Archives for posts with tag: community

It’s funny, when I wrote that last post about ebola, it was something far-off. And now it’s here. I mean here.

When I first heard there was a patient with ebola in Dallas, I thought, “Huh, I wonder which hospital he’s at.” Then I found out he was at the hospital where I work.

Then they mentioned that children from four different schools might have been exposed. Someone remarked that it was unlikely that children attending four different schools could all be in one family, and I thought, “Not really. That’s very common in my neighborhood. I wonder if he lives here.” As it turns out, he does.

Now, I’m not afraid of contracting this virus. It’s not particularly easy to catch, and I follow standard precautions. I know that the hospital, and the health department, and the CDC are all doing excellent jobs.

The news crews who are swarming this gentleman’s apartment complex? I have less faith in them.

Lots of the kids I work with live there. They all came home from school today with an ebola fact-sheet. And the whole world wants a snapshot of the place where this virus lived for a few days before being isolated and hospitalized.

My neighborhood.

And I’m worried about what these news people are describing. Crowded instead of close-knit. Full of refugees instead of diverse. Dirty. Dangerous. Poor.

I see you looking at us through the lens of the news, and the combination of xenophobia and paranoia this lens promotes is a bit frightening. Much more so than a simple virus.

No, not every road here has sidewalks. No, not all of us speak English. No, we don’t look like any other neighborhood in Dallas.

But we’re not a throwaway neighborhood. We’re not a public health risk. We’re not the problem here.

We’re the solution that has yet to be called upon.

We speak 33 languages. We know our neighbors. We gather regularly to share information on the soccer field, in the laundromat, and on the street. You couldn’t ask for better participants in a campaign to ensure the safety of our friends and relatives.

But nobody’s asked us.

So we’ll try to mobilize as best we can, ducking between the cameras trying to sell a frightening story about immigration and public health. I hope that, when they start using that story as a reason to tear these old buildings down and build condos that none of us can afford, someone will remember our story too. That we aren’t just a ghetto full of scary people from scary places.

We’re the solution to problems that have yet to be understood.

And this is our home.

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While I’ve been following the current ebola outbreak for quite a while now (my job requires me to visit the CDC website on an almost daily basis, so it’s constantly in my face), it’s only recently that I’ve seen Americans without ties to west or central Africa becoming actively afraid of the disease. And where fear goes, exploitation follows. Scammers are selling all kinds of products to “protect your family against ebola,” from essential oils to magical water to expensive dietary supplements. Never mind that the best way to avoid contracting ebola is to avoid coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has ebola—not terribly difficult to manage here in the US.

But people quite naturally want to do something when horror strikes. As such, here’s my list of suggestions of things you can do, as an average person outside of an area where ebola is endemic, to help the situation.

1. Support science education of children, youth, and adults.

If we as a people do not understand science, we will not produce scientists. We will not be able to develop cures and methods of prevention. We will be easy prey for scams. We will not know where to donate money or time or energy in order to be of service. Supporting science education might mean tutoring a neighborhood youth. It might mean pitching in for science supplies for a local cash-strapped teacher. It might mean organizing a workshop at your local library, or calling your state legislators. It might even mean logging on to Khan Academy and educating yourself. Choose the path that makes the most sense for you.

2. Demonstrate and teach compassion.

Nothing gets better when nobody cares. (And caring is different from fear.) Does picking up litter in your neighborhood on your daily walk really have any effect on something like ebola halfway across the world? Not directly. But in a world where editorials make sarcastic cracks at those who dedicate their lives to curing disease and alleviating suffering, any attempt to eliminate cynicism is a step that brings us closer to being able to act in unity with our fellow human beings.

Vickery Meadow neighborhood cleanup

3. If it’s not about you, remember that.

If you live anywhere near a decently-sized city, there are people in your area who are affected by this crisis. You have neighbors or coworkers who are from central and west Africa, who have family there, who are worried sick in ways that probably don’t apply to you. A visit, some baked goods, a word of understanding can go a long way. Listen. Listen well, and do it more than you speak. Share the burden of those who are suffering, rather than adding a burden of your own.

4. Live in a learning mode.

Medicine is a tricky practice. It involves some science, some art, and a sizable chunk of engineering all thrown together. It requires a process of study, action, and reflection that doesn’t always run perfectly on an individual level, much less on a global scale. But when we allow ourselves to internalize this learning cycle, we stop being defensive about past mistakes, and instead upgrade our knowledge and habits without shame. While most of us aren’t going to develop a cure for ebola, we can bring to a halt the spread of misinformation, even misinformation we ourselves had a hand in promoting. We can encourage habits of creative thought and concerted action that might lead to a new scientific breakthrough, or just a better experience for the families on our street.

I know that these aren’t the kinds of advice most people are looking for. They don’t particularly alleviate fear. They aren’t direct. They aren’t immediate. They’re not simple. And they’re definitely not glamorous. But when we finally conquer this outbreak, there will be another crisis to capture our attention. Perhaps another virus. Or a war. Or a hurricane. Or a messenger from outer space—who knows? We can’t possibly hope to preemptively develop exactly what is needed to handle every possible contingency. But in all of these cases, there is a shared truth: that the best preparation is a community of people who strive towards acquiring and applying knowledge for the betterment of all.

If you want to make a difference, start there.

I love how the more I work in the community, the more it becomes a process of mutual sharing. Sharing a song with the youth in a study circle is so much lovelier when they teach me one in return. A gift of my time visiting a neighbor in her home is quite literally sweetened by the tea she serves me. A word in English traded for a word in Spanish, or in Nepali, or maybe just a loving smile.

It sounds so selfish, I know. We’re taught that we should give selflessly, without regard for reward. But I can’t help the feeling that what I’m experiencing isn’t something as petty as tit-for-tat, it’s an emerging environment of equality. We’re just neighbors. Collaborators. Friends. There are no martyrs here.

So I know a prayer in Sanskrit now. I’ve learned to make chatpate from a group of middle school girls and to make origami flowers from a talented boy who used to curse at me in the street. I hoard a collection of construction paper cards that say “I love u Mis Cat” and “Thank you for being a awesome friend.” I’ve been invited to saints’ days and birthdays and dinners and festivals. And I’ve come to understand, most people love the opportunity to share what they have. Knowledge. Art. Stories. Passion. Faith. It brings people joy the same way it does for me. Silly not to have known it all along, eh? But I’m so much richer for having discovered it now.

Celebrating Holi with the some fabulous youth.

Celebrating Holi with the some fabulous youth.

 “You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

-The Princess Bride

Coherence does not mean the same thing as balance. To balance two or more aspects of your life, they must be separate, but given equal or appropriate weight. To live a coherent life is to understand how your work, your health, your service, your family, support each other, and are one. A coherent community does not attempt to separate the needs of children, youth, adults, families, and institutions. A coherent thought does not need to be diagrammed, balance sought between nouns and verbs. If balance is a pie chart, coherence is the combined ingredients in a strawberry-rhubarb pie. There is a difference.

Sustainable does not mean the same thing as easy. Lowering your standards might seem like a great way to ensure that a program or habit can carry on for years, but without the thrill that comes from meaningful challenge and the chance to create true change, is it really so feasible? Daily flossing is easy, but many people skip it even so. Try to see the sustaining power in exhilaration, inspiring greatness of spirit rather than smallness of action. There is a difference.

Empowered does not mean the same thing as independent. Just because someone cannot take on all the responsibility for a task without help does not mean that they cannot begin by taking some. Just because someone has all the skills to act without support from others doesn’t mean that they should. Abandonment is not a condition of power. There is a difference.

Daisy and I walk down the road together. There aren’t any sidewalks here, but people drive slowly, knowing there are always children playing in or near the street.

“Where are you from?” Daisy asks.

“You mean where was I born?”

“Yes.”

It’s a logical question, in a neighborhood like Vickery Meadow. Many of the residents are refugees and immigrants from all over the world. There are 28 languages spoken in just one square mile. It’s an amazing little microcosm of the world.

“I was born in America. My father and his parents were born in Canada, and their parents were born in Romania. Where are you from?”

“Africa.”

“How wonderful. What country in Africa?”

“I don’t remember.”

We walk a bit further. It’s 95 degrees outside, and both of us are sweating.

Daisy asks, “Do you have a religion?”

“Yes, I’m a Baha’i.”

“Does that mean you pray to many Gods?”

“No, it means I believe people of all different religions pray to the same God.”

Her brother jumps in from behind us: “Do you believe in Muhammad?”

“I believe in Moses, and Jesus, and Muhammad, and also Baha’u’llah. That’s what makes me a Baha’i. I believe that people who pray different ways can still love one another. Like my family. My mother is Christian, and my father is Jewish, and I’m a Baha’i. We’re different religions, but they are still my family. Just like you and me. We’re different religions, but we’re part of the human family, so we still need to love each other and take care of each other.”

Daisy again: “Is everybody here a Ba-who?”

I glance back at the pack of boys and girls following at some distance behind. “Nope, just me and Nabil. There are lots of different religions here. Isn’t that nice?”

We keep walking, past neighbors speaking Spanish, Nepali, French. Children chase each other and play basketball. Babies are fed, laundry is hung, the sun beats down. Daisy and I keep moving forward in the heat and the light. What else is there to do?

Everywhere I go, a path of service has already been prepared for me. Junior youth empowerment is a process that is evolving in every corner of the world.

Junior Youth Group

11- to 14-year-olds have many of the same needs everywhere. The need for a safe environment. The need to explore their identities and their dreams. The need for an encouraging voice and a listening ear. This is true for everyone, whether born in a swanky American suburb or a refugee camp in Nepal.

Junior Youth Group

Everywhere there is this tension between wanting to play like children, and wanting to be heard like adults. Luckily, there’s plenty of space for both.

Junior Youth Group

All photos taken by Kat, who is clearly not a photographer.

The birds are louder here.

I mean, I’ve always had birds around. Lots of the sparrow variety. Robins. Finches. City pigeons and crows. Gulls by the lake, ducks in the pond, that sort of thing. Dallas has similar birds, plus some strange varieties. And they are LOUD. I regularly hear one bird on my walks through the city that sounds like a car’s breaks are in sore need of repair. REEEEE, REEEEE, REEEEEEEEEEEEE! Some chatter. Many are utterly shameless as they beg for french fries on bar patios during the lunch hour. Is there some sort of app for identifying noisy Texas birdcalls? Or is that the sort of thing you just have to learn by wandering around in the company of a naturalist?

People are neither friendlier, nor less friendly than people in the Midwest. Some folks have adorable accents. Many are transplants. Everyone seems to have moved to Dallas for a job, even the native Texans. But once they come, they stay.

Spicy food is disappointingly difficult to find. You’d think, lodged between New Mexico and Louisiana, that this would not be the case, but it is. We’ve found a Thai place that will happily melt your face off at your request. Still looking for more.

People wear less clothing here. It’s a natural result of the environment, I know. I’m told I’ll have a couple more weeks of mild weather in the 90s before the summer starts to heat up in earnest. I’ve always been a pretty modest dresser, but it might be time to adapt a bit. I wore a shortish skirt without tights underneath the other day. My legs felt naked, but okay. I was still the most heavily dressed woman I saw. My inner meter of appropriateness might need recalibration for life in the South.

There is a magic box in our new apartment. You put dishes inside of it, close it up, and when you take them out later in the day, they are clean. As far as I’m concerned, this is nothing short of miraculous. Also, we have air conditioning. I wallow in unprecedented luxury.

I’ve run into more unapologetic racism here, but no more or less of the more covert variety than up north.

Trolley! Oh my goodness I love this free trolley. It is eight flavors of adorable and passes close to the art museum, also free.

There is a pool in our apartment complex, but I’ve never seen anybody swim in it. Mysterious. Must investigate.

So far, that’s my new life in Texas. Still exploring. I know I’ll learn to love it; the trick is in the deciding.

Dallas

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

Remember when I said that this was my no-guilt-for-not-updating blog? Yeah, I did that. I got busy, I got stressed, I was so busy writing professional stuff that my urge to write for myself was next to nil. But now I’m back, with all kinds of new words in my head.

Really cool things have happened to me lately. I got really involved in working with some older youth (ages 15-18) in Cleveland, who have turned into some of the coolest people I know. I attended a research conference in Boston, which fueled my passion for science even more, and actually rekindled some of the social science love that I thought I’d left behind me when I dropped out of college. I started getting some writing clients outside of the health and wellness industry, and it turns out I can write for photographers, lawyers, and bookkeepers just as well as I can write for massage therapists. And then, WHAM! We moved to Texas.

It pretty much happened just like that. April 1, Jef was given a choice between a promotion in Dallas or getting laid off in Cleveland. On the 10th he formally accepted the position. A few days later he started work, leaving me in Cleveland to settle our lives and pack. And May 17th I first set eyes on our new apartment in a town I’d never visited before. Whee!

I’m learning a lot about being detached from material things. All of my jewelry somehow got lost in the move? Need to cut down our book and record collection by a third in order to fit into a smaller apartment? No more need for my Cleveland-sized collection of heavy sweaters, long underwear, and scarves? Okay. Harder is dealing with being new and largely isolated for the moment. But people seem friendly, so I know I can overcome my shyness and meet new people.

My life mostly consists of unpacking boxes at this point, but I’m eager to learn more about my community here. I know that there are several junior youth groups in the area, and it’ll be really interesting how they are similar and different to the ones I knew in Cleveland (and Cincinnati, and Lilongwe, and Albuquerque … me and my silly nomadic life).

Anyhow, new insights will undoubtedly arriving soon. For now, I’m turning a mountain of boxes into a proper home. If that’s not a creative endeavor, I don’t know what is.

 

letter c

Coherence literally means the quality of sticking together. When someone’s speech is incoherent, the words don’t fit with one another in any sensible way. In a coherent plan, all the parts fit together like pieces of a puzzle.

Nothing can be coherent in isolation. There’s nothing to stick to.

A junior youth group on its own is nice. It can have tangential effects on the rest of the neighborhood. It’s a good start. But just as it takes a village to raise a child, it also take a village to raise, well, a village. And if the junior youth group never talks to the Block Watch, which never talks to the local business owners, who never talk to the neighborhood children that ride their bikes up and down the street … nice is all that’s likely to be accomplished by any of their actions.

At the same time, coherence doesn’t mean diffusing your focus so much that you help no one. Start with small actions, but avoid small thinking. Because the ultimate goal isn’t “nice,” it’s change. And for that to happen, we all have to find new ways to stick together.

photo credit: chrisinplymouth via photopin cc

  1. While my joints are falling apart at an alarming rate, I’m almost never sick. That’s pretty rad.
  2. I kind of hate online classes. I’ve tried to like them, and they’re awfully convenient. But I’ve taken two this year, and I just don’t get any pleasure out of them at all.
  3. I can make money off of my writing.
  4. It doesn’t matter that I’m not teaching professionally anymore, I’m still churning out a constant supply of ideas for classroom activities. If I don’t teach for long enough, I go mad.
  5. I don’t actually hate doing dishes. I hate doing whatever chore seems like it will get undone the most quickly as soon as I’ve finished.
  6. I need routine. I think I knew this already, but I had to relearn it this year.
  7. I love hanging out with my mom.
  8. Sometimes, one of the best things you can do for your marriage is learn to appreciate football.
  9. It is possible to appreciate football, it just takes some effort and caffeine.
  10. There are actually bars where people don’t look down on you for ordering a club soda with lime.
  11. Librarians are very forgiving.
  12. How to lay out a newsletter, sort of.
  13. How to collaborate on written projects.
  14. How to grow a vegetable garden in which the vast majority of the plants do not die (until you eat them).
  15. How to write a grant proposal.
  16. How to play the ukulele.
  17. How to make fabulous snickerdoodles.
  18. How to play Hokm.
  19. How to drive a manual transmission.
  20. The beach is beautiful when it’s raining.
  21. People are often very free with their knowledge if you simply ask.