A content consisting of photos and memories about our trip to Kardzhali, Bulgaria and my first experience abroad.
My wife is a Bulgarian immigrant. They came to Turkey in 1989. (Thousand nine hundred and eighty-nine) However, since my wife was very young at that time, I learned most of what I learned about this immigration story from her mother, father and grandmother. The resistance of a people who have been prevented from living their identity, why they had to migrate; I discovered the strikingness of leaving Kardzhali, where they left their siblings, relatives, compatriots, jobs and homes, and the effort spent to return to the homeland Turkey and re-establish a life in their witnessing.
Destiny gave me the opportunity to go to these places where I heard the story, with the people who told the story. At the age of 30, my first trip abroad was to Bulgaria… Kardzhali, where our Turkish compatriots are in the majority.
The Beginning of the Journey: Niğde, Eskişehir and İzmir
Our journey started from Turkey, Giresun. We set off to Niğde with our two cats to visit my family first. We arrived in Niğde after a ten-hour drive with two wonderful breaks where we stopped to clean our cats’ poop and Kül resisted getting into his box. We attended my cousin’s wedding here, danced at wedding and said goodbye.
Then we stopped by Eskişehir to visit our cousin Emine. Surprisingly, our cats have never peed or pooped on this road. Even though we had trouble finding their house every time, we finally got there. Feyime gifted Emine the paintings she had been working on for a long time. We stayed one night and took our sister Ecem and set off for İzmir from here.
We continue to be surprised. Our cats never peed or pooped on this five-hour trip, either. While we were not meowing ready, we came to İzmir without even taking a break. We celebrated my father’s birthday with Esin’s special cake, slept for a few hours and set off for our main destination, Bulgaria.
Although they described Kapikule with a thousand troubles, queues and problems, I guess it came across to me, we did not encounter any order or problem. What followed was a brand new and different experience for me that I had never experienced before. Feyime made fun of the excitement I felt when I went abroad for the first time.
The signs I saw at the entrance of the country regarding betting and casino activities, which are illegal in our country Turkey, caught my attention. I learned that there are many people coming from Turkey for these events. I count it among the first things I noticed that you need to take another turn in order to enter the turnouts on Bulgarian highways. This form of detours seemed safer to me than ours.
We came to the provincial borders of Haskova. Even though the country is in the European Union, seeing mostly Russian architecture in cities and the fact that these structures have not been renovated for years was both unusual and suggestive that people in different parts of the world have different priorities.
We drove on a two-lane road covered with forests and passed to Kardzhali. Our first stop was Aunt Bayse, where Feyime spent her summers as a child. The car park under their apartment is one of the most interesting car parks I’ve ever seen. Without the support of Uncle Fikret, who showed the way, I would not have thought that we could fit the car here.
After visiting Aunt Sevinç, we came to the house of Uncle Ekser and Aunt Esile in Gledka, where we will be guests during our stay in Bulgaria.
I met our cousin Hamdi, whom Feyime couldn’t finish telling her childhood and youth memories. I say our cousin, but actually Feyime’s cousin. The concept of kinship of Turks living in Bulgaria is not very similar to ours. When you marry someone in Turkey, your spouse’s relatives also become your relatives. So there is no need for a blood relation. However, here relatives are only referred to people with whom you are related by blood. Those who come to the family as spouses are called grooms. There’s nothing to be upset about. This is one of the ways to protect the identity of Turks who have lived in a foreign country for a hundred years. Besides, the most qualified and cordial relations between relatives and grooms I have ever seen in my life are here.
In this house in Gledka, I ate the most delicious tomatoes I have ever eaten in my life. I tasted amazing dishes of rice and meat, which they called Kapama. I had the opportunity to chat at crowded tables until the morning.
Our neighbor in Gledka also had a car like this. He was using it while hunting.
On the second day of our arrival, we went to the center of Kardzhali to renew the passport and Bulgarian identity card called lichna card. We stopped at Urban cafe run by Feyime’s cousins. The cafe is really nice. They describe the coffee they make as the 3rd wave. In other words, by eliminating the intermediaries between the producer and the consumer, they access the coffee through a special chain where even the country and field of origin are known. The espresso I drank here also had an unforgettable taste. Also, in Bulgaria, they design the caps of plastic bottles to hold onto the bottle with some parts, and I saw it here for the first time.
We visited the Kardzhali market and the stand of Uncle Ekser. We bought gifts for our friends from the shops beyond the market. Although Kardzhali is a small place, there are places to sit and have fun at night.
On the third day, we were in the streets of Kardzhali. We walked the roads of Feyime’s early youth summers, talking about what we had seen.
The minimum wage in Bulgaria is around 400 Euros in 2023. Here, too, the vast majority have an income in the minimum wage band. Looking at the fuel and market prices, I commented that people’s living standards are more or less like Turkey. However, of course, alcoholic beverages and meat products are a little more affordable than in Turkey. But cigarettes are more expensive than in Turkey.
Compared to Bulgaria, it is possible to state that the consumer laws and financial sector in our country are more developed. Here, I learned that the loans you take from banks are updated every year in the inflation rate. They said that depositing and withdrawing money from ATMs is also paid. Since I came to Kardzhali not as a tourist but as a bridegroom, I gained a lot of information like this that I would not normally be able to learn. For example, since there is no apartment regulation in the country, only those who pay the maintenance fees of the elevator can use the elevator, where the elevators are used with chips. Also, there is no bargaining here. Have it in mind.
Besides all this, Bulgaria is really slow and calm. Everyone obeys the traffic rules. The cliche “the car stops when you set foot on the road”, which those who went to Europe couldn’t finish, was also really true. I walked across the street laughing out loud. This gave me great happiness.
Also, the bags are paid in the markets here, but the quality is higher. This is where the importance of being a member of the European Union comes into play. From needle to thread, all products have certain qualities. Even in a place far from the city center, the package, which is sold at high prices as symmetric internet on Turkey, is offered to citizens as standard, with the same data download and upload speeds. However, for some reason, even in Kardzhali, where Turks are in the majority, the participation rate in the elections barely reaches 60% (sixty percent). It should also be noted that Turks are represented in the parliament by a party called DPS.
You know, the majority of Bulgaria is Christian, but in Kardzhali, the majority of them are Turkish, so Muslims are more numerous. We visited a Church here. The bells of the church ring once at 8 am and at 5 pm each day. I found this situation surprising. The similarity between church bells and working hours reminded me of Maxim Gorky’s novel, in which he describes pre-revolutionary Russia awakened by the factory whistle. Also, when a Christian dies, we understand that if the bell is rung long and intermittently, the deceased is old, and if it rings short and fast, he is young. Apart from that, the bell was rung for a longer time to invite the public to the mass on the weekend.
It was Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, I think, he said if you want to see the value given to human beings in a place, visit the graves. I had the opportunity to observe this when we went to the graves of our relatives. Here they pay more attention to the appearance of the tombstones. I think the reason for this is living together with Christians. When we look at Islam and Christianity, we see that Christianity tells its stories with icons, symbols and images, while Islam tells its stories in writing. In other words, if we compare Christianity to a painting, we can liken Islam to a written narrative. I think living together with Christians has enabled such images to appear on tombstones. In addition, deceased Bulgarians hang their photographs in front of their houses for six months to keep the memory of their deceased loved ones alive. They did not find it appropriate to give human names to animals such as cats and dogs. For example, my deceased bird’s name was Faruk, but I did not say that.
On the fourth day, we visited the Kardzhali museum. Although there is no English explanation in the museum, I say it is worth entering. My mother translated a part of it for us from Bulgarian. It is not forbidden to take photos or videos, but it is subject to a fee. We didn’t pay for the photo and video shoot, thinking it wouldn’t be worth it before entering, but the sections on the top floor, where the traditional clothes of Turks and Bulgarians and the photographs of people working in tobacco, were very good. Feyime still secretly took a few seconds of video.
There are many dams in Kardzhali. Ships used as restaurants serve on some of these dams. We went on a ship called Emona. It was a nice family gathering. At this dinner, I learned that people here celebrate their high school graduation with crowded ceremonies they call BAL, and towards the age of 60-65, they hold a closing ceremony called a JUBİLE with their friends. Also, there was no Turkish teaching center for families who wanted their children to learn Turkish. It’s a problem to be solved.
Despite all my tiredness, my last day in Kardzhali was spent with a trip that I was glad to participate in. Each of the villages of Kardzhali had rain prayers on different dates. They were announcing these on Whatsapp and Facebook groups – By the way, Facebook is still very popular in Bulgaria – they say it to those who hear and pray every year on similar dates. I attended the rain prayer of Susuz village with my father, uncle and my father’s cousin Bener. There was a larger crowd than I expected. Wishbone was boiled in cauldrons. It would not be wrong to say that it looks like a festival. So many people from different parts of Europe come together from different cities of Bulgaria and join their villages to pray for rain. A pot of wishbone is delivered to every family that sits on the ground while praying for rain. On the other hand, the names of the donors are announced with the amount they donated so that this event can be organized by one of the notables of the village. These prayers are the result of a people’s tremendous insistence to preserve their identity and not break their bond with each other.
There are cool picnic areas among the green pine forests on the village road. They explained that these forested areas were actually bare, and that during communism, people were forced to plant pine trees for two leva a day. They said that our daily food cost five leva, but we had to work. Although its story is strange, it has inherited an incredible forest area. There is no operator in the picnic areas. When you go here and write the date you will come to the gazebo, that gazebo belongs to you that day. It’s a self-propelled system.
However, the most striking aspect of this trip is that we stopped by my father’s village; was to see the house where he spent his childhood and brought his children from Turkey to kiss his father’s hand when he was an adult. It is not difficult to understand what such places mean to man. However, even the roof of the house that does not live in is collapsing. Along with the healing power of time, its destructive power also manifests itself with great force.
ORFE. This factory is also a garment factory where my grandmother used to work as a quality controller.
Bulgaria has been a new, educational, personal and unforgettable experience for me in every way. I’ve found that people place great value on kinship relationships regardless of their views on life, and kinship just seems to work here as it should. In moments such as death, birth, wedding, everyone, material and spiritual, can come together at once.
Everyone I met was very friendly and nice. I am grateful to all the people I came in contact with, especially Uncle Ekser, Aunt Esile, Hamdi, Aunt Bayse, Uncle Fikret, Leman, his beloved wife Yasin, Binnaz, Bener and Aunt Sevinç for hosting us so well.
Take care until we see you in the next content.