Sunday, September 25, 2011


We left Sofia on a southbound bus headed for Gotse Delchev. The ride was four hours of ever-changing and astounding landscape ranging from farmlands, to mountain slopes, to steep gorges. As soon as we got off the bus, we were greeted by our new hosts - Lily and Yan. Leaving their life in the United Kingdom, they had moved to rural Bulgaria to live full time about four years ago, now using Workaway as a resource for workers interested in learning about natural building techniques. We all introduced ourselves and piled in to their four-wheel-drive (the only one in Bulgaria with zebra stripes!) to drive on to Krushevo, the small village where we would be staying and working. Upon arriving in Krushevo, Lily gave us a quick tour of their property, which included their small strawbale home, a cordwood volunteer building currently under construction, a caravan with an attached room and workshop, and various other buildings - all of which have been built by Lily, Yan, and helpers. She also introduced us to their two dogs, Bella the English sheepdog, and Bozdag the Karakachan.

Krushevo is a Muslim village of only 250 people set in the mountains near Bulgaria's southwest border. Although not cash-wealthy, the residents of Krushevo live well, practicing traditions and living techniques that have persisted through centuries. This, in part, leads to Krushevo having an extremely tight-knit and supportive community. People primarily grow their own food, and every house in the village owns a cow to provide fresh milk every day. The village mainly functions as a gift economy, and there is very little exchange with money apart from at the sparse village shop (where one can buy coffee or soda for 25 cents, or a beer for 75). If someone needs something they cannot provide for themselves, they let it known and it is provided for them by whoever in the village has that resource, and in return a gift of some kind is reciprocated. Often the women of the village give hand-knitted traditional slippers (terlitsi) in varying shapes, styles, and colors.


Tobacco hung out to dry.

Thus far, our work has taken place primarily in the old village schoolhouse, which is now part storage space, kindergarten, and soon to be bookshop/local crafts space (run by Lily and Yan). Before Lily and Yan began work on the kindergarten renovation, only half of the space was actually usable, due to large holes in the floor and various other hazards. By the time of our arrival, Lily, Yan, and a small team of village men had already re-roofed the entire structure, patched the floor, replaced the window glass, and painted in some areas, but there was still a lot of work to be done and we got started almost immediately. After a little over a week of hard work, we managed to replace the linoleum, re-plaster (using a natural mud, topsoil, water, chopped straw, and wood shavings mixture), paint, fix various non-functioning things, re-build and paint furniture, deep clean, along the way finding many interesting papers, photographs, and books from the Communist Era. Towards the opening day for the kindergarten, we were informed by the schoolteacher that it had been well over twenty years since the last renovation.

One day during work two friends and fellow workers invited Roy to go hiking with them that evening. Eager to explore the mountains and get to know the villagers better, Roy met them a few hours later and they set off along a trail curving along the mountains, accompanied by five braying hounds. After some labored communication, Roy pieced together that they were actually going hunting for mountain hares, and that was why they had brought the dogs. The three of them hiked for a few hours, somehow managing to communicate relatively well along the way, despite Roy not speaking Bulgarian, and them not speaking English. They explained the local stone and tobacco businesses, which employed many of the men from the village and were vital economic factors in Krushevo. With only a few yards to go before arriving back at Lily and Yan's, and the moon rising, the dogs pounced on something in the grass with an eruption of braying and barking. It turned out they had surrounded a Southern White-breasted Hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor), which had now assumed the typical defensive posture of balling up and exposing its many quills. Roy scooped up the terrified creature and brought it back to show Catherine and photograph it, before releasing it the next day.

The first day of school, we woke up very early so that we could surprise the kindergarteners with the unveiling of the classroom (along with a bunch of balloons). One by one, the children arrived with their mothers, each of them carrying a gift for the schoolteacher, and quickly dove into playing in the new space. All us of were relieved at finishing the project just in time, and excited with the reception.

Some paintings Catherine did for the renovated classroom


  1. the hedgehog! those paintings! wow guyssssssssss i'm enamored, cool life

  2. This sounds lovely! That second to last photo is amazing, those girls look so happy!

  3. Hi, Do you have Lily and Yan's contact details or website. I'd like to share their work on

    Regards, Oliver