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Generosity is the Glue

Serving at Karma Kitchen is tough work. It's a bunch of strangers getting together and serving over a hundred guests in a busy restaurant for four hours, with an hour of cleanup before and after. Most have never worked in a restaurant before. Usually the guests come in bursts, and things get intense. Everyone is furiously multitasking, trying to get the orders right and people served promptly. Oh yeah, and all the while each server is responsible for holding a space of communion, compassion, good-will, and step-it-up kindness.

When you think about it, It's kind of a miracle that each and every week a new crew of strangers pulls it off. This week it was especially remarkable to witness the miracle unfold. It starts, as it does every week, with the crew in the back. Pallav was a quick study of Juan's dishwashing skills in the back, holding down the area all day. Anupam was a steadying presence in the middle as interface. Platers Nimisha and Julia kept things cool as the restaurant heated up with activity. Mani anchored our solid group of servers in the front: first-timers Risha and Quynh were looking like veterans in no time. Risha (@rishium) even found a few moments to live tweet her experiences while serving :) Saad rounded out the group of volunteers from Sarvodaya Stanford as drinks and dessert master. Being from Stanford wasn't a problem to Saad, who shared how some guests from Berkeley were pleasantly surprised to see that Stanford students love to serve as well :) And finally, Bill and Mariette stepped in at key points in the afternoon to keep things humming wherever they were needed.

This crew produced a lot of memorable moments. It started by serving an 11-person party that had come in to celebrate a graduation… they left with huge smiles on their faces after experiencing the KK love. Later, Mani and Anupam teamed up to tag a group of four who sat in chairs meditating while waiting for their table. Mani slips a smiley trinket and smile card on to each of their laps. When they open their eyes they came to know they had been tagged :) Then there was the professor who teaches a nonviolence course who sat in the corner of the restaurant with a huge smile on his face, saying he was just so happy to be in this space and experience the wholesome atmosphere. He added that shifting from 'me' to 'we' orientation is a form of practicing nonviolence. Later the entire crew, including chef Vishnuji came out to thank the guests for being a part of the KK family, and got a huge ovation in return :)

This week our crew also included documentarian Katie, who is putting together a film on people's relationship to money and alternative economic systems. Katie sees the gift economy as an important part of the alternative economy patchwork, and came to capture it in action at Karma Kitchen. Katie interviewed volunteers and guests on what makes KK so special and what the gift economy means to them. In the closing circle she reflects on how remarkable she found it that in the intense environment of a busy restaurant, a group of strangers were able to naturally self-organize and serve selflessly and whole-heartedly. "Generosity is the glue that makes it all work," she explained. Very true, though I like to just think of it as a miracle :)

--Maitre-D :) on May 16, 2011

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