"We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and to know the place for the first time."
-T. S. Eliot
Two years ago today I stepped off the plane into my Bulgarian Peace Corps experience. After a couple of days getting to know the other members of my group, I boarded a plane to a place half a world away into an experience I could never have expected and could never forget. I can remember vividly those first few confusing, desperate hours... Landing in Sofia and immediately being shepherded into a bus, lured by strange Bulgarian chocolate bars (later to become an addiction known as "vafla" haha) in a half-aware state not quite awake, but unable to sleep. We stopped in a small town along the way and I made my first purchase in Bulgarian leva - Spinach and Cheese flavored Bake Rolls (later to become another staple in my life). After nodding off a couple of times, we rolled into the mountain village of Panichishte, greeted with bread and honey by traditionally-clothed locals.
The rest of that first week has become somewhat of a blur, but I can vividly remember saying to a camera "This is life right now," and really believing it, until the camera turned off and I realized that it was an incredibly pretentious thing to say. Moments later we were whisked off to our training site, Krainitsi, and life would never be the same.
Over these two years I've forged some really deep friendships with my fellow volunteers - people I couldn't dream of forgetting. I traveled to 9 different countries. I've done some incredible things with the kids here, including coordinating 2 camps, creating a fitness room, teaching children how to read and encouraging them to make positive life decisions. I have not only gotten to know many incredible Bulgarian people, but have also been accepted as part of their families (thank you Baba!). I've become fluent in a language that most people never even knew existed. I've seen all the ups and downs of this beautiful yet enigmatic country - climbed its mountains, swam in its Black Sea waters, and admired its traditions amidst its beautifully blooming countrysides.
Next week I will go to my Close of Service Conference, during which I will start the process of wrapping up my experience here and moving on the the next phase of my life. This will be the last goodbye to some of the people in my group - a group that lost over a third of its members since meeting for the first time in that conference room in Washington DC. I am among the survivors, and incredibly proud that I have come this far. It's something that can accurately be called a journey - full of joy and turmoil, confidence and confusion, intense and unbearable heat and bone-chilling uninsulated and unheated cold.
In less than 3 months we will leave this country and assume our "normal" lives. But what does that mean if life in this place has become so seemingly normal? I can't wait to find out.
Until next time.