Halfway There

The frustration hits me like a brick wall.

It’s a solid, heavy, full-frontal assault. This week marks the halfway point for this session. While the apprentices are progressing, I find myself still repeating and echoing the same admonishments over and over again.

“Say behind. No metal on cutting boards. Hold knives against your body, point down. Work NEAT, no exceptions.”

I feel like a nag.

My tolerance for the constant back and forth of translating has evaporated. I force the issue of speaking and understanding English. I propel the apprentices out of their comfort zone.

Indeed, my acceptance of anything less than excellent is gone. At this point in the game, I expect, no, I demand that they practice the skills I have been trying to teach them. Perfectly diced potatoes should be standard. Prep lists should be automatically written. There should be no standing around, waiting for me to tell them what to do. I set the bar as high as I think they can reach, and then just a little higher.

After five hours of pushing, pulling and growing another set of eyes in the back of my head, the apprentices leave for the day. I do a few more hours of prep work and then I head out to get supplies for a catering event tomorrow. I feel heavy as I climb into my car and plop into the driver’s seat.

About ten minutes down the road, I pull into the parking lot of Saar’s. I’ve never been here before. This store is not what I imagined it would be. I thought it was a quiet Mom and Pop corner grocery store. But instead, I am greeted by a large modern supermarket.

The clientele inside is varied. This is not the polar fleece-wearing, SUV-driving crowd that I encounter at the more manicured stores in my neighborhood. Instead, I see a plethora of Latino families, and quite a few women wearing hijabs. There are lots of brown faces, and I feel like I blend right in.

A young Caucasian woman comes in, wearing red combat boots. A middle-aged Caucasian man is buying his lonely dinner of potato salad and Oreo cookies. They are the minority.

I’m not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

I wander down the aisles, looking for sumac and injera. The store is divided into sections: Hispanic, Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Asian. It resembles a haphazard edible United Nations assembly.

I lose myself in the array of spices from the Middle East, the different snack foods and crackers from each continent, and marvel at how many teas, pickles and jams there seems to be in existence. I’m in no hurry; I start to relax as I pick up jars and cans to read labels, puzzle out what they contain. Some people go to spas, but this is my paradise.

I find the sumac, and the injera, too. I refrain from buying some delicious-looking flatbread, and a seductive fig jam. I give the mangoes a longing glance, and then another, but I move on to check out and go home.

The cashier is a tall African American woman with fuschia hair and lipstick. Her name is Tiffany, and she greets each customer at her register with a friendly hello and tells them she’ll see them soon as they leave. It is a stark contrast to the cashier yesterday in my stomping grounds, the one that couldn’t stop his conversation with his colleague to even look at me, much less say hello.

And then it hits me as I make my way to my car.

My world has expanded. That whole adage of how foods breaks down barriers? I’m living it. All the aggravation, frustration and weariness is not just because I’m pushing the apprentices to greater heights. I, too, am changing and widening my world.

Growth is taxing. To constantly be reshaping thoughts, values, ideas and perceptions is draining. There are days when I want to crawl back into my comfortable shell. I want to escape the foreignness, to be able to speak without pantomiming madly to be understood.

I want to just rest.

And then a little thing happens, to remind me that this world is bigger than that, and that no, you can never go back again. A little thing, like a walk down a grocery store aisle in Tukwila.




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