It was nice for a change. It was nice not to be the one at the VIP guest table. Not to be the one everyone’s eyes are on. Not to be the one making the questions and everyone nervous. For once, instead, I was the one serving.
After many years of wanting to do it, but not getting around to it for one reason or another, I finally dragged my but to a soup kitchen.
There were some other new volunteers. Some asked to be kept away from the front room and in the kitchen. They were worried they could not take it. They later confessed they thought it would get rowdy. We were serving dinner for sixty people. Sixty adults that live and sleep on the streets.
It’s funny. The thought never crossed my mind.
For me it was quite liberating. It was nice to think that for once I could actually stick around, come on a regular basis and maybe make a difference on a personal level. I know with my job there is an impact, but it’s at a ‘corporate’ level, all the beneficiaries see is this foreigner that waltzes through. Their instinct tells them to smile at me, to keep me happy, to tell me their sad stories about need and loss. But no doubt frustration lingers on after I leave and they see nothing happen…
It was a nice change that for once the tables had cloth covers and candles. The food was home made, and honestly smelled delicious. The dinner (which followed an obligatory mass service), included a starter salad, a main course stew, crumble pie for dessert, coffee, fruit, cheese and a chocolate. It was top standard food, in the best we could muster atmosphere. We were careful to place everything nicely.
In Cambodia I visited a school run by nuns which blew me away. It looked wonderful. It was nicely painted, with games in the yard. She said sometimes people gave them a hard time claiming that they were ‘rich’ and should not get any funding. Her argument was:
‘here, you can see where the money goes.”
And frankly, it was a hell of an argument as far as I am concerned. Why is it that usually there are hundreds if not thousands of dollars invested, and often at the end you only see half hearted, basic quality outcomes?We served to their requests promptly and diligently. For two nights a month they get served. And it was somewhat surprising for me to see how many of them fell right into the role, ordering us around, sending back parts of the meal barely looking over their shoulder.
You can tell in their eyes many are unimpressed. Grateful yet resentful. Their dignity is all they have left. So while sticking to the rules of the kitchen, some of them sought to bend them, as if to prove they could not be submitted. That was a surprise. That was different from what I am used to seeing. I am used to seeing mostly broken souls that will take whatever they are offered, even under the most undignified situations. As a by stander, on the ‘side’ of the aid workers, I am often embarrassed by how we treat people.
It was a nice change.