My name is Antonin, I am 27 years old. I arrived in Shipka as european volunteer since one month and half. The european voluntary service is a program allowing to young people aged between 17 to 30 years to be involved in non-profit projects in Europe and different countries around the world. After completion of my studies and first work experiences with socio-cultural centres in rural areas, this program offers me the opportunity to discover a completely new working and living environment. I am involved in ”Open-mind project” whose aim is to encourage environmentally-sound practices and support the development of social and cultural life in the town of Shipka and its surroundings.
First Days, first impressions
We arrived in Shipka the 17thof february after a harsh winter, according to the locals, and are accomodated in one of numerous little houses of the village. I arrived a friday evening and discovered the town after my awakening. Our balconey overhangs a little church and provide a surprising view on the tight network of little houses as well as fields and mountains which surround the village of Shipka. I still have the feeling to be in a new world at the sight of these colors, from numerous brown shades of the roofs of the houses and fields to the blue of the sky. With the coming of spring, the greening of fields and flowering of trees of the village are gradually adding in this picture.
On our first day, our guide Stelian leaded us to visit the Bouzludja monument, vestige of the communist period perched at 1400 metters of altitude, not far away from Shipka. This abandoned monument have something surrealistic when you know the communism only by way of books. In a dreamy mood it’s not hard to imagin science-fiction screenplays or just to think about all that may occured here. Stelian translated us the words scriptured on both sides of what was the entrance of the building : « On your feet, despised comrades . On your feet you slaves of labour . Downtrodden and humiliated, stand up against your enemy. »
On my second day in Shipka, I was in for an unexpected event…the war. On early morning, I first heard gunners noises, then I fell asleep again, thinking about a bad dream. Twenty minutes of sleep later, explosion followed explosion ! I leapt out of my bed and imediately rushed to the window. In front of, I realize how this reaction is stupid in case of gunfire. That’s sure, I will be one of first killed, my mind is not prepared for war ! No noise anymore…I finaly decided do go to have my breakfast. Later, we heard again detonations. I say to Eva that is probably to bring the avalanches down. Few days later, we learned that a weapon factory settled in Kazanlak take tests in the mountain. I finish to realize that I am far away from home.
Daily life in Shipka
Excepted bombs and gunner noises that we can hear some days at regular intervals, Shipka is a peaceful an pleasant place to live. We are living here since more than one month. Most of time, we work at the preparation of the permaculture-garden were we go by foot, throught the central part of the town. Without speaking Bulgarian, it’s not always easy to communicate with the habitants. However, I am still pleasantly surprised by their reception. When we bump into a person on the street or from our garden, even if she looks at their feets or seemes concerned, a simple «dobar den ! » is suficient to get a broad smile, and sometime somehow to engage a conversation. I felt the same goodwill when I arrived in Sofia and had to ask for my way. Even if the persons I met almost didn’t speak english, they all wanted to help me and some stayed with me until I find my way.
That may sound banal but it’s what surpised me the most arriving in Bulgaria. Here in Shipka, It happened to met persons who didn’t now any word in english and continued to speak to me, knowing that I don’t speak the language. Even if the exact content of these conversations will remain a mystery, they make the daily life pleasant and suprising.
To live in rural areas in France and Bulgaria
The Shipka territory situation, at certain point of view, appears to me close to the village I was working in France. The main source of employment was not a weapon factory but a chimistry factory producing various components for the pharmaceutical and agri-food industry. The noises of bombs just replaced the pestilential smells emanating from the chimistry factory.
In Shipka, we principaly meet elderly people, some families and teenagers schooled in Kazanlak. The age group of 20-30 years old is almost absent. Like in France and others european countries, youth go on to study in large cities. However I can see in my country that in certain rural areas youth are returning to live in. These involved themeself in the preservation and enhancement of the environment and cultural patrimony of their territory, in new ways to produce or in various activities of social interest. In my view, these trends still relatively small are all signs that begin to be invented new ways to live and work in rural areas. I am convinced that the town of Shipka will undergo similar trends in more or less long term. These historical, cultural and environmental wealth are to important to remain ignored. I like to think that our work with ”open-mind” and inhhabitants of Shipka are a modest contribution to enhance all these potentials.