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Friday, 06 February 2009

This Scottish Life - Page 2

Written by Emilie B. Haertsch
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The first time I met John he yelled in my face. It was the night I began volunteering at St. Catherine’s, and I was nervous. I stood outside the convent soup kitchen, unsure, but the waiting homeless men seemed to know what to do, and one of them rang the doorbell for me.

“Em John, by the weey,” he said as he opened a heavy door and motioned for me to follow him in.

 

This much I comprehended.

 

“I’m Emilie,” I said.

 

John glared at me. “Ye said tha’!”

 

I noted the coats and bags in the room and shrugged out of my own things. John snatched them from my arms and tossed them in a corner. Then he turned back towards the hallway, and gestured down the corridor. All of his actions were couple with dialogue. It was like watching a foreign film without subtitles. If I watched his actions very closely I could guess at his meaning. Paying attention to his tone didn’t help, because it remained disgruntled throughout.

 

I stared at him blankly.

 

John made a face of disgust, apparently finished with me, grabbed my shoulders and shoved me towards another door at the opposite end of the hallway.

 

“Oh!” I said sheepishly, and hurried towards the sound of clanging pots and the smell of stew on the other side.

 

If I could sum up my response to John in one word it would be “intimidation,” although “humiliation” would be a close second.

 

In my studies at the University of Edinburgh I had believed myself to be particularly This Scottish Life, volunteering at St. Catherine’s, convent soup kitchen, living in scotland, Emilie B. Haertschculturally sensitive. I had been, up until this point, adept at understanding the notoriously difficult Scottish accent. Then I met John and suddenly unwillingly embodied the stereotype of the ignorant American abroad. I later discovered that John was from Glasgow, and it was the Glaswegian accent that was my downfall.

 

A good 80% of what John said to me was lost, which was particularly difficult as he was my instructor at the soup kitchen. When I asked one of the veteran volunteers if John was the resident priest at the convent, she laughed. John’s official job was difficult to define, but he was somewhere between an odd jobs man and a gatekeeper. He wielded considerable power in the convent, however. He could put the fear of God in anyone – especially me.

 

One evening, several weeks into my volunteering, a frightening fight broke out in the soup kitchen between two of the homeless men. A large burly man took a swing at a wiry youth with a mouth, and the room erupted. Some of the experienced volunteers attempted to intervene to no avail. Then John entered the scene. His very presence stopped the action. He gave commands in his brogue, took the offender out by his collar, and restored order within minutes. Thus was the power of John.

 

(Page 2 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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