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Bulgaria's Forgotten Schools: Milanovo Village

I’m on the bus’s front seat and I can see my teacher - friends in the rearview mirror. Kaloyan is always quiet and looking anxiously out the window. I’m sure that his mind is going fast, maybe planning a lesson or a unit, that he works even in his sleep. Maria is sleeping, snugged like a cat and I think a whole life of knowing her won't be enough to get to know her. She is an enigma, which combines unwavering determination and responsibility with a child's imagination and mentality. Gabi is in the clouds because she carries the heart of a poet. Contemplation and insight, along with tireless care to help, make her perhaps the best person I know. I am sure that Yanko looks at the landscape and imagines how millions of years ago the Vratsa Mountain rose, cut by the river Iskar, to create these bizarre shapes that we see partly from the broken fog. I am also sure that he can imagine the formation of fog, clouds, and everything that surrounds us on this day. This is his geographical superpower. I love to travel with my friends because it allows me to discover their world and other worlds, giving me courage in the face of the unknown.

The gorge of Iskar cuts us deep into the mountains, and the Balkans engulf us in their arms. We soon find ourselves in the village of Milanovo. There is something mysterious and mystical in the air and the location of this village perched on the edge of the cliff. The school is no different from the previous ones, part of this series. And here oblivion and the feeling of mortality reign. Only here, however, have we found a life that is not only a witness to history but its creator and guardian. It is about this life that would like to tell.

Gabi and I go in search of residents on the streets of Milanovo. Because it's Sunday noon, only our footsteps can be heard in the streets. We have nostalgic conversations about rural smells and how they refer us to childhood memories full of color, games, fried breakfast mekitsi, cherries, donkey carts, winter food, and the hands of our grandmothers, who seemed to be able to do anything. Gabi is my favorite company in nostalgia. From one of the houses comes the barking of dogs and the chirping of chickens. We see (as we will find out later) Draga Borisova leaning over her flowers. We tell her quickly what I'm here for, and she happily replies that she knows the right person to tell us the history of the school - her good friend Tsvetana Dinova, longtime director of the school. Draga immediately called on the phone and told her girlfriend about "these children" who want to learn more about the school in Milanovo. And even though we are in the second half of our twenties, we quickly return to our childhood, following Draga through the streets and listening to her story.

"I am a daughter-in-law here, otherwise I am from the Tran region, from Buhova, right on the border. Not a single person remains in our village in the winter. I'm better off here, there's no life there at all. I love this village very much, I had three children here. ” I ask her if there are children in the village and how many of them go to school. "There are three children who go to school in Lakatnik. Otherwise, we have a lot of small children up to 1-2 years old. Many were born alive and well. We even have twins and triplets.”

Two things make a strong impression on me in the way Draga speaks - one is that her name suits her (Draga means dear), and the other is the general feeling and protection that flow from the word "we have". Only here in the village does a woman accept everyone as her children.

We cross the threshold of Tsvetana Dinova's home, and she greets us warmly and with a smile. Draga also openly greets her and asks if she remembers her. Their friendship is almost fifty years old. Tsvetana's house is warm, cozy, and smells of tea. Seedlings are arranged on the tables and chairs in anticipation of sunny weather. She lovingly shows us her peppers, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, and even kale. In the next hour and a half, this house will become our home, where we warm up, dry our hair from the rain, and want to visit again from now on.

I feel more and more like a guest at my grandmother's - Tsvetana and Draga are starting to fuss about how to provide us with maximum comfort and what to offer us for eating and drinking, not because we are guests, but because they welcome people with good and generous nature and you immediately feel close. All their fuss about making coffee is accompanied by friendly sarcastic hints.

Tsvetana: "Open the stove to warm up."

Draga: "I'm not going to open the stove, it's warm. I’d open it and break your stove and then you’d have to fight me, comrade Dinova."

Tsvetana: "She always calls me 'comrade', and what a comrade I am..."

Tsvetana starts making us coffee and takes something from the cupboard behind Draga.

Tsvetana: "Wait, my dear, my coffee widget is behind you."

Draga: "Now you try to pick me up."

Tsvetana: "Let me give you a chair, taller, to sit comfortably."

Draga: "Just put on the coffee and don't explain yourself to me."

Tsvetana: "Come on, darling, pour the children coffee."

Draga: “Here, one day I should come and you use me as a waitress. I don't think I divided it equally. Here's to the smallest, the least "- and hands me a glass.

Tsvetana: “So she is to blame, not me. I give to everyone equally. ”

Then Draga, as a "specialist", was ordered to open up and treat us to Mirazhki. As I watch them treat each other, I have the feeling that the whole shared history and value system of this village is locked in their friendship.