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Week 3 & 4, or How I Became a Hot Mess

July 4, 2011

After about a nearly two week hiatus, I’m back with time to kill and things to write about.

First of all, HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY! Gettysburg seems to treat it like Christmas. Never have I seen so many men dressed head to toe in wool in 90 degree weather. One couple even had a hoop skirt for their dog. If you don’t believe me just scroll down and be amazed by the matching bonnet.

A lot has gone down since my last post, so I’ll pick the interesting parts and fill you in.

Gardening has proved to be the least rewarding, most difficult project I’ve ever taken on in my life. High schools should require every student to be in charge of a garden– It’d be the best way to prevent teen pregnancy. Having 10 squash plants is like having 10 extremely needy mute children with standards that are unnecessarily high. Having to worry about them day and night, wondering if they got enough water, wondering if the birds are going to eat them, wondering if the sun will be too hot for them the next day, wondering what I can do to keep them alive, wondering why I am the only person in the world to plant squash (the supposedly “toughest” plant to kill) only to watch them die a slow and painful death ….. It’s an extremely stressful situation. It’s safe to say I will not be having kids anytime soon. The responsibility is terrifying.

The good thing about gardening is that it provides plenty of time to think. I understand now why so many books on gardening are so existential and philosophical. While working in the garden you are literally playing God, choosing what lives and what dies. Also, the way we garden is packed with cultural influences. It’s not a science as much as it is part of the socialization process. For example, think of the definition for a “weed.” What is a weed? It’s every plant that shouldn’t be where it is. In other words, it’s anything that a person decides has no place in the place it is growing. A weed is essentially a social construct. That’s kind of cool, isn’t it? Well, I thought it was. If you want to get super philosophical or something, you could relate it to the post-colonial need to dominate a piece of land and introduce your culture’s ideas of beauty and food, pulling out all the “native” plants that existed long before you arrived. You could do this. But do it on your own time. I have to go water my plants again.

The best thing that has happened to me since June was a total accident that led to my total embarrassment and a whole lot of laughter. And water. Let me set it up:

The idea that nothing breaks barriers and fosters friendship better than a meal was proven this past Friday during a potluck style dinner that Aleks coordinated with all the immigrant families who work with the LIU program. For the first time in my life I had real, authentic Mexican food, as well as my first experience feeling the personal stress of being the minority in the group. Aside from the few English speakers that came to the dinner (most of them being the Heston interns), everyone else spoke Spanish. I found myself rather quiet as I ate, as the only Spanish I know was straight from “Dora the Explorer,”and I felt that anything I could say about going on a journey or needing directions would not exactly come across as relevant to the table conversation. Seated across from me was a woman named Maria, and her daughter. We smiled at each other, I motioned to her that her daughter’s pigtails were too cute (because they were), she motioned to me that she had made the tamales we were eating (deliciousness wrapped in more deliciousness and a corn husk),and we both laughed appreciatively, hoping that what we were being at least somewhat understood.

In a rather silent part of our meal, I took a bite of a tasty dish with ground beef, corn, and peas, and then heard a rather terrifying crunch. All of a sudden my eyes were watering, my mouth was burning, and my body temp must have shot up to about 118 degrees. Everyone at the table must have been very confused as my face turned bright red, and when I pulled the inch-long, dark green source of pain and menopause-like symptoms out of my mouth, Maria, the woman next to her, and the man next to her all said “ooooooooh… jalapeno…”

And then, for those next brief moments, we were all speaking the same language.

Genuine laughter.

I was a hot mess. And I have never laughed so hard in my life. Sweating from every part of my body, practically yanking a hair tie off of Elle’s wrist to put my hair up, and trying to follow Maria’s instructions in Spanish to NOT drink water yet, we all developed a case of the giggles that lasted the entire evening. A few minutes later, everyone who hadn’t already seen my face turn the color of a stop light, seemed to know what had happened. A man from a few tables down brought me water, and I even got a picture of me with the jalapeno that I fully intend to tape to my wall.

It was a great night, and I eventually cooled down enough to enjoy the rest of the meal, careful not to make the same mistake twice. What struck me the most after my incident was how all of the tension had seemingly disappeared from the table as we finished eating. The jalapeno provided a common experience that we all lived through together, and it was something that was so ridiculous that you couldn’t help but lighten up a little. So, when I think now of the idea that food brings people together, I’m beginning to think that it might not be the meal, necessarily, that breaks barriers, but instead the willingness to try a part of someone else’s culture, no matter how small the part might be. I tried their food and, while it was completely by accident, I came out of the meal with a deeper understanding of people, and three new friends. I put myself out there and learned, as it turns out, that if you are willing to make an ass of yourself every once in a while, it will lead to some pretty beautiful experiences.

Photos: (1) Oh, Gettysburg (2) The Senior Center Garden before weeding (3) Best desserts ever (4) The ABCs at the LIU (5) My squash behind SCCAP (6) Aleks and the cutest baby ever (7) My really sexy wagon



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