There are so many sayings about “home.” Home sweet home, there’s no place like home, home is where the heart is…and never in my life have I felt more at home than I do here, under an unforgiving Balkan sun and amongst the equally unmerciful mosquitoes. I can do simply nothing here and immerse myself in the experience of being with my family: pulling apples and figs off of the sparse tree in our garden, dicing potatoes to fry in a pan on the tiny gas tank, and making fun of each other all day and night. There’s no shortage of pointed fun-making, but what is a life where you can’t make fun of yourself?
I’ve spent the past few days eating just the fresh fruits and vegetables my grandpa picks from the garden, learning to shoot (the translation of my village, “Streltsi,” means “the shooters”), and simply sitting out in the sunshine. If I never left, I would be the happiest girl in the world.
I used to come here every summer from the time I could board a plane to the summer before fifth grade. That summer marked the year when I started my slew of camps, mostly academic (not that I didn’t love learning pre-algebra before I absolutely had to), and stopped coming to the village. The last time I visited Bulgaria before this was the winter of my freshman year, and at that point coming to the village under heaps of snow was out of the question. So we hid in my uncle’s apartment in the city.
This is where I am the most me. I used to run around the front of the house, a tanned little girl in her sparkly pink Barbie jumper, flee, frightened, from the neighbor’s braying donkey, and go on shopping trips with my grandma to buy freshly baked bread. Back in those days, I thought that these trips took FOREVER. I honestly remember thinking that the bakery was a good twenty minute walk. Reevaluating that situation now, many years later, I realize that it was in fact much closer to two minutes. Stellar sleuthing on my part, I agree.
But, welcome to who I am. This is where I truly grew up, with my grandma and my grandpa, while my parents stayed in the States. I haven’t been here in so long–too long– and I can’t remember exactly when it was last. But even since then, things have changed. That bakery? It’s closed. Going on a walk around the village last night, I saw too many houses that were overgrown, simply abandoned. My mom would point out where her friends used to live, and my grandpa would shake his head and say, “Nobody has lived there for years.” The theater my mom tried to describe to us? Nonexistent.
So many dark windows and lost memories are dusted across the surface of these roads, just waiting to be blown away by the passing wind as the last person to have witnessed the vibrancy of this village passes with it. I hope against hope that this doesn’t happen. I hope that my village can begin to inhale again, not only exhale the remnants of a still-fresh past.