American Diaries } THE HOMELESS DIARIES
Everybody is wary of the homeless ‘problem’ in the downtowns in the U.S. Whether it is San Jose or Seattle. As a visitor, you would be more cautious than the residents. One of the guys whom I met in a bar last year gave me some perspective about the homeless issue though. About how the surge in real estate pricing, and other such issues results in a homeless community.
Usually I ignore the questions from the homeless on the pavements. Everytime it pains me because ignoring someone is the cruelest thing to do than denying or refusing. But the fear of the unknown is dominant and I would always find solace in imagining them to be drug addicts or people who have messed up because of their own fault. Most of the times they would be asking for change. And when we ignore, most of them curses.
Which wasn’t the case when I met a lady near the SAP center. I didn’t even lend my ear properly to what she was asking for but then as I walked past, she was saying ‘bless you’ and ‘happy holidays’. I walked past a little more, only to realize that she was asking for food, not money. And I did have food as I was on my way back after grocery shopping. So the guilt mounted over after a few steps and then I walked back and asked her, ‘were you asking for food?’. She said yes. I gave her a little of what I had. She was thankful and asked me if I had anything to sew, she would do that for me in return of the favour. ‘I will sew for food’, she said. A proud woman, just being plain unlucky.
Another day, another homeless man. And this time I was more attentive to what was asked, though still trying to ignore. He also wasn’t asking for money. ‘Would you have a lighter’, he asked. In this cold weather, that is the only thing he’s got to ask. I said sorry and moved on and there was no cursing.
I would still ignore, as I am still fearful of the unknown, bu this couple of incidents prove that maybe sometimes you just got to acknowledge the presence even if you don’t give them anything. Ignoring someone’s existence maybe is the cruelest thing to do.
On the first-day stroll around the city, you would notice that San Jose is a city of beautiful old Spanish architecture. From the majestic Bank of Italy building to the 18th century cathedral of St. Joseph. From the Sainte Claire hotel building to the art museum. The architecture is captivating. Then there are large and beautiful urban murals in the parking lots and smaller art projects in every corner of the city.
And the city is home to the homeless. On a lazy Sunday morning, you would see people packing their bags from their ‘spots’, and there is poop and pee and broken glass pieces of beer bottles on the sidewalks. In to the evening, you would see the homeless getting into a brawl with the security folks of the buildings, as they try to find a spot and settle in for the night.
On the first-day stroll around downtown San Jose, I found it quite amusing, with curiosity and a bit of fear, of the unknown and unfamiliar.
San Jose City Murals:
The mural on the wall of Workingman’s Emporium (a retailer that sells work wear) that showcases the working class.
And it is titled “Go Back“.
St. James park is either empty or full of homeless in groups. Not many regular city dwellers in the area. And as you cautiously walk through the park, you notice that they get up from the ground and pace their way through. As you begin to wonder what now, you hear a voice asking, “did you get one yet?”. And that’s a group of three girls and a boy, distributing food packets to the homeless. From the look of those who rush through at the sight of this group of youngsters, I’d assume that its a regular supply.
American diaries } FOOD, LIKE PEOPLE
Some say food is like people. Like people, it travels the world and in the course it imbibe cultures and change its color and character. Like people, it survive the wars and carry the bitter-sweet taste with it. How else do you explain ‘Tacos Al Pastor’, a Mexican dish with Pork, that seem quite similar to the middle-eastern dish, Shawarma? And you learn that it was actually brought by the Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, and this immigration was a result of the collapsing Ottoman Empire back in the time? I mean, how many hundreds of years of history is that behind a single dish?
Or take the Greek dish called ‘Souvlaki’ (pita) which is also a close cousin of Shawarma, and the origins date back to the 17th century BC. When you look at the Vietnamese noodle soup ‘Pho’, it has stories of war to tell, because the soup was made popular in rest of the world by refugees of the Vietnam war (oh, and that soup is so delicious). While the Korean ‘Bibimbap’ has so many things mixed together – raw and cold vegetables, slices of meat that are sweet, fried egg and Kimchi. And you have to mix it all and eat. It is believed that farmers ate this during the farming season because it is easy to make food for a large amount of people.
Ain’t food interesting, like people?
Tacos Al Pastor (Spanish/Mexican)