Bulgaria's Forgotten Schools: Petrovo Village
Today we go on a journey to one of the many closed schools of Bulgaria. We found it by accident, without looking for it, but it welcomed us with open doors.
Taking the way south to the village of Petrovo, we inevitably remember our recently passed summer, even though right now it is the beginning of October. Locked between the gentle slopes of Southern Pirin and the glorious skirts of Slavyanka, the village is full of the aroma of grapes, herbs, and secrets. We feel like inside a hive, where both bees and people move left and right with their sleeves up. It’s the grape harvest. The big kerfuffle is contrasted by the few small, crooked houses, barely paved streets, and sagging stone fences. The only stillness and sweet chilly air of this southern land are a product of the mountain - as if it knows that the village will soon empty and it’ll be left alone with it.
At the entrance of Petrovo, we are greeted by Krisi or, as everyone here knows her - the granddaughter of Lesnichkov. She waves at us energetically and carries us away with a smile to her grandfather's house. By the many neatly stacked crates of grape, we understand that the house is full of people - an honour, granted to her only twice a year - during the grape harvest and St. Georges Day. Although we are in the midst of the commotion, I am not left with the impression that the village could bear four hundred people, even though that is what I had read somewhere. I pose the question: are there even forty? And how many of them are children? And where do they get their schooling?
We find the school easily - there is usually one in every Bulgarian village and it’s most commonly the biggest structure on the landscape. And as in almost every Bulgarian village, the school here is barren, deserted, falling apart - a mere shell of an extinct organism. I can’t remember who had said: ”Close the school and a village dies”. Here this process is apparent. Bratya Miladinovi (Brothers Miladinovi) Primary School has an almost one hundred year history, the mark of which can now be traced only by the stories of its few remaining graduates. The big building gazes at us in sadness and its many broken windows look like tens of open eyes, stunned by horror.
We are forced to move the many maps, posters, branches, glass, and trash, to enter the school. Once upon a time, this entrance welcomed over seven hundred students daily in grades from first to seventh. Its doors were shut closed many years ago when the student count dropped below 30. The closest school is Hristo Botev PS in Katuntsi, and the next one - in Sandanski. They are the two schools, where the two children from the village get their education.
As if into a temple, we enter carefully and begin exploring the boundless world, once full of children learning how to read and write their first syllables, words, and sentences, play hide and seek and daydream near the map. The floor is full of garbage, glass, old textbooks, and other ancient artifacts. Some blackboards still hold the clumsily written “Classwork” - I wonder who was last to write it. Despite the falling plaster from the walls, the old gentle, calming green paint is still visible, in the sparse light. Looking out the window, I behold the endless forests of Slavyanka - what I would not give for a classroom with a view like this.
I soon am taken aback by Krisi’s voice - “Miss, look at this old school primer”. “Miss” - one word, which these walls have long forgotten. I smile at my student, she smiles back and suddenly the barren room is alight with a drop of sharing, knowledge, and inspiration. I ask her what the most important thing she learned in school was. “The most important thing I’ve learned is to be good and fair with the students and the teachers”. She shares that she likes life here much more - the tranquility, solitude, and the mountain - just to “find some quiet place and listen to the water flow and to study. You can’t do that in the city, no such place there. But here, you can wake up early, see the horizon, and want to stay a day or two more.” I hope these words warmed the soul of this old school.