What is poverty in Vancouver?
I will create a mental photo for you because today my camera was too far down in my backpack and i was driving a motor vehicle so taking a real one was a bit too tricky for me, at this novice stage of my photographical career.
I am sitting alone in my car. I am the first car in a long line stopped at the intersection of commercial drive and east 12th in vancouver. I am facing east on 12th. A sky train slides south just above the stoplight across the intersection with bright yellow and royal blue advertisements on its side. Three young guys pull up in a white acura next to me, its pretty old though. A man who looks to be filipino starts walking out in the crosswalk on our side of the street, dressed in old camo pants and an old stretched white t-shirt. He is carrying two grocery bags that look uncomfortably weighed down and about to snap. He is walking quickly, with a get-home gait. A young immigrant student with an old backpack starts out crossing a bit after him. The dinginess of the graffiti on the chinese-food restauant and skytrain pillars sticks out in my mind's eye, but I like that the yellow on the train and that of the worn-out, dust covered sign of the restaurant match. David Crowder's "Wholly Yours" is playing and it hits the chorus, then the photo is snapped in my head.
I begin to think about what this poverty means here in Canada. I am doing a research project currently on poverty in Canada. I drive though the east end of Vancouver with slightly new eyes. I am attracted to its urban kitsch, the alternativeness of it all, that people make distinct choices about where they shop, how they get around, and so on. And for me, this is a possibility. I can move to East Vancouver, sell my car (or give it to my parents, about which I am sure they would be thrilled) and choose only to get around by public transit because it is more economical, environmentally friendly and simple
. I can shop only organic and fair trade (but I will be shopping considerably less). This is all my choice.
But there are many even here in Vancouver- perhaps we should say it again- there are many here in Vancouver
for whom public transit is not a choice. Walking home with the groceries is the only way to get that food home- the food that you can afford. And the area they live in? wherever they can afford and hopefully there is someone who can speak their language.
Its not their choice. Its their only option.
Second photo: On Monday, I passed a man downtown near Burrard and Hastings holding a cardboard sign that said "HIV+ and hungry." He was leaning forward, tottering as he held out his sign. As I drove on my heart tottered on the brink of breaking. I cannot understand why a man like this is hungry in Vancouver, in Vancouver.
but he is.
I am not taking these pictures just to depress and scream outrage at this city. I love this city, but now I am starting to understand a new side of it. And this new side, its poor, is something that is rooting deeper for me. The resilience of the people in this situation that I have just been exposed to is perhaps one of the greatest sights in the city, as beautiful as the view from the lion's gate. Its true, as someone said, there is a sparkle in their eye when they talk about dreams. it reminds me of the lights from the top of Cypress. But we can't leave them out in the cold. We have got to care for them, let them into the city.
One for the record books
Things that made this day historic and enjoyable:
*eggs benny at the Austin Diner in Coquitlam with Jon. I never thought the day would come- I found a part of Coquitlam that I like. It was only a three block strip on Mariner way, but hey, if there is that part....maybe there is more! (caveat for coquitlam readers, the only part of your fair city I have been to is the strip of lougheed hwy that takes you from the highway to the mall. scenic indeed). And the Austin Diner is a gem. No seriously, i have a weekness for greasy breakfast food served all day. Jon was a peach too.
*Another day I never thought would come when I would say this, but I think it may be time for me to reign 'er in when it comes to buying books. I just buy books compulsively, but then never have time to read them all so they pile up and look so lovely on my shelves. But who could say no to 7 dollars for the collected works of George Grant?? and how often am I downtown at the ONLY bookstore in this city that seems to sell books in other languages- i NEED that copy of Julio Cortazar's short stories to keep up my spanish. I had to, its an investment. And yet all I seem to read is facebook- scan is more like it, trying to find the link to that funny group again. I shoulda just joined in the first place. darn it.
*Cherry Blossoms in the city! sooo smelly sooo pittty!
*My brother will drop everything to take me to starbucks. He is also a peach. I like visiting him at UBC and sometimes I carry a copy of George Grant's collected works around and pretend I am a student. But I only use the bathrooms at Regent because they are the only ones I can ever find. I am sure there are more on Campus, I just don't know where they are.
*I got a red onion instead of a mint. Its one of the things that makes Vancouver kitschy- and as mentioned in the last post, that makes me have a crush on Vancouver. The Red Onion with Susan is always a joy and a delight. And the conversation is always so engaging "that guy just dyed his hair, you can totally tell." (me emphatically turning around and looking very subtly at said man in question) "where?! who?!? OHHH! yeah!"
Renewed vigour demands an outlet
I know I have blogged about this ad nauseum, but renewed vigour demands an outlet. I went to a lecture at Trinity this week with my reinstated roommate alum, Sarah. It was put on by the social justice club (why the heck was I not in on the ground floor with that when I was there??). The speaker was Stacey, one of the founders of Level Ground. We discussed the ethics of fair trade; the complexity of the fair trade system; the connections of trade with other industries such as the transportation industry and its connections with environmental sustainability; One of the finer points was the need for a complete disassembly of the north American consumer-driven lifestyle. One of the guys there asked a question that finished with a pause and a cautious clarifier, not necessarily opposed, but still somewhat surprised: “what it sounds like you are asking for something that can only happen if the American way of life is completely destroyed…?” Stacey’s answer was something to the effect of “Yes, I hope so.”
Man! I love this stuff. Every day since, I have been seriously rethinking every purchase. I wanted pizza on Friday night, but went home because I knew I had food in the pantry that should be eaten up before I go recklessly spending money on something else. I even rethink the fair trade purchases I want to make. I was shopping online at the people tree, but realised that I don’t need any of these clothes just yet. When I do, I may very well go there, but until I do, what is the sense?
The thing about fair trade that is so incredible is that it isn’t just that we are concerned about where our products come from and how they arrive on our kitchen counters or in our closets. This is the primary and most immediate concern, but the real underlying concern was well stated by this speaker this week. We need to be more content with living simply and when we do buy, to buy that which is ethical. This then connects in my mind back with Mark’s sermon from two weeks ago on fair trade, justice and slavery. I am convinced that on the things such as coffee, sugar etc, where there is an alternative we certainly should make the sacrifice of other needless consumables in order to afford those just alternatives. Especially since the coffee and sugar industries are so ubiquitous. How many people do you know that do not consume certainly the latter, if not both, every day?
The demise of the American way of life will come one purchase at a time not made; one craving not satisfied each day. While there are four or five consumables that I have turned down there are probably another four or five that I have not, but it starts small. I just don’t see how we as people can justify the slavery or oppression of another person or group of people. I can see though, how easy it is for us in North America to assume it isn’t happening, and that we have nothing to worry about. I even caught myself when Mark stated his sermon on slavery thinking, “what modern day equivalent could there be??” HA! I spent years studying the modern day equivalent in my economics classes, but it still comes so slowly. Out of sight, out of mind.
The lecture finished and I had a great talk with the husband of one of my professors, who is working on starting up some fair trade co-op and initiatives in Kenya. Hearing someone talk about what they are doing and what is going on in an area that you are passionate about is incredible. I think on my bad days I would be jealous, but in my best moment, I was overjoyed by the fact that all this was taking place. Just knowing that it is moving forward is fantastic, who cares that I am not the one to spearhead it. One day, I will be in on it, but until then I just want to know that it’s getting done and I can’t wait to join. I left on a cloud.
Where have you been?
Been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. Sorry 'bout that.
You know when you want to talk with a good friend about so many things at once because all these crazy things have happened and you've discovered a new musical love and you went to a fair trade lecture and you got a bloody nose while jogging the other day and you just can't wait to see their face when you tell them about this all, but then you don't have the time to talk to them because you have just moved too and your job is crazy because two people have been off sick and everyone has to cover and you live 45 minutes away now, and not that that is really that much, because you used to commute it every day, but now you don't feel like driving it any more?
You know when all that happens and then you finally get a moment with that friend and you don't really have time to mention much of that, or more than just touch upon it?
Aghhh, yeah! i totally know what you mean.
Now we are up to date. I will start blogging again.