My Sofia, 16 years later

 

I left this country about 16 years ago, а young boney girl in search of something. It was about 8 years after communism fell and the future was still not bright. Not a glimmer of hope could be seen after the initial exuberance that freedom of direct oppression gave us. Instead we were thrown in the wild waters of “free” markets, businesses and making money, all the things that we had no preparation, freedom or legal system to help us handle. The racket of the government was taken over by the organized mafia and we lost a bunch more years of development in order to fill their coffers too.
Reality in Bulgaria? Everyone in power wants to fill their savings account and can do it without much problem, other than a few more whines from the public. We brought back our supposedly noble and prosperous king in exile, hoping that he had enough money and might be interested in actually helping us, to no avail. He too sucked on the power nozzle and lost his mind.

I have been back a few times before and each time things looked worse. More crumbling buildings, more exhausted faces, more gray. Bureaucracy that boggles the mind and keeps people busy with mindless tasks instead of thinking critically and asking questions. My visits became like a visual journey through the degradation of a nation.

I have lost most of my nationalism awhile ago. I don’t suffer from some of the inflictions that float around every country – we are the best, we have the longest history, we are amazing/smart/deep, and my favorite: we are the chosen ones. I think traveling showed me just how similar we all are, how intertwined all the histories are, how stupid borders and separating each other through them is and how it is not just my nation that thinks its the mostest. Nationalities are false and all they achieve is to make us feel superior and hate others – all the good things in life (irony strongly intentional). Excellent for wars, idiotic for a global world of peace and tolerance.

Am I proud to be a Bulgarian? No. Am I ashamed? No. Does it define me? I don’t think so. Still, I am connected to this land, if only by my history. And it hurt me to see it fade.

Then we took this trip, and gallivanted around many countries and finally arrived here. And for the first time I see it through different eyes. Maybe I have exchanged the eyes of a Bulgarian, with the wide open eyes of a traveler, because I am managing to see all the good things instead of all the bad ones that used to pain and anger me. I see people smiling, I see kindness, we marvel at cars stopping to give us way, fresh paint sparkles on the beautiful old buildings and I take it all as it is.

Maybe.

But all those months of traveling have also taught me something else – it is the people that make the experience, not the place. And I have been overwhelmed with attention, warm welcomes and genuine hospitality. Even writing this brings tears to my eyes it is so overwhelming (..great, now they are streaming down my cheeks. I hope nobody comes around the tea room and starts worrying about me, because who cries alone in a public venue out of happiness?).

A lot of these connections have developed online, so if anybody tells you spending time developing such friendships is a waste of time, smile and ignore them. On the other hand, if you have the option of building relationships in real life, don’t shy away. It is a lot more fulfilling on a daily basis.

So here I am, showered in kindness and attention, sipping teas and coffees at leisure, fed delicious dinners and hopefully mine for others are enjoyable too. Feeling a glimpse of what I felt was lost before, that openness, warmth and familiarity so dear to me from my childhood.

And for the first time I am optimistic about this place.
Even if just a little bit.