Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pilgrims and the Mongrel Mob

So today I had the privilege of serving an American Thanksgiving dinner to the less fortunate residents of Wellington. I wasn't sure what to expect since I had never done this sort of thing before. I'd done my share of volunteering over the years, but I have always resisted helping in homeless shelters, though I would drop off food and sundry items every year. This year I would have to step up since the US Embassy in NZ had organized the event at the downtown mission.

We were all assigned a few tables to look after. We were to serve them as if it were a restaurant. They ordered soft drinks and coffee and we would then take them a plate. As people shuffled in I saw children, moms and dads, distinguished-looking older people, and a few young adults mixed in. What I didn't expect were the few gang members that waltzed in, all tattooed and scary looking. Of course, they sat in my section.

OK, deep breaths. As I approached my table I asked if I could bring them anything. Most ordered juice or Coca-Cola, but the apparent leader of this small group asked if I could get him a 20 year old. "Sorry", I said, "we're fresh out". I tried not to make eye contact. Now he wanted to make small talk. "So, where are you from in America?" he asked.

This is a tough question. I've moved a lot in my life, this one to NZ being my 31st. I began scanning my brain to come up with the coolest place I have lived to "bond" with my new friend. Florida did not seem gangsta enough. Philadelphia? No. Georgia? Definitely not. North Carolina ? Too white bread. South Carolina? Too wheat bread.

I know, "South Dakota" I said.  He looked at me puzzled. "Where the F is that?" he asked. "Well, have you ever heard of Sturgis?" 

"Is that the big Harley festival?" he asked. Well, I wasn't going to correct him. "Sure is". I said.  "Cool."

I had made a friend.

The rest of the lunch was uneventful until my table got a bit rowdy during the Ambassador's speech, with one drunkard asking for a Tui (a New Zealand beer) and another guy passing out.

Everyone was really polite and well mannered (except the drunk guy). I was astonished to notice that even the downtrodden and mob members of New Zealand have impeccable table manners. I even received a friendly kiss from one appreciative fellow. Everything was eaten and everyone was thankful. All in all it was a good day.

I came home very thankful for my life. Tonight I will soak my very tired feet and be happy that I have a home to live in, food to eat, and friends and family who love me.

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