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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Coimbra…

A few days ago Pete and I needed to go to Coimbra but first we were going to stop in Benfeita at the house that our friend Nancy is in the process of buying.

First thing you need to know is that even though Nancy hasn’t bought the house yet and won’t for another couple of months Alice (the owner of the house) has already turned over the keys to us. Nancy (and Alice) has given us free use of the house so when our generator decided to stop working which means our washing machine has no power then we decided to go and check out Nancy’s washing machine. What could be better, drop in a load on our way to Coimbra and pick it up on the way back? How organized is that?

So we drive to Nancy’s house. As we arrived (we hadn’t been there but once or twice before) people start came out of nowhere. All of a sudden the lady down the street (Alda) was there, then the next door neighbor, and then others we didn’t even know were there, lots of activity for a Saturday morning! We went inside to figure out how to use the washer, when I say ‘we’ I mean all of us went inside!

First the cord from the washer doesn’t reach the electrical socket and we don’t have an extension cord so one man says we can borrow his and off he goes to get it.

He returns and we plug in. Using the ‘group mind’ available to us we figured out all the buttons and the machine starts chugging away, the crowd dispersed at our success. Pete and I both look at each other and exclaim, “Esta Bem!’ (That’s good!) and at that very moment the electricity goes out. After several attempts with the circuit breaker Alda reappears and asks what the problem is. She figures it out and says that Alice probably has the power turned on the lowest setting to save electricity and we wouldn’t be able to change it until the next week when the EP office is open.

So one minute we are in ‘esta bem’ land and the next we have wet soggy clothes and no where to wash them. AHHH but wait – Alda is right there with a solution, she says bring our clothes to her house and she will wash them for us! We actually couldn’t believe it, not wanting to take advantage of her we picked out the clothes we needed washed the most and would leave the rest for later.

We took these to Alda and she said to get the rest of the clothes and take them to Alice’s house for her to wash them! I have to say I hesitated to show up unannounced at the woman’s house who Nancy is buying her house from with my dirty clothes and asked her to do my laundry! Alda says ‘nao problema’ and takes us to Alice’s house. She explains the situation and Alice says sure bring the clothes down. Talk about Portuguese hospitality!

But wait, there’s more!

We arrive back in Benfeita after our trip to Coimbra a bit late, around 6:30 pm. We first go to Alice’s house. Not only did she do one load of our laundry but she did two! We talked a bit around her woodstove and then headed to Alda’s. Alda wasn’t there, we checked in her garage but didn’t see our clothes so we set it up with Alice to come back the next morning around 11 to pick them up.

Once we got home I hung everything up. We have limited line space and no sun so getting laundry to dry is a marathon adventure.

The next morning I drive back to Benfeita. It’s a beautiful, bright sunny morning. I pull up in front of Alda’s house and I hear Alice calling me, she’s hanging out her window telling me to come down.

When I got to Alice’s house she took me inside. She had a beautiful sheepskin coat that was given to her and was too small. It was brand new and she wanted to give it to me. I loved it and was happy that it fit perfectly. I’m not sure if she thinks I’m not such a snappy dresser but she also said she has a lot of family and they have a lot more clothes that would fit me – at least that’s what I think she said, since my Portuguese is pretty basic, I figure I’ll just wait and see what happens!

So off I go to Alda’s house in my new coat to pick up my wet laundry, wondering where am I going to hang it all up! When I came to Benfeita the day before I hadn’t planned on doing all the laundry in one go, I had the ‘phased approach’ planned so this was going to take some creativity.

Alda meets me with a big smile and takes me to the back of her house where the last bit of my laundry is happily hanging on her line in the sun and the rest is neatly folded on the table! In one way I wasn’t surprised and at the same time there was something so sweet about all that was happening I just had to smile.

You have to understand women have very defined rolls here and laundry definitely falls under the woman’s role. They take great pride in laundry, cooking and cleaning so I wasn’t surprised when Alda went on and on that she hung the clothes up so they wouldn’t wrinkle and which ones were a little wet still and how I should separate those from the dry ones. One shirt of Pete’s she wanted to make sure I ironed it correctly; I didn’t have the heart (or the Portuguese ability) to tell her I didn’t have an iron. If I did I’m sure someone would give me one on my next trip.

Anyway as I drove away from Benfeita I was warmed by the hospitality and realness of the people here. One day I have a bunch of dirty laundry and a washing machine with no power, the next day I have a bunch of clean clothes, a new coat, a smile on my face and happiness in my heart. Everyday I learn more and more from the people here about how important it is slow down and be kind to each other. In contrast I feel my own speediness and am thrilled to have such beautiful people to learn from.

So a funny thing happened on the way to Coimbra…



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