Cool People I’ve Met Via TEFL: My Bosnian Landlady

She was an old woman, seventy-five years old, she told me, holding up seven fingers and then five. She came up the steps the first day with some homemade cheese pie – the national food, hers from a recipe from Montenegro. Every week or so she would come up the stairs slowly, bearing some kind of food. If I ever knocked on her door, where she lived with her son (the dentist) and daughter-in-law (the ophthamologist), she would invite me in for coffee and warm up some food for me.

She told me she was doing it because her mother had died when she was young, and so she knew what it was like not to have a mother…meaning my mother wasn’t right there.

When Bajram – the holiday when people hold a four-day feast – arrived, she made it up the stairs with a full tray of baklava. Such a big tray I don’t know how it even fit in the oven. I was in a hurry, and she said something about “four”…which I assumed to mean Bajram was a four-day holiday. I thanked her and took the tray, saying it was too much for me. I had a half-size refrigerator – I couldn’t even fit it all in there! Later that day, I went down when her daughter-in-law, the only one who spoke English, was there. Maybe there had been a mistake? I asked. Maybe she had meant for me to take four pieces? Why she would bring the whole tray up a full flight of stairs when she only wanted me to take four pieces was beyond me, but I just couldn’t believe it was all for me. No, said the daughter-in-law, it was for me and I should bring it to work. It was difficult even to transport it on the tram there was so much, and even after bringing it to work, I had baklava to last me well into the next month.

When I left, I had just learned how to crochet, and I made a scarf for my landlady. She expressed remorse or concern that she had done something wrong to make me leave, and I tried to reassure her as much as I could in my broken Bosnian that it had nothing to do with her and in fact she’d made my stay all the more pleasant. Someone else told me she had wanted to come up more often, and someone had even suggested she get me to teach her English, but obviously these things had nothing to do with my leaving. She came up about an hour before I left for good with a small wrapped package…two pairs of nylons. One for me and one for my mother.