Handan Gurses (Komsu Kapisi Community House) traveled in June 2017 to Sofia, Bulgaria to meet Yanina Taneva (Ideas Factory Association).

Many anectodes start like ‘one day a Bulgarian, a Greec and a Turk were sitting at the table…’ or ‘a Romanian, an Italian and a German as well…’ That’s how my journey begins.

At the second CitizensLab Network Meeting in Brussels, a small group of people circled around my storytelling table to hear how I related myself into storytelling. And one of the stories sprouted at the table. Somehow people in the circle, mostly coming from Balkanian origins, started to tell different parts of the same story and we were amazed to see how our memories tied to each other.

That was a migration story hide in a seed of a plum tree.


I grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. When I was a child, there was a plum tree at my grannies’ garden. Golden color, sweet sour taste with a touch of apricot… It’s called provishto plum and you could never buy it in bazaars…That’s why it was magical and still tastes like my childhood.

One day my grandpa who was born somewhere between the border of Greece and Bulgaria and grew up in Xanti revealed the secret of it. Years before he had to migrate leaving everything behind. But at least he was proud of bringing this little tree from his motherland to take roots in his new garden. And he said: ‘If you find this plum growing in another garden, you’ll surely know that family is also uprooted from western thrace’.


Morning in an almost abandoned village Lyubina, 9 inhabitant in total…
Morning in an almost abandoned village Lyubina, 9 inhabitant in total…

My grandpa has migrated almost a century ago due to great Balkan dispute. He was a migrant of war, and like all victims had suffered, he was wellcomed to his new country under certain conditions and those conditions isolated them as well. Add to it unbearable weight of bitter memories of before and after migration, many expericences omitted.

If we are lucky, they remain as untold stories for us to dig out.

That’s where we meet with Yanina Taneva whose grandmother is a storyteller.

So, what’s the difference between a tale and a story? With a very general point of view, tales are summaries of the myhtical adventures of people about how they proceed from a disaster to a salvation and a happy end. Even it sounds a bit like wishfull thinking, it’s not. It’s a process of finding the good and productive seeds after the end of something.

For both of us the best thing with my grandpa’s story is this. The bitter memory of a leaving a place behind healed through a beatiful image of a tree taking roots in a new land.


The project BABA RESIDENCE by Ideas Factory is an exchange programme within several Bulgarian villages where youngsters are encouraged to meet elderly people living alone.

It took me some time to understand the historical context. Almost all of the villages, especially the mountain villages, were depopulated around the beginning of 90’s very suddenly. With the fall of communist regime, by loosing all financial support, in a chaotic atmosphere where nobody could understood what is going on and who’s doing what, all villagers were forced to migrate into the cities leaving only the stubborns back. Yanina like many people who believes in social change was into healing her bitter memories for herself and her people.

My curiosity about finding and visiting my grandfather’s village resonated with her passion to make youngsters to visit depopulated villages to revive lost memories and knowledge of the past.

And she organised the whole placement with four stops: Sofia, Burgaz, villages in Rodopi Mountains and Plovdiv. Visiting my ancestors’s village and two storytelling nights at two different citiesthis journey was given to me like a gift on a golden tray.

So let the journey begin…


Throughout the journey a contradictory feeling of being a stranger on a well-known land always followed me. The people, food, attitudes, architecture – everything seemed very close; as close as a neighbour but distant in a political blackout. I’ve realised how little I know about Bulgaria while living just beside in Turkey.

The first days of the placement was more on observing and learning.

To add to it visiting Ideas Factory… We both believe in storytelling as a creative approach to social issues. We talked about small urban story sharing circles we do in Istanbul at Komşu Kapısı, general practices and experiences we had and discussed if it is aplicable any other places.


That was the first storytelling performance where our stories intertwined…

Yanina opened the night by telling a story of Baba (granny) village project. Then I entered the stage with a short anectode with tomatoes; then came the story of provishto, the plum tree… Its life, death and children. After that I’ve jumped into a funny balkanian tale with a muslim, a christian and silly dragons. The tale ended with a paper trick playing with idea of religion revealing that the easiest way to go to heaven is learning to share.

Thanks to Lina Slavova from Hamalogika and her friends everything went well and I finished my performance with a good feeling in front of grateful audience.


Finding our way to the past. Original names of the villages have been changed by the bulgarian goverment from Türkürpek and Sinanlar, to Lyubino and Latinka

Thanks to my relative Turgay Çöl, obsessed to make our family tree, we knew the Bulgarian names of the villages, Lyubina and Latinka. While Mili, an angel from Ideas Factory, drove us to my grandpa’s villages I was wondering if I could find any clues about provishto plum or my grandpa’s past even I’ve learned that at most 8-9 people are living in each villages now.

We climbed into mountains, the magnificent Arda river got smaller and smaller at the bottom. We continued driving, entered the village road but no one was around. Only desolate ruins, abandoned stone houses…

It was a real matter of luck that Halim, the third man we met throughout the villages was my distant relative. He cherished us like guests sent from heaven with tears in his eyes. While I was dazzled to realize how Halim’s bodylanguage and way of talking resembled my grandpa.
The day after we all started climbing up where the ruins of my ancestors’s houses lied.

Halim, a distant relative of mine, is one of the nine inhabitants of the village Latinka

Thanks to Mediterenian climate carried by Arda river the sides of the valley were full of plums. I was asking for provishto but those were called ‘janka’ in Bulgarian. Jankas of all kinds:, round, oval, small and slightly bigger ones. I was quite sure that our provishto is my granpa’s best choice of jankas.

Halim, our guide and my relative, stopped in front of every abandoned house to tell a short story about the people once living there. With each step I took I visualized almost all of those images get darkened around theyear 1991.

We arrived to the ruins at the top, my ancestors’ houses… There was nothing more than base stones. But on my way up to them I’ve learned a lot. It was such a weird feeling that I’ve been exposed too many lifes through the tunnel of time. Lifes resemble and resonate each other… Under my feet there lies the soil, fertile and wellcoming to a land where I’m both a stranger and a local.

Just in the middle of ruins, there was a plum tree. The fruits were not ripened yet, small and green. But seems and tastes like provishto. Another legend for the family…
Just another taste in whole big mountain.

Halim’s destiny could be one of my possible futures. In each step I took a ghost of 1991 came with me, a bitter memory of the past which is not vocalized enough like all the villages around Rodopi. They couldn’t find their audience to listen to what extend freedom cost to them after the fall of the communist regime. Maybe they even didn’t have time to tell. They all had to survive and migrate leaving only the stubborns back.

So desolate and lonely…

Resting after a long journey through the time


On our way back I was thinking about the second storytelling session in Plovdiv. How would I digest all the things I’ve experienced through my journey and merge into the previous storytelling performance? Honestly there was not enough time to digest them all but thanks to the small number of audience, cozy atmosphere and Genika Baycheva from Open Spaces it became a performance of sharing experiences and stories.

It feels great to tell something when your heart still beats with excitement even you speak with half sentences. When words are not capable enough, you share emotions. That’s the gift of performative storytelling.

Storytelling night in Plovdiv


People like to talk on big ideas so it’s always hard to realise how small we are. I believe in creativity as a community practice, that’s why I also work on the idea of storytelling as a social tool for action.

A stitch in the past saves many wounds of today.

So I ask why some life storieswere forgotten so easily and remained uncovered for so long?

Is it because it didn’t fit the general social context?

Is it because nobody is curious about it?

Many more questions may come while the answers fill hundreds of pages…

But what I believe for all those deserved to be told, it’s our work to dig them out and vocalize.

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For the longer version of the story with more details about the journey please check the link


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