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A weekend with the Police - two

The Bulgarian national football team was playing in the European cup qualifications that evening, so the TV was booked exclusively for us. Not only that, but complimentary food and Rakia was laid out for the evening from the very generous manager!

We freshened up in our assigned apartments then proceeded to party, spending a few hours watching live football, downing two bottles of grape Rakia and various traditional food. Us men, Bulgarian or not, had everything we could ask for at that point - free food and drink, live football and our lovely Bulgarian ladies!

Non-stop talking was the main activity and was quite a distraction the football. It was interesting getting feedback - or lack of - from the policeman when the opposition scored. I had to tell him they had scored before he replied with ‘normal’ – which was a typical Bulgarian reaction. The same reaction of ‘normal’ was made to the final score 2:0. He had for many years accepted that most European sides were better than Bulgaria, but I was surprised by his blasé response during the ups and downs of the match. Perhaps the taste of defeat was inbuilt in Bulgaria and they have learned not to be stressed about it. This was expected from him and other Bulgarians even before the match.

Football finished well past 11 pm but that wasn’t important. Our host had made further plans and before long, there was a shiny black Mercedes with a smartly dressed driver waiting outside to pick us up and drop us at a discotheque in a neighbouring town.

The venue was huge and state of the art. It was the sort of place you would expect to see VIPs and celebs. Our entry fee was waived, as were all the drinks that were served throughout the evening. I too felt as if I had been tagged with a VIP status as the policeman’s guest!

Dancing, drinking and even more eating ensued before we eventually had another chauffeur collect us and take us back to the hotel. There was one short stop on the way to meet up and share drinks with some traffic police on duty in the town, but time doesn’t matter here. You go to bed when you are tired, which we were, by 4:30 am!

The next morning breakfast was taken at a nearby restaurant. Again, there was no lapse in VIP treatment as the policeman’s mobile had no doubt been in action to prepare this earlier. Filled with a pancake breakfast and more beer (well, it was almost midday) I soaked up the final moments on the other side of the Bulgarian coin.

Finally, we went back to our village apartment while the policeman made his way to work. He was still on his mobile, talking and planning, as he waved goodbye to us, while we watched him drive off into the mysterious world of deciding what is right or wrong in life.

Two years ago it would have been impossible for me to come to terms with this situation. This acceptance of how to enjoy yourself and not feel indebted to people with their unbounded generosity comes with time. It was a whirlwind 24-hours and a stark view of how the other half live in Bulgaria. I had previously seen poverty-stricken communities trying to make ends meet and now I saw a community that finds the good things come their way by status and respect. I kept thinking; what had this man done beyond his role as a community policeman to get such treatment? The only thing I think is that he turns a blind eye on certain things. The respect and fear remains for the law, as I saw first hand, but at least the system of ‘hands on’ policing with the community exists.

All in all, community policing the way it is in Bulgaria is up and running as effectively as ever, well before it was reinvented and failed in the UK.