My house mom, once a stranger, but now no longer
I can’t imagine the difficulty of giving up one’s home for a bunch of rowdy, North American teenage girls every semester. Those who host students in a homestay program must have hearts of gold, and a wealth of patience. This ‘virtue’, however, must be reciprocated, or the chance of a homestay running smoothly falters. Cesare Pavese says, “Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance.” Being placed in a porteño
home upon arrival and knowing it will be your place of residence for four months is a bit overwhelming, but when the home you enter belongs to a family of truly kind spirits, the stress of being somewhere new is instantly alleviated.
In writing of the comfort of strangers, I find the need to dedicate this post to my house mom, because she was undoubtedly a stranger in the beginning, and the first porteño
I met coming to Buenos Aires. I had had some email exchanges with her before arrival, asking what her house was like, what her family is like, what she is like. Even so, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but looking back at her emails and knowing her now, it really is quite fitting. The first month here, however, was mostly about trying to settle in, and find comfort in a routine, and accept that this stranger’s place was my new place of residence in a foreign country.
I was “forced” to trust her cooking, since she provides meals for me every night. This was of no effort, however, because all of her cooking is out-of-this-world delicious and full of variety. My roommate and I eat separate from the family, since we live in a beautiful guesthouse across the courtyard from the main house. Thus the traditional experience of long porteño
meals is lost, and I am found “off balance” by not knowing what is genuine or not. I really do not have room to complain, however, because if sacrificing conversation to still be able to eat her glorious food is what is a stake, then I will take it, and take it gladly. Having this sort of distance at dinnertime, however, makes it more difficult to strike conversation with her, so the bridge between strangers to friends to house mother and house daughter is lengthened, maybe even lost. But not entirely so.
I have definitely come to know her now, in my two months that I have been here, even if this knowledge is derived from conversation-in-passing. We have shared things about life on a deeper level than I ever would have expected, told each other stories about our pasts, talked about music, food, love, travel, family, death, anything and everything. She has a heart so big and so full of love that this woman who was once a stranger is now, truly, my house mom (I now refer to her as mamá
). And thus, inevitably, she has giving me the greatest comfort of all: a house I feel comfortable in, and can return to, and truly feel that it is my home when placed in a completely foreign South American country. There is also the inevitability, however, that every now and then I still feel that notion of being “constantly off balance.” And whenever this happens, I have someone, once a stranger, to turn to, to help me sort things out, within the comfort of what is now my own home.
(The picture above is of the view of our guesthouse from the courtyard.)