In mid-November, I completed part of my Academic Service Learning hours at Kehilat Sephardim Food Pantry. I’m sure many of you are aware of this establishment since it is so close to campus (maybe some of you have also done your ASL requirements here). I was a little surprised by what I saw. It was a quiet, homey-looking establishment, certainly nothing like the food pantries I’ve worked at before. The interior was almost like a house, with a kitchen, but where the living room would be, there was a small little synagogue of sorts.
After filling out the necessary paperwork, we were led out to a small garage in front of the building and were instructed to pack vegetables into bags. “If someone comes by asking for food”, the manager noted, “You have to refuse, because we only distribute the bags on Sundays”. I simply shrugged it off. I didn’t think anyone in the area would be that desperate for food (yes, a silly thought on my part.) But sure enough, an elderly woman with a thick accent rattled the garage door a bit, asking for three potatoes. My roommate, who was completing her ASL hours with me, was the one to speak up and tell her that we could not fulfill her request. The woman cried quietly in desperation, which certainly didn’t make me feel any less guilty. Sometimes we forget that there are people in need, when we live somewhat sheltered on our campus. The few hours I put in at this food pantry certainly reminded me of that truth.
(This was on all of the boxes)
Before coming to New York, the most intricate graffiti I saw was someone spraying their initials on abandoned buildings and on the walls of underpasses. I never thought much of it; it was just some kid who felt like doing something commonly troublesome, when the truth of the matter is that graffiti never hurt anyone. It was just a little disrespectful, nothing more, nothing less.
However, our trip to 5 Pointz (as well as our discussions in class) completely changed my perspective. Other writers come from around the world to show their work here. It’s art – just another way for people to express themselves. After hearing from other writers about how much effort and thought they put into their work completely astounded me. It’s very clear that this “bombing” is more than meets the eye.
While my parents have had much experience with the “norms” in New York, I’ve lived in the suburbs of New Jersey my entire life, and I’m certainly not used to the way things work around here. I’ve always been passive and introverted, but living in New York has dumped me into a brand new, fast-paced world. I see new, strange people every time I step off campus (sometimes even when I’m still on campus), but it seems like I’m the only one with this much curiosity.
For this assignment, I went to Manhattan with a friend of mine, where we sat at a nearby coffee shop and watched the people pass by from the window. From most of the people I’ve noticed, there was an extreme lack of awareness to their surroundings. I couldn’t even count how many times people bumped into each other because they were too busy looking down at their smart phones. It’s as if people are constantly wearing blinders; everyone has their own agenda and they won’t allow for much variation in their routines.
One of the especially interesting things my friend and I observed was how people carried themselves. Since we’re both involved in the theatre, we found it easy to pick up on other people’s body language, or more particularly, how people “lead”. This concept is fairly easy to see, but hard to explain… but I’ll try anyway! Every person tends to walk differently. When you get up and first begin walking, you may notice that you don’t always make the first motion with your feet. Some people lead with their hands, or their shoulders, or even their heads! Even more fascinating than that, we also noticed a connection between how people dressed (and we admittedly made assumptions about social status based on this), and which body parts they led with. If you would like more information about this concept, this blog post is very informative!
I’m far too shy to engage in conversation with strangers, but when I do, I can tell that they don’t want to be bothered. The city is a place where far too many people seem to disregard the people around them. I will admit: I have attempted to initiate conversation with a few strangers under the guise of this assignment multiple times. Unfortunately, almost all of the people that I have encountered take little to no interest in what I would like to discuss. For instance, I was walking around with a friend of mine (with the intent of ‘encountering a stranger’ with someone by my side to calm my anxieties). She was a Caucasian woman, probably in her late 40s. Since this was post-Sandy, I decided to ask her a few questions we discussed in class about how people would react to being questioned about their “status”.
My friend and I politely introduced ourselves, and the woman had no qualms about being asked a few questions. However, when I finally asked her about what her “status” was after the storm, she crinkled up her nose and made a face. She immediately deemed my assignment “pretentious”, and went on a bit of a tangent about how incredibly trivial “these kinds of interviews” were. I was completely caught off guard by her reaction, and my friend shared my surprise.
We quickly apologized to her and told her that we would simply interview someone else (we did not). Even though I seemed to obtain nothing from that encounter, I can sort of understand why she retorted in such a way. Asking about someone’s “status” sounds a bit condescending, as opposed to asking something along the lines of “How did you and your family endure the hurricane?”. Clearly, some people can be quite insulted or caught off guard if someone speaks to them using more a formal type of speech.