LIFE WITH YOU IS AN ADVENTURE

Welcome to part II

Ready for the second one? This one will be easy. You already know what it is so I won’t try to make it mysterious or anything. Just express some love to the person I love, have loved and will love forever and beyond…

Estela

Go ahead, open the box.

It’s funny,
I had it planned.
And you mentioned it, dummy.
Do you read my thoughts,
or do I read yours?
Don’t tell me,
I already know.
So, how about some letting go?
How about some not thinking,
just feeling and perceiving and,
…getting our assess a bit blue?

Seedlings of Determination

Lidiya Daskalova is an Economist by profession, but she has been working at the Women’s Market for 15 years.

I ran into her while looking for seedlings for my balcony pots. She sells a variety of seedlings grown in Zlatograd, her Rhodope hometown, which she brings to Sofia to sell at the market.

Lidiya is a joyous and bright woman. When you see her, you’d think she is the happiest, but her story is not all sun and rainbows.

In September 2006, Lidiya’s father passed away in Zlatograd. 

He was the pillar of the family. 

Her mother passed away when she was young, so she was raised by him and her brother. 

Her father was also an economist and he had opened a consulting firm where Lidiya also worked. 

Sadly, when he passed away, Lidya and her brother were struck by reality and found themselves sunk by loans and bills. They needed to figure out what to do, and how to get through this crisis.

“We were unaware that my father had loans, and we lacked an alternative. It’s as if everything fell apart with his death, “she says.

Lidiya had always been passionate about growing her own plants and having a garden. Also, her brother had heard that in Sofia there is a big market full of opportunities, so they decided to take the risk and adventure in a new direction. 

“When we arrived at the market I did not expect I’d be here after 15 years. At the beginning, I did not like it at all, we even got robbed the first week,” she adds. 

Lidiya and her brother’s journey was tough, but they succeeded, and now they are well known amongst the producers in the market, and they have regular clients too. 

“Everyone recognizes us. We are nice people from the Rhodope, and we don’t like lying, so that’s how we keep our customers, “she says with a smile.

She demonstrated to me that determination and courage can get you far, even in the darkest of times.

Fifty Years of Survival

Entering the fruits and vegetables part of the market feels like entering a circus show.

There are all kinds of performers: from people bargaining about the price to others trying to sell their products so hard that they even cite poems about them and others who just observe. 

As I pass through them, I feel like nobody’s noticing me-they are all too busy. 

Observing, observing, and observing, I can’t help but notice the man in the market’s final stall.

He sits between two women who are talking to each other loudly and chaotically. He is in the middle but he does not react.

It feels like he’s looking at me. He has deep blue eyes like history, and when you look at him, you see a different world.

I approach.

His name is Alexander. He has been working in the market for 50 years. 

Even with all the chaos around him, he is a respectful man who speaks quietly.

It appears that he neither wants nor cares to be heard.

“I’ve been here for so long that I’m exhausted. Market culture has been dying since the big chain stores opened in the 2000s, “he sighs.

Alexander sounds like he is losing hope, but he is still there in his stall. 

I smile at him, reassuring him that there are people who are fascinated by the market and value the experience it provides, as well as the freshness of the products.

“Do you think that the people selling here all have fresh products that they have cultivated themselves? There are no growers anymore. It’s all a shambles of forgery and money. But my fruits are fresh, “he says with a wink.

I suddenly recall someone else telling me something about money being a problem. I hear Alexander but I can not explain to myself what he’s doing in the market, even if he’s given up hope. So I ask. 

“Fifty years is a long time. A location becomes a habit and a safe haven. This is how I feel here, and I can not get out of my comfort zone now-I am too old, “he shares. 

Alexander may claim that he has lost faith in the market’s future, but I do not believe him.

If he is still there in his stall selling his products, then there is hope. 

I give him a friendly smile, buy some fruit, and walk away.

The "All for 1 Lev"

I hear chalga music playing from one of the shops in the Women’s Market. 

I turn my head, take a look, and see an old lady smoking a cigarette in front of a chaotic all-purpose shop. 

The store has no name, no sign, just many oilcloths and pots at the entrance. 

I approach. 

Maria Vladimirova greets me in the store and continues smoking. 

She has been working in the store for 8 years. 

She is 64 now, and she does not like her job. 

Maria is a cheerful person, she makes a lot of dirty jokes and she even offers me a cigarette. 

“I laugh a lot, like you. Reality is tragic though. We do not make money anymore, my store is empty almost every day, “Maria shares.

Since the pandemic started, Maria has lost many of her clients. Now, she rolls cigarettes and sells them without an excise stamp to make some money. 

“Many German and Turkish students came here before the pandemic. They all lived in rented apartments in the neighborhood and for everything they needed they came to me, “she adds. 

Things have changed though and Maria is bound to make money out of something illegal. When I ask if she’s worried about the consequences, she laughs at me and says, “Do I look scared? I am in this situation because of the government. Plus, they do not care about me. They have never come to my store. ” 

Maria is a strong-willed, witty lady. She does not have a family, and she believes that people are happier when they are alone. 

She has survived on her own for many years and she is not stopping now. For her, life is like a game of survival. 

“Life is hard but I am harder. This is how you survive in these times. I have had many thieves in the shop-caught all of them. Better not mess with me. Write that, “she concludes and sends me away.

A Dive Into Bulgarian Culture

As you are walking in the Women’s Market, you will feel like you are not in Sofia anymore, nor in Bulgaria. 

Everything is vibrant: different cultures, people, and languages.

However, if you continue straight, you will come across the Bulgarian flag, along with some traditional garments and costumes-it’s the Bulgarian store.

As soon as you enter, you will be transported back to Bulgaria.

As I walk in, I smell Bulgarian roses and am captivated by the many things and details surrounding me.

“Sunny day today, huh?” says a female voice.

It’s Viara, the 58-year-old woman who works in the shop.

Viara loves to talk about Bulgaria. She says she left her previous job because she saw the ad for this shop. 

“I am fascinated by our culture, our treasures, and history. I have wanted to work in a Bulgarian store for a while, but never got the courage to quit and do it. I was a History teacher before, “she shares. 

Viara had been a teacher for almost her entire life, but with the advent of online education, she decided it was time for a change. “I can not work with these technologies; I prefer paper and pen, and I had never used a computer before the pandemic,” she laughs.

When the pandemic began, Viara became dissatisfied with online education and decided to leave.

“I realized I’m obsessed with Bulgarian culture and traditional items like Rhodope blankets and Bulgarian rose oils. I bought one for each of my friends, and I go to Bulgarian stores in Sofia whenever I have free time, “she adds.

This is how Viara realized what she wanted to do and how she could make money from her passion.

Viara has been working in the store for 10 months now. Her favorite item, apart from the Rhodope blankets, are the plaques from the Panagyurishte Treasure. 

“There is so much beauty and history in all the items here, even when you just admire them. It’s like they are talking to you, “she laughs shyly. 

Aside from all of the culturally rich products she is surrounded by every day, she is pleased with the new friends she has made since starting work at the store.

She has met all kinds of people, from foreigners and Bulgarians living abroad, to people who just want to buy a traditional item as a gift or are just passionate about the culture.

“You have to love what you do,” she advises me and gifts me a magnet.

The Flower Lady

Right under the Women’s Market entrance sign, she awaits. 

I notice her from afar. She is surrounded by flowers. 

She is The Flower Lady-Tsvetana Vladimirova Veleva. 

I approach Tsvetana and she immediately smiles at me.

She inquires, “What kind of flower are you today, young lady?”

I look down and choose a small yellow Narcissus bouquet. She immediately begins telling the flower’s tale. She tells me the story, and I know I’ll remember her for that.

Tsvetana means “flower” in Bulgarian, which I don’t think is a coincidence.

Tsvetana not only sells flowers, but she also shines like them.

She has been selling flowers for 32 years and she is now 80 years old.

“I know a flower when I see it, even from a distance. The same way I know a good person from a distance, and you are one, “she compliments me and smiles.

Tsvetana keeps smiling at every word I say.

“I do not receive a good pension, and I am used at work. I worked in a factory but was laid off when I was 48. At that point, as a single mother, I did not have much of a choice. I had to figure out a way of making money, so I started selling flowers, “shares Tsvetana and raises her shoulders. 

She is a hard-working woman. You can see it from her wounded hands, and the dirt under her nails to the way she expresses herself and values money. 

For Tsvetana, money has always been the problem in the world. She has a daughter and she educated her to live for the joy of being healthy and loved, rather than for the sake of wealth. She believes money is the reason why wars exist. “Money is no good,” she emphasizes. 

Tsvetana earns about 15 levs per day, and on fortunate days, 20 levs, from which she owes the municipality 5 levs per day for the location she has taken.

“I like Zhenski Pazar because good people come here, and I enjoy greeting them,” she says.

Tsvetana claims that only good people shop at the Zhenski Pazar market because they do not have much money and want to buy fresh, cheaper products, but they are happy people. 

“I like good and happy people and kindness will save the world. Be kind, and “umnata” (the smart way). Go, go, I have to work now, “Tsvetana sends me away.

My love for you deeper than the sea,
Waves in your eyes, all I want to see.
So, let’s not wait anymore,
Hop on board with me, open up the door.
Meet me at Marina Port, 18:45,
The day is Thursday,
can’t wait to make this dive.
With you.