I haven't slept in two days. A vacuum hums in the background of Sofia's empty airport and bumps about in the hollow of my jet-lagged head. It seems that every Eastern European country I have visited is somewhat devoid of tourists. I love this. I simply relish a quiet environment. Treasure troves of historic culture patiently await, untouched by Western tourism. As a sixteen-year-old girl crossing the border into Romania, I remember the fascination of a middle-aged, pot bellied guard with my "yellow" hair as he called it. "Please bring more people next time you visit," he begged in his thick accent, patting my head. Driving through the countryside was like a fairy tale. Little old ladies with scarves wrapped around their heads swept the walkways to their cottages with a homemade broom. Chickens scurried around on farms where crops struggled to push through the clay.
I expect that Sofia will be decked out in modern, metropolitan style as much as any other European capital. Yet I anticipate the stark contrast between her pomp and her poverty. Even as I sit here on this airport bench, typing on my MacBook, I am drawing the long stares of native bystanders. It's not like siren-red laptops are commonplace here. I was warned that I would need about three months to feel worthy again of American luxuries upon returning - surely an indicator of what I'm about to witness.