Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

My UEA Kitchen: Dirtier than a Homeless Shelter, and Other Stereotypes Debunked.

February 11th, 2010 · 3 Comments

My first actual shift at Bishopbridge House took place on Wednesday, the third of February.   In order to complete my safety induction (the first task), I took a tour of the building with Leo, Bishopbridge’s main handyman.  He led me through and showed me fire exits, boilers, various switches, how to work the locks, and other technical tidbits.  I noticed a few sharps bins, and was told that although the hostel does not encourage drug use in the slightest, it’s silly to assume that residents of a place specializing in drug and alcohol addiction are completely clean.  Instead of naively assuming that it doesn’t happen, they have the facilities to make disposal of materials as safe as possible.  Leo also showed me the kitchen, where I met Val (one of the hostel’s chefs) who cooks for the residents of the Direct Access side of the hostel three times per week.  We discussed the difficulties of getting residents to eat healthily and gain a sense of nutrition, since they’re often used to eating anything they can find on the streets.  The hostel is very accommodating to the various tastes of its inhabitants, and Val seemed happy to oblige to nutritional requirements, allergies, or religious food practices.

Later, a senior staff member showed me the actual bedrooms residents live in, as well as their common areas.  I was rather shocked to find out that they didn’t look all that different from rooms in a regular hostel.  Of course, they were a bit more sparsely furnished and the motives leading people there are entirely different, but they looked as comfortable as the circumstances would allow. Residents are allowed the liberty to decorate their rooms as they desire, but safety checks are done twice a day to make sure living areas are clean and safe.  The common areas are filled with couches and board games, as well as a coffee table, tv, and Wii.  Sets of rooms are divided into “clusters”, with one kitchen per cluster shared by four people.  Kitchens are also checked for sanitation; at the moment, the clusters are in a competition for the cleanest kitchen where the winning cluster may have a take-out dinner of their choice.  (A side note: many of these kitchens were cleaner than mine at UEA. Sad.)

Throughout the tours, I was completely amazed by how much Leo and Mark knew, not only in practical terms for fixing things, but about the entire process of the shelter in general.  During this shift, I became aware of how multidisciplinary working at Bishopbridge must be: the staff must have good interpersonal skills (working with the actual people who rotate in and out), organizational skills (to keep records of who is there, what they need, why they’re there, and so on), medicinal skills (in terms of drug usage, what it does, how it’s used, how to treat an overdose), and many others.

In the afternoon, I sat in on a hall meeting where residents are given the opportunity to discuss how their living situation is going, any concerns they might have, or problems that arise with other members of Bishopbridge.  This was perhaps the most jarring aspect of my first shift.  To be honest, I had a definitively stereotyped image of a homeless person in my head: I imagined them to be dirty, unkempt, unintelligent, and to have some distinguishable air about them to make their homelessness obvious.  In actuality, many of the men I saw in this meeting were clean, well-dressed, and very “normal” looking. If I were to see them walking down the street, I would NEVER guess that they were homeless.  One particularly well-groomed man (who, again, could have been a professor of mine from the way he looked) was talking about another hostel he had stayed at and how, in his time there, he saw someone get his throat slit.  I was completely taken aback by how much these men had seen, and how I would have had no idea upon first glance.

Another man was upset about Bishopbridge’s policy regarding visiting the rooms of other residents (it’s forbidden for safety reasons).  This man keeps his dog with him, and the man said that the dog was more of a family member to him than any person in his life.  Since dogs aren’t allowed in the common rooms of the hostel, he felt obligated to stay in his room and refused to leave her alone.  As a result, he felt that he was being shut out from communicating with other residents because they couldn’t visit him in the only room where his dog was permitted.  He argued that he wouldn’t be able to assimilate back into the community at large if he wasn’t given the opportunity to communicate.  The two staff members leading the meeting were very intent in listening to him, and I was very impressed with how much control they had both over themselves and over the meeting.

This shift, overall, was a huge eye-opener for me.  I came into the internship having little or no idea how a homeless shelter was run and what homeless people are really like, and even in these few hours I feel like I’ve gained a lot of insight both in Norwich and as a worldwide problem.

Hours logged: 4

Total hours: 5

Tags: Amy

Shakespeare and Hall: A Look at Rural England

September 11th, 2009 · No Comments

Having viewed both Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Mr. Lee Hall’s new play, The Pitmen Painters within three hours of each other it is hard not to compare the two. At first glance they seem wildly different. Shakespeare’s comedy is about courtiers pretending to be poor, while Pitmen focuses on members of the lower class themselves. One is set in 17th century France, and the other in World War II England, and not any England, but in Ashington, a small suburb of Newcastle in the dreary northern region of Northumberland. One focuses on the trials and tribulations of Love, while the other is a poignant look at stereotypes and one’s duty to oneself.

In short, they are describing two very different types of England. Yes, As You Like It is set in France, but that was simply Shakespeare’s way around censorship laws. He describes an idealistic England, filled with courtly love and beautiful scenery. He portrays the rural working class as idiots without a whole brain between them. Indeed, that is the way Shakespeare usually describes the lower classes. His plays usually feature courtiers of some kind, and the poor are usually treated as comic relief, if not with outright contempt. This is rather ironic considering his audience was mostly the working class of London, though since his patronage came from the court, perhaps not entirely surprising.

It is almost the exact opposite with Hall. He chooses to glorify the common man, while members of the upper class come off looking silly, or just plain sad. I took the character of Mr. Lyon as rather a fool. He couldn’t really see art until he saw it through the eyes of the uneducated pitmen, and when he left to be a professor he lost any sense of artistic discernment, or even humanity, that he had left. He became a shell of a man creating mediocre art. It seemed to me that he learned nothing from his time in Ashington, except that he could never see things as clearly as Oliver, so he ran away and hid behind his books. The pitmen, on the other hand, are the ones that can truly understand the meaning of art. These men who stopped school at ten, who spend day upon day deep in the ground outshone someone who spent his life studying art. Mr. Hall breaks down the stereotypes of modern England. As with Billy Elliot, the underprivileged prove themselves to be more than just hard laborers and thugs. A lot of Hall’s own history went into the writing of his two most well known plays. He was from a small mining town in Northumberland. Instead of wanting to paint or dance, he wanted to write, something that was frowned upon. He overcame the judgments of his friends and family, and the challenges set forth by society, and he is now a successful playwright. Like the author, the pitmen become a huge success, despite the hardships that accompany the journey.

I think it was very eye-opening to have viewed these two shows back to back as I did. Though they are divided by stretches of time and different subject matters, it was interesting to see the ways different playwrights interpret English life. Shakespeare’s portrayal of rural life as happy-go-lucky is a stark contrast to the gloom of Hall’s mining town. They were both excellently done performances, and as such they left me considering the way in which I perceive English culture as a whole.

Tags: Campbell

The Difference Between Identifiers and Identity

September 4th, 2009 · No Comments

I don’t consider identity to be one’s race, religion, gender, colour, sexual preference, or class. These are all things that other people use to identify and classify other people. For example, I would define my identity by who I am rather than what I am. I may be a white middle-class female but that is only what I am defined as, not who I am as a person. It is often hard for people to distinguish who people are from what they are, because the who is a lot harder to define than the what.

I believe that a lot of problems arise from people confusing the ‘what’ with the ‘who’. Racism results from people judging others by ‘what’ they are rather than ‘who’ they are. A second generation Bangladeshi like Magid, from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, is unable to be fully accepted into British culture because of his skin color, despite the fact that he was raised in England and has lost most of his ties with his Bangladeshi culture. He and others like him are discriminated against because the dominant culture make assumptions about who he is based on how he looks. For this reason Magid turns to an Islamic Radical group for support and acceptance.

Stereotypes are vehicles that people use when confusing what someone is with who they are. Yesterday when we all went to visit the Gurdwara I had some preconcived notions about what I thought Sikhs would be like; I thought they would be sexist, conservative, closed minded, and discriminating. Once I began to listen to our guide speak I realized that I could not be more wrong. By getting to know him, even just for a short time, I was able to see past what his is (Sikh) and past all the stereotypes that I associated with his religion, and learn who he is. I feel that in order for there to be more tolerance in this world more people need to step out of their comfort zone and realize that what a person is is not who they are, and furthermore it is not their identity.

Tags: Rebecca