Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, November 2, 2014

They saw me coming...

The lounge in the Night Shelter. 
The Dunedin Night Shelter. (we so want to buy these buildings)
Phoenix Lodge - medium term accommodation. 
An old steam train ran excursions over Labour Weekend locally. 
I treated myself to a nostalgic visit to take some pics.

I love the sight and sounds of a steam train... a big pollutant though.
To ensure I do not burn up too much fossil fuel and to keep some retirement time for me, I have been trying to make a rule that I do not go into town on Mondays and Wednesdays. It has been a dismal failure and my diary for the week ahead informs me that I will not succeed this week either. Last Wednesday we wanted to spend a big part of the day in the garden. We wanted to make a trip to town though, to buy some plants and I needed to take some photographs at the Night Shelter.  It was to be a quick visit to town, and then back into our garden. It did not work out that way.
Just as we were preparing to leave, my brother visiting town from Melbourne, Australia, phoned me.  After a short conversation we arranged to have lunch with him and his wife, no other day suited.  Then as we began to drive down the street, Keith, a Night Shelter Trust colleague rang. He had completed his part of a project and we made a plan to meet at the shelter so he could pass it on.  All was well, with these two positive extras our visit to town would be only slightly longer than we had planned.
"Can you help us?" times two.
I arrived at the shelter and proceeded to take the photographs I needed. One of the guys from Phoenix lodge, (the medium term accommodation place out the back of the shelter) came home, leaving a friend of his sitting opposite. I saw that this friend was taking a real interest in what I was doing and was coming closer. The Phoenix guy, who I had met twice before, reappeared and I noticed them on the other side of the road conversing together and looking at my van. Eventually he came over and knocked on the shelter door. We greeted each other and then he questioned me. "You work here don't you?" he said. "Well I spend a lot of time here." I replied. "Is that your van out there?"he continued.  "Yes that is my beat up van." I responded. "Well it is like this." ... and I love this part, "I just paid for two bookcases for my sister at the hospice shop, but we need to pick them up and move them to her new flat in Caversham. You wouldn't know anyone who could do that for us would you?" By this time his sister, who looked like a man, had joined him. "Well I couldn't do it today." I said - I can take a hint. "But we need to pick them up today?" they pleaded. I looked at these two. Both had tattoos all over their faces and arms, and I felt sorry for them.  I knew he was recently released from prison. They were both "the forgotten people" of our society and our economic system. Most people would not give them the time of day, though every contact I had with him had been pleasant. "Ok" I said, "I have to go to lunch with my brother in a few minutes, but after lunch, at 2:30 we will come back, pick you up and we will go and get them." When I got into the van, my wife who had been watching from the van, rolled her eyes and said, "You are going to move something for them aren't you?"  She knows that I am the softest touch in town. We went to lunch and talked too long, so that it was past 2:30 by the time I picked them up. I took them to the hospice shop, we loaded up the bookcases and I delivered them to the sister's new lodgings. I have seldom heard so many expressions of "thank you."  They even offered "$5 next benefit day." I refused that, but knew that they were really appreciative.
On our way to buy our plants, we were stopped outside a second hand shop while waiting for the lights at an intersection. My wife looking at the furniture on display, decided we needed to come back and look at a certain chair. So after buying our plants we returned to the shop and negotiated the purchase of the chair. While loading it into the van, I recognised a couple walking along the footpath. I knew them because of past contact and I knew that they were poor.  I greeted them as they walked by and the wife came up to me and pretty soon got to the point of her visit. They were running late for a bus to go to a certain place where they had a cleaning job to do.  Would we, by any chance, "be going in that direction?"  - It was not really where we were headed but I said, "OK, hop in, we'll give you a lift." Once again, my wife rolled her eyes and cleared the stuff off the back seat of the van.
There is a saying in NZ often used when somebody takes advantage of another. "Well, they saw you coming, didn't they?" Why did I mess up my day helping these two couples? At the fire station I was part of a conversation where firefighters were laughing about the characteristics of some of their colleagues. "We are all different!" I commented wanting to bring some balance, "We can't all be perfect."  "You know what happened to the last perfect man!" somebody chided, "He got crucified!"  The man sitting next to me said, "There's a lesson in that for you Dave. - If you spend your time helping others they are still going to crucify you. Why do it?"  
Why do I help such as these? Why do I spend my time helping the homeless, when one of their number kicks the shelter door in, and another abuses our manager?  My fire fighters and others often chide me saying I need to be more selfish. "They saw you coming!" is a phrase I often hear from them, with the implication that I am too easily taken for a ride. They have said this about such things as the Christmas Day dinner we hosted for 25 years; or Habitat for Humanity projects; the drop in centre; the Night Shelter and other things I have done.  Why do I do it? 
Connection, community and solidarity.
There is a massive and growing gap between the rich and the poor in our country. (and other countries) I am not that rich, but these people are poorer than I am. They are at the bottom end, with little hope of climbing any further up. Life is so difficult for them that they often adopt unacceptable coping mechanisms just to survive. They are treated not just as poor, but often it is assumed they are bad, or weak. They see themselves as inferior, even though they may come across as bombastic and tough.  I reach out to them when I can, and when I deem it wise, so that for a time the gap is bridged.  These people who cannot afford the transport I have, can have for a short time the benefit of having a vehicle. I go out of my way because it reminds them that they are not totally forgotten, that somebody, at least for a short time, shares their journey in life. It is a way of linking arms and saying, "We are in this journey of life together. You are my brother or sister." - I happen to think these sorts of actions make a difference in our community. I might get "crucified", or used and abused, but at least I tried to express the essential unity of humanity.

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