I am back in Ohio. I've been out of Bulgaria for just over a month, and I've been in the U.S. for nineteen days. During one of those nineteen days, I watched High Fidelity for the first time. John Cusack's constant efforts to think of Top 5 record lists has had me thinking about Bulgaria and the past two years in terms of Top 5 lists since I watched the movie. This has been pretty convenient, as I've been struggling to categorize, to evaluate, and to conceptualize all that I've seen and done.
So, you guessed it, my final musings on Bulgaria and all that the Fulbright opportunity has opened up to me will be composed and presented to you in a long series of Top 5 lists. They are not perfect lists, nor are they necessarily entertaining and mind-blowing things to skim over, but they will forever serve as reminders for me of beautiful memories, sights, smells, and experiences that I will want to return to again and again. I'm happy to share more in-depth upon request! There are many lists, because I experienced many things. Skim 'em over, take a really really quick peek at what I've taken home with me, and leave a quiet moment at the end of your read to lament along with me the death of this two-year blog journey. Here we go.
Top 5 Bulgaria Experiences to Have
1. Hike the Seven Rila Lakes
2. Break into Buzludzha in the Stara Planina mountain range
3. Attend a village kukeri festival (like the Shiroka Laka festival)
4. Watch a folk dance performance
5. Watch the sun rise over the Black Sea coast
Top 5 Bulgarian Foods
1. Lutenitsa- vegetable spread
2. Shopska salad- cheese, tomato, and cucumber
3. Banitsa- a flaky cheese pastry of wonder
4. Tsa Tsa- tiny fried fish (whole!)
5. Ayran- salty yogurt drink that changed my perspective on life
Top 5 Bulgarian Words/ Phrases
1. zapovyardate/ заповядайте = Here you go!
2. spokoino/ спокойно = calm, calm down
3. trutka/ трътка = rump (chicken butt!)
4. osmifka/ усмивка = smile
5. kotka/ котка = cat. duh.
Top 5 Bulgarian Songs
1. Byala Rosa/ Бяла Роза
2. D2- Dve Sledi/ Две Следи
3. Trupkata (my old ninth graders will never let me live this down)
4. Desislava- Radina Mama (I think that's what it's called)
5. Sitno Shopska (a folk dance from Western Bulgaria)
** 2 bonuses that my students would laugh so hard over
---- Otivame na kupon
---- In the Forest
Top 5 Student Memories
1. That one time where I tried to teach comma placement using grains, and 9a ate all the "commas" before I could check their work
2. That one time that every group in 11a had their commercials finished on time, and I may have cried a little
3. When my shyest group of students had the sassiest commercial presentation and everyone LOST THEIR MINDS
4. When Plamena G gave a speech during my first year about Bulgarian history, and everyone in the room got cold chills
5. When 10v and I had a beautiful circle talk together and everyone understood each other for a glorious moment
Top 5 Dimitrovgrad Spots
1. At the top of Penyo Penev park
2. Overlooking the town on the footbridge over the train tracks at sunset
3. The field of sunflowers behind the big Sunday Pazar
4. On the banks of Maritsa River
5. The stadium near my school
Top 5 Bulgarian Cities/ Towns
1. Dimitrovgrad, duh
2. Veliko Tarnovo
3. Shiroka Laka
Top 5 Countries Visited
Top 5 Cities Visited
1. Budapest, Hungary
2. Istanbul, Turkey
3. Tallinn, Estonia
4. Prague, Czech Republic
5. Dublin or Berlin or Bergen (don't make me choose!!)
Top 5 Travel Encounters
1. Meeting a new friend on the train who became a part of the BEST community, a person who I'm still in contact with (BULGARIAN TRAINS ARE THE BEST)
2. Running into a high school church friend in a Dublin McDonald's "OH HEY"
3. Drifting into a nonchalant Norwegian coffee shop and staying for hours, talking to other customers and having the world's best cup of coffee from the world's coolest old Norwegian man, who hand-ground my coffee beans in an antique grinder and roasted them logger-style in a cast iron kettle over an open flame, and who then bought me a block of cheese to take home as a gift
4. Staying in the same hostel in Montenegro as a Bulgarian lady whose old English teacher was the father of my American friend, and then spending the evening as a big group drinking wine late into the night on the old walls of Kotor. Such a small world!
5. Spending an hour in a sheep barn on the Isle of Skye while an older lady told my friend and I all about her life raising sheep all on her own on the tip of a lonesome island
Top 5 Travel Tips
1. When you feel like maybe you should approach someone, DO IT. Just...why not? The strangers I approached or spoke to somewhat hesitantly often ended up being my favorite memories from travels
2. If you're going to wing it, look up your transportation options and lodging options beforehand. There's nothing worse than telling yourself you'll figure it out, only to find that the plan you finally decide on won't work because there aren't transportation options that work with your plan
3. WING IT. Do it. Traveling without sure-fire plans leaves the door open to meet new friends and opt for unforeseen experiences
4. Keep a little notebook for thoughts, directions, quotes, etc. Finding my travel notes again as I packed to leave BG was like being knocked over by a wave of memories
5. When in a group, pay attention to when your bodies need food, a drink, sleep, etc. Forgetting to properly care for your body while traveling is too easy, and it often leads to extreme crankiness. Travel is leisure time, to an extent, so care for yourself!
Top 5 BG Take Aways
1. I will always give chocolate on my own birthday. This is something Bulgarians always do, and I thought it was such a sweet way to say "I care about you all, celebrate life with me today please!"
2. I'll celebrate Baba Marta in the U.S. and give martenitsa to all my friends to celebrate the arrival of spring
3. I hope to one day be able to lay a table spread as beautifully as the teachers in my school... the teacher's lounge always looked like a magazine picture
4. Recipes-- working on perfecting many BG foods
5. Retreating to nature-- many people have village houses, do their own canning, make homemade wines and foods, and take frequent hiking trips. I want these things in my life
Top 5 Life Take Aways from Two Years Abroad
1. Working with teenagers is the best, they're so creative
2. Empathy for the individual, complex life that each person leads
3. I now know my strengths and what I have to offer
4. This strange awkwardness or discomfort that I used to feel talking to new people, or walking into a full room... it is just gone. I can go anywhere, talk to anybody, and be a leader with relative ease
5. Patience for my turn, for people I interact with, and for myself. Breathing is also good!
I've had many people ask me what it feels like to be back home, and the flat-out answer is that it feels weird. What strikes me is how very normal home feels, in an extremely disconcerting way. All is much as I left it, though I feel like a totally different person moving through oddly familiar landscapes. My dad keeps telling me I'm too liberal now and he hopes I "readjust quickly"... *chuckle*
I'm overjoyed to see those I love again, and to see places that I have missed for so long, of course. However, I feel as though I am carrying my experiences and memories around with me, and that it will take some time to find a way to set them down gently and allow them to gather dust. Even writing this last post, the one that should be grand and filled with eureka moments and inspiring revelations, feels a little too close to really release in.
So what's next for me? To keep it brief, I'm applying for jobs, trying to invest more time in developing my writing, playing frisbee (always!), and continuing to work with the BEST Foundation from afar. Readjusting, and moving forward with bold and sure steps! Graduate school in the distance.
Thank you, Bulgaria, not only for the experiences you gave me, but for the lasting friendships, the chance to do some good work, and the space to grow as an individual. A month after I left you, you are still giving back to me. България за винаги!