28 Feb 2013 16:00
Hope for a Cherry Blossom is a documentary photo-project, focused on a Roma woman, Vishna (Cherry in Bulgarian), a resident of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. The project was continued throughout spring 2013. The project illustrated her daily life, work, house chores, family dynamics and everyday life in Roma community. The goal of the project was to explore life of the Roma through the story of Vishna, a mother of twelve children, who recently lost her husband to alcoholism. The question I raised was the difficulties of being a minority member and a single mother. The project aimed to bring understanding of problems an unprivileged minority group faces in Bulgaria.
I met Vishna, 42, in the church. It was a life changing encounter. What I remember from that day are her smile and hospitality (she invited me to her house), and I think these are one of her strongest character features.
Her home is a one-room shack on top of the mountain, home to the Roma community in Blagoevgrad. Just like most of the houses at the Roma district, Tsyganski makhala, as local people call it, there are no running water, no refrigerator and no place to cook at Vishna’s home, except the wood burning stove that keeps the family warm in winter. This doubles as Vishna’s cooking stove. To make it work, she collects or buys wood. The roof is damaged, it leaks when it rains.
It was raining on the day we met, so Vishna put some plates on the bed to prevent it from getting soaked. But she is used to this way of living. Vishna is not a Blagoevgrad native; she comes from Sandanski, where the Roma lifestyle differs from the one in Blagoevgrad. If in Blagoevgrad it is a rare case when Roma goes to school, in Sandanski the majority studies, only a few beg on the streets.
The same applies to Vishna’s nieces and nephews.
Vishna herself though never went to school, but her brothers did, for a while. Together with her siblings, she worked on a tobacco farm when she was a child.
Her three brothers served in the Bulgarian army and married at age 21, except her younger brother who married at 18. Vishna, however, married when she was only 13. She was kidnapped and brought to Blagoevgrad by her husband, Emil. Her parents were against, but she was already pregnant.
Today Vishna has twelve children and ten grandchildren. The oldest kid is Yuli, 27, he is married. Many years ago he moved to Gotse Delchev, where he works as a DJ. The youngest is Vasko, 3. In the beginning of 2013, Vishna learned that Vasko had leukemia. Vasko lived at the orphanage under medical control, but in May 2013 he got back home. Doctors explained to Vishna that Vasko got better and there is no need for him to keep the treatment. Her other son, Mitko, 5, is deaf. Two years ago, he had a surgery, but still he cannot hear well and therefore does not speak at all. Four other kids go to the boarding school where they stay on the weekdays. Some of the older children completed the elementary school. Now they are married and live in Blagoevgrad.
Since marrying, Vishna works as a street sweeper. Her monthly salary is around 300 BGN (200 USD). Unlike Vishna, her husband worked only one year in his life as security at a restaurant. Vishna never understood Blagoevgrad Roma, their segregated life and poor living conditions. She wanted to go back to Sandanski, but her husband kept pulling her back to Blagoevgrad.
Last several months were difficult for Vishna. She lost her husband to alcohol addiction. Soon she will get the probation from the court for her husband’s business (he used to send their kids to beg). Now Vishna’s children go to the boarding school. Her daughter Asya, 14, gave a birth to a child with mental problems. Even though Asya is married, Vishna is responsible for both of them.
Today, Vishna does not think of going back to Sandanski. She looks for opportunities in Blagoevgrad. She hopes of a better life for herself and her children. Even though Vishna struggles, she does not show her emotions and tries her best to support her family. Vishna dreams of a new house with all the necessities, getting her kids educated and having enough money to support them.
Written and photographed by Mayya Kelova