Summer in the City

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July 2nd 2011
Published: July 3rd 2011
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(Is) New York the most beautiful city in the world? It is not far from it. No urban nights are like the nights there. I have looked down across the city from high windows. It is then that the great buildings lose reality and take on magical powers. Squares and squares of flame, set and cut into the ether. Here is our poetry, for we have pulled down the stars to our will. ~Ezra Pound

New York City--the city that never sleeps--has kept me busy the last couple weeks, though I, for one, have certainly slept. Because of my 9:00-5:00 work schedule (and my desire not to wander the streets alone at night), I've mostly confined my entertainment to evenings and weekends--leaving sleepless nights out of it. Though, were I to stay up all night having fun, this might be the city in which to do it (although it trails New Orleans as far as general fun-having and revelry go).

But, as it is, I'm a working stiff--and I enjoy it. I make the commute in from Harlem each day (except Tuesdays when I work at Metropolitan) via subway, get off at Grand Central Station, and walk in
So many lights!  So many tall buildings!So many lights!  So many tall buildings!So many lights! So many tall buildings!

Times Square, advertising capital of the universe!
front of the UN each morning as I go to enter the Church Center for the United Nations Building that's just across the street. I enjoy the walk, the hustle and bustle, and the reminder of what the CCUN building was built for (by the United Methodist Women, no less)--to send its delegations to the UN to make sure that voices of faith and social justice were being heard and that the UN would be held accountable for its decisions, etc. At lunch time, I'll often eat with my colleagues in a little picnic area set up by the UNICEF building with tables and chairs. We'll enjoy the nice weather, and I'll be amazed looking around me and noting all the people who probably either work for the UN, UNICEF, etc.--a neighborhood full of diverse faces that want to make the world better. (Perhaps I'm being utopian, but isn't that one of the reasons why the UN was created?) Upon returning home, I'm amazed and heartened by the diversity all around me, the many voices and languages, the different nationalities, the people everywhere making a way through this world. I love to see the liveliness of Harlem as I make my way back to the church, whatever time of the evening; folks sitting on their stoops and stairs and everywhere in between enjoying the weather and watching passersby with their families. A few friends gathered around a chess board they've set up on the sidewalk. People coming home from the market down the street with bags in hand overflowing with vegetables, fruit, and other goodies. Even the kindness a bus driver shows to a customer, cracking a joke all the way that makes a few of us laugh. All these little things add up, to me. And I've been lucky to experience life like this almost every day.

Work has been equally enjoyable. The United Methodist Seminar Program where I'm working seems to combine some of my best strengths: not only do I get to research different social justice issues in an attempt to help put together a curriculum for some of their groups this fall, but I've also been able to help facilitate some of the seminars they've run, utilizing my background/experience in education/teaching. Additionally, I've been able to work with the Chaplain of the Church Center for the United Nations on some projects she thought I'd be
Grand Central StationGrand Central StationGrand Central Station

I don't get to go through this main and widely recognized part every day, but when we had a group from the Dakotas in for a seminar, we took them through here. However, I COULD go here often if I wanted to, since I get off at this stop every day.
interested in, including preparing for the upcoming Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) at the UN (see my previous entry) and also leading a prayer service this week for Sudan as they approach the South's upcoming independence (which will occur on July 9). Things like that have kept me involved in two worlds in which I always want to be a engaged--that of striving for social justice and the business of being the church (ecumenically speaking--i.e., the whole body of Christ, and doing the work that Christ has called us to).

At Metropolitan, I've been helping Rev. Hayes develop a plan to implement a human trafficking awareness/prevention campaign at the church, involving not only basic education on the issue but also future community work and engagement. This fortunately overlaps with some of the work I'd already been doing at the Seminar Program as well as basic things I've gleaned during my "summer of social justice work/research." I've also learned a lot more about the topic and how this form of modern-day slavery manifests itself in New York City, in particular. (For more basic information, see the website for Polaris Project and, more locally, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, which focuses on the trafficking of girls and women domestically) There are also a number of films and other media I've come across in my research, so if anyone wants some tips for their own interest or general education, just give me a holler!

While work has been going well, and I've learned a lot more about the city and its unique and universal problems; the UN and how the United Methodists, other denominations/NGOs, and the Church Center for the United Nations deals with it; and the life and everyday struggles/triumphs of a historically black church in Harlem, I've also had the pleasure of hosting a couple friends who were either passing through or just came up for a quick visit. These visits have fortunately led to me seeing more of the city, which I've also done on my own but is always more fun with others. For example, my Chinese friend Joe led me around Chinatown, and his friend took us to a dumpling shop that "hasn't changed its prices since it opened in the mid-1900s). When my friend Elizabeth visited, we managed to make it not only to a delicious taqueria in Spanish Harlem but also to Governor's Island--a small island-turned-park just off Battery Park (same place where you take the ferry for Staten Island)--on which they had a "Jazz Age Lawn Party." At this lawn party, folks from all over the city dressed up in their best 1920s gear (and there were some pretty convincing costumes) and descended onto these lovely grassy patches of Governor's Island. A dance floor was set up so folks could do the Charleston (among other dances), and a band played only Roaring '20s music from the bandstand. What a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

On my own, through work, and/or with friends who are currently living nearby, I've managed to make it to Chinatown for some Bubble Tea, Little Italy (just for a stroll), Astoria (in Queens) for some Greek food, and Korea Town for some delicious yogurt (among other goodies, like the famed bibimbap that is so near and dear to my heart). This is not to mention the hang-out spots I've found to get some work and relaxation in, such as the East Harlem Cafe, which not only has delicious coffee but also great atmosphere (quiet, free WiFi, perfect for reading, studying, etc.), and the Hungarian Pastry Shop near Columbia University (DELICIOUS desserts and free refills on coffee!). I've had my fair share of bagels from street vendors on my way to work (one bonus of my commute into the Church Center for the United Nations building)--and the foodie list could probably go on.

As far as other adventures go, I also made it to two compelling films from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which ended last week. The first, The Price of Sex is a documentary about human trafficking (sex trafficking, in particular) from Eastern Europe. The film was rich and captivating, largely because of the filmmaker's own connections to Eastern Europe (she's from Bulgaria originally), the courage she portrayed in investigating more about the lives these trafficked women suffered in the very locations of their suffering, and for finding people bold enough to speak about their experiences without blurring their faces, etc. (While I completely understand why people might ask for this anonymity, especially in the face of the stigmatization and intimidation these women often face, their courage in showing their faces allows the audience to connect more with their humanity, I think.) I really encourage y'all to check the film out once it gets distributed via DVD. Additionally, I saw Life, Above All, a beautiful and moving drama about the stigmatization of AIDS in South Africa and one young girl's courage in overcoming that stigmatization. A gorgeous and lush film that is wonderfully acted and both heartbreaking and hopeful. I also highly recommend this for future viewing! (The New York premiere was at the film festival, but it's supposed to open in cities across the country starting this summer.)

Other highlights of these two weeks include: catching the tail end of the Pride March near Greenwich Village (quite a sight to see, especially just after New York legislature's recent vote), visiting The High Line, a new park in New York that's built on old, elevated railroad tracks/supports (imagine hovering greenspace--it's pretty cool), and I'm sure there's other stuff I'm forgetting. I'm equally sure I've lost the attention of some of my readers by this point though, too, so I think you get the gist of life here in the city!

I have two weeks left and am looking forward to savoring each moment while continuing to (1) learn, (2) *cough cough* study for comps and work on my thesis, and (3) explore (not necessarily in that order). I'll keep
Elizabeth and I...Elizabeth and I...Elizabeth and I...

...on our way to Governor's Island and the Jazz Age Lawn Party!
you posted as the fun continues!

Additional photos below
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The view from the ferry...The view from the ferry...
The view from the ferry...

...en route to Governor's Island.
The view from the ferry...The view from the ferry...
The view from the ferry...

...en route to Governor's Island.
Statue of LibertyStatue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty

As viewed from the Governor's Island Ferry...

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