Forced from Home

All four of my grandparents were immigrants. They arrived in New York City in the 1920s, in their late teens or early twenties, seeking better jobs, adventure, or true love. (Or so my grandmother thought, until she met and married somebody other than her brother’s best friend.) They all wanted lives that were better than what they experienced between the World Wars in their native countries.

Yet things weren’t all that terrible back home. Difficult, yes; but not life threatening.

Today we see the largest number of displaced people since the Second World War: 60 to 65 million (depending on which statistics you read) people fleeing war, oppression, even genocide. They risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean in rickety boats, or travel long distances on foot. In their eyes the risk is worth it, because to stay where they are is even greater risk of death.

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Credit: UNHCR website, http://www.UNHCR.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html

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They Swarmed Us: What Would Happen if the Wealthy Rebelled?

A remarkable thing happened recently. The Oxfam Action Corps in New York City hosted a Hunger Banquet and things didn’t go according to plan.

That’s a good thing.

Spoiler alert: The best way to understand a Hunger Banquet is to actually attend one, no expectations. It’s a participatory event to make issues of hunger and poverty real, and words can’t do it justice. So if you’re planning to attend one in the near future, I recommend you wait to read this after the event. But if you’ve attended a Hunger Banquet before, of if you’re not sure where or when you might be able to, read on!

We had a good turn-out at St. Lydia’s in Brooklyn on October 14, about 50 people in a venue that supposedly holds 70, but still it seemed crowded.

As guests enter a Hunger Banquet they are asked to pick a ticket from a basket. Those tickets describe hypothetical people all around the world, divided into the high-income group (about 15-20% of the total), the middle-income group (about 30% of the total), and the low-income group (about half the participants). These represent the global demographics of rich, middle and poor. Continue reading

Eh, Canada: A Love Story (Part 2)

This is a continuation of Monday’s post, recalling a visit to Québec in March 2002. Hope it’s a lot warmer in Toronto for tomorrow’s #UsGuys Toronto meetup!

ART + HISTORY + CUISINE = CULTURE

One more day in Québec: I wanted to squeeze in as much as I could. I started with breakfast at a little restaurant across the Place d’Armes from the Chateau Frontenac, another discovery that wasn’t in the tourist guides. The waitress greeted me with a flood of French; I understood only the first and last words, “bonjour” and “cafe.” That was enough.

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By the time I’d finished eating, the Musée d’Art Inuit Brousseau was open. After being in Québec a few days, I was used to everything being labelled in French and English, but here there were also notations in an unfamiliar alphabet—Inuit, I suppose? Really, I didn’t need label copy; just looking at the smooth stone carvings was enough. After the galleries, there are a video tape and a smaller room with a temporary exhibit. And then the shop! This was not your typical museum gift shop; it’s an art gallery in its own right. The saleswoman found me eying an ulu with wistful desire. How would I ever get an Inuit knife past the metal detectors at the airport?? And the statues? Just too expensive! She asked if I’d ever seen any Inuit art before, and I said I had (the Museum of Natural History had a small gallery on Inuits, though I think they still used the word “Eskimo”). She then pointed out that Inuit carvings were only just becoming popular, and few pieces in the museum dated back more than a few decades. “Anything before 1960 is considered quite old,” she said.

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Eh, Canada: A Love Story (Part 1)

In March 2002, after five months of working for the American Red Cross, I burned out: brain fried, emotions drained, body tired. I needed to get away, but I didn’t have much vacation time, so I headed to Québec. It seemed as far as I could go in four-day weekend. When I returned I e-mailed some friends about my trip. In honor of the approximate nine-year anniversary of that trip and the upcoming #UsGuys meetup in Toronto, I’m sharing a slightly revised account, in two parts (the second will appear on Thursday).

TRAVELS & TRAVAILS

It was an adventure just getting to Québec. There are no direct flights from New York (which surprised me), so I had to go through Toronto. It was windy in Toronto, and the plane coming to NY was delayed. The plane landed at almost the exact time the connecting flight to Québec was supposed to depart, but fortunately it was also late. Even so, I had to run the entire length of the terminal and was one of the last to board.

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It’s a pretty short flight, just over an hour. The plane began its descent to Québec—and then began to climb again! The pilot’s voice announced that there were strong cross winds, poor visibility, and icy runways in Québec; we would have to return to Toronto.

It got a little bumpy as we were descending towards Toronto. If this was acceptable, what was the weather like in Québec? I wondered. The woman sitting next to me looked nervous. “They oughta pave these roads!” I said, and two rows laughed nervously.

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