Thursday, January 28, 2010

Баба Йорданка

Баба Йорданка (Iordanka) was the fourth баба I interviewed this January (ok, there was one дядо and three баби).

I really had no idea what to expect when I got myself into this project, but it’s been far more interesting and enjoyable than I imagined. Bulgaria is a small country – about the size of Tennessee – and the four folks I’ve interviewed all have been born and raised and have lived in the same general area during the same general time period. Not surprisingly, there are remarkable similarities in their stories and attitudes, but there are also striking differences. I can only hope that the next forty-eight or so stories are equally unique and interesting.

Anyway, here is a bit of Йорданка’s story:

• She was born in 1934. She was born and raised and has spent most of her life living in the town I now call home.

• Her father was a widower. After losing his first wife, with whom he had two children, he married Йорданка’s mother. He had lied to her, telling her he was single and without children. They eventually had three more children, the first of whom was Йорданка.

• There was no time for games growing up, only work. Йорданка’s duties included looking after her younger siblings and caring for the family cows. Her family was very poor. Her father had moved here from Трън, a small town on the Serbian border. With little money and no connections, he bought the cheapest land he could find. The land he bought was infertile and full of rocks. Thus, the family worked hard and produced little.

• During World War II, she remembers many people from Sofia moving into town. Every time the siren sounded indicating incoming bombers, she would flee with her mother and siblings to the forest. Her father was protecting the town water supply because there were concerns of poisoning. As a result, her mother was the sole provider for the family, while Йорданка was essentially a baby-sitter for her younger siblings.

• At the time the communists took over Bulgaria her mother was sick and away from the family. Her father was taken to a small room and told to sign over all of the family possessions to the party. He was told that, if he didn’t, he would be taken in a car and driven away and he would never see his family again. Knowing the threat was real, he signed the papers. When Йорданка’s mother returned and discovered what he had done she was furious. Despite this, Йорданка says that their life improved considerably under communism. Her mother no longer had to work and her health returned. There were jobs for all those who wanted to work, and the prices were very low. Accordingly, even though her family had very little, they could afford all they wanted (or most of what they wanted).

• Йорданка wanted to be a nurse, and following 9th grade she was accepted into a specialized medical school. Her mother disapproved of her becoming a nurse or otherwise continuing her education because she didn’t want Йорданка to become more knowledgeable than her. Moreover, her parents could not afford to pay for her to attend the nursing school, so she remained at the local high school.

• She got married after finishing 10th grade, went back and finished high school, and then had two kids: the first at nineteen and the second at twenty-one.

• Her biggest regret is not following through on her education. After raising her kids, she did go back and attend a specialized school in economics, but she wishes she had done more. It was very important to her that her kids get nothing less than a master’s degree, and she was willing to make whatever financial sacrifices were necessary to make that a reality. They both did, and they are her greatest source of pride.

• She prefers communism over democracy and capitalism, claiming that life was better under communism. Among other things, the cost of living was lower and jobs were more plentiful.

• She’s been to Serbia numerous times, always to go shopping at the market. She’s never been anywhere else outside Bulgaria, but, thanks to television, she’s been around the world and back many times. She even knows what life is like in America.

• She is very pessimistic concerning the future. There is too much crime, there are too many people on drugs, and there are too few positive role models for our youth. She thinks the world is in a very bad state and only getting worse.

Йорданка’s daughter is a friend of mine. She is in her mid-fifties and married to her second husband. They act like a pair of teenagers in love, and she refers to him as, “First love, second husband.” The story goes that Йорданка didn’t approve of him as a suitor for her daughter. She didn’t like the fact that he’s a musician (he’s classically trained and has played the piano around the world). She worried that while he was traveling and playing music, her daughter would be stuck at home caring for their kids. Listening to her mom, my friend broke things off and married another guy before divorcing him and reuniting with her one true love. When I asked Йорданка what she thought about this love story, she said it was her daughter’s fault for listening to her instead of her heart. And she’s happy that destiny has subsequently intervened and set things right.

Йорданка now.

Йорданка then.

Йорданка's first husband.

Йорданка, her first husband, and their two kids.

Йорданка's children.

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