Saturday, October 10, 2009

sirens and liquor stores

Starting to get into the groove of things here. We have a great strategy and have made some good contacts. Eight months is not a lot of time for all the things we want to do here, so we really hit the ground running. We are focusing on mobilizing different university campuses to partner with us to work on the Millenium Development Goals (specifically malaria as you all know), and some encouraging things have happened so far to point us in the right direction.

And I am trying to acclimate myself to the surroundings of the inner city as quickly as possible. At work, I hear sirens all the time. The area is so so bad and there are always cop sirens and ambulances making noise. The ghetto area here where my office is is in the middle of a food desert--this means there are no grocery stores/places to get fresh food. People's only choices are liquor stores or fast food. We literally drive under a certain bridge, and the roads immediately suck, the liquor stores emerge, and we become the only white faces. It is that drastic of a change that quickly. We (my work partner and I) participated in a community forum this week about muslim run liquor stores. The Muslim community discussed why muslim immigrants are in a predominantly African American area running liquor stores and selling alcohol. Muslims typically don't drink or sell/handle alcohol. It was a great discussion and challenging to think about why liquor stores are not a problem in white or rich neighborhoods (the people wouldn't stand for them) but here this type of behavior is accepted or put up with because people seem to think things cannot change. In a lot of ways I feel like I was an ostrich with my head in the sand on a lot of the issues that have emerged in the last week in what is now my neighborhood, and I am trying hard to keep up. All day yesterday I was learning about gangs. Everything here means something. Wearing a hat to the right or left, rolling a pant leg, wearing specific colors, you will literally get beat up if you walk down the street wearing the wrong thing. Being nieve is not an option. Everyone understands, and deals with it. We handed out flyers at some of the local high schools about our upcoming health fair and I felt punched in the stomach by how bad the schools were. I am used to this type of thing in my travels abroad, but not here. Its like the kids are expected to fail. How anyone here becomes anything other than a statistic is absolutely mind boggling to me. And yet people do, and it is amazing. I work with so many incredible people with incredible life stories I am only beginning to hear, and it is a privilege to learn from them.

I am going to a corn maze tonight with the 20-somethings group at my new church. There is frost predicted and I think its supposed to be about 31 degrees. It is my first attempt to dress warmly for a cold Illinois night. I will give it a valiant effort (basically that means wearing everything I own). I am going to measure success by whether or not I can still feel my appendages at the end of the night. Tomorrow is the Chicago marathon. 45,000 runners. I am excited to wander around and witness it as a new Chicagoan and feel very out of shape compared to everyone else. Especially because yesterday I learned about pretzel rolls (if you don't know what they are google them) and I ate two this morning at two different bakeries. When you come visit me in Chicago we will get them. They are awesome.

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