Birthday Party

John. Information Technology Engineer. Wants: babysitting Offers: Computer fixing.

Paula called him. She needed help in buying a computer and then she wanted it connected to the internet. At the time, only a fraction of the population had internet at home, and that was always via the phone line – either there was a phone conversation or an internet connection. They used the same line.
Paula had to get the phone line first. Then a phone. Then the guy, for fifty monetary units an hour, offered her advice on computer model and software to get. Even about the companies that were offering internet connectivity. Fifty an hour, noted Paula. She would have to look after his children for five ours in order to pay on of his hours. But it was worth it.

For her five hours were spent at a party. She was going to help John’s wife with the birthday party of one of their two children. Paula went there by bike. Her first trip on her new – or rather, newly acquired bike. It was awkward to bring her whole bag, and the A-Z book with her, and stop every few hundred metres, to check where she was, check the names of the streets on the street signs, check the names on the book. But she got to their house. She locked her bike with her new lock (this was new) to a tree outside – no stands for bikes in this residential posh street.
The birthday boy was three. Paula had been asked to arrive well before anyone would be due, but John’s mother was already there.
“Please do let me know if I am on your way, darling”, said John’s mother to John’s wife, Serena. John’s wife was cheerful and easy-going; she made every one feel at home.
Paula helped unwrap the ready-made pieces of a meal for the children. Serena explained to Paula where to put each part of the meal. That was not how it would be distributed, for she was only preparing it all at home, but everything would go to the local community centre, which she had hired for a few hours to have the party for her son there. She explained to Paula that her son was allergic to some foods, therefore what he would eat would be different from what every one else in the party would eat. Her daughter, although younger than the rest of the party guests that were expected, would be in the party as well, together with other brothers and sisters of the other children who would come. Again, there was a set of food for Serene’s daughter and another set of food for every one else. Once she had explained all this to Paula, she got out a piece of paper. It was the schedule of the party. From three to four there would be the welcome, with toys from the local community centre itself scattered all over the floor. Then would be the meal, which Paula would help get out of the trays while the children were playing, on a table a bit far away from the playground. That would be from four to five. Then at five, a clown would come, then a singer with a guitar to sign songs for the children.
Once everything that could be prepared at home was ready, they proceeded to move everything to the community centre. John was taking the kids with him on the car, together with most of the food, in trays, and things like confetti and plastic plates. There were some bulky things, like a bag full of small present bags, that needed to be carried on foot. Serene and Paula walked with these items. When they got to the community centre, John had her daughter on his arms and was carrying her inside – she was dressed in her fancy dancer costume and her ballerina shoes needed to keep away from the dirt of the street, so strict instructions had been to not allow her to step on the street on those shoes.
Paula started to prepare the plates for the children as Serena had instructed her while social activity was buzzing around her. John tried to help too, but he soon got swallowed by all the social requirements. One of them was to record the whole event on video. Serene for her part, had a little photo camera, also latest model, and took the occasional photograph, of the moment she deemed best.
The parents arrived. With their children. Every kid brought a perfectly wrapped present to the birthday boy, with a perfectly sealed card. Every card was opened and thanked. Then every card was left carefully attached to the present had come with, and then every present was left unopened.
“We will open the presents later at home, darling. Otherwise it will be a bit messy here.”
The birthday boy didn’t protest, and if he did he did so completely imperceptibly for Paula to notice. It was not a big deal anyway – all his friends were in the playground and all the toys of the community centre were in the playground too! There were small cars with huge sits and huge wheels, plastic horses to ride, even an inflatable castle. There were smaller toys too, like puzzles or simple musical instruments. All for themselves. For an hour.
It was all so programmed, so fixed. It left no room for improvisation. The kids seemed passive consumers of the entertainment to Paula, used to look at whichever direction they were told. No one protested when the time with the toys was up. They had a table full of food anyway. Or not so full. There were packets of crisps alongside them that the kids could eat from, but most of the food available was already neatly distributed in their individual small plastic plates. Fish fingers, chicken fingers, some peeled and chopped fruit, ham, bread. The birthday boy wanted to eat from the plates of his friends because his food was so different from theirs. He was probably feeling left out of the uniformity of their plates. His mother stopped him. He could only eat the chicken fingers and the crisps already on his plate. Serena explained to the other mothers that her child had so many allergies, he could only eat very specific food.
The parents stood around the community centre, against the walls, watching their children eat and generally having a good time.
Before anyone would have time to get bored with their food, the cake arrived. Paula had not needed to help with that one. It had been ordered to some specialist shop, and tailor-made. It had the birthday boy’s name and the number of year he had lived so far drawn on it, with childish calligraphy. Serena took various pictures of the cake. It took a great effort to keep the children’s hands off the cake while she was taking the pictures and she had to get angry at a few of them. Then they were allowed to taste it. For that, she took the cake away, put it on a table for easier cutting, and made the children queue orderly for it. While John duly filmed the whole process with his video camera, Paula stood there with plates on her hands, handing them to Serena, one by one, and then putting them on the table so that the children would not just eat their cakes randomly around the playground.
At the stipulated time, the clown made his appearance. All the children left their plates on the table, whether they had been emptied or had some cake piece left, and sat on the floor to watch the clown’s performance.
Then came the singer and guitarist. The singer made a point of getting the children to sign with her, and it felt like the kids finally could actively participate in the whole affair.
Then again at the stipulated time, the party was over. Before they left, and as a form of goodbye, Serena made the kids stand on a queue so she could give them their present bags. Paula had not helped with this either; they had been purchased like this from the sweets shop.
Finally every one was gone. Again John got her daughter on his arms so she could get on their car without stepping on the street, while John’s mother, Paula and Serena made sure they were leaving the community centre as tidy and clean as they had found it. Luckily, Paula thought, a few women who sounded like employees in the centre itself helped them in this task, telling Serena and the rest where things should be left once cleaned.
Paula arrived back at John’s and Serena’s house quite exhausted. She thought that had been it and she could leave, but that was not it. Serena got the presents from a huge bag and put them on the floor. The birthday boy could not hide his excitement, but he was too exhausted to keep up his smile, and that was not a present-unwraping exercise per se anyway.
“Please, darling, don’t make a mess. Don’t open a second present before I have finished with the first one. I ‘need’ to write down who has given you which present, otherwise we won’t be able to write proper thank you notes. Oh, last year”, she was now addressing Paula, “it was such a nightmare. He unwrapped all the presents before we could realise what he had done and we could not figure out who had given him what. It was so difficult to write the thanks notes.”
So now Paula realised, came the task of writing some kind of note for every one who had given him a present.
Serene started with the task of opening up each present and putting it back in the wrapping with secretarial efficiency. The little boy wanted to help by opening presents the way children do.
“Oh, don’t tear off the paper, darling. It will be so difficult to put it back together again with all the paper destroyed. No, darling, you can’t play with the toy little Jimmy has given you. We need to put it back in its box. Yes, all the pieces, darling. And now we need to open this one. No, not yet, darling. Let me see the card attached to it first. Oh, little Lorna. So this is little Lorna’s. Let’s see what she has given you. A puzzle.” Paula’s task was to write down the kind of present next to the name of the kid who had given the present. “No, darling, you can’t play with the puzzle either. We need to check the next present now.
The birthday boy soon grew tired of the exciting task turned into a chore by her mum and John eventually put both children to bed while Serene and Paula got on with the administrative task.

Un sueño por otro

Qué, se lo has dicho ya, o no?
Paula se alegro de poder dar un sí por fin.
“dice que lo ponga con Luna.”
“Ah pues me parece bien. Son majos chicos.”
“De verdad que me hace mucha ilusion. Y ahora que vais a hacer?”
“Pues lo primero preguntarle a Luna a ver si le parece bien.”
“Sí por que está trabajando, no?”
“Si. Dice Jose que hace tiempo está pensando dejarlo pero es arriesgado. No se.”
“Vas a ir esta tarde?”
“Si, y veré a Luna. Ya te contare.”
“A ver que dice tu padre.”
El padre de Paula no veía ningún futuro a la aventura pero, como sabia que la gente joven prefiere darse la torta que escuchar a los que ya se la han dado, estaba dispuesto a prestarle dinero aunque eso supusiera no verlo más.
“Y que, que vais a hacer.”
“De momento hablar con Luna.”
“Hablar, hablar. Pero si no hacéis otra cosa!”
“Pues hay que hablar para hacer las cosas en grupo.”
“Cuanto dinero tienes que poner.”
“A ver. Solo hemos hablado de la posibilidad, y de que es buena idea. Ya os contare, vale?”
“Pues a mi me parece muy bien que la niña ponga algo de comercio justo. Mejor que vender por las puertas y tener que aprovecharse del consumismo.”

A Luna le debió de parecer la idea porque cuando vio a Paula en la tienda empezó hablando de como dejar el trabajo que tan poco feliz le hacia.

Decidieron abrir justo antes del periodo navideño.
“Por muy poco que vendáis, en navidad es cuando más vais a vender,” dijo Jose. “Así al menos se minimizarán las perdidas.”
“Tu crees que vamos a perder mucho?”
“No.” ahora era Luna quien hablaba. “Pero en el periodo de navidad vamos a tener que sacar para cubrir gastos del resto del año, porque aunque café y azúcar se venden todo el año, es en las artesanías donde hay un margen más decente. Si vemos que en dos o tres meses no hemos sacado para el resto del año, cerramos y ya está.”
Hablaron más en aquella reunión, y al final preguntaron a Paula:
“Como te sientes?”
“Tengo miedo.”
Luna y Jose miraron a Paula.
“En serio?”
Luna y Jose siguieron mirando a Paula. Parecía que esperaban un “me rajo”, o una llorera.
“Pero da igual. Hay que hacerlo.”

Tuvieron muchas otras reuniones, entre ellos y con más voluntarios. Luna y Paula buscaron un local para abrir la que sería su tiendita y, con mucha ayuda de muchos voluntarios y amigos, la abrieron en noviembre, a tiempo para la “campaña de navidad”. En la fiesta de apertura se cayó una figura de barro y se rompió. Antes de que el manazas que la había dejado caer pudiera echarse a llorar, Luna dijo en voz muy alta:
“Da igual, no nos gustaba!”
Jose preguntó:
“Como te sientes?”
“Pues siento que intercambio un sueño por otro.” Paula prosiguió cuando vio la cara de Jose de querer seguir escuchando: “Recuerdas que te dije que un día quería vivir en Londres? Como esta tienda va a salir bien, ese sueño voy a tener que dejarlo.”
“En eso consiste crecer. En abandonar sueños.”

The Temple of Consumerism

en castellano más abajo

Ara and Paula met at the end of their parish meeting.
“How is the volunteering in the Old Part going?”
“Great! I’ve gone to the shop a few Saturdays, it’s not as busy as the big shop, but Joshua is nice.” Paula hid her preference for a place where most tasks consisted of sitting behind the counter. “And you?”
“I am doing the accounts and I am also the secretary, so I go to the regular meetings. Have you heard we are going to sell our fair trade coffee in the big store in the centre?”
“Wow. We’re doing it big!” Paula felt honestly excited. “Every one will see it!”
“Yes. It is a big achievement isn’t it.”

The next time Paula saw Jose, she wondered why he was not as excited as Ara and herself.
“Hey, I’ve heard the city centre store is interested in our coffee!”
“How come you didn’t tell me?” It’s great, isn’t it?”
“No? You are not happy about that?”
“We are going to be selling this alternative coffee, right in the centre of the big temple of consumerism. Am I happy about that?”
Paula had only thought of how important she had felt, being part of a project that had managed to put this one single product in some nationally-famous shelves. But now she could see the contradiction.
“And did you tell them, in the meeting?”
“Yes. But I was the only one with this view, so I was not going to stop them.”


Ara y Paula se encontraron al final de su reunión de parroquia.
¿“Cómo va el voluntariado en la parte vieja va?” ?”
¡“Genial! He ido a la tienda unos sábados, no es como la tienda grande, pero Josu es majo.” Paula ocultó su preferencia por un lugar donde la mayoría de las tareas consistían en sentarse detrás del mostrador. -Y tu?”
“Hago las cuentas y soy también la secretaria, entonces voy a las reuniones. ¿Has oído que vamos a vender café en la tienda grande en el centro?”
“Wow. ¡Lo hacemos a lo grande!” Paula se sintió francamente emocionada. ¡“lo verán todos!”
“Sí. Esto es un logro grande verdad?.”
La próxima vez que Paula vio Jose, se preguntó por qué él no estaba tan emocionado como Ara y ella misma.
¡“Oye, he oído que la tienda de centro de la ciudad está interesada en nuestro café!”
¿“Cómo es que no me has dicho nada? ¿Es genial, ¿verdad?? ”
¿“No? ¿no te hace feliz? ”
“Vamos a vender este café alternativo, directamente en el centro del templo / justo en el centro del gran templo del consumismo. . ¿Me hace feliz?”
Paula sólo había pensado en lo importante que se había sentido, siendo parte de un proyecto que había logrado poner éste producto único en algunos estantes famosos a nivel nacional. Pero ahora ella podía ver la contradicción.
¿“Y les has dicho esto, en la reunión?”
“Sí. Pero yo era el único con este punto de vista, y no iba a aguarles la fiesta”.