The Prizes from Strangers

‘F5 then Ctrl+P’ was all I did Thursday morning. I found this app online to customize and print free bingo game set. After eagerly choosing the theme of the game and finally making a decision on whether I prefer a number set or a picture set, I was finally printing everything out. While I was cutting all the cards out of the paper, I looked up and caught smiles on Jamie and Sara Beth’s faces.


“Are you preparing both of those games for the Bingo at the Senior Center tomorrow?”

I nodded with a very unsure smile sensing that I was doing something that Americans normally wouldn’t do. After a year studying abroad, I was used to the idea that sometimes I do things that no one in the United States does because a lot of the time I was either doing some American things for the first time or doing some casual Asian things for the million time. That morning was one of those first times: I would host and play the game of Bingo for the first time in my life. I learned from my English text book that Bingo was a popular classic American game but I had never actually played it. Anyway, Sarah Beth said I could play one set of game until more people won the game. I wished that she said that before I spend 2 hours printing and cutting everything out.

At 3PM Friday, I arrived at the kitchen as usual to begin my cooking shift for the Senior Center but that time I was the only leader and at the same time the only volunteer in the Kitchen. While I was riding my bike to the kitchen, I thought may be I would have plenty of time to think about what I would say that night after I was done cooking. But first thing I do was setting up my speaker and let it blast in the kitchen. I was very happy about dancing in the music and working the way I normally made my dinner at home while noone is there to watch me as a shift leader. But I soon realized that it was not that fun. I had to make the salad at the same time I fried the fish and set up the sink. The oil in the pan did not stop attacking my face with continuous shoots and I kept having to change my gloves to switch between different tasks. I missed Jamie so much when I struggled 15 minutes to open a bucket of chicken soup. After 1 hour and a half, I was finally done with cooking and started putting dirty dishes in the sink to wash them for another half an hour. At the end, I did not have time to think about what I was going to say but I did have time to notice that my mascara melted down a little bit on my eyes because of the heat from the stove and the oven. Great, I looked exactly like a panda. It was 5:45 and Sean was still not there yet. The volunteers and Linda, the lady in charge of the senior center were calling me. All the excitement was gone. All I wish was that the night would not be so bad and I would not mess up the Bingo game. I was expecting that everyone was waiting for me, very hungry and maybe not as happy as if I was not to be late .

But it was nothing like my expectation. When I arrived, first thing I saw was a bright smile of an old lady through the window. Unconciously, I smiled at her even though I was very tired and hot and frustrated about a long working day. I brought the food in and everyone gave me warm greetings, the smiles that you can expect from your grandparents when you come to visit them at the weekend. The old ladies helped me set up the table, take off the foil wrap and get serving supplies ready. I did not even have to introduce myself, all the seniors gladly thanked me and asked me about my day, making sure that I had a seat and was enjoying what I made. Their appreciation and happiness seemed to take the heat and the hard work all away, making me feel like a casual summer dinner with my grandmom and her friends. Then I hosted the Bingo game. Even though I was pretty sure I absolutely looked like a sweating panda, no one noticed because they was so happy and attentive listening to me calling out the numbers and calmly said “Bingo” when they won. Just that morning I was wondering how I could get through an hour of playing an American game with seniors I did not know. But at 7:15PM that night, I was still there calling out the numbers. I just wanted to make sure that everyone got a prize because everytime someone won and took a prize that I prepared, I felt a little bit of happiness in my heart knowing that I was getting my own prize for my work too. My prizes were their appreciation and happiness. I guess I was not an genius of hosting Bingo games but I was with the sweetest people that appreciate everything I did, including the times when I called a number the second time or said the word “three” with a mild accent. When I got home at 8, I was exhausted but I was happy knowing that the seniors gave me a lot of “prizes” for my Bingo game. And I was very more happy knowint that I loved what I was doing at Campus Kitchen. 

Phoebe Do