|Today we left Sofia for Rila monastery, which is located about 2 hours south of Sofia in the mountains. On the way we stopped in the town of Dupnitsa, which has a large Roma population. There are quite a few gypsies in Bulgaria, and they are some of the poorest people in Europe. In Dupnitsa, we visited a fairly well-to-do family in a typical Roma neighborhood, who prepared a simple lunch for us. It was very interesting, but I had mixed feelings about it. I'm not sure if it was my own uneasiness with the poverty; part of me felt like a rich western tourist visiting the "poor natives", but I also think it's good to sometimes to step outside your own comfort level and see how other people really live. Rick donates money to a community group here which funds a community center for children, which is a very good thing. Lyuba told us that the Bulgarian tourist board was horrified to find out she was taking us to a Roma neighborhood, because they only want to show the good side of the country to tourists. Evidently, they tried to persuade her not to take Rick Steves tours here, but she insisted. Most regular Bulgarians never go to these communities let alone foreigners. Our bus driver Pavel, was not too happy about driving his bus into the neighborhood, and even though he doesn't speak much English, I could tell he was uneasy being here.
But the people in the community really look forward to our visits, the children especially, as they rarely have contact with foreigners. They all came out of their homes to greet us, bringing freshly baked bread, which is a Bulgarian custom. Whenever a guest comes, they greet them with fresh bread and a bowl of paprika salt. The bread is typcially in a round loaf, and you break a piece off with your hands and dip it in the powder, which is delicious.
The kids all came running up to us with big smiles. The girls were all dressed up, and they grabbed us by the hands, taking us to stheir church, community center and "discotheque" where they put on a dance performance for us. The girls danced to traditional gypsy music, while the boys were breakdancing to hip-hop music. The kids were so cute and the everyone very hospitable.
The family we had lunch with was quite proud of their house, which they had built themselves, and has a large covered terrace where we ate. The husband owns a roofing company and the wife works at the community center. They live much better than the average Roma, but still pretty basic by our standards. Lyuba explained how the Roma are struggling with modern society, unemployment and teenage pregnancy. Most kids get married at 15, and there are very few jobs available to them. Many of the Roma preferred life under communism, where everyone had a job, a home, education and healthcare. Like many other Bulgarians, quite a few Roma are emigrating to other parts of Europe, where the poorer Roma end up as pick-pockets. You see them all over Europe, and I think they will be a big issue for the European Union in the coming years. There have been stories in the news recently in both Italy and France, where locals have attacked Roma communities and many have been rounded up and deported back to Romania or Bulgaria.