I'm linking up with Emily's Imperfect Prose today. Click on the button to check out more writing.
The narrow side street is crowded, and you think you've found the place. Some people have been waiting since before 6am. It might be dark, cold and rainy, but there's always a line, they tell you. It's worth the wait, they say, so you head to the end, feeling hopeful.
On your way in, you're kindly given a hot beverage and some biscuits. You didn't eat anything before heading over this morning, but you're shy to ask for more. A voice calls out, anyone for seconds? How about thirds or even fifths? You can get as much as you like till it's gone.
Someone is handing out colour-coded numbers. Children's clothes, household goods, men's clothes, women's? Maybe toys, maybe just a bag of food to get you to the end of the month. Your son needs a coat - he's growing so fast! Someone ushers you down the hall and helps you find his size. You fill a bag - a coat, socks and little sweater. Next you're sent to another room where there are shelves of things you could use. You find a coat for yourself - the same colour as your son's - and an outfit that will help you feel good about applying for jobs.
It's after noon by the time things finish up, but the day isn't over yet, they tell you. In the evening, women are invited back for a workshop and conversation. Why don't you come by? Self-esteem, support, the practicalities of life as an immigrant, or even just talking with someone who has been there and done that. Bring your boy - there's free babysitting while you take just an hour for yourself.
You're amazed. Is this real? You're a total stranger, and you've been fed, clothed and now invited out? You know your problems haven't instantly disappeared - there's food till Sunday, and then what? But you feel better and a little less cynical about life in this new city, this new land, than you did when you woke up at the crack of dawn.
The Flip Side
I was new in the city - my husband's from here, so I'd been before, but this was different. I lived here now, and I was worried feeling purposeful. I couldn't work until my immigration status changed, and that, they told me, could take two years. I was also worried about feeling lonely and disconnected. I do have some friends over here, but they work, and not all live nearby. In a nutshell, I was feeling a little lost.
But not for long. God always provides, and He reminded me once again that I needn't have worried in the first place.
On my first Sunday back at the Community Church of Madrid, I mentioned in passing that I'd like to be doing something. "Excellent", people said. Unemployability and a long wait for paperwork was suddenly a blessing - "we can always use people at the ASP", they said, "you can help one of the women from our church. She's away today, but not to worry, she will tell you what to do when you get there", they said.
So on Thursday, I headed on over to the mysterious ASP (Accion Social Protestante - Protestant Social Action, in case you were wondering) and met a wonderful woman from my congregation who put me straight to work. I helped hand out hot milk and biscuits, and then I manned the household goods and books section. Seeing delight on faces, foreign and Spanish alike, as people found a purse they could use, or a book they thought their children would like, seeing hard faces scowling all the while, seeing scared faces relax and others continually look over their shoulder opened up a whole other part of Madrid to me.
The morning flew by, and in the evening I was back for childcare. Those kids were so happy to play with whatever was on hand for them. Play-dough, colouring, books, puzzles. They didn't notice if it wasn't the latest thing. Some were wild (one wild one is my absolute favourite - I miss him if he's not there), some were sleeping babies, some were extremely shy. It was a long day, a good day. I felt I'd found a place for myself in the city.
The next week I woke up early, with my husband, and got dressed. "Where are you going?" He asked.
I no longer volunteer at the food and clothing bank since I've been blessed with a full-time job; however, I still attend Thursday evening child care. Some people ask why. Well, I believe it is our civic, human and Christian duty to give back and help others when we can. If everyone on the planet gave back even an hour of their time, wouldn't this place be grand? It's also a lot of fun and social! I am grateful to the other volunteers for welcoming me into the group with open arms. Your time means so much to so many.
The ASP takes donations of gently used clothing and household goods. If you are in the Madrid area and have something to donate, please contact me.