Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries Tagged as 'Amy'

Coming to a Close

February 27th, 2010 · 1 Comment

This blog will detail my final two sessions at Bishopbridge House, which are the culmination of my internship.  On February eighth, I went out with two CAPS team members (Simon and Tracey) through the streets of Norwich at night (from 9:30 to midnight) after spending a bit of time at the shelter making beans and toast for the residents.  The CAPS members often follow some sort of route because they know generally where a rough sleeper might seek shelter, but they also receive tips from the City Council if they become aware of a particular case.  They also check on people over long periods of time who do not wish to stay at the hostel for whatever reason.

One woman in particular has been sleeping rough in the same location for many months, but simply doesn’t want to stay at Bishopbridge House even though she’s quite elderly and, of course, wintry weather can be harsh.  CAPS is aware that she wants no assistance, but still checks up on her whenever they’re out to see whether she needs anything.  I was impressed that they had built up any sort of trust with a woman who seemed to deny any help from outsiders at all.  Simon mentioned that, especially in her case, they try to build a solid rapport so that if she ever were to decide she needed help she would know who to ask or where to go.

We also visited the soup run, which is run near the Forum by the Salvation Army.  Literally every night of the year (including holidays, inclimate weather, etc.) is spent under a little awning with soup, tea, and sandwiches for anyone who needs the aid.  The food is donated from the Pret-A-Manger across the street.  Anything they haven’t sold by the end of the day is given to this cause.  To my understanding, in the United States this wouldn’t be allowed because food establishments cannot give away leftovers for fear of a lawsuit due to illness, allergies, or other problems.  I mentioned this to Simon and Tracey, and we speculated that it might be less of an issue because Pret makes their food fresh every day, so there’s less threat of spoilage.  This is also less of a law-suit culture, and in my opinion, it’s far better that the excess food be put to good use.

After the soup run, we walked through the park, the bus station, and along many back roads.  Simon seemed to know which bushes to check and where rough sleepers would be most likely to stay, and it definitely gave me a new perspective on the city.  As I walk through now during my daily life, I often note places I saw people taking shelter (or where people had previously) and my outlook has been changed entirely.

Hours Logged: 4

Total Hours: 13

My final visit to Bishopbridge House took place on February 15 from 8am until noon, and I shadowed Mark and Claire, two senior staff members.  This seemed to be one of the quieter shifts, if there is such a thing at the hostel.  My first task was to do “wellness checks.”  Every morning and night, a member of staff goes to every room of the hostel, knocks, and enters to make sure that the resident is there, healthy, and safe.  They also do a quick scan of the room to make sure it’s clean, there is no drug paraphernalia or alcohol, and that there is no food lying about.  It was interesting to see how people keep their rooms, as well as the widely varying degree of domesticity these people seemed to have.  While some of the residents had rooms that looked similar to my own (clean, organized, decorated), some were VERY unkempt and it was clear that they weren’t accustomed to living in and caring for their own space.

Since this is a long-term hostel, residents can and often do stay for extended periods of time.  (Of course, the organization does everything it can to make sure people are in and out to other accommodations as soon as possible to make room for other rough sleepers).  This means that those who stay there have a responsibility to check in every so often.  Generally, if someone hasn’t been seen for a few wellness checks, the hostel tries to locate the person’s whereabouts.  Thus, I was assigned to check on a man who hadn’t been seen in three days and, after being told what to say, I called the police department to inquire after him.  They obviously cannot give any specific details, but they can say whether or not they have seen or arrested a person.  The hostel then is able to get in touch and act as necessary from there on.

After, one of the men I had seen many times before who seemed pleasant and healthy came to the front desk convulsing and sick.  He hadn’t had alcohol in a few days and was suffering from withdrawal symptoms: he could barely keep water down, left every few minutes to vomit, and looked absolutely miserable.  The hostel encouraged him to go to a clinic because they were afraid his body would go into shock.  It took him a while to be convinced, but he did eventually go.  Later in the shift, we found out that he left before seeing the doctor.  Apparently, this has been an ongoing problem for him and he’s afraid of treatment even though the withdrawal has been so terrible for him.  I found this to be particularly saddening because I had never seen such strong withdrawal symptoms up close.  As the shelter really has no control over the problem, there is not much to be done about his refusal to address the issue.

My last experience at Bishopbridge was to go with a man moving into another group home in a different area of Norwich.  In this type of accommodation, residents are essentially on their own save for a visit from a staff member of St. Martin’s Housing Trust every so often.  We packed up his belongings and drove him there, then moved his stuff inside a completely normal looking residence where we met his roommate.  It was a nice note to end the internship on, because I was able to see firsthand how people are able to move through the system and eventually into their own homes.

Hours Logged: 4

Total Hours: 17 and complete :]

Tags: Amy

A Bit of an Eye-Opener

February 11th, 2010 · 1 Comment

My second shift at Bishopbridge on Friday, the fifth of February, was a bit more hands on than the first.  In this shift, I was meant to shadow a senior staff member named Mark.  I got a very accurate look into what working at the hostel is like, and how fantastic the staff has to be at multitasking.  Because two members were evicted from the shelter (one for violence towards other residents, and I never found out the reason for the other), two beds were vacant.  Since space at Bishopbridge is a bit limited and much sought after, two new people were already lined up and in the process of settling in.

The procedures and protocol surrounding new residents were very interesting to observe.  I sat in on an interview for one new person as Mark asked him a variety of questions about his background, including his past accommodations, reasons for leaving, past work, mental health history, drug/alcohol history, and many others.  This man presented himself in a very positive way.  Thus, curious, I asked if people are normally honest in these interviews or whether they present themselves well to obtain a bed and then gradually share their addictions or other issues.  I was told that generally, people are truthful although they have had people who lied and created major problems in the end.

Many of the questions involved the man’s financial history.  He said that yes, he was good at handling his finances and yes, he was able to budget his paychecks.  I was told that this is a somewhat normal response, so I wondered how people became homeless if they were indeed so good at handling money.  Supposedly, some of the people who end up at Bishopbridge are evicted for reasons not pertaining to finances: not keeping a home clean, excess of noise, breaking up with a significant other, losing a job, etc.  This rid me of another stereotype I once held, that all homeless people had no money in part because they didn’t know how to handle finances.

That said, if the problem is finances, the City Council gives the homeless a stipend each month in the area of two hundred and sixty pounds.  The rent at Bishopbridge is a bit more than that, so most people end up paying approximately twenty five pounds out of pocket each week to stay (and in the Residential side, twenty of this is given back for groceries).  However, some people don’t receive as much aid from the Council or have some leftover funds to work with, so residents may pay the rent in full or may only pay a few pounds per week.  Finances are handled on a case by case basis.  At times, though, the team that goes out into the streets of Norwich finds rough sleepers who are fleeing from another country or are illegally staying in England.  When this is the case, Bishopbridge really can’t do anything to help these people because they are unable to receive any benefits from the government and, therefore, can’t pay any rent.  At best, they can offer a cup of coffee or tea and keep checking on them to make sure they’re doing alright.

After the interview, I saw the room of one of the evicted men in the process of being cleaned.  To put it lightly, it was gross.  The floor was covered in all kinds of debris and there was sticky tack all over the walls.  Because of the smoke detectors, obviously residents can’t use candles..this resident got creative and left the candle on top of the heater, so the heater was completely filled with wax.  There were needles in the refrigerator, and the bathroom was a mess.  I helped carry bags of trash down, but I definitely would not want to be the one with the responsibility of cleaning the rooms after the fact.  We also moved some of his belongings into storage, because Bishopbrige saves a person’s items for three weeks after they leave until they can find new accommodations.

At this shift, I learned a lot about the course of moving into the shelter and how a person’s mental/physical health is assessed.  I also became aware of how bad the living conditions can get when a person isn’t used to caring for himself or herself.  I left feeling a bit dissatisfied with the way the finances work, although granted, I still don’t know enough about it to make much of a judgment.

Hours logged: 4

Total hours: 9

Tags: Amy

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

Bishopbridge Internship, Entry 1

January 22nd, 2010 · 1 Comment

About the Organization

On Wednesday morning, my first meeting regarding my internship with St. Martin’s Housing Trust was a success.  Supposedly located at 35 Bishopgate (near the Adam and Eve Pub, the primary schools, and the hospital), I took the 25 bus into the city center and decided to walk the rest of the way.  In fact, the website of the organization misled me to its office complex, located a few blocks away from where I was meant to be.  Thus, after being directed elsewhere, I made my way to Bishopbridge House at 45 William Kett Close on Gas Hill. (The Bishopbridge Housing leaflet may be found here.)

Anna Hassan, my contact for this assignment, greeted me and showed me to her office to tell me a bit about the association and discuss my plans for working with her staff.  In the progression from sleeping on the streets to having permanent housing, Bishopbridge House is the opening landmark.  That is to say, Bishopbridge is the first accommodation of many in the arduous process of escaping homelessness.  It specializes in providing aid for people with drug problems, alcohol problems, or mental illness.  Because of this (and because Bishopbridge precedes any other accommodations a person might receive), this particular group has a responsibility to link patrons with organizations dealing with addiction or other disabilities to make them more “marketable” to other groups.   By introducing clients to sobriety, independence, and a sense of responsibility, these people become more likely to receive other types of aid just by beginning their journey at Bishopbridge.

The first step involves actually finding these people and letting them know that accommodations such as Bishopbridge exist.  The organization has a routine series of stops to check for “rough sleepers,” and the town council also alerts them to potential people in need of help and shelter.  Each morning and evening, a team embarks into Norwich to extend a hand to the homeless they find along the way (which, according to Anna’s recounts, didn’t often seem to be a particularly high number-perhaps three or four people in a session, some of which may decline access to the shelter).  The winter months provide a particular challenge, though.  Legislation dictates that if the weather drops below zero degrees Celsius for three nights in a row, the shelter is required to house all those desirous of lodging regardless of available space.  If this occurs, Bishopbridge becomes overcrowded and understaffed, but it does keep the homeless safe from the elements for a short period of time.

To expand, issues of space do affect Bishopbridge regularly.  The shelter has a very high turnover rate, meaning that the staff accepts clients, assesses their individual needs, provides an appropriate starting point to receive help, and moves them to the next step in accommodations as soon as possible.  This allows the shelter to serve as many people as possible simply by getting them off the streets as quickly as possible.  A free bed is a total rarity at Bishopbridge, thus proving that all space is usable and lodging is in high demand.  While the teams that actually trek the streets (the CAPS) encourage Bishopbridge to take more and more clients, the staff is forced to counter this due to space, time, and resource constraints.  This constant push and pull between the CAPS and the staff is one problem that Bishopbridge faces.

Staying in the house costs twenty five pounds per week (in my future research, I hope to learn where clients are expected to find this money).  This charge helps cover costs of food, electricity, water, and basic maintenance of the organization itself.  Regarding food, there are two halves of the building.  In one, a chef cooks all meals for the clients who often speak of “moving up to the other side.”  Once promoted, so to speak, they receive a bit more responsibility: the shelter returns twenty pounds of the fee for food shopping.  On their first excursion, a patron and a member of staff go together to learn how to make nutritious, affordable meal choices.  When their dependability is proven, clients may food shop on their own.  However, they must continue to present the receipts to make sure that appropriate selections are being made each time.

At Bishopbridge, people may keep their pets.  Dog training classes are available, as well as recreational lessons like computer classes (where usage of Facebook is taught to reunite clients with their families and friends) and flower pot painting.

My Internship

I will be exploring each of the aforementioned facets of Bishopbridge’s mission over the course of a month.  For one morning session and one night session, I will go out with CAPS to the streets of Norwich and inform the homeless of Bishopbridge, as well as encourage them to use its resources.   I will also be taught how the homeless are designated to various organizations, as well as the process of moving through the system.  One Monday, I will sit in on the distribution of stipends and possibly shadow a member of staff during food shopping.  I hope to watch a recreational class in session, and generally see how the shelter is run while simultaneously learning about homelessness in Norwich as a general issue.

Hours Logged: 1

Total Hours: 1

Tags: Amy

Bring me..a PUBBERY.

September 15th, 2009 · No Comments

After spending a month in London, I’ve come to understand the vast importance of pub culture, but I’ve also learned that the pubs fall far from my original expectations.  In my mind, I’ve always equated pubs with American bars but have found the comparison to be entirely false.  In my hometown, very few people go to bars at all. When they do, the point is to have a drink (usually after work, and often by yourself) and then go home.  In my opinion, the bars are rather dirty looking and dimly lit.  They don’t attract the most upstanding of people, either.  There is no entertainment within, and the bar countertop itself takes up the majority of the establishment.

In complete contrast, the majority of the pubs I’ve been to throughout the past month have been busy and flourishing.  Different bars cater to different age groups (the Court for university students, others for businessmen, etc.) but there often seems to be a mix of people regardless.  They’ve all been reasonably clean and large, housing pool tables or jukeboxes for entertainment in addition to a wide variety of drinks.  The sheer number of tables makes clear that the pub expects you to stay for a significant chunk of time, and I have always felt comfortable in doing so.

To me, the pub scene here is most similar to the coffee shop scene near my home.  People go to socialize, meet with friends, chat, and relax.  As a barista, I know that people make connections with their servers and occasionally become close friends.  Attending a pub in London or a coffee shop in New Jersey has very little to do with what you’re drinking, but everything to do with the people you join.  As we learned on the pub tour, different bars specialize in different ales or brewed beers.  Likewise, I’ve worked in two different coffee shops that pride themselves in roasting their own particular beans and there are countless others in the area that boast of original, unique flavors as well.  The only difference is the rich history that bolsters the pub community, whereas coffee shops in northern New Jersey don’t tend to have a long standing historical context.

My favorite pub was the Jack Horner, which was recommended to me by a friend who lives in London.  It’s often overlooked by tourists, so I met a lot of awesome people who live in the nearby area.  Being at tourist-attraction pubs is certainly fun (albeit filled with some sketchy individuals) but I prefer the less crowded ones, as they feel more authentic to me.  Overall, it was fun to explore an aspect of British culture formerly so foreign to me.

Tags: Amy

The final [museum] countdown

September 14th, 2009 · No Comments

After spending a month in London and visiting a plethora of museums, they all are beginning to blur together in my mind.  I have an easier time remembering specific pieces included in the museums that I loved rather than the overall museum itself, but I’ll try to relay my general sentiments of my final two destinations, the Sir John Soane and the Victoria and Albert Museums.

I felt that the Sir John Soane Museum was fascinating, but was distracted by how much was packed into such a small space.  I wasn’t able to fully enjoy what I was looking at simply because I got a bit claustrophobic.  On the flip side, though, it certainly was impressive how much was packed into the equivalent of three townhouses.  One of my favorite aspects was the collection of clocks included in the house, because it reminded me of our trip to Greenwich and the importance of early timepieces.  His particular collection stuck me because it really showed how clocks were once a symbol of status, specifically that which was made for Christopher Wren by Queen Anne.

Although the Sir John Soane Museum had interesting artifacts and art, I much preferred the Victoria and Albert Museum.  My favorite section was the sculptures portion on the ground floor, and I spent a great deal of time exploring there.  I enjoyed reading the captions to each, for example, a plaque under a bust of Albert Einstein stated that he was a culmination of “the humane, the humorous, and the profound.”  Another statue, a monument to one Emily Georgiana, moved me in saying “I who dreamed wildly and madly/am happy to die.”  The writing on that statue seemed simultaneously inspiring and sad, and I’ve thought of that quote often since reading it for the first time.  My favorite actual work was a bronze piece created to hang above a fireplace depicting a nude man and woman entwined while being watched by a shocked and disgusted crowd.  Made by Charles Sargeant, “Scandal” was interesting to me because it showed not only a couple in love (as many works do) but also the rarely shown negative reaction of the surrounding community.  Lovers in art are so often isolated, so seeing a different perspective within the work was certainly interesting.

To summarize my previous blog entries regarding museums, I was unaffected by the British Museum, disliked the Tate Modern, moderately enjoyed the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum, and loved both the National Gallery and the Victoria and Albert museum.

Tags: Amy

We’re ALLLLL in this together

September 9th, 2009 · No Comments

I find the prompt a bit vague and difficult to answer simply because I’m not at all familiar with how Sikhs and Hindus adjust to life in London.  However, based upon what I’ve seen and what I’ve read, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the cultural identities of the two in the UK.  I actually think that a lot of their adaptation is similar, mainly because I link the two religions in my mind as well.

Just as an aside, I read a quote today by C.S. Lewis that reminded me of our visits to the two temples: “You don’t have a soul./You are a soul./You have a body.”  I think this is the perfect way to sum up Sikh and Hindu ideas regarding the relationship between God and humanity, that is to say, God can exist in all things and in all people.  I was particularly reminded of our guide in the Sikh temple who stressed the transience of the human body and the importance of tending to one’s soul.  However, it could also refer to the Hindu concept of “Atman,” or the true soul which transcends earthly existence and our false egos.  I think the relevance of the quote extends to each in equally significant ways.

I think the sense of community central to both Sikhism and Hinduism plays a huge role in the ways that these people adjust to London life.  Both temples stressed the fact that their buildings are a gathering place where people can congregate and worship.  In Salaam: Brick Lane and Brick Lane, I got the impression that Tarquin Hall and Nanzeen felt isolated in their respective communities because they were forced to adjust on their own.  Since Tarquin Hall and Nanzeen came from such different socioeconomic, cultural, and geographical backgrounds than their neighbors and friends, they both seemed to suffer from loneliness to some degree.  Each managed to cope until they became more comfortable with their surroundings, but it certainly took time and great effort.  I found that this was in direct contrast to the Hindu and Sikh communities that we visited.  They put great emphasis on community and togetherness, which makes for easier adjustment to a new culture simply because they are able to spend time in comfortable places with people who act in a familiar way.  Similarly, I was able to adjust to London life quickly because I am surrounded by people who are going through the same changes that I am.  From a psychological perspective, change is easier when one is not alone, and I think this is applicable to Sikhism and Hinduism.

Along those lines, both attempt to maintain this community through arranged marriages or simply marriages within their religion population.  Interestingly, BBC mentioned that online dating is increasing for both denominations.  This, to me, is the perfect balance between adaptation to a new culture and adherence to one’s background and history.  They are able to try new things while still congregating with those who share their own religious beliefs and morals.

Since this is getting quite long I’ll finish, and perhaps add more later..but for now, I think my general sentiment is that both Sikh and Hindu followers are able to adjust more easily than other religions because of their focus on community and willingness to support one another in their daily lives in London.

Tags: Amy

VERY Mixed Feelings

September 6th, 2009 · 1 Comment

I have not had much experience with other religions besides various denominations of Christianity, so the recent visits to the Sikh and Hindu temples were eye-opening experiences for me.  My lingering feelings and perceptions of the two are strikingly different, even though I associate the two closely in my mind.  Because I don’t know much about Sikhism or Hinduism, their doctrines seem similar: live peacefully, teach future generations in a moral and religious way, and maintain a relationship with God.  The services, though, spurred entirely different reactions for me.

I found the Sikh temple to be comfortable and enjoyable.  I didn’t feel as though a lot was expected of members of their particular congregation (or me).  So many religions spend so much time outlining and detailing every aspect of how to be a “successful” follower of that particular sect, but this one felt much more relaxed.  More of a focus seemed to be put on finding a personal feeling of fulfillment rather than following specific doctrine or dogma.  For example, even though I am not Catholic I do attend mass frequently and help lead a Catholic youth group.  I know that part of being Catholic (for most parishes) involves carefully following a certain timeline: baptism as an infant, a CCD program during elementary/middle school, communion as a child, and so on.  In contrast, our guide said that there is no specific time to be welcomed into the Sikh family; rather, a child may join the congregation when he feels that it is appropriate, whether as a child, teenager, or adult. I enjoyed the personal emotion and experience that our guide shared in the talk, and I think it was wonderful that his job is not specifically that of a tour guide because it made him that much more believable.  Instead of a series of memorized facts, it felt much more individual and real.

That said, I felt a bit strange as a visitor in the temple.  I completely support going for the sake of learning and reflecting, but if I was a member of the congregation, I think I would look at our group almost as if we were mocking them.  Since they don’t normally do tours, I think having such a large group dressed in regular street clothes with scarves tossed on haphazardly outside the temple to cover our hair was borderline disrespectful.  I feel that smaller groups would have been more effective, since we would not be making such a spectacle of ourselves.

Again, the following is simply my personal reaction and is not meant to offend: I found the Hindu temple creepy and bewildering.  The most striking aspect, to me, was the ornate dolls (is there another term for them?) scattered throughout the temple. Given the nature of my religious upbringing, I looked at them as a form of idolatry.  I don’t understand the significance of them, nor do I understand how anyone has the authority to “put the spirit of God” into them.  I felt that the concept of one main guru to govern the entire Hindu population was strange and didn’t make sense.  How does he objectively know who the next authority should be?  If it is subjective, how can he be chosen by God?  What if a detrimental ruler is chosen?  How can people blindly trust one man when they do not know the logic behind his decisions?  I’m sure his followers find reasons to unquestioningly follow his choices, but I’m not sure that I would be able to.  Even a matter as small as the cost of the temple, shrouded as a secret, makes me uneasy.

Overall, I learned a lot but I think that my experience was certainly affected by my own religions upbringing and spiritual opinions.  I hope to learn more about the aspects of each temple that I did not understand, and am glad I had the opportunity to glimpse the way that such a large portion of the world’s population worships God.

Tags: Amy

“We are all worms. But I believe that I am a glow worm.”

September 4th, 2009 · No Comments

Since I am beginning to feel the crush of pressure to visit all the required museums while in London, I spent an afternoon in the Cabinet War Rooms/Winston Churchill Museum.  In truth, I was not particularly moved by either.  I think I lack a lot of the personal feeling involved in seeing such an important aspect of British history simply because I am not British.  Churchill as a national icon means much less to me, an American, than it might for my English counterpart.  Still, I most enjoyed listening to portions of Churchill’s speeches and writing down bits that inspired me.  I also was interested in learning how he constructed his speeches, and found it endearing that he used notes only after he “dried up” at an important event.  In the Cabinet War Rooms, I was struck most by learning that the lights in one of the most important rooms were literally never shut off for six years because of the war.  I also felt badly for the people who worked such long, tedious hours in the bunker without much sunlight or rest.  However, it’s also somewhat moving  that these women and men cared so much for their country that they were willing to put forth so much time and effort, and I wonder if I would do the same for my own country.

After the museums, I stumbled upon St. James Park and decided to wander through.  In doing so, I ended up in front of Buckingham Palace leaning on a wall, and it was there that I first truly FELT that I am in London.  I was standing in the midst of a series of tour groups, many of which were not speaking English.  I looked down upon the water moving, people walking alongside, a field with people sitting and relaxing, and a little coffee shop, all of which were surrounded by trees.  Out of the trees rose the London Eye and the very top of Big Ben.  It was the most picturesque view I’ve encountered thus far, and I don’t think that I’ll be forgetting it anytime soon. To me, it really captured the essence of London as I currently see it: a vital place with small tranquil spaces mixed throughout, the importance of tourism, national pride surrounding the royal family, history mixed with the present, and an ability to feel at home even for those not native to London.  I wasn’t able to take a photograph because my camera is broken, but I would definitely be interested in seeing the places that have most inspired everybody else in their travels in the past two weeks.

Tags: Amy

I got it from my mama

September 1st, 2009 · 9 Comments

Since I’ve studied Italian for five years, hearing that we had to attend an Afro-Caribbean version of Carnevale caused me to instantly form a few preconceptions. I mistakenly thought that they would be similar; the parade’s commencement immediately smashed this idea. I’ve never seen a gathering so crowded and openly risqué. The sheer number of people was staggering to me, as were the number of food options. I could barely keep up with all that I saw as I was walking, and I enjoyed taking in the smells, sounds, and culture in general.

One thing that irked me, however, was the role of the women in the parade. Scantily clad and dancing in high heels, they wore a full face of makeup and clearly had put a lot of effort into their appearance. They all strutted down the street confidently and didn’t mind posing for pictures. I can’t decide whether I think they were liberated or confined by their role in the parade.

On the one hand, these women line up almost exactly to societal standards of sexuality. Their unnatural appearances reminded me of magazine ads: airbrushed, changed, and deliberate. They literally covered only the barest necessities of their bodies, and there is no doubt in my mind that they were sexualized, both by the parade in general and the infinite number of gazes upon them. Everything from the way that they looked to the way that they moved exuded sensuality.

However, they were entirely unbothered by it. Perhaps their ability to flaunt their bodies in such a way was actually a form of liberation. Some of the women were far from the stick-thin models we are pressured to look like, yet they still flaunted their assets, no pun intended. The fact that they were able to put society’s standards for women (which are normally at least somewhat hidden) completely on display was very interesting. None of them showed the slightest glimpse of shame or regret for their actions, and their confidence was almost inspiring.

I think their role in the parade can be seen as a release, but I’m curious to hear what others thought.


Tags: Amy