101 Days, 101 Strangers, 101 Stories: Day 91

As I was leaving the library today, I heard a soft voice singing a pretty melody. I followed the sound to the bathroom, where I discovered its origin: a petite lady with curly black hair. She’s one of the janitors in UBC’s Law library. Her name is Rosalina, and she is my stranger of the day.

I said hello and introduced myself, apologizing for disturbing her while she was working away. I told her I was intrigued by her singing and wanted to learn more about her story. She was happy to share.

Rosalina mentioned that she had never seen me before. “Why is that surprising?”, I remember thinking to myself. Our campus is massive. She explained that she used to know the students quite well, engaging in conversation with those who would pass by. Now, she says, there are many more students than before, and her job has become less outwardly personal.

Rosalina is from Czech Slovakia. She grew up there and worked as a photo finisher for quite some time. But the deep and pervasive effects of communism caused her family to flee. She lived in a refugee camp in Italy for a while before moving to Vancouver with her family in 1977. It was a challenging time but she’s happy to be in Vancouver now.

She’s been working as a janitor at UBC for over 25 years. “The people here are very nice”, she said, “so I can’t complain.”

Her advice? “Find the right guy [/partner].” I asked her how to figure out who’s right for you, and she said that after spending a few days with them, you’ll know. For her, she just gets a feeling when she’s around people, and — perhaps intuitively — she can tell pretty immediately whether or not they’re people she wants to be around.

Rosalina told me about her husband, and how she had to get married at a very young age. “I was 15”, she said. And back in Czech Slovakia, married couples were able to receive many benefits that single people could not. She was able to access better housing arrangements being married, and so it made sense for her to do this at a young age. She told me about how she was still in school at the time, and about how patient her husband was with her during this time. “He waited so long for me while I was finishing school”, she said. She spoke fondly of him, and after all these years and having had two now 30-something year old children together, they are still together.

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