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Artist’s Statement: CHID alum Hutchison (2014) travelled to Bulgaria to complete his senior thesis project, which was a volume of short stories titled “I Am Not Bulgarian.” The stories take up the themes of Bulgarian identity formation and the ethnic conflict between Bulgarian, American, and Gypsy identities.

The sun was hot and high in the sky as I strolled along the glavna ulitsa in Varna. I was on my way back to the hotel after grabbing some warm banitsa (a Bulgarian pastry) when I was pleasantly surprised to see a young, dark-skinned boy playing the kaval – a traditional wind instrument. The sound is peculiar and quite different from the usual Western winds. I stopped to listen. He was playing a patterned melody a bit too fast, but with excellent gusto. I reached into my pocket for a single lev coin. I threw it into his bag that was lying on the ground and started tapping my foot. At the sight of my donation he broke into a louder and even faster flurry, his sable hair flopping with his movements as he played, his bronzed facial features scrunching and contorting to release the right amount of breath. When he finished I applauded and struck up a conversation about how long he’d been playing, how old he was, and so on. Despite his boyish shyness, I managed to discover that he’d been playing since he was six and was now sixteen.

During one of the pauses in our conversation, a taller boy interrupted us by shoving the smaller boy aside. The new boy had pale skin and dirty blonde, crew cut hair. He bent down into a kneeling position, careful not to allow his crisp new jeans to touch the ground, and started to assemble another kaval. When the instrument was put together he stood up straight, his back as stiff as a board.

“He don’t know how to play,” said the new boy, “I’ll show you how to really play.”

I was appalled at such a display of abrasive impudence.

The blonde boy began to play while the other boy hung his head submissively.

His jet-black hair hung low over his brow as he broke down his kaval, picked up his bag, counted his money, and started down the street.

The taller boy took a brief break from his playing to replace his bag with the one the other boy had taken. “You play like shit,” he said, laughing to the other boy as he walked away.

The paler boy could play a little bit better, but not by much. It was only evident that he was more familiar with the instrument, probably because he was older. What he could accomplish with rhythm, the swarthy boy made up for in enthusiasm.

I left the blonde boy and hurriedly ran after the other boy as he walked up the street.

“Do you mind if I walk with you for a minute?” I asked.

He kept his pace with his eyes downcast. “Sure, but only till I get to my spot, then I gotta play,” he said.

“What’s your name?”


“Milen, why was that boy so rude to you?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.”

I was hesitant to jump to conclusions, but I was in such a frenzy, I had to find out. “Is it because you’re Turkish?” I asked point-blank.

Milen kept walking with his eyes on the ground, not saying a word.

I waited for an answer.

We walked on in silence.

Soon we came to a corner on the street where he set down his bag under a small tree and began to put together his kaval.

I knew my time was running out, so I decided to approach it in a more tactful way.

“What languages do you speak?” I asked.

“Bulgarian,” said Milen. “Sorry, but I gotta play,” he said, bringing the kaval to his lips.

I tossed another levche into his bag and started back toward where I had come from.

Soon I found myself again listening with annoyance to the blonde boy’s kaval. When he finished his boastful playing and took a moment to catch his breath, I seized the opportunity.

“Why are you so mean to Milen?” I demanded

“Eh, we’re friends …” he said, “but the truth is he really does play like shit.” He smiled, very pleased with his answer. He was still breathing heavily.

“That’s no way to treat a friend,” I said.

He looked at me hard, squinting in the sun, and finally said arrogantly in English, “I speak English if you want.”

“I prefer Bulgarian if it’s all the same to you,” I said in Bulgarian. “Is it because of his skin color?” I asked.

“Is what because of what? Whose skin color?” he asked.

“Milen,” I responded. “Are you mean to him because he has darker skin than you do?”

He laughed and shook his head while slightly kicking his feet. “No,” he said.

“Is it because he’s Turkish that you treat him so poorly?” I continued to dig.

His laugh softened to a chuckle.

“Is it because he’s Gypsy?” I prodded.

His laughing now stopped, and his smug smile vanished. “You American?” he said in English.

“Yes,” I said in Bulgarian.

“You stupid Americans,” he said, “you always think everything is about race. Yeah, Milen is my friend, and you’re right, I should be nicer to him, but I just give him
shit because we’re buddies. We’ve been working this street together for years. He plays down on that end for a while and I play here, and then we switch. It’s got nothing to do with race,” he said.

“You don’t treat him that way because he’s Turkish?” I asked again, not fully convinced of his answer.

“Man, he’s Bulgarian just like me! Bulgarian!”

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