So you may remember that there is (was) a daycare center next to our apartment building. It closed down a few months ago, and since then, it hasn't been turned into any other kind of business. However, people are there almost every day working on it, doing little things at a time. In most cases, this work is better than having the actual daycare, but on some days, they decide to do really really annoying and inconsiderate things, like cut the grass at 7:00am.
That's what happened yesterday and today. When it woke me up yesterday, I was really irritated, but figured it was the only day. I looked out the window yesterday to see someone cutting the entire area with a freaking weed whacker. Do you know how long that takes? But I tried to just wait it out.
However, when it started up again today, I was not as patient as I was the day before. My first thought was to call the police to report a noise ordinance. Then I remembered that this is Brazil. So then my second thought was to fill a plastic soda bottle with something and throw it next to the worker to scare him a bit. Then I calmed down a bit and decided instead to go down and talk to whoever it was that was being so inconsiderate.
"I'm going down there to tell him to stop," I said matter-of-factly to Alexandre as I yanked off my pajamas and pulled on my jeans.
"That's dumb. Don't do that," he said. "It's a weekday. I don't know what time people are allowed to do these kinds of things on weekdays."
"I really doubt that it's 7:00am!"
I stormed down the 4 flights of stairs of our building and marched over to the daycare. The front door was open, so I went inside. There on the lawn was a tiny old man working away with his weed whacker.
"Excuse me. Sir. Do you know what time it is?" I said, irritated. I was trying to stay calm and polite... for me, that means not yelling. It does not rule out sarcasm.
The old man apparently didn't catch on to the sarcasm, or, what's more likely, I got the intonation wrong. "Well, I'm not sure, exactly," he said. "I can go check for you if you'd like."
"What? No. It's 7:00am. It's too early to be making so much noise. Why are you cutting the grass so early? And why are you using ...." --I didn't know how to say weed whacker in Portuguese, so I pointed at it and continued-- "...this small machine to cut all of the grass? It takes forever."
The old man looked at me sadly. "I have to start early, minha filha. The sun is not good for me."
"Ok, well, do you see how many people you are bothering?" I wove my hand around the array of apartment buildings surrounding the daycare for dramatic effect. "There are a lot of doctors in these apartments. We're right next to the hospital. Many of them work nights and only get a couple of hours to sleep. I also work nights. I understand that they sun may be irritating for you. So why not work in the late afternoon?"
"Well, because I leave at 4:00." Not a lot of logic.
"Is that your choice or your boss's? Can I talk to your boss?"
That was apparently not the right thing to say. The old man started to tremble. "Oh my god, you want to talk to my boss! Look, he told me to start at 10:00, but I can't be in the sun at noon! My doctor told me, look, the sun is burning your ears--"
And then the old man started to cry!!!!!
Chalk it up to being as close to my grandparents as I am, but I do not do well when old people cry. Alexandre can attest to the fact that any time old people cry in movies, I tear up with them.
"No, sir, please don't cry-- I'm sure we can come to some kind of compromise--"
"No, no, you're right, young lady. You know, I need to just quit. Leave this job. You're the third person to come over to complain to me. I can't bear to know that I'm bothering so many people. But I just can't work in the sun!" He was crying a lot now, and started going on about Jesus giving him so many trials and tribulations in his 83 years of life but how Jesus suffered for everyone's sins and how he's had so many different jobs in his life and how many times people didn't even pay him correctly but how he needs to be like Jesus and needs to show love for his neighbors too and oh god he's been in the same apartment for 42 years and what if he has to move in with his daughter?
WHAT THE HELL!
"No, sir, it's okay. There's no need to cry. I don't think you need to quit your job. I'm sure we can find some kind of compromise. Can you at least give me an idea of how long you guys will be making changes here? Another week? Another month?"
But he was past the point of compromise or consolation. "No, I need to stop. I need to leave this work. Or I guess I can just work later in the day and get sunburned." Then more monologue about Jesus. As he talked, I noticed that the few bottom teeth he had left were being held in a straight line by some kind of metal wire.
Jesus. He's just a sad poor little old man trying to earn a living. And I'm the worst person ever for being rude to him and asking him not to do his job.
I tried to backpedal, telling him no, don't worry about it, forget it, just do what you gotta do, sorry if I upset you or offended you, while using a lot of o senhor instead of você, etc.
"No, I'm going to sit here for a while and think, maybe cry a little more. [Yes, he actually said that.] But I won't cut the grass now, okay?"
"No, I mean, you can finish for today at least, if you want.... really, it's okay..." I tried.
"Good bless you, filha. Please forgive me for inconveniencing you. I hope the lord can forgive me, too." And with that he sat on a bench.
I left. I went back to the apartment. By the time I walked through the front door, I was crying.
Alexandre was alarmed. "What happened? Did he yell at you? Hit you?"
"He's just a poor little old man!" I sobbed. "And I made him cry!"
I saw Alexandre's face twinge with a smile that he was trying to hold back. "You made him cry? Did you yell at him?"
"No! I tried really hard to be polite! I used o senhor and everything! But I asked him not to cut the grass so early and then he started going on about how he's 83 and can't be out in the sun and all this stuff about Jesus!"
Alexandre started laughing. "You are so sweet. I love you."
"Stop! It's not funny! And I'm not sweet! I'm terrible! What if he quits his job?" I went over to look out the window.
"He's still sitting on the bench!" and I started crying some more.
"Look. What can you do to make the situation better? Bake him a cake and take it down to him and make peaces." (Alexandre's wonderful Portuguese English. My Portuguese is the same.)
"I don't know how to bake a cake."
"So go to the bakery and buy him one. Take it to him, ask sorry, tell him you want to be friends, sit down with him and ask him about his life... he'll love that."
"Ok. I will. I don't know about the sitting down and talking about his life part, but I'll go buy him something from the bakery. Do you want a ride to work?"
Alexandre smiled. This had apparently been his plan. "Well, if you insist..."
So I dropped Alexandre off. Then I stopped by the bakery to pick up some little pastries. Then I took them over to the old man. When I got there he was sweeping.
"Hello, So I bought you some bread. I wanted to say sorry for upsetting you."
"Oh no, que é isso filha? It's okay. Thank you very much. I'm going to save this for later."
(I breathed a little sigh of relief that he didn't want to sit down and eat together.)
"But it's very important to make peace. O que manda tudo é paz. I hope God blesses you with double what you've given me. Tchau."
I think what he said means something like "Peace makes the world go 'round."
So, yes. That was my emotional roller-coaster of a morning. My lesson is that I can't apply big city ways of handling things to this small-town way of life. And I don't have to be right all the time. And that o que manda tudo é paz.
How do these kinds of things happen to me? Alexandre says I'll be able to laugh about it by tomorrow.