In university I discovered Voice of Witness, an organization that uses interviews and oral accounts to document human rights issues. They compiled one of my favorite books on Burma, titled Nowhere to Be Home: Narratives from Survivors of Burma’s Military Regime. For Christmas Stephen bought me High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing, and I just read through it last week.
I spend quite a bit of time reading about human rights issues and development issues around the world. Due to our lives and work, Burma tends to be the focus, as well as issues very close to us: refugees and refugee resettlement, treatment of illegals, border towns, revolutions and revolutionaries; but I also enjoy any aspect of social justice.
Sometimes, though, these topics can be somewhat depressing, hearing the stories of war and poverty and suffering. That is why I love Voice of Witness, which is told by the narratives of people involved in the situation. I think by our innate need as humans, we write hope into our own stories. We may not live by it or believe it in every way, but at some level–hope keeps us going. This means that in every narrative, they don’t believe their story is hopeless, as a distant intellectual sorting through statistics may be inclined to believe.
I asked Stephen for High Rise Stories because it seemed distant from our lives; I have been looking for some fresh reads. How could life in the projects apply to our lives here?
It was a wonderful read, and fresh in many ways; but not distant from our lives at all.
Every interview talked about the community they felt in the projects. They spoke about everyone feeling like family, how everyone looked out for each other and everyone watched each others kids. They shared about cooking for one another, leaving their doors open in the evenings, gathering together outside.
Every interview also had similar stories of suffering–substance abuse, poverty, physical abuse. Struggles for education, work, and stability.
“He said, ‘Aren’t you afraid of living in Cabrini with all this shooting and stuff?’ I said, ‘No. I even leave out at night and go to the store,’ which I did. I said, ‘Only time I’m afraid is when I’m outside of the community. In Cabrini, I’m just not afraid.'” (p.38)
That’s our lives; that’s our community. Those are stories are resounding from the streets of Chicago to Samarksubpakan Road in Mae Sot. Those are things that make up the community we’ve experienced.
Suddenly, I don’t like the phrase “the projects.”
One of my bigger fears recently is how we will live somewhere else someday. Whether we moved within Asia or back to the States or only-God-knows-where, how would we live? I would want to live as we live now–sometimes I can’t imagine any other way. I love having children arguing over a toy, grandmothers calling for their grandkids, food being cooked within smelling distance. Listening to laughter and running water and arguments; the pounding of laundry; screeching bicycle brakes.
But how do you find community like this? How do you create it?
We only happened upon this by the grace of God, leading of the Holy Spirit, and miracle after miracle. Day after day, tear after tear, medical emergency after medical emergency.
Somehow, this book rejuvenated this hope that God might provide this again; that it exists elsewhere, and even everywhere. And whether he does provide it again or not, a reminder that this is an incredible gift. It is an incredible gift to live where I am pushed each day and yet feel safe each night; where we feel completely foreign to the culture and yet a part of the family.