Powdered green tea, a tea caddy, and water ladle.
The tea bowl, possibly the most important item aside from the tea itself.
Whisk and tea scoop.
TRACYLights out at 10:00. I sleep on a cot among all of the other guests. I hear the air conditioning and the hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen and the distant sound of the basketball game on Tracy's headphones across the room. As my eyes adjust I see various traps around my cot, not knowing what exactly they are intended to catch. It smells musty and muggy and unfamiliar. I'm not sure when I finally fell asleep, probably around 1:00 a.m. Before I knew it, it was time to get up. At 5:30 a.m.
A large woman sporting short hair, thin-rimmed glasses and a Walkman enters the room. When she speaks, asking for a cup of salt, I hear a deep, soulful voice. She's had a tooth pulled today. But don't worry -- she has a high pain tolerance. Tracy is the veteran of the group. She knows the ins and outs of the shelter, when to talk and when to keep her mouth shut. She simply shakes her head when another woman threatens to make a scene after failing to bum a cigarette outside. Sitting around the dining table, Tracy stares at a pineapple chunk for a few seconds before going for the creamed spinach instead. She is listening to the basketball game on her headphones.
Her hair is wrapped in a white scarf, piled high on her head. She's thirty-eight but I would have guessed twenty-five. She is the most talkative at dinner, eating fast and smiling wide. The plantains are her favorite. Kenya's mother was a twin. Kenya looks more like her aunt. Her mother was a doll maker, and her twin sister made the doll clothes. She learned how to crochet from her aunt. Tonight she crochets a red, pink and white blanket with a geometric pattern. I tell her it is beautiful, and it really is. I make a mental note to buy her some purple yarn. It's her favorite color.
A tall woman with curly white hair introduces herself as Olga, of Native American and African American descent. Before dinner, when everyone is setting up their cots, she teaches me how to tie my sheets under my cot so that bugs won't crawl up them in the night. I find this extremely helpful as I prefer my sleep to be bug-free. Olga believes that when you sleep somewhere, you leave a little bit of your soul. She lingers at the dining table with me and tells me a story: In the 1970s, when she was in her twenties, she traveled to a place called Cumming, Georgia. I have not told her where I am from. She had to hide in the backseat of the car and scurry indoors and face dirty looks and dirtier language. I do not think it's a coincidence that I ended up at this shelter with this woman hearing this story.