My father studied Slavic languages, and he began a family-wide fascination with all things Russian and Balkan. My parents, brother and sister lived briefly in Yugoslavia (when it was still Yugoslavia, Tito and all) before I was born. I remember my mom always talking about her netted market basket, and she wistfully recalled the lovely open markets she used to frequent when shopping for dinner. My sister did an exchange program in junior high. She went to Russia for several weeks, and then we had a Russian student named Katja come stay with us. And my dad and stepmom went to go teach at the American School in Skopje, Macdeonia, when I was about twelve or thirteen. They lived there for a year or two.
While they were there, Dad and Tammy became close with a Macedonian family. Maria was the high-school aged daughter, Valentina was her mother, and Filip her little brother, probably about four or five. When it was time for Dad and Tammy to come back to the States, Maria came with them to capitalize on the opportunities for American education.
Dad and Tammy lived in Las Vegas at that time. I usually came to visit for some holidays and then for a longer period in the summer - about a month. That summer, Maria's mother and brother were also visiting. In a two-bedroom apartment, we had three adults and three children. It was tight quarters, to say the least!
I remember so much about living with the Macedonians that summer. Dad and Tammy both worked, so most of the days it was just the four of us. We went swimming, we went to the store, we fixed lunch. They taught me how to make tatziki. They loved the stuff - garlic, yogurt, cucumber, vinegar. They loved vinegar. They would just swig it out of the bottle. It started kind of a love affair with vinegar for me, too.
The best part, though, was Filip. He was your standard five-year-old boy - rambunctious, mischievious, irritating, exhausting, etc. But he couldn't speak one word of English. Not a single one. It was up to me to figure out how to communicate. So, we used the board books he had brought with him. Rather than him learning English, I learned Macedonian as if I were a young child. I learned the Cyrillic alphabet first. Then we just started trading vocabulary. "Avione" = airplane. "Soova sleeva" = prune. And so on and so forth. It was actually great fun.
But the words I learned to use the most with Filip were "nemoi nepravitaka." They are the same words you would use a lot with any five-year-old: "Don't do that."
We all went our separate ways at the end of the summer, never to meet again. Within a few years, Dad and Tammy were divorced, Maria had graduated from high school, and Valentina and Filip probably forgot all about me. But I never forgot learning to communicate with Filip. And it helped a lot when I began to learn Greek in seminary, as Cyrillic is morphed from the Greek alphabet.