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What Most Of Us Have Is More Than 'Enough' - lessons from a Porto guesthouse

Paula would be anonymous in a crowd. She was in her mid 40’s and had her greying hair tied back, wore no jewellery or makeup, and was dressed in jeans , sneakers, and a blue scrub top. She greeted us at the door of our guesthouse in Porto, Portugal. She immediately apologized for her broken English but advised that the owner would be in later that afternoon and would be able to answer any questions. Meanwhile, she provided us with a small taste of Port Wine, a delicacy of the Porto region, before showing us our rooms and insisting on carrying at least some of our suitcases up several flights of stairs.

We stayed at the guesthouse for six nights. It had only seven rooms, high ceilings, hardwood floors, floor to ceiling windows, and ornate iron work – to be expected from an establishment owned and designed by an architect and his partner.

The owners attended the residence occasionally early on in our stay. But it was Paula who was there to greet clients. She was there first thing in the morning to make breakfast. She was there all day to clean the guestrooms and common areas. She was there in the evenings to prep the breakfast room. She asked if all was well and if we needed anything. She ensured we had coffee for our rooms. She ran to make espresso each morning when she saw us coming down the stairs.

One evening, we were just about to push the walk signal at a nearby traffic light when a voice said, “Let me do that.” We turned around to find a lady carrying several bags of groceries - Paula. We said, “Paula – are you EVERYWHERE?” She responded that she just had to pick up a few supplies for the guests for breakfast.

We became interested in this person who worked so hard and was so competent and accommodating and cheerful.

We commented to Paula that she always seemed to be working, and she told us that she loved working at the guesthouse and that this was (as she held out her hands) “enough”, her “home”, and the owners had become "family".

Paula explained that she had been with the guesthouse since before it opened a couple of years prior. She had been in a desperate situation at the time, earning a poor wage elsewhere, losing her residence due to fire, finding herself homeless, worrying about her struggling adult children, lacking family support, and having a mother in the latter stages of cancer. She said that she had no choice but to ask for help. She heard that the guesthouse was in the planning stages and approached the owners for employment. She explained that they took her in, gave her employment, and let her stay at the residence until she could establish herself again. They helped her to secure an apartment for herself and her one son within commuting distance to the guesthouse. She told us that she was completely indebted to their kindness and support.

Paula explained that she was working long hours that week as, for the first time, she had been left in charge of the entire guesthouse while the owners stole away for a brief holiday. She beamed as she admitted that she felt very proud as this was a real accomplishment and proof that the owners trusted and relied on her. As soon as the owners returned, she was going to go on a holiday herself. She had never been outside of Porto. She was going to a town, Aveiro, about one hour’s train ride south of Porto for two nights, staying at a guesthouse there. Her plan was to relax. The entire trip was arranged and paid for by her employers.

We soon adopted the phrase that everyone needs a little 'Paula' in their lives. She was hard working, grateful, and contented with her position. What she had in life was “enough”.

This, of course, was a reflection that, as we travel the world, we, like so many of us, have not only “enough” but much more than “enough”. And it was a reminder that, once our basic needs are met, we do have ‘enough’.

But it was also a stark reminder that far too many people in the world and right here in Canada and the United States live in low income, poverty, or deep poverty, struggling to acquire the bare essentials of housing, warmth, and food. And many people are just one negative occurrence away from living in desperation. There is much information available but the estimate of people living below Canada's poverty line is roughly 10%, meaning they do not have the basics to provide a decent standard of living. We can’t solve all the world’s problems, but we can all help in whatever way fits for us. (And if each of us does just a bit, maybe we will solve the world's problems?)

Our brief stay at the Porto guesthouse left us with many things to think about. We came away with some insight, gratefulness, humbleness, and a resolution to be just a bit more like Paula.

And we all hoped that she had the best little holiday ever in Aveiro; but we also knew that she would be just as happy and contented to be back serving breakfast on Monday morning.

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