A text by the 2016 Sozopol Fiction Seminars fellow and CapitaLiterature participant Christina Nichol
In the beginning, when God was distributing the land to all the nations, we Georgians missed the meeting. The next morning we looked around and realized we were homeless. "Hey!" we shouted to God. "What about our land?"
"Where were you last night?" He asked. "You missed the meeting. I already gave away all the land."
"We were drinking!" we cried out. "We were toasting Your name!"
God was so pleased with us that He gave us the land He was saving for Himself. That’s why we are supposed to relax and enjoy the beauty of God’s earth.
The Armenians say, "We missed the meeting too, and all He gave us were the rocks He was saving for Himself." That’s why their land is so strewn with stones, and also why they are now hogging up our beach.
We lived on God’s land for thousands of years, enjoying its beauty and its bounty, always carrying a hoe in one hand to sow and reap the wonders of His holy dirt. But, because of our neighbors, in the other hand we had to carry a gun.
One day God came to see how everyone was doing. He visited each country in the neighborhood. First, He went to Armenia and asked, "Are you enjoying everything? Sleeping well? No complaints?"
The Armenians said, "Everything’s well. We’re living very nicely on these rocks You gave us."
God said, "I’m so pleased that you are living so well. This puts Me in such a good mood that I’ll grant you any wish you make."
"Well," the Armenians said. "As we said, we’re content. But… if we were to think of something, our only wish would be that You destroy Azerbaijan. Those guys are always trying to steal our lake."
So God went next door to Azerbaijan to see how well they were holding up. "Hello!" He called. The Azeris were busy boating and fishing on the Caspian Sea and eating up all the caviar. "How are you doing down there?"
"Normal. Praise God."
"Well, what do you people wish for?"
"We’d really like it if You decimated Armenia. They are bothersome neighbors, always trying to help themselves to our wheat fields."
Then God came over to Georgia.
"Victory to You! Galmarjos!" we cried out when we saw Him, thrusting high our sheep horns filled with wine. "We kiss You." We were already so pleased with His bountifulness that when He asked what we wished for we said we needed nothing. We told Him, "We don’t ask for anything else. Just grant Armenia and Azerbaijan their wishes."
That’s how the story goes.
It is said that in order to keep stories alive in our hearts, we have to tell them back to each other because when you only listen to stories and don’t tell them back you become like the man who picks grapes but does not prune the vines, like the one who reaps the harvest but does not sow the seeds. You can become catatonic and easily led astray.
In the olden days, when it was time for a boy to tell his own story but he didn’t know how to begin, if his mouth wouldn’t work properly, as if it were filled with rocks, the elders around the fire would say, "Start like this: 'Once there was. Once there was. Once there was not.'" This is the beginning of every tale. It means that what was true once, and even a second time true, is not always true a third time.
It was once true in Georgia that we only have one life and so we shouldn’t waste it on material pursuits. It was also true that we lived in Paradise. But it took perseverance to remember every day that we lived in Paradise. Here we have dancing, love, wine, sun, ancient culture, and beauty. But no money. Therefore, we have become a little unfashionable because, these days, money is the hero of the world.
For this reason, mainly, I was composing the following letter in English:
August 19th, 2002
Dear Hillary Clinton:
My name is Slims Achmed Makashvili and i am from the little town called Batumi, on the Black Sea. it is the very small town. So to say, it is beautiful and sunny. It is the town for me.
But then I worried: What if Hillary had never heard of Batumi? I didn’t want her to feel ignorant, even though she should have heard of us because Inga Charkhalashvili and Maia Lomineishvili – both famous Georgian women – had great success when they played at Batumi’s International Chess Championship. I continued:
Batumi is the little town that not many people know about. i know because i looked up Batumi on the Internet and there was only one picture of the palm tree. The tourist wrote, "this town looks like chipped paint." That is because we are under reconstruction. The local dictator is tearing down the old buildings and making many of the lawns in our town because no one can hide behind a lawn with a gun. In addition, the religious leaders are building 12th century spirituality huts. We are progressing civicly and religiously. We even have a bank. It is shiny and modern bank but has no money left in it. New certification requirement in 1998 decreased the number of banks from 200 to 43.
i really think we need little help over here in the farmer land, especially me! Especially because Georgia is the Christian country and it’s difficult to have the Muslim name in a Christian country! If i had more Georgian name such as Davito, Dato, Temuri, or Toto, i could get a higher governmental position.
But now I will explain to You the more important information about how Batumi is the natural port. Port lies at the end of the railroad from Baku and is used mainly for petroleum product. Our town boasts of eight berths, which have total capacity of 100,000 tonnes of general cargo, 800,000 tonnes of bulk cargo and six million tonnes of oil and gas product. Facilities include portal cranes and loaders for moving containers onto railcar. As You can see, Batumi offers You and Your country great business opportunity!
But then I reconsidered what I had written. After all, petroleum products were killing off all the fish.
Hillary, i’ll try to write to You more about myself, but i’m not as interesting person as You are, obviously, but still i’ll write something. I love animals, especially fish. Once i had the fish which i called billclinton, but unfortunately it had eaten some poisoned thing and that was the end of his life. And what about You? Do You like animals or have You a pet? We’ve a small garden at home, but mostly i love cactus.
i am the maritime lawyer but personally it is the very dull life. The bosses are old communists and the unfortunate circumstance is that the laws of our country can’t change until they all die off.
Now for important ancestral information. Have you heard of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West? My great, great grandfather from my village in Guria followed Prince Ivane Makharadze to Iowa and introduced tradition of trick riding to cowboys. People thought they were Cossacks but really they were Gurians from my village. They could ride three horses at one time standing on their head. They were so skilled that even if they wanted to commit suicide it was impossible on a horse. Only on the ground. When I was borned, my grandfather announced, "The only hope is the cowboy!" He began to imitate the cowboy. He wore a straw hat and sat on the balcony plucking an instrument made of strings across a coconut. He insisted that my father call me Slims, from Slim Sherman, after the legend of Ben-Hur. So, you see, Hillary, even though I come from ancient poetical culture, i am cowboy, and i come from cowboy family. True American, like Giorgi Bush.
Even though Slims Achmed resembles Islamic cowboy name combination, it is really a nineteenth century name, expressing same fervent Georgian dream for independence from Russia, like 19th century poets Nikoloz Baratashvili and Akaki Tsereteli. But Hillary, do not worry! If you do not know Georgian poets, that is normal.
The Muslim part, the Achmed part, is said in this way: Axkmed, from the back of your throat. It tastes like truth, like the sound of a Gurulian frog. Actually, it tastes like love. Hillary, i know that in English the phrase i love you is the very beautiful sound. And in French. Je t’aime. Again. Very beautiful. Perhaps you will think that our Georgian expression for love is not so beautiful: Meh shen meexhvar xhar!. Yes, not so very beautiful.
But my dear Hillary, i wish to ask to You very important question: Have You seen the movie Jesus Christ Superstar? Do You know about the theme song in the movie, "Don’t you mind about the future. Think about today instead." ?!!(!) We have been living that way for very long time now, for 15 centuries maybe, and i don’t think it’s very good advice. That is why I am asking for your help. We have freed ourselves from Russia, are holding out our hand, and waiting for help up.
Respecting Your way,
Slims Achmed Makashvili
Christina Nichol grew up in Northern California and received her MFA from the University of Florida. She has traveled widely, worked for documentary companies, and taught English in India, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Russia, and the republic of Georgia, where her debut novel, Waiting for the Electricity, is set. Christina won a 2012 Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award and a gold medal in the 2015 California Book Awards. She was a 2015 Philip Roth writer in resident at Bucknell University and has been published in Lucky Peach, Guernica, The Paris Review, Harper’s, Subtropics, Lonely Planet, Quarter After Eight and The Wall Street Journal.
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