Knitting with the nuns

I crocheted 3 baby blankets, 3 hot pads, 2 children’s scarves, and 1 shawl.

My teacher said I am a machine. There was one pattern that I learned on youtube at which the nuns marveled. “You will have to teach us how to do this!” So there I sat, teaching the ones who had taught me.

For a few weeks, I became the crochet poster child. “How it cost her to learn a chain! And now look!” “And she’s left-handed!”

My goal was not only to learn crochet but to learn it well.

But my teacher had other plans. “Now that you know how to crochet, you can do everything on your own. It’s time to learn how to knit.” She was no longer content to have me happily stay within the safety of crochet. Every class, she would remind me, “You must learn to knit.”

One day, she caught me rather defenseless and handed me a ball of practice yarn and two mismatched knitting needles. And there I was, getting angry with the “arriba”s and “abajo”s and deciding I would have to pore over youtube videos at home before I really understood it at all. But even that didn’t help. I made lumpy little rows with missed stitches. Nothing helped.

In short, I was exactly where I had begun with crochet. And my teacher was in the same depth of despair with my work. Classes passed, me with my knitting needles, glaring at the uncooperative yarn.

Until I learned that to get out of knitting, all I had to do was leave my needles at home and bring along a crochet project.

I’m currently crocheting myself a sweater.

I wouldn’t say I’m giving up on knitting, exactly. Someday, when I feel more confident in crochet, I will pull out those malevolent knitting needles again. And I will probably finally understand it. After all, one day my despairing teacher told another nun,

“She learns well what she wants to learn.”

Crocheting in Spanish

In October, I started something I never dreamed I would start: crochet class. Last semester, I always left the nun’s home directly after Spanish class. But this year, I carved a little more time out of my schedule for the second hour of craft class.

My first class, I forgot to bring yarn with me. I sat with the other ladies and we chatted in Spanish and Arabic as I unraveled a sweater to recycle the yarn.

“I’m better at undoing than doing,” I warned María, the nun in charge of the class.

That day, I went to the store and bought a ball of yarn and my very first crochet hook. I still was less than enamored with the idea of crochet, but I knew I would enjoy the fellowship with the ladies.

It turns out that the fellowship came at a pretty steep price for me: my pride.

I was usually ahead of the ladies in Spanish class, but this time, they were far beyond me. Even when we started on the same level of nothingness, they were crocheting in squares  by the second class. One show-off was even making a doily. I plugged away at my simple chain, class after class.

As a left-hander, I struggled to imitate instructions, especially since they came at me in rapid Andalusian. Not only that, but sitting in the courtyard made me vulnerable to anyone and everyone passing by on their way to class.

One moment, I would be wiggling my crochet hook through the invisible yarn triangle, and the next moment, my project would be whisked out of my hands and somebody else would take a shot at it. Or another would critique how I held my needle and try to teach me something new.

Once, an elderly nun came to teach me a stitch. A few minutes later, she came to check on me… only to be disappointed. “No, no, no! That’s not how you do it!”

I sighed and half-laughed to cover my frustration. “I think I need to practice in private.”

She backed away quickly. “Okay. Okay. You practice in private.”

I went home and watched youtube tutorials to no avail. I was a terrible crocheter.

One day, I went to the store and impulsively bought thicker yarn. (Maybe now I would be able to see what I was doing.)

I made a scarf. Success!

María proudly examined my work and told me that no one would even notice how I went from 13 squares to 12.

Spanish with the nuns

Buried in my neighborhood is a tiny green door that leads to a tiled courtyard full of vibrant plants. Charming little rooms surround the tiled courtyard, completing the charming little haven.

In one room, there is a set of five sewing machines. Four treadle. One electric.

In another room, there is a plastic table with accompanying plastic chairs and a rough blackboard.

This is a sewing and Spanish school for immigrants. It is managed by nuns. A friend brought me along to class one day to see if I could enroll.

The first time I met the nuns, I had to bend over at the waist to greet them with kisses on their dainty little faces. Only one seemed more than five feet tall. And not one of them was under seventy. Maybe eighty.

I was captivated. “Is it possible to sign up for Spanish class?” I gripped my friend’s elbow as I awaited the nuns’ answer.

It was possible. After Semana Santa, I officially enrolled for the final trimester of the school year. (And by officially enrolling, I mean that I jotted my information on a scrap of notebook paper.)

On the first day of class—a lesson of body parts vocabulary—the teacher chalked a stick figure on the board with a rectangular trunk. For good measure, she placed a few wild curls on the faceless head to classify the figure as “female.”

During class, the figure was blessed with a chalky esophagus. No other organ required equal visual explanation, so the figure proudly sported her solitary organ until the end of class. And as the teacher erased both the figure and her esophagus, we students trickled out of the shadowy room and into the blast of sunlight that spread across the courtyard.

Since then, class has brought me in close contact with other immigrants as we reveal tidbits of our lives in choppy Spanish and laugh about our language woes. We share struggle and community. We even share goods: sometimes we carry home peppers, cucumbers, handcrafted sewing class projects, or even potted plants.

As the final trimester enters the final month, attendance has dwindled as most of the women fast for Ramadan.

The first and second hour classes combined and I suddenly found myself in a class of women who struggle with pronouns and simple verbs. But the energy and fun we have together is rewarding enough for me.

Yesterday, while practicing the structure “I like,” a classmate smiled and said, “I like Trish’s face.”

“Yes, yes,” agreed the teacher. “Trish has a nice face.”

The other students murmured their agreement and admired my reddening cheeks. Until, for lack of a Spanish equivalent, I burst out the Arabic expression, “God be blessed!”