My last blog post I talked about the hardest event and week so far at Annunciation House. Since then I have been working to concentrate on the things that bring me joy of living in this house, particularly by concentrating on the ways in which we build a family here, rather than simply run a homeless shelter (the difference being that we strive to be a house of hospitality instead of just a homeless shelter, a difference I’m sure I’ll talk more about in the future).
So, in this blog post I will describe some of the weird, funny, and joyful moments I’ve shared with my “family members” here:
- Great Aunts: About a week ago two of the older women pulled me aside to saying that they needed to talk to me about something. I got concerned that there was some problem I needed to address, but instead they said, “Alanna, I need to ask you a question.” Feeling nervous I said, “Okay?” She asked me where I was the day before (on my day off), because my face was really sunburned. I responded that I had been hanging out in a park with some friends for a few hours, why? The woman who originally pulled me aside then asked something that I didn’t understand but the friend burst out laughing and I start to feel nervous again. She repeated the question: “Was it a nudist park?” Ummm no! But they were laughing so hard I was pretty sure it was a joke. I moved my tank top I was wearing over to the side a bit to see that in fact I had tan lines and had been wearing clothes. At first I was just really embarrassed and flustered that any of the guests would accuse me of that, until I realized that it was actually hilarious that a guest would be brave enough to ask me, the person in charge, that kind of question. And I suddenly became really glad that we have built a safe enough environment that they felt like they could joke about that with me. Even if it is awkward when they continue to bring up this inside joke around other people who do not understand the context of them asking if I’ve gone to the nudist park again recently…
- Father: Our director, who I think is very appropriate to refer to as the dad here, often assigns the volunteers different projects to do at our weekly staff meeting. Usually they are things like research about this, ask this guest about that, find out how visitation to a particular detention center works, etc. So when he was trying to assign organizing the food pantries, one of the volunteers brought up the concern that we have a ton of canned yams/sweet potatoes and that they don’t really know what to do with them because the guests don’t like them. So he turned to me and gave me the task of finding a recipe to use the sweet potatoes that the guests would actually enjoy. I love doing what it takes to run a homeless shelter, but it is times like that where I really feel like I am living in a house of hospitality that our director deems it worth it for a volunteer to invest the time and energy into finding a new recipe that the guests will like while trying to use up what people have donated to us. And yes, I did succeed when I made a yummy sweet potato casserole, did receive a high five from him for doing so, and reminded the guests that they actually do like sweet potatoes. Yes!
- Little Nephew: Last night I was sitting at the table next to the toddler in the house. He’s just learning to speak a few words and I tend to forget that he can understand a lot more than he can speak. He was eating toast with some yummy-looking spread on it so I just commented to him, “Que rico!” and something about him being lucky to have such a yummy dessert before bedtime. He immediately turned to me with his big, bright eyes and handed me the bread so that I could have a bite. I was moved by his easy compassion to share his food (he LOVES eating) and realized that he learned that from everyone in the house who are all quick to share their food, even food they bought. I gladly shared that moment with him, though slightly regretted it when he immediately starting coughing right after I took the bite and I remembered he’s been sick for a few weeks.
- Big family gathering: We had a baby shower this week for one of the guests and I swear it reminded me of the big family gatherings I’ve had to celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving with my family back home. Almost everyone brought a gift for the baby, even if it was just a small blanket, and they went all out cheering for the pregnant girl and wishing her luck. There was an overabundance of cake, nachos, and so much food that so many people contributed to in the ways they could, such a buying the nachos chips or cake mixes, or helping cook if they had no money to contribute to buying anything. Although the girl said she was sad to not be with all of her family during this time, I think she also felt the wonderful presence of her family here.
- Mother/Sister: Last night while on night cover I finally got the call: she was going into labor! Ali drove the car to the hospital, with me in the passenger seat, and the pregnant girl, her mother, and another guest in the backseat (who wanted to go to support the mother so that she wouldn’t be alone in the waiting room by herself, even though they just met 2 weeks ago!). As soon as we arrived at the hospital they immediately instructed the pregnant girl to get in the wheel chair and took her away to start some prep work. Therefore, the mother was left to fill out the registration paperwork for her daughter. I love this mother and I applaud her external calmness she was giving off, but I could tell inside she was totally freaking out. I could picture this happening if Alyssa were to be the pregnant girl and I was there with my mom. She forgot her daughter’s birthday, couldn’t figure out what number to use for telephone number (even though she has an El Paso cellphone) and I was so glad to be there to help get the registration completed and to be a stable presence beside her. Ali brought the other guest to up to where we were, and Ali and I left once her paperwork was complete and it was just the waiting game from there on out. I made her promise to send me a text when the baby was born and so this morning at 5 AM we had a 20 minute text conversation when we rejoiced over the birth of the baby! I couldn’t wait to invite a new nephew to join the family!
So despite sometimes having things that really weigh heavily on my heart and soul, I think it’s clear to see that overall I am loving life right now! I might have have passed the record that I have ever gone without seeing my family, but this family here sure is supporting and loving on me. And I’m trying my best to return that love.