This is the second installment of “behind and beyond the counter,” a summer series featuring Pushcart baristas. See here to read what we’re up to.
photos by Chérmelle D. Edwards, smdlr.
The couple standing at the bar repeated what they wanted for the third time, their mouths clumsily shaping the words. I was tired and impatient, had no idea what they were trying to say. They were motioning with their hands. Liz slipped out from the back, smiling and answering their hand motions with motions of her own. Their faces lit up. I let go of my frustration and watched in amazement as they proceeded to have a conversation, half-spoken and half-signed.
“I speak Russian sign language,” Liz told them. They showed her how to sign “coffee with hot milk” in ASL. She learned that the husband was Polish, the wife French, and they were longtime residents of the neighborhood. The couple left smiling, clutching cups of coffee with hot milk. Thanks to Liz, they are now regulars.
I turned to Liz, incredulous, “you know Russian sign language?” I shouldn’t have been surprised—Liz is fluent in Russian, and picked up Russian sign during her time in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan. She also speaks Spanish and Arabic. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a few other languages up her sleeves. But what it comes down to is that Liz is a communicator at heart. She’s patient, and interested in people. She catches them off-guard with her quirky questions and genuine openness, surprising smiles to their faces. In a city simultaneously crowded and lonely, Liz steps out to meet people in their own language.
A child of Montana, Liz landed in New York after being evacuated from Kazakhstan by the Peace Corps less than a year into her service. She’s homesick both for Montana and the country she was torn from prematurely. Sitting down with Chérmelle turned out to be surprisingly cathartic: “I felt like I was getting something off my chest. This city has so many people and they don’t know each other. People rarely take the time to ask about other people’s lives and that feels really lonely sometimes.” Liz is one worth knowing.
Check out what Chérmelle has to say about Liz here.