It was past 17:00 on a Sunday evening, so the produce market was quiet and nearly empty. Most of the stands were covered with tarps of forest green or grey to protect the standard bounty of зеленчузи, плодове, орехи and следи (vegetables, fruits, nuts, and spices) from the night. I had come to find some apples and tomatoes for my next two meals and was grateful o pass the flower booths and see a few lingering produce sellers. It’s nice to be able to avoid the Billa supermarket, open until 22:00 but imported from Austria.
Spotting some apples that looked appealing (as a New York native, I can be a bit picky), I pulled an old plastic produce bag out of my purse. I handed my apples to the man behind the stand, and he placed them in the tin bowl on a scale to calculate my total. He was maybe in his early 70s, with grey hair and a rounded face. I couldn’t recall having seen him here before. As I thanked him and passed him some coins, he noted my accent and asked where I’m from.
“САЩ,” I smiled, and his eyes lit up. Being from the States makes me somewhat exotic here, a fact I have slowly grown accustomed to.
He asked me why I’m here. “Are you studying?”
“Yes,” I smiled and shook my head. Bulgaria is one of the only places in the world where a shake is assent and a nod means “no.” It takes some getting used to…
“My son studies at AMTII.”
“Ah, me too!”
“He is in his fifth year. He plays kaval.”
“Me too! I play kaval!” What are the chances?
He counted on his fingers. “My grandfather played, my father played, and my son plays.” He pulled an old photograph from his wallet to show me.
“But not you? Why not?”
He shrugged his shoulders and made a joke that I didn’t understand. He repeated it a few times, emphasizing the inflection of the punch line, but eventually we gave up on that snippet of communication. He told me to wait while he sold some mushrooms to a couple, and then he pulled out a colorful flyer advertising a folk ensemble. He pointed out his son to me on the front. “Fifth year, kaval, my son,” was all I caught. He turned over the flyer and showed me the band’s website. “Visit the site. Listen. Then come back to me here. By the clock.” He pointed to a column with a clock on it. “I am here, every day. By the clock.”
I smiled and thanked him and confirmed that I would come back and look for him. Learning this language has been a bit of a struggle, but as I walked away I couldn’t help but think it has all been worth it, even for just those 15 minutes of exchange beside the zucchini.