Our Wednesday ritual in Valencia includes a cup of what we have heard is the world’s best coffee (Kimbo) at home. Then we head over to Cafe de L’abad for fresh squeezed orange juice, more coffee, and tomato toast.
We have become recognizable regulars. The barista makes a fine cup of coffee. She has also been extremely kind when subjected to our stumbling, but increasingly confident, efforts to speak Spanish.
We have rudimentary conversations now. She told me the current exchange rate is favorable for her upcoming visit to Algeria. Her eyes lit up when she shared the date she is flying home.
After our latest breakfast at Cafe de l’Abad we headed over to the Help Ukraine-Valencia shop. Valencia shuts down in August. There was a plan to shut Help Ukrainian-Valencia down as well. An ad-hoc plan was made to keep it open on Wednesdays. Word on the street is that during August we might be the only game in town.
The line outside the shop demonstrated the need that exists. It also told us it would be a busy day. We’d be living on the edge of running out of food.
Generous donations from Fabian, Lisa, Rachel, and Lorrie gave us a head start. Wael’s food supply gave us a solid foundation. The proprietor of the corner fruit and vegetable shop gave us a box of potatoes, and 6 kilos of oranges. Yuliya hit the store several times. Martha and her son made a grocery run. Donna and the Sheriff of Mariupol brought back a rolling cart full of eggs. Then they went back for milk, coffee, tomato sauce, pasta, and vegetables. A man who makes regular donations came in with bags of designer t-shirts and a wad of cash. The ear worm of the day was, “Coming in on a wing and a prayer…”
We more than doubled the number of people we typically serve on Wednesdays. By my estimate we supplied food for well over 250 people. We didn’t send anyone away empty handed. The word is out though. Next week we’ll have to dig deeper and scramble harder.
None of what I just wrote communicates the comradery within the shop and in the lines. Keeping people hydrated as they waited in Valencia’s hot soggy heat was a priority. Bottles of water were received with smiles and lots of “mucho, mucho gracias” delivered with Ukrainian accents. Passing out mini-popsicles to people who had been in line for more than hour was met with delight. We need to figure out how to pass out cold slices of watermelon!
Of course there was a bittersweet moment too. On Wednesday the woman who had dreamed so fiercely about going home to Ukraine and sitting in her kitchen came to say good-bye. I followed her out to the sidewalk and grasped her hand. We hugged. Her face was firmly set with courage and determination. Without warning tears fell unwanted from her eyes. She gathered herself back together and went off to face an uncertain future. I will carry her in my heart. Donna will find a cathedral with clear energy and light a candle.
After closing up shop and finding ourselves unable to agree on lunch plans we headed to Valencia’s Central Market. (We are after all decadent Americans.) As luck would have it The Central had a very short line. We climbed up on stools and ordered two glasses of Merseguera wine, local mussels, and tempura zucchini blossoms. We should have ordered something new, but why mess with familiar perfection.
As Donna and I were sopping up the broth the mussels were served in a gentleman dining across from us went wobbly. His daughter propped him up. His wife fanned him with her hand. He was trying to tell his daughter he was fine. He wasn’t, and she wasn’t having any of it.
My Eagle Scout first aid training kicked in. Too much heat! His cap needed to come off. His collar needed to be loosened. Donna passed her fan over. A bag of ice was provided. Our waiter was using Donna’s fan to cool the customer down. The head waitress called 112.
There was no panic. There wasn’t any gawking. There was complimentary joking about the restaurant’s great service. A local character came up and started waving a scavenged fan. Someone brought the character a cup of coffee. He left without paying. He had done his part. No one was bothered.
There is a lesson in all of this. When a person is ready and willing to help without strings attached it’s an acknowledgment that we are all in this together. Every one of us will need help along the way. Knowing it will be there and will arrive without fuss is something you can lean back into. It feels good!