My Serbian neighbor and friend for many years, Dragana, moved away today, for good.
Her family had moved to California from Ohio in 2005, and we stayed behind. Our frequent telephone conversations consisted mostly of her trying to explain how wrong we were to cling to ice and snow, when we can have the land of eternal sunshine. She talked avocados, citrus, pomegranates, cheap produce at a local Persian store. Her Lorelei song was very seductive. Things happened, our lives changed drastically, and all of a sudden, a move anywhere became a focal point. Why not the land of eternal sunshine? And who does not love avocados?
Of course, several other reasons contributed to choosing California, but we arrived, on the last day of August 2008, which was my husband’s birthday, exhausted and weary, completely broke and desperate, to share a big pot of Serbian beans and warm bread with Dragana and her family.
They had secured an empty apartment next door to them for us. We had nothing when we moved in, our household kept safe in storage back in Ohio. They gave us furniture, refrigerator, and blow-up beds on which to sleep. They shared their food every day with us, until the first paychecks appeared.
I remember one occasion in September when we needed to pay $40.00 for Anya’s field trips to come – it was as big as a million at the time. Dragana gave us the two $20.00 bills as if she picked them from her young lemon tree on the patio.
With time we managed to get on our feet. And we settled into a comfortable routine. She would usually yell “Hey, friend/sister, put some coffee on!” while coming home from work or store. I would yell back a greeting, without bothering to leave my chair in front of the computer. Or she would just come over, sweep our patio and yell “Coffee is ready! What are you waiting for?”
The coffee had to be just right, not, as she called it “the Serbian swill” I like, but hard-core, dark-roast Arabic blend purchased at our local Persian store. We would settle on her patio, or mine, drink coffee and gossip, reminisce, give advice to one another, and laugh.
In the neighborhood she was known as Mom. All the little Mexican kids called her that. She fed them, hugged them, kept them warm, all in her brusque, intimidating and to-the-point way. The food from her kitchen went out anywhere a hungry mouth existed, platters of food – but if you did not remember to return the platter, your ass was fried!
Since the day she told me they were moving, I felt as if an elephant was sitting on my chest. Yes, we’ll see each other at work Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and any other day for coffee. And, yes, their new place is only 3 miles away from us – in American distances a spit away. But I will miss her presence. I will miss her reliability. I will miss her generosity and her commanding way of running a day. I will miss having at least a couple of her plates and bowls on the kitchen counter, full of samples from her daily menu, and I will miss the opportunity to fill those same plates and bowls with something I made and return them to her (I think they throw you in jail in Serbia if you return a plate empty – squeaky clean is not enough.)
We had our last Turkish coffee together today. She walked away in long strides, as usual, toting behind a vacuum cleaner and an armful of cleaning supplies, with her visiting Serbian mother in tow. She waved goodbye, I waved back, as if it were just another day. I went back to the house, and I cried. I cried for our friendship, I cried for all the goodness of this woman, I cried for all the memories.
And for Dragana, I post a very simple, but essential “recipe” for making Turkish coffee, Serbian way.
You need a Turkish coffee pot, aka “džezva”. Measure up the right amount of water, using smallish cups which will hold the coffee. If taking coffee with sugar, add it now so it dissolves (I omit the sugar, but Dragana likes hers just a little sweet). Leave the džezva on high heat until the water boils. Take off the heat and measure one teaspoon of very, very, very finely ground coffee per cup into the pot. Stir well and return to the stove. When the foam on top starts rising, remove from heat, and spoon a bit of foam into each cup (skipping Dragana’s, she does not like the foam). Pour some coffee into the cups, little by little, going around, so that consistency is equal in all. Find a comfortable spot on the couch, and share a cup of Turkish with a friend. And remember, sip and enjoy, and do not drink the dregs on the bottom, no matter how emotional this post makes you!