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Email 3, Part 1: Kitchen Crisis

June 12, 2009

From email update March 30th:


After a 5- or 6-day work period of center maintenance (much of which I spent lugging and laying huge slate stones for an outdoor walkway in the men’s area — literally ‘making a path,’ hehe), I reported for kitchen duty for the next 10-day course, along with a dozen brand-new volunteers. During introductions, we were told that since the position of kitchen manager involves a lot of intense responsibility, the job would be split, 5 days apiece, between two people: Anjel, a long-term server; and Natalia, who had run the kitchen when I served at the end of February. Okay, cool.

Less than 24 hours later, Natalia and Anjel have both backed out. And guess who is named the new, sole kitchen manager? That’s right, the only one who doesn’t speak Spanish. Yo.

No training. No handbook. Just an understocked kitchen, a team of mostly men ranging from 20 to 62, my own week’s worth of experience, and a list of recipes to feed about 70 people, three times a day, punctually and quietly, so as not to disturb the silent meditators. Uh huh.

To make matters more complicated, since Natalia declined the role for stress-related reasons, she was hardly in a position to guide me through the steps. After exuding tension for a day and a half, she finally felt so sick of the kitchen she had to retreat completely to the garden, where she spent the rest of the course tending plants.

This left me and Anjel as the only two people who had ever cooked in la cocina before. I had a cold. Anjel was often called away to work in the center office. The tofu shipment wasn’t delivered on time. In accordance with the vow not to kill, one of our primary forms of pest control is a dry paintbrush labeled “Barrer Hormigas.” You get the picture, friends.

Luckily, what under normal circumstances would have spelled certain meltdown for me, in the environment of Dhamma Neru became another great chance to practice equanimity, courage, patience, and compassion (for others and for myself!). Which meant that I found myself smiling a whole lot. Smiling to compensate for my utter lack of vocabulary, and smiling in the face of all the absurdity.

With equanimity on our side, Late Tofu didn’t ruin the menu. A successful day meant that (a) no one went hungry, (b) we didn’t burn the place down, and (c) everyone in the kitchen was kind to each other. By the last day, we were all good friends, and the students (whose silence had been lifted) thanked and endlessly praised us for the delicious food. Some even gave us chocolate bars.

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