October 27, 2009

But, Miss!

"Kahlia, come here."

Her bright eyes stare lovingly at his as he fiercely fires his orders. She's done no wrong, but he just doesn't have the time nor energy to deal with her.

She's in a laundromat. With nothing to do.

The drones are driving her crazy, and the flickering fluorescents are making her restless. I feel the same way, Kahlia. Right now, though, I feel with your dad, too.

I'm tired. I'm hungry. I'm over-worked and under-paid. Yet, because of what I'm doing I'm expected to convey the same zest, the same love this three year old child does.

"Yo, Miss. I didn't do nothing, though."

But you did, Enrique. You were difficult. You were difficult, and I'm just not in the mood to handle your "lovable" quirks. Now, sit down and do your work.

It's not really his fault. He's a kid, and he wants to go out and play. He lives in an unprivileged area and goes to an under-resourced school. Despite how loving and supporting his family may be, he lives in a community of negativity and doubt.

"I don't want to go home, because I know it's not a good place."
"I don't have to worry about the Bloods here. My cousin's one. They look out for me."

Every day the world eggs him on screaming "Fail! Fail!" They look at him and see just another sad statistic. Despite me being a statistic of my own, and despite the mass amounts of hope and optimism I contain, today I'm one of those people screaming "You'll never get anywhere in life. Just hurry up and fail."

Enrique is in no hurry to prove them wrong, either:
"People of my color don't go to college."
"I joined a gang at my last school. We beat people up for no reason. Even though I'm not at that school, I'm still in the gang."
These are the things I hear every day. Those smiling eyes and upbeat attitudes astound me sometimes. I
know they don't have enough to eat. I know they are wearing dirty clothes. I know they've experienced a form of abuse, maybe even the night before.

Yet here they are looking up at me, smiling.

"Miss, miss. I didn't do anything wrong, miss."

No, you didn't, Enrique. You're just a victim, a product of your environment. I'll try to remember this as you're running, cursing, and fighting. I promise that in this year I will do my best to make your community, your school, your life as supportive and safe as possible. I want to help you. But, please, Enrique, just sit down and do your work.

"Okay, Miss."

October 06, 2009

New York State of Mind

New York and I have a very odd relationship thus far. Everything about it can be summed up in lyrical form, but I'll try to use my words as much as possible.

Coming into New York, I was so incredibly excited. I knew I would love the city, and I couldn't wait to learn more about it. It was the city of endless pavement, endless opportunities. It was the city so nice they just had to name it twice. Still high from my amazing summer in Arkansas, I took on the city head-on. As much pavement as I covered, I felt as if my feet never touched the ground. My program started, and I met all of my new colleagues and friends. I just simply fell in love with the idea (and the reality) of New York City and City Year.
At The Today Show.
With any new relationship there are pitfalls. The city seems to have a very manic energy, and a very strong energy. There will be days that I will leave my house with the sun shining, music blasting from every stoop, and people dancing on the sidewalks. A few hours later I'll emerge from the subway and it will be a completely different atmosphere; all it takes is one cool, harrowing breeze to turn the singing into yelling. Being a sensitive soul, there is no way I can escape the force, the energy of 8 million people.

The morning after a 24-hour night out. The City can do crazy things to people.
So far everything has still been simply an idea to me. I've been living in the city, but it never really set in. I hadn't yet realized that I couldn't simply drive to a field and look at the stars whenever I pleased. I hadn't yet realized the scope of work I would be doing this year. I hadn't yet realized how expensive the city really is. So when all of this set in, it was a bit rough. And as they say, when it rains, it pours.
Sick and tired after a 12 hour day.
I've learned that I'm very much a doer. Several people in CY are, but most seem to be visionaries. This is probably my biggest frustration, as I am sincerely growing tired of discussing our methods and plans instead of doing them. My team has caught onto this, and has done their best to accommodate. Still, the stress added up pretty quickly. I also had an issue with the Department of Education, as they said I was ineligible to work in the schools. It turned out they had simply transposed the numbers in my SSN, but it was extremely discouraging and frustrating to have to sit out of work, not knowing if all of my training, my planning, my dreaming had been in vain. I also lost a bit of my affection for my neighborhood, as I had a bag stolen from me on the trek home from the train one evening. It wasn't too terrifying, and I feel completely safe now. I'm just disheartened that my friends and family elsewhere now have their stereotypes and preconceptions of Harlem confirmed by one isolated event. I can sense it every time I talk to my parents now- they want to know where I am, where I'm headed, who I'll be with.

Luckily they don't have to worry. I recently received a box of luck from Rolla, and in it contained a fortune: Do not worry. Your every need will be provided. The blue ink on that little slip of paper couldn't have been more true. I was feeling down, and my family at JHS 13 came through. Staff members comforted me and gave me advice. My teammates went above and beyond by giving me company and even feeding me some food. I was feeling a little stressed out at school, and I was able to work on a corporate service day in my neighborhood. I was running low on cash, and found out I did indeed land that second job. I just couldn't feel more blessed right now.

I have started to miss Arkansas and the people I knew there, but I realize that I was lucky enough to have that home for 6 months. {It was so easy living day by day,
out of touch with the rhythm and blues. But now I need a little give and take The New York Times, The Daily News} As cynical as I thought I grew last year, I feel like the optimist in me is thriving in this city. Maybe it's because a random smile is such a treasure here, but I'm finding myself becoming more and more optimistic about life. I just finished a nearly 70-hour work week, but I'm feeling great. I'm worn out, but happy.
{In New York,
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There's nothing you can't do,
Now you're in New York,
These streets will make you feel brand new,
Big lights will inspire you,
Let's hear it for New York}
I think I just needed a few days to process the past three months.

As far as work, everything is going swimmingly. I'll post about the school soon. (It really deserves its own spotlight.) Staples is interesting. Yes, I'm once again at Staples as one of their weekend cashiers. It's funny how very much the same it is while still being completely different. It's a bit busy, and my co-workers are very different than the ones in Rolla. The customers are still just as funny and personable, already making up nicknames for me. (I apparently resemble Nancy Drew.) The store is much more lax, as one of my Nigerian co-workers was eating a cheeseburger at the register, but they still take their jobs very seriously.

East Coast men are like no other, though. That is the one thing I can't get used to. In the Midwest and South, men just dance around the subject, taking their time to show their interest in you. Here, the men have no shame. If they're not catcalling you on the sidewalk, they're slipping you a card or stealing your phone to input their number. You can try to be a nice lass and turn them down gently, but they mostly just don't get it. I've never had to work so hard to turn somebody down before. It's almost exhausting, really.

I'm off enjoy my heated mattress pad and new sheets. Thanks, Mom.

October 03, 2009

September 11th in New York

I remember what I felt like the day the planes hit the towers, and where I was. I think everyone across the nation does. I couldn't even grasp the impact it had on New York until this past September 11th. I was lucky enough to honor the memory of those whose lives were taken in 2001 through service and reflection.

We began the day reflecting on what had happened, and what it meant to the communities we served. I was able to talk to some of my teammates that grew up in the city and heard their stories of the day. They could hear the towers being hit, and saw the smoke. The Brooklyn bridge was closed, and they remember walking across that night with dazed and confused masses. I couldn't even fathom what they had experienced in that day, that week, that year, or that month. So I didn't try. I just tried to do my best to honor the memories of the fallen.

We bonded and painted wall art for the Pediatric Ward of the Harlem Hospital right up the street from me on 135th. It was a great day: fun, meaningful, and mostly fun. We delivered our work to the hospital and saw the great work they are doing there. They have an entire art center set up where patients can express their minds through any medium they choose. There was one artist I found especially talented, Orville. I'll post his work below.

After finishing up our day, I decided to go to a memorial service. There were several going on all across the island, but I found an interfaith one hosted by a Buddhist church on the Hudson river. It was simply gorgeous, and mostly indescribable. To see several religions serving, worshiping, and reflecting together was simply awe-inspiring.

My friend Renee went with me to the both the service and Ground Zero that night. I know I should be more descriptive about the day and its impact, its poetry but it's been a few weeks and I still haven't been able to take it in. It's a mix between a deep, deep grief and complete hope for the future. I'll just post pictures, as my words are failing me.

September 25, 2009

Extracurriculars (Photos)

My front porch is a fantastic place. Renee (with an accent), Stella and I enjoy it.

I was kidnapped to New Jersey by Ryan and Chris a few weeks ago. This is to prove that NJ is beautiful.

These are belated pictures of New Hampshire. I visited my Field Organizer from the campaign in Concord, where he is currently attending Franklin Pierce Law School. We had lobster, scallops, and other "wonderful" delights. I might have scallops again, but ugh. I do not like sea food.

This was the SMALL ice cream cone. Chris and I got kiddie- sized ones after seeing this, but they was still enormous.

We decided to play "Shake your face for the camera."

I'll update more again soon. My phone is currently broken, so I haven't been able to stay in touch with people outside the city. I've been heavily relying on skype, which is not too pleasant.

September 06, 2009

Calming down a bit. (Originally from 9/6/09)

After a whirwind tour of the city, I've finally started to settle down a bit. I've spent a few nights staying in, and am starting to get more sleep. (Although it's nearly two in the morning as I write this. So perhaps I'm not doing so well on that front.)

Training is going well, and I've managed to make some good friends. The girls in the following pictures live five blocks away, and are both serving in Harlem this year. We tend to commute together, and meet up a lot outside of work. Stella and I walked the Brooklyn bridge a few weeks ago. It was crowded, and the weather was less than perfect, but still a neat experience. The night before I watched a documentary on the building of the bridge, so I was excited to see it all first hand.

Renee and I have hung out a lot, too. Here were are in Times Square (her first time at night) a few weeks ago.

My camera is currently out of commission, but I am hoping to get it fixed soon. Despite the craziness of the city, I've managed to escape to a few green spaces. Here's a shot from one of my favorite spots: The Conservatory Garden in Central Park
My title says that I've calmed down a bit. Let me explain what that means- I've finally spent a few nights in my room, not wearing myself out. It seems that in my short time here, I have conquered the city; I've been to almost every borough, and have experienced a little bit of everything: Shakespeare in the park, free comedy shows, concerts, street musicians, Central Park, street festivals, etc.

There was one particularly fantastic night that required much recovery. I met a friend of a friend in the city a few weeks ago, Brad (Arkansas), and we seemed to get a long pretty well, so we decided to hang out again. We were to see another free comedy show at UCB, so I headed to 26th street after walking the bridge with Stella. I waited in line and ended up behind two "lovely" gentleman- they were swigging whiskey on the sidewalk while snorting cocaine off of their keys. Rats were playing in the garden behind me as children skipped down the street. Most crowds at these shows are low key and chill, but these guys were definitely not. I made some small chat, though, and tried to read my tattered copy of "The Awakening" to escape. Arkansas and company finally show up, but we realize that there was no chance we would get in. (To explain- you must wait in line to get a free ticket to the 9:30 Sunday show. They hand them out at 8, meaning you should be in line by 6:30 to get a good seat. Depending on the weather or weekend, you may have to get there earlier. This was Labor Day weekend. We needed to get there earlier.) After realizing we had no chance, we decided to head to a festival in the East Village. We met another one of Arkansas' friends at 34th street, and headed to Alphabet City.

I had a suspicion that the festival was over, as all material I had seen said it ended at 9. Arkansas is not one to give up, though, so we kept on going. We arrived to Tompkins Square Park to find it empty. The streets in the Village are always alive, so it wasn't a completely barren scene. We were trying to figure out our next move- I'm younger than all of them, so bars were out of the question. We could head uptown and try to figure something out, but that would be a hassle, too. So we decided to hang out in the park a bit. The park has a cluster of chess boards at one corner. Wanting to play checkers, but being without pieces, we pulled out some changed and played a game of copper vs. silver. My team lost.

I mentioned rats once before, but the rats were once again alive and well in Tompkins Square Park. I would look over thinking there was a squirrel running the grass, only to find it was a giant, NYC rat. I am still amazed every time I see one- they are HUGE. Luckily, they're not very common in my part of town. They seem to be everywhere downtown, probably due to the abundance of restaurants and trash.

After finishing up our game, we finally came up with a plan. On the walk to the park we had passed a Hookah Bar. Being 19, I could legally get in, and the boys could enjoy a beer. So we gave it a go. We got a "cozy" table in the front, and ordered a Mango-flavored Hookah. Hitting the hookah bar in KC was one of my favorite activities, but I hadn't been since I moved back home. It was a lot of fun, and definitely very relaxing. I should have probably added that I actually didn't want to go out this night. I was feeling a bit down, and kind of just wanted to sleep and watch chick flicks.

After finishing our Hookah, we decide to go to the Upper West Side. I'm walking up the street with three Columbia Grad students: one from Arkansas, one from Massachusetts, and the other from China. The entire way, Arkansas is trying to brush up on his French. The Chinese exchange student actually moved here from France, so he is owning Arkansas. It was just a funny experience, and something uniquely New York: a native Mandarin-speaker teaching us French while speaking English. Of course.

We decided to watch "I am Legend" at one of the boys' apartment. Despite all of the action, I couldn't help but try to identify where in the city Will Smith was. It seems that everything set in the city has this effect on me; while watching Gossip Girl tonight I audibly said "Hey, I've been there!" and then muttered the intersection.

Once the movie finished, it was far into Labor Day morning. Knowing it was too late to safely head home, I start weighing my options. We talk a little, and I jokingly say "If we stay up a bit longer, the sun will be up, and I can safely head home." None of us took it seriously, and we decided to forge on with our goodbyes. Moments later the sun starts breaking the horizon, and we decide to go to breakfast. It's around 6:45 when we stumble upon this adorable French restaurant, Cafe du Soleil. We try to go in, but they don't open until 7, so we wait outside. Once inside, we start on the buffet and go to town. I tried everything- fruit, fresh-squeezed orange juice, eggs, sausage, bacon, pastries- the list could go on. (If you ever come to visit me in NYC, remind me that we must go there.) By the time we finish our feast, it is past 9 in the AM. I decide it is safe for me to go home, so I start walking to the subway. Unfortunately I head towards the 1 train (I need the 2 or 3.) Faced with the option of catching a bus and most likely falling asleep, I take Arkansas up on his offer of an air mattress on his floor, and head to his apartment. Once there I sleep until 4. We get up, ascend to his roof, and take in the city. Then I head home. Being a holiday, my block was covered with bbqs and family gatherings. I passed Marvin Gaye tunes on the way in, and once settled, my back yard was filled with melodies of laughter and Opera. It was the perfect night, and it could only happen in New York.

Ever since then, I've settled down. My health and sanity need the break. I also figure that if I keep this up, soon there will be no city left for me to explore. So now I'll take it easy, and focus on City Year. Once I get into more of a routine, I'm sure these nights will be back. Until then, however, I sleep.

Sweet dreams,


August 23, 2009

The weekend

I've been wanting to make sure that I post all of the things I've done. (Will post links when possible, so click 'em!)
Briefly went to a street festival in Spanish Harlem. Went back to 125th corridor to do some shopping, bought a new dress! Went out with my friend Ryan from Jersey to Megu.
Attempted to go to a Girl Talk concert in Brooklyn, but was discouraged by the terrible crowd and the ridiculous amount of time between the opening act and the headline. Discovered that Brooklyn is indeed full of nothing but Hipsters, yet ate some delicious pizza at Driggs Ave Pizza. Saw a guy do some cool pizza box tricks.
Finished unpacking my room, and explored my neighborhood a bit. Saw all of the ladies in Harlem wearing their Sunday's best. Apparently it's sunny in Heaven, as they all wear huge wide-brimmed hats.

My room and the view from my window. It's lovely to have trees outside!
Went to Pita Pan Cafe in Chelsea before standing in line for free tickets to Asssscat 3000 at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater. Saw Seth Meyers and other SNL writers do improv.

I know this was a very straight forward, fact-based entry; I'm actually tired. I'm off to go sleep in the city that never does. :)

August 22, 2009

First Day in the City

I made it! I now officially live in New York, New York. The bit of time in Rolla was nice, but I was so anxious about my upcoming move that I can't say I truly enjoyed it for all it was worth. Wednesday night i didn't sleep at all, but simply stayed up all night listening to the Theme from New York, New York. You know: "These little town blues are melting away- I'll make a brand new start of it in old New York."

Thursday could not have gone more perfectly. Sleep deprived, I was able to manufacture some Z's on the ride to the airport. My dad helped me unload my three bags, and I was off. The flight was a bit early, and my "guide" Dave was waiting for me when I arrived. We managed to only mildly irritate riders on the M60 bus with all of our luggage, and met my land lord Charles at the house. My room is actually better than I imagined; I have a couch, a desk, a dresser, two closets, a fireplace, two mirrors, and a full-size bed. I'm still not settled in yet, so I won't post any photos of the actual room, but just know that it is adorable.

Dave left to go back to his apartment for the afternoon, so I roamed the Lenox Ave./125th corridor a bit and bought some essentials. The neighborhood is really a very vibrant place. There are ladies listening to Michael Jackson on their stoops in the middle of the day, children playing basketball across the street, vendors selling shaved ice and mangoes at every corner, and delis on every block. I really enjoy just soaking up the energy of the residents and the streets, knowing that I'm about to become apart of that buzzing, alive vibe.

Dave soon returned, though, and took me to the Broadway Show "Burn The Floor." It was quite excellent, and completely free thanks to his generosity. We also got to wander around Times Square for a bit, which was also a very fun experience. I know it's nothing but a "tourist" attraction, but I kind of like the endless masses of people from all over having the shared experience of seeing the same attraction
s and feeling the same excitement.

Although Dave didn't stay for the show, he was a southern gentleman and came back to deliver me to my front porch. Of course he took pictures of the entire experience so that I could "show my mother." Here's me in front of my house on the first night. Notice the pretty flowers to the right. :)Today I stayed around until two, and met up with a friend of a friend to go shopping. We were to meet at the 125th subway stop, so I headed down there around 1:45 and waited for him to show up. I learned two things: 1) It is not easy to find somebody you have never met on a crowded street corner and 2) There is not necessarily any great spot to wait for said person on a street corner. I managed to snag a spot under the Starbucks awning, where I met quite a few interesting characters. I was next to a lady who would yell at other women about how they had "Nappy Hair!" or "You can't get a man with a weave as bad as that!" She was, of course, offering her hair braiding services to passerbys. She did manage to snag a client, so she picked up her chair and left. Her spot was not vacant for long. A minute later, a gentleman carrying a black trash bag stands next to me. He starts muttering "Newport. Newports. Newport." to people as the round the corner. I'm sitting here thinking "Is this guy saying Newports? Like the cigarettes? Can't be" and was making a mental note to look up slang variations on Newport. Ten minutes pass, and someone says "How much?" He tells him said price, and they start making a deal. I scoot over, as this is making me a little uncomfortable. He pulls something out of the sack, and what do you know- it's a pack of Newport cigarettes! I kind of just chuckled to myself, and soon Brad was calling.

We rode the train to the Bronx to shop at a Target. We got off at the wrong stop, but I enjoyed walking the distance, seeing the neighborhood, and getting to know him. I had one mission for the entire day: buy a fan. My room doesn't have air conditioning (it could, but I'm a cheapskate) so a fan is crucial. We saw a few good deals on the way, but decided we would wait until after Target to stop. By the time we finished, we were pretty beat, so we just headed back to my room, then to get some lunch. Luckily I met one of my hall mates whom pointed me in the direction of a discount housewares store on 125th, Gem, and was able to continue my mission. The store was packed full of goods, and was fairly cheap. I managed to buy a fan, and they did the neatest thing. I know I'm from the country, but seriously, I just thought this was so neat: After purchasing the fan, the lady said "Go to the front, and they'll make a handle for you." Thinking "Okay?" I trudged to the front of the store. The guy wrapped twine around the box, and then attached this metal/cardboard hook tot he box creating a perfectly comfortable handle. I triumphantly marched the five blocks home past street corner preachers and bodega groceries to my room.

Aaaah, sweet relief.

I was almost planning on resting and unpacking this evening, but decided to be adventurous and did my first solo subway ride. I rode down to Lincoln Square in midtown to see a movie, Adam. Despite my mother's wishes, I did ride the subway after ten 'o clock at night. I saw a police officer at every stop, and a few on the walk home . I managed to not get lost-yay!- and had a wonderful gentleman talk to me on the phone on my journey to 130th. :-)

The movie was fantastic, and very fitting. It's about a romance in New York City (where I live now!) and about going out, finding your own path, doing what you love despite the odds (hey! that's me!) In it there was a song by 'The Weepies' that I've heard, but never really listened to. It had a very fitting line, though-

"I can't really say
Why everybody wishes they were somewhere else
But in the end, the only steps that matter
Are the ones you take all by yourself"

I hope you enjoy the music. Rain drops are falling on the tree outside of my window, the temperature is dropping, and my fan is still going. I'm off to enjoy all of the above.

August 11, 2009

Last of the Goat Blogs.

It's my last day at Heifer Ranch. click above.
Though the Body Moves, The Soul May Stay Behind
-Murasaki Shikibu

August 10, 2009


On a happier note, here are some videos of my cousins singing guitar hero. Enjoy.

I've got the world on a string

So here it is- my last week on the ranch. I'm having a hard time realizing it. This place has been my everything for the past six months; it's hard for me to remember life before Heifer Ranch. Now, here I am, saying goodbye to my beautiful home in Arkansas.

It's going to be surreal not walking out to see sheep, camels, cows, and water buffalo every day. I will no longer have the opportunity to milk a goat when I please. I'll no longer be able to sit in a hammock to watch the sunset behind the hills.

I know I should be focusing on the things I am going to do.
I am excited about my adventure coming up, really. I'm just realizing more and more how much I will miss ole Arkansas.

The past few weeks have been non-stop.
Everybody is leaving, so we're trying to pack in as much time together as possible. I've said far too many goodbyes to people, and am stressed out that I have to say even more. I know that the next few days will be fun, and I'm trying to enjoy them as much as possible.

A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to go to the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner. I was able to meet governor Beebe, both Senator Blanche and Lincoln, and a few local representatives. It was a lot of fun, and I'm grateful that some lovely Arkansan felt that I was special enough to buy a ticket for. My friends here on the ranch worked together to make it an almost prom-like experience: Rocky did my hair, and Caby did a photo shoot. Here are the results:
Last weekend I was able to go home to visit my two cousins from California, JJ and Emily. I had a blast with them; they are two crazy cats who never fail to make me smile. Mom, Dad, and I took them on a float trip Sunday afternoon. That was quite the experience- two L.A. kids on the Gasconade in Missouri. It was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I made the 6 hour drive.
Last Thursday I went to this Crazy concert experience in Little Rock. This band, the What Cheer? Brigade! from Providence, RI marches through the streets of towns forming an impromptu parade. We dressed up (the girls as flower children, I in my cat ears) and marched with them to a block party. It was tons of fun; I danced all night. I managed to meet an old volunteer of the Heifer Learning Center in Massachusetts, and talked to him about music, the Peace Corps, and Little Rock. I then met somebody who had heard of (drum roll, please) The Baxter! My favorite movie written by the funniest man in Brooklyn, Michael Showalter. I have loved this movie for years, and have yet to find another who had heard of it. My heart was jumping, and the adrenaline kept on coming all night long. It was cut short after midnight due to a noise complaint, but it was still a night I will never forget.
This past Friday we had yet another going away party, and yet another theme party. This one is called an ABC party (for you old folks, that's an Anything But Clothes party.) It may sound risque, but most people are fully clothed. You wear garments, but you make them out of, you guessed it, anything but clothes. People constructed their outfits out of feed bags, newspapers, boxes, witch hats, beer boxes, inner tubes, trash bags, pillow cases, flowers, rope bags, etc. You name it, we probably used it. We're used to recycling, so perhaps that's why our outfits were so swell. Mei was adorable in a paper crane-adorned feed bag. I opted to use newspapers for a skirt, and then made myself a newspaper dispenser for the Heifer Herald. Sadly my outfit didn't quite hold up in the dance party, but I managed to make it work.

My brother and sister-in-law drove from Nashville on Saturday to visit, and got to see the last bits of my life here on the ranch. I'm fairly certain they had a good time, but one can never know. They were able to meet most of the major players in my life for the past few months, and got to see the beautiful land I live on. We also got to push boundaries- we went "night swimming" and did some high challenge elements (rock wall! eek! zip line! eek!) with my housemate Stephen and company on Sunday. They took me to work this morning, met my supervisors, then went off on their merry way. I'm really glad they visited, and am ecstatic that they're happy; my brother picked a good one.

After they left I got to help pluck chickens at the chicken-chopping station and then said one sad goodbye. Now it's just Michal, (sometimes) Chance, and me in Nearside.

Arkansas, Arkansas: I just love ole Arkansas.