This is the other part of the ritual of a pedicure, removed from the work being done by the woman at my feet. She carefully removes old polish with a cotton ball and dead skin with what looks to be a cheese grater. She clips cuticles and trims nails and grates off some more dead skin. She does every step with a skill I don't understand, with hours of practice I'm sure I don't want to put in. A base coat, two color coats, and a top coat go on effortlessly and dry perfectly. I've never managed to do this for myself, but have a stash of nail polish just in case it changes. Her final act before I pay is slipping my flip-flops on my feet, carefully not smudging the polish.
For a while, I play my game while cultivating gratitude for this woman, and her willingness and skill to give me a pedicure. It is a ritual I enjoy every few weeks, and she has given me the majority of the pedicures I've received here in Arizona. And as I look at her and talk with her some, I can't help but wonder: did she sign up for this?
Like most people who have given me a pedicure, she is an Asian immigrant. I realize after all these years, neither of us knows the other's name. I rarely make appointments and she doesn't check the sheet when I sign in. The conversation among staff is never in English. Now, I realize, I should ask.
Mostly, though, I wonder if she came to this country with hopes and dreams unfulfilled by the hours sitting on the low stool. Or did she come here knowing that was what she would do so that her children would have a better life? Her son is beginning his second year at Arizona State University, majoring in Engineering. She is happy to talk some about him when asked.
I also know she lives not far from the nail salon. I started coming to this salon because it was next door to my apartment, and I've stayed. I used to see her walking to work on my drive to work. She always walks, never drives, it seems. Given a choice, I can't imagine she wouldn't choose to drive on the days she carries an umbrella for shade.
I wonder if this is what she signed up for, knowing so many immigrants are promised one thing and given another by those who help them immigrate. The owner of the shop rarely does pedicures, sticking instead to the more dignified work of manicures. It is unappealing work, work I feel a little guilty asking her to do. It also seems good, walking into a business I know is run by neighbors who value every customer who walks in.
I also worry a little more about these neighbors today, wondering if they are safe. The current political climate is more difficult for brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking neighbors, but still, I wonder if they are nervous or have had loved ones deported.
When I pay, I hand over cash at the shop's request, with a 20% tip for the services. I say thank you, hoping that can convey enough gratitude; her English remains limited enough that each request is asked and confirmed several times throughout the process.
I believe and hope that this is holy, and respects this woman who is an immigrant living in a land I'm sure is still strange. I wish I knew how to be a better neighbor to her, and add that to the list of things I will work on before my next pedicure. For I remember not just Jesus' call to love my neighbor, but the oft-repeated command, "Don't mistreat or oppress an immigrant, because you were once an immigrant in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 22:21) It is one of the commands that set Ancient Israel apart in their world, and one much of the Christian tradition shuns.
A few days a week, I interact with immigrants. It is not always easy. The woman who cleans my home sends text messages that must be deciphered and the landscapers at church repeat the same phrase over and over again, even though I assure them I understand. They don't trust my Spanish and I don't trust their English. It is not the same sort of hilarity that came with my seminary friends studying in a new country, and the pitfalls of those relationships.
But I wonder, if when we encounter an immigrant in our day to day life, we offer some gratitude for the work they are doing and consider how they may have ended up her, might our world be a better place for it?