I am sitting in the Volunteer Lounge at the Peace Corps office in Sofia, preparing my final arrangements and closing my service, working through a rather large checklist. It has been a relatively uneventful few days, as a cold rain has settled in over most of the country. This also blocked out most of the amazing views that I was looking forward to on the drive back to Sofia - a drive that I've taken so many times. In a way it was rather appropriate - looking out the window and seeing absolutely nothing in the fog... the view was left completely up to my imagination and my memory. This gave me a chance to start thinking of how to put into words what my experience here has been like - something proving to be a very difficult task. I have been preparing for my return for the States, thinking about what my response will be to the inevitable questions of, "What was Bulgaria like?" and "So what did you do in Bulgaria?"
All I can think of at the moment is an incoherent jumble of words and sentences in no particular order:
Bulgaria is... strange, beautiful, cold, ugly, misunderstood, enchanting, unbelieveable. It is filled with people who are incredibly nice and helpful and friendly, yet sometimes closed off and closed minded. Bulgaria is small, yet somehow vast. It's the size of a state in America, but takes longer to travel across than it does to fly back to the States. That travel time is some of the best. You can really see what Bulgaria is made of. It is made of mountains and lakes and sunflowers. It is made of tiny villages filled with massive gardens. It is at times covered in garbage. It is relatively poor money-wise but has one of the richest histories of any country I know of. It is very developed in the cities, and very rural elsewhere. The food is very oily and salty, yet everything is fresh. The tomatoes are the best anywhere.
I worked in an orphanage and a preschool. Kids jumped on my back and yelled my name and gave me hugs every day. They threw walnuts at me. I felt like a hero at times, and a villain at others. I was called a father. I was called a son. I was treated like a member of several different families. I survived winters without heat in sub zero weather. I learned the Bulgarian language and the Cyrillic alphabet. I feel like I did a lot but I have few tangible things to show for it. I did a lot of walking. I did a lot of waiting. I built a fitness room. I taught kids how to read. I couldn't reach all the kids, but I did my best. I did a lot of reflection. I did a lot of growing. I saw more of Bulgaria than most Bulgarians. I swam. I climbed. Mostly I walked.
I could go on for a while, but the main thing seems to be that Bulgaria is a land of opposites. That's really what has struck me the whole time I have been here. It is sometimes one thing or the other, and many times both at the same time. It is for this reason I think that is why it is so hard to sum up my time here, but I hope some day to be able to do so.
For now, I will be heading off on a month of travel to help clear my head and take advantage of my being in Europe. My itinerary is as follows: Sofia, Bulgaria - Nis, Serbia - Sarajevo, Bosnia - Dubrovnik, Croatia - Split, Croatia - Ljubljana, Slovenia - Prague, Czech Republic - Brussels, Belgium - Ypres, Belgium - Bruges, Belgium - Amsterdam, Holland - Reykjavik, Iceland - America. Along the way I hope to give some small updates on what places are like and how it's going.
It is hard to believe I am leaving Bulgaria, the place that I have called home for the past 2 years, tomorrow. Many people here have asked me if I will be coming back, and I say of course I will. But in a way I know that part of me will always be in Bulgaria, and part of Bulgaria will always be in me.