I can picture her still so old and frail, hobbling up the steep hill leaning on her pair of homemade walking sticks. “What do you have there Zia (Aunty)?” my husband asked, pointing to the open-mesh bag on her kerchief-covered head. While I just gaped, wondering how many other nasty things she’d carried on that seldom-washed, dirty headscarf!
“Oh rabbit droppings for my plants,” she answered offhandedly. “Just let me set it inside the door here, and I’ll make some coffee!” she announced, clearly pleased at having visitors. New to Italy, I’d been dreading that obligatory cup of espresso, which I still hadn’t acquired a taste for.
That nasty kerchief
And then the zia blew her nose with the nasty kerchief, plopping it back on her head.
And that’s when I started fighting to keep my breakfast down. And wondered if I even liked my husband’s hometown!
Meanwhile, the aunty busied herself happily, arranging sugar and spoons on her finest tray. “It’ll be ready in a minute,” she assured us. Apparently unaware that her American visitor was, by this time, visibly gagging.
“That’s fine Zia,” Hubby assured her, “we’re in no hurry.”
“You can say that again,” I thought. I hoped that coffee would never come! But then again, if she hurried, we could get out of there. Away from the aunty and that all-purpose rag of hers!
Don’t run away
But it was when she rinsed the cups and dried them with the kerchief (what else?) that I nearly bolted!
Never in my life had I been so horrified! Rabbit droppings, dirt, snot, and I was afraid to think what else! We could not drink that coffee. Why it would be like signing our own death warrant!
And that was when I must have started making strange little choking sounds, for my husband finally noticed my obvious distress. “I cannot and will not drink that coffee!” my eyes flashed a silent message.
“But you have to,” his look answered. “She’ll be grievously offended if you don’t!” Even though I was fairly certain she would be even more offended if I vomited all over the place!
But he was right. That distant relative was so happy that we’d come from America to visit her. And she was trying hard to give us her best.
So I started praying for strength. Strength to drink that coffee and keep it down! And a miracle, I needed a miracle! For I knew that kind of strength did not lie within me. But my faith is so small that I don’t always expect to receive what I pray for. And to this day I’m still amazed I got that coffee down!
Needless to say, we survived that coffee, and it did two great things for us. First, it made aunty’s day.
Learn to cope
And it taught us that it’s not really all that hard to deal with little difficulties that come our way, and even culture shock.
All we really need to do is take our eyes off our problems or how a situation is making us feel, and think of others instead and how to bless them.
That and similar efforts gradually helped us fit in, slowly endearing us to the people’s hearts. And them to ours! Which made even drinking something so unsavory, and possibly risky, so worthwhile!
We never know how much tiny acts of kindness can touch a heart! And they can also help us find our way through new and strange circumstances. And even start to feel at home in them!
So when struggling to adapt to new or difficult circumstances, remember to look beyond yourself and your difficulties! See who you have in front of you and their need for love and friendship.
Postscript: The real aunty of this story, were she still living, would be over 100 years old. From an era when people bathed infrequently. They had to haul and heat water for bathing, laundry, and cooking. Rags got used and re-used because washing them was a lot of work. Aunty wasn’t trying to be dirty. She just never moved forward with the times! And she was a sweet and caring person!