May 24, 2008

The Tutor Dynasty

It's noon on a Sunday and the sun is directly overhead. It's a beautiful day. Green as far as the eye can see stretches in all directions courtesy of a healthy April rainfall and the recent turn to summer temperatures. But at the moment we're staring at the ground, fascinated, as Apostal maneuvers a miraculously simple irrigation project. Apostal is the husband of our Macedonian language tutor, Ratka. She's a teacher at the high school and he's the vice principal. Neither one speaks a word of English.

Like many Macedonians around us, Ratka and Apostal grow a wide assortment of produce in their yard and that's where we are, in the garden watching Apostal water the rows of potatoes. In lieu of a sprinkler or garden hose, he's running a stream of water from the house along the ground via a home-fashioned tube and then simply manipulating the soil to direct this mini stream in all sorts of directions throughout the garden.

All the while he's chatting us up in Macedonian. He's very difficult to understand, so Jillian and I spend most of the "conversation" nodding and chuckling. I'm sure Apostal knows we're not getting much of this, but he's clearly not bothered. So we stand, the three of us, enjoying the sun and watching the soil gobble up the water.

Ratka's disappeared into their small greenhouse to pull us up some greenleaf lettuce. It's called "salata" in Macedonian, which leads me to the inevitable joke each time Ratka hands us a plastic bag full of the fresh goods: "That's a lotta salata." [Tapping the microphone] Is this thing on?

We come here twice a week for lessons. No, Ratka doesn't speak any English, but it's not as difficult as our Macedonian friends, colleagues, and students assume. "But...she doesn't speak English," they say, furrowing their eyebrows in confusion. "I mean, how do you communicate?"

Well there's our dictionary. And there's pantomime. And drawing. And, no, Jillian and I aren't ready to take the SAT in Macedonian, but we learned a good deal of basic vocabulary during our Peace Corps training. You'd be amazed how far the verb "to go" can get you when you're really in a pinch.

Ratka's a Macedonian teacher by trade, so there's lots of focus on grammar. I'm not entirely convinced that knowing the imperfective and perfective forms of "to participate" is going to enrich my experience here, but no matter. Visiting our tutor (down the hill, over the bridge, to Ratka's house we go) is becoming more of a social date, especially now that summer has arrived. We look forward to many a "tutoring session" sitting outside, chatting with Ratka, trying Apostal's rakia, and enjoying the comfort of neighbors.

And eating a lotta salata.

1 comment:

Beth said...

I really look forward to your posts. My daughter is going to be there in September as a Peace Corps volunteer and ever since she got her country assignment I have been enjoying reading about your experience. She was a debate champion in high school so your debate experiences are fun for me to read too. Thanks for providing some background for a nervous mom.