Excerpt from Chapter 8: The Farm Of Shaban

Elder Nelson was moved to Haskovo. He had already completed 1.5 years of service as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His new companion was called elder Poulson. They barely knew each other from the mission conferences, but now they were about to serve together. Elder Poulson, the senior in the companionship, was high, blonde, blue-eyed American and was known for his more liberal character and behavior. If there were a competition among missionaries for most reprimands received for bad behavior, he would be at 1st place. Everything though was naturally more-or-less within the bounds of missionary rules. Such characters created missionary folklore though; they became legends.

Haskovo is a city close to the boundary with Turkey, and that explained the existence of a greater number of Muslims, in comparison with other parts of Bulgaria. This made the missionary area a little more special, but the Gospel had to be heard by all people on Earth, right? In the Qur’an, the prophet Isa is mentioned with great respect, who is no other than Jesus Christ indeed!

The missionaries met an interesting man at the local market. He was about 40-years-old, with black hair, moustache, and sold animal hides there. Precisely this piqued the interest of elder Poulson. The missionaries regularly shopped here for fruits and vegetables. They lived nearby and the warm, summer afternoon, was ideal for shopping.

“Good afternoon! Excuse me, do you process the hides yourself?” he asked the seller.

“Let it be good! Yes, I process them myself!” answered the seller and asked “Well, you, as I see you in these suits, what do you understand about hides? Are you ‘yabandjias’?”

“My father’s a hunter and processes hides at home often; I help him!” answered elder Poulson with a smile. “Excuse me, and what is a ‘yabandjia’?”

“Ha-ha-ha!” smiled the seller under his moustache. “Foreigners, I asked if you’re foreigners?”

“Yes, we are from America. We are missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Haskovo.” answered elder Poulson, and asked in turn “And what kind of animal hides are these?”

“Sheep and goat hides! Are you going to buy any?” asked the seller and added “Good job, you speak Bulgarian very well! And what’s with your Church? You don’t look like priests! You have no cassocks and beards! You have no crosses either!”

“We’re not priests!” answered elder Poulson. “We don’t think that priests should look any different from common people. No, we don’t carry crosses ether. Excuse us, but we are in a bit of a hurry right now, and we don’t want to get in the way of your business. Let’s see each other later so we can tell you more about our Church!”

The seller had never talked to Americans before and didn’t want to miss this opportunity.

“Hm, alright, but I don’t live in Haskovo. I travel every night to a nearby village.”

They made arrangements that before the seller leaves, they would eat a pizza in the restaurant across the street. The hours passed quickly and the missionaries arrived at the meeting, punctual like a Japanese train. Both of them had never talked before to a Bulgarian farmer and expected the contact with heightened interest.

“O, hi, the Americans! Sit, sit! I already ordered a pizza and a beer!” the new acquaintance met them, extending his hand. “My name is Shaban Ishmael; nice to meet you!”

The missionaries also introduced themselves. They ordered “Quattro Staggioni” pizzas with tonic. The little young waitress spun around playfully in her short skirt, quickly opened two tonics, and disappeared into the kitchen. Elder Poulson checked her out discreetly and promised himself that he would pray for forgiveness of his sins that night.

“So, you’re saying your father’s a hunter? What does he hunt?” asked Shaban and added “Oh, and, why don’t you drink a beer each? It’ll be on me, I sold hides well today!”

“We appreciate it, but we don’t drink alcohol!” called out elder Nelson.

“Ha, but, you don’t drink at all?” asked the farmer in amazement.

“No, we don’t drink; we consider alcohol bad for our bodies!” answered elder Poulson.

“Hm, the imam said the same thing on Friday, but I’m not one of the obedients, whatever!” murmured Shaban under his moustache, more to himself than to them, and slyly asked. “And do you get with women? Is that bad for your bodies too? A man can’t be without women, hey! They’re for relief of the soul and the body! A man’s drive is not to be broken!”

Elder Nelson shifted in his plastic chair, scratched himself behind the ear, and drunk a sip from the tonic.

“We can date women, but only after our missions, not now! We have vowed complete abstinence while we serve as missionaries!” he answered, and wrote in his pad a new to him Bulgarian word: “relief.”