Vast Visions

a year abroad in south korea

The Ahjumma Made Me Stay

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When my co-teacher opened the door to my apartment, I don’t know what I was expecting. Here, around the corner of the middle school that I work at, in a small building three floors up. When she opened the door, I thought that I really had the worst luck in the world.

I was greeted by a horrible mildew smell and absolute filth. The place seemed like it had been used by four people and then ditched for five years. The floors were caked with dust. The sheets smelled bad. The kitchen was covered in an ungodly amount of food residue and spilled sugar. Laundry room reeked. The place was awful.

After this first look, all I could do was drop off my luggage and head off to the school to meet my superiors for the first time. But I made a mistake that would make matters worse – I locked the inside door. When I came back from the school visit, my co-teacher and I were bewildered that the second key on the ring didn’t work. All of my money and possessions were in that hellhole, locked up. We called the landlady but she was out. I had to go back to the school while my co-teacher called a locksmith.

Half an hour later at the apartment, the locksmith hobbles over and picks the lock.  The landlady, back from her excursion, also came to see the spectacle. From what I could understand, she asked the locksmith how much it would cost to change the lock but she determined that it was too expensive… I picked up some money and off to Homeplus we went.

Just when I thought I had the lousiest luck that day, things turned around. While shopping, my co-teacher and I ran into two students from school. One was quite bold with her English, a bit tomboy-ish and the other was a little more reserved. They talked to my co-teacher and she told me that they wanted to help me shop. One started pushing the cart and I asked them about what foods I should get. It was so cute ^^ They also wanted to help carry all the things to my apartment. My co-teacher bought them ice cream and we went back to the apartment.

When we got there, my door was already open…inside was the landlady ahjumma cleaning the apartment because she felt bad. I said goodbye to the students as my co-teacher took them home, and I immediately started cleaning with the ahjumma. She has a strong Daegu accent and can’t speak a word of English but I managed to use a few Korean expressions with her and converse as we cleaned and scrubbed side by side. Despite the language barrier, we appreciated each other’s company. I insisted multiple times in Korean that “I’ll do it” but she didn’t want to leave T___T She stayed until around 11pm.

The next day after class and a solo trip to Homeplus, she was there again, this time washing the sheets. While it was going we sat on the floor and watched TV together. It was surprising when she started singing along to one of the Trot songs playing, my heart melted a little.  I told her she has a pretty voice LOL I really stretched my Korean abilities to its absolute limits in the few days I’ve been here. I don’t know how anyone could manage without knowing any Korean at all. When she was leaving I offered her Peppero but she politely refused and pointed to her teeth. I’ll have to think of something better to give her.

Right now I’m still cleaning my apartment, the kitchen is taking two days at this rate but at least I’ll know that things are clean. The girl who lived there before me, if I meet her, she better run the other way because the filth she left behind was straight up illegal.  With every blackened paper towel I hate her more, but hopefully when my apartment starts smelling nicer I”ll forget about my murder plans.

So why didn’t I simply move or request a new apartment? Because I want to make this work. I don’t need a fancy apartment or new appliances, I just need a place to come back to. It may be tough to live there but it’s gotten better. And, of course, my landlady is awesome :)

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Author: Natasha

26, student of law but still a dreamer. currently living in chicago.

One thought on “The Ahjumma Made Me Stay

  1. “Because I want to make this work.” Not easy to feel or think that way under the circumstance. I certainly didn’t have that mindset when I was at your age. Poignant and thoughtful post. Something tells me you will do just fine. All the best and thanks for sharing your experience.

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