A Few Things You Don't Know About Yourself

Rene Karabash
Mai 05, 2021
I’m coming from this little village Alexandrovo, near Lovech, where I lived and studied until the 7th grade. When I was little I hated going to the kinder garden. For the few days I actually spent there I managed to hurt Ico’s face with a wooden cube, and while being examined for intestinal worms, I ran away screaming ‘fool’ at the top of my lungs at our teacher. I remember she was deeply offended by it – I still didn’t know what ‘an insult’ was at that time, but I sure knew what fear is. I learned the alphabet and how to write at home while my mother was taking care of my newborn sister. Then I started going to school. My mum – the school’s Chief Accountant, and my grandmother – a secretary (also there) in charge of the typewriter that she printed my first poems on. She put them in a folder with the name ‘Folder’ written on it – the first collection of poems of mine. The kids at school were gossiping that my mother was writing them for me. Well, for what it’s worth, they were right – the poems were written by someone else. But it wasn’t my mother. That someone was dictating to me every day when I was completely alone in my room. I was the only one hearing them.

My class was like a microscope of our village – it consisted of Vlachs, Bulgarian and Turkish kids. This is where I got my little knowledge of Vlachs and Turkish. Well, what I know in these languages is mainly bad words, because that’s what we were doing back then – swearing and laughing. I used to come back from school with Lutfie and Ivanichka. We were doing the “Class stan” command every day, although 1989th was far gone. Every Monday they wоuld check if our nails were clean and if we were thoughtful enough to carry a handkerchief to school. I remember very vividly this one time I went to class with a tiny cross around my neck. My teacher came to me, she grasped it and told me to never wear it again. Her face turned red – the color of my little cross. A few days later I saw her at church. It was Easter.

Biology is probably the subject we studied the most in. The teacher, Hamide Yumer Efendi, always said ‘study hard, I don’t want you humiliating me when you go to school in the city’. I sure didn’t humiliate her – more so, I was one of the highest graded students to be accepted in the Language School in Lovech. The fear of ‘letting down’ someone and ‘humiliating’ one’s self; failing to prove that I am just as worthy as the other children, has actually brought me a lot of success in life. And a lot of excessive uncertainty too. And that’s all because there always was someone to tell me, my sister or my friends that ‘we aren’t used to the city’. Later on, I realized that the city, the country, and the continent are just geographical concepts. I came to realize the only thing that truly counts was to aim for the Sun – that way, even if I failed, I would at least land on the stars.

The ethnic division wasn’t a thing – luckily. Yashko and Mecho were in love with me and my sister – one time on, Valentine’s Day, they took us on the bus that belonged to Yashko’s father and listened to Turkish love songs. Both my sister and I received artificial roses which smelled more like perfume than a flower. It was then that I learned – a flower is only real if it smells like one.

My sister and I had a big girl gang – the two of us and twenty more girls. We used to stay outside up late and play. The ball was always falling in the pit, which was full of frogs, and we had to take turns to go down and get it. I loved playing with Nasufcho, he had this little goat and the two of them were always out on the lawn. I remember this one time when we knocked down grandpa Iliya’s fence. I was the one behind this genius act, of course. But it was only because he was cold-hearted enough to cut off our favorite tree that we climbed all the time. Out next favorite spot to play at was the hearse parked right outside our house. Back then my father used to be the gravedigger and in charge of the landscaping in the village. He was escorting the dead to the graveyard accompanied by the village’s interpretation of a brass band. My sister and I waited patiently for him to bring back some food back home (it’s a tradition) – usually bread, salami, some sweets, and wheat. Every funeral was kind of a celebration for us. I remember looking at all these dead people and thinking they were asleep. I used to think death is just a dream.

I don’t recall exactly how old I was, but at some point, I fell off the bed and cracked my eyebrow. Uncle Muymuyn drove me to the health center. I don’t remember being in pain, I just remember the color that I saw everything in. Red.

Woken up by “Let’s go by the river!” that’s pretty much how and where we spent the whole summer. We used to climb the willows and then jump right in the water. To this day, whenever I go back, I only get my feet in the water. I have the urge to jump in, but I don’t actually do it. We used to catch fish from under the rocks, we brought cucumbers and tomatoes, white cheese, bread, we sat and we ate there – on the rocks. We stayed out until the sun went down or until we sensed the smell of meatballs and French fries from some of the nearby houses. We didn’t bring knives and forks so we had to smash the watermelons on the rocks. We stole corn, we collected snails; we made whistles with our hands and sold them for some pennies, just enough to buy us some happiness.

I learned the most scurrilous words when I was very little from uncle Sticho – sat on his lap while the other men were cutting up the pigs out on the yard. Our moms were cooking, the fireplace was lit and it smelled like wine and bacon; we sometimes even shot with rifles. They were trying to make me shoot at the sparrows, but I never did. I acted as if I was always missing it and shot at the peaches instead. Winters, my dad hitched our beloved German Shepard by the sleigh and we went all around the village. Still, I have never gone skiing or snowboarding. I am only familiar with the luxurious feeling of sleighing with a nylon.

On the other hand, we spent every summer at the seaside. Out of sheer childish excitement, my sister and I used to sleep in the car from the night before we left. We always filled the trunk with peppers, tomatoes, watermelons, gas stoves, and even lamb meat! Together with some family friends, we gathered by the pastry shop, we had breakfast and then we left off. We often had to stop on the way to throw some watermelons out, so that the car can go faster. Seven hours later we arrived at Lozenets. We stayed by aunt Totka’s, where we still actually go to this day. We sat at this very long table, we were cooking mussels and taking pictures on tape. Will we be seeing these exact memories before our eyes when our last moment comes?

This is just a small fraction of ‘these’ moments, you know. Frames that have been forever carved into my soul and nobody can erase them. Shots, taken with so much natural lighting. Without the filters, the many apps, wireless… Frames from life, in which you can see God playing backgammon in the background.  

You think this is me.

But this is just you.

Rene Karabash
Rene Karabash (Irena Ivanova) gravitates between the arts of literature, cinema, and theatre. Between the city and the village. Between the others and herself.

She’s awarded with the prestigious prize "Elias Canetti" for her novel "Ostaynitsa" (2019) as well as two nominations for Novel of the Year – of the National Fond "13 Century Bulgaria" and Literature Awards "Peroto". "Zorbas’ Cousin" (2020) is also nominated in two categories for Literature Awards "Peroto" and for the National Award for Poetry "Ivan Nikolov". Rene is the winner of the First Prize for Fiction at the National Literary Competition "Boyan Penev". She is among the most translated Bulgarian contemporary poets and writers.

Karabash is the founder of and a mentor at the Academy of Creative Writing “Rabbit’s Hole”, which brings together some of the best Bulgarian writers, screenwriters and playwrights.
For her role in “GODLESS” (dir. Ralitsa Petrova) Rene receives a number of prestigious cinema awards – Silver Leopard (Locarno), Sarajevo’s Heart (Sarajevo), Aluminium Horse (Stockholm), Golden Rose (Varna), and is nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role by the Bulgarian Cinematic Academy.