1989: NOT YOUR COMRADE ANYMORE, An excerpt from an essay shape

1989: NOT YOUR COMRADE ANYMORE, An excerpt from an essay shape

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 11:29

A text by the 2017 creative non-fiction Sozopol Seminars fellow and CapitaLiterature participant Ana Blagova

I remember kindergarten as a gloomy and depressing place – now that I think about it, as the place where the groundwork was laid for out future participation in society. Yes, it was where those wondrous bridges of spaghetti appeared, glued together with water, flour, and salt, and the bright-colored fruits of our labor – apples, pears, and carrots, made from the same mixture, which we painted in industrial quantities and laid out across mini-stalls built from crates, pretending to play "marketplace." But even when it came to that subtle exercise in planned economy, there was something forced about it. In the afternoons, the teachers would make the rounds, inspecting the neat rows of beds for any offenders – I can see you're watching me with one eye open – during the mandatory shut-eye time between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. Once, during roll call, I accidentally got into trouble with the comrade teacher. "Why don't you reply when I call your name, huh?" she turned to the beginning of the row, after repeatedly having asked whether Anna Blagoeva was there. "But I'm not Anna, I'm Ana. And my last name is not Blagoeva," I answered quietly, but with a certain firmness – I'd recently learned my full name. In my child's mind, it seemed quite possible that Anna Blagoeva was another person altogether who hadn't shown up to kindergarten that day. But the comrade teacher yelled at me to stop trying to get attention. That's how I figured out that besides my real name, I also had to keep in mind what she called me.

Of course, the teachers were not personally singling me out. They hated all the children equally, for no particular reason. But in order for the terror they caused to be real, their actions had to also be somewhat arbitrary. Which is why, out of all the children in the kindergarten, they only liked my brother, a plump-cheeked and whiny three-year-old. One day, he fell down and split his chin open, causing a state of emergency. The ambulance sirens were followed by mom and dad's arrival, and he was taken to get stitches before nap time. It was more than obvious that in that crucial moment, I had to be in the hospital with them and couldn't be expected to take an afternoon nap while my brother was bleeding out! But the teachers were completely coldhearted.

All that is why that other day, which must've been in November, was strange. As we crowded together in the obligatory lines to wash our hands in the bathroom, a certain excitement was felt, an excitement higher than the usual frequencies. The boys were practicing their habitual peeking through the bathroom stall windows, but it seemed as though their mind was elsewhere. We all must have been distracted by the way the adults were behaving. They didn't seem to care that the rows of children leading to the sinks were disordered and noisy. It was all so unusual that I decided to step out of the line and approach one of the teachers.

"Comrade, what is happening?"

To which she haughtily replied, "I'm not your comrade anymore. From now on, you'll have to call me miss!"

It seems to me that the color pink appeared with the fall of the Berlin Wall. In any case, I don't remember hearing of anything described as "pink" before that, let alone of anything actually being pink. It was one of those words, together with "super" and "market," which suddenly appeared all over the place, but surprisingly enough nobody questioned, as if they'd always existed. In my mind, this bright and unfamiliar hue will always be connected to a certain event: on the occasion of my first day of school, and as a way of commemorating this new period of my life, mom handed me a special gift. This object, which I without a doubt considered to be very valuable, was in fact a pencil sharpener with a white tin cylinder-shaped receptacle for the pencil shavings, on which tiny pink pencils curled like pretzels were depicted. It was an exquisite thing, and I inferred from my mom's words that my success in life would be directly correlated to keeping the sharpener in proper shape. I stayed true to tradition and, of course, never used it – I didn't want to wear it out, and I never brought it to school, since my pencil case wasn't big enough and the sharpener would've gotten scratched. Just like the new vegetable peeler at home that would never be used, or at least not until the old one with the broken handle was completely wrecked, so that the new one might remain for the progeny to inherit. The only difference was that the pencil sharpener would be mine and mine alone.

 

ANA BLAGOVA was born in 1984 in Sofia. She graduated from the American College in Sofia, obtained a degree in psychology from Sofia University, and then continued with cultural studies in Berlin, Istanbul and back in Sofia. She has worked as a journalist at Dnevnik since 2014.

 

Elizabeth Kostova FoundationTHE ELIZABETH KOS­TOVA FOUNDATION and VAGABOND, Bulgaria's English Monthly, cooperate in order to enrich the English language with translations of contemporary Bulgarian writers and original works of English-language writers emerging from the EKF’s international programs. Every year we give you the chance to read the work of a dozen young and sometimes not-so-young Bulgarian and English-language writers that the EKF considers original, refreshing and valuable. Some of the Bulgarian authors have been translated into English for the first time. Enjoy our fiction and creative non-fiction pages.

Issue 141 Elizabeth Kostova Foundation
0 comments

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
3 + 13 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.

Discover More

CHILDREN OF IMMIGRANTS
Writers often find their true material through the subconscious mind. The obsession that has guided me to my truest writing always emerged more intuitively than consciously.
shadow journey launch washington DC.jpg
A SHADOW JOURNEY GOES TO NEW YORK CITY, WASHINGTON DC
The book is one of the latest publications by the Free Speech International Foundation.

FROM PETERSBURG WITH LOVE, AN EXCERPT FROM A TRAVELOGUE
Russia's former imperial capital captivates visitors with its history, its culture, and the splendid riches of its palaces The dark river flows and does not sleep,
kapka kassabova.jpg
KAPKA KASSABOVA'S BORDER WINS BRITISH ACADEMY'S PRIZE
Border, her memoir-cum-travelogue about Bulgaria's southeastern frontier from Communism to the present, was published in 2017 to international acclaim.

WHEN WE WERE VIKINGS, An excerpt from a travel essay
The sun doesn't set in the summer there so we played cards for hours in the ceaseless twilight; during the daytime, we hiked an old Viking trail. We carried our backpacks through the wilderness and set up camp each night by rivers and waterfalls.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE DISEASE, An excerpt from a memoir
The day I was admitted to the hospital, I just laid there and stared straight ahead—a piece of paper had been stuck to the closet, and the closet was blocking half of the window. Out its other half, I could see some thick black branches.
I'VE BEEN WRONG BEFORE, An excerpt from a memoir
I went out for a run one lightly rainy morning – on Halloween, actually. Movement kept at bay the dreadful sensation that the island hungered to swallow me up, annihilate my spirit.
WAITING FOR THE GOATS: NEW MEMORY FROM OLD BULGARIA, An excerpt from a memoir
My gaze passes onto the other hill, Kalakoch, the kale and its mysterious banks and ditches.
THIS DRUM BEATS LIKE A HEART, A travelogue
I wake up with the increasingly sticky morning heat and the crushing smell of the traditional feijoada's black beans with pork that Suzanna is already stirring in the tiny kitchen. Suzanna is the live-in maid.
THE TEXTURE OF JOY: A STOWAWAY STORY, An excerpt
In many ways, you could say that Justine never really left Ghana, even with all the ships, even with all his time in Bahia. Calling himself Sankofa was just another thread stitching him back to home.
VAGABOND READS
In 2008 we published East of Constantinople/Travels in Unknown Turkey, a travelogue about some of the highlights of one of Europe's most amazing countries.