Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Monday, June 2, 2008


When I last left you, Jane and I had arrived at a little Tapas Delicatessen called Olivas. We were fairly hungry, but in good spirits. Though I think both of us were very conscious that this was going to be our last meal before Jane returned to London and home again. With that knowledge there was, I would conjecture on both parts, a good deal of sadness and also a bit of resolve to start thinking ahead towards what comes next...for me that was three weeks of traveling on my own...for her that was the sudden return to London and home again to work and good things there.

We walked into the Tapas bar and found a frazzled beautiful Colombian woman named Xiamena and her daughter Isabella, no customers, but bowls of beautifully marinated mushrooms on the two long communal tables. We asked if we could have a bite to eat and Xiamena immediately started apologizing in rapid broken English. After a bit of translating we discovered that Xiamena had been about to close up for the night when a party of 12 that was supposed to arrive the next night showed up a day early. Working alone and on a few hours of sleep, Xiamena asked the party to go away for 1/2 an hour and she set about trying to cook and decorate and generally work a miracle. That's when we walked in. She kindly informed us that there was no way she could cook for us, as she didn't know how she was going to cook for the Cotswold dozen that were due back in a minute. As I found myself wishing we could help her...Jane said, "Can we help you?"

Xiamena looked at her flabbergasted. "No," she said half heartedly.

I said, "Yes, let us help you. Jane is a waitress."

Well, after a bit of awe struck stuttering, Xiamena finally relented and let us help. She was absolutely beautiful in her acceptance...once she said Yes, she hesitated no longer and immediately started telling us what to do.

We sprung into action eagerly, donning aprons, pulling out glasses, chilling wine, chopping bread, slicing pepperoni on the professional meat slicer. Isabella helped out too, pointing out where Jane and I could find extra napkins, strawberries, that sort of thing. At one point, Jane was whizzing around the kitchen chopping bread, taking it out to the customers, pouring wine, while I was melting chocolate, dipping gooseberries, and Isabella was sprinkling the confections with coconut.

On one pass through the dining room one of the women said it was good of me to come in at short notice. I just smiled.

Later, Jane broke it to the patrons that we were actually tourists who just came in for dinner and ended up working. It took some convincing, but finally they believed her. When I came out from the kitchen they still thought I was a regular employee, so I had to convince them all over again that Jane's story was true.

"You're not really from America....not REALLY."

It was priceless.

Afterwards, Xiamena made Jane and I dinner and the three of us, with Isabella buzzing around us, drank wine and ate and laughed about the miraculous way the evening, and Jane's trip had ended. Instead of being sad that we were going to say goodbye the next day, Jane and I had had an evening unlike any other and ended her trip with a story that all involved will be telling for years to come.

Throughout the crazy night Xiamena was often muttering under her breath about what a gift it was that we had showed up and she kept thanking us. But it was I who felt like a gift had been dropped into my lap. As soon as she accepted our help, I realized how hungry I had been to be of use, to work, to share the common goal of making a gracious and happy event for someone else, not just myself or my small circle.

I have been learning so much on this trip about the daily ways we can all make the world better for the people we encounter, both through the souls who give me a bed for the night, or through the unexpected ways I find myself being of use as I walk through strange towns. There will be more on this later, when I get home and can process it. But needless to say, the extraordinary events in Painswick were massively educational and uplifting.

The next day, after Jane left I stopped by Olivas for a coffee and a bite to eat and ended up staying for a few hours and working again...making cappuccino and serving pastries. Those two days shall go down for me as two of the happiest days of my trip.


jen said...

i love this story! you are so cool. xo jen

Steven said...

An amazing story. don't you just love reciprocity?