I cleaned out a cleaning cart at work today. Nothing was particularly special about this cart itself but it was still a hard task I chose to do alone after the staff left.
I have never worked in housekeeping before this job aside from the training I chose to take on just to understand what was done by other staff. I always have preferred the front-of-house positions in the Hospitality industry. The interactions with guests from all walks and backgrounds. The ability to have large chunks of down time on the clock without being questioned of work ethic. The amazing jokes that are passed around for months after those ‘special’ guests come through the doors. But being a new immigrant, I have to first finish learning my new language to move back into that arena. And so, 5 months ago I found myself the housekeeping supervisor of a small guest house on a small kibbutz. It isn’t a particularly glamorous job: I scrub toilets, take out trash, wash other peoples dishes, and am on the very bottom of the work totem pole. But the volunteers and gap-year students I have worked with make the job worth it. They have also helped me realize why I always heard the housekeeping staff fighting over the walkie-talkies about carts and ‘stolen’ cleaning supplies in my past hotels. When you do the same, repetitive, thankless job day in and day out, you get into a pattern. And the center of that pattern is your cleaning cart. Once you have your cart, you can spot which one is yours from a group of 5 identical looking carts standing 10 feet away.
And today, I had to clean out my very first volunteers’ cart. She is a South African who first came to volunteer for 3 months but ended up staying 5. She was stubborn (“Yuval! Don’t start a war with maintenance over this. Just move on!”), she was focused (“No, we aren’t going to do it that way – it is the half-assed way. If you want to do it, do it right man.”), she was obnoxious when needed (“Take these pills now, take those in the morning, drink lots of hot tea, and down this liter of water now.” when I was sick), a friend and support when I wanted to quit and leave, an amazing listener when I had family problems that I just couldn’t share with too many people, and above all else, she was the embodiment our department motto: To Be Without Reproach.
Today, her last day at work, she requested the whole staff dress in certain colors. Then she brought in glitter and face jewelry and made us all up. She certainly made her mark on us, and on this guest house so it was the least we could do. But it was also typical of the positive light and energy she emulated throughout her time here. So when it came time to clean out her cart, with no one else around, it finally hit that she wouldn’t be here to keep my ass in check. No more comforting hugs or verbal kicks in the mouth when my temper gets the best of me. That was her cart, and now it is empty. I could have used it for the next volunteer starting on Sunday, but that would cheapen things for both of them. Lara’s cart was the way she wanted it and we ALL hate it when someone uses our cart. And the new volunteer deserves a clean slate – to not be measured in someone else’s shadow. But to be honest, the new volunteer and every volunteer after has very big shoes to fill. That bar has been set and there is no going back. Who knew an empty cleaning cart could be so challenging for those around it?