat, I consulted the oracle of Samodiva, my friend, barmen, shopkeeper, part-time
electrician, and all round good guy Hikmet. I showed him my scythe and said that it was not working properly. I knew something was up immediately.
A smile was appearing on his face!
‘Da, Hikmet nov’ (This is my normal approach, repeat what you are asked with either Da or Ne in front of it. Works for me.
‘Niz Nam Zastho’ (I don’t know why?)
‘Iska ramont.’ (It needs mending?)
Now in the UK if you buy something ‘new’, you don’t expect it to require fixing after you have just bought it. However, this is Bulgaria, and
although not true with all purchases, in the case of a scythe it needs mending after buying it new.
It turns out then that one of my other neighbours Hussain is the ‘maestro’ of fixing new scythes. They require grinding down and sharpening, I was
stopped from attempting this myself. They have seen my attempts at DIY and thought I should be kept away from sharp instruments (probably wise).
Three days later my new scythe is delivered back, with an edge that would put Gillette to shame (below).
I then enquire what he would like in exchange, be it payment (no Beer he is an Imam), or whatever. He asks that next time I travel to the market in Djebel
that he comes with me as he has to refill his gas bottle and this is a hassle if done on the bus. No problem I am heading there tomorrow.
And so begins my day out with the Imam.
On arrival in Djebel (15 mins after departure it is only just down the road), we proceed direct to the gas pump and refill his canister. Park the car,
and I am directed to the cafe.
Djebel is a small ‘grad’, which translates into city, but is really just a big village. As much a real city as St.
Davids in Pembrokeshire. It has however a ratio of cafes to people nearing 1:3. There are the new modern cafes (bars) where the ‘mlads'(young people)
hang around staring at girls, and conversely there are cafes for the older generation. We headed directly for a cafe where every occupant could have
been my grandfather. Hussain, it now appeared knew everyone one in the cafe and introduced me to just about all of them. My Turkish is still at
infancy level, but I was introduced as his friend and neighbour from the village, ‘and he is English don’t you know’ was always tagged on the end of it.
It was absolutely wonderful; everyone greeted me with a smile, showing me their remaining teeth, and shook my hand in iron like grips. We eventually found
a spare table outside, as Hussain has given up smoking, and you didn’t need to smoke to get lung cancer inside the cafe.
Two proper Turkish coffees later (very strong Expresso with 5 sugars), and greetings to everyone that passed by. Hussain decides that we should continue
are shopping, I have to buy a new handle for my ‘dutch’ hoe, he needs a new metal sieve (something to help make his cheese with). Walking down the street,
we cannot proceed for more than five metres at a time without being stopped and greeted. I now know what the Queen feels like shaking everyone’s hand,
absolutely great. Our shopping is done and packed away in the car. Hussain is not ready to go just yet though. We head off in the direction of the
cafe again, but not into it to my relief, and into the restaurant next door.
Hussain orders lunch of Beef and Potatoes, and a local delicacy of ‘taratesh’ which is a sort of yogurt and salad cold soup. Absolutely delicious, and
accompanied in traditional Bulgarian style with half a loaf of bread each.
We head back and I deliver him to his door and help him with the gas bottle. His wife then gives me 3 litres of fresh milk from the cow, and general
instructions on how to pasteurise it (boil it).
Hussain then offers me money for the fuel. I should point out that he had already paid for the coffees and the meal in the restaurant much to my annoyance.
I stoutly refuse and explain that the favour really should have been on me, for fixing my new scythe. He just smiles, and tells me I am his new best friend.
What an absolute gentleman. This just would not happen in the UK. I am really am so lucky to be living here.
PS I have since been back to Djebel on my own, and although not greeted by quite so many people, there are quite a few who remember being with
Hussain previously. I now follow in his tradition and have a coffee with old guys before doing any shopping that is needed. I am pleased to say they have
just as much trouble with my name as I do trying to remember all theirs. I have been called ‘Phylis’ by Muhmoon who mistranslated ‘Ingleez’, and ‘Domli’ which
I have been informed may have another meaning in Turkish and am yet to find out what.