I don’t need my cell phone’s alarm to go off: I just heard my co-woofer get up in the room next-door and head off to turn on the kitchen’s lights. I dress, go splash some water on my face, comb my hair, and enter the kitchen and dining area as the coffee-maker is being turned on.
First, check the computer for new bookings. Write them down in the book. File every overnight fax.
In the interlude that lingers between the last filed fax and the first guest getting out of bed, I pour myself a fresh cup of coffee. Maybe a toast to go with it. I’ll have proper breakfast during the next interlude.
I stand in front of the large window and peer through the winter darkness. It has been snowing.
The strangest thing happened to me yesterday during this morning routine. I just remembered that next weekend was the deadline for me to grade my student’s essays and send those grades to my administration. It struck me how easily I had drifted away from those grades (and with those grades comes a whole universe of class rooms, white-board markers, timetables, faculty meetings). Sometimes I wonder how our minds can be so transient, drifting from one life to the other.
My students asked if these could write to me and ask for pictures and news from me. They asked if I would come back. I smiled and said: “Of course!”
It is way too early to draw parallels, lessons and even less conclusions regarding the way I happily said goodbye to my academic life to at last (oh! at last!) live another life, somewhere faraway, somewhere where I would start learning new things, where I would start from (almost) zero. Somewhere that would trap me and prevent me from wanting to go back. Somewhere that, if I’m lucky, would push me forward.
I can already feel it kicking in.
On my first shift, I got lost inside a duvet cover. At home, we have a mezzanine. At home, I literally stuff the duvet inside the cover, grab the two rear corners of both, hold them together, and shake the whole monster into the empty space. But in that dorm, there is no mezzanine. I first tried the super trick my British co-woofer showed me, that which consists in pulling the cover inside out, grabbing two corners of the duvet and magically watch it slip inside, waves of feathered texture compliantly filling in every corner. The cognitive load seemed to be too much for my academic mind. I went for a more straightforward way: I flattened both duvet and cover and literally walked the duvet into the cover. What happened next I won’t tell.
On my second shift, there were fifteen beds to be made. I wasn’t ready for this. My German co-woofer was born ready. She trotted up the staircases, headphones on, clad in sportswear. That shift is just an interlude between her snowboard training at dawn and her skiing down a 90% slope before tea time. She’s freaking efficient. She’s vacuumed two rooms, polished two bed bunks and changed 6 sets of sheets before I’m done with my third attempt at my British co-woofer’s duvet trick. I later emerged into the main hall with the dorm’s bin bag and sighed at the sight of her, buzzing around in rhythm with her music. As I emptied the small bag into the main bag and absent-mindedly watched an empty bottle of water and a piece of paper fall down, she came to me. She told me:
Iv you find a bottle of wahter, make shoor you put it in de recycling bin.
Ok! I deedn’t kno wee also deed eet with ze rooms’ beans.
Her face brightened:
Of course! (She always says “Of course!” without an accent) Dat vay ve get pizza!
And so I learned that in my new home, all the money from recycling pays pizza for the whole staff.
We have dinner every night together, woofers and owners. Every night, there is a roaring fire going, nice music playing in the dining room, and we eat a nice homemade meal (or pizzas) among the guests. The morning tidying is done, most of the check-ins are done. Here we are, each of us a tiny bit of the world, sharing a bite and talking about our day, our plans, our travels, our life. A real patchwork of a family in its faraway home.
The next day, another morning shift; another load of check-ins and check-outs. My Australian co-woofer is a sweetheart: she keeps telling me to take it easy; I’ve only been there a week after all. At the end of the shift, I tackle the last part of the tidying: the swiffering of the communal bathrooms and of the kitchen area. I shoulder my swiffer, grab enough disinfecting ammo and march into the disabled bathroom. I put everything down, close the door to have more space and inspect the sink and toilet I washed an hour before. “Zis is all good!”, I tell myself with a proud smile. It is all kicking in after all.
I pick the disinfectant’s trigger bottle up from the floor, grab the swiffer and expertly flip it upside down to get the cloth facing up and spray it.
Somehow, I did both actions with the same hand and I’m stuck with a full hand, every finger holding on to something. I snort.
I grab the swiffer with my other hand and pull. A sudden loss of sight informs me of what has just happened. The bottle of disinfectant was facing me and when I pulled, I also pulled the trigger and sprayed my own face. I stagger backward, drop everything, bump into the wall and frantically feel my way to the sink and its tap.
Back in the kitchen and dining room, no one heard that racket. My Australian co-woofer, the hostel’s vacuum in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, is sipping at her breakfast blend, listening to the morning playlist. Guests are having a last cup of coffee before heading off to some 90% slope, while others just chill with a book about mountain climbing.
All of them, tiny bits of the world, a real patchwork of a family in a faraway home.