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Доклад на зелената амеба за химическия молив
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978-619-150-510-4
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16 February 2015

The Red and Blue Report of the Green Ameba

Is there such a thing as a green ameba? Sure there is, if we look through the multi-colored lense of an excellent student and active member of the socialist pioneer organization. And especially if the time is 1989 and the place – an international summer camp in North Korea. Alexandra, a 13-year-old Bulgarian, leaves for the DPRK with the assignment to keep a detailed diary and instructions to write a report about her stay. But why does the report come out red and blue? The answer is simple – in socialist Bulgaria, copying pencils were red on one end, blue on the other. The colors are indelible if mixed with water, but somehow manage to clash unmixably in the face of Bulgaria's opposing political affiliations. Alexandra comes home to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and her world will never be the same.

About the Author
Velina  Minkoff

Velina Minkoff was born in Sofia in 1974. She has a Bachelor's degree in English from UCLA with a track in Creative Writing – Fiction. She is the author of Red Shorts (2001) a collection of short stories in English and The Red and Blue Report of the Green Ameba (2015) a novel, in Bulgarian. She has a Master's degree in European Studies from the University of Amsterdam and is a member of the Bulgarian Translators Union. In 2014, she was a Bulgarian language fellow at the annual Sozopol Fiction Seminar of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation. She lives in Paris with her French husband and their two sons, where she teaches English, freelances as a translator and editor and moonlights as a writer.

More Books from this Author
Excerpt

The Red and Blue Report of the Green Ameba, a novel by Velina Minkoff

1.
We finished 6th grade. I had just one B in my final transcript, all because of the horrible biology teacher. The rest was all As. I studied my head off, but it was worth it. And still, I didn’t get elected for any kind of post in our pioneer organization. I was the banner assistant for two years in a row already. That means one of the two girls marching on either side of the boy carrying the school flag at official school ceremonies, and it was only because I met the requirement of being as tall as him. I was obviously no good for serious pioneer work. They called me a “foreign worshiper” because I studied English at the Alliance Language School after class and I took private lessons in French.
In school, however, Russian was my favorite subject. I was lucky to have comrade Ivanova, the Russian teacher, take my side. She ordered our pioneer organization head to establish the International Comradeship Club, or the ICC, in order to appoint me its chairperson. Ivanova told me the children of the world should speak languages in order to communicate effectively with each other in the struggle for nuclear disarmament. And that Russian was the official language of half the globe and I should continue studying it with diligence. I think she was really mad at the whole class – even after all these years of mandatory Russian in school, nobody could conjugate a verb correctly or recite a Russian poem, let alone sing a Russian song.
The ICC never really started any activities during the school year, as nobody explained to me exactly what I was supposed to do as its chairperson. Foreign kids came to Bulgaria only in summer, in fact only when there was a Banner of Peace International Children’s Assembly, every four years or so. Comrade Ivanova told me to draw inspiration from the extra-curricular activities at the Pioneer’s Palace. It was true that I was enlisted at the Pioneer’s Palace, but only for one activity, and that was Modern Stage Dance, which I wasn’t too sure how to apply to my new post.
Then Ivanova gave me letters from Soviet schoolchildren who were looking for Bulgarian pen pals. I distributed them among my fellow students in our class, but it never became clear who had replied to whom. I started a correspondence with Natasha from Leningrad, to practice my Russian. Soviet children have beautiful handwriting, but the things they talk about in their letters are not very interesting.
At the end of the school year, Ivanova called my parents into her office to talk to them about me. I was ill at ease all evening, but they came home quite happy. The comrade had told them how serious I was about her subject and about the club I had been appointed chairperson of. How, in order to gain experience in developing pioneer activities on an international scale, it would be good for me to go to an international pioneer camp. There were many such camps – in Hungary, the GDR, Czechoslovakia, France, Cuba, the USSR… But it was imperative to have connections in the Central Committee of the Komsomol. My parents had none, so they gladly accepted Ivanova’s offer to call an acquaintance of her brother who worked in the camp section. I wouldn’t be able to choose, I should be grateful if they find me a spot for anywhere. But as I was an excellent student and a pioneer activist, I stood a chance.
   Well, maybe if I had been a straight-A student I would have stood an even better chance. The biology teacher was the most obnoxious teacher ever. At first her hair was white, then it became baby blue and there were always disgusting things glued to her rotting front teeth – she obviously never brushed them. I had asked her to quiz me so I could get an A for the class and I had learned all the required stuff about the one-celled organisms really well. She agreed and I started speaking, but at one point I got confused and instead of saying that the green euglena photosynthesizes, I blurted out that the green amoeba photosynthesizes. And the amoeba is neither green, nor does it photosynthesize. The biology teacher told me to sit down with a B for the class for memorizing the lessons without trying to understand them.

2.
My mom got a phone call from the Central Committee of the Komsomol and was told I would be leaving for Korea. She was thrilled, as she hadn’t expected them to send me so far away – after all, it was a true stroke of luck for me to have the opportunity to see another continent. A night in Moscow on the way there and one on the way back, Pyongyang through Khabarovsk, three days in Pyongyang and two weeks in an international pioneer camp near the town of Wonsan on the Sea of Japan.
I couldn’t believe it. They called me into the Komsomol with my parents and comrade Arkadiev, who was going to be our group leader, asked me about school and then we had a chat in Russian. There would be children from the entire Socialist Bloc in the Korean camp and the official language would be Russian. Comrade Arkadiev had a large, fair face and blue eyes – he actually looked like a Russian himself. He told us our group would consist of six children, three boys and three girls, all of us excellent students and pioneer activists. There would be two group leaders, Arkadiev and another comrade by the name of Gaidarski, whom we would meet at the preparation camp in the mountains.
It was a really busy period for them at the moment, because a delegation from the Central Committee of the Komsomol was about to leave for the 13th International Festival of Youth and Students in Pyongyang, that was why the prep camp wouldn’t start until the following week. Arkadiev turned out to be my parents’ age and together they reminisced about the 9th International Festival of Youth and Students, which had taken place in Sofia many years ago, when they were young. But Arkadiev pointed out that in Pyongyang the festival building projects were way grander than the ones in Sofia had been, and that the festival would be the biggest in the world to date. Our group wasn’t going, though, because we were only pioneers, not yet part of the Komsomol, therefore not considered “youth.”

3.
The preparation camp in the mountains took place in a huge holiday rest home with spacious, sunny premises. There were groups preparing to leave for differrent countries. Lots of children, all of them clearly straight-A students and Pioneer Detachment leaders. There was a class of high school kids from the Сivil Engineering College, who were there for educational practice. Our two leaders called the six of us from our group to the main lobby to introduce us to each other. After all, we were about to spend a month together. I insisted, as usual, that they call me Alexandra. Not Sasha, I hated that, I only let Granma get away with it. I had managed to dissuade Comrade Ivanova from adressing me in that way, although it did sound very Russian. At the Alliance Language School some morons started calling me first Sandra, then Alex, it was hard to get them trained. Here it was important for me to put my foot down from the start.
Unfortunately, the boys in the group looked pretty scary. They were a bit older, but one could hardly tell. Atanas was short and wore glasses; Peter was tall and dark, but with scraggy features and quite clumsy. Stoyan could have looked alright if it wasn’t for his greasy, crumpled hair. He had  zits, too, as he had just finished eighth grade. The other two girls, sixth graders like me, were from different schools and didn’t know each other from before. Rossitza was tall and skinny, with light-colored hair in a bob cut. Svetla was shorter, with feminine curves and a dark ponytail. Foreign languages weren’t their thing, they spoke only a bit of Russian. They both said they were being sent to international camp for their active pioneer work. Rossitza was responsible for mass culture activities, while Svetla was a pioneer unit head. Their grades were not mentioned. I felt ashamed that I had no pioneer activities to boast about. And I wasn’t a straight-A student because of the nasty biology teacher.
Our second group leader, comrade Gaidarski, was there, too. He was dark and skinny, with an Elvis Presley hairstyle and a sharp, hook-shaped nose. He had long fingernails on one hand because he played the guitar. Our leaders told us not bring clothes with western writing on them on the trip, because it would offend the Koreans. They gave us white T-shirts with red Bulgarian letters on them saying: Memory International Youth Relay Race, so we would have something like a uniform if we ever needed to dress identically, but not as pioneers. I asked what that relay race was, but nobody could explain. There were simply eight identical T-shirts with Bulgarian writing on them and they had been assigned to our group. We were supposed to stock up on all sorts of Bulgarian souvenirs and exchange them with our foreign comrades. We learned and practiced a pioneer brigade song called Ears of Wheat Shine Before Us for the Bulgarian concert at the camp. It is about our homeland’s abundant agricultural produce.
However, the Civil Engineering high school students seemed to be having much more fun than we were. Early in the morning, before their courses in some kind of technical subjects began, a long-haired beauty with succulent lips would lie on a mat on the huge terrace that looked out onto the mountain forest and teach an aerobics class for the girls from their group. The boys would line up along the windows outside, smoking in secret. Sometimes they would even take their breakfast plates from cantine outside so they would’t miss a thing. They had three teachers who were quite young and obviously didn’t mind.
The three of us with Rossi and Svetla decided to go and meet the aerobics beauty. Her name was Sylvia, like in the song by the Argirov Brothers. We would get up early on purpose, as soon as we heard the music from her portable cassette player, and stare in awe as she moved her perfect purple leotard-clad body. The rest of the girls from Civil Engineering also wore either leotards or brightly-colored pantyhose and huge T-shirts with western writing on them.
As if that wasn’t enough, first one, then two and so on Civil Engineering girls would show up in the morning with new, short and spiky haircuts, just like Madonna’s. They said Sylvia cut their hair in the bathrooom. Then they would ask the boys for some shaving cream (which meant their boys were already shaving) and they would spread it on their tresses in an upward motion. The effect was astounding. The next day the three of us begged Sylvia to cut our hair in the bathroom as well.
That same evening, our last at prep camp, the high school students from Civil Engineering threw a party in the canteen and several of their boys asked us to dance. The new haircuts were a very good idea. Arkadiev and Gaidarski didn’t approve, they even said we may not be allowed to go to Korea with such hair. But they probably said it just to cheer up our stupid boys who sat around and gave us mean looks the whole evening because we had refused to play Truth or Dare with them.

4.
Back home in Sofia, I kept thinking about what a blast we had at the awesome prep camp. We hadn’t prepared much for Korea, but it was amazing. However, there was no time to daydream. Comrade Ivanova, the Russian teacher, whom I had forgotten about, called to tell me that she had already spoken to my parents, but she wanted to tell me personally as well, that I was extremely lucky to get a spot for international camp. Also, it was of utmost importance for me to keep a detailed diary. For an A student like me that shouldn’t be a problem. With my experience from the international pioneer camp in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, probably the most developed socialist country in the world, I should be able to plan and organize the future activities of the ICC. And during my visit the USSR, I was to give her best regards to her beloved Moscow, where she had gone to school, and drink a big glass of kefir for her. Without, of course, forgetting to provide a detailed description of everything in my diary. That way, I could tell her all about my trip without leaving anything out and write a report for Russian class.
            I felt quite intrigued and I couldn’t wait to see Moscow. For the first time, I felt a warm tone in the voice of comrade Ivanova, who mercilessly quizzed everyone she caught chatting in class and sent directly to the headmaster anyone who came in late or chewed gum. I was glad I was her favorite.
My mother and I walked around Sofia looking for souvenirs. It wasn’t easy. There weren’t that many souvenirs around. The group leaders had said everything that was Bulgarian or with Bulgarian writing on it could be considered a souvenir. In the underpass of the Central Department Store, they had handkerchiefs with boys and girls in traditional folk dress and rose oil in wooden flaskets. We also bought a few blue glass “horse” beads on leather straps.
The bookstore didn’t have a very large selection of postcards, but they had copying pencils. Half-red and half-blue, the pencil is supposed to be sharpened from both ends. And if the lead is moistened with saliva, the red and blue become watercolor paints, completely indelible. Red and blue is an incredible color combination. The pencils said Homeland on them and were sure to blow the minds of the foreign comrades.
There were eleven pencils in the bookstore and we wanted to get them all, but the saleswoman didn’t let us buy more than half, so as not to create deficit. My mom explained to her that I was leaving for international pioneer camp and that from the Central Committee of the Komsomol they had instructed us to acquire Bulgarian souvenirs. That we had spent the whole day loooking all over town and we had managed to find very few things. The saleswoman first said this was none of her concern, but then she agreed to sell us all the pencils.
From the same bookstore, I bought an 80-page notebook in which to keep my diary, as they didn’t have any real diaries with dates in them. I would write the dates in myself. According to mom that was better, because in real diaries the space provided for a date was never enough for everything one wanted to say. She had kept a diary when she was little. When we got home, I made a book cover for my new diary out of the weekly satirical newspaper Vespid Wasp, so I could demonstrate the Bulgarian alphabet along with a few cool drawings.
Granma saw me and said it was very ugly. I liked it, because in school we weren’t allowed to cover our notebooks with newspaper and school was out for summer, after all. By way of excuse I said I had nothing else handy. Granma went to the kitchen and came back with some green packing paper. She said that at the store they had wrapped her a lump of brined curd white cheese in several sheets and the topmost one was perfectly clean and a nice color. I thought it was a bit gross, it smelled of brine and the local grocer’s, but I covered my noteboook with it anyway, over the newspaper. I even glued a label on it and Granma was happy. I didn’t bother filling out the label, as I thought that when I leave, could remove the green paper and have the Vespid Wasp cover again. Otherwise my diary would just look like a schoolbook.
That evening I started packing, careful not to take any clothing with western writing. Dad sat down and started explaining to me that I should be very careful what I write in my diary, because anyone could read it. That I would be better off describing the things I liked, not the ones I didn’t, because Bulgaria and Korea were fraternal countries. If I met French people, it was no problem to practice my French with them, because we were comrades with France at the moment. But if I wanted to practice my English, I absolutely should not speak to Americans. Other English-speaking nationalities were fine, but Americans were not to be trusted, especially when they travelled in socialist countries. I didn’t really understand why. Americans seemed like very nice people with positive qualities, especially Eddy Murphy in The Beverly Hills Cop and Madonna in Who’s That Girl?
5.
The day of our departure finally arrived. At the airport, Arkadiev and Gaidarski took over from our parents and I started my diary as soon as I sat down in the plane. I was about to remove the green packing paper cover, but it made me think of Granma and I missed her already, so I left it. I wrote on the label:
The Diary of Alexandra N. Georgieva, seventh grade student from Sofia, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria.

Sunday, July 16, 1989

We are flying. The clouds we are flying over are very beautiful, it looks like Heaven. Otherwise, my first flight ever in my life, Sofia-Moscow with the Soviet airline Aeroflot, duration 2 hours and 30 minutes (from 16h30 to 19h00, 20h00 local time) and very rude stewardesses. They scolded us in Russian if somebody hadn’t finished their tea or got up to go to the bathroom. We landed at Sheremetievo airport. Instead of a detachable staircase onto the runway, buses and what-not like in Sofia, we exited the plane through a tube straight into a huge, dark but really wonderful, very crowded airport. We felt like we had been transported into the future.
After picking up our luggage (which, for some reason didn’t fly directly to Pyongyang, but came to Moscow) we filled out something called customs forms and then went into an office where we changed money – 29 rulbles and 30 kopeck. Then we hung out for half an hour while the leaders arranged something with the embassy. I met two very nice Americans from Washington, D.C. They started asking me where we were from and where we were going and I told them all about our Bulgarian pioneer organization and the international camp in Korea. One of them asked which Korea, North or South, but I didn’t know, I just knew it was called the DPRK. They explained to me that was the communist Korea, the North, while the South was a capitalist country. That’s clear, then, we’re going to the frateral communist one, North Korea.
The weather in Moscow was wet and cold, there was a huge electronic thermometer that said 13°C. We had to put on some overclothes. My jacket was at the very bottom of my suitcase and I had to take everything out to get to it. Mom had insisted I take it, even though I didn’t want to. It was boiling hot in Sofia before we left. Then we got into a van, which arrived especially for us from the Bulgarian Embassy in Moscow. I really liked everything we saw during the half-hour drive. It looked like Bulgaria, but significantly enlarged. The embassy is a really modern and beautiful building.
They put us three girls in apartment numer 701, which is the coolest! Everything is dark green and dark brown. Including the bathroom tiles. The bathroom itself is amazing – it has a bathtub. We immediately started arguing who would fill it up with hot water first, we were all frozen. The living room was great as well, with a velvet couch, a coffee table, a desk and bookshelves. There is a big Gorizont TV set with a great image. There is also a big mirror in the living room and a fridge that works. But it’s empty.
The bedroom is separated from the living room with a brown velvet curtain and has a double bed inside. We started arguing again about who would sleep on the couch, because we all wanted to sleep in front of the TV. We switched it on and watched Soviet television. In Bulgaria they broadcast it directly every Friday and I never watch it because it’s boring. But we were in the USSR now! We watched for a while, then we decided to go out on the terrace and admire the Moscow skyline. We got cold and went back inside. I wonder why they had to build such a big terrace when the weather is so bad.

The Red and Blue Report of the Green Ameba, a novel by Velina Minkoff

1.
We finished 6th grade. I had just one B in my final transcript, all because of the horrible biology teacher. The rest was all As. I studied my head off, but it was worth it. And still, I didn’t get elected for any kind of post in our pioneer organization. I was the banner assistant for two years in a row already. That means one of the two girls marching on either side of the boy carrying the school flag at official school ceremonies, and it was only because I met the requirement of being as tall as him. I was obviously no good for serious pioneer work. They called me a “foreign worshiper” because I studied English at the Alliance Language School after class and I took private lessons in French.
In school, however, Russian was my favorite subject. I was lucky to have comrade Ivanova, the Russian teacher, take my side. She ordered our pioneer organization head to establish the International Comradeship Club, or the ICC, in order to appoint me its chairperson. Ivanova told me the children of the world should speak languages in order to communicate effectively with each other in the struggle for nuclear disarmament. And that Russian was the official language of half the globe and I should continue studying it with diligence. I think she was really mad at the whole class – even after all these years of mandatory Russian in school, nobody could conjugate a verb correctly or recite a Russian poem, let alone sing a Russian song.
The ICC never really started any activities during the school year, as nobody explained to me exactly what I was supposed to do as its chairperson. Foreign kids came to Bulgaria only in summer, in fact only when there was a Banner of Peace International Children’s Assembly, every four years or so. Comrade Ivanova told me to draw inspiration from the extra-curricular activities at the Pioneer’s Palace. It was true that I was enlisted at the Pioneer’s Palace, but only for one activity, and that was Modern Stage Dance, which I wasn’t too sure how to apply to my new post.
Then Ivanova gave me letters from Soviet schoolchildren who were looking for Bulgarian pen pals. I distributed them among my fellow students in our class, but it never became clear who had replied to whom. I started a correspondence with Natasha from Leningrad, to practice my Russian. Soviet children have beautiful handwriting, but the things they talk about in their letters are not very interesting.
At the end of the school year, Ivanova called my parents into her office to talk to them about me. I was ill at ease all evening, but they came home quite happy. The comrade had told them how serious I was about her subject and about the club I had been appointed chairperson of. How, in order to gain experience in developing pioneer activities on an international scale, it would be good for me to go to an international pioneer camp. There were many such camps – in Hungary, the GDR, Czechoslovakia, France, Cuba, the USSR… But it was imperative to have connections in the Central Committee of the Komsomol. My parents had none, so they gladly accepted Ivanova’s offer to call an acquaintance of her brother who worked in the camp section. I wouldn’t be able to choose, I should be grateful if they find me a spot for anywhere. But as I was an excellent student and a pioneer activist, I stood a chance.
   Well, maybe if I had been a straight-A student I would have stood an even better chance. The biology teacher was the most obnoxious teacher ever. At first her hair was white, then it became baby blue and there were always disgusting things glued to her rotting front teeth – she obviously never brushed them. I had asked her to quiz me so I could get an A for the class and I had learned all the required stuff about the one-celled organisms really well. She agreed and I started speaking, but at one point I got confused and instead of saying that the green euglena photosynthesizes, I blurted out that the green amoeba photosynthesizes. And the amoeba is neither green, nor does it photosynthesize. The biology teacher told me to sit down with a B for the class for memorizing the lessons without trying to understand them.

2.
My mom got a phone call from the Central Committee of the Komsomol and was told I would be leaving for Korea. She was thrilled, as she hadn’t expected them to send me so far away – after all, it was a true stroke of luck for me to have the opportunity to see another continent. A night in Moscow on the way there and one on the way back, Pyongyang through Khabarovsk, three days in Pyongyang and two weeks in an international pioneer camp near the town of Wonsan on the Sea of Japan.
I couldn’t believe it. They called me into the Komsomol with my parents and comrade Arkadiev, who was going to be our group leader, asked me about school and then we had a chat in Russian. There would be children from the entire Socialist Bloc in the Korean camp and the official language would be Russian. Comrade Arkadiev had a large, fair face and blue eyes – he actually looked like a Russian himself. He told us our group would consist of six children, three boys and three girls, all of us excellent students and pioneer activists. There would be two group leaders, Arkadiev and another comrade by the name of Gaidarski, whom we would meet at the preparation camp in the mountains.
It was a really busy period for them at the moment, because a delegation from the Central Committee of the Komsomol was about to leave for the 13th International Festival of Youth and Students in Pyongyang, that was why the prep camp wouldn’t start until the following week. Arkadiev turned out to be my parents’ age and together they reminisced about the 9th International Festival of Youth and Students, which had taken place in Sofia many years ago, when they were young. But Arkadiev pointed out that in Pyongyang the festival building projects were way grander than the ones in Sofia had been, and that the festival would be the biggest in the world to date. Our group wasn’t going, though, because we were only pioneers, not yet part of the Komsomol, therefore not considered “youth.”

3.
The preparation camp in the mountains took place in a huge holiday rest home with spacious, sunny premises. There were groups preparing to leave for differrent countries. Lots of children, all of them clearly straight-A students and Pioneer Detachment leaders. There was a class of high school kids from the Сivil Engineering College, who were there for educational practice. Our two leaders called the six of us from our group to the main lobby to introduce us to each other. After all, we were about to spend a month together. I insisted, as usual, that they call me Alexandra. Not Sasha, I hated that, I only let Granma get away with it. I had managed to dissuade Comrade Ivanova from adressing me in that way, although it did sound very Russian. At the Alliance Language School some morons started calling me first Sandra, then Alex, it was hard to get them trained. Here it was important for me to put my foot down from the start.
Unfortunately, the boys in the group looked pretty scary. They were a bit older, but one could hardly tell. Atanas was short and wore glasses; Peter was tall and dark, but with scraggy features and quite clumsy. Stoyan could have looked alright if it wasn’t for his greasy, crumpled hair. He had  zits, too, as he had just finished eighth grade. The other two girls, sixth graders like me, were from different schools and didn’t know each other from before. Rossitza was tall and skinny, with light-colored hair in a bob cut. Svetla was shorter, with feminine curves and a dark ponytail. Foreign languages weren’t their thing, they spoke only a bit of Russian. They both said they were being sent to international camp for their active pioneer work. Rossitza was responsible for mass culture activities, while Svetla was a pioneer unit head. Their grades were not mentioned. I felt ashamed that I had no pioneer activities to boast about. And I wasn’t a straight-A student because of the nasty biology teacher.
Our second group leader, comrade Gaidarski, was there, too. He was dark and skinny, with an Elvis Presley hairstyle and a sharp, hook-shaped nose. He had long fingernails on one hand because he played the guitar. Our leaders told us not bring clothes with western writing on them on the trip, because it would offend the Koreans. They gave us white T-shirts with red Bulgarian letters on them saying: Memory International Youth Relay Race, so we would have something like a uniform if we ever needed to dress identically, but not as pioneers. I asked what that relay race was, but nobody could explain. There were simply eight identical T-shirts with Bulgarian writing on them and they had been assigned to our group. We were supposed to stock up on all sorts of Bulgarian souvenirs and exchange them with our foreign comrades. We learned and practiced a pioneer brigade song called Ears of Wheat Shine Before Us for the Bulgarian concert at the camp. It is about our homeland’s abundant agricultural produce.
However, the Civil Engineering high school students seemed to be having much more fun than we were. Early in the morning, before their courses in some kind of technical subjects began, a long-haired beauty with succulent lips would lie on a mat on the huge terrace that looked out onto the mountain forest and teach an aerobics class for the girls from their group. The boys would line up along the windows outside, smoking in secret. Sometimes they would even take their breakfast plates from cantine outside so they would’t miss a thing. They had three teachers who were quite young and obviously didn’t mind.
The three of us with Rossi and Svetla decided to go and meet the aerobics beauty. Her name was Sylvia, like in the song by the Argirov Brothers. We would get up early on purpose, as soon as we heard the music from her portable cassette player, and stare in awe as she moved her perfect purple leotard-clad body. The rest of the girls from Civil Engineering also wore either leotards or brightly-colored pantyhose and huge T-shirts with western writing on them.
As if that wasn’t enough, first one, then two and so on Civil Engineering girls would show up in the morning with new, short and spiky haircuts, just like Madonna’s. They said Sylvia cut their hair in the bathrooom. Then they would ask the boys for some shaving cream (which meant their boys were already shaving) and they would spread it on their tresses in an upward motion. The effect was astounding. The next day the three of us begged Sylvia to cut our hair in the bathroom as well.
That same evening, our last at prep camp, the high school students from Civil Engineering threw a party in the canteen and several of their boys asked us to dance. The new haircuts were a very good idea. Arkadiev and Gaidarski didn’t approve, they even said we may not be allowed to go to Korea with such hair. But they probably said it just to cheer up our stupid boys who sat around and gave us mean looks the whole evening because we had refused to play Truth or Dare with them.

4.
Back home in Sofia, I kept thinking about what a blast we had at the awesome prep camp. We hadn’t prepared much for Korea, but it was amazing. However, there was no time to daydream. Comrade Ivanova, the Russian teacher, whom I had forgotten about, called to tell me that she had already spoken to my parents, but she wanted to tell me personally as well, that I was extremely lucky to get a spot for international camp. Also, it was of utmost importance for me to keep a detailed diary. For an A student like me that shouldn’t be a problem. With my experience from the international pioneer camp in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, probably the most developed socialist country in the world, I should be able to plan and organize the future activities of the ICC. And during my visit the USSR, I was to give her best regards to her beloved Moscow, where she had gone to school, and drink a big glass of kefir for her. Without, of course, forgetting to provide a detailed description of everything in my diary. That way, I could tell her all about my trip without leaving anything out and write a report for Russian class.
            I felt quite intrigued and I couldn’t wait to see Moscow. For the first time, I felt a warm tone in the voice of comrade Ivanova, who mercilessly quizzed everyone she caught chatting in class and sent directly to the headmaster anyone who came in late or chewed gum. I was glad I was her favorite.
My mother and I walked around Sofia looking for souvenirs. It wasn’t easy. There weren’t that many souvenirs around. The group leaders had said everything that was Bulgarian or with Bulgarian writing on it could be considered a souvenir. In the underpass of the Central Department Store, they had handkerchiefs with boys and girls in traditional folk dress and rose oil in wooden flaskets. We also bought a few blue glass “horse” beads on leather straps.
The bookstore didn’t have a very large selection of postcards, but they had copying pencils. Half-red and half-blue, the pencil is supposed to be sharpened from both ends. And if the lead is moistened with saliva, the red and blue become watercolor paints, completely indelible. Red and blue is an incredible color combination. The pencils said Homeland on them and were sure to blow the minds of the foreign comrades.
There were eleven pencils in the bookstore and we wanted to get them all, but the saleswoman didn’t let us buy more than half, so as not to create deficit. My mom explained to her that I was leaving for international pioneer camp and that from the Central Committee of the Komsomol they had instructed us to acquire Bulgarian souvenirs. That we had spent the whole day loooking all over town and we had managed to find very few things. The saleswoman first said this was none of her concern, but then she agreed to sell us all the pencils.
From the same bookstore, I bought an 80-page notebook in which to keep my diary, as they didn’t have any real diaries with dates in them. I would write the dates in myself. According to mom that was better, because in real diaries the space provided for a date was never enough for everything one wanted to say. She had kept a diary when she was little. When we got home, I made a book cover for my new diary out of the weekly satirical newspaper Vespid Wasp, so I could demonstrate the Bulgarian alphabet along with a few cool drawings.
Granma saw me and said it was very ugly. I liked it, because in school we weren’t allowed to cover our notebooks with newspaper and school was out for summer, after all. By way of excuse I said I had nothing else handy. Granma went to the kitchen and came back with some green packing paper. She said that at the store they had wrapped her a lump of brined curd white cheese in several sheets and the topmost one was perfectly clean and a nice color. I thought it was a bit gross, it smelled of brine and the local grocer’s, but I covered my noteboook with it anyway, over the newspaper. I even glued a label on it and Granma was happy. I didn’t bother filling out the label, as I thought that when I leave, could remove the green paper and have the Vespid Wasp cover again. Otherwise my diary would just look like a schoolbook.
That evening I started packing, careful not to take any clothing with western writing. Dad sat down and started explaining to me that I should be very careful what I write in my diary, because anyone could read it. That I would be better off describing the things I liked, not the ones I didn’t, because Bulgaria and Korea were fraternal countries. If I met French people, it was no problem to practice my French with them, because we were comrades with France at the moment. But if I wanted to practice my English, I absolutely should not speak to Americans. Other English-speaking nationalities were fine, but Americans were not to be trusted, especially when they travelled in socialist countries. I didn’t really understand why. Americans seemed like very nice people with positive qualities, especially Eddy Murphy in The Beverly Hills Cop and Madonna in Who’s That Girl?
5.
The day of our departure finally arrived. At the airport, Arkadiev and Gaidarski took over from our parents and I started my diary as soon as I sat down in the plane. I was about to remove the green packing paper cover, but it made me think of Granma and I missed her already, so I left it. I wrote on the label:
The Diary of Alexandra N. Georgieva, seventh grade student from Sofia, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria.

Sunday, July 16, 1989

We are flying. The clouds we are flying over are very beautiful, it looks like Heaven. Otherwise, my first flight ever in my life, Sofia-Moscow with the Soviet airline Aeroflot, duration 2 hours and 30 minutes (from 16h30 to 19h00, 20h00 local time) and very rude stewardesses. They scolded us in Russian if somebody hadn’t finished their tea or got up to go to the bathroom. We landed at Sheremetievo airport. Instead of a detachable staircase onto the runway, buses and what-not like in Sofia, we exited the plane through a tube straight into a huge, dark but really wonderful, very crowded airport. We felt like we had been transported into the future.
After picking up our luggage (which, for some reason didn’t fly directly to Pyongyang, but came to Moscow) we filled out something called customs forms and then went into an office where we changed money – 29 rulbles and 30 kopeck. Then we hung out for half an hour while the leaders arranged something with the embassy. I met two very nice Americans from Washington, D.C. They started asking me where we were from and where we were going and I told them all about our Bulgarian pioneer organization and the international camp in Korea. One of them asked which Korea, North or South, but I didn’t know, I just knew it was called the DPRK. They explained to me that was the communist Korea, the North, while the South was a capitalist country. That’s clear, then, we’re going to the frateral communist one, North Korea.
The weather in Moscow was wet and cold, there was a huge electronic thermometer that said 13°C. We had to put on some overclothes. My jacket was at the very bottom of my suitcase and I had to take everything out to get to it. Mom had insisted I take it, even though I didn’t want to. It was boiling hot in Sofia before we left. Then we got into a van, which arrived especially for us from the Bulgarian Embassy in Moscow. I really liked everything we saw during the half-hour drive. It looked like Bulgaria, but significantly enlarged. The embassy is a really modern and beautiful building.
They put us three girls in apartment numer 701, which is the coolest! Everything is dark green and dark brown. Including the bathroom tiles. The bathroom itself is amazing – it has a bathtub. We immediately started arguing who would fill it up with hot water first, we were all frozen. The living room was great as well, with a velvet couch, a coffee table, a desk and bookshelves. There is a big Gorizont TV set with a great image. There is also a big mirror in the living room and a fridge that works. But it’s empty.
The bedroom is separated from the living room with a brown velvet curtain and has a double bed inside. We started arguing again about who would sleep on the couch, because we all wanted to sleep in front of the TV. We switched it on and watched Soviet television. In Bulgaria they broadcast it directly every Friday and I never watch it because it’s boring. But we were in the USSR now! We watched for a while, then we decided to go out on the terrace and admire the Moscow skyline. We got cold and went back inside. I wonder why they had to build such a big terrace when the weather is so bad.

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