Friday, October 14, 2011


For some reason, adult illiteracy hits me so much harder when I'm in the US than when I was in El Salvador. I don't like what that says about my assumptions. But something like 40% of adult Detroiters read at less than a 9th-grade level. Ariana has run into this often when she's out helping folks apply for Bridge Cards. Our systems are so set up for people who read - not only read, but understand fairly complex legal and financial terminology that sometimes gives her (and me, when I look at it) trouble.

My last day in El Sitio, I sat with MarĂ­a as she was practicing her writing assignment - writing the numbers 0-20,000 by fives (!) and my thought was, "Rock on! You delivered two babies in a refugee camp while raising the four you already had, while your husband fought with the guerrilla, and now you're in your late 50s and learning to read and write. Amazing." And now I'm doing data entry on some ELCA member surveys and several of them so far have been written by folks who seem to have struggled pretty greatly with reading and filling out the survey. And it has me psychologically clothes-lined.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cars and Confessions

(or, Two Wheels, Four Wheels, Red Wheels, Kor's Wheels)

I have a confession to make. Early in our time here, a new friend was giving us a quick tour of different places in town and mentioned that she made it until mid-October taking the bus to work and then it became just too much of a headache - it was proving to be a huge cost emotionally as well as time-wise, so she asked her parents to drive her car to Detroit from California. Here is the confession part: While she was telling us this, I was having some judge-y thoughts. I, the city girl who has navigated life thus far without relying on my own car, would certainly do better. I don't get stressed by the bus but rather find it relaxing and quite a good time, meeting neighbors and having good conversation.

If we've been in any communication in the last couple weeks, you're probably already laughing at me. My dad will arrive in town later tonight driving none other than my new car, bought from a dear friend in Minneapolis. So this is me, eating my judgmental thoughts, eating my words, and feeling both excitement for the mobility and wider access this will afford me and a deep sense of loss and confusion.

I love riding the bus. My rainy day commute often includes some great conversations with people at the bus stop, at the station, and between the stop and work/home. I've seen and greeted neighbors outside of the neighborhood that I met at our bus stop, which is a big deal for a person newly arrived. But my rainy day commute also takes almost four times as long as my dry day commute by bike. Or sometimes it takes 1.5 times as long. There's just no telling. (Once it took 2 hours to get home, and home and work are only four miles away from one another.)

One thing I'm learning is just how well I'm used to things running and working out for me. From buses to how much national organizations/church bodies actually care about my town, I have lived in some places that were clearly pretty top-priority and now I am in a place that is decidedly not a priority for anyone outside of here. In El Salvador, the buses ran all the time, because everybody had to use them; in the Twin Cities, it's easy to assume that the whole ELCA has its business together. It's a lot harder to see privilege than it is to see its opposite, especially when you live surrounded by privilege. It's easy to assume that the way things work for you are the way they work for everyone. These are all things I knew theoretically before, but coming face to face with their reality on a daily basis is demoralizing. And I've only been at this seven weeks. After an especially long, soggy trip to work one day, I was talking with a volunteer* and I mentioned the hassle of busing here. He said that he liked it, since it made him get out and walk around more. My response (which thankfully stayed inside my head) was, "NO! That just doesn't pan out if you have to get your ass to work every day!" Or drop of your kids at daycare. Or get groceries, or go to the bank, or any of the many, many daily activities that don't go on within walking distance of your home. (Which, when you don't live in downtown or Southwest, is a whole lot of things. And I will also admit that I often wish I lived in Southwest - it is the Seward/Longfellow/Corcoran of Detroit, for sure.) It is really frustrating, though when I'm looking for humor in it, I think in terms of "I fought the buses and the buses won."

None of this is to say that I am not excited to have the vastly mobility of a car. Now I'll be able to join the choir at the Y, which will be good for my soul; I will have a lot more possibilities as far as church-looking goes. Plus I get to see my dad! It's just hard to get around the fact that this one more thing that I can do, while a lot of other folks don't have that option. Maybe I should focus less on getting 'around' it and just live in it. I want to write a set of commitments for myself as a car owner. I'll put them here if I get them into any polished state. In the meantime...happy trails? (I'll keep working on my sign-off.)

*In this guy's defense, he's young, here working as a farm volunteer, living next to the church, and an incredibly hard worker. So his current situation is perfect for taking time to walk around and take in the city, which is a thing I love to do, too, and don't begrudge him for a moment. The comment just caught me at the wrong time.