I think it’s a karmic problem. The thing is, whenever a need arises, straight away my hand goes up, as if it were on a spring. For sure, more than a few times I’ve regretted this impulse, but what can I do? It’s a question of temperament.

After a big nosh up, when everyone else is starting to doze off, I’m the one who takes the initiative and starts clearing away, and if someone else doesn’t take care of it first, I’ll start doing the dishes as well.

I remember the year 1968 when I had to travel to Prague, from Paris, where I was working, to sort out a problem that wouldn’t take me more than three days, and so I travelled with my return ticket already reserved. Basically, because I was leaving my young son for his dad to look after.

I arrived in that beautiful city one afternoon with a letter of introduction asking Cuba’s ambassador to Czechoslovakia (a friend of my husband’s) to put me up and and to do whatever he could for me.

They gave me a guest room on the top floor and warned me not to be alarmed if I heard grinding noises because a train went past the back of the house during the night.

Of course, I hardly slept. The sound of grinding kept me awake until the small hours when finally I was overcome by sleep.

Very early in the morning, I got ready for my planned appointment and I went downstairs to look for the ambassador’s wife, who had kindly offered to come with me. When I saw her I said “I’m all set”. She sounded a bit shaken and said to me “We can’t go. We’re tied up!”. “OK”, I replied, a bit sheepishly, “So let’s go when you’re not so busy”. And she said “It’s the country that’s being tied up!* By Warsaw Pact troops!”. That was when I looked around me and noticed that there were people nervously going hither and thither, not seeming to know what to do. Suddenly I realised that the grinding noise that hadn’t let me sleep a wink had been coming from the tanks and that the ambassador’s residence was located between the airport and the Soviets’ lodgings. Given the situation, for their safety, and while waiting for instructions from Havana, the ambassador had decided to bring to his home all the women and the children related to the Cuban staff.

All the Czechs who worked at the house had taken off, leaving us without a cook to see to those lodged at the ambassador’s house. And that’s when, once again, I put up my hand, and suddenly, as if by magic I found myself cooking for a household of nearly a hundred people.

My mini-break turned into a one-of-a-kind experience obliging me to stay in Prague longer than planned, until the airports were re-opened.

A word of advice: even after reading this post, if your heart tells you to put your hand up, don’t resist.

Translated by RSP

* Translator’s note. Rebeca Monzo uses a play on words here in the Spanish text. Spanish uses the same word , “ocupado” (occupied) both for being busy and for being physically overrun and occupied by a foreign army. Both senses of “ocupado” have been translated here as “tied up.”

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