Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dan bez ni telefon ni ključ

A day with neither phone nor keys

I knew I wouldn't get access to a computer until late in the evening for the rest of this week, so I didn't plan on writing anything until this weekend, but today feels really special and I wanted to share!

First, I woke up slightly late this morning, around 7:50. It takes me 30 minutes to walk to the University and my class begins at 8:30 so in my hustle out the door I forgot my cell phone and apartment keys. And I’m very grateful did. My host mom is kind and loving and she possesses all the selfless qualities a mom should, including the worrisome ones. Without the means to let her know I didn’t have my phone, I decided I’d go back to the apartment in the afternoon so I could get my phone and keys and let her know I was alright. I decided to be extra gutsy and take the bus since it would take nearly an hour to walk from my service placement. Side: this was the first time I’d taken a bus by myself... in my entire life. I had been told to take bus 4, 7, or 11 and I figured 7 was right in the middle so I took that one. Sure enough it put me just a few minutes from the apartment.

My next challenge was to find a way inside the locked entrance door since I didn’t/don’t know my host family’s surname as Serbian surnames all seem similar ending in i or ić. After narrowing down the list of fifty to that of five, two residents came out immediately solving that problem. At that point I figured I had done it; I had made it to the finish and now it was my turn to collect my $200. Instead, I was sent back to free parking as no one came to my host family’s apartment door when I knocked, rang, and bellowed. My host sister and mom told me they’d be home all day, so I figured they had just taken Loli, their toy poodle, on a walk and would be back within a few minutes. Plus this gave me some time to study the nominative, genitive, locative, and accusative cases, and who wouldn’t want to do that? (In actuality, I really really really love my Serbian language class and Serbian in general so studying is relaxing and pleasurable.)

Well forty minutes passed and I found myself sitting on the mildewy, splintered wood floor squinting at my notes pushing a light-switch every minute to trigger the ceiling lamp, still sans phone and keys. I decided to try my gusto again and knock on the closest neighbor’s door to ask if they had the phone number of Irena (my host mom). I don’t live in the safest part of town, but everyone I’d met in Novi Sad was very friendly and they are all about hospitality. After merely a week of Serbian language classes I hadn’t a clue what to say when a tiny, elderly lady answered the door, so I mumbled “moge telefon” which means something along the lines of “can phone” – I think – and she looked utterly confused responding with quick and muttered Serbian. Then I mimed picking up and dialing a phone while reciting the same line and she smiled, took my hand, and led me inside while continuing to talk in Serbian. Love those universal gestures.

Surprisingly enough I was able to pick apart some words and so I tried my best to respond with simple phrases about my hometown, school, age, family, purpose in Novi Sad, and most importantly my dilemma. After giving her the lowdown, her husband walked in and I said it all again with more confidence. While I retold my life story, the woman looked through her address book - what a beautiful way to find a phone number - and jotted Irena’s number. In person my host mom speaks English sufficiently but over the phone she was having a bit of trouble understanding the events of that day so instead of detailing my circumstances I asked where she was to which she responded that she forgot to tell me she was meeting a friend in the park before picking up Mima (lil’ host sis) from school--Serbian school alternates weekly between morning and afternoon school days. I didn’t even get to explain how I got a hold of her but I let her know I was fine and told her not to worry which I’m sure she still did. She wouldn’t be home before I had to head off to an event with my service placement that evening which gave me a few more minutes with the warmhearted neighbors who took me in. In my remaining half hour, I had some of the most meaningful and mystifying conversation since I’d arrived. We talked more about our likes and dislikes (the lesson of the day in school which proved very handy), the woman served me two pieces of some delicious cherry cake and sweet tea, and I listened to their stories nodding constantly though I could hardly understand. I kept on trying to ignore the passage of time as I was enjoying every minute to the maximum and I didn’t want it to end, but it did. Alas. So I packed my things and explained, or tried to explain, that I had to leave. As I began to stand up, the man, who hadn’t spoken too much in our brief tête-à-tête, stopped me and told me “kafa uskoro, moramo” - coffee soon, we must - to which I enthusiastically agreed. Perhaps I can visit them on Sunday with macadamia nuts in tow.

As I got settled on the bus I realized how much had happened that day because I forgot my phone and keys and how I would not have wanted it any other way. Though I hit a rough patch around the B&O Railroad, my experiences were worth far more than the $200 completion prize; they were priceless.


  1. I like your method for choosing which bus to take...though logical, very random and fortuitous. I also wish that my neighbors...um, or anyone I know...were half as nice as yours.


  2. What a wonderful story. Isn't it neat what can happen when we don't plan anything? My mouth is watering thinking about the delicious cherry cake.

  3. Oh Katherine... the first bus you have ever ridden was in Serbia! Your insight and liveliness makes me smile, chica. Can't wait to read more!

  4. Katherine, I can hear your voice as I read this story. Your spirit transcends language.

    Mr. Ouellette