Archive for ajjuma


As I finished out my school day, it stared to rain. Now, the weather report had warned about spring showers, but my umbrella was missing from it’s normal place deep in the floor-pile. I was defenseless. Sighing, I zipped up my black fleece hoodie (which, I want to say, I got in 7th grade. It never ceases to amaze me that I remember zipping it up to the prime halfway-up-the-chest point to walk by the guy’s classrooms, carrying laminated hall passes or bones from the science room. This is what I think about while walking to classes as a teacher) and headed out into the rain.
By the gates of the school was one of my 7th graders. At first she didn’t recognize me, and waved hesitantly. As I drew closer, I saw a smile trace across her face.
“Hi teacher!” She asked in Korean, “Do you have an umbrella?”
“Hi!! No. No umbrella.” I answered back in English.
In Korean again, she shot off a list of questions, and confused by her rapid fire, I repeated her question back at her.
Slowly, in Korean, she asked: “Where is your home?”
“I live by Emart. That way~” She nodded, and looked at her own umbrella. I was worried for a second that she would give hers to me, but-
“Bye teacher!” She headed off.
“Study hard!”

Just as I turned my back from her, an ajjuma passed by, slowing to look at me me.
Ajjuma’s (as I might have said before) are women of a certain age (55+) who have kind of a… weird status in Korean culture. They are simultaneous respected and mocked. 😉

[An Ajjuma joke: A woman was pushed off a hill. She died. Ah, the people said, just a woman.
A second woman was pushed off a hill. She got up and brushed herself off.
Ah, the people said, an ajjuma!]

Back to the story: She motioned quickly to me, a little lady, tight perm, shirt flowered. She linked her arm in mine, pulling me close under her umbrella.
She said, in Korean, “Walk with me!”
I let loose some of my broken Korean, using the terms for addressing ones elders to say thank you. Above everything else, I was suspired. It’s rare for Koreans to talk to someone that they haven’t been formally introduced to, let alone a foreigner. As we stamped down the Hyewon-school-hill, arm in arm, bright umbrella protecting us, I felt gratefulness flow warm and deep through me.
She said something else that I didn’t understand.
“Where are you walking? Where are you going? How are you getting there?”
“Oh. Oh. Next to emart, walk.” My Korean is really dreadful.
“No, no! Take the bus!”

I could only laugh.

As we reached the corner she broke our arm-link, and headed into a hair salon. I kept walking through the rain, calling thank you’s behind me.

Even though I ignored her advice and walked all the way home in the rain, it didn’t seem so bad.

There’s always something surprising here. I’m amazed at how much Korean I can understand now. I’m socked whenever people try to talk to me. I’m comforted by the random acts of kindness that I see around me – from the ajjumas to my students talking to me between classes, telling of fathers abroad and their crushes in church.

I just looked under my bed. The umbrella was there all along.