Why I Didn’t Go to the Vikings Game

Honestly, I think being blunt with this title is best. 🙂

As many of you fellow Minnesotans know, the Vikings are playing the Steelers in London right now (it is 8 PM in London as I begin to write this post.) And my original plan was to head to the game after church and lunch at a friend’s house. The cost of the tickets to see the game were beyond my missionary budget, but I could easily pay to take the tube to Wembley Stadium and take some pictures of all the Vikings shenanigans going on outside. I even put on all my purple clothes before I left the flat this morning!

Very fortunately, my day did not go as planned. If you want to find out why this was a good thing, you can read on.

This is me mashing some seeds, spices, and peppers for the curry in Victoria and Ben's kitchen.

This is me mashing some seeds, spices, and peppers for the curry in Victoria and Ben’s kitchen. (Please note my purple shirt AND trousers to celebrate the Vikings playing today!)

I was invited to church by Victoria (one of the Time for God field officers supporting me in my year of service.) I successfully navigated from Peckham to Stratford through the tube system, followed by a walk to Highway Church. I was warmly welcomed by a handful of familiar faces and many more people I had never met before. I sat with Victoria, her husband named Ben, and my new friend Dorothea while we worshiped, learned, and recharged in community. We enjoyed fellowship with other people in the congregation over tea after the service. The service and socializing ran much longer than the standard one hour time slot I’m used to in American culture, but the open-endedness reminded me of my mom’s tendency to prolong our church visits since she has to talk to literally everybody before we can leave the building.

Victoria, Ben, Dorothea, and I trekked around the block to get groceries and run errands. This also took a bit longer than I expected because we bought fresh produce and samosas from street vendors with whom Victoria and Ben were on a first-name basis. There was some chatting involved, and meandering, and relaxed conversation…not exactly like a rushed American Suburbia mission of buying sustenance in bulk. We continued on to Ben and Victoria’s house, where Dorothea and I were told to make ourselves at home – very easy given the natural, homey atmosphere. Then, Victoria and Ben showed us how to make a British style South Indian curry recipe that we prepared together.

Throughout the preparation of this meal, and the actual eating that followed, life-giving conversation ensued. Why? Because we talked about HOME – food, family, language, school, some of our life goals, interests. Dorothea and I talked about how much we had grown even in the last few weeks of living and working in London. I got to share with two Brits and a German about how much I love Minnesota hotdish and krumkake, and how the Vikings are the team my family cheers for (“Yeah, my family’s really excited that I’m here in London when they’re playing today. That’s why I wore purple…no, I’m not much of a fan myself, but I really love people-watching the other fans, especially the ones that wear the fake braids and helmets and scream at everybody!”)  We watched a TV show called Agatha Christie’s Poirot, a British series of murder mysteries based on the books by Agatha Christie (it seemed very reminiscent of the Matlock and Diagnosis: Murder I had grown up with in America.) We also ate treacle tart and custard…and since that’s kind of like pie, it made me think of my family’s traditional surprise-let’s-go-out-for-pie each autumn before school starts.

Victoria working her magic with the treacle tart! T'was delicious.

Victoria working her magic with the treacle tart! T’was delicious.

I really meant to go to the stadium. Honestly, I did. People watching Vikings fans in Britain was bound to be an experience. But I hadn’t even realized I’d been missing those comfy home feelings until I was in a family’s house, cooking together, laughing a lot, and collectively trying to figure out who committed the murder before the detective explains it all. My weekends have been filled with wandering around by myself and taking pictures, and even though I can be fairly independent, fellowship with others was a nice change in routine. By the time late afternoon rolled around, I realized that I’d rather stay for more time with people who care about me than traverse to the other side of London by myself, to take pictures by myself, around people I wouldn’t know. I want to be with people, not just around them. Even if they are in familiar Vikings garb. 😉  I hope this just shows you how ridiculously happy I must have been with Victoria, Ben, and Dorothea, so much that I didn’t want to leave to people-watch at a Vikings game in London.

Before I knew it, it was getting dusky outside, and I had to get going if I wanted to be home before dark (a safe strategy when travelling alone through London.) Victoria and Ben walked Dorothea and I to a bus stop where we could catch a ride to the tube station. I successfully navigated back from Stratford to Peckham, and made it safely to my house (even alone after dark. Wahoo!) I walked in to find my American flat mate, Katharine, in front of the telly with the Vikings game turned on. We talked about our days, and then I pulled out my computer to write this with the game on in the background. Judging from all of your Facebook posts now that the game is done, all you Vikings fans had a winning day. I’m happy to say that I did, too.

The finished product! Much thanks to Victoria and Ben for their South Asian cooking expertise, as well their travel stories, kitchen, and hospitality. :)

The finished product! Much thanks to Victoria and Ben for their South Asian cooking expertise, as well their travel stories, kitchen, and hospitality. 🙂

Peace to you,

Emily

Without Shame

Something I’ve really struggled with is being from a family without much money, but ending up in neighborhoods with a lot of material wealth. Of course, I’m grateful for all the perks and privileges that come with this predicament. The property taxes my neighbors have paid have provided amazing schools and libraries. We only had one family car, but my peers had their own so I could carpool when I couldn’t drive. Today, if we can’t buy food, there are food shelves around that are well stocked – one of them in my mom’s suburb gets a lot of donations from the upscale grocery store, including some fancy French cheeses.  No Joke.

Every so often, I like to buy a fancy drink from a coffee shop, and then sip it and pretend I have more material wealth than I actually do. Mom and I usually brew our hot beverages at home to save money, but we take a Starbucks trip about every three months to splurge. Sitting among, and pretending that we are, the people who can afford one Starbucks drink every day is a relieving break from our reality.

This is exactly what I did a couple days ago. I’d been trekking through a posh area of Central London for four hours when it started to downpour. I had already eaten the lunch I’d packed from home, and while my hiking boots and rain jacket were keeping me relatively dry, the lovely smell from inside enticed me. So I ducked into a café to order a croissant and a hot chocolate.

Most of the café visitors seemed to have plenty of money to spend by the looks of their clothes, food choices, and gadgets. Most were white. Many had the air of tourists or wealthy businesspeople. Granted, I didn’t carry on any deep conversations, so I am being presumptuous about their socioeconomic status. However, I think it took my “game of pretend” outside U.S. borders to realize how much I really do pretend live up to the American middle class expectation.

About 5 or 6 miles southeast of this cafe is my neighborhood of Peckham, which looks very different from the posh center of London. Many people here are familiar with financial struggles, family dysfunction, and the collective nature of their families at odds with the individualistic values of the powers that be. In Peckham, there is no one way to raise a child, structure a family, make a living, keep a home, dress appropriately, appreciate nature, speak a language, experience autonomy, be a leader, or create beauty. For the first time in my life, I live in a greater community where I’m not expected to hide my family’s dysfunction or lack of money.

It’s not that I don’t miss home – it’s just that the things I miss about home have been missing for a while.  I miss having financial stability…well, spending money in general. Parents who are married to each other, one of which would stay home with us kids. A well-stocked kitchen. Having Grandma Jane be alive. I generally have to hide that I am missing these people and things, or else it’ll give it away that I don’t fit neatly into society’s expectations for me.

I know that many people with material wealth are kind and loving (many of you reading my words right now fall into this category, and I deeply care for you.) But there’s a certain empathy that is impossible for me to get from others who can’t relate to my family’s struggles. I can’t say that I can relate to all the stories of my new neighbors either, since I have a lot of privileges – I’m a white, Christian, American woman with a college degree, who grew up speaking a respected form of English.  These characteristics gave me an “in” with the high class neighborhoods I mentioned at the very beginning of this post and access to many economic, social and political advantages. But it always felt like I had to hide things about myself to still “deserve” what should be human rights.

Participation in community in which I can experience the extremes of my life without shame, know that my fears will be truly understood, and that people will dance for joy with me as an equal is a blessing to be nurtured.

And that is power.

Ramblings on London Life

Image

“Southwark” – clearly spelled out on this rubbish bin  at the park. 🙂

Three weeks in – so here are my thoughts on 10 important things that stand out from my experience.

  1. The London borough (kind of like a suburb) I live in is Southwark. After my first week of saying it like it’s spelled (south + wark), a local finally told me that is common knowledge to pronounce it suth + ick. Oops. Hi neighbors! I’m not from here. Can you tell?
  2. Residential areas are a maze of houses squished together that are NEVER along roads in basic North/South/East/West directions. But after living in my flat for three weeks, I can honestly say that I can see differences between the houses on my walk to the Peckham Library. These bricks over here are slightly more orange than those bricks over there. And this house has dark grey shutters, while the shutters next door are obviously charcoal. THAT house is the only one with the bright pink flowers and the bicycle out front, very different from the house with two bicycles and no pink flowers. Poor, flower deprived house…at least you’re unique with your charcoal shutters and bright orange bricks. 😉

    Image

    Down the street from my house: Residential areas in London are confusing. But once you’re here long enough, you learn to see the differences. See? The bricks ARE different!

  3. Cramped living quarters don’t leave a lot of room for the sprawling green space I’m used to.  But you will catch glimpses of plant life, layer upon layer, spilling over in some of the gardens around here. I originally thought I had a better understanding of the natural world because I grew up with an extravagance of it, when really the lack of green here seems to make people cherish it even more. The potted plants on rooftops and balconies, ivy growing on more walls than I can count, a community garden near the library that grows fresh produce for the neighborhood. It’s refreshing!
  4. Today’s weather: it’s sunny, then raining, then sunny, back to rainy, almost sunny, JUST KIDDING it’s still raining! When most of the city walks or uses public transportation to get anywhere, you quickly learn how dependent you are on the natural world. I’m used to the frigid, tundra like winters of Northern Minnesota that hurts your lungs. London is technically warmer, but the wet that comes with the cold seeps into your bones and chills you from the inside out. This is probably why so many people here, myself already, develop an addiction to hot beverages.
  5. When you come to a curb at a crosswalk, you can just look down and see pleasantly painted words that tell you which way to look so that you don’t get hit by traffic when you cross! Seriously, EVERY SINGLE CROSSWALK has “Look Right” and “Look Left” signs. You may wait at these convenient crosswalks until the light tells you it’s safe. However, 99.9% of Londoners ignore this and frequently zig-zag across the street in the middle of the traffic, and rarely at the crosswalk with the friendly directions. Vehicles simply accept that pedestrians very often have the right of way, but they will be sure to honk at you if they think you don’t. It’s like a game, but slightly more detrimental if you lose.

    Image

    People and traffic on Peckham Road, the main road near my house . It’s dinnertime and raining at the moment of this picture, or else that are usually more people out and about!

  6. Every Thursday, I get to ride a bright red Double Decker bus to work. How cool is that?! I walk to the bus stop and wait for the bus with correct number to show up. I have to wave at my bus when it drives up or else the bus driver will pass me if they don’t think anyone will get on (learned that one from experience!) I can sit (the front of the top deck is the best view!) or stand (trying not to fall on top of other unsuspecting commuters), press one of the many STOP buttons when my stop is the next one, and then get off the bus when the doors open. Then I wait for my next bus! I can emphasize the cyclical pattern of this whole ordeal by singing “The Circle of Life” at any point in this process.
  7. As a literacy teacher, it’s okay that I don’t have a total grasp of British English. It is actually a good conversation piece. I can simply tell the seven year old student I’m working with: “Oh, you say toh–MAH-toh? I say toh-MAY-toh.” But we don’t call the whole thing off!  We just keep calm and carry on practicing our phonemes (phonics lingo for the 44 sounds in the English language.) It’s also very likely that the student I’m working with is learning English as an additional language, so she or he probably doesn’t have a traditional British accent either.
  8. I get to work in a beautiful Victorian era school. Seriously, it’s a gorgeous conglomeration of high ceilings, fireplaces, wooden floors and big windows. But if I need to find the copy machine? I’m wandering the halls for ages, up and down staircases, literally running into the head teacher who then graciously walks me to my destination (as if knowing where the 4th door on the right side of 3rd floor hallway by the Year 2 classrooms is natural instinct.) Although a moment of dire need for the loo may tempt me to wish I was back in my one-story, orange-carpeted 1970s elementary school simply because the bathrooms were in a logical place…I snap back to reality and remind myself that I GET to teach here. Next to a cobblestone street. With a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral from the Literacy Centre on the fifth floor.

    Image

    I took this photo of Cobourg Community Primary School (on the left) and a local church (on the right) while on a walk in Burgess Park. I won’t be teaching at this particular school, but I hope you can appreciate the beauty and history of the architecture in this shot. Many of the schools around here are built in a similar style.

  9. Religion is thriving in London and I love how religious diversity is respected in my neighborhood. While helping my supervisor fill out paperwork for our students, I was shocked to see that the school database listed the religious background of each student. My supervisor was taken aback by my surprise, explaining that it’s important for the cafeteria to be able to plan ahead for dietary needs, for teachers to know when students are fasting and may need to step out of class to rest, or to know if a child doesn’t feel comfortable celebrating Halloween. Why can’t the United States do this? As one of my dear friends would say, “That would make too much sense.”
  10. It’s overwhelming to go to museums, galleries, monuments, cathedrals, and palaces…so I’m taking it slow. There is a lot of pleasure to be found in bringing tea and a book to the park, since it makes me feel at home. I feel very blessed and privileged to be here, but I’m not a tourist. I get to be an ordinary person showing God’s love through pretty ordinary things for the next year. Of course I want to see and do things I can’t experience in Minnesota. But most of what I’ll be doing is breathing, eating, sleeping, working, walking, running errands, and enjoying the company of other people. May I have the strength, courage, and patience to do so. 🙂

8 Million Voices

I have been in London for a week and a half. Really? I’ve experienced too much for that to be all.

The noise is overwhelming. There are more than 8 million voices in this city. Musical cacophony.

Life is filling my soul at a rate I’m not used to. So much has happened in these last eleven days. I’ve been journaling like a madwoman, quietly allowing my voice to fill pages of paper that only I will ever read. My emotions are stretched to the limit and it wasn’t until today that I felt I could sit down and just tell you what life has been like without falling apart on top of the computer. 😉

I’m struggling with myself about what I should share with you. There are so many voices in London, and try as I might, I can’t sum up London with one voice. But maybe that’s the first thing I’m meant to learn from my time here.

So here are some voices –

  • Victoria and Chrissie were the enthusiastic voices accompanied by waves, smiles, hugs and warm welcomes for us newly arrived Christian missionaries from America.

    Image

    My fellow UK Young Adult in Global Mission volunteers. This is us together at orientation in Chicago, and now we’re spread all over England.

  • Linda’s voice was the warm motherly one that calmed Katharine and I on the way to our new house and told us about our internship for the coming year.
  • I can only understand a fraction of the voices in the grocery store, the post office, and bank in my neighborhood of Peckham. Languages from around the world intersect right here in my new home, and my knowledge of English and French will only allow me to really listen to some of them. Fortunately, I can watch their facial expressions, see parents chasing after children down the produce aisle and guess what they might be saying.
  • The woman at the bus stop on our first day heading to the Springboard office was singing to herself, beautifully and LOUD – I couldn’t understand the words of her African heritage, but she seemed to be lost in the wonder of her morning, her eyes piercing and vibrant.
  • The British Caribbean man who taught the Zumba class I attended kept telling our group to add more “flay-va” to our dancing – “This is Zumba. We’re supposed to make fools of ourselves!”
  • Lovely French words drift through my window from the next door neighbors who devote so much time to their garden. There are a lot of other French speakers around here, and the African and Caribbean dialects make it hard for me to understand. But it’s like dark chocolate for my ears.

    Image

    To help the Peckham Library to better meet your needs, let them know more about you! This part of the form gives you a taste of the diversity in my neighborhood. How would you identify yourself according to the categories given? Do you think these categories are fair?

  • The children’s laughter on the playgrounds in my neighborhood is so full of joy – the world would be such a better place if grownups weren’t afraid of being happy.
  • Two other Christian missionaries from Thailand and Italy I met on the street asked if they could pray with me. It was a beautiful moment full of love and empathy.
  • The stranger who greeted me by telling me “I love your smile” …and that was it. He walked away and I’ll probably never see him again, but he made me feel so special in this city of 8 million voices.
  • The voices, or lack of voice, of all the unmet need I have witnessed even in my short time here are daunting…boundaries made of prejudices against race, sexuality, class, language, and citizenship keep a lot of voices from being heard even within the borders of a single city. But I’ve only scratched the surface with the people I’ve seen in less than two weeks…
Image

The Springboard for Children Interns: (left to right) Christian, Emily, Katharine, Mathea. We’re still in training, but we start tutoring soon!

And then as I lay in the grass near the Houses of Parliament on Saturday morning, reading London by Edward Rutherfurd, I hear the voices of three consecutive high school groups. I can’t understand the languages of their European home countries, but I can see that they are wide eyed, wearing skinny jeans, and taking a lot of pictures with iconic London scenery behind them. I wonder how they can possibly say they have really heard the voice of London by only listening to Big Ben strike the hour. But I need to get off my high horse, given that I have been in London less than two weeks. Have I really listened to London yet?

Here’s my prayer — God, please help me listen. Really listen. Help me listen with not only my ears, but with my hands and feet as well. With my eyes. With my nose and mouth. It’s overwhelming to even attempt deep listening – all of this life would make a human explode if it had to wrap its finite brain around all the souls and sounds. But maybe that’s why we have you — to brace our skeletons, our muscles, our emotion — as you allow us to expand beyond all the previous limits. Thank you for the grace to grow.

Amen