Monday, January 4, 2016

Are Bulgarians Rich?

I don't know if it's the season but the following  story has been doing the rounds and a number of people have said it reminds them of Bulgaria and what they love about the country.   I'd like to put another slant on this perspective.

One day a very wealthy father took his son on a trip to the country for the sole purpose of showing his son how it was to be poor. They spent a few days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.

After their return from the trip, the father asked his son how he liked the trip. “It was great, Dad,” the son replied. “Did you see how poor people can be?” the father asked. “Oh Yeah,” said the son.
“So what did you learn from the trip?” asked the father. The son answered, “I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon.
We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others.
We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.” The boy’s father was speechless. Then his son added, “It showed me just how poor we really are.”
Too many times we forget what we have and concentrate on what we don’t have. What is one person’s worthless object is another’s prize possession. It is all based on one’s perspective.
Sometimes it takes the perspective of a child to remind us what’s important.

'Our' baba collects scrap metal all year and in autumn gets us to load our van and take her to the recycling yard where we unload and it's weighed in.   Brilliant, you might be saying, the Bulgarians recycle - No! privileged people recycle to feel good about themselves, baba recycles in order to be able to afford her winter wood.   She insists on paying us for our time and fuel despite struggling financially, we've reached an agreement which protects her pride but doesn't case her financial distress - we charge her 2 leva (slightly less than a £) on condition we do any errands we need to do whilst out (we make sure we need to do at least one).   We will receive a bottle of rakia, which she makes, and a bag of vegetables during the following week but we know she can afford this more than cash.

'Our' dyado (and Bulgarian papa)  needed a spinal operation a few years ago, at a cost of 2,200 leva (about £1000) luckily his daughter and son-in-law were in a position to pay for this operation.   Considering the state pension is 230 leva/month (£100) how many pensioners need operations, that will improve their quality of life, but go without?  Dyado has also asked us if we could take him into town, with the van, to collect some stuff he needed on more than one occasion.    When asked when, the response has been 'when I have the money' - the latest trip was for winter fuel and it took him over 2 months before he had managed to either save or get the money from his family and buy this fuel.    Dyado keeps bees and although he always offers us the money for fuel/time you can see his happiness when we tell him we need honey, rather than money, he normally gives us a bottle of his homemade rakia as well.

Yesterday a Bulgarian, in his late 20's, who we gave a few weeks work to in 2013 called in to see us and ask if we had any work for him.      Winter is  our rest and plan, future  projects, time so we were unable to offer him any work, at this time.   We were able to suggest some companies that may have vacancies but at least one of these had to be disregarded as it would be official work - to get a legitimate job with a criminal record (drink driving) is difficult but even without the record he would need to have a medical before starting work, something he can not afford.    Unemployment benefit here, just over 200 leva a month, is paid  for between 4 and 12 months depending on how long you have been in  tax-paying employment.    Because this lad has not been able to get an official job he is receiving 40 leva a month financial help from the state.

Some more of our neighbours could be perceived as financially stable.    They are in their 50s, have 2 children in the 20's who have both been put through university, and have jobs.    They also have an apartment in a nearby town, this goes back to pre-democracy days when the state wanted workers near their place of employment, and the village house, which they inherited from his parents.   They consider themselves as poor, as they have no holidays, or money in the bank - days off from work are spent tending the land at the village house.    Yes they could sell the apartment or the village house and go on a spending spree having foreign holidays but then what.   They both work, different hours, so if they sold the apartment they would need 2 vehicles to reach work, if they sold the village house their food bill would increase dramatically.

So does the fact that Bulgarian villagers have a lifestyle that those who come from the west aspire to make them rich?    Minimum wage here is 420 leva (less than £200), a month.    Even without the examples above what choice does that amount of money give you?     Yes Paul and I moved here with the stated intent of 'out peasanting the peasants'  however good we get at animal husbandry, crop growing/preservation, making do & mending we will NEVER reach that goal because we have choice.   We love the community spirit, we love the freedom, we love the simplicity of our lives but we do not for one moment forget that our Bulgarians friends and neighbours think we are mad for walking away from the creature comforts and opportunities available in the west.

In summary I would argue that Bulgarians are NOT rich, yes they have a lifestyle many of us admire, and aspire to, BUT those of us who moved here to live a simpler life had CHOICE.

The ability to choose is what makes people rich.