You know when you were in school and your teachers told you to avoid making “laundry lists” out of your writing? I’m almost 23 and I while I can imagine what one might be like, I’ve still never encountered an actual laundry list (and this is no fault of a sheltered upbringing or that sort of thing). Instead, why don’t teachers tell their students to avoid “grocery lists”? If they were anyone like me, one reminder would be more than enough to turn them into Charles Dickens.
Being handed a grocery list naturally and inevitably leads to a trip to the grocery store. What’s so horrifying about that? you may ask. Well, unlike my mother, who could draw the blueprints of our local Cub Foods with a blindfold on, I might die of starvation just trying to finish shopping for everything on a grocery list. The closest I ever got to a laundry list was remembering to wash clothes in college so I didn’t have to go commando… but even that was normally refreshing. On the other hand, wheeling around in an unknown labyrinth and risking exhaustion… now that is something to avoid like the plague.
So, out of my fear of grocery lists, I will not be sharing an exhausting account of the week in its entirety; instead, I will keep things spicy and take each day one at a time. I know you’ll forgive me.
So, let us embark.
On Monday morning we head off to school as normal, but at about 9:30 am we leave school and walk to the nearby bus station. We catch the B06, and depending on our luck we either get a heap of scrap metal on its way to the junkyard, or a modern bus that seems as if it could actually drive up a hill without dismantling itself. Regardless, once aboard, B06 takes us to the metro station “Zapadores” where we descend to the subterranean tunnels of Santiago’s metro system.
Note: “Underground” in Spanish is “subterráneo”, which translated means “subterranean.” I don't think the word subterranean carries the same added significance in Spanish as it does in English, and I don't know about you, but I think it's an exciting word. Every time I’m descending the escalator and I hear that robotic voice call out “subterráneo” I feel like I’m entering some clandestine adventure. But, I am yet to have any subterranean thrills.
Anyway, it’s not long on the metro until we get off at “Cerro Blanco” and climb back above ground. From Cerro Blanco we walk a few blocks down the road until we turn down calle Juarez Largo. Its roughness undoubtedly pales in comparison to Juarez, Mexico, be nevertheless we traverse past haggard-looking street dogs, over shattered beer bottles, and around unconscious drunkards sprawled out on the sidewalk until we turn onto calle Juarez Corto and arrive at the Hospedería Santa Francisca Romana where we are most often greeted by a couple guests puffing a cigarette and, I can only assume, gossiping.
The Hospedería is a house located in the neighborhood of Recoleta where single women and their children can come to sleep in a bed, wash their clothes, take a shower, and get a couple good meals. It’s basic, but without the house these women would be living in the street with nothing. The house works with the government and local hospitals and takes in women when they have no place to go; and in accordance with the government programs, the staff at the house is able to help the women get a job and find a place to live.
Because the women are mandated to leave the house by 10 am, and Jer and I start work at 10 am, the only contact we really have with the women is the brief exchange with the smoking gossipers. Apart from that it’s strictly business for us.
We usually arrive a bit before 10 and have some tea or coffee, whatever suits or fancy on the given day, and then we get to work. Our function? Don’t tell anyone, but Jer and I cook the books for the house, inventing guests so the house gets more government funding.
Just kidding. Our job is to transfer the daily guest list from notebook hard copy onto Excel spreadsheets so they can run statistics on the guests and determine who is a “permanent guest”—a woman who has stayed more than 60 days (not necessarily consecutive).
One of the most rewarding parts of the job is that we are so practiced in Excel and the use of a keyboard that we have astounded the staff with our efficiency. Really, the only setbacks we’ve had have been due to the staff’s error. The first time we found discrepancies between our records and the notebook records we went back to double check our work, but it turned out that the receptionist had made an error.
And last week our boss deleted some of our work because she assumed she was deleting and old record, when really we had just worked farther than she thought. It wasn’t too much of an inconvenience, but she was embarrassed and from then on vowed to keep her nose out of our work. Thank God.
We work hard, but we keep the atmosphere light. I think it would be funny to walk in on one of our more colorful moments. Maybe I’m just imagining the humor we emit, but I think you could have a nice chuckle at our expense.
“Hey, did Soledad stay last night?”
“By last night do you mean August 11th? If so, then yes she was here last night.”
“What?!! No Carmen? How can that be? She hasn’t missed a day in years?!”
“Ha just kidding she was here.”
“Oh, you scared me, I thought she slept out in the cold for a moment there.”
I also think we puzzled the painter with our dialogues last week. All he saw were two gringos, a notebook, and a computer; and all he heard was one gringo spitting out Spanish names like an auctioneer. Then why would we all of a sudden burst into laughter? By the looks I caught in my peripherals, anyone’s answer was as good as his.
So, when we finish with our quasi-work we say goodbye to all the women and head back out into the unforgiving streets of Recoleta. From there our destination is San Lorenzo where we run an after-school English workshop for students, but more on that another day.