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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Three Generations, No Gaps

      Generally speaking, I don't like machines. They work too fast, I can't absorb the details of what's being done. But there's one machine for which I'm truly grateful. I would like to apply for sainthood for it's inventor. I realise this again today, when washing yet another set of towels that I've used for Joost,  the has- been-alley-cat, to sleep on. Joost has … never mind what Joost has. He makes me feel like an Irish washerwoman.

      I've spent six weeks in Peru once. My partner-at-the-time was a native Peruvian, so we stayed with his parents or aunts and uncles, only rarely at a hotel. Living at the homesteads of the Peruvians, instead of among the tourists is very interesting and has it's charms, but definitely has drawbacks as well.
For starters, there's a greater risk of infections. And you have to do without the commodities westerners are used to. Like a washing machine.
      I faced both facts while staying in Cajamarca, in a small house that held three generations of relatives who received even more calling relatives and friends each day. I had arrived with a high fever, exploring only the route from my appointed bed to the bathroom for the first days. As soon as the fever died down, I took a more lively interest in my surrounding, discovering that my partner already built up the habit of entertaining his cousins and their friends at a local football field, deftly leaving our dirty laundry for me to handle. I was born in the sixties in Western Europe. For as far as I knew dirty cloths ought to be crammed into a purposely designed machine. A little fumbling with knobs and buttons and your clothes come out wet but clean.
      Here I was generously treated to a tub with boiled water, a brush and a plank. And a bar of soap if I remember well. These were set up on the first floor [British. Second floor USA] of the house. This part of the building wasn't finished yet: it had shoulder high walls and no roof. It took little time for me to get acquainted with the rabbit that lived 'upstairs', but I just couldn't figure out what to do with the plank.
“What's the use of my university degree?” I muttered under my breath, but the rabbit didn't answer. Then I felt two coal black eyes piercing my back. A five year old sprite, visiting with her mother, a cousin of a sister of … hadn't been able to hold back her curiosity any longer. As soon as her mother got absorbed in a lively talk with the resident family, she had crept upstairs. To observe the gringa, washing her gringa garments.
I'm not sure if she still thinks that all gringa's talk to rabbits... but she soon figured out that gringa's are no good at doing laundry. I looked at her in desperation. She had a pretty Asian look about her, no doubt her family nicknamed her “Chinita”. “¿Quieres ayudarme?” Do you want to help me? I asked. She got out of her hidey hole without hesitation. Maybe she thought I only wanted her to help me wash because there was so much of it. With shining eyes she took the plank, and started using the soap and the brush. I only had to watch her to see how it should be done. I spotted a second plank and brush and took these for myself. I cleaned the larger bits, while Chinita worked her way through my partner's socks. In the meantime we had an interesting talk, each taking the linguistic barrier with a shrug.
      Her mother eventually came 'upstairs', to be introduced to me by the lady of the house. Probably just as curious as her daughter, but more self controlled.  [Pity for her
      Chinita's mother pointed at her daughter and whispered to me that I didn't have to bother with her. Bother? The child was my saviour. I shook my head, said I enjoyed her company. Her mother looked a bit estranged. She'd never let her daughter do anything so important as the laundry. That was no child's play, it had to be done right. But since the gringa insisted. The two ladies went down again, back to the living room. Leaving the girl with me. Chinita was mighty proud that the gringa thought she did a fine job.
      And that was the truth. She worked away with great zest and her movements were skilled. And judging from the mother's attitude, she had picked it up by watching only. She was literally as smart as she looked.


      Now that I'm rambling through Peru again, I might as well do honour to another family member, who was a skilled observer.  It's my ex-partner's father I'm talking of. May he rest in peace...
      During long discussions or lively tittle-tattle, I frequently lost track of what was being said. After all, I had only learned Spanish from a book and some practise with the regional community of South American immigrants in my own country. Not enough to understand every bit of conversation among native speakers.
      But Victor A. always noticed when I got lost. He knew exactly which words I missed and how to substitute them with the right synonyms or phrases. The words I could understand. He was the best interpreter I've ever had, even 'though he could only speak Spanish.

      You don't need to take extra courses or special trainings to be good at something. Just watch closely, taking your time to let it sink in. And when it's time to act, have faith in yourself. Trust your own [in]sight.

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