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Meet Agita Jaunzeme, Open Sofia’s Lead Project Manager

Meet Agita Jaunzeme

Our fantastic project manager talks about her life in Bulgaria

Written by Agita Jaunzeme, edited by Lina Jarad, photos by Kristina Chimbaraite and Veselin Marinov.

I come from Latvia and to be honest it’s too cold for me there. I fell in love with Bulgarian nature two years ago when I spent 3 days hiking the Central Balkan National Park, which was the most beautiful hike in my life, but coming to live in Bulgaria was a total coincidence. 

After working in the IT field for several years, I quit because of the burnout and started looking for opportunities in other countries. I created a list of countries I was interested in living in, and Bulgaria was on the list, but at the time I was looking towards Slovenia and was planning to go there. Suddenly my friend from an NGO proposed a project in Bulgaria saying they are urgently looking for an Erasmus+ volunteer. I knew I’m going to get accepted so I applied and started packing. 

After that everything went very fast and within a month I had loaded everything in my car and made a road trip to Bulgaria. Since April 2019 I’ve been a volunteer in Smokinya Foundation. 

What would have probably impacted my decision to move to Bulgaria, if I knew it before, is that there are no lakes in Sofia. Without water I can not exist. I love the hot weather but I need to have someplace to go swimming when it’s hot, you know? In Riga, we have access to the sea but we also have several lakes within a walking distance from my home to dip in when it’s sunny and warm. I love the sea but it’s a 3 hours drive from Sofia. And no, the pools with hot water don’t help to cool down in the summer.

I have several funny stories to share but I’ll choose the most recent one when my friends and I were going to a cinema to see an amazing movie, my recent favorite – the Joker. I was driving my car following the Waze app and since we were talking, I didn’t notice my turn but at the last moment I made the left turn from the middle lane. It was in front of the cinema where the police stopped me. As we were going to the movies and I already had a ticket, I didn’t bring my wallet. So at this point I didn’t have an ID or any other document on me as proof of ID or car registration. At the last moment, I found some copies of the old papers for the car somewhere and that’s all I could show. The policeman was very polite and with good English, he took my copies and asked me to step out of the car. 

Agita Jaunzeme at workWe went to their car and he gave everything to his partner who started filing some paperwork. Meanwhile the policeman started asking me questions like where I’m from and what am I doing here and why I have a car with Bulgarian plates. I explained everything mentioning that the copies of my documents that I have been because I had to register the car in BG so I made some additional copies because I know that in BG you need extra papers just in case. And I said that I’m a volunteer at Smokinya and we’re doing youth work, events, and festivals and that’s when he suddenly stopped, looked at me and said: hey, you’re a good person, just go, and take your documents with you next time.

Mr. Police Officer – if you are reading this, thank you so much again, and feel free to join our events!

Since I was looking for an escape from the office work to invest my time in a good cause I have found many ways to do that here. Volunteering at Smokinya helped me to carry out some projects like organizing a festival, video making workshop series, documentary screenings, storytelling nights, and many more events that I’m super happy about. It’s a huge change in my life to do something I love for a living. Besides that I have found many other opportunities to do something meaningful – like the Open Sofia project. I’m proud to be a part of the driving force behind this initiative. I’m excited to work with the amazing team of people making Sofia a better place to live. 

The greatest impact on my life has been created by people here. I have found communities of like-minded folks as Sofia is so diverse that you can basically find any type of people and live any kind of life here. There are Facebook groups, events, places for all kinds of music, hobbies, and interests. To explore more I was volunteering around at festivals and big events – Sofia Pride, Empatheast festival, Beglika fest, щък тук-там – skateboarding festival where I met a lot of locals. I also met a lot of other E+ volunteers from different parts of Bulgaria, so I could explore even further.

Agita Jaunzeme meditatesI found bars and places I like for music and dancing. This was very easy, the first 6 months here I was just going out and having fun and meeting many people. And maybe this is the biggest change in my life – I switched the ‘party’ life to more like a ‘hippie’ life. I did soul searching and I decided to focus on being more in sync with myself. I started exploring nature instead of bars. I met people from different communities around Bulgaria, from permaculture farms, people who are living, thinking, and loving differently. Then I started to express my creativity by organizing all the events and so on. So I appreciate where I am now and I enjoy closer connections with people.

I’m definitely not considering moving back to Latvia but also staying in Sofia doesn’t seem an option for me because I’m a traveler, I’m on a journey to explore the world so I have the next destination in mind. 

I have met so many amazing people in Sofia – I’ve found a family and friends here and my heart will stay with these people forever. But even these guys are moving around a lot, people I’ve met here are planning to move on, we’re all exploring so I’m not sad to say goodbye, wherever I go I’ll be surrounded by wonderful people and I’m grateful for everyone I’ve met in Sofia ❤️

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