Travels Writing


I’m a news junkie. The amount of time I spend scanning the internet for the latest news is probably enough for me to start a successful second career in something that actually pays money. Sometimes though, increasingly more often, I wish I wasn’t so much of a news junkie. What humans can do to other humans can be appalling and heartbreaking. It is that same humanity (myself included, obviously) who are interested in reading about the outrageous things going on in our world, which often happen to be bad things.

That’s why I’m not expecting many people to be interested in reading my little story about a nice housekeeper in San Diego, who I befriended while staying at my favorite hostel in the Gaslamp District. But it is Christmas after all, despite however much cynicism I also spread around this time of year (well, all year, really).

A few weekends ago, I arrived in San Diego for another sailing race with Lugano (yes, Lugano website is finally live! Rejoice world) whose crew has become my California family. I love staying at the hostel because I always get to meet interesting and cool people from all over the world. Last time, I met Joanny from Canada, and we had a great time going to dinner, getting drinks with the crew, and she even went sailing the next day. I also met Nick and Ryan, Marines stationed in San Diego, and it was interesting talking with them about the overall experience of being in the Marines during wartime.

I was at the hostel, utilizing my Spanish skills to ask the housekeeping lady something, and we started talking. Just about the usual things, like the fact that she’d recently started working there and how she liked having different jobs where she got to do different things. She’s worked in all sorts of cleaning jobs, cooking, landscaping, and mostly other low-paying jobs.

Rosa was her name, and she was from Tijuana.

I asked her what she thought of all the bad reputation that Tijuana was getting in the news, and as I knew she’d respond, she said she thought that it wasn’t as dangerous as depicted in the news. I’m saying I knew she’d say that because Phoenix was recently named as the second-worst city in the world for kidnappings, and I can assure any concerned prospective visitor that you will not get kidnapped walking around the streets of Phoenix unless you’re actively involved with crime (e.g. drugs and illegal immigration). Being from Panama, I also know that depictions of third-world countries can be more bad than good, yet tourists or locals don’t live in fear. I never did.

But I digress.

At one point in the conversation, she mentioned that she used to work at a tamale factory, making minimum wage and working 10-hour days or more. I think she said she worked there for 10 years, and the reason she left was because it was time to move on to something else. I got the impression that, despite the hard work for little money, she was no different than any of us goal-oriented, university folks who strategize about the next steps in our careers. But her goals were more simple. She just wanted to try something new.

When did my goals get so complicated?

Our conversation moved on to tamales, how much I liked tamales, the difference between tamales in Panama and Mexico, and whether there were any good restaurants nearby to get some good tamales.

When I came back from sailing the next day, on my bed, there was a plastic bag with tamales, left for me by Rosa.

The act of kindness toward a stranger moved me, of course, but it moved me even more to think about Rosa. Here’s a woman who despite whatever circumstances she exists in, and in a life some people would consider hard and unfair, she has remained unembittered by it all. In a day and age when friendships are so fleeting, hypocritical, and more about conveniences than anything else, Rosa reminded me that best of friendships and relationships are the simple, uncomplicated ones that have a few key, very meaningful moments.

It made me think of a New Year’s Resolution that I personally think is more doable that losing 20 lbs or stop the drinking— to simplify all types of relationships. To weed out the bad ones and put an end to them, and to concentrate on the ones that bring me joy and positive vibes. I know, I know, it is probably easier said than done, but in 2010, I’m going to live my life trying to find pleasure in the simple things, like conversations with all the Rosas of the world.

Of course, they were the best tamales I have ever had.

2 replies on “Sharing”

I was interested in reading your story 🙂

And I’m very glad that she came into your life and gave you such a wonderful gift+tamales.
(BTW if you got a recipe you should share!)

Great article, very well written, interesting, with a smooth cadence of words and ideas, and easy to follow up to the end. Everybody have a story to tell, maybe Rosa can write a book, full of dramatic moments, tinted with “here and there” spots of happiness. I am sure she will mention you on her book, for taking the time to listen and sharing some minutes. But I still believe that the “tamales de gallina” from Panamá are the best.

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