welcome to belarus


One of my earliest memories is riding a Belarus tractor. My grandmother was the mayor of a small village in Communist Bulgaria and, being her favorite grandchild, I seemed to wield enormous power over all municipal employees. To be on good terms with me was a smart career move. Whenever there was road work in and around the village, I was there, riding the paving machine, the dump trucks, and the roller, hungrily breathing in the tar fumes and squealing with joy. When summer came around and the hills of the Danubian Plain turned into a sea of wheat, I was given a privileged spot on a combine harvester. The heat was dreadful and my lungs got congested by dust, but I liked it anyway. My favorite ride, though, was the tractor. It was a blue machine with large rear wheels and the loudest engine in the world. The driver, uncle Mitko, had a bushy moustache, like Stalin’s, and always wore the same dirty cotton wife-beater. He was a good friend of my grandmother’s and every afternoon he would stop by our house after finishing work at the collective farm. With mayoral permission he would lift me up into the cab and place me on the seat next to him. I could smell the alcohol on his breath, along with the headier mix of diesel, sweat, and earth. I loved that smell. I loved the levers and buttons and dashboard instruments, the steering wheel that looked enormous even in uncle Mitko’s enormous hands. “Welcome to Belarus,” he’d say every time with a mystifying smile, the way I had seen Stalin smile at little children in the old picture books in my grandmother’s library.

more from Dimiter Kenarov at VQR here.