LIFE LESSONS: Rina Melendez

LIFE LESSONS: Rina Melendez

LIFE LESSONS: Rina Melendez

First published in Columns

What I’m called: My name is Rina Melendez.

My age: I have just turned 43.

What I do: I run a Refill Station called SESI in East Oxford where people can bring their empty containers of eco-friendly detergents and hair and skin care. I sell whole foods, mostly organic and fair trade, straight from the sack, helping cut out on packaging.

Where I live: I have lived in East Oxford since 2000. I first lived for four years in Scotland and it was there that I experienced my first winter. I was a Spanish teacher and housemother at Kilquhanity House School in Dumfries & Galloway. I also became a foster parent for Japanese and English students who attended Kilquhanity. The property where the school was had been built in the 17th century; it had no central heating. I remember clearly how I used to warm up the room and bedclothes with a heater one hour before going to bed. Every morning the ice could be seen and felt inside the window frames.

Who I love: I love my husband Paul and my two daughters Bella and Jasmine, they are my spiritual guide. On good days I feel love for every human being.

Happiest year: My happiest year is the one I am living at the present time, when I ask myself the question.

Darkest moment: My darkest moments clouded my childhood at times. I was the child of a mentally-ill single mother. My mother had been abandoned by my grandmother at the age of six months. Mum grew up with my grandfather until the age of 13 and then she left for the streets. My mother had eight children, three died of neglect, she abandoned the other four children and she kept me. I love my mother and I support her financially as much as I can. I feel really happy that in England there is so much support for people with mental health conditions. I lived in the streets for the first eight years of my life. The uncertainty of whether you would have the next meal or not, where you would wake up the next day or whether I’d see my mother at all, that was quite confusing. My mother once left me in an orphanage for a week but she came back to get me. I was often left with people I didn’t know and learned to trust myself to be safe and to enjoy people who meant good.

Proudest boast: That my DNA has blessed me with resilience to overcome adversity without holding grudges.

Worst weakness: One of my worst weaknesses is that I can talk a lot sometimes. I try not to, because I am interested in what other have to say too. I was born without the right ear and I have lost 25 per cent of my left ear. I could do with a bit more sense of humour; I love English people’s sense of humour.

Lessons learned: Through Buddhist philosophy I have learned not to assume the best or the worse of people or situations. With the lovely English people in my life I have learned that things are not black or white and that we can always agree to disagree.

Dullest job: I find no work is dull. I have sold in the streets, been a waitress, a teacher in private schools both in El Salvador and in Scotland, a political negotiator for education reforms in my country after the El Salvadorian civil war in the 1980s, a planner and evaluator of literacy projects and community development programmes with refugees of the war, and happily a mother. I now enjoy being a trader of ethical supplies.

Greatest shame: When I was a teenager. I was sleeping in the bus on my way home. I woke up half way through the 40-minute journey, only to find myself dribbling, with my head nodding to one side, while the intelligent and good-looking boy I had a crush on was standing just next to me, looking at my terrible posture.

Lifelong Hero: My lifelong heroes are the unsung heroes. I look up to the women who kept the world moving but whose story is not found in the history books. Occasionally I find inspiration in my spiritual, inner self.

Oldest friend: Ruby Romero, who I have known since I was eight years old.

Favourite Dream: For the world to become fair trade.

Biggest regret: I don’t feel like I have any – but there must be something.

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