My host mom introduces me as her American daughter. It’s a little thing, but it always makes me smile.
She usually ticks off all the things that set me apart from her other daughters. I’m her daughter that runs, and loves to read, and doesn’t eat meat, even though it’s so beautiful here in Macedonia. (She hopes I’ll fall off the vegetarian wagon before the end of my service.)
My host mom greets me with a hug when I’ve been out of town for a few days. She is always ready to sit down and go through pictures one by one, talking about how beautiful each memory is.
My host mom always knocks on my door and waits. It’s a soft knock at first, just in case I’m sleeping. It’s a little thing, but I appreciate the respect it shows.
My host mom comes upstairs and knocks sometimes to ask for recipes. “You know, one of those quick and easy cookie recipes you make.” Sometimes we bake together. We translate the ingredients list and change cups to grams and she writes down a new recipe “od Rebeka” in her personal cookbook.
She came to my room after she found out that Julie the street cat had died. She said she cried for days. We spent the evening making some of those quick and easy cookies and experimenting with whatever ingredients she had in the kitchen. Eating your feelings is universal.
Sometimes my host mom gets up much earlier than I can fathom. She’s started cleaning the house at 5 a.m., just because she woke up and well, it needed to be done anyway. She’s very open with her American daughter, but she is also a traditional Macedonian woman who needs to clean.
When I have guests over, my host mom always makes sure I’ve fed them and given them enough coffee. Once she even brought up a bottle of wine, just in case we needed it. I always bring them to say hello. If she has met them once, she’ll send her regards to them every time I see them or mention them.
My host mom owns a boutique in Kocani. Sometimes she goes to Istanbul or Bulgaria to shop for inventory for the store. She and the women who work in the shops near hers sit outside the stores on nice days for coffee or cigarette breaks.
I can always hear my host mom downstairs when she’s talking to her daughters or her grandsons. Her happiness floats up the stairs in her laughter. (She always says hi from Teta Beka.)
My host mom barely takes a moment to sit when there are guests. There is always something more to be prepared, chopped, stirred, poured, served, or refilled. If there is space left to fill on her round, glass coffee table, she will find something to fill it. She always cleans the glass before she serves. No fingerprints with our refreshments.
She let me help with the ajvar this year, and the Christmas Eve dinner. Last year I watched. A Macedonian woman’s kitchen can be her castle. It means a lot that she lowers the drawbridge for me, even if it’s only to stir or set the table.
My host mom knows exactly how much Macedonian I know and how fast I can absorb it. Even when she forgets and races on in conversation, she’ll always remind others that I understand more when they speak slowly.
The first time she was away from home, she sent her mom to stay with me, to make sure I was okay. I made the fire and made dinner, even though my baba-sitter thought the meal I made odd. I was allowed to stay alone after that.
She walks everywhere in the village, and even to the boutique in Kocani on nice days. She never learned to drive because it’s not the way it was done. She is always saying she needs to exercise more. In the summer when the weather is nice, we take village walks sometimes. Halfway home from a na gosti (visit) once, we decided to run. My sides hurt from laughing as we raced through the dark, hand in hand.
I’m not sure how she finds time for all she does. She cans all the winter food. She keeps the house. She talks to her daughters nearly every day. And in the summer, she keeps a beautiful garden. She knows that despite my best efforts, I’m a plant killer, so she left a pot of yellow flowers on my porch so I had something beautiful to look at every morning.
She knows I don’t want to find a husband here. She knows I’m content and doesn’t bother about it, unless we’re sitting outside watching the romantic full moon. Then she laughs when I tell her that a jar of ajvar is my boyfriend.
Sometimes I roll my eyes, the same way I roll them for my American mom. Like when I came home one day to find all of my kitchen cabinets rearranged. Host mom was just cleaning and forgot where to put things. She tried her best to put them where they belonged.
Host mom was worried because a friend told her in England that when families visit each other, they stay in hotels. Family is always welcome to stay here, she said. I told her in America, she will stay with me, wherever I live, because she is family.
I always introduce her as my Macedonian mom, and that always makes her smile.