I Had No Dishwasher

In virtually all of the places I was fortunate enough to get to call home over the last two and a half years, not a single one of them possessed a dishwasher. Not one.

All dishes were to be done by hand. Soaked, cleaned, sudsed, rinsed, dried, and put away. All by the archaic mechanism of the hand held sponge and the good old pump of dish soap.

To many, particularly my American peers, this is an absolute nightmare. No machine?

No machine.

In both apartments I inhabited in Oslo, the first one nearly alone, and the second in what was a magnetic trio of women, dishes were done by hand.

Of course, this can be a real drag, when a meal has been prepared and a cleanup is to be had with little assistance other than that of sudsy warm water that possesses a profound opportunity to nosh away at some of the lingering residue in and on the evening’s utensils.

In these moments, doing the dishes was just something that had to be done. There was really no rhyme or rhythm to it. It just was. And then it just sat to drip dry, sometimes slower than my impatient self would have liked given the increasingly frigid Oslovian climate.

And then I moved from Oslo to my French partner’s family home in a lovely town just south of Barcelona called Sitges. The view from this home was magnificent. I fell in love the first time I visited, allowing for the brewing of a deep knowing that this place would be a significant one for me. The home was ridden with deep wooden floors that created a beautiful contrast against a series of sliding glass doors that opened up the dining room to a view of the Mediterranean Sea on the left and mountains on the right.

And then the sunsets. Oh, the sunsets.

The sun would blaze deep reds, pinks, oranges and purples that I didn’t know could exist in the skies of this humanly planet we call Earth. Depending on the time of year, the sun would either set over the sea in the winter or the mountains in the summer. As it was mid March when I had first arrived with all of my bags in tow, it hung somewhere in the middle.

So while I knew that I loved all of this about this amazing home in Spain, our sojourn was short this time around. I arrived on the 11th of March, 2020, only to pack once more, but far less this time, to make a two and a half hour drive through what felt like an apocalyptic Spain on the 13th of March, up to Andorra, a tiny country in the Pyrenees between Spain and France. A magical place, absolutely, in any other moment in time.

Evan, his father, and I joined his mother and sister in Andorra where they were living at the time, renting a three bedroom apartment.

We packed for a weekend. No, we packed for a light weekend, mind you. Bringing only a backpack between the two of us, thinking that we would be returning to the house in Barcelona by the end of the weekend.

Little did we know that Europe would close its borders, buses would cease to run from Andorra back to Spain, and the entirety of this tiny country, among most others in the European Union and beyond, would close doors on that which was deemed nonessential by a government force for the next eight weeks.

So before I know it, I find myself in this tiny country in which we can barely go outside freely. In a three bedroom apartment with my new French boyfriend and his French family, inclusive of his mom, dad, sister, grandmother, and toy Yorkshire terrier named Simba.

There was one dog.

There were two couples.

There were three bedrooms.

There were six of us.

And zero chance of going anywhere else.

So we made do.

With no dishwasher.

Initially, I was quiet. I was fortunate to have a good base of French from a fabulous teacher I had and adored in high school. Without her and the deep connection she facilitated for myself and others in our class with the French language, I am not sure how I would have fared.

For the first month, I was very quiet. I didn’t want to mispronounce words, or not be able to find them in the first place. As someone who loves to articulate herself clearly through words, this moment in time was unprecedented.

One of the best things that happened that I never knew I needed was that for lunch and for dinner, we sat down together as a family.

We cooked, sometimes together, sometimes alone, prepared meals, laid the table cloth, set the plates and silverware, brought out the salt and pepper, the bread, the cheese, the entree, the sides, the glasses and the water jug. And we ate. And we communed. And we didn’t rush.

And I, sure as shit, did not even do so much as ask for the salt to be passed. I kept quiet. I followed along in conversation, understanding more and more each day, as this family before me spoke in their native tongue — always being kind to translate for me what I did not catch.

But I was quiet.

As a natural-born (and formed) helper (shout out to my enneagram type twos out there), I wanted to show involvement. I wanted to support our cause, no matter how micro or macro it was in this moment of time coming to a halt in a way that it never had before. I wanted to create meaning in my day to day. I wanted to be of service.

So during meals for about the first thirty days, I was quiet. I absorbed, I learned, I picked up new phrases and “argo” as slang is referred to in French. I immersed.

And then the second that everyone was finished with their meals, I was helping to clear the table, in reverse order to which it had been set for this new-to-me family of six, and a dog, who licked toes under the table and constantly begged, mostly Evan, for food from our plates. I cannot deny that he almost always obliged.

So this became my role.

In this home with no dishwasher, I was up and moving, subconsciously racing to the sink to be the first to claim my space.

I wanted to help.

I didn’t want to talk.

I wanted to give simple nods of thank you to the other members of this French clan that absorbed me with no questions ask, without having to practice my guttural “r” in saying “merci” repeatedly.

The dishes became my time to get lost.

To let my hands take over without thought.

To meticulously clean these six plates, one by one, and then stack them in the drying rack overhead just above the sink.

And then the six forks.

And the six knives.

And the six glasses.

Almost always saving the bigger pots and pans for last.

Typically cleaning off a residue of what we would refer to in English as zucchini fritters. Or green beans mixed with red beans, something that Evan’s sister, Léa, and I loved but was a disdain to others as the beans didn’t settle in their stomachs as pleasantly as they did ours.

Sometimes I was cleaning off the glass serving platter that possessed a quiche Lorraine, a very typical French dish that harbors a density of ham, cheese, and onions in its filling with a crust that had to have utilized at least a half kilo of butter (that’s 1.1 pounds, my Americans!!!!). With this, a bit more scrubbing was typically required. While anyone else may have shuddered at the thought of extra scrubbing, to me it meant that I could have some extra moments alone where I could sit in the comfort of my English-dominated mind and drift to the sensations I was feeling in my body — physical or beyond.

The dishes became my self-imposed duty. My duty to the family, the people who took me in without question, and my duty to myself in my contribution externally, and perhaps most importantly, to my internal needs as well.

So with no dishwasher, the living horror of some, I found solace.

In a moment of feeling purposeless, I found reason and intention.

In a moment of chaos, I found stillness.

In a moment of unknown, I found order.

So this became my role. Even as my French improved. Even as I started asking for the salt from the other side of the table. Even as I started to share more and more in French, unabashedly. Even as I started to perceive that these people, this family, loved me for more than just my helpfulness.

They loved me for me.

Unconditionally.

It was awe-inspiring.

Whether I helped or didn’t help, they saw who I was. They saw my heart. They saw my intentions. They also saw my flaws.

And it was okay.

At all points in our unplanned three and a half month period of confinement and connaissance in this nearly microscopic country in the mountains that most have heard of either for their slopes or their ridiculously low income tax of four percent.

But I kept doing the dishes.

I kept helping. I kept completing my tasks.

I kept my ritual in these unprecedented moments of truly the most unknown there has ever been in my lifetime. In a moment that, unless you were living there with us, most likely could not and would not fully be understood.

But that’s okay.

Because I had my meditation. I had my service. I had myself. I had my ability to self reflect. I had my ability to learn in ways I never had before.

I had…no dishwasher.

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