It took the better part of a day to get from Panichishte to Boychinovtsi, and, when we finally arrived, I was spent. This was somewhat disappointing because the day we arrived was Boychinovtsi’s town holiday. Every Bulgarian village, town, and city has a village, town, or city holiday. In theory, such holidays are meant to celebrate that particular place’s history and cultural heritage. In reality, it’s an excuse for Bulgarians with any connection whatsoever to the area to gather from far and wide to feast on copious amounts of food and drink unhealthy amounts of rakia. Then again, maybe that is the purpose - a homecoming of sorts that is celebrated among friends and family.
Anyway, tired as I was, my curiosity got the better of me, and the first thing I did after dumping my bags in my room was join my host family in a toast (Наздраве!) to our new relationship and to sample the house hooch. Generally described as strong brandy, Bulgaria’s national spirit is actually more akin to moonshine. Made from virtually any common Bulgarian fruit from grapes to plums to strawberries to pears, homemade rakia is typically more than fifty-percent alcohol and burns from throat to stomach (and, when drunk to excess, vice versa).
After a couple small glasses of rakia, a little food, and some uncomfortable small talk—my host family did not speak English and I had just four days of Bulgarian language training under my belt—I was ready to call it a day. My room was in one house, and the festivities were in another house. In neither house had I seen a bathroom, but, before heading off to bed, I made sure to ask in less than perfect Bulgarian where I could find the toilet. To my surprise, I was led away from both houses through the garden toward a barn in the backyard. And there it was. At one end of the barn behind a simple door was a small room with nothing more than a waste basket, a stick, a wooden seat, and an iron-shaped hole in the ground. A smirk filled my face, and I took solace knowing that my host parents, who were sixty-two and sixty-seven years young, had survived a long time taking care of business there and further knowing that I’d be long gone by the time winter set in.
I later discovered that it was precisely eighty-two steps from my bedroom to the outhouse. I went through a hallway, past another bedroom, through a closed-in porch, down a half-dozen steps, past roses on the right and strawberries on the left, under a clothesline, past a water pump, under the clothesline a second time, through the garden with its green beans, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, dill, and parsley on the left and its sweet peppers, hot peppers, zucchini, peas, and more onions and strawberries on the right, past some rabbit pens, left through a machine shop, right towards a chicken coop, and straight into the outhouse. The path to the outhouse was littered with ankle-twisting potholes, making night visits particularly challenging. And, being a foot taller than my host parents, I usually got at least one and often times two cobwebs in the face along the way. I enjoyed neither the destination nor the journey, but it wasn't nearly as bad as it sounds or looks.
A view of Boychinovtsi from a nearby hill.
The door to the toilet.