text and photography by Ivan Sokolov

In her efforts to help a Bulgarian pensioner in the village of Rosen, near Burgas, Catherine Almond has found herself in the midst of the quagmire of Bulgarian buraeucracy

Catherine Almond

A cold winter morning in the village of Rosen some 25 km from Burgas. What has brought me here is a letter from a Vagabond reader who complained about the inadequacy of the Bulgarian social services (see Vagabond No. 4). Along with her Bulgarian friend Tanya and another British expat, Susanna, Catherine Almond has been looking after a Bulgarian lady who is in a difficult predicament. She is immobile and incontinent and can't do anything for herself.

Despite the help promised by the local authorities, writes Catherine, no action has been taken to get her into a home for people such as herself.

It all began last July when Sofia Hristova, aged 57, burnt her leg with hot water. Deserted by her family and suffering from severe senile dementia, she was literally saved by Tanya and her English friends. As she had no social security or pension, her guardian angels had to buy her medicine, food, clothes and bedding out of their own pockets. Since then, Tanya has been changing the dressing of her wound, washing her and cleaning the room where she lives.

Other people, including Sozopol's deputy mayor and the chairman of the municipal council, have helped financially too. What Tanya worries about, however, is that it is difficult for her to lift the immobile woman to clean her bed and dress her. Being a mother of a two-year-old child, she is also afraid she might spread an infection in her own house.

The solution is to have a social assistant assigned to Sofia, or for her to go into a home for the elderly immediately. Despite promises, neither has happened so far.

"It's a difficult case," admits Mrs Shterionova, head of the Social Services Department in Sozopol, and assures me they have done everything in their power to help. As Sofia's ID card was missing, they had to issue her a new one so that she could apply for a place in an old people's home. Her social security was paid for and she had psychiatric examinations. They collected all the necessary papers regarding her marital, financial and medical status. It turned out that she was not without family: she is still legally married to a man whose whereabouts are unknown and has a brother living in Burgas. Having inherited some land, she was not exactly penniless either.

Now that Sofia's papers are all ready, Mrs Shterionova promises it won't be long before she can have a place in a home. Exactly how soon this will happen, she doesn't know.

There are other people waiting and beds have been reduced by about 20 percent due to EU requirements for room occupancy. Until then, the sick woman will have to rely on the kindness of her friends in Rosen, because the municipality in Sozopol can't do anything else: it doesn't have a social assistant's project and therefore can't employ anybody to look after her.

Later that day, I am sitting at home, flicking through the TV channels and mulling over the different angles to this story. The words strike my mind even before I hear them from the screen:

"The law says so."

"What law?"

"Catch 22."

"That's some catch, that Catch 22."

"It's the best there is."

Like the hero in the movie based on Joseph Heller's novel, lonely Bulgarian people often find themselves entrapped in a vicious circle. To be assigned a personal assistant, they have to be examined by an expert committee of physicians and proven to be disabled. Those immobile in bed, however, need an assistant in the first place to help them with the paperwork and take them to the examination. However eager to help social workers may be, they have to stick to certain regulations and get a number of documents before they decide how to act.

The process requires up to three weeks, or even more if an important document, such as ID, is missing. Even after that, people have to wait until a placement is found for them in a suitable home. For many, even the smallest delay might prove fatal.

The popular saying goes that "a stitch in time saves nine". In this case, the stitch that the Good Samaritans of Rosen have made has probably saved a human life.


    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

Аt 36, Elka Vasileva, whom everyone knows as Nunio (a childhood nickname given to her by her parents that she is particularly proud of because it discerns her from her famous grandmother), is a remarkable woman.

The Bulgarian base named St Clement of Ohrid on the Isle of Livingston in the South Shetlands has been manned by Bulgarian crews since the early 1990s.

Еvery April, since 2020, hundreds of young Bulgarians gather in Veliko Tarnovo and embark on a meaningful journey, retracing the steps of a daring rebellion that took place in the town and its surroundings, in 1835.

Before English took over in Bulgaria, in the 1990s, mastering French was obligatory for the local elite and those who aspired to join it.

In the summer of 2023, one of the news items that preoccupied Bulgarians for weeks on end was a... banner.

Raised hands, bodies frozen in a pathos of tragic defiance: Bulgaria, especially its northwest, is littered with monuments to an event that was once glorified but is now mostly forgotten.

Not all people who make a big difference in history, or attempt to make one, are ahead of great governments or armies.

When John Jackson became the first US diplomat in Bulgaria, in 1903, the two nations had known each other for about a century.

When the first issue of Vagabond hit the newsstands, in September 2006, the world and Bulgaria were so different that today it seems as though they were in another geological era.

Sofia, with its numerous parks, is not short of monuments and statues referring to the country's rich history. In the Borisova Garden park for example, busts of freedom fighters, politicians and artists practically line up the alleys.

About 30 Bulgarians of various occupations, political opinion and public standing went to the city of Kavala in northern Greece, in March, to take part in a simple yet moving ceremony to mark the demolition of the Jewish community of northern Greece, which

On 3 October 1918, Bulgarians felt anxious. The country had just emerged from three wars it had fought for "national unification" – meaning, in plain language, incorporating Macedonia and Aegean Thrace into the Bulgarian kingdom.