Three years ago, I visited Svilengrad in Bulgaria, from my nearby home in Greece, and met a charming family of West Indians, who had recently come to live in Bulgaria. The Very. Rev. Narrall Gordon, came to this eastern part of the Balkans in 2011, as many British expats have, but with a mission to help a largely impoverished, unemployed, and aging population, living in this south eastern corner of Bulgaria.
Living modestly with his whole family, they decided to reopen the local village shop, in order to create a central point in the area, where people could come, and buy their meager groceries, drink coffee, and natter about their lives, much as they had done under communism.
I don’t know the details of Narrall’s premature death, but in my view – however short his lease on life might have been – the goodness and compassion he showed, was a lesson to us all. With credit to a determined Londoner – with spirit as well as his indelible Christian values – here follows the article which appeared in the Anglo Balkan Blogspot in November 2014, as a tribute to a brave Briton and his family, who chose to live amongst the forgotten people of southeastern Bulgaria.
People generally take a lot for granted, especially concerning ex- Communist countries. They often think that by reading a particular rag or subscribing to a certain political party, that they are fully knowledgeable about all worldly things, but this is not so. Being a Euro-skeptic, has become a popular definition of political views, usually backed up with a lot of badly thought out twaddle, picked up during a debate at the local pub or in a checkout queue at a local Lydle or a Sainsbury’s supermarket.
But being in the EU is not simply about losing jobs or of federalism, because in their badly thought out speech’s, most UK political windbags loose sight of the fact that immigration – which for those of you who don’t quite understand EU law, is perfectly legal – is a two way highway for EU citizens, and not a one way street, as some would have you believe, to some English home counties Valhalla! One case in point was the arrival in Southern Bulgaria three years ago, of the Gordon family.
Having got a little fed up with the London rat race, and being of a spiritual disposition, Narral Gordon, his wife and three children, moved to the little hamlet of Kustur, close to the town of Svilengrad in Bulgaria, and to the Turkish and Greek borders. It is here that they have begun a new life, not only in order to escape their previous unpredictable existence, but to build a whole new way of living within the flagging semi derelict Bulgarian village of Kostur, and to put some life back into the community. And, what better way was there to do this, but to reopen the local village shop!
The previous shop owners were the victims of one of those horrifying Bulgarian road accidents. The indigenous drivers all over the Balkans are now famous for their terrible driving skills, and the mortality rate for road deaths all over South Eastern Europe, is frightening. When this Bulgarian couple died, the social center of the village also died. It left the old and infirm, the children and the local workers, without a meeting place or a place for gossip. For an isolated Balkan village, this also left nowhere for the local population to get help in emergencies either.
Narrall Gordon and his entire family have immersed themselves into Bulgarian society which includes a perfect understanding of the language and even the local dialect. It also means that they are very unusual. Most Brits who come to live in this part of the world – me included – have a very sketchy knowledge of languages, despite their grand claims. Consequently, it isolates us from the locals and encourages Brits to socialize within their own groups.
Although there are many such groups in Southers Bulgaria – especially by the Black Sea – very few Brits have actually integrated with the Bulgarian population. Partly due to the fact that many Bulgarians speak English and are becoming more educated and absorbed within the European Union itself, in these very provincial areas few speak other languages, nor can they even read or write.
I can remember a time when Bulgarians would frequently say: ‘everyone hates the Bulgarians, and we hate everyone else!’ It is easy to forget that Bulgaria was a very inward looking, politically closed country – up until the changes, and unfortunately even beyond – and in these country districts, the peoples minds are still set firmly in the past.
So hats off – all you semi inebriated elitists hanging around the girls, and the four ale bars of Sofia – because a new breed of immigrant has defied the prevailing trends, got away from the over repeated racialist claptrap – that we have been forced to listen to of late and – like the Gordon family, defy the signs and warnings of the European ‘one way street system,’ in order to help a country which is still struggling with its Communist past, and to start a new life, here in the Balkans!
RIP The Rev. Narrall Gordon
Photographs and background story received with thanks from – ‘Hristo Rusev and Milena Mihova.’