Young and Old Abroad

‘It makes you feel young,’ my best friend said when we arrived in Sozopol after a bus from Burgas and an overnight train from Sofia. Young, that at 28, we were still up for losing a night of sleep to save some lev on a hotel, young that we still had the sense of adventure about us to go on an improtu beach vacation with her landlord, and young, that after meeting as 7-year-olds and becoming friends in eighth grade, we were still the same pair who got kinishes from the hot dog truck when we were supposed to be walking around the lakes of our high school for gym, the same two who, when bored of Prague after a few days, hopped on a bus to Paris, and now the same friends who were sleep-deprived and had no place to stay in a beach town on the Black Sea.

I have been thinking a lot about her comment on this trip. 'It makes you feel young’ implies that our age isn’t enough, which frankly, it isn’t.  We do not have kids or mortgages, but we could, and while there is still time for life changing decisions, there has also been enough time to acquire moles on our backs and wrinkles around our eyes.

On this trip, I find myself both young and old. Young because I will stay at hostel and share a bathroom, but old because I will pay for a private room. Young because I am proud of the tan I have acquired on this trip, but old because I am a little worried about the sun spots that will follow. Young because I sought free samples of Turkish delight while walking through a bazaar, but old because I am enjoying a 8 TL frappe in an air-conditioned cafe right now.    

But there are some things that I enjoy about getting older. For one, I know the routines that make me happy. While I’ve been travelling alone, I’ve managed to read, write and run, the most fulfilling verbs I know. My hotel room is ground level, and every night, I can hear the American pop music which plays for tourists like me late into the night. One evening, while brushing my teeth, I was reminded of my sophomore year in college, when I would wait until 4 am to walk home from the bar with my friends, unaware that I could leave on my own. I am glad I know that now.

But one thing that doesn’t change with age is how hard it is to remember how big this world is, and how many people are living right alongside me.  This morning, I went to the archaeology museum, and saw the artifacts of Empires I hadn’t thought about since 9th grade world history. Maybe as an American, or just as a person, I can’t comprehend how many lives have come before my own, but it was nice to see their coins and remember that they were here once, too.  

So back to my old friend. She’s an anthropology student, studying trash collection, specifically of the Roma community, in Bulgaria. She started coming to Sofia in 2003, before international phones were ubiquitous and before she knew how to read Cyrillic. On my second to last night in Bulgaria, we went to a Roma wedding, which had some of the garish charms of an American one, but also had kids rollerblading with one skate and propelling themselves with their sneakered foot and cotton candy sellers hanging out on the fringes of the reception. And while I love my friend, I do not always share her propensity to dance with strangers who don’t speak English. So we decided I should go home early, before it got dark, and hail a cab when I left the Roma neighborhood and reached the outskirts of Sofia. She wrote down her address in Cyrillic and told me many times how to find a taxi and also not to look at men directly in the eye. It was a shorter journey than the one she took eight years ago during her first summer in Bulgaria, and one that was also completed without incident. And yet when she returned to her apartment, she told me that she had spent the rest of the wedding worrying about me and wishing she had lent me her phone so I could have texted another wedding guest with news of my safe arrival.

And so we are not as young as we once were. But that’s ok, too.