Vaksevo village, Kyustendil
Text: Marina Mihaylova, harmonica
Photography: Zlatina Tochkova
The Be More Human’s mission is to support the elderly in the villages around Kyustendil. I read about it in the Time Heroes volunteer platform. I enrolled as a volunteer, shared the idea with my colleagues, and Martin and Zlati were in on it. So we got some delicious harmonica food and headed to Kyustendil. This was a truly memorable volunteer Saturday a few days before Christmas.
Shortly before Christmas, me and my colleagues Zlati and Martin volunteered for one of the Time Heroes missions – Be More Human. We loaded the car with lots of food and gifts and headed to the village of Vaksevo, where the mayor welcomed us. She was our guide for the whole day and would bring us to the people who were most in need.
This is Grandma Veska. She’s happy to see us and caresses my face motherly. My throat shrinks into a ball and I find it hard not to cry. She has children and grandchildren, but they rarely come home. They work in the cities and don’t have much time to visit. As we talk, she continues with her knitting a cardigan for her daughter, who is coming for Christmas.
She shows me a portrait of her parents on the wall. And I promise to call my mom the same day, just to hear how she is doing.
Grandma Venka greets us with kisses and warm hugs.
Her caring companions are her dog, chickens and Petko the donkey.
Here is Petko, he is a retired donkey – 28 years old, he helps Grandma Venka. She talks about her husband, whom she lost 13 years ago, but still misses. And Grandma Venka has sons, and she’s waiting for them for the holidays. They help with splitting wood, and they take care of her, but are not able to visit as often as she’d like to.
I feel like the company we provide and the wam-hearted talks seem to be more important than the huge bags of food we carry. It’s hard for me to leave any of the houses. But there are still so many people waiting for us. So we say goodbye and leave.
All the lovely grannies are quick to fill their own bags of food for us – an apple, some wallnuts, hand-woven socks.
We take them wholeheartedly. Because we know how much it means to them.
I feel like it’s much easier for me to give, rather than receive. But they insist and I can see in their eyes that their joy in giving is just like mine. Our joy in communicating and giving is shared. I brought the socks to my daughter and they were a perfect fit for her.
In between the house visits we joke in the car, but I find it hard not to think about all the people who need attention and care, warmth, a good word, a hug. And I wonder if I give enough.
Everyone gets sad when it’s time to say goodbye. I wave goodbye from the car for a long time and I wish them all great holidays. Everyone in the village gives us blessings and good health wishes. Healthy – this is the most commonly used word. I realize how important it is to the elderly. So I wish it warmly and sincerely to everyone I say goodbye to.
In one of the more remote houses I meet Annie. She is 4 and wants to play. She asks me to make a video of her pretending to be a bunny.
She can’t wait to see the video. Annie is a kindergarten student, and like every child, she loves sweet things and is super excited about the boza and wafers we’ve brought. I wish we could stay and play, but more people are waiting for us. We part with a hug, I have a new friend.
Grandma Gerganka is almost 93 years old! Her granddaughter is visiting her for the holidays and she is more than happy. Until recently, she went on small adventure trips, but now more and more often she stays home.
There’s so much she wants to talk to me about, and once again – it hits me just how important communication is. And I also realize the importance of being present – to really be here, listen, be in the moment. Give your undivided attention and care.
The day is over. The car is empty of all the bags. I feel fulfilled, but also tired and humble in the face of so many human stories. We share some left over boza with the other volunteers and leave. There’s some travelling ahead for me, and people waiting for me at home who also need me.
As I drive back to Sofia I think of Grandma Veska. I know that each of us took home something from that day. I will always cherish the memory of her gentle caresses on my face. I hope to be more humble. Give more time and less things. I remind myself to communicate less through the screen and more in person. I hope to spend time with the people I love. For them I mean the whole world. This is where I’m headed in the car – to them.