It was a gloomy afternoon at Thrive House when I saw a man having a smoke along the backyard plant boxes of the facility. I said “Hello”, but I didn’t get a reply. Then I realised it was Vojislav, who everyone calls Voji - the Serbian-speaking resident of Thrive known for his green thumb. I quickly whipped out my phone to help me translate my words. “Zdravo Vojislave. Vaša bašta izgleda sjajno“ (Hello Vojislav. Your garden looks great). He turned and greeted me with a smile so radiant that took away the gloom around me. “Doći” (come) as he led me towards the plant boxes to show me his plants. He showed me his tomato and cucumber plants pointing to them smiling like an artist admiring his own work. I tried to comment with my limited knowledge of Serbian, “Dobro” (good). He burst out laughing but appreciated my effort of trying to speak Serbian.
Again, using my phone to translate, I asked him how long he has been gardening. He said he started the hobby when he was young. He jokingly gestured that he has been planting since he got out of his mother’s womb. “Doći, doći” (Come, come), as he led me towards the rest of the garden. Walking down to the other plant boxes, I was awestruck with the variety of plants that he had: vines of grapes and peas; cucumber, strawberry, and tomato plants; lettuce, silverbeet, bamboo, mint, flowers, artistically trimmed hedges, and even a fig tree. I marvelled around his work, and I can imagine how much time and effort he has spent to grow all of them. An artist indeed!
I asked him why he loved gardening, he told me that it helps him relax. He said that he does not need to buy vegetables as he can just pick up lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes for his salad. He also mentioned that if he has no garden, he will go “crazy” with boredom. It was evident that his garden is very dear to him and treats it like his children. That’s why he gets upset when someone just plucks flowers or fruits out without his permission.
As the tour came to an end, he described his vision for his garden. He wanted to plant cherries and build an arch where his grape vines would crawl. He also said that he will trim the hedges with his shearing scissors to keep it nice and tidy. I thanked him for the tour and told him I can’t wait to see how his garden would turn out (in my poorly translated Serbian accent), he gave out another big laugh, tapped my shoulder, and said “Dobro”(good).
Thus came to pass, my encounter with the Legendary Green-Thumbed Serbian. Though it did teach me to be more resourceful in dealing with culturally diverse clients. Various services and technologies are available for us to be able to interact with non-English speaking clients. As a support worker who uses English as a second language, it really has helped me to connect with clients in a more person-centred approach.