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Jun 5

Ad hoc

Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 in Jobs, The Asylum Experience

The lady who worked in the kitchen hadn’t a whole lot of English. We got our messages through to her via elaborate miming and scattered Spanish words which entertained her to no end. She was an amazing cook until it came to mashed potatoes, she could make anything except this… this concept was foreign and vulgar to her when rice is obviously the answer to all of life’s problems.

One of the kids wanted a black coffee one morning. I considered telling him that coffee was no good for minors but I wanted one too, so I let it slide.

“How do you say ‘black’, in Spanish?” he asked me.

“Negro” I said instantly. I had no idea how I knew and wasn’t entirely sure if I was right, but went with it anyway. My conscience told me that I was taking a big risk, if I was wrong, I was racist. If I was right, I was forcing a minor to be racist. Latin can be a cruel thing, sometimes.

“What? I can’t say that!” his eyes grew large as saucers.

“But that’s what ‘black’ translates as! ‘Negro’!” I told him.

“Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure.”

“Pretty sure?!?! Am I about to make the biggest social mistake of my life?”

“I’m about 91% sure”, I replied.

He wandered into the kitchen and disappeared for a few minutes before returning with his head hung low, and a mug of steaming black coffee in his hand.

“Was I right?”

“Yes” he quietly replied.

His hang-dog expression lasted for a while, as did mine. We both felt dirty, but knew it was not our fault, it was society’s. The lady in the kitchen had no idea why we were so sad, but she sliced up some extra pineapple and put on another pot of coffee for us anyway. I liked the kitchen lady a lot. Our husband’s names were the same, even though we lived thousands of miles apart, and her son was the same age as my youngest. The latter bounced around the camp every day and made me homesick.

I washed up for her some nights after her shift had ended.

Others asked me why I’d bother washing up when I wasn’t paid to do it, so I told them it was to keep the ants away. I really did it because I liked the kitchen lady, and the view she had from her window. Maybe I really did it because I wasn’t sure what else to do or say in the company of so many bright-sparks, sometimes to merge into the back-ground is the wisest thing to do, no matter how misunderstood this action can be.

I took pleasure in the thinking that maybe she’d arrive in the morning to find the previous night’s work done and think it was fairies that did it, or maybe she didn’t notice at all.

Either way, it worked out well for both of us I guess.


 This hut reminded me of Animal from the muppets, though I have no idea why.

Bring on the comments

  1. Brianf says:

    It’s negro with a trill on the R and the E is pronounced as a long A. nAAgro. Negro with a long E is a completely different word. nEEgro

  2. K8 says:

    When I pronounced it for him, it sounded just as you described… like ‘Nay-grow’. No matter how it’s pronounced, it’s still the same word, and it is just that, only a word.

    What serves as a simple description of colour in one country is also a shootable offence in another, just as ‘dad’ in German is pronounced ‘farter’… it gets lost in translation to us sensitive giggly types.

  3. Dara says:

    It is always interesting what can seem a simple word in one place can have far more complicated meaning in another.
    PS: I like the picture of the progression from ape to man, then to pig. Very Orwellian.

  4. K8 says:

    Dara: Like Fanny! This word had endless amusement for us Irish types, maybe too much so. We like inside secrets, I suppose. (So to speak)

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