Baking is not my thing — I struggle to measure carefully, to not spill and therefore throw off the already questionable measurement, to take the time to properly beat the eggs. It is difficult for me to wait a full minute before pouring more hot water over the coffee grounds; and you need to do it three times.
“Make slowly, slowly, Bridget”
I feel my American-ness when I am at the cafe. Mostly in my voice, that doesn’t match in cadence or volume, but also in how I charge around the tiny kitchen or want to take on those who disrespect or offend me (or something I care about). It is easy to drown things out; most of the customers are foreigners, and I draw questions and conversations. I tease, laugh, drop things, and call out the window to people I know walking up the street.
Moving quietly in her traditional Tibetan dress, smiling, with flour-covered hands, my manager disguises her resilient, courageous, and assertive character. Sometimes when things are slow, she shares stories of violence, frustration, and terror, her own and those of the women in her community — celebrating the positive, yet tinged with resignation. When I described the woman screaming in the night, she sighed and commented on the futility, and frequency, of the situation. Her dreams and difficulties, their illusory simplicity and dedicated intention, remind me of how such overwhelming violence in this world can be picked at until it has been wiped away through the collective work of many.
Now, a week or so into the volunteer work, I still spill things, but much more quietly.
This morning, feeling ill for no clear reason (generic India experience) and having slept little, I contemplated going into work an hour later. When I tried to call my manager’s phone number, it did not work; so I, slowly, slowly, climbed the five flights of stone steps up to the main road. I stood on the front stoop of the cafe for a moment, threw up over the wall, and carefully sat down, leaning against the door.
My manager arrived, smiling and waving. Today was important: we had been closed for four days (annual celebration of the anniversary), and we needed to replace all of the baked goods, clean up after a small electrical fire, and generally put life back into order. Between fresh ginger tea and moving very, very carefully, I managed to stay throughout the my shift. In America, I would have stayed home.