Bulgarian Memories, Part II

Read Part I.

You won't find Tsarovo on even the most detailed maps of Bulgaria. I remember being surprised at this fact when I retuned to the states. My grandfather had purchased a very large and meticulous map of the country for me upon my return and one evening I was pointing out various cities I have visited or lived in to my family. When I started telling this story I looked all over the map for Tsarovo. I traced road that the bus took the village. Where the village should have been, there was nothing.

About an hour after leaving the bus depot, the bus left the main highway and drove several miles down a narrow dirt road. To the side of the roads were fields of tobacco. The plants were tall and the leaves, dark green and broad. A few field workers stood near the fence examining the leaves of one plant. The looked up as the bus passed.

At the bottom of some rolling hills, the bus stopped. The doors hissed open and the old women gathered up their bags and hobbled off the bus. I approached the driver and asked when the next bus would head back to Plovdiv.

"Four o'clock," he said. "If you miss that, you'll have to spend the night here."

I stepped off the bus and found myself at the foot of some rolling hills. There were three empty buildings at the end of the road. There were faded signs above the doorways and in the widows. At one time one of the buildings had been a store. Another a laundry service. They were probably stores that were open during the communist reign to keep people employed. Once the communist government was toppled, the stores shut down. In the smaller towns there were lots of empty buildings like this.

But empty buildings weren't what I had expected to find. I had expected to see homes and people in the streets. Instead there were three empty buildings at the foot of some hills.

"Is this Tsarovo?" my companion said.

I pulled the directions from my pocket that I had written down a few days before. The directions were vague. It said simply to walk down the main road from the bus stop to the village. I looked around and noticed most of the old women from the bus were waking past the buildings, up a road that weaved it's way through the hills.

"I think Tsarovo is up that road," I said.

We caught up to the old woman with the bag of sticks on the road.

"Excuse me," I said. "Will this road take us to Tsarovo?"

The woman stopped and set down her bag. "What business do you have there?" she said.

"We're here to see friends," I said.

The woman looked us up and down. Her green eyes were full of suspicion and mistrust. "Who are your friends?" she asked.

"Would you like help with your bag?" I offered. "I can carry it to the village for you." I wanted to change the subject. Often our presence would cause tension between those we were visiting and their neighbors. Besides, I had no doubt after today everyone in the village would know whom we had come to see.

The old woman pulled the bag close to her. "I can carry my own bag," she said.

"Tsarovo," I said. "It's up this road, right?"

"Yes," the woman said. "Up the road."

Up the road ended being a two mile walk. By the time we arrived our shoes were covered with dust. We were hot and tired. We took bottles of water from our bags and took a long drink and looked at the village. Tsarovo was nothing more than a collection of three dozen homes, grouped together on the crest of a hill. It was surrounded by other hills. The other hills were all farmland, a patchwork of greens and yellows.What surprised me most about the town however was not it's size, but the streets. The roads were littered with horse and donkey manure. Most of it was dried by the sun but there were a few fresh piles lying around.

"Do you hear that?" I said.

My companion looked around. "Hear what?"

"Listen," I said.

He stood and cocked his head to one side. "I don't hear anything," he said.

"Exactly. There's nothing to hear. There's no cars or radios. Nothing. When was the last time you were in a place this quiet? Look at the manure all over the road. Do you see any tire tracks smashing it down. Do you see any power lines sending electricity to the homes? I don't think the people here have electric power or cars."

"Who do lives a place like this?" my companion said.

I pulled the directions out of my pocket trying to orient myself. "Let's find out," I said.

I stepped over a fresh pile of donkey manure and turned down the first street.