Her fingers were chapped by dirt and she was shambling in knitted socks, wearing plastic slippers. She looked kindly into our eyes, revealing a gap-toothed smile as she stopped to say hello. The old woman was going to take care of her land, spring was here and the onion she carried in the bucket had to be planted.
– Oh… you are younger than my son. He is a BANKER! With these two hands I raised him and now he lives in the city; Kameliya translated me. I am old, I’m 76, but he comes to visit me. There he is!
And her face seemed to brighten up with love and pride. He walked out of the car after parking it in front of his old small house. A man in a suit and tie, kissing his mother’s cheek.
Kameliya laughed. The old lady told him to change his good clothes and come help her plant the onion. And we carried on with our walk in the forest until a mental hospital crossed our way and we had to go back. There were so many bees on blossoming trees and skinny naked ones. The small flowers looked as the snow on top of the mountains, fighting for survival and wanting to conquer the forest. It was a perfect mixture of snow and spring, of white and red. It was Martenitsa: a rebirth!
G.U.I.D.E Get United and Innovative, Develop and Educate, another ERASMUS Youth Exchange, this time in Berkovitsa, Bulgaria! My first challenge was to order a coffee with milk while these lovely and hospitable people shook their heads “No, no!”, smiling and confusing me.
I received a paper flower at their kindergarten celebration. The school year was ending and the flowers were made by the children. The entrance donation was used to renovate the classrooms and offer them a chance to a better education. I was lucky to see them proudly wearing their national customs, saying blagodarya to their home and families. A parent was mimicking his child’s poem in the backstage, just to help him in case he got stuck in the middle of the stage. Their national dances were so fast and vivid like the red on their costumes!
We took a walk in the woods, accompanied by the sound of cracking branches and sliding water. The dark skinned and blue-eyed friends were speaking a language that sounded like diving into a bed full of pillows. So, I had to have my first Albanian language lesson next to our small campfire, while a girl in love with photographs, was capturing the colors of the grey forest.
Our free time was great! I tasted for the first time Ajvar, Pindzur, Ljutenica and Fergese me gjize. The Serbians were singing their culture and proud Macedonians were always dancing! Nikola is the friendliest lawyer you can imagine and the IT guys had so many smart ideas! I met a 19 year old who traveled the mountains, an MBA player with a shy laugh and a sexy guy who played the guitar with a voice ripped out by rakija, giving us goose bumps. A surprise party for our birthday boy was the best team building we had and we juggled on our Bulgarian terrace, with Serbian mountains on the background.
There were so many similarities and smart people who spoke English, Italian, Albanian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Romanian… I loved this colorful environment, especially when they didn’t speak in English. As if the room was a map and I was traveling just by walking around a few meters. Observing the voices, languages, the laughs and small interactions, the sparkle in their eyes, the body language… All this was like a heartbeat collection of their own landscapes! It’s strange how the new becomes familiar in just one week…
Even if it seemed hard for people so diverse to find similarities, it was magic when we discovered we’re just humans who care about making a business and improving our home. I was impressed by the fact that some people opened their heart and shared their dream with us. Максимовић wanted to help people in need and the medical system in his country. He impressed me with his way of caring about others. On the other hand, Franc had a big survival instinct and I’m sure he will be a successful businessman, too. I admire his practical vision of the world and the management of his own resources. David was so respectful and Merin showed me some of his amazing drawing techniques!
I hope I’ll see everybody I’ve met on this training in top 500 someday! We fed and packed our dreams to change the world and pursuit happiness, in a place with Martenitsa on people’s wrist and trees!
From our training about business, finance and opportunities, I would like to mention the story of Vojkan Krstevski, Nikica’s friend. He managed to raise 118.000$ for a board game – Rise to nobility, with crowdfunding. It was a real success and a second game was released, called Cavern tavern. Ideas are priceless if they are put into practice!
I’ve understood that the longest bridges are the most needed ones and if we would only make the first step and open up, try to reach others and see their beauty, we could enrich our own life. And it’s brave and selfless to fall in love with imperfections that are different from ours. When we interact with someone, we don’t need to be B.F.F. or simulate a forced closeness. It’s about having an honest, authentic and non-judging interaction. Because we may not see that person again and it may be the only encounter we have. It’s sharing a part of our life with someone, be it a minute, an hour or more. We need to make it good because the ones who dance in the rain are happier than the ones running to hide!
Our ways parted, but the journey continued in Sofia, where I met interesting students doing an EVS. We discovered the ruins of the old city we could first see from their sunny balcony. Our Latvian friend was an amazing tour guide and we had a great talk about personal development. We tried to fight time just like the straight buildings and bodyguards were fighting the wind, but we had to return home soon.
When I arrived in my dorm room, I opened my suitcase and smiled! It smelled like roses- the essential oil Kameliya gave me. It shad as a protest, wanting me to go back and taste again their bread with salt and honey!
Volem te, Bulgaria, shumë mire people! We will be back because, as Vladimir, our host from Berkovitsa said, waving goodbye to our bus: “Guys, just so you know, you are always welcome here!”
Thanks, Veronica, for the lovely pictures and to all the organizations that made this Youth Exchange possible!