Last Wednesday was a long day. Actually, most of my life is full of long days lately. They aren’t bad, they are usually quite good. But they are long. Today I was up before seven and I don’t anticipate going to bed before 11. Sunday I was up at 645 and in bed around 1am. They are full of exciting adventures, random errands and convoluted schedules. Today I have been at Guitar Center, REI, Michael’s, the Apple Store, the Morris Foundation and the coffee shop. It’s only 340. But I digress. Today is full of adventures and errands from being a personal assistant.
Last Wednesday was full of adventures from living among the refugees.
After the car accident, while I was holding Genesa (the one who thinks my futon is a trampoline) a woman gestured to me to follow her. I had seen her once or twice, but I just didn’t know who she was. I figured she was Nepali from the way she was dressed and the fact that she was able to communicate with the four year old in my arms who can hardly speak any English. Later that night, I would shove Genesa out the door of my apartment yelling Hoodaina! and lock it behind her. But she was being cute for a change and so I didn’t mind holding her. I must have looked confused and Locksme must have noticed because she took my hand and translated in the parking lot where we stood amidst the wreckage of five cars. “She wants you to go with her,” Locksme said. Well, I’m not the kind to shy away and I’m so worried about cultural sensitivity that I didn’t argue with her, but asked Locksme to come along to help with speaking and followed the woman back into the inner courtyard.
She took me into her apartment, motioned for me to sit on a couch that faced a tv placed beside a rather tall full size bed that sat under a handful of family pictures printed from a home computer. There was a small table in the knook with a few chairs around it that matched tolerably well. The floor was dirty but we kicked off our sandals and took a sit while the woman chattered with Locksme and I played with Genesa. A few minutes into the conversation and eventual meal, Locksme informed me that the woman in the kitchen was Genesa’s mother. I almost gasped. How could she be a mother of a child so young? She has wrinkles and tough hands, her eyes are full of laughter and her lower jaw is missing teeth. She looks weathered and ancient, though strong and resilient. How much more was my surprise when this woman who I took to be a grandmother eventually nursed an infant that evening!
People wandered in and out of the house as I ate a pear, banana, rice and cupcake. Genesa was climbing all over the furniture, I understand now why she finds it so amusing to scramble our chairs and futon like she’s scrambling a class four fourteener on a midsummer’s day. I was bouncing the baby on my knees and chucking him under the chin till he giggled. Locksme, of course, was yelling in that raspy high pitched voice that she uses in her precocious, demanding way and Genesa’s mother responded in a tone just as loud, just as imposing. Except when she spoke to me, then her voice was softer and the finger didn’t waggle in my face, and she smiled more often while bobbing her head up and down.
I ate for a little while until Genesa’s mother wandered outside for some reason unbeknownst to me. At that point, I shoved the last of the food in my mouth (as I would do in Hispanic culture) and beat it to the door. Molly might be wondering where I was, and we had agreed to do dinner together that night (having finally made our schedules work)–I wanted to get home.
Genesa and Locksme followed. Soon after them came Asmita and Anjana. When they found out I was making dinner, Asmita gave me her wide eyed hopeful smile that says she wants something. Usually, it’s a ring or bracelet she’s found in my room. But this time, it was my kitchen. “We teach you to make Nepali food?” she said in that high pitched whine I’m coming to expect from Nepali women. I think that was when Ram sprinted in the door, probably followed by his little brother Sagr, whose shoes clip clop across the breezeway because they are three sizes too large. But when they were informed that our plan was to cook they soon disappeared.
So we made Nepali food. Delicious. It took forever because the girls kept having to run to their homes and bring ingredients. Things like bright orange curry powder scooped and tied into the center of a grocery bag. Or the chiles that they brought to chop into the tomatoes. We cooked for two adults and about five children in two small frying pans. There were so many little feet in my “two-butt-kitchen” we could hardly move. It was like the room itself was crawling and alive with activity (and not the kind of life that I come home to late at night when the roaches have ventured out into the dark). It was pretty fantastic to learn cooking from a 9 year old and be instructed in chopping by a 10 year old. And then it was great to sit on our floor (as we didn’t have enough chairs) and eat with all the children, while Baba came in and collapsed in that nasty orange yellow chair with his chin cupped in the palms of his hands while he contemplated the car insurance and damage done to his vehicle.
Genesa had been kicked out when she started hitting people with one of our dowel rods. She and Ankita whined from outside the windows but I wasn’t letting them back in. Is that bad? Sometimes, the little ones are such a hassle and they cause such arguments that it makes the most sense to throw them out onto the breezeway after a good tickle fest and not let them come back.
But Genesa had left her Maria Cookies on the table at my house. So, after we cleaned up, I grabbed Locksme again to help translate and we headed down to the first floor corner apartment. Just to return the cookies.
I’m an MK.
I should have known better.
I held out the cookies to Genesa’s mother as Locksme explained the situation. But suddenly, this was more than a cookie-return. I was invited inside. In fact, I was practically dragged inside as Genesa came bouncing over and the two men on the couch moved to make space, shoved the table aside and motioned for me to sit. “Come, coooome!” Locksme said, waving me in. And if you’ve ever heard her shouting, commanding voice, you would know I couldn’t have said no…