Where There Is Happiness

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

| This is the 132nd story of Our Life Logs |

When I close my eyes, I can still see the two sunlit rivers and the wide mountain meadows surrounding our house. I was born on a cold February day in 1951 in a tiny cottage of Ptchelinovo, Bulgaria. Growing up, all my family lived in a two-story house. My immediate family inhabited the first story, and my cousin’s family lived in the second story. Because of this, it feels odd to refer to our families as something separate. We were one whole.

Me (middle) with my two younger brothers.

1 | Early Years

People can only dream of such a carefree childhood like mine. After my first years of school in the local mountain-meadow school house, my siblings and I began going to school that was three kilometers away. Every day, we crossed the mountain forests, and in the winter, wolves would start going down in search for food. But we never got in trouble, after all.

After school, we used to buy a piece of freshly baked bread and head back home to catch crayfish and boil them by the river. If the weather was hot, we would jump and swim in the refreshing river water.

My parents raised us to respect Mother Nature and all the abundance She provides for the people. They taught us that the power of faith and gratitude is stronger than anything in this world. When you turn to God, you turn to the faith that’s in your heart. That’s why God has many names, but the force is a universal one; it knows no limits.

2| When Education Wasn’t an Obligation, But a Luxury

My mother and father did everything in their power to keep us in school, for they wanted their children to live a life away from hard labor. When I turned 14, my father built a single-room house in a bigger village called Gurkovo because he knew there would be no other way to give us proper education. After a year of pinching pennies, my parents made sure we were well educated by sending me and my brother to good school that was 33 km away from our home in Gurkovo.

The accommodation my parents rented for us was a wine cellar in shared house. Our landlord was an old grandpa who inhabited the same house. Each night, our landlord would lock us up as soon as the clock struck 8 pm. We weren’t mad at him for doing so, and we lived in the accommodation for three years. My parents came to visit only once, and that was when we were just setting in. Then had to keep taking care of the land and animals back in Gurkovo. While it was hard to be away from my parents, we were grateful for their sacrifice.

An overview of the Central Balkan in Gurkovo | Image courtesy of Pixabay

3 | One Life, One Love

When I was in 9th grade (or about 15 years old), I met the love of my life, Ivan. He would write poems for me and would always pay attention to those tiny details most men would fail to grasp. But at the time, I was much too young to get together with him. Moreover, he was three years older than me and was just about to enter the obligatory military service. He spent two years away on a strict regimen, and during this period, we were able to meet only two times.

Me, age 15, posing with my new hairstyle.

As soon as his military service was over, I was already finishing 11th grade and was about to become 18 years old. Ivan still had my heart, and I still had his. So, we wanted to live as a family.

We asked for my parents’ blessing to get married, but they didn’t take it very well. They wished I could study and live away from the village life. They were hoping I could have a better future, away from the hard work. Getting married at this early age would mean throwing their dreams for me in the trash.  But the truth is, my dream already had a name, and this name was Ivan.

Meanwhile, my husband-to-be was a young and poor boy. Even when he was about to finish his study, his future was predicted by the rules of the Soviet Union. He was going to become a laborer at a factory, as was I. But we didn’t take this as something good or bad. For us, it was just how life is supposed to go. Either way, we were together, which made us very happy.

We had an official engagement in Ivan’s village, and a week later, we paid my parents another visit to announce we are about to get married. This time, they realized they couldn’t stand between me and my will, and they didn’t try to anymore. They gave us their blessing and our wedding was humble.

My husband and I on our wedding day, wearing a necklace of money – a traditional gift for the weddings back then. Later on, our necklaces were about to help us make the first deposit for our apartment.

We moved to live with my husband’s family in Rozovo in 1969. We had a very simple life and shared the house with my husband’s parents, his two brothers, (one of whom also got married and brought his wife in the house), as well as his sick sister. My husband and I spent our early years of marriage in a single room of the house. Both my husband and I started working in the gun factory in Kazanlak, and we looked forward to our future.

I became a mother for the first time in 1970. While I was giving birth, the doctors had troubles taking the baby out. At some point, I saw their faces all in sweat, and I could feel something that terrible was about to happen. The pain was hard to bare but the worst thing was I could hear them talking that my child is suffocating. I remember how I didn’t pay any attention to their words, but instead sank deep in my faith with all my heart. I then I saw one of God’s angels right there next to me. Just a minute later, my daughter was brought to life. Ever since, I’ve kept reminding her that she has a special Guardian Angel, and I believe this angel is Archangel Michael.

My second daughter was born in 1975. I couldn’t be happier than holding my beautiful girls in my hands. But I was getting more and more troubled and exhausted by the life we had in the shared house. While I loved my family, it wasn’t easy.

Traditional Rose Festival (Rosa Damascena is the symbol of the town of Kazanlak) | Image Courtesy of Pinterest

Back then, you couldn’t buy a property even if you had the money to do so. The apartments were still under construction. We waited 10 years in limitations and misery, but the love we had for our family was always gave us strength. I’ve always remained thankful for what we have, and never missed a chance to pay my gratitude to God. I knew He was there for us all the time, and my faith was keeping me from falling apart whenever I started to feel hopeless and depressed.

4 | New Beginnings

When we got the good news that we could finally move into our apartment, we were eager and thirsty for this new beginning. We spent our years together as a happy family, despite the fact we needed to save all our money for the education of our children. Though we couldn’t afford too much of luxuries, we did go on family vacations and always had fresh products on the table.

On a family vacation by the sea shore with my husband and our daughters.

My first daughter got married in 1990 at 19 years old. I was so happy to see her glowing. I’ve always loved my son-in-law. Soon, I became the happiest grandmother in the world, at just 40 years old.

We were starting to get better with our life, even though I have been fighting with diabetes since I turned 40. I was just about to get hospitalized for treating the first stage of my diabetes when my father died from lung disease. I felt as if my heart was broken in million pieces. However, as my untreated diabetes was making me get sicker and sicker, I didn’t have much time to sink in my grief. After 40 days in the hospital, doctors finally let me get back home. I began a tough and uneven battle with diabetes, but I never gave up.

Soon afterward, my younger daughter continued pursuing a bachelor’s degree in another town. I and my husband started a second job as tailors. Our apartment was our tailor shop, as we utilized part of the spare space to put our sewing machine. This is how we were able to save the money for our daughters’ education.

When my second daughter also got married, my heart was filled with pride and joy for we have succeeded to raise our children and see them get on with their lives. However, my faith was about to be challenged.

5 | Overcoming the Monster Inside Me

I was flying on the wings of happiness when my second granddaughter was born in August 2000.

My husband and I with our second granddaughter.

Four years later, I began having severe health problems. I would go to the toilet to see everything in blood and it was the first time I felt so helpless and so frightened. But it wasn’t because of the fear for losing my life but because I wasn’t ready to leave my family. They mean the world to me.

At first, doctors treated me for hemorrhoids, but the diagnosis wasn’t correct, and things got worse. I reached a point where I couldn’t even hold my urge to visit the toilet and each time I saw the blood splashing; my guts would crunch and make me feel like puking.

During this period, I took care of my second granddaughter during a summer vacation on the seashore. She was so small, and innocent, and playful, and wanted to go outside and feed the birds. But I couldn’t take her. I was sick. I wanted so badly to be well again just for the simple pleasure of playing with my granddaughters.

A week later I heard the diagnosis of colorectal cancer. The fear I saw in the doctor’s eyes as he came in along with 10 junior students who looked even more petrified than he did.

All they could say was that I would need to go through a dangerous operation. Everything depended on what they would see once they opened my body. The staff didn’t look hopeful, and they didn’t promise anything. Before I got into the operation room, I thought only about the love I have for my family. I asked God—with all my heart—to bring me back to my children.

He didn’t turn a back around to my prayers. Recovery was long and hard. I thought once I had gone through that horrible disease, life would be easier whatever followed. But it didn’t turn to be that way.

6 | Just When You Think You Can’t Take It Anymore

Years after my health seemed to stabilize, I ended up getting a stroke, leaving half my face paralyzed. I recovered very slowly and couldn’t move my face or talk normally for months. But the physical pain was better than the pain that kills and chokes the soul.

While my younger daughter went to work in Italy, my husband crafted a tiny ladybug out of gypsum. He has always been a skillful artist by heart. I think it is the artist in his soul that made me fall in love with him at 15 years old. We made a few more of these tiny figures, with no idea how our lives were about to change. One day a friend came to pay me a visit, and she asked me to make 100 ladybugs for her. Gradually, we started making all kinds of tiny animals and other symbols out of gypsum.

Part of our tiny, handmade gypsum figure collection.
More of our tiny, handmade gypsum figures.

Initially, as my younger daughter returned from Italy, she started making a living by selling our tiny figures and help us make a living, too. The pensions we receive after retirement is impossible to live with, as the money can only cover our average monthly medical expenses. My family has always been there for me but the tiny happy craft we discovered gave us more than merely some financial support. It gave both me and my husband joy, for this was the first time in our life that we were actually being able to make something that we love; to make art.

In 2017, I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. A few months later, I had to undergo an eye operation, and I lost 90% of my ability to see with my left eye. I only perceive silhouettes and blurred colors, but at least my other eye allows me to continue to both make my tiny figures and recognize the faces of the people who mean everything to me.

I thank God every single day for having all the blessings I have in my life. Happiness does not come from the things you own but from the love you have in your heart. God is Love, and faith makes miracles happen. By sharing my story, I hope I can inspire people to believe that it is never too late to embrace your talents. Don’t let the circumstances break your spirit. There’s light even in the darkest night.

 This is the story of Radka Valeva

Radka, 67, has spent most of her life in extreme limitations and has endured hard work. Whatever difficulties she was faced with, she never let her spirit get broken, and she has always remained grateful for what she has, as well as what she doesn’t have. After retirement, she and her husband discovered a hidden talent for crafting tiny figures, which brought a new hope in their home and hearts. By sharing her story, Radka hopes to make people realize that happiness is not something you can find in your possessions, and that “nothing is impossible for him, who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

Radka and her beloved cat Alissa on the balcony during the process of making handmade figures.

This story first touched our hearts on August 8, 2018.

| Writer: Milenitta Zhelyazkova | Editor: Colleen Walker |

#poverty #education #love #family #hardwork #spirit #positivity #osteoporosis

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