Blagoevgrad rejoiced in a warm, lazy Sunday afternoon. People had left their autumn jackets at home and strolled the sun-drenched streets gaily, chatted animatedly and laughed loudly.
The AUBG campus took up the town’s festive ambience. Sporty lads played football on the still lush grass in front of the ABF student center. Other students enjoyed big cups of aromatic coffee and munched on chocolate doughnuts in the AUBG cafeteria. Some raced to take a bench along the sunny, river alley before an elderly couple could claim it.
Sitting on a big comfy couch in the AUBG cafeteria, I caught myself gazing through the French window way too often. My eyes were drawn to the little girl, clad from head-to-toe in purple, who struggled to gain control over her purple bicycle. A elder man, presumably her grandfather, was sitting on a bench, immersed in a deep conversation with two peers. Occasionally, he would stand up to help the girl maintain a steady posture on her bike or soothe and dust her off after a heavy fall to the ground.
Unable to take my eyes away from the sweet and heartening scene the girl and her grandpa created, I suddenly remembered a quote by Jeffrey Borenstein, I have stumbled upon some time ago:
“Just when you think that a person is just a backdrop for the rest of the universe, watch them and see that they laugh, they cry, they tell jokes … they’re just friends waiting to be made.”
Well, let me slightly alter the quote, so it fits perfectly the purpose of my blog: all these people, who constitute the background of my universe, have great stories to tell and enrich my world.
Guided by the desire to dig up some fascinating stories with a potential to change my small cosmos, I embarked on a journey. I have been interviewing and observing Blagoevgrad’s people for the last month and a half. Their stories now occupy a modest space on the Internet but a significant part of my heart and mind.
Georgi Angelov, a 77-year-old apple seller, was the first person I talked to. He openly narrated both the trivial and major events that shaped his life and emblazoned on my mind the story of an orphan, who asked him for money to buy a new pair of shoes:
“I am 77-year old. Many people in my long life lied to me and took advantage of my amicability. So, I was skeptical at first and asked him whether he had parents to take care of him. The boy said he was an orphan. Although I did not believe him completely, I took pity on him and gave him the money,” Georgi said.
Four days after that, the boy came to Georgi sporting new pair of shoes and gave him a box of chocolates.
Elated and motivated to continue my journey, I next interviewed Pavel Djunev, 31. Pavel overcame the numerous hurdles on his long road to the launch of a news website and today reaps the fruits of his perseverance and determinism.
He revealed the recipe of his success: unyielding positivism.
“When you begin your day with a smile, you inevitably end your day with a smile.”
Yulian Hristov, a 31-year old tattoo artist, added another ingredient to the success recipe: passion and love.
“Tattooing is a passion, not a profession,” he said. “When you love what you do, you never have to deal with exhaustion or boredom.”
Instilling positivism and passion in Blagoevgrad’s children as well as supporting them in the development of their talents are responsible tasks that the United Children Estate, ODK, executes. Maya Damyankina, the head of ODK, explained:
“ODK is an institution that provides extracurricular activities to schoolchildren,” said Maya Damyankina, head of ODK since 2000. “Kids come to ODK to show and further develop their talents. Here they spend their free time in a meaningful way and broaden their knowledge on various topics that are of interest to them.”
Riding the artistic wave that ODK stirred, I safely sailed to the AUBG main building, which still hosts the painting exhibition “New Roads” by Vladimir Spasenkov and Prof. Nikolay Ruschukliev.
“I paint the road philosophically, the road within us, people, and the road we walk on, the road to certain people or away from them,” Ruschkliev said in an interview in early 2013.
This blog helped me explore new roads, both metaphorically and literally. I have been walking the mental and emotional roads toward Blagoevgrad’s people as well as the town’s tiny side streets, big boulevards and old cobbled alleys.