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Will You Be My Baba? Remote Team Adventures in Bulgaria

Post hackathon (and the fact that it was Christie’s first weekend in Bansko) called for some tourist action. Maybe even something Bulgarian. You need some background.

This is Irina.

She runs Coworking Bansko and she’s awesome. She adopted us during our meetup and now she’s our new best friend forever. Over a beer in the park one evening (I swear it was just one), after the traditional Bulgarian dance class at the local school, Irina suggested becoming Bulgarian for a few hours over the weekend.

this is what Bulgarians look like


In a small mountain town, about a 15 minute drive from Bansko, lies a beautiful village. In the village there is a house. In the house are the Entrepreneurial Babi (grannies). In their retirement, Baba Janna and Baba Elena share their stories of growing up in the not modern world. They want to pass on the traditions to the younger generations who are losing their heritage (and maybe their ability to drink copious amounts of rakia before lunch. And probably breakfast). They usually cater to a Bulgarian audience but if you have an awesome new best friend forever like Irina, then they are happy to entertain the tourist crowd. Well, they would be happy to share anyway but without a translator you might not know what was going on.

Christie looked as excited as a bug(fix) in a wormhole [surely you guys can do better than that?]. She championed the cause to the geek dudes. It was decided. Mostly because it was supposed to be raining all day and hiking was out.

So, on Sunday we squeezed the six of us into our ‘hire car’ (we’ve been here long enough that we have a transport fixer and don’t need to go through Hertz) and drove off into the sunset.

No, that didn’t happen. We drove off to a mountain village. It was late on a Sunday morning. We arrived at a house. Out of the house shuffled the Babi wearing traditional Bulgarian clothing, red slippers and big smiles. They greeted us with flowers for our hair. Right for the marrieds, left for the singles.

They took us inside. We toasted our arrival with a jug of Rakia (I’m pretty sure Baba Janna can drink us all under the table). We were led to a room with a low ceiling and a weaving loom. The walls were decked with bright red waistcoats. It didn’t take long before we were decked out in traditional garb.

Girls first - first a white underdress. Then a red overdress. Then an apron. Then a headscarf. Sweet.

Boys next. Shirts, waistcoats and hats. And guns. Basics.

The sun was shining on this side of the mountain (who knew?) so we went outside for some Bulgarian dancing. Christie, Simone and Irina were all over it. They’ve been taking lessons after all. They could have handled something more complicated. The boys loved it too, we could tell. Baba Elena and Baba Janna sang along, competing as to who could best drown out the voice on the recording.

Time for some rakia.

Looks like we were ready to get our hands dirty.

In the olden days when there wasn’t much money, families in Bulgaria often ate a dessert made of pumpkin, sugar, olive oil and flour. Now it was our turn. Christie jumped right in and started grating pumpkin with enthusiasm. Then she grated her finger with misery. She was sent off to the bathroom while Filipe took over.

Simone, being the baker that we all know and love, was given bread duty. She plans to recreate the wonderful bread made of flour, bicarb soda, vinegar, olive oil and Bulgarian Yogurt. Simone was in her element, mixing and kneading, mixing and kneading.

Filipe was in his element squeezing the juice out of the pumpkin. ‘If you squeeze a woman like that…’ Baba Janna admonished and hilarity ensued (thanks, translator!). Tips for Filipe to take to the next night out at the Club.

Pretty soon, the bread and the pumpkin were whisked off to the kitchen. Baba Elena let Christie take care of that bit. She didn’t even burn herself. We celebrated with some rakia.

More rakia.

The Babi sang us a welcome song and inserted the names of all our countries.

More rakia.

The Babi told us stories of their life growing up in villages. They shared memories. They told us that doing these events keeps them young and keeps the traditions alive. They are very sweet.

More rakia.

Then time for food. Not just our yoghurt bread. The Babi had spent the morning roasting potatoes, slow cooking mixed peppers and tomatoes (absolutely delicious) and sausages. We did our best with the mountains of food.

More rakia.

Then came our pumpkin dessert (yum) and adjourning to the winter lounge on the roof with coffee. Ondrej took his fork, still nibbling on pumpkin slice. Filipe nodded off momentarily.

Eventually we realised it was time to stop drinking the rakia and say goodbye to Baba Janna and Baba Elena.

What a wonderful couple of grannies and what a great experience. Thanks Irina! We were speaking Bulgarian fluently by the end, right?


About the author

Simone Gribble

Simone is controlling, in the best way. She keeps track of our sustainability on all fronts - financial, environmental, and social. The key instigator for the intense collaboration sessions that bring our distributed team together, Simone ensures we are always raising the bar to meet our mission.

If she's not running a finance report, you'll likely find her dancing, cycling, or sprinting across far-flung locations (and occasionally closer to one of her two homebases, Edinburgh and Melbourne).