Tuesday, July 29

morning at the ARCH

"I stake the time I'm grateful to have, the energies I'm glad to direct." - Annie Dillard

This morning, I went to the ARCH, the Austin homeless shelter for the second time. The first was Saturday for a volunteer orientation. I sat around for a while talking to people before the volunteer coordinator came down to show me what to do.

I discussed how hard it is to learn Chinese with a homeless client who had carefully painted on eyebrows. (I got asked a lot about what I do, so that led to me telling them I'm a teacher, but not currently teaching in Austin....)

I commented on how nice the building is to a guy and he said, "Yeah, but you know some people get too comfortable here, with this life and this place." He then went on to tell me that he wasn't one who was going to get too comfortable with it.

My first job was to check mail for people. Anyone can give out the center's address, and then their mail goes on file until they can pick it up. The clients were mostly so polite and patient as I learned the system and searched through the filed mail for theirs.

My second job was to go upstairs behind the soap and toothpaste counter to hand that out as needed. I also got a few requests for hydrogen peroxide, lotion and razors. We had the peroxide, but no lotion or razors. They give away what they get from donations.

They have an art class that started just as I was leaving. The clients can submit their artwork at the annual Art From the Streets show and earn the money from the sale. One guy commented on his way to the restroom "I know there are no starving artists in here! We might call them the gluttonous artists instead."

It's true that for most homeless the food is not an issue. Finding affordable housing is a problem, along with other barriers to employment that the homeless face. I'm glad that the shelter has made it easy for me to volunteer and learn more about the city I'm living in.

Thursday, July 24

bus culture, part three

In Winston-Salem, the station after the traumatic ride, I found myself hoping to go to a sauna when I got to my destination. I only thought about it for a second, of course realizing that I was in America where there are no public sauna/bath houses. I was associating this kind of long public overnight travel with China, where I often end in a city where I can clean up in a steamy public bath.

During the wait for the next bus, a girl who had been on the same bus as me sat down beside me and told me she thought the curly headed guy she had been smoking with outside was cute. We decided we wanted some coffee, so we started to head out and she asked her crush to accompany us. On the next bus, less than an hour after our coffee trip, these two are sitting side by side, parts of their body intertwined. And she had just told me that you have to be careful around these guys you meet on the bus! For some reason, this makes me long for the redemption of the world.

The new couple is sitting behind a girl (who didn't look like a girl) talking about how she was going home to her wife and kids. The girl she called her wife was waiting at the next station for her and we got to witness their affectionate reunion.

I leave the oblivious new couple to get off the bus and wait for my last bus to Danville. I meet Calvin, a good looking, well dressed guy who looks at the vending machine but doesn't buy anything. He asks me if I know where he can look for a job. I don't know anything, of course, about jobs here, but I really wish I could help him.

An old man comes in and asks for my help to buy him a sausage biscuit from the vending machine. It won't take his $5 bill, so I use my $2 to buy it for him, but I open it to an empty door and it eats my money. I offer him my last two pieces of zucchini bread, but he says he's diabetic and can't eat it. A girl comes back with change for him and he proceeds to eat the sausage biscuit (which I successfully buy) and a Pepsi.

I arrive at my destination a little tired and am treated to a tasty Wendy's salad. I am glad for this experience of a part of my culture that I usually distance myself from. I know that I need to do something besides write three blog posts about the experience. This is on my top ten list of experiences from my year in America. I am meant to live more simply, to be more intentional about how I interact with people, to realize I'm entitled to a lot less than I think I am. I wonder if I could have learned these same lessons in China, or if I had to learn them as a part of my own culture first.

Tuesday, July 15

bus culture, part two

On the next bus, I sit next to a single mom and her three kids. They are so cute with their big blue eyes. I get to hold the youngest (5 months old) while the mom takes the girl to the restroom, and again at a stop where the mom takes a smoke break.

There's a little more variety than your standard bus riders on this one. I notice a girl reading a book in Russian, a guy who gets off the bus speaking with some kind of British accent and another guy who has an iPod (the only one I saw on the bus) and is reading a book on debating two different views of Calvinism.

Our bus getting in to Wythville at 4 AM is a little late and it's really cold outside, so those of us waiting on our next bus go into the waiting box (it's not so much a room). We are told that all the buses are late tonight, and we hear stories of people that have been waiting for 9 hours. So, we're thinking we might be here for a while when one of the guys that's catching the same bus I am goes out to double check on the bus that's out there. He comes back in saying, "That's our bus, y'all! (He's got a feminine lilt to his voice.)

So, I follow him out to the bus. The bus driver takes his ticket, but informs me that the bus is full. I tell him, politely, that I have had this ticket for two weeks, have two more buses to connect with after this one, and I would be happy to sit on the floor. He looks at me disapprovingly, saying "It's illegal in this state to sit on the floor of a bus. People who have tickets have to wait all the time."

I decide to wait until the bus leaves to see if he'll change his mind and I start to pray. The next bus wasn't scheduled to come for another 7 hours, so I don't want to give up yet. Right before he leaves, he turns around and tells me he'll let me sit on the steps beside him. Answer to prayer number two!

I load my bag, he takes my ticket, and he tells me that he considers the seat I'm getting "the best seat on the bus." It's where he often sits when he's riding. (So apparently he breaks that law anyway?) He quickly warns me that he will not tolerate it if I fall asleep and lean backwards on him.

It's dark and cold. I don't want to fall asleep, for fear that he'll have to take unwanted action against me, so I pull out my iPod. The white screen light comes on and he raises his voice at me, saying that is distracting. I say, "Yes, sir." I turn the iPod over so that the light shines onto the floor as I try to adjust the volume. He tells me that if I shine that light one more time he's going to kick me off. So, I spend the next hour and a half listening to a chapter of a book I've already listened to, but I can't really understand it anyway, because the volume is too low. I feel like a middle school student who is on the teacher's bad side and can't do anything right.

We pull into the station and I'm relieved to get off that bus. I get my bags and go into the station to wait for the next bus. While I'm sitting in the station, I hear people behind me talking about that poor girl who had to sit on the floor and how mean that driver was to her. One lady says, "He must have come from a hard home life." I smile, glad to have some people on my side.

Friday, July 11

bus culture, part one

Last week, I took a long bus ride from Louisville, Kentucky to Danville, Virginia. What would have taken about 8 hours to drive took about two and a half times that on the bus. It was the cheapest way to go, though, if I bought the ticket 2 weeks in advance - just $55. I had a feeling from the time I purchased the ticket online that it was going to be a memorable journey.

My brother-in-law, sister, and nephew dropped me off at the downtown bus station. I got my ticket from the counter and waited, praying for any connections that God wanted me to make. I began to realize from the outset that I need to live more in the world, instead of separating myself from the world that these bus passengers live in.

I got two seats to myself on the first bus, sitting behind a cute 2 year old and her mom who each had a candy necklace. I kept getting sweet peeks around the chair from the little girl. Behind me, there was an army guy returning to his base.

Beside the army guy was a big middle aged white guy with a few teeth missing who told us that he extradites federal prisoners. He talks about the days when he drove trucks, telling us that he would drink RC for energy. The black guy in front of him turns around and asks,
"RC? How old you is? That was WAY back in the day!"

The extraditer goes on to tell us about his 22 year old daughter. Her 26 year old boyfriend and three kids have moved in with her. The extraditer doesn't approve of the relationship and so they aren't talking at the moment. The black guy in front declares that he is going to be "Dr. Phil on Wheels" and give him some advice. He says that he doesn't have any business messing with his daughter's life now that she's old enough to have her own life. His job is just to love her, not judge her decisions. Not bad advice, actually.

We all get off the bus in Nashville where I have a two hour layover. I say bye to the extraditer and start to think about dinner. The food in the "restaurant" at the station looks pretty sad, so I go outside to check out other options. There aren't any in sight, but one of the guys at the corner tells me if I walk up a few blocks, cross the bridge, and turn right, I'll find a McDonald's. I leave
my big backpack at the station in between rows of seats and pray that Jesus will be like my travelling partner and watch over my luggage while I go to get food. When I get back, after more than 30 minutes, it's still there. I feel his companionship and I know that he's answered my prayer!


Last night, I found some kind of cute gray and baby blue worm that is attached to some kind of cocoon crawling on the bathtub. I caught it on a sheet of paper and took it into the kitchen where my Grandmother was working on a wordfind. She reached for her magnifying glass to take a closer look.

I was going to take it outside to let it fend for itself, but she said, "Well, do you want to put it under something and watch it do whatever it has planned next?" She suggested a mesh sieve, but it didn't work, so we settled on a small glass turned upside down. Before going to bed, she reported that it had climbed to the top of the glass and was waiting there.

This morning, I came back from my walk to find that she had added three pieces of cat food for it to "nibble on." Later came another report that it had climbed over the pieces of food and maybe eaten something. At lunch, she pointed out the newest addition to the habitat: a tiny branch with ball moss in case it wanted to hang and finish developing the cocoon.

I taught with a past retirement age woman in China one semester who taught me about childlike wonder when she took joy in spring. Mimi is taking me back there again.

Thursday, July 10

not the only fish in the sea

I just finished reading Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, which is a book I highly recommend. I also took a 20 hour bus journey last week that put me in a culture that I normally don't experience. I will try to post some about that later. So, I am thinking about how I can make changes in my life that is currently more self-centered than it should be.

My birthday is coming up and my Grandmother, whom I am living with, is trying to get me to decide where and when I want to go out for my birthday dinner, which is always the solution to celebrating birthdays in her sphere. For some reason, I'm not looking forward to this mostly me-centered birthday dinner. For my thirtieth birthday, I was in China, teaching. My friends and students remembered me and it was nice. Last year, I was traveling and got birthday wishes through e-mail, and I was mostly happy to be experiencing a new city and not have a me-centered day, because my traveling partner didn't know it was my birthday. After these birthdays, though, I've felt like something was lacking from the day and have felt selfish for thinking that.

This year, instead of looking for more, I'd like to do less. I'd like to do something that is less about me and more about others, especially people of a lower economic status. I remember my Mom telling me once, I think after I had finished looking at what I wanted to look at in a department store and was ready to go home, that I was not the only fish in the sea (I think I was bugging her while she was finishing her shopping).

Any bright ideas about how to spend a day loving the other fish in the sea?

back in the saddle

I've been away for a while and haven't gotten around to posting when I've had internet access, but I'm back in Austin again, and catching up. My Mom and I drove up to Kentucky to meet my Dad, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew for a week. We went to the Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis (Mom's request) on the way up.

My nephew is 10 months now, which is a fun age. He's learning so much and is really fun to be around.

I didn't take any good pictures of Kentucky this time, but there are pics from my previous Kentucky trips here, here, here, here, here and here. The last two links are my favorites that I've posted of Kentucky, I think.