I am originally from Bulgaria. My mum is from Sophia the capital and my dad is from the suburbs and he belongs to an ancient Greek tribe in Bulgaria called the Karakachani tribe. They are well known for living in the mountains, shepherds’ people and they used to tend to marry amongst each other, so basically not outside to Bulgarian people. But my dad did. My dad side would speak ancient Greek and mum speaks Bulgarian.
I was closer to the Bulgarian side because my brother and I never learned ancient Greek, sadly. But a lot of our cousins from my dad side of the family would have learned the language so we always felt outside of the community, but we used to participate in other cultural stuff like festivals. Even though I haven’t spent a lot of time in my Bulgarian roots, I still feel closer to that side.
I left Bulgaria when I was 4 to live in Paris for 2 years. I moved to the UK when I was 7 for a year and then I went back to Bulgaria and then at 11 I came back to the UK which is where my mother and I settled.
My mum was a bit older when we decided to move permanently to the UK. She was 52. She is a chef but because of her age and the fact that her previous work contract had ended, she couldn’t find work in Bulgaria. So, we were kind of moving between Greece and Bulgaria for her seasonal work. She knew this was not a sustainable lifestyle for her children and made the drastic decision to move here for work basically.
At 11 we were having quite serious conversations about these things, and I was used to moving around, because of the nature of my parents’ jobs. I understood the reasoning and I always felt that the moment I begin to settle, I would have to move again. I was very sad to leave, scared to leave but excited for a new adventure because I knew London was going to be amazing.
Back in 1998, when we came here for the first time, from Paris, at the time we were based at the Bulgarian embassy. My parents were chefs, so I was well acquainted with the culture here and that’s when I learnt English as well. I had to switch between English and French at that age and I remember finding that very tricky. But that was my very first intro to the UK and to London.
Leaving London at the time made me super sad. I really loved the culture here; I was into the Spice girls, and I went back to Bulgaria and not many people knew about them in that way. But yeah, lots of pop culture stuff. But when I came back, I was excited to dive deep into the culture here. I liked the lifestyle here.
I hadn’t been back to Sophia, Bulgaria for about 6 years prior to going back during the pandemic and when you go back to a place you haven’t been in a while that is very closely related to experiences from your childhood, there are going to be a lot of things that feel majorly nostalgic. There were a lot of emotional moments. I had the space to sit with my emotions and experience those feelings at that time.
I have strong memories of my dad, and I lost him when I was 12. A lot of the memories with him are quite significant to me in my life. I miss the food. But also, I am very aware that things are not going to be the same, so even when I go back to experience the things that I miss, they are not going to be there. Memories are always cooler than reality. Also, things change over the years.
I really miss having a community. It’s something I’ve struggled to build here in London. It is such a transient place, especially here in London. In Bulgaria, the sense of community is much stronger. I miss the fact that maybe I could have created deeper roots in Bulgaria. Like having long term friendships and long-lasting relationships. I miss the culture. It is very vibrant in terms of theatre and exhibitions and stuff and going back there last year, I was faced with a lot of that, and it was emotional.
A lot of things happened in the space of the three months of just living here. We moved here with my mum in December 2002. My mum didn’t have a job and we had to figure out where to live quite quickly. I was the only one that spoke English well so there was a responsibility on me as well to do a lot of admin-based stuff. My mum had to find a job, and, in that December, we found out that my dad was quite sick. We had to figure out our status and send stuff to the Home Office for my dad. So, adaptation was hard. I couldn’t start school until January 2003. I had to adapt quite quickly. Looking back at it and when I have conversations with my mum nowadays, we realise how resilient the human mind is because even though a lot happened, we still managed to push along and progress forward because we had a goal to survive, I guess.
I think an important part of me is the fact that I haven’t really immersed myself in any one thing. I see people that are supper nationalistic to extremes, but I think it’s important to be kind of fluid and understand that you can live in different spaces and have different Identities. I have the Karakachani tribal aspect and ancestry in Bulgaria, and now in the UK for 20 odd years, I feel like all these things are all layers to who I am. It is who you are at the core that is important, although these are really great things to draw inspiration from and there’s beauty in identifying with different cultures because it makes you more empathetic and compassionate towards the world. I would use cultural references as tools to connect with people around me.
The sun is shining – Sluntseto blesti