Two years ago, my husband and I arrived at the doors of the Sofia apartment his grandparents lived in for decades. We’d spent vacations in the seventh-floor unit in a communist-era bloc before, but the fall of 2020 was the first time we arrived with the intention of making Sofia a home. The plaque on the double apartment door still reads “Семейство Радка и Щилян Кавлакови,” although it’s unlikely either of his Bulgarian grandparents thought their American-born son and his American wife would ever live inside.
We live here half of the year, splitting our time between Sofia and Florida. This means there is always the active choice of return. Every year, we buy another plane ticket. Every year, we affirm that we want to live in Bulgaria. There’s an ongoing affirmation that happens when we’re here, too, entirely with local folks.
When I speak Bulgariаn, there is always a point in the conversation where my accent or misinterpretation or complete lack of understanding lets on that I am not from here. At this point comes the inevitable “Where are you from?” followed by the inevitable “Whys?” Why Bulgaria, why Sofia, why am I here, now?
And I always reply: because I love it here.
This sometimes produces some confusion, so let me explain: I love the way the linden trees smell on a late summer night, the cacophony of the Vitosha buses on a sunny Saturday morning.
I love the way that the city is not ambiently stressed, the shopkeepers smoking and sipping espresso in small paper cups outside of the doorframe, not trapped inside by the fake preoccupation of busy work for the sake of looking busy.
I love the relaxed chaos of the city: the stray cats winding their way over mix-matched gap-toothed cobblestones, the sidewalk cherry vendors, the bundle of cables climbing up the concrete facade of a bloc, the yellow-flaked exteriors of old buildings, the way that things are in a beautiful layered state of decay and remont at the same time.
In a more orderly place, the boundaries of what is allowed to exist feel more narrow. Because things do not feel perfectly tidy here in Sofia, I feel like there isn’t a single prescriptive path to follow. That things can move in unpredictable ways, that I have permission to let go of more rigid structures. That something can emerge from that wider space of what is possible.
I don’t think I have fully leaned into this possibility enough, which is one of the many reasons that I know that I have to keep coming back. Eventually, it will sink in that I am in a place where I can experiment; for now, I have yet to fully let myself.
So we will continue our perpetual return: coming back to Sofia, with its gentle chaos and open window of possibility.
Ashira Morris is an American freelance journalists who divides her time between Sofia and Tallahassee, Florida. In the last few years she has written on numerous local topics for international outlets, including how Bulgaria is handling the refugee wave from Ukraine, the anti-establishment protests in the country between 2020-2021, climate solutions and green energy, contemporary art. Follow her at @AshiraMorris on Twitter and on Instagram.