First day in Bulgaria

It’s a quiet morning in Kazanlak. The air is pleasantly warm and the blue sky above the city is a sign of the hot day which awaits its people. You can hear the birds chirping from the trees and the soft buzzing of the coffee machine from inside. The smell of coffee mixes with the smell of freshly washed laundry, drying on the balcony.

With a wonderful view over the city of Kazanlak and the mountains, three volunteers of the Deep Roots Project of 2020 are sitting on the balcony of the house that will be their home for the next two months. While they’re enjoying their breakfast with a good cup of coffee, they start chatting about their first day in Bulgaria, what their first impression of the country was and how they experienced the Bulgarian people.

Rita, one of the volunteers from Portugal, starts telling the story about her first day in Bulgaria. When she arrived in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, she decided to stroll a little bit through the city and to explore some of its nice corners before taking the bus to Kazanlak. She stumbled across a nice little café in the city center and decided to have breakfast there. The owner of the place, a guy in his thirties, was sitting outside the café when Rita got there. He was really friendly and showed her all the pastry they had and explained to her what everything is and what it is made out of. In the end she decided to have a coffee and a vegan banitsa, which is a typical Bulgarian pastry made out of puff paste and usually filled with cheese.

 The owner of the café was not only very friendly but also very curious about Rita and the reason why she was in Bulgaria, especially since the country hasn’t seen a lot of tourists lately because of the Covid-19 pandemic. He joined Rita sitting outside and while she was having her breakfast she explained to him that she was in Bulgaria for a project in Kazanlak and that she is going to go there by bus that afternoon. The conversation continued and they started talking about everything under the sun, and after half an hour of sharing their personal stories, Rita was about to leave. But before she could leave, the owner asked her to wait and went inside. When he came back out, he had a cookie and a muffin in his hands. He gave them to Rita as a gift and told her they’re supposed to give her energy for the trip. When she asked him how much she owes him he just replied that he doesn’t want money for it because obviously, if she pays for it, it’s not a gift anymore. She was extremely grateful and moved by his hospitable gesture. “On the first day it felt so good to be welcomed to Bulgaria in such a nice way. I kind of wanted to stay in the café, but I also wanted to see the rest of the city, so finally I left. But also the other people I met in Sofia were really nice, smiling and always trying to be helpful, even though a lot of them didn’t speak English.”

 The other volunteers also share their stories about how the Bulgarians helped them to get along in this new and unfamiliar country, how they shared their food, gave directions, helped buying bus tickets and shared phone numbers so that they could meet up with the volunteers and show them their beautiful country. Even though all of them had made very different experiences, the one thing they all agree on is that they felt welcomed in Bulgaria and that all of them had experienced very friendly and open Bulgarians who tried to help wherever they could through a lot of very small but, for the volunteers, vital gestures of kindness.  The air got warmer, the coffee and the breakfast are long finished and the buzzing of the coffee machine got replaced by loud conversations, laughter and Rúbens desperate attempt to gather all volunteers in order to make a few announcements. The three volunteers are taking their cups and plates and are going inside to join the group, starting into a new day of working in a great team in a lovely country.

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