A taste of American ways

"I am Bosnian man, and this is Bosnian apartment," Mirsad once told me. "Vesna make me hot food every day," meaning traditional dishes - pirijan (chicken, rice, and potatoes), meat-filled burek, and crusty bread - even in summer. He meant Bosnians didn't eat like Americans, who grab food on the way home from work or heat leftovers in the microwave.

Mirsad and Vesna had been in the US about a year as refugees. I felt sorry about how hard Vesna worked. Every time I visited them, it seemed she was rolling out thin dough for cheese-filled pita or taking a big round pan of bread out of the oven. She also had a full-time job and a daughter in first grade.

But Mirsad had two jobs, one at a supermarket with a deli. He ate lunch there every day. The deli served Chinese food cooked by a man called Billy Cam Lo, who had lived in America nine years. He always spoke to Mirsad and sometimes asked, "You like to try Chinese food?"

"Oh, no. Maybe no good for me," Mirsad would answer.

One day Billy said, "I have Honda for sale. You know someone who need good car?"

Mirsad drove Vesna to work every day or she had to find a ride. She would need to learn to drive eventually, and he would need a second car. "Maybe me," he said.

Since he had met me a year earlier in my English as a Second Language class, Mirsad called me and asked, "Joy, can you help me buy used car?"

Well, this wasn't in the job description for teaching ESL, but I said, "OK, I will try."

I met Mirsad and Billy in the supermarket parking lot. I showed them who signed where, complimenting them both on communicating in their new language.

One afternoon a few months later, I stopped by Mirsad and Vesna's apartment. They were sitting on opposite sides of the coffee table, with Mirsad forking a sweet and sour something out of a Styrofoam box.

"What is this?" I asked with a smile. "Is this a Bosnian apartment?"

We all laughed. Vesna's blue eyes sparkled.

Mirsad had finally tried Billy's cooking ... and he liked it. Both Mirsad and Vesna had had a busy day and were tired, so Mirsad brought home Billy's Chinese takeout.

Months later, Mirsad and Vesna invited my husband and me to a Chinese buffet. I noted that Mirsad filled his plate as high as my Uncle Bill did when he came to dinner on the farm, and even went back for seconds. Vesna and I smiled at each other.

Bosnian man, indeed.

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