Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Neighbors part two

Perhaps you read the post about fortuitously getting to know the kind, elderly couple that lives next store. And perhaps you didn't, in which case I'll have you know that they are very kind and relatively elderly and they feed me delicious cake.

I had intended to visit them on Sunday, but as things played out, time grew sparse as it is known to do, and my intentions were not actualized. Similarly on Monday. And on Tuesday I over-thought things, as I am known to do, and I surmised that perhaps they were older than I remembered and wouldn't remember their open invitation for coffee. Then the sun rose on Wednesday and as fate would have it I bumped into the older man on my way to our BY group meeting. Before I could postulate what might occur, he proclaimed, "Dobro jutro!" (good morning) and kissed me on both cheeks. Then he teased me about how messy my hair was (repping a tita bun right out of bed) and asked why I hadn't come by to see him. Flustered with how to respond, I told him I was sorry and my bashfulness for how I looked needed no explanation so he said, "Nema problema. Večeras, kafa večeras" (no problem, coffee tonight). Though I was planning on going to dance tonight, there was no way I would pass up this offer so I replied "Naravno! Vidimo se večeras" (of course! See you tonight).

Most of my energy today was driven by the idea of being able to talk to them again; I even found myself unable to focus during a couple conversations because I was so excited. Around 7pm I thought about how nonspecific our plans were, and I even thought perhaps I misinterpreted them as 'night' is a wide range of times and he could have even slipped in a quick 'sutra' (tomorrow) that I didn't catch. But instead of thinking I took action, grabbed a can of macadamia nuts and migrated across the hall. Before I could even knock, the petite elderly woman swung open the door, emitted some sort of jubilant expression, grabbed my face and kissed both my cheeks twice. What I lacked in confidence before the door opened was filled in that brief interaction. She then called for her husband who willed me inside, sat me down, and put his jacket on my shoulders because I looked "hladno" (cold). The woman - I really need to relearn their names! - trotted to the kuhinja (kitchen) and pulled out a plate of with two cakes from her granddaughter's third birthday celebration, one which had the majority of pooh bear's head in the icing design and one with some clippings of Serbian words in Cyrillic. I mentioned that at my seventh birthday party I had also a pooh bear themed cake which she seemed very pleased about. Up to that point we hadn't struggled too much with our language barrier, but when she asked me which one I wanted, I recited "sve hvala" thinking I had just asked for'either thank you.' It turns out sve actually means 'everything,' so she gave me more than half of what was left of each cake which was a good six regular slices! The role of a domacin (host) is taken very seriously in Serbia and to properly be one means to serve your guests with everything you have and lots of it. If the guest doesn't eat what you have given him/her then the domacin will take it to mean that you didn't like it which is shameful for them. And I never want to be rude so obviously I was obliged eat it all! (I could have gotten away with leaving some, but they were both so so delicious--the pooh bear one was cokolada lesnik, chocolate hazelnut, and the other was plasma, a cookie that puts the honey maid graham cracker to shame.) Following that, I was offered soup, beans, carrots, corn, apples, pears, meat, pasta, and - of course - bread. Meeting for coffee in America is quite different. I only took small portions of each as I had just finished a three course meal with my host family.

Through all this food we talked about their granddaughter, named Katherina (!), my family, their mountain house on Fruska Gora, my house on Makiki Heights, their hobbies, my hobbies, and miscellaneous tidbits about our lives. Though I certainly missed two thirds of what they were saying, I was very surprised with how much I thought possibly, maybe, perhaps I understood? Then the clock struck half past eight which I thought meant I should go back to my apartment, but instead I learned that from 8:30-9:30 the woman's favorite Serbian soap opera airs daily. I was slightly disappointed that the conversation was coming to a close, but I had already taken up more than an hour of their time. As I began to stand up they insisted that I stay to watch and finally offered what I had officially agreed to - kafa. Ironically, coffee is the one thing I was served this evening that I had to force consumption; I'm not a fan of caffeine to begin with and, to put it lightly, turkish coffee is not for the weak of heart. Still I sipped and allowed my stomach to churn while positioned on a sofa between two 72 year-olds.

Since I've arrived I haven't watched a single movie or tv show so this was the prvi put (first time) I was sitting in front the box o' wonder and boy was it entertaining. In brief, the scenes switched between a detective agency, a farm, and a monastery, every few seconds was an extended close up of this older woman who seemed to do nothing but ask "where is he" and tear - I'm 95% certain the same clip of a tear falling from her right eye was used 3+ times, and if I haven't already convinced you to buy the box set, there was a fantastically creepy man reminiscent of the Narrator/Baker's father in Sondheim's Into the Woods who appeared in all three settings without rhyme or reason. An amalgamation of bizarre cinematography, forced acting, and spontaneous sparring, I think you know what I'll be doing every night at 8:30.

Once this concluded, my Serbian quota felt more than satisfied as did my appetite. As I stood up to leave, the man began to tell me of his plans to visit their ranch/mountain house and pick fresh fruit tomorrow morning and he asked if I was interested in coming along. Unfortunately I had to explain to him that I had class and work tomorrow so I couldn't. He understood but seemed ever-so-slightly disheartened so I quickly expressed my genuine interest in going later. Next came the doviđenja (goodbye). Goodbyes in Serbia are a process of steps: there's the explanation for leaving, the gratitude exchange between guest and domacin, the promise for a return, oftentimes the offering of food or goods - tonight this meant a peach, a sunflower from their flower arrangement since I mentioned they were my favorites, and a plate of more cake to share with Mima (host sister), and lastly there's the goodbye hug, handshake, kisses, or a variant of the three.

Once I said my last "puno hvala" (many thanks), I stood in the silent hallway for a few seconds to collect my thoughts and re-recognize my neighbors in all their glory. The last thing she said was "vratiš se uskoro" (return soon) and I wholeheartedly agreed. There is little pattern in our day-to-day life here between social and work events and activities, but I know for certain that I'll hold true to that promise of return. And soon.

For the neighbors part one, reference: "Dan bez ni telefon ni ključ"

1 comment:

  1. Katherine,

    I like your writing style. You have a fine way of writing about ordinary events (though occurring in the extra ordinary country of Serbia!) in an interesting, captivating way.

    This blog of yours really has developed into quite a charming fairy tale of wonder and discovery. And food. And I like the serbian that you drop into your updates. Ina few months, try writing a complete entry in Serbian. I won’t understand it at all—but it’d be fun to do.

    Does your host family know your neighbors well? Since they live right across the hall, I have to imagine that they would have crossed paths. (Then again, I am mildly surprised that you hadn’t crossed paths with, even by accident, them for a few days.)