Brief Encounters

Today I worked at a local dining room at a church.

I am still new to where I live, and getting to know the area, so I wanted to help out at the dining kitchen to check it out and see how it was going.

St. Anthony’s dining kitchen serves probably at least 100 people a cooked meal, juice, fruit, milk or coffee, and there is also a large spread of food setup for people to take home with them. I spent the morning preparing and grating carrots, and then right at 11am, I was assigned to help give out produce.

We had bell peppers, romaine lettuce, cabbage, some potatoes, kale, brussels sprouts, little packs of herbs, broccoli, a few carrots, a small box of pears, and oranges, and 3 big boxes of mostly soft and ripe bananas.

Here are some brief encounters from the day:

-After a big rush of people, a woman comes up and I say good morning. She asks for a banana, from her accent I switch to Spanish: “Si tenemos bananas, muchos son muy suave, muy maduro”

“Oh si” she responds, looking at the bananas, deciding which ones she will take.

I notice her eye makeup, and compliment her, “Me gusta el azul” I say, pointing to my eyes, “es azul y morada, wow que bonito”

She perks up and smiles at me, her face lit up at the compliment, and says “Oh gracias, este es royal azul”, smiling, opening her plastic bag to put some bananas in.

There is another woman next to her, also choosing bananas. She says “son buenos para liquados” and so we are talking about the different ways to use ripe, soft bananas, I begin to mention banana bread, and then the first woman explains that you can also use mashed bananas and rub them on your breasts, and leave them for 30 minutes, “para que son mas grande, y mas duro” she explains, gesturing to her breasts with her hands, smiling and lifting her chest, showing me and the other woman what she’s talking about.

The woman next to her looks at her like, what? I’m just laughing and smiling and saying “wow I never knew you could use bananas for that, sounds nice, like a nice massage” and the first woman walks away, happy with her produce, and possibly planning to do more with it than just eat it…

The second woman says “I don’t want to change my body. This is how I am” she says, gesturing to her breasts and torso “This is how I am, and for that, I am happy with Jesus” she says.

“Yes” I nod, “Well some people want to change their bodies, and others don’t”

Later, I am busily opening boxes of produce and handing it out, when a woman comes up behind the table and says, “Hello, I used to volunteer here, can I take some produce?” so I say “Sure, go ahead”.

Then a man comes up and I greet him and he begins taking produce, when he strikes up a lively conversation with the former volunteer. My ears perk up and listen to the words, not identifying it as Spanish, or even closely related to Spanish. They finish a cheerful, small conversation, and the woman goes towards the coffee. The man stays, filling his bag with produce.

“What language do you speak?” I ask

“Farsi” he responds, smiling, and then he explains all the places where Farsi is spoken: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, “and along the border with Russia” he says. “Syria too?” I ask, “Yes, Syria” he says.

He tells me that he speaks 4 or 5 different languages, and then we begin talking about all the people leaving Syria.

“There is something very wrong there” he says “A big problem, lots of killing, its not going to end soon.” I nod my head “Yes, there are so many people leaving, going to European countries from there, thousands of people, women and babies” The images from the war and the refugees come to my mind, and I am so grateful to finally be talking to someone about it, rather than just reading articles and pictures.

“Yes” he continues “And in Europe, they want to stop people from coming. They want to just block people from coming” I say, “But they are not going to stop coming, they have to leave, they have to go somewhere, there are so many people, they will keep coming”. “yes” he responds, and then he asks me if I have been to any European countries, and tells me where he has traveled. Then he tells me with a little money and a little time, I should travel there, and visit, and that when I am older I won’t want to travel. “Ok” I say, smiling, we say “nice to meet you” and he walks away with his produce.

Later, I am helping to serve coffee. An older man with some white scruffy beard and a squashed baseball cap comes up to order his coffee. I pour it into the paper cup and had it to him, saying, “Here’s your Starbucks, or Peets, whichever one is your favorite!” just for a little joke. He responds, “McDonalds!” with a toothless smile. “Ok, its McDonalds coffee!” I say, and as he walks off, I imagine him enjoying this delicacy of McDonalds coffee.

Little later from that, another man comes up, I give him the cup of coffee, and say “Here is your starbucks, or peets, whichever one you like better” and he responds “Well, neither of them are good, but I guess Starbucks is the least toxic of the two” and I say “Yea Ok” and then he says “Did you know that coffee and tomatoes are almost identical genetically?”

“No I didn’t know that, but they are both acidic, right?” I say.

He says “I am very allergic to tomatoes, I’m allergic to almost everything in the nightshade family. Tomatoes, some peppers, potatoes”

“Wow thats a lot of allergies” I say.

“Yes, I must be allergic to coffee too, it just doesn’t sit right with me, but hey” he picks up his tray with food and cup of coffee, “I’ve been eating allergies all my life! Gotta eat food”

“Yep” I say, and he walks off to enjoy his meal, even though he might be allergic to some of it.