I didn't choose Bulgaria. I left Ukraine with one suitcase thinking I'd be back in a week or two after things cooled off. That was seven months ago. I miss stupid things, like my fridge magnets and the notebook I carried to cafés on Saturday afternoons. I miss the forest next to our apartment and the barista who was patient with my Ukrainian.
I've treated Bulgaria like a rebound, a milestone whose worth lies only in its location. Sofia is not Kyiv. Show me bulochki, not borek; let me pay in hryvnia, not leva. This isn't the country I chose, I want to scream, and mid-breath I know the folly in that thinking.
But I start to enjoy moments here: walks in the park, coffee to start my day. There's a crusty white dog in my building who gives a toothy smile every time I walk by. The woman at the post office teaches me how to translate my name to Bulgarian. Acorns snap beneath my feet.
Today I took a hike in Vitosha and felt peace among the golden leaves and crackle of wood. In Art of Description, Mark Doty says that “the pleasure of recognizing a described world is no small thing," and today I understood what he meant: I don't know how to describe such a quintessentially autumnal scene without cliché, but it was as though I had walked into a place recognizable. A cottage in a book, a season I've seen before.
As I've written before, life still provides moments of happiness even when you're not where you'd like to be. Today I'm glad for Bulgaria: that it provides me a temporary home, that it is full of untouched nature, that kindness from those near me makes my thirst for home bearable.
I've travelled often in the past few months, in part because it's convenient but mostly because it's a distraction. That is my word of the year: distraction, with travel and books and school and work and hobbies and, sometimes, denial. Now that I'm slowing down, feelings (white-hot anger, survivor's guilt, thick confusion, unidentifiable emotions) are harder to ignore.
Grateful, angry, guilty. I wish it were seasonal but I see no end. With every step through the forest: trying to be content with this blessed and cursed life.