Humans Of Rhodope mountains: Chapter 1 – Ryakata

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Series by Rosa Vroom about the people, traditions and nature of Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria

It is known that people from the Rhodope Mountains talk with a different accent. Sometimes it even sounds as a dialect of Bulgarian. ‘Stobila babulka na vargulka’ , explains Zamfir, is supposed to mean the same as ‘Katsnal brambar na kamak’ (Beetle landed on a stone).

Zamfir is originalyl from Ryakata, in Rhodopean, Reka for the rest of the world. Before visiting him at the village, we are asked to call at least two days in advance. ‘Next time I will warm the house, cook a rabbit or roast a wild boar’. Zamfir could fit as a character from the indomitable Gauls in France. But rather than resisting the Roman occupation, he has a magic potion for keeping a huge smile in everyday life.

Previously Zamfir has worked on the restoration of the Kosovo Houses. Recently he has had to cut back on work due to health issues.

‘Zamfir. Do you have rabbits for sale?’ asks a man passing by.  ‘No. Look at this’ he answers while stroking his big belly ‘I have eaten them all’.

As he wasn’t able to roast a wild boar for this meeting, Zamfir receives us warmly on the main square of the village with coffee and biscuits. A special round table is placed at the sunniest place in front of the shop of the village. This strategical position allows us to meet almost all of the three hundred inhabitants of Ryakata. Some of them just pass by, other stay probably curious because of our presence.

‘All those men there’ yells Zamfir doing as if it’s a private conversation ‘are a bunch of lazy bums. Seriously, I cannot find workers when I need them.’ In front of our table there is a small covered terrace where all the men – from the youngest to the eldest – take turns drinking beer or coffee. They raise their heads whenever they are named and when I am about to take a picture, they just disappear.

Constructed on a small gorge of a river, Reka is a Pomak village. The Rhodope Mountains are known for housing a large number of Bulgarian Pomaks. Despite the political discussion surrounding the origin of this group, they are Muslim and consider themselves Bulgarian. One of our conclusions – that hasn’t been verified yet – is that the more conservative a Pomak village is, more working people live in it. Reka is not an exception to this theory.

''Животновъдството беше много разпространено в селото. Имаше 500 крави и 50 овце, но вече не.'' уведомява ни Замфир.
“The village used to make a living with livestock. It used to have 500 sheep and 50 cows, but not anymore”  Zamfir informs us.

During the conversation, the Imam of the village also passes by. ‘This man is the hardest worker of the village’, Zamfir yells again pretending he is saying it privately. ‘Even if he is rich, he goes every day with the axe to the forest and logs pieces of wood, 35 cm in diameter’.

According to Zamfir, Reka used to have more inhabitants, a school, an open air cinema… More work as well. ‘Every morning fifty men where transported to the capital to work at the factories’. But now houses are being abandoned, young people go abroad. ‘Demokracia, chovek’ concludes Zamfir.

Собственик на магазин в селото
A shop owner in the village.

“There is nothing to do here. For me it’s ok. I receive my monthly pension, but not for the younger generations” explains an old lady that has prompted suddenly into the conversation. Her particular way of introducing herself has made the people around us blink their eyes proudly ‘I am a 74 old lonely grandma that walks everyday in the mountain searching for mushrooms’. Before returning to her house she bids her last great sentences ‘I have also appeared on NOVA TV, I speak with a Rhodopean accent and I am proud of it. I don’t care who understands me!”

At the end of our journey in Reka, we meet Shukri. He has the highest vila above the village. All his neighbors are envious of his panoramic view over the Rhodope Mountains and he owns the most famous swing of the whole region. ‘My wife alone to the Mecca once. I said: I have my own Mecca in Ryakata’.



About the Author:

Rosa Vroom, freelance journalist

Born in 1989 in Spain, she has traveled and worked on social and environmental topics in Nepal, Paraguay and the Balkan Peninsula. She’s a journalist, although if you ask her she would not be concrete enough. “I like to tell stories”. From the so called 5w (what, who, when or where), she specially takes care of why “Stories that may improve something”. While traveling through the Rhodope Mountains she listens curiously, impatiently and, sometimes, with nostalgia, stories of the people that live in the remotest mountains of Bulgaria.