Friday, September 14, 2012

The thing about language barriers.

It is required to register with the police while in Stara Morovica. That's at least what it said in the handbook displayed in the farmhouse. It also said there was a community pool (which was taken over by the local criminali), a man who transports you and a canoe to the local lake for an evening paddle via horse and carriage (who no longer lives there), and bikes to ride (ones with flat tires and no pump). But we went to the station anyway, mainly because the handbook stated the local chief of police spoke English - a rare find in the small Hungarian speaking village of Serbia.

I sat on an old leather sofa in the small, one-roomed police station, embarrassed, while my mother asked the officer question after question about the activities stated in the farmhouse handbook. All the while, his companion sat at the desk adjacent the sofa and wrote down our passport information. Trying to create a degree of separation from my mother's interrogation, I pretended to understand the program playing on the boxy television sitting atop a large file cabinet, and only acknowledged others when spoken to. 

Back at the farmhouse, a few locals stopped by to check on us. One, speaking fairly good English, mentioned that the police officers needed our phone numbers. Thinking it was no more than a part of protocol, I gave my number; as my mother is mobile-illiterate.

The following afternoon I received a text message which read, 'Hi, this is Victor the police officer. I work late tonight and am wondering if you want to go for coffee this evening.'  Naively I turned to my mother and asked if she thought the 'you' was intended to be plural or singular. The verdict was singular.

After discussing things over and a few back and forth text messages it was decided that Victor and his companion would join us for dinner instead. Despite his fluency in English, however, language barriers still posed issues in regards to time. Thinking they'd come before 9 o'clock when their shift started, we set the outdoor table and read. When 6:00 turned to 7:00 and 7:00 to 8:00, we moved the dishes back into the house.

The 8 o'clock hour also brought a spur of the moment invitation to visit goats and purchase their milk. That was the one thing I had wanted to do during our stay. But not knowing when the officers were due to arrive and especially since, my mother reasoned, they were clearly coming to see me, I was in a bit of a conundrum. In the end I went, as my mother's idea of 'all things fun' does not include goat's milk. So she stayed to wait.

A couple picked me up and led me to the goats. He only spoke a handful of English words and an equal amount of German. She spoke nothing but Hungarian. (We had thrilling conversations). The lady who owned the goats welcomed us in warmly. Wooden stables filled her back yard. Through hand gestures, facial expressions and the occasional English word, she introduced me to her 9 adult goats and 7 kids... (goat kids that is).

Once introductions were over, 15 minutes had past and she led us through the back door of her house. On a table in the mud room were two large buckets filled with milk. Now, I thought, we're getting somewhere.

She sat us down at her kitchen table, a flowery printed outdoor tablecloth covered everything but its legs. She offered us sparkling water, which I declined, and then opened a dorm-sized refrigerator displaying rows of goat cheese in all shapes and sizes. Bringing two out, she visually explained how the cheeses were molded. After a few verbal exchanges, the man turned to me and asked if I could spare 30 minutes to watch the entire cheese-making process.

I crave opportunities like that and wanted to do nothing more than stay and learn. But I looked at the clock who's hands were telling me it was 8:30. I couldn't leave my mom to do all the entertaining, especially if her assumptions were correct. Explaining the situation proved difficult though. Instead I said 'milk' and made a hand gesture to indicate drinking. The woman's face lit up in understanding. I felt a flood of relief. The next thing I knew, I had a tall glass of warm milk - straight from the goat - slapped down in front of me. And then she started making the cheese.


easternjoy said...

I visited your blog by accident.
I'm not good at English, but I'm impressed by your photos.
Really nice photos!
I like to travel too.
I'll visit your blog often :-)

claireb said...

That's really sweet of you! Thanks!