Turnaround: La Mesa, Weeks 6 and 7

The week of preparation leading up to our sixth meeting of La Mesa de Conversacion was a time of worry and crippling self-doubt: I had lost hope after three weeks of increasingly frustrating meetings.

The Sunday before each Tuesday meeting usually had found me relatively prepared, with food ordered and activities planned. Yet this week I hadn’t even ordered food, instead opting for plan b: curling into a woeful ball and hoping Tuesday would never arrive. Tuesday arrived. I ordered pizza. Last minute, my expectations were further lowered by a text from Marisol, who couldn’t make it to translate.

SO, I found myself at the Rec Center at 5:45, both worried that people wouldn’t show up and worried that they would.

Things got off to a slow start, certainly. Jane arrived, and I warned her that we might be the only participants tonight. At 6:15, we were surprised by the arrival of Cynthia, a delightfully quirky woman from the community who had attended the second meeting. We chatted for a while, and were just serving up pizza for our tiny group when we were greeted with another surprise: Marisol’s family had arrived, including her dad, a dairy worker who had the night off. We ate, and then paired up and began discussing questions I had prepared (“if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?” or “how do you get rid of stress?”)

I stumbled through translating during the meeting, oddly liberated without Marisol’s help. Folks were patient with my mistakes; we were all working on our language skills together, we laughed at ourselves together and it was good. We finished up the evening Cumbia dancing under the tutelage of Rosa, a Latina woman who works at the Rec Center and had offered to come do a movement activity during the last twenty minutes. The music and positive energy left me feeling completely reenergized; my low expectations and dread leading up to the evening made its positive outcome all the more affirming. Once again, I was excited to think up ideas for the next week!

Week Seven followed in this same upward trajectory, something I couldn’t have been more grateful for. Tonight I decided to order Chinese food after a request from participants to mix things up. Today, Marisol was again unable to make it due to an issue with her car, but I was overjoyed to see other familiar faces: high school senior Jaqueline and her two younger siblings were there, representing their family after the tragedy they had experienced several weeks ago. Again, we went through a series of questions in small groups. I chatted with the kids (we all appreciated the opportunity to practice our Spanish) while the adults translated their way through the questions, a painstaking process they all were taking very seriously. We ended the evening dancing with Rosa again, and I was boundlessly grateful for her energy and enthusiasm.

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