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Well Versed Poem (aka Labor of Love) :)

From the moment I entered into Karma Kitchen, I washed over by a sense of calm and tranquility. Being a part of many youth movements in my college days, I had expected vibrant and enthusiastic ‘Ice Breakers’ In reality I was greeted with a gracious warm Pavi introduction and given an opportunity to, 'absorb the space' The opening circle was a personal sharing of the joy the coordinators experienced in Karma Kitchen. It was truly the start of the ‘Labor of Love weekend.’ Working the role of a Dishwasher, my view of Karma Kitchen was from the inside. And on the inside Karma Kitchen, is a well versed poem. While the lyrics change ever week; the tone, the melody and the harmony is always in sync. Below is my story of last Sunday.
 
This week, I had the privilege of volunteering at Karma Kitchen Berkeley. Since many of us are not really familiar with Karma Kitchen, this is a concept where there are no price tags on menu. The food you are served with, was paid by someone who came before you. The underlying hope, is that you would pay this goodwill forward with your generosity. You pay whatever you can for the person who comes after you. 
 
For the past few months, I’ve had an inner voice constantly telling me to, ‘do something.’ Since, I had recently moved back to the Bay Area and was pre-occupied with getting settled in to life,  I had little time to really think about what I was supposed 'to do.'  I happened to come across "Karma Kitchen" on a friends Face Book profile, and was immediately intrigued. When I knew there was a weekly, ‘Karma Kitchen’ serving the Berkeley community every week, I knew this was it.  This had to get on my ‘To Do’ list. 
 
So after months of trying to schedule a weekend at karma Kitchen, I was delighted to be invited to volunteer on September 4th!! It was right in the middle of the Labor Day weekend, but something compelled me to accept the invite. As the weekend approached, our family set off to spend Saturday at Sacramento. And typically, we got back in the wee hours of the morning. The temptation to send a last minute change of plans via email was strong; but again, a will greater than my own said 'NO, you can do this'.
 
I usually cannot function without my morning coffee on a normal day and that day my coffee stash at home was over.I had about 3 hours of sleep and a long drive from San Jose to Berkeley (well for a Sunday morning); on what turned out to be one of those gray foggy mornings the Bay is notorious for.  En route, I realized I forgot to pump gas and right then my GPS decided to lose Satellite signal.   On any other day, it would have been Murphy’s Law at work and I would be, to put it mildly, in a very contrary mood. 
 
Surprising myself, I was calm that day.  I really did not want to fill myself with negative energy and was looking forward to Karma Kitchen. I’d read a lot about how a lot of the volunteers and guests had an intrinsic experience after working at Karma Kitchen. But somehow on my drive there, I was reflecting about the face value experience, the place, the people, the work and the off course the guests!  
 
I followed an instinct and landed in Berkeley in front of Chevron Gas station! Skipping the coffee, I headed straight to the restaurant only to be turned around yet again, by an unusually uncooperative GPS.  Not even that or parallel parking could deter a slow building anticipation growing in me.  When I reached the front of the restaurant my entire physical being was an automatic look out for that green mermaid that promised me a 'cup of heaven'. Standing outside the door, I watched a distinguished looking lady walk into Karma Kitchen. The part of me raised by Catholic Nuns raised its head and announced, “what if she is one of the coordinators; you don’t want to be seen loitering!” 
 
Giving one last look at the empty grey street lined with delightful café’s, I walked into the rest of my life.
 
From the moment I entered into Karma Kitchen, I washed over by a sense of calm and tranquility. Being a part of many youth movements in my college days, I had expected vibrant and enthusiastic ‘Ice Breakers’ In reality I was greeted by Pavi, a tall gracious lady who looked like she belonged in one of the sculptures adorning the many Temples in South India. After a very gracious introduction, Pavi went back to completing her tasks at hand and I was left to, 'absorb the space'. I could hear voices from the kitchen, questions and answers being passed back and forth of how Karma Kitchen works.  
 
Pavi then said, “I think you can help with the dishwasher.” For a moment, I was back in my University’s Cafeteria and I heard myself snapping at a friend saying, I would rather do anything else than deal with Dish washing. This was definitely ‘Karma’ winding its way back to me. While a part of me longed to quietly refuse, that inner voice spoke through my lips and said ‘sure, not a problem.’  Pavi, walked me through the process and the whole time, my heart kept sinking more and more. Finally, we made our back to the main dining area and there some of the other volunteers had arrived.
Turns out that distinguished lady I mentioned before, was a volunteer herself.
 
As ‘Ice breaking’ sessions go, I would say Karma Kitchen has stumbled on a gold mine. There was less of theatrics, which I personally loved, but more of personal sharing of the joy the coordinators experienced in Karma Kitchen. It was truly the start of the ‘Labor of Love weekend.’
 
When Ashish and I started working the dishes, I have to say I wasn’t the most enthusiastic team member. And then a delightful man walked in, the Chef, Mr. Vishnuji. A veteran cook from Nepal, his demeanor and pragmatic humor, got me shrugging off my aloofness and embracing the moment. He delighted me with stories and teased me endlessly. Vishnuji reminded me so much of my late grandfather who I recently lost. It was amazing to realize that when you open your heart, the gift of happiness just pores in. After that it’s a matter of what we do with it.
 
The next person to touch my heart is Isot, the designated lady I walked in with. Isot was in charge of the desserts and refreshments and her work area was a passage between the dish area and the main kitchen. Between the three Volunteers working the dishes, and the servers bring up the refreshment orders; Isot probably walked a mile or two in that little space. But with a smile and good cheer. In fact Isot even asked if she could help me since she felt that she needed to do more. If only we all think like that. Often times, it’s tasking on my energy when I have to do more than what’s expected of me.
 
The next two people who touched my heart were the Incredible Juan and the enigmatic Ranjit-ji. When Pavi was orienting us with the dish-washing process, she gave us a heads-up on Juan. In short, Pavi distinctly said, ‘your jaw will hit the floor’. And I am proud to say, that the cynic in me was denied for once and my jaw did hit the floor. And Pavi was right next to me, delighted in how shocked I was. I am for once dumbfounded to articulate Juan, he was like Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, Pluto all rolled in to one, and I swear I felt he used his legs as well to juggle plates, cups and cutlery from the sink, through the commercial dishwasher and Voila, it was done.
 
It’s not my intention to imply Juan looks like a cartoon.  In fact he looks quite the opposite. I only mean that I have never seen that much movement of one being except in Cartoon shows.
 
And finally Ranjit-ji, probably the quietest one among all us, but probably the one who was working the most making numerous freshly baked naans round the clock, in an extremely heated tradional oven. But he in-fact took the time to make fresh Naan, cut it up and place in my hands and with a simple‘eat’ in Hindi. For me, that act was the one that built the connection Pavi was talking during the opening circle. 
 
I have a 3 month waiting period rule, before I ever show my inner self to new people. When I would usually evaluate and determine, I just gave up and became myself in front of complete strangers, in one day. THAT has never ever happened before.
 
Even though, I was primarily in the back, I realized that was where I was happiest during the day. I enjoyed interacting with such wonderful other volunteers who had each others back. Some of the guests that day, a spectacular signing duo gave me a small opportunity to do an small Act of generosity.
 
I have worked on many people/ community oriented projects before. This is first time, it felt like a well worn blanket; that comforted me the moment, I choose to put it on.  My view from the Karma Kitchen; was from the inside. And on the inside Karma Kitchen, is a well versed poem.  While the lyrics change ever week; the tone, the melody and the harmony is always in sync.  
 
The daily grind got the better of me even before the weekend was over and I realized that I have miles to go before I grow.
 
But while I am writing this, I realize the tone for how I want to live the rest of my life is setting in. While there are many things outside, that are beyond my control, I want to be like the behind the scenes of Karma Kitchen; a well versed poem.

--Andrea on Sep 5, 2011




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