Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Last day cooking

it's been a week and a day since last cooking happened for nickelsville.  i found it hard to write about it.  Nova was there, and we had a new helper, Steve.  business as usual, and nobody was emotional about it.  they are all now gone from my neighborhood.

Steve told us that although he has been in nickelsville for over a month  he is not moving to renton with the camp; he is going to move in with his brother or maybe with his father, in order to help him.  both his brother and father live about an hour from seattle (different places).  

they once had a nice family farm, but somehow involvement with drugs put an end to farm prosperity and they are all struggling now.  Steve said something about himself being lucky not to get involved with drugs, but, apparently, he suffers the consequences with the rest of the family.  he seemed pretty unfazed telling the story, like he didn't expect life to be especially kind to him.  as a matter of fact he smiled in a  very courteous manner when we talked about it - if you saw us on tv with the sound off, you might think we are prattling about the weather. 

the soup, i hardly remember what and how we cooked, my mind preoccupied with the thought that there'll be no more cooking nights and concerns about all my friends having to adjust to another change.  if i didn't put such a elaborate prep into that evening's cooking  i'd probably never remember what we cooked.  but i wanted to make sure that the last soup was really nutritious and less than more accidently based on whatever we found in the camp.  so i pre-cooked about 12 chicken breasts, bought some veggies and mixed the spices for the soup more thoughtfully than ever; i still had leftover of rice from previous cooking in my car.  so it was chicken and rice of sorts, the type of soup which seemed always the most welcomed.

odds and ends:  

- while collecting the soup ingredients and soup bucket saw cameras and Natalie being interviewed by the side of her tent.  wondered who which media it was, but didn't stop to ask.  finally took some pics of the camp.  when doing the last one, of the entrance gate, i found myself side by side with the media guy, trying o get the same shot. i still didn't ask him whom he represents, but a few days later my friend Susan, who knows about my nickelsville commitment told me about 94.0 FM KUOW 'weekday' podcast on their web; must have ben them - i will look and link to that interview.

- Rose left the camp, and went to shelter;  Ricco said that Rose 'lives on the ave', and there is no ave in renton. all her social life is in seattle, so she couldn't really go.  somebody did help her to move the rest of her bags to storage.

- Ricco himself won't go to renton either - he has too many doctors' appointments and other business in the city; he wouldn't have a way to get back, and the bus fare is prohibitive.  he explained to me that other tent cities in seattle have some sponsorship regarding bus the fare, nickelsville does not.

- Darren is still in the camp and doing reasonably well, going o renton.

- Isaak is going to renton, too.

- saw ever-smiling Billy briefly and was so glad to hear his world is improving:  he is second or so on the waiting list for subsidized apartment, still doing very well with his drug treatment, and even started a small business to help him buy a car.  what business?  washing the store/business windows on the ave, '40 bucks a pop - one wash and the second free, so today i worked the FREE end, no money', he smiled and shrugged.  why don't you just charge  20 bucks each and call it a day, i asked.  'you don't understand  the second wash free is what drives my business!'.    clever, clever Billy:  he is not just some fly-by-night, he delivers the second wash free, and that's what gets him re-hired.

- have not seen Richard.

- the camp seemed quieter than usual; some people already left?

- no goodbyes; just left the soup while the meeting was in progress and only a brief chit-chat with Ricco, who was on guard duty.  he was accepted to one of the other tent cities on capitol hill; i gave him my phone number and asked to call me: perhaps i can show him how to navigate internet better, he said he sometimes has problems accessing his emails, all so confusing.

what else? 

that's it.  thank you and goodbye to mary the church lady and Jorge. last hug with Nova. 

goodbye nickelsville.  hope you are all faring well. 

the very last post to be written: a letter to mayor of seattle,  Greg Nickels, whose name graces the tent city, with copy to governor Gregoire, asking for humanitarian treatment of the homeless people.  maybe a letter to senators and rep. Mc Dermott - asking to bring the issue of 
affordable low income housing to the congress.  

Monday, March 2, 2009

the last day of cooking for nickelsville.

the camp is moving to renton wednesday.  Richard said some of the people won't move, will stay behind, the concept of removing themselves from the city too hard. other, like Billy, can't cant wait 'till i move to the sticks'.  

Nova is coming, too.  
she emailed about soup cooking today, willing to help.  i emailed back that it's the last time. she responded:

'I will look forward to it, even if it is bittersweet'...

Brian. on the corner of 6th & cherry street

Brian is from texas.  where is he now, nobody seems to know.  somebody said under the bridge. somebody said on the corner of 6th and cherry street.  somebody else saw him walking to an apartment complex for people with mental issues.  he was booted out of nickelsville about the time the camp moved from its previous location on 5oth street and 15th avenue to the present one on 16th and 45th.  in the days prior he spoke about being stressed by the move and all that it involved.

the move was only 5 blocks, and i heard lots of people in the congregation were helping nickelsville's residents:  move the tents, the belongings, the porta-potties, the kitchen, and all.  it was very stressful  and many people were apprehensive.  Brian withdrew from kitchen participation for the last several weeks, he was in charge of something, too busy to cook, but still stopped to chat.  as the moving day was approaching he grew visibly restless, spoke of inability to sleep and focus.  when we hugged good-bye one day i had no clue it would be our last hug.

when i visited nickelsville next in their new location some people said Brian broke some of the rules, others said he was set-up, the effect was the same:  no Brian.   'he is no longer here', the usual statement about someone who is not coming back to nickelsville.

Brian was one of the first people i met in nickelsville; his southern hospitality probably prompted him to ask 'how may i help you?' when i was somewhat lost and not exactly sure what to do which might be helpful on my first or second visit to the camp.  he approached me trying to put me at ease, which was, i later noted, his usual attitude towards everyone.

pretty soon Brian was assisting me to find and clean the soup bucket and round up the soup ingredients, as at the time he was in charge of the food tent.  he was also a lone helper in the kitchen for several weeks, before the people in nickelsville somewhat got used to idea that hot soup is coming on regular basis and started to volunteer cooking themselves.

Brian was definitely  a 'follower' type of cook:  'it's YOUR THING, you do it any way you want, i'm here to help'.  but he did get quite passionate talking about 'the soup essence'.  he loved 'the soup essence' and how, if properly done,  it fills one with the sense of contentment.  he said he was anemic most of his life and very aware that his body needs proper nourishment.  we often discussed what makes minestrone soup  minestrone, and chicken-rice soup chicken-rice:  the essence.

our cooperation soon became almost an institutional one:  i would print the soup recipe for Brian in advance, he would try to find the ingredients and would call me the day of cooking to report on the ones he couldn't locate, so i could supply them.  somewhere on my computer there are several soup recipes i typed for Brian, including explaining 'the essence'; i'll include them somewhere at this blog  when i find them.

Brian told me he grew up in arkansas projects, but his mom made sure that he would become 'someone', and using her contacts she made sure he attended good schools and graduated from college.  the way Brian holds himself does betray his high intelligence and good schooling:  he seemed to know a lot about the world's affairs and could relate to almost any topic brought up in his presence with wit, knowledge and humor.  our kitchen conversations were simply delightful and i felt i was learning a lot from him.

Brian said his degree was in media and communication, and that he worked several years for corporate america, bought his first house when he was 27, momma was happy.  then he grew disenchanted with the whole system, tired of hearing he that he has job due to 'quotas' and not his achievements so he chucked it all. 

and what about momma?  'she never understood this, i tried to explain, i love her very much but she couldn't get it'.  what she couldn't get, said Brian, is that he started to see his role in the world differently that the one he was prepared and educated for.  he realized that he himself is a survivor, but many people are not, so he wanted to help them in their existence.

i'm not quite sure how becoming homeless fits in that story - whether it was religious or philosophical stance for him,  but Brian surely cared about weaker people in the camp:  i saw him mentoring newcomers, showing them how to pitch the tent so one doesn't wake up in the pool of water when it rains, and i observed that people looked up to him.

it was Brian who explained to me that some people in the camp are always by the grill, capable of securing and cooking food for themselves, and sometimes for a few others, as well.  but there are many people in nickelsville by sheer bad circumstances of life; they never comprehended how they got there,  or how to survive,  rather unprepared to fend for themselves.  they only eat canned, cold food, or whatever offered, too busy trying to understand what landed them where they are, and coping with everyday troubles.  he gave the soup cooking entire new meaning.
to be finished...