‘I think in Bulgarian culture the “chitalishte” is a major thing. It is something we do not really understand in England. We have village halls, but it is not the same, whereas in Mindya everything is there – museum, post office, coffee downstairs; if something is going on, it happens in the big hall’. This is how Roger and Timandra, a British family living in Bulgaria, describe the community centre in Mindya, a small village in the Veliko Tarnovo region. Even though understanding the complex role of the “chitalishte” might initially take foreigners a bit of time, the Mindya community centre turned out to be a catalyst for strong cooperation between a Bulgarian and a British resident of the village.
The centre needed to raise money for repairs, and Jozefina Sobadjieva, the head of the community centre, approached Tim Clinch, a British photographer who relocated to the village, about organising a charity photography exhibition to fund the centre reconstruction works. The idea was for Tim to take pictures of the locals and to create a portrait of the village life as seen through his eyes. Tim loved the concept and agreed.
‘It is much easier to take sad and serious pictures than happy ones, and I hope I managed to present Mindya in a positive light’ Tim muses at the opening of “Mindya – Portrait of a Village” in Sofia on 10 November. The exhibition is well attended, and many Mindya residents have made the trip to Sofia to support a project that is important for the local community. The exhibition also underlines the multicultural side of Mindya and the cooperation between the Bulgarian and British communities for the good of the village.
That was not always the case, since the first Brits to move to Mindya only did so 13 years ago. ‘Back then, local people thought of foreigners as “exotic”’, share Timandra and Roger who were the first foreigners in the village. Now, Britons have become a part of the village life, even though communication can still be difficult due to the language barrier. However, there is a way to work around the problem - “babanet” as Roger and Timandra call it. Juxtaposing the concepts of “baba”, the Bulgarian word for granny, and the Internet, the word nods to Bulgarian grannies, known for their strong sense of curiosity, helping spread everything that happens in the village through word of mouth the moment it happens.
Thus, language is not a barrier for people sharing time together, and Brits in Mindya are now known for making some of the best homemade wine in the village, while another Brit has initiated an annual rock festival that takes place in the village square.
Mindya is a place where different cultures meet and very often this happens mainly in the community centre. The village has also attracted foreigners from Russia and Australia, but all of them have something in common – the love towards Mindya and its spirit. ‘When we bought our house, we stood on the balcony and I saw this amazing view. You can change the house, but you cannot ever change the view. It is amazing, beautiful’, Tim shares.
‘The pictures are trying to show the story of the village – people in their normal environment without warning, just doing whatever they do usually – sitting in the bar, at home, making kompot or rakia. I really wanted to give a positive look of the village’. This is the message Tim tries to convey in his photographs of Mindya, and he and Jozefina hope the exhibition will help raise the 40,000 BGN needed to repair the community centre.
“Mindya – Portrait of a Village” will be on display at PhotoSynthesis Art Gallery, bul. Vasil Levski 57, Sofia until 27 November. More information about the exhibition can be found on Tim’s website.