Author: Parvoleta Tzvetkova
Source: Standard newspaper
Once upon a time, people used to call Mokresh a European village – because many of the natives studied in the cities and abroad, and there were many fashionably clothed men and women.
The young village residents used to regularly go to the port in Lom to watch the passengers on the steamboats from Europe. They imitated the design of the clothes and the manner of speaking. The more affluent landowners from Mokresh started building their houses in the style of the European architecture. That’s why, the local buffoons named Mokresh the “Small Paris”. That was in the first half of the last century. At that time, Mokresh had around 6000 inhabitants. Nowadays, the streets are walked only by slowly moving elders, the townhall square has been empty for years and there’s no one around. You can only wonder why a couple of Britons have chosen the village to live here. They bought empty houses, renovated them and just stayed there. The last one to settle in this village was John Mace from London. He’s been looking for a place to buy in some other parts in Bulgaria. But he liked Mokresh best. He bought his property this spring but is still repairing. Most of the Britons don’t stay here permanently but each summer they are back, the mayor Ognyan Efremov explains. There is one guy from Sweden but he hasn’t been around recently in Mokresh.
Life is difficult for us – the elders barely make both ends meet, the young people are jobless but they like it here, the mayor continues. They are impressed by the landscape – houses perching on two hills near the Danube. Mokresh is the capital of the second Bulgarian granary – the Zlatiya. Whatever you plant in the ground grows. You cannot see this in our home land, the immigrants say.
In the first years, the new and the old inhabitants used to pass each others on the street in silence. Neither the Bulgarians knew English nor the foreigners knew the local language. Then Rumyana Koycheva,born and raised in Mokresh but living in Sofia, came up with a great idea – the English people can teach the natives English. In this way, the guests were able to start learning Bulgarian. Rumyana Koycheva, a coordinator of the program “Global Libraries”, often returns to her father’s house. She brings books for the culture club and toys for the kids of Mokresh. With her good English, she became a mediator between her fellow villagers and the new residents. She has long conversations with John Mace if he would accept to teach his native language. The Englishman agreed immediately. The course was organized by the secretary at the community center Sabina Kostova. 10-12 people signed up and the training started. Different people found themselves united by their desire to learn the language of Shakespeare. There are retired teachers, agronomists, a security guard, a teacher from kindergarten in the English language course. Only one of the students, Ivan Tzenkov, can speak with John as he used to work abroad and can speak little English. He enrolled in this course to improve his language skills. Others want to boast in front of their grandchildren that they can also read in English. And who knows, we may go on a trip to some of the countries in the European Union. We’ll be fine everywhere if speaking this language, they are convinced.
The course follows strict rules. Two days a week, the “students” gather at a certain hour in the lobby of the rural library. The organizer of the course, Sabina Kostova, also studies English with them. We shall soon have a vacation as Mr. John is going to England for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. But when he returns, we shall start again, she explains. It’s true that they just know a few English words and are trying to learn grammar. And John is also having difficulties in teaching as he doesn’t speak Bulgarian. He is using just 5-6 words and therefore sometimes explains with gestures and drawings on the black board.
John is not only a good teachet but a good man, Sabina says. He is around 60, no family, he’s single. He has a brother whom he is visiting now in England for the holidays. Mr. Mace is also an excellent chess player, he’s constantly looking for partners for a chess game. He even goes to Lom sometimes to play chess. He doesn’t go to pubs but for a cup of coffee he sometimes comes to our cafes, the local people say about him.
The best thing is that he teaches English for free, Sabina points out, knowing for whatever minor services their poor community center must pay.
Before Mace, English for children has been taught by other Englishmen in the village – the spouses John and Nancy. That course used to be in the summer when the town kids came to Mokresh to visit their grandparents for the summer vacation. Both of them used to teach around 20 kids. The 8-year old son of Sabina’s has also studied English in this course. He learnt many poems, English nursery rhymes from Nancy, his mother is happy to say. However, John and Nancy left in the autumn. The locals are waiting for them to come back in the spring and go on with the English course for the kids.
The village is famous for Puncho the priest, a man of letters
Mokresh has its place in the National Revival history mainly with the activity of pop Puncho Kuzdin, a remarkable person for his time. Born in the village, the priest has made one of the first copies of the “Istoria slaviyanobulgarska” by Paisii Hilendarski. This copy was later included in the Bulgarian homilies from 1796. These are stories about Saint John of Rila, parables about Adam and Eva, the Birth of Christ, a short novel about the Russian tsar Peter the Great, all narrated simply and with love for Bulgaria. In his book he painted images of the Virgin and the Saints, as well a self-portrait of his. In the day, Puncho the priest taught the Mokresh kids in the monastery school founded by him, and at night he was writing his homilies.
Nowadays, this collection of 400 pages is preserved in the National library of Sofia. The digital edition of this book has been included in the European digital library.
The Romans also loved this place
The hills of Mokresh, from where the fertile plains start, have been once inhabited by the Thracian Moesi and by the Romans. There are still traces from a Roman residence in the park “Žir”, as well as old Roman cemetery nearby. But excavations and research have not been carried out so far. Only the treasure-hunters know what the ancient sites contain.
In more recent times, Mokresh has won the fame of an area yielding record amounts of wheat, sunflower and maize. There used to be a rural airport in the village. And today the village area of some 57,000decares of rich soils has been cultivated by agricultural companies and leaseholders. Nowadays only around 800 people live in the village. The elementary school was closed down 2 years ago, and now every morning 40 children are driven to school to the village of Valchedram. The municipal center is located at 7 km from the village. Lom is at 16km from Mokresh and Montana – 50 km.
The toddlers at the kindergarten are around 20. They are our hope that the village will not disappear. That’s why we are doing our best to to keep their parents in the area. So far, we offer them job positions in the employment programmes. This is just a temporary solution and we are hopeful that the crisis shall soon pass and there will be more jobs in Mokresh or in Lom, the mayor Ognyan Efremov admits.