To continue from yesterday’s story about the ladies of Casa de Retiros Claret, my second foray into conversation was a byproduct of a shower I took.
We had been warned not to drink the water while we showered– not that difficult for me, especially given the trickle that was our shower. It took me several tries to figure out the hot water (the spigots were reversed) and then I made a mess. What craziness. This epic shower happened the day of the concrete (which was Wednesday, if you were keeping track), and I used my one and only towel to sop up the water that I flooded onto my floor. Water seeped out of my bathroom and into my room! It was not pretty. So, I sacrificed my towel and my Thursday shower with it. I had a hand towel and could use that to wash my hair in the sink, I figured.
On Wednesday, this was a great idea– an inspired idea, an eco-friendly, water-conserving, solidarity-with-others idea. Thursday night, it was an idea that smelled, or rather, I smelled. Jen recommended I ask the ladies: I was still intimidated, so I went showerless again. Friday ,after our last day at St. Francis Coll (and another brilliant performance that I’ll share with you another day), showerless was no longer an option. I had to cave and ask.
During our free time, I shuffled down to the kitchen and poked around, looking to see if I could find someone. An older woman, in her early to mid 50s was down there and she took me into the storage room to get a towel.
This woman intimidated me the least: every night after dinner I had asked her “Puedo tener la cosa para limpiar?” I had hoped I was asking for the stuff to clean the table. We’d spray it down with a cleaner and a towel and then pass it back through the window. I felt bonded to her in a way I didn’t with the other ladies. Her hair was short and practical. She smiled lots.
Storage room didn’t have any towels, so we traipsed upstairs and into a whole other section of the Casa. This section required keys to unlock it, which she had to go and get. Down and up the stairs and back again. When she returned, we slowly meandered down the hall– I was in awe of the sheer size of the space. I asked if there were many more rooms. She said that these rooms were for couples (or roommates) and that there was yet another wing with even more rooms. Down the hallway and around the corner, we came to the other storage space. Victory– I had a towel. Victory– I had another friend. We talked about many things: her children (most of whom were grown), what she liked about working at the Casa, my conversation with the other woman (I didn’t ask EITHER of them for their names and could have kicked myself for this), my discomfort with speaking Spanish (she admitted that it was sometimes hard to understand exactly what I was saying, but that we were able to manage).
She wanted to know if and when I’d return; I told her I would be back the following year. What a gracious encounter. Here was a woman, nearly twice my age, serving me: preparing my food daily, preparing a space for me to sleep, helping me find a replacement towel because I’d ruined my other one. And beyond all of that, she patiently played the “Let’s find commonality in our broken language connection” game with me. Another sparkling experience of hospitality and welcome.
Plus, I got over myself a bit. Communication is up there on my list of important characteristics and things to bring to the table, and here, I couldn’t even communicate explicitly what I wanted to say. Again, a lesson in humility, in the efficacy of gesture and eyes, and in what’s truly important–connection, presence, attention. Buddha is attributed with saying “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened” Both of these women lit me and I am ever grateful for their generosity and kindness.