Friday, May 09, 2014

A funny little party

 A new photojournalistic low, but I don't like to post pictures of people without asking. That would have meant explaining what a blog is. Maybe even the internet. Maybe even computers.
It’s hard to do justice to the charm and oddity of the ESL class where I volunteer once a week as an aide, but I’ll give it a shot.

Picture a group of (mostly) senior citizens just about evenly divided between sophisticated Iranians and working class Latin Americans. There’s so little cultural overlap between the two groups, it’s not even like apples and oranges. It’s like apples and shiitake mushrooms. A couple of the Iranian women dress like movie stars from the 1960s. A couple of the Latin American men are illiterate. One woman has Alzheimer’s. Another hobbles along with a cane. A few students are very earnest and motivated and a few of them come only to socialize. But everyone likes Wenceslao, a cheerful Salvadoran who wears a hat, plays the accordion, and has something like 57 grandchildren. Personal charisma transcends culture.

The end-of-term party on Wednesday was sweet and, well, a little funky. Mohammed brought Iranian CDs and played them very loud. He and Fatemeh danced for a while. Mohammed was an accountant in Iran and now breaks down boxes on the nightshift at Safeway. “But I’m happy!” he said, happily. I talked to Orfelina and Isila about the difficulties of making pupusas and Orfelina said she doesn’t stuff them, just mixes all the filling ingredients with the masa and fries ‘em up. Adolfo gave me a can of Coca-Cola for Mother’s Day. 

I'd brought in my two Persian cookbooks for vetting by the Iranian ladies, who dismissed The New Persian Kitchen, winner of the 2014 Piglet, but approved of the stout, encyclopedic New Food of Life by Najimieh Batmanglij. (I think New Persian Kitchen is too slim and contemporary for old-timers.) Najar had cooked a lentil dish for the party and Fatemeh had prepared a platter of really tasty baqala polow (rice with dill and fresh fava beans), a recipe for which I found on page 162 of Food of Life. Rosario, who is Mexican and whose front teeth are capped in gold, contributed a big foil container of very soft spaghetti.

Boy, did I eat. I ate like someone who'd spent the morning baking and hadn’t consumed anything except coffee, brownie scraps, and blueberries as of 2 p.m. and now had a splitting headache. I ate and ate and soon the headache was gone.

I ended up bringing a bunch of old favorites: these Essential New York Times Cookbook brownies, the Flour banana bread, Marcella Hazan’s (gluten-free) almond macaroons, and some cut butter cookies from Alice Waters’Art of Simple Food

All winners, except the butter cookies. I’d always frosted them before and learned that without frosting they’re not sweet enough.

Sometimes I wonder how I ever found myself in this strange, delightful group of people for whom I feel so much affection, but the answer is simple: I answered a Craiglist ad back in December. One of my best decisions of 2013. 

15 comments:

  1. Wow, what a wonderful experience! I volunteered at the library until my shoulders just wouldn't shelve books anymore, but obviously that is not the best place for socializing. It is often true that the best experiences of our lives are with people who are outside our immediate circle. Brava for answering the ad, and I am glad that it has been a joyous experience for you. I loved this post; I could picture your party!

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  2. I love this post so much. His name is Wenceslao! That is the coolest name. Pupusas! Our family is crazy about them. The food, the treats, the descriptions of the people who you might not otherwise have met, the delightful, meaningful experience you've had . . . I love it all and want to follow your example.

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  3. Incredible....what a great piece of writing. Craigslist--that's how Maddy found the farm, so it's not all crazy :)

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  4. What an amazing experience. I feel like I know them all now too.

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  5. This post made my day!

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  6. You are hilarious! Don't you remember the frosting-less apple cake? I am sure you just ran out of time. Happy Mother's day Jennifer!!

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  7. Loved this too. Thanks!

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  8. So wonderful. Thank you and Happy Mother's Day!

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  9. I'm just so glad you are back to blogging! Please write often. And this post reminded me of a similar end of program celebration when I interned in an inner city outpatient program for addiction. Keep it up! All of it!

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  10. Just wanted to wish you a Happy Mother's Day. I hope Owen, Isabel and your fabulous husband make it a great one. I am thinking of you and your mom - I am sure she wasn't perfect, but your writing about her makes her sound like one of the most amazing, lively, adventurous and witty people I have never had the pleasure of meeting. I hope happy memories are made and remembered today. I hope everyone hugs a little tighter today, and I hope you can feel the love of generations past in sparkling pieces of today. All the best, Ida

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  11. I love the Salvadorian names. Wenceslao is a great one. We have Macedonio and Abelardo working at Forage, and at the W one of my assistants was Eulogio. I really respect a culture that names its kids fabulous and/or historically significant names.

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  12. What a great post -- I can just feel the sweetness and strangeness of the group, having spent time in similar multicultural gatherings. (Also, I just love your book and giggle to myself while reading and rereading it. Made many of the recipes, too.)

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