Doing the dishes

At the moment, I am living with a host family.  And, like any good house guest or daughter, I try to pitch in with chores.  I actually enjoy doing light tasks around the house and carrying my weight in my home. It is one way that I feel like I am a part of the household.

Some of my family’s pretty dishes

However, my host mother insists on taking care of everything for me. Poor me, right? I get delicious, flavorful breakfasts and dinners each day, and I don’t have to lift a finger. I have to say, though, that it is taking some getting used to. Since I was a child, I have cleaned up after myself. It actually feels a bit awkward to be shooed away from the sink after meals. I want to help.

The other day, I channeled my inner-stubborn self; I quickly grabbed the breakfast dishes just as she walked out of the room. When she returned a few minutes later, she caught me wet-handed at the sink.

¡Aiee! You can wash dishes with your hands?!” she exclaimed.

I was puzzled. Can’t everyone? “Of course I can.”

As the words came out of my mouth, I realized that she had likely assumed that either: 1) I had only done the dishes with a dishwasher, or 2) my mother at home had always done them for me. I believe that the latter is more common in Mexico than in the United States. “I have washed them with my hands for most of my life,” I clarified.

“Oh, terrific! I see that you are good with the water.” There it was. The reason she had not allowed me to do dishes before: she worried about my water use.

In my experience, many Americans do not think about water on a daily basis. It comes out of the tap, and that is that. Not in Mexico. Water is a precious commodity not to be squandered down the drain when warming up the shower or washing produce. It is common in Central Mexico to place a bowl or bucket below to capture every last unused or minimally used drop whenever the tap is on. Conserved water is used for many other purposes such as watering plants and cleaning dirty shoes.

Collecting the warming shower water

Now that I have proved my water conservation skills, I am allowed to wash the dishes. But only rarely. I am, after all, still the daughter.

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Making me smile:

  • My host father’s bad jokes, por ejemplo, “I am not ready to go yet. I need to put on my head first.” They are always followed by a slowly cracked smile and a sweet chuckle.
  • Warm plantains with walnuts and crumbly cheese
  • Gentle evening breezes while walking in the city’s historical center
  • Occasional fluid, two way conversations in Spanish. While rare, they happen!
  •  Watching a Bellagio-style water-fountain ballet in one of the many town plazas
  • Awkward double-meanings in Spanish, por ejemplo, “La casa tiene 2 plantas…¿como un cactus y un arbol?” Which means: The house has two plants…like that it has a cactus and a tree? Nope. Lesson learned: “planta” means both plant and levels in a building.

Still becoming accustomed to:

  • Very little unscheduled and/or alone time
  • Being a pedestrian, a potentially perilous role to play
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