Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hospitalera in Corcubion - Last day

It is raining.
It was a beautiful day yesterday - and all week - but today the mist is so thick you can´t even see the other side of the park. The electricity has tripped again. I uncoil the extension cord and drape it around the back of the benches so that I can put on the coffee and switch the fridge on. I boil a kettle, put a kettle of milk onto the stove and cut two loaves of bread for breakfast. Isa comes down - still sleepy. At 7 am sharp I put on Gregorian Chants and turn up the sound. The voices of the monks chanting echoes up the stairwell and wakes the sleeping pilgrims who slowly make their way down to the livingroom.
"Cafe?" I ask, "Solo or con leche?" "Cola Cao?" "Te?"
They dump their packs in the entrance hall and sit at the table eating toast, Marie biscuits, bread and jam sipping their hot drinks. "Is it raining?" asks one of the young German pilgrims. He has on a vest and shorts. Last night he told us that he would only be able to sleep in the municiapl albergue at Finisterre but not at the private one that charges 10€ because he has run out of money. "I will sleep on the beach" he says. The rain has really dampened his spirits. Kiss, kiss, hug, hug - angeles, engels - and then they are all gone.
"Thank you for everything" says Brian. "I hope you feel blessed by what you are doing here because we were blessed to have you". What a lovely thing to say - I am moved. I do feel blessed. Blessed that I am healthy and able to help the Association keep the albergue going in the spirit of camino - love, welcome, caring.
"I don´t think I´ve done it for the pilgrims so much as for the people who provide these shelters" I try to tell Isa when she asks why I volunteered to be a hospitalera.
´To give back´is a stock response but to give back to whom? For me, it has been to give back to those who provide the shelters, especially the donativo shelters. I am fulfilling a promise I made to myself 2 years ago, to come back and add my bit to the tapestry that is the camino.
It is still raining so we'll stay in today. After the usual 3 hour round of sweeping, mopping, dusting, wiping down, we defrost the fridge. We´ll leave the next hospitalera with a nice clean fridge. We tidy the pantry. Potatoes, lettuce, onions etc have all shed a few leaves or sand and the floor and boxes need cleaning. We tidy the pot cupboard. Its so easy to push a fry pan on top of a cooking pot and then the lids fall all over the place. We rearrange the books and CDs and tapes. Yesterday I put fresh hydrangeas into empty marmelade bottles. Lola brought me two red roses yesterday. These are now in the little pot with the Camomile daisies we picked in the forest at Finisterre. The place looks really homely.
I go upstairs and throw everything I possess onto my bed and sift through the old tickets, papers, rubbish collected along the caminos. I decide to leave the South African flag in the albergue - I put it on the mantlepiece when I arrived and it has stood proudly there for two weeks. I flatten my backpack and put it at the bottom of the folding kit bag. I pack all my camino stuff into the bag and leave out only the little folding backpack. I am ready to leave in the morning. I have mixed emotions.
The first pilgrims, a Spanish couple, arrive in the mist at about 2pm. Then two German men who look like Laurel and Hardy. They are soaked through and once inside the taller of the two struggles to get his credential out of his waistbag under the poncho. I put up my hands. "Nein" I say in my best German. "Sit down, take off your boots, leave your ponchos here. Go upstairs, choose a bed and have a hot shower. Come down and have some coffee or hot chocolate and then bring the credentials to me. I´m not going anywhere so we can do this when you are warm and dry. " They look at each other and the smaller one starts to cry. Oh shit!
"Nein, nein" I say. "Arriva, arriva" I shoo them upstairs. I find out that the younger (who is 64 years old) is an emotional man who cries when telling me about the kindness of strangers, about finding his daughter´s date of birth and sign of the zodiac on a marker outside Santiago, and who gets tearful recounting just about every other experience he has had on the camino. El Camino does that to some people - it can be a very powerful experience.
When they come down about an hour late the taller one asks me where I am from. When I say South Africa he startles me by bellowing out the entire National Anthem in a deep barritone.
Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo,
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.

(He encourages me to join in by conducting with his hands. I join in but don´t know all the words so for this post I googled them)
Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa la matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa South Afrika - South Afrika.

(I know the next bit which is Afrikaans because we all learned the words at school. I bellow out at the top of my voice.)

Uit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,

(I am lost with English because I never did learn the words)

Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom,
In South Africa our land.

He sings in a choir in Frankfurt and sang at Free Mandela rallies carrying posters ad placards he says. He talks faster and faster in hybrid German/Dutch/English and I don´t really understand but I catch a few words and names - Walter Sisulu, Helen Suzman - so I nod appreciatively and show that I am grateful and proud of him. "Danke" I say. He smiles and nods.
After dinner we will sing the old Xhosa hymn again but this time in a small group.
More pilgrims arrive and then a very wet, bedraggled, exhausted looking woman arrives.
"You look like a very tired pilgrim" I say. "I am - I´m exhausted, I have walked over 40km today. I didn´t know that I could walk 40km and I am very proud of myself.
"Where are you from?" I ask, she has a familiar accent.
"South Africa" she says. Screech, screech, kiss, kiss, hug, hug. She is Ann from Cape Town. "Is there another South African here" she asks. "No, just me" I say. Her cousin should be here, or might be coming behind her. We get her out of her wet shoes, stuff them with newspaper and she struggles upstairs to find a bed, a hot shower and lie down for a while before coming down later.
It is my turn to cook. "Cook curry beans" asks Isa. She has developed a taste for spicy food. I blend all sorts of spices´- pizza spice, red and black piemento, curry powder, garlic, some spices I don´t know but they smell good, into a paste and start the dinner. I am preapring for 8 pilgrimgs, then two more arrive so the curry becomes a mixed one - white beans, lentils, bottles of vegetables, diced potatoes. I make pancakes which Isa helps to sprinkles with sugar and cinnamon and lemon juice and rolls them up onto a large platter. Winifried (the younger of the two German pilgrims) is delighted with the pancakes. "My mother made the best pancakes" he says wistfully, "we called them pfannkuchen". We all remember our mother's cooking, no matter how old we are or how far we are from home.
There is a knock on the door. It is Stephen from Johannesburg, Ann´s cousin. It is 8 o´clock and he has walked a long, hard day. We wait while he has a shower but he misses out on the San Roque choir singing "Tengo, tengo Hambre" "I am, I am hungry" "Ich bin Honrig" "Ek is, ek is honger".

The sun has come out. It will be a nice day tomorrow - my last day in Spain. We move the wash rack into the sun in the park. After dinner Winfried (of the Frankfurt mens Choir) Ann, a relucuctant Stephen and I stand up and sing nKosi Sikhele iAfrica to much applause. Then Winfried and Tomas sing a rather sombre German folk song. We serve coffee, tea, hot chocolate. Ann and I chat away - it is 11pm. I am tired. We go to bed. I can see the lights of Finsiterre through the window. Tomorrow I leave.

1 comment:

  1. Your emotional German tearing up at your kindness reminds me of our arrival last year in O'Ceibrero. I had not realized how hard the climb had been, not so much for me, but watching it being hard on my husband.
    It had been a really slow climb and I had realized we would not be able to get to our next stop, about 6 or 7 kms further on the Camino.
    We stopped at a little cafe, drained. When the lady of the place came with a huge platter of cold cuts and offered it to us for a taste.
    I looked at her, I looked at the plate and I simply started sobbing. Her kindness broke the dam of strength I had built up all along the climb.
    It was a terrible way to thank her for her kindness, but she helped me decide to stay in O'Cebreiro. We basically slept from 3 pm till the next morning...