Hablando Espaliano

Today, 14 women came to Casa Alitas.

One of them is a Roma (commonly known as Gypsy) woman who speaks Italian. I’ll call her Perla. Perla likes to talk and she doesn’t really care if you can understand her. I was talking with another guest about her situation and she broke down into tears. Perla was trying to be supportive, I think, so she would make a whole speech then look at the woman, at me, at the other volunteers, waiting for us to respond. We would all nod solemnly in agreement, wondering silently what she was talking about.

I had to go to the store to buy some undies for the women, and Perla asked to go with me so she could buy some cigarettes. When we got in the car, she asked me a few questions, like how old I was, and whether I had kids. I think my ability to answer these questions gave her a false sense of how much Italian I actually understand.

She talked nonstop for the whole 10 minute ride to Walmart. I caught quite a bit of it, and after the bits I understood, I’d give an ah or an uh-huh or an ay, no. This would encourage her and she’d begin to talk faster, waving her hands to illustrate her point or making the sign of the cross (she did this so many times, that I feel my car is now super blessed). Then she would burst into wild laughter, and I would too at the absurdity of the situation. She’d pat my arm like we were sharing a real knee-slapper, and then continue to tell me stories.

This job has a lot of moments where I have to step back, look at myself, and just take a minute to appreciate how bizarre my life has become. Walking around Walmart with a cart full of 40 pairs of underwear and 10 bottles of various household cleaners, while chatting with a Roma woman in a mix of Italian and Spanish was definitely one of those moments.

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