The A. Management has accepted me here as a tenant of their O.S. building. My place is small but unlike the van that was another kind of home on the road for twenty years, this space has a bath tub and a closet. I am thankful. And it is from these south facing windows, that I have a view from the eighth floor over the block of Hastings just east of Carrall and a performance of virtually continuous street theatre that thrives here on the pavements of our downtown.
A case can be made that this is the heart of the Vancouver’s east-side ghetto. The DTES swap meet is on a narrow lot behind chain link on the south side of the street nearer Columbia. This season there was erected a very nicely made teepee right next to the fence, (there is a legend about teepee!) There is a drum contingent that plays nearly every day sending the ceremonial rhythms across the whole area reminding us in earshot that this Indian territory has never been legally made available to the white people who have presumed to build a city here having first cut down the old growth forest which kept the land here.
Each of us has a story; some are grim and violent; some are stuporous and numb; some are about hanging on no matter what the odds are of survival. The old lady in the wheel chair who tools around talking and joking with everyone; she too, has a story.
Even the city has a story about why there are just not enough places to live, not enough rescue people and counselors to give people the boost they need to get a life; not enough money, not enough tolerance or kindness or generosity to include everyone in some degree of decency.
Winter is upon us. The weather is fickle pretending on some amazingly bright, warm and friendly days that there is no frost in the coming days of the calendar. By the end of the month, the clocks turn back from their summer station and it will be dark time until about March. Then nights are long and cold. The street people who walk the streets almost 24/7 will surely prowl simply to remind their limbs and heart to keep beating while they shiver under thin, dirty blankets worn Indian fashion over their shoulders and clutched to their chests, under umbrellas when it drizzles. It’s a heart wrench but I am willing to admit that I am watching from 8 floors up behind my windows with a thermostat that registers something close to 17 C. when its 4 C. on the other side. I consider it a privilege. I am content that I am doing what I can. How about you?
I can write but at the moment I am stopped at understanding what I might do to change anything out there. Best for me is to take myself, bundled and blanketed on the drier days to just say hello and give friendly greetings.
What I can report, dear people of Vancouver and elsewhere, is that our people may be pitiful but from this view, they are mostly peaceful. There is a camaraderie amongst the street vendors that seems to hold up among them even when the cops bring their megaphones to demand them to “pack it up” sometimes at 8 o’clock at night; sometimes at 12 o’clock midnight.
I can report that the city does send cleaning crews here and from 4 to 6 am their machinery grinds the trash off the pavement, the men shovel literal snow drifts of plastic and paper from the sidewalks and the gutters. All the while there are men on bicycles trundling up and down and up the street keeping awake and keeping almost warm. Then it stirs about 5 am when the Georgia viaduct begins to hum, when the sky-train rumbles the earliest wheels, when the auto traffic on Hastings becomes the bumper to bumper congestion from 7 to 9 when the uptown parking garages are profitable with a captive work force filling the machines. It’s a grind. It does not slow or hesitate at any time.
I’ve been here long enough now, and I am naturally an open understanding person. When it has become a given within any of us that we can see ourselves as equals among our people, it is easy to be friendly and to draw from all this myriad of folk their respect along with smiles, nods, jokes and general friendliness. The kind of accepting attitude that I hold becomes mirrored instantly in whomever I am talking with.
There is a Coast Salish man in his early 50s who carves and paints. He has stationed himself in front of the larger Hastings community garden. I wheel myself beside his station: Hey, I came to visit you on your land today. How’s it all going? Are they leaving you alone? Well, no they are not; cops roust him out of his place at least once a week. I say to him, “Tell them they need to respect him because they are trespassing on his land.” Next time I came to ‘tease’ him, he greets me. I have risen in his estimate: this old white woman actually gets the picture. I tell him he is a little younger than my son who lives in Australia. It’s all real, folks.
I saw a couple today also selling off the pavement. What attracted me was a copy of Salman Rushdie’s little book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, that he wrote to his young son when he was first in protection from the jihad placed on him for his book Satanic Verses. There were a couple other books in the pile. It was a big enough excuse to talk to the woman and her mate. How are you making it? Here are a couple toonies ($2 coins) for the books. How can I know what they go through day in and day out? Why not just be kind and friendly? Why, indeed!
With two examples you can fill in some of the blanks. Imagine how a lot of this kind of stuff goes on in all kinds of places around the world, not just here in Vancouver. It allows the veneer of whatever differences we think there are to be gone in a hasty minute.
It’s a lot more than a slogan: One World, One People. There are seven billions of us as One People, each with a story. What’s your story? Write something to me when you read this, and I will assemble the stories and post. And thank you for including yourself in this circle. You count!
One last note to this scenario: we are told there are too many of us here in our world. The powers we cannot see want a great percentage of us gone to be able to control the rest to their games. But, well: here is the but: some interested group of people have done the math. If each of the about 7 billion on the planet was given ¼ acre on the continent of Australia, there would be 20% of the land left. It’s a really nasty greedy place so now you do not have to believe a word of it; so don’t, ok! Talk to your family and your neighbors: ask what you can do amongst you to make a change. Tyrants always pick on the ones they are most afraid of. Our mothers told us not to lie! You are more powerful than some scared crazy tyrant!