We went back to the Basilica of San Jose in Flores to help with the feedings again. This time, though, there were fewer volunteers, so instead of shrinking back into the kitchen after handing out the first round of food, I sallied out when I saw hands raising for seconds. Luckily, the menu was similar to last week‘s — polenta and soup (sopa) — so I felt (somewhat) sure that I could handle the task.
At first everything went smoothly. One person would raise their hand, tell me what they wanted, I would go to the kitchen with their bowl and bring back what they requested. But then more people started finishing their food and raising their hands. Soon, I was bringing back three bowls at a time. (I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you have a room of 10 tables with requests coming from a random assortment of them, it is confusing indeed.) “Dos sopas, una polenta, dos sopas, una polenta (two soups, one polenta…),” I would numbly repeat with every step to the kitchen.
From there it was a sharp and slippery decline into what I shall call (rather proudly) “attendant anterograde amnesia” (with attendant used in the sense of “waiter/waitress,” not as some weird medical mumbo-jumbo. What, I like alliteration.)
I gave up on remembering what faces went with what bowl, and just focused on remembering the requests and the general area of the room they came from. That strategy worked well for about 5 minutes. Then I went to the kitchen, loaded up my tray with the bowls and strode purposefully to the middle of the room where I proceeded to completely and utterly blank out. Frozen to the spot, I frantically started running through options: Should I start handing out the bowls to anyone who would accept them? Slink back into the kitchen? Drag Bjorn out here to help me quiz the tables to find out where to go?
Then someone called out: “La Chinita!” (little Chinese girl). Well, that solved that.
From that point on, people seemed to understand that I would be in a perpetual state of confusion whenever I walked out of the kitchen. Now I just had to scan the room until I found the people straining to make obvious eye contact with me/standing up while waving their hands over their heads, walk over to them, hand them the food and let them distribute it to the proper parties.
That just left me with concentrating on the orders. Things started going pretty well. Too well, apparently, because people began assuming I understood Spanish. In the beginning, people said either “sopa” or “polenta.” Toward the end, people began giving longer special orders. I picked out the words “sopa” or “polenta” as best I could. Then one man issued a stream of Spanish so complex I couldn’t tell if he was ordering food or giving me directions on how to build a WWI-era biplane. It must have gone on for at least two minutes; my eyes had time to glaze over. Finally, he finished. I stared at him a long minute, then said stupidly, “Sopa o polenta?”
The good part about this experience is that my eyes have been opened to what waitstaff have to go through. As a result, I have new-found special appreciation for food service staff. To any waiter/waitress who has ever served me: THANK YOU. To anyone who is in/or has been in food service, all I can say is: Major props, yo.