Saturday, August 25, 2012

Learning to feed myself...

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
― Julia Child

Thanks, Julia!

I didn't mention much of this last year, but an important part of my time in Camden was learning how to cook.  Alex humored my interest, and my anxiety, as well as she could, and at the end I knew how to make a couple of things.  I don't know what it is about this year, but I do feel that I have a greater lease on life.  I am excited to experiment in the kitchen.

I've always said, and I really do believe this, that if I had to be a vegetarian, I could do it.  I don't have such a strong attachment to meat that I need to eat it all the time, but I do enjoy it and rely on it for some protein and vitamins.

One of my two housemates is a vegetarian, though, and that means that if I want to cook something that everyone can eat, I have to make it sans meat.

Two things have happened as a result of all of this.  The first is that I crave meat, precisely because I am more conscious that I cannot always have it.  Last year it was not as much of an issue.  No one was opposed to eating meat, but we couldn't have meat and everything else that we wanted on our budget.  Oh well.

The second, and far more interesting, thing is that I have been looking for recipes, because I am newly interested in this world of cooking.  I was a bit startled to find just how much meat has embedded itself into the wealth of recipes that I encountered.  It felt as though meat was everywhere, and it became a bit daunting to find anything that didn't have even chicken stock in it. Not too daunting, though.  I have happily begun with a handful of recipes that are vegetarian, or would be with a vegetable stock substitution.

Now, while I have all of these wishy-washy positions on meat, they are not based on anything other than my own wants and needs, and not on any sort of larger awareness.  Thus, I am going to spend some time this year learning about the larger picture - how does my own consumption influence the world?

Both the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Franciscans have a focus on the care for and integrity of creation.  I don't know if, at the end of this year, I will want a black bean burger or a Kobe beef burger, but I do want to know more about what fulfilling each desire will mean.

And, on the more fun end, I am going to learn to cook things like lentils and dry beans and tofu, so how can it be bad?

Peace and all good,

Saturday, August 18, 2012

It's foreign on this side...

I have officially moved to the other side of the river (or at least I will have, tomorrow), from Camden to Philadelphia, and for all that I thought I knew about Kensington or Philadelphia, it's a whole other world.

My housemates and I got to walk around Kensington with one of the former Mission Corps Volunteers yesterday, and I was forced to look at the realities that I had managed to avoid.  For all the time I had spent in Kensington, it is far more than Hagert Street, where the St. Francis Inn is located.  It is Visitation Parish, the Cardinal Bevilacqua Center, Covenant House, Marianna Bracetti Academy, Fiore Pizza, the Catholic Worker, and even far more than this.  It is people that I will come to know as beautiful, as my "dear neighbor," even though I am having a hard time seeing it that way now.

When we began our walk, I saw one of the guests of the Inn, Rambo, crossing the street ahead of us.  I didn't think he would recognize me, but I stayed out of view in case he did.  Rambo has a penchant for talking, and I didn't know how I would get around that if he started today.  He didn't see me.

As we turned onto the block of the Inn, I encountered Danny, a longtime guest of the Inn, and an alcoholic who had relapsed.  He has some sort of terminal illness, perhaps a consequence of his sorted past, I honestly don't know.  All I knew was that he was drunk, and that despite every effort that had been made on the part of the Inn, he was still drinking.  Whatever he has in this life, it's not enough to keep him sober.

That encounter snapped me back to the reality of what I do, and what I will do.  I cannot save everyone in Kensington, or even everyone at the Welcome Center.  The most likely scenario is that, on June 28th, when I am finished with my term of service, the people with whom I worked will still live in Kensington under the same circumstances in which I found them.  It is a hard reality.

During our orientation, we talked a bit about the two feet of social justice: meeting immediate needs and working toward systemic change.  If you don't meet the immediate needs of the people you work with, they will only be worse off.  By the same token, if you don't work to change the systems that caused that need to exist, you enable a cycle of poverty to continue.  It's not an either/or, but a both/and.

The students that I will be tutoring after school every day have the immediate need of homework help; they need to understand the work they are given and possess the tools to complete it.  Their longer term need is to know English, which I will work to help them with as well.  This need is at the interface of immediate and systemic.  In addition to meeting those needs, I will also be learning about the systems that have created these needs.

Last spring, I had the opportunity to lobby in DC, to use the force of my own power in that way.  My skin color, my level of education, my background will always give me a level of impact that Danny and Rambo will never have.  Having spent some time last year, and anticipating spending more time this year, in the service of immediate needs, I hope to be able to learn about and do more to influence systems.  Whether that means going back to DC, pursuing graduate school as a way to leverage my knowledge and understanding, or continuing to accompany the people I have come and am coming to love, I know that this year will be an awfully big adventure.

I'm slightly terrified of all of this, in the best of ways, and I am trying to remind myself that there was a beginning to my time in Camden, too.  Say what you will, but Kensington looks rougher than Cramer Hill ever did, although there are not as many abandoned buildings, I suppose.

So, I guess I just ask for your prayers as I embark on this next journey, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support that has gotten me here.  I am infinitely blessed to have crossed paths with all of you, whoever you are.

Thus continues the story of one girl who has a whole lot of love to give and a whole lot of living left to do...

Peace and all good,