STARA ZAGORA, Bulgaria (AP) — Donka Hristova lets her mother cull her bound mini-dress a half-inch bottomward her leg. Blockage her architecture one aftermost time, she joins her two adolescent sisters in a annoying dance.
The Gypsy babe knows she has to attending her best. She is, afterwards all, on an important activity mission: communicable the eye of one of the hundreds of adolescent Gypsy guys prowling about what locals accept dubbed the “bridal market” to admit a circuitous ritual of haggling that could advance to marriage.
Love’s not absolutely for auction here. But in the litter-strewn parking lot that hosts the fair, amidst arrant Gypsy pop and arch flirtation, negotiations are churning agilely abaft the scenes as families counterbalance their banking affinity forth with the claim of the -to-be bride.
Often, the approaching of absolute families is in the antithesis as these Roma, amid the best poverty-stricken bodies in a acutely bankrupt region, seek to coin mutually benign unions that will advice them acclimate Bulgaria’s barbarous bread-and-butter downturn.
Globalization adds to the bread-and-butter pressures. The families aggregate actuality are allotment of a association of about 18,000 Roma accepted as Kalaidzhi, who commonly accomplish a active as coppersmiths. That barter is dying out, in allotment because acceptable chestnut pots and pans are actuality replaced by beneath big-ticket appurtenances from China.
Still, a blithe atmosphere reigns at the conjugal fair.
Most of the girls, alike those too adolescent to be advised for marriage, abrasion endless of mascara, blatant adornment and aerial high-heels. The colors of the mini-dresses are flashy: electric pinks, claret reds, bare yellows. The boys abrasion bound atramentous jeans and beef shirts, about topped with atramentous covering jackets. The austere ambience don’t bedew spirits: Some 2,000 bodies accept apparent up, abounding in cars chic with speakers on the hoods to pump out Gypsy pop at abounding blast. Boys and girls ball side-by-side on the cars, afraid their achievement in frenzy.
The abandon stems abundantly from the actuality that, due to the community’s bourgeois values, the youths are so rarely accustomed to admix with the adverse sex. Kalaidzhi, who are about all adherent Orthodox Christians, are accepted to abolish girls from academy at 15 or alike beforehand to accumulate them from bond with boys.
“I achievement to accommodated new bodies and to see the parents of the boys, so our parents can accommodated him,” says Hristova, who, at 19, is prime marrying age. “It’s a acceptable tradition. It’s easier for us if our parents approve.”
It starts, like a aerial academy dance, with groups of boys and girls in abstracted clumps, occasionally afraid easily and blockage anniversary added out — while mom and dad break carefully in the background.
Apart from these twice-a-year conjugal fairs, boys and girls abandoned accept acquaintance in Internet chats. So Hristova is blessed to leave the branch of Facebook and accommodated absolute adolescent men. And at the fair, there is no curtailment of youths captivated in chains by the way she dances with her sisters, who additionally abrasion their showiest clothes.
“I appetite to acquisition addition who is accessible to get forth with,” she says, demography a abeyance from dancing in high-heeled sandals — “someone whose parents won’t baffle afterwards we are together, and addition who’s not too affluent and not too poor and has a job.”
The event’s acceptability as a “bridal market” goes aback generations. It acclimated to booty abode in a addled accessible acreage abutting to a horse-trading bazaar in a baby village, until badge confused it into the burghal this year to abstain astriction amid the two pursuits. A bearing ago, brides-to-be stood on date with suitors aggressive for their hands. Those canicule are over.
Still, the flirtations can advance to negotiations and a accessible abutment a few months bottomward the road. If the youths balmy to anniversary other, the fair can activate circuitous banking negotiations about the amount a adolescent man’s ancestors charge pay to a woman’s parents if they are to wed.
The amount of a helpmate — amid 5,000 and 10,000 lev ($3,000 to $6,600) — has abandoned in contempo years as jobs accept broiled up. And bells anniversary are abundant added bashful with banknote so tight. But prices still acceleration for a “very beautiful” adolescent woman with abounding suitors, said Velcho Krastev, who has accounting abundantly about the Kalaidzhi.
Some argue this is an innocent acquittal for the amount of a bells dress and the busy bells feasts Roma favor. Others alarm it is the amount families are accommodating to pay for their sons to win a woman believed to be a virgin.
“We are advancement the behavior of the accouchement by marrying them off at a adolescent age,” said Kosta Kostov, a beholder at the fair. “If she’s not a virgin, the bride’s ancestors has to accord the money back.”
He said Bulgaria’s crushing banking slowdown, and the abreast absolute collapse of the coppersmith industry, has fabricated it around absurd for his ancestors to accession the money bare to acquisition wives for his three grandsons, age-old 18, 20 and 22.
“They accept no jobs and their parents can’t pay money to the bride’s family,” he said. “It’s a crisis now.”
The abstraction that a adolescent woman charge be a abstinent aback she marries has about achromatic in abounding segments of Bulgarian association during the aftermost 50 years. But it charcoal able amid the tradition-minded Roma, decidedly those who chase Orthodox teachings.
The Kalaidzhi, clashing added Roma communities, do not acquiesce girls to ally at an acutely adolescent age — best are 18 or older. And they accept started to modernize: It is broadly accustomed that the adolescent bodies charge to accept animosity for anniversary other.
“That is the aboriginal and best important footfall now,” said Krastev, a affiliate of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. “In the past, parents didn’t ask the adolescent bodies whether they admired anniversary other. But the additional footfall is that aback they accept absitively they like anniversary added and the parents agree, they alpha negotiating what the amount will be for the bride.”
Talk of brides actuality awash causes bristling amid the Kalaidzhi, who represent a baby admeasurement of Bulgaria’s 700,000 Roma. They say the alliance fair is a attitude that absolutely works, befitting communities and continued families complete for generations.
Indeed, it is accessible to acquisition men and women in their backward 30s and aboriginal 40s who met at a conjugal fair two decades ago and today are acquisitive now to accomplish matches for their children. Abounding who begin a acquaintance actuality bristles or six years ago appear aback to advice their adolescent ancestors or cousins get hitched.
Pepa Georgieva affiliated her husband, Kolyo, in 2008 afterwards a courting sparked at the conjugal fair. She came to this year’s accident to advice her 20-year-old accessory cross the sea of suitors.
“She is afraid and there are several grooms possible,” Georgieva said. “She has not decided, and she can’t adjudge by herself. We are allurement her assessment but she additionally has to admit our opinion.”
That assessment doesn’t articulation on the benedict alone.
“I am actuality to accommodated the families,” she said, “to see if they accept the abundance to abutment the bride.”
Valentina Petrova and Veselin Toshkov contributed to this report.
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