Waiting Tables was His Mission
“The Berlins don’t go on vacations, they go on mission trips.” So said my daughter of her friend’s family. He is a Pastor and his family serves. My family, on the other hand, goes on vacations. I admit, I feel a bit guilty about this.
There I sit in the multi-level restaurant, peering out over the ocean and the pool. The palms bend to give me the best view. I can come and go as I please to the breakfast buffet: fruit, cheese, breads, meats, eggs, Mexican specialties, omelettes made to order. On either side are shelves with foods I don’t even recognize, delicacies of another culture. How daring will I be?
A waiter hovers, “Coffee Senora? Juice? Perhaps a Mimosa?”
He says this in a way that assuages my guilt. Sincerely wanting to please me with whatever I desire. Not a trace of disdain in his Mexican accent or his waiter’s demeanor. No hint of the “these fat-cat Americans” or “this spoiled woman” that I know – I know deep inside – that I deserve. How can he ignore this me I see?
But after I am settled with beverage, he stays to chat. He tells me about his desire to teach English, his struggle to find classes to achieve proficiency, his younger, wilder days when he left the “tourism trade” to make money and see the world on a cruise ship. Ports and long days at sea. If you were one of the top sellers of a fancy drink (I didn’t recognize the name), you earned a day off at the port. In this way, he saw all the port cities of the world. Took day trips to their palaces. Met their people.
Now, he is back, a head waiter. Americans are the best tippers, he tells me. The Canadians are not but they are grateful and so that is fine. He feels received and that passes for tip. Australia and New Zealand, the same. The Russian women and the German women are beautiful. And oh, so are the Hawaiian women. Exotic is the word I give him. He is sure I am right.
We have many Japanese here; did you notice? They order all of the choices on the menu, not just one from each category. They sample and share. Put all the food in the center and empty plates all around for the tasting. But don’t remove the food when they light up their cigarette. They will smoke and then have more food. We Mexicans eat and then have our cigarette.
Smoking is part of the meal? I wonder. Unhealthy and unclean to me. To him, it is a practice. A cue for serving. Cultures differ. He notices, so he can supply what they need without interruption. Without a trace of disdain or judgment.
How do his companions feel about this man spending so much time talking to one woman at one table when now the restaurant begins to fill? I see a few head nods in his direction, the non-verbal for “Come now. We need you.” But he seems not to notice. He doesn’t follow their gazes or glances or mine. He is content to share time with me.
A time which began when he brought me a Mimosa with a strawberry and expressed concern that I might be allergic. “Many Americans are,” he says. A meal which drew to a close as my whole family hoisted our Mimosa glasses toward the camera. We toast the New Year and say farewell to Cancun.
Later I look at this photo. I have a genuine smile of delight on my face. In the midst of my clan I am lifting my glass to this man who is snapping the picture. To Jose, my new friend, who has shown me the needs of the wealthy world through his eyes. And the way to serve them, honorably and humbly. He took me on the smallest of mission trips and I never left my seat.
Where will you teach your English, Jose? (In my ignorance, I suppose he will be a school teacher.)
“Oh I don’t know yet,” he says. “Perhaps here, in the resort. They hire people to teach the staff. We have a Japanese teacher.” Of course they do. They meet needs. And we, with our own ways and our own language are deeply in need of people like Jose.
I rise to leave and search for my friend who I spot carrying a tray aloft of half a dozen large beverages. “Adios Jose!”
“See you next year!” he says with a broad smile.
Not a bad idea. These Mexicans know what they have in Cancun. They have given it to me. I wonder if there is a visible change in people, a turning from the person who arrived into the person who departs.
Banners at the airport still delight in their holiday splendor: Feliz Navidad! But at the gate, “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Gift!”
New year as gift. I’ve opened it here. Now to use it well.