Emil’s House

I spend a lot of time with another Peace Corps trainee, Alexa, and her host family. Her “parents,” Emil and Ani, have a worldly sophistication and a love of long, slow evenings around the table that reminds me of home.
Emil loves to speak English with us, and Ani seems to understand every word he says. She sits with her arms crossed, adding sardonic Bulgarian bon motes to Emil’s labored discussions on politics, the economy and the cost of utilities in the US vs. Bulgaria. Ani’s delivery is unfailingly dry, and, as my Bulgarian improves, she gets funnier every time I talk to her.
Emil spent time working in England. His voice is deep and deliberate, except when his English fails him, and he vents frustration with a thickly accented “fookin’ ‘ell!”
One lively evening, Emil explained why older Bulgarians, like his father, were happy with communism and resentful of its demise:
“It is like, imagine if you only drink this one kind of beer your whole life.” He pointed to his glass of beer. We were drinking Ariana out of a two-liter plastic bottle. “You think is really good beer. You don’t want anything more.” I agreed emphatically. This analogy had very special resonance for me. “But,” he continued, “I leave, I saw what is life like in Germany, in France, in UK, and I think, there is much better.”
His father, Bocho, took my arm and said, in Bulgarian, “In communism the bribes were under the table. Now they are out in the open!” He laughed and raised his glass with cheer.
A bit later the men took us to meet the animals before they went in the barn.
Emil, Dyado Bocho, Alexa and I form a line through the vegetable beds, up a rickety little ladder, to another patch of the property with a little barn. Three sheep are already inside, they are small and dark and healthy. The cow is munching ever closer to his slaughter weight. He looks at us with his big eyes and his soft little ears on the side of his head.
“What is the cow’s name?” asks Alexa.
“Uh, Johnny.” Emil replies.
“Did you just make that up right this second?”
“Uh, yes.”
The animal I most want to meet is the horse. Even though we’re speaking mostly English, we call him the Bulgarian word for horse, kon. The kon is tired and skinny and annoyed by the two giggly American girls. Dyado Bocho holds the kon’s rope while we stroke his nose. He looks away from us and his ears go back a little bit. I say what I always say when horses are unfriendly to me, except this time in Bulgarian,
“He’s mad because we don’t have any carrots,”
“Markovi? Zashto?” asks Emil, and I reply to feed him, of course. Emil crumples with laughter. At first I think I’m exceptionally clever.
“Markovi??” he asks, breathless and incredulous, “Carrots!”
“Yeah!” Lexi and I are in unison, since it goes without saying that koni love carrots. “No! The kon doesn’t eat carrots!” Emil is still laughing, and he explains to his father in Bulgarian and they both laugh as if we suggested teaching the kon to crochet instead of feeding him carrots.
Now Lexi and I are incredulous, “The kon doesn’t eat carrots? Why not?”
“No no no no,” says Bocho in Bulgarian, “the horse eats corn.” But not carrots? Emil and his father list foods that the kon likes to eat, including cucumbers and cheeseburgers. “Cheeseburgers? Really?” I ask Bocho in Bulgarian and he answers, “Yes, without the meat.” They suggest we give the horse some cheesecake, maybe he will like that. Lexi and I insist that American koni love carrots, and we have a feeling this one would too, and the men laugh even harder at such an outlandish suggestion.
In Bulgarian I ask Emil, “Why don’t you want the horse to eat carrots?”
“Well, because maybe he will turn orange.”
We get back to the table and Emil says to Ani, “Lexi and Huelo want to give carrots to the horse. I told them no, the horse might turn orange.”
“Carrots?” she replies, giggling.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Emil’s House

  1. Now I guess we know why Boone is so orange-red…..

  2. gramps

    What a great story. Give us more as they happen. I especially like the way you told it.

  3. Martyn Dunn

    Yes at OSU Stephen from East Germany missed Communisum too. In 1989 you could fly to Russian for $9.00 everything was much cheeper. But, they did go bankrupt. Boone would gain To much weight on corn. Very well told.

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