Namaste sabailaai. How I miss the ring of Nepali in my ears. I have found a store on Haight that sells jewelry and where I was able to excitedly exchange a brief conversation in Nepali with the two Newari men from Kathmandu who run the shop. It was pure bliss and I came out with my new friend Brandon grinning and with a new bounce in my step. Smile. There is so much to tell. But perhaps we’ll work on today since that is where I am. “Today. While the blossoms still cling to the vine; I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine….“
It’s a lullaby my mum used to sing me. Smile.
I awake to darkness. Do I really have to get up already? I yawn and feel for the cat, but he has long since arisen and the circle where he curled behind my knees is cold. I switch on the light above my bed. 4:00 am. No, I do not have to be up yet. I turn the light off. Turn over. Am asleep. This happens again at about 5:50. But this time I get up. My alarm would have gone off in 10 minutes anyway. I crawl from beneath my blankets and step gingerly down the ladder from my loft bed onto the carpeted floor. A shower would be good. I grab my towel and tiptoe down the hall past Ellen’s room, the store room and Rika’s closed door to the bathroom. The light makes the room immediately cozy, yellow, warm. I shut the door and step under a shower that’s hot in moments. I dress quickly, wanting time for breakfast before I have to walk to work. Ellen’s gotten the coffee brewer ready and all I have to do is turn it on.
When I step out the door, it is into the gray beginning of a San Francisco day. I watch the street signs as I walk up the hill, looking for Ashton, the street on which I work. I hit Grafton and turn right. Ashton must parallel Faxon (my street), not intersect it. I arrive at the corner of Grafton and Ashton at almost exactly 7:00 am. The gate in front of me is locked, so I ring the bell, gingerly, as I worry that it will disturb the sleeping women with whom I will be working. Jane, my supervisor, pokes her head out of the door upstairs, calls a good morning and buzzes me in. “You’re here in good time,” she tells me as I shake her hand good morning. A smaller woman, from the Phillipines, from what Jane has told me, busily prepares breakfast settings in the kitchen. I step towards her, extending my hand. “You must be Louisa. I’m Thandiwe. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She smiles, shakes my hand and looks over my shoulder at Jane. “I guess I don’t have to introduce you two,” Jane smiles. Louisa looks at me. “You’re young. Younger than I thought, I mean.” She pauses. “And I kinda thought you’d be black. And big.” She bulks up her body to show me what she expected. “You’re kinda petite.” I chuckle.
I shadow Louisa for the morning. Catherine is already up and waiting for her roommate Mary to get out of the bathroom. Louisa and I head straight for her bed, which we straighten and ready for the day. Catherine is chatty and wants to know who I am and how long I’ll be around for. She’s been living here the longest – almost ten years. And she’s probably the sharpest of the people who live here. As the morning goes on, she has the most questions, and the most answers for me. When we finish making Mary and Catherine’s beds, Louisa and I move on to Nancy and Irene’s room. Nancy, I am told, rises the earliest – around 5:00, and we find her dressed and ready for the day. She smiles at me, repeats my name perfectly and promptly asks which school I go to. Later in the morning, she asks me again. Nancy has been here only a year, yet her memory and mental capacity has deteriorated the most of any of the residents. Irene is a sweetheart, and I watch as Louisa helps her get up and make her way to the rest room, use the toilet and get her clothes for the day. I am humbled by the humanity and the combination of dependence and independence these women display. Women who know far more about life and the world than I do and who also need me or someone else to assist them with some of their day to day functions.
At first, I think to turn my eyes away from their worn and wrinkled bodies, bared before me. But then I realize that there is no embarrassment to the situation, no awkwardness but that which I create. So I stop looking away. Neither do I look. I simply am present to offer assistance with dignity and respect to these women who could be my grandmothers. Perhaps even my great grandmothers. The last two women we awake are Marian and Sarah. Marian is, as Louisa describes her, a sweetheart. She smiles and speaks softly and deliberately. She has a beautiful black doll named Susie that sits on her bed . Susie is 25. I laugh. The baby doll is older than I am. Sarah is the newest woman to live here, and she has a lot to say!
Breakfast is a quiet ordeal – hot malto-meal with milk and then either tea or coffee. The women say little and I am unsure what to do, so I sort of hover over them, attempting not to be too hovering. Sometimes asking a question or two. Sarah arrives last at the table, and the whole dynamic changes when she comes. She wants to share everything with everyone! Slowly the women leave for their morning/early afternoon activities, and I have a chance to talk with Louisa some more. “I can tell you’re gonna love it here,” she tells me smiling broadly. “I think so too.”
I leave at 11:00 after a half day and I come into town to get a free TB test. With that done, I wander down-town a little bit before coming over to the library where I am now. With a library card, I can use the internet for free. And even without a library card, this entire facility is available for me – clean restrooms, large open spaces filled with books and people. It is quiet and cool. A library as it should be. In an hour, I go for a group interview for an internshinship with POOR Magazine, an organization that works for media justice with particular focus on those marginalized by their race and poverty. I think the internship would be fascinating and very much a learning experience for me…. We’ll see what happens.
I think of all of you around the world as I continue this adventure that we call life. It is good and I am blessed. I need to remember that sleep and exercise are good things. Smile. And I need to fit them into my regular life. Hopefully a routine will begin to be established/ will develop soon.
I send much love and all the peace that there is.