For more please head over to my collection on Flickr, Street Art Photography, an album containing over a thousand photos of street art captured over the past 15 years in NYC and Sacramento, with some images taken in other cities and countries. From tags to large scale murals, with everything in between… Some of this artwork has long disappeared, others remain, some are hidden between buildings, others are displayed prominently, proudly, on visible walls. Many of the photos in this album were taken in Bushwick in Brooklyn over a decade ago, an area which has undergone significant changes in the past few years, with more artwork going up, but, at the same time, a lot disappearing too. Art is everywhere, we just need to look around to see it.
I made my choice while standing outside my (then) apartment building, smoking a cigarette and reading through the different kinds of procedures I could opt for. I forced myself to read through them so that I could make my own, informed choice, even though I had kind of already made it. A few hours beforehand I saw two lines on a stick, and my stomach clenched in fear, but I knew that I was ready to make many choices that would change my life as I knew it. That night, after work, I sat down with the person who was going to become my life partner, and before I even had a chance to say what I had decided he told me that it was my choice and he would be with me all the way, whatever I chose. After he said that I knew we were going to be OK.
The next day I went to Planned Parenthood to confirm the pregnancy, and was also presented with a choice. A box of tissues, and a choice. I could have made an appointment for an abortion there and then if I wanted to, but after blowing my nose I told the counsellor I wanted information on prenatal care, health insurance, and any other help they could provide. Planned Parenthood in NYC does not provide prenatal care, but they do provide counselling and information on prenatal care options in the city. Luckily they had some leaflets for a low cost women’s health clinic in Brooklyn, which I took with me. While I laid down in the soft, warm grass in Washington Square Park with a close friend by my side I called and made an appointment. I had stubbed my last cigarette out hours before and knew I was going to be OK. We were going to be OK.
I mention the word “choice” a lot in this story, and that is because every decision I made was based on my own personal choice. No one told me what I could or could not do, no one tried to push me in one direction or another, and legally I was able to either move forward with the pregnancy, or request an abortion without feeling any shame in doing so. Only three other people knew I was pregnant before I made the decision to keep my child, and if I had decided to go with an abortion, only those three people would have known.
When we, people who can become pregnant, say “my body, my choice” it is because we believe our bodies belong to us, that no one has the right to force us into something we don’t want, or to shame us for our choices. Nowadays there are many forms of contraception available, but they do not always work for everyone, for many reasons, and they are not always universally available to everyone either. I personally opted for an implant in my arm which lasts about 3 years and is supposed to be more than 99% effective, and luckily I have not had to deal with too many side effects. I know that I do not want any more children, but I also know that there is a tiny chance that I could be in the less than 1%. And if that happens, I will face another choice that will be personal. I am lucky to live in a state that still believes I am allowed to make my own choices about pregnancy, birth, and abortion. This implant that I have? One of the side effects is that I don’t really have periods with it. Which also means that if it fails, I won’t know immediately, maybe not for a few months.
When I went for my first ever prenatal appointment I knew I couldn’t be more than at the very most 8 weeks pregnant. My doctor took out a handheld Doppler and said she would try to find a heartbeat, but that it was most likely too early. Lo and behold there it was: a heartbeat. A week or so later I had an ultrasound to confirm my due date, and I was only 8 weeks along at that point, so my daughter’s heartbeat had actually already been detected when I was 6.5 weeks pregnant. I had only found out a week before that I was pregnant – and that was on the early side. I had a friend who was pregnant at the same time as me, and because she had irregular periods and no pregnancy side effects, didn’t find out she was pregnant until she was about 10 or 11 weeks along. If either of us were living in Alabama right now we wouldn’t have had a choice but to stay pregnant.
These heartbeat bills are just another way to control us. My personal situation is not the same as the woman standing in front of me at the store, and hers is not the same as the person standing in front of her. At that point in time I was happy to hear a heartbeat so early, but it could well have devastated me if I wasn’t ready or able to have a child. If you are so hell-bent on controlling our bodies are you also going to work on creating better opportunities, healthcare, education, etc. for all children? Yeah, I didn’t think so. These controlling laws have the aim of criminalizing abortion and are as prejudiced as many other restrictive laws in this country: they directly affect communities of color and those living below the poverty line. These laws have nothing to do with life, safety, or children, but have everything to do with control and the restriction of choice within a society.
“Pro-life” (aka pro-birth, anti-abortion) activists don’t believe in choice. They believe those of us who can get pregnant must remain pregnant no matter how the pregnancy was conceived, no matter the health of the mother or of the fetus, no matter the potential dangers to the mother or the fetus, and no matter whether the person is ready, able, or wants to be pregnant and have a child. Pro-choice activists believe it is the pregnant person’s choice, and that no one else has a say in the matter. Being responsible for the care and upbringing of a child is HARD and requires so much from a parent, for many years. Who are we to decide this for someone else? As I peruse Twitter I regularly read idiotic comments such as “well she should have kept her legs shut then!” (Why is it never “well he should have kept his dick in his pants”??), or “there are so many people waiting to adopt a child!”, or “stop using abortion as contraception!” Abstinence-only education has never been a viable option against unwanted pregnancy. And abortion is rarely used as a form of contraception, despite what “pro-lifers” want you to believe.
Every year in the US about 135,000 kids are adopted. However, only 59% of those adoptions come out of foster care.* In 2016 over 400,000 kids were in foster care in the US, so there are obviously more than enough children waiting to be adopted by loving families, many of whom will most likely age out of foster care without ever being adopted. Forcing a woman to have a child that may just end up in the system at birth doesn’t really seem like a real solution for anyone to me. And don’t even get me started on rape and incest victims… A double violation of our bodies, predators in different cloaks. I recently read a remark that said something along the lines of not punishing the child for the sins of the parents. This infuriated me, because by forcing the pregnant person to carry and birth a child conceived against their will is effectively punishing both child and parent, neither of whom asked to be violated. If an act of rape or incest results in conception, the pregnant person should never be forced to do something against their will. Trauma layered upon trauma.
Restricting and banning abortion practices is obviously not about maintaining and cherishing life, or even about birth. It is not about the existence of a child either. It is all about control. I find it interesting that so many right wing anti vax activists protest against the government forcing them to vaccinate their kids against deadly and highly infectious diseases, but are fine with the government restricting abortion rights. You can’t have it both ways, complaining on the one hand that the government needs to take their hands off our bodies for one thing but not for another. Then again both movements are filled with so much misinformation, ridiculous claims, and contradictions it would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.
Whether you believe that life starts at conception, or a heartbeat, or not, whether your religious or personal beliefs are against abortion for any reason, whether you believe abortion should be unrestricted and covered by insurance: I don’t care. These are your personal beliefs that should not be controlled or governed by another. This is what being pro-choice means: every person who can become pregnant has the right to make their own decisions about their bodies without being pressured, forced, or restricted in choice.
I chose to have my three children, but I don’t know now what I would choose now if my contraception failed. No one ever wants to have to make this choice, but for many different reasons they often do. Restricting and banning abortion just pushes it into back alleys and danger zones, it doesn’t stop it from happening. And despite what anti-abortion zealots keep proclaiming, we don’t use, or think of using, abortion as a form of contraception. For each and every one of us the choice is a difficult one that we will never forget. Then again, the reality doesn’t really fit the narrative of controlling us, does it?
Maintaining a strict divide between church and state is so important, and it works to the benefit of all. Abortion is not a political issue to be raised over and over again, it is our personal, very personal, choice and right, and belongs only to us.
Side note: The most recent season of the TV show Call The Midwife focused on abortion laws in the UK, and on illegal abortions. While it did somewhat sensationalize backstreet abortions provided by untrained professionals, and didn’t highlight the many doctors and nurses who safely performed illegal abortions at the time, it did bring up some very important points. Abortion was legalized in the UK in 1967, and most abortions are covered by the National Health Service, something that has never been the case in the US.
Side note no 2: Gosh it feels like we are constantly fighting for the rights to keep your hands off our bodies! I wrote this one in 2012, and this one in 2016. Sometimes when I reread content I wrote a few years ago I have to cringe a little, but I refuse to edit as, with anything, learning is a path. I now know to be more inclusive in my writing, something I know that I have failed to do in the past. The gist is the same though, my body, my choice, and none of your business!
*Numbers taken from the most recent AFCARS Report.
It’s been a strange day, again bearing witness from afar to something I have no power to stop. A fire raging in the heart of my heart, the city that will always be the jewel in my memories. “It will always be Paris” my 18 year old hand wrote in black Indian ink in my journal, it will always be Paris. Paris was only three hours away on the train, 600 km in the car, the place where the writers and artists who crowded my teenage dreams also haunted the streets. The place where we could get lost in the streets, be free, live in a history of our own making. It was always Paris, even though in Grenoble we also had a Bastille, we also had authors, composers, and a history. It was always still Paris. Stendhal was every day, but Nerval was my desire, his spirit still roaming the streets in the dark.
One year we found the exact location where Nerval took his life in 1855, located it on an old map, and walked around and around in circles, the location lost amidst new buildings. Rue de la Vieille Lanterne, an invisible route between past and present, buried deep into Parisian history. So we went back to the side stairs of Notre Dame, smoked a few cigarettes and contemplated the trek back to the Père-Lachaise to where Nerval’s body was buried, a full pilgrimage to honor the writer of the beauty of roaming minds.*
Another time we roamed the quais de la Seine at night, plastic film camera in one hand, Gauloise Blonde in another; the only remains of that night the images in my brain, the smell of the Seine that never feels too far away, and one hazy print of Notre Dame. Every time I have wandered through Paris, Notre Dame has been under some sort of renovation, a tower covered in scaffolding one year, both another year, the side yet another year. Preserving history is an ongoing project, especially history that has made it through revolutions, wars, disregard, and neglect. If you close your eyes on the Pont Neuf at night the breeze takes you back in time for a second, a minute even. Paris feels timeless in those moments. Paris will always be immortal.
While Le Chat Noir was always our lighthouse, and the uneven stones of Montmartre got used to our Doc Martens, I would search for a sign of Notre Dame from every stopping point. The steps of the Sacré Coeur at night are a beacon to city around, Notre Dame standing safe in the distance, strong, a survivor. Much of my youth was spent searching for something that would direct me to my destiny, a god, a king or queen, a feeling, religions mixing with politics with knowledge, and ultimately with deception and disappointment in mankind and higher powers. Nowadays I look back on those times as the grounds on which I built who I am now, layers of me, a journey that ultimately gave me the answers I always knew. I neither hate nor reject religion, I respect its part in our world, no matter the deity. I just cannot believe enough to belong to a religion, but I still remain in awe of religious structures. Churches and cathedrals, ancient mosques and temples, all hold pages of lives lived before us, soaked in tears and incense.
Watching the fire go from smoke to a full blaze raging through the roof of the cathedral was painful: it is only a building, but I couldn’t help shedding a tear for the gargoyles, the angels, and the secrets. As the steeple fell I gasped, and wondered if the towers were next, and what Paris would do if all that was left would be a smoldering hulk of blackened wood and limestone. Can we mourn a building? Should we mourn a building? I believe in the preservation of history, not the desecration, but nature sometimes has the last word. And the human hand can be the creator of beauty, but also the creator of mind-blowingly stupid errors. We are lucky that the towers were preserved, more important to me personally than a crown of thorns or a torn robe.
It will always be Paris for me. I know I will most likely never live there, but Paris was always the dream, my heart, my love. Paris IS always the dream, my heart, my love. I can still wander the streets in my mind, smell the musty smell from the Métro, and bite into an imaginary baguette with brie. Nerval still skulks around, his resting place steps from Oscar Wilde, Chopin, and Jim Morrison, his heart amongst the lost and the lonely in the hidden Parisian streets.
(While Notre Dame burned on April 15th of this year I searched through my journals for some of the many entries I wrote on Paris over the years. I immediately came upon one dated April 15th 1999. Twenty years to the day… “I think my favourite place is Notre Dame and the quais de la Seine… We’ve been to the Père-Lachaise cemetery where Oscar Wilde and Nerval are buried, to Montmartre to see the Sacré Coeur… Everywhere.”)
It will always be Paris.
*(Read Aurélia if you ever have the chance… I have only read it in the original language, but I’m sure it translates well to English in the right hands).
It suddenly clicked the other day: my life is a jigsaw puzzle in motion. Every day I fit pieces together as much as I can, wake up, get kids to school, shop, work, make lunch, clean, pick kids up from school, doctor appointments, dentist appointments, park time, school enrollments, laundry, paperwork, work, work, bedtime, clean, write, work. It’s a full life where everything has to go into a calendar because otherwise it is forgotten. I have to schedule everything, even my job, around the kids’ school schedule and Cesar’s double job schedule, with no outside help: it’s just Cesar and me and three small children. I still haven’t got any better at asking for help, but at the same time there aren’t really many people I can ask here, so we make it work. And it’s fine, even when the kids all get sick every other week from picking up something at school. We make it work quite well, this full life. I’m lucky to have a job that allows me to work when I can, as long as I make the hours up during the week. But it is a jigsaw puzzle, and sometimes when I have a down day I find myself at a loss: what am I supposed to do with myself right now? Shouldn’t I be running while eating and putting toddler shoes back on for the 20th time while figuring out how on earth I am going to fit wrist surgery into all this?
Should I play with the kids? Write something? Scrub a floor or two? Watch TV? Read some more? Why do I constantly feel the need to find something to do instead of relaxing and enjoying the moment? I don’t know, it’s always been this way though, well before kids. I have so much nervous energy and constantly need to be on the move, doing two or three things at once. Sometimes I crave the quiet of a more peaceful life, and then I am flooded with ideas for the future: restaurants, new careers, places to visit, things to write, more laundry to do. But I enjoy this full life, I embrace it, even those moments when I want to stand under the shower and scream silently.
It also suddenly dawned on me the other day: there is still room to dream, there is still room to accomplish dreams. I spent so many years convinced that I didn’t have the right to dream, to do everything that I ever wanted to do. I always thought that I didn’t have the right aspirations, or the drive to succeed that others do. That something was wrong with me, because I would consistently work so hard at something just to sabotage it in the end, mainly because I worked too hard at it. It wasn’t until I started reading more about adult children of alcoholics, and read through some of the typical traits that I realized I wasn’t abnormal: my brain had just wired itself a little differently based on circumstance. I have always had dreams and aspirations, so why not actually make them come true? Life is too short, way too short, to just dream. Life has never been easy, but I am lucky because nowadays I have true love, a family, a home, a job, and a future ahead of me. I’m lucky that I can cast off the reluctance to create roots, life, a home for myself.
I can’t stop this evil administration from what they are doing, and I can’t stop wars and conflicts happening all over the world. I can only write my truth, and hope that others care as much as I do to create change. But I can learn, and I can use my overflowing well of empathy to effectively help others, here, there, everywhere, so that is what I will do. I’ve never given myself a path to follow before: everything I used to start may have had a future, but I couldn’t see it, or didn’t dare to contemplate it. But now I have children, and they have futures ahead of them that are still as clear as the summer skies of Northern California… So I have to accept that I have a future too, and one that will continue even when the children have gone off on their own journeys as adults. So now, instead of living life and experiences as if they will end abruptly at any time, I shall plan ahead. I have wasted too much time on edge, afraid to let myself enjoy something fully, I don’t have to fear that it will be ruined anymore. It isn’t my fault that I feel that way, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take control of it and throw it away. Away with you feelings of inadequacy and fear, be gone!
In the meantime, I continue to try to fit funny shaped jigsaw pieces together, and while my list never gets smaller, I have to keep telling myself that I am accomplishing tasks. My eldest is now registered in the only Kindergarten we wanted her to go to (we took a huge chance and it luckily paid off), and my middle child is luckily able to stay in the same school for her last year of preschool, even though our preschool program was cut in half. I never realized how stressful, competitive, and tedious the public school system is, how each school is different even though they are all in the same city and district, and run by the same people. How many hoops you have to jump through to make sure your child is registered correctly in the right school… But all the pieces somehow fit together this year, and while the two and a half months of summer are looming up ahead, I will find ways to make other pieces fit too. It’s just what I do.
There are days when my brain melts from the bickering, the whining, the yelling, and the constant demands, and I wonder how I am going to make it through the evening without shouting, or drowning myself in whiskey, but I do. When you have been sober for quite a while it becomes your norm, but it remains a fight, and never an easy one. Never, ever assume that someone’s sobriety is easy, even if they make it look that way. Words help, losing myself in words, my own, other peoples’ words. I block out the nagging voices, the failures of others I feel the need to soften, the past, and dive into a story, an essay, a poem. There are no excuses left anyway: I can only truly function as a person in the life I have created as a sober person. They are my personal boundaries, and the ones that I will not let anyone else attempt to distort them. I’m much stronger this way. And happier.
Being a mother is hard. Being myself is hard, the lightning bolts of ideas, questions, stories, and needs of others all colliding into each other in my brain. The formation of thunderous clouds on some days, or cleansed blue skies on other: I’m always digging for a solution, a more-than-acceptable outcome, but have to make do these days with non-answers or a Band-Aid solution. It’s not settling though, it’s navigating, accepting that life has many branches and not one simple way forward. A maze of branches. Some of us never find what we were looking for, but end up with a long line of stories with an ending that that is a lot more satisfying. An accomplishment. Each step is an accomplishment in its own right: standing up, speaking out, reaching out, listening, setting up boundaries, and pulling down borders. Some days just getting out of bed, other days walking 100 miles: I set the bar too high, but have finally stopped beating myself up when I don’t meet even the bottom rung.
41 is already upon me, and spring has firmly settled its roots for 2019. I love the feeling of the sun on my skin, on my newly shaved head, and I feel hopeful. No need to hide, to secretly hope, or to wish on distant stars anymore: it is all in reach, as long as I continue to fight for myself, for us. I’m not a fan of odd numbered years, but nowadays I am a fan of looking ahead rather than behind me.
In early 2004 I traveled around Egypt for 11 days with $200 in my pocket, and two friends I had met in a kibbutz in northern Israel. I kept detailed journals of the trip, something that I am so glad about now. You can find the story of our felucca right here, our journey to Dahab right here. This is the story of our Cairo, and Aswan and Luxor will follow at some point this year.
I barely remember traveling from Evron to Eilat that time, maybe because I slept most of the way, who knows. The trip itself is absolutely beautiful, especially if you love desert landscapes like I do. This time my mission was Taba to Cairo, with my companions Andrea and Kirsty. We really had no idea what we were heading into and where we would end up, but it was an adventure, and one I will always cherish. The Israeli-Egyptian foot-crossing border was the first time I actually walked across a border before. We ended up getting held in the waiting room waiting for our exit stamps, as two of us had overstayed our visas due to an ongoing strike at the Israeli Interior Ministry. Our volunteer visas had been filed months before, but everything was stuck in limbo during the strike. It didn’t take too long, after about 30 mins we were in Egypt, walking over to the bus station in Taba. I tried Egyptian cigarettes for the first time in my life, replacing Noblesse with Cleopatra for the duration of the trip.
The trip from Taba to Cairo is about 6 hours long, and we got to see the beautiful sunset over the Sinai while we wandered into the mountainous roads on our double decker bus. Serenaded by a loud TV playing Egyptian movies above us, and given our first overview of Egyptian rest stop toilets about halfway into the journey, we finally arrived in Cairo around 10pm. At this point we all looked at each other and said “so which stop are we meant to get off at?!” This was 2004 so no smartphones, and we hadn’t even done any research before leaving, so just decided to take our chances on the second stop. We found out later that we should have got off at the Ramses stop as it is the main bus station, but we were able to get a taxi quite easily once we were off the bus. Quite easily after we had got rid of the swarms of people trying to drag us off into their taxis… I can still see our faces: Kirsty screaming “don’t touch me!!”, and Andrea and I thinking to ourselves “wtf have we got ourselves into here?!” You get used to the crowds and the noise pretty fast, but that first night was an absolute experience. We chose a driver who agreed to take us to The Sultan Hotel for 15 Egyptian pounds and hopped in. The Sultan Hotel was an idea we had taken from a guide a previous volunteer in Evron had left. We had no idea if it still existed and what to expect from it.
Walking, driving, or more accurately, being driven, around Cairo is scary. Or it was at the time, I have no idea if anything has really changed there. There aren’t many traffic lights, and while there are people directing traffic around the major intersections, they aren’t everywhere. Every time you step into the road to cross it you feel like you are hovering a fine line between making it across safely and an inevitable crash with a car/bike/bus/other vehicle zooming towards its destination. Nobody stops for pedestrians, so you take your chances whenever you can and hope for the best. Our first cab ride was an experience: music blaring out of the open windows, balmy air welcoming us into the Egyptian capital, while our driver swerved in and out of lanes, blaring his horn every few seconds. We made it to the hotel in one piece, around 11pm and the city was still in full swing. They say NYC never sleeps, but neither does Cairo. Shops were open wide, people thronged in the streets, and if the sky hadn’t been dark you would have thought it was the middle of the day.
The Sultan Hotel only had two beds available so we went up another couple of flights of stairs, past a very revealing notice in paint stating the “best hotel in Cairo” was that way, to the Vienna Hotel where we bagged a room to ourselves. Bonus? Not so much. You get what you pay for, and we really had no intention of roaming Cairo to find a different place to stay. So the best shithole in the world was our home for the next few nights. We decided to brave the toilet/showers the next day and went out to look for food. I made the decision to go into the first place we found for rice, vegetables, bread, and Egyptian tea. Andrea made the better decision of going for a pizza at a place called Gad, which then kind of became our go-to for the next few days.
I’ve braved many a shithole toilet over the years, some worse than others, and have made it out alive. The Vienna Hotel shower experience was just that: an experience. As I can only assume was to be a space saver, the shower head was right above the toilet, so you really had to make sure you didn’t mind a wet toilet seat and/or just trying to shower over the loo. Maybe the whole point was to shower while actually sitting on the toilet? Who knows. It wasn’t the most sanitary of places anyway, and our main concern was how to keep the toilet paper dry. Unless you are staying in a decent hotel you need to bring your own in Egypt, or be prepared to tip for a piece of TP in a public toilet.
One of my aunts, who had traveled around Egypt more times than anyone can remember gave us a great piece of advice that I still remember to this day: if you need the loo go to a pricey looking hotel, or a Pizza Hut or something similar. Chances are the toilets will be clean and there will be toilet paper if you are lucky. We used that advice when we were walking back to our hotel from Giza (more about that further down).
Now I don’t know if this is even relevant anymore, but at the time you could get an international student card for about 60 Egyptian pounds as long as you presented your own student card from your university. Someone from the hostel took us to the place where you could get them done, and for some insane reason I had my student ID from the year before on me and it still worked. An international student card gave you 50% off entrance to any place of interest, so it was more than worth it. We also got discounted train and bus fares, which was helpful for the rest of our trip.
Student cards in hand, fresh Turkish coffee and croissants in our bellies, we made our way via service taxis to Giza to finally see the pyramids that I had dreamt about since I was a child. I was the first to see the tip of one on the horizon, and couldn’t sit still. All I wanted to do was be there, touch the stone, stare at them in amazement. We did however have to grant the man from the hostel a little time first, as he presented us to one of his tour guide friends who offered us a tour of the pyramids for 100 Egyptian pounds. None of us were really interested in being guided around, so we declined politely and made our way over to the Sphinx. In my memories, and in the photos I have of those moments, everything is golden: the sun, the sand, the glow around the edifices. We walked and walked, marveling at the sheer magnificence of everything, looked at hieroglyphs, even entered one of the pyramids, but it was a little claustrophobic and stuffy to stay in for very long. We then went up to the KFC, bought coffees and sat there eating our bread and cheese while looking over Giza. Sand, horses, camels, tourists, and these amazing creations from thousands and thousands of years ago.
There is something very strange about realizing that you stand on ground, near architecture on the bones of architecture, which was developed millennia before. The world opens up wide, you feel so tiny and powerful at the same time, clashing feelings that tend to overwhelm and leave you lost for words. The same emotions collided within me when I visited the ancient city of Akko (Acre) in Israel, and the Dead Sea. It’s the feeling I get whenever I watch Aztec blessing dances being performed. We are tiny dots in the grounds of thousands and thousands and millions of years of earth, a nothingness against a past of civilizations both gone and still here despite everything they have had to endure. It’s an incredible feeling that borders on sadness. What are we doing to preserve rather than destroy and recreate?
We left Giza elated and pensive, with no real idea on how to get back to the hotel unless we paid for a taxi. So we decided to walk, not thinking that we were actually about 10 miles from the center of Cairo. We also didn’t have a map, but thankfully our communal sense of direction was pretty accurate and we ended up walking the right way. So many people stopped to talk to us, smiles, questions, conversations. We walked along a massive main road, stopped at a luxurious-looking hotel to use their toilets, and then at Pizza Hut for a bite when our legs started to protest. In the end we found an official looking person by the road side (he ended up being part of the tourist police force) who agreed to flag down a taxi and negotiate a decent price for us. We asked the taxi driver to drop us off at the Egyptian Museum and then got lost trying to make our way back to the hostel, although we did end up finding baklava, which made everything OK again. Baklava always makes everything OK! So does koshary by the way, the filling and delicious Egyptian street food that we discovered in Cairo and ended up seeking out in every other location we visited.
After a much needed sleep we planned our second day in Cairo, getting the night train tickets to Aswan purchased first so that we didn’t have to worry about it later. At that time trains and buses filled up fast, and we had really left it until the last minute, something that became the main theme of our trek through Egypt really. We left our bags at the hostel for the day, and got tickets for the 12:30am train at the station, once we realized that you had to get the tickets on platform 11 and not the main ticket office. Our plan was to visit Coptic Cairo, tour the Egyptian Museum, and then see where the day lead us.
We made our way to Hanging Church in the Old City, within the quarter known as Coptic Cairo. We decided to use the metro to save time and money and while it was easy enough to navigate, we didn’t feel that comfortable squished up against so many men. We actually didn’t understand why there were no women in our car, until one of us noticed on our way out that the first cars were actually designated as “women only”, so we made a mental note to use those cars on the way back. Something that we all thought that the public transport in our home cities could benefit from (Grenoble, France, Bogota, Colombia, and Johannesburg, South Africa). I unfortunately decided to omit this part of our trip from my detailed journals, and only have some blurry memories of walking through the peaceful area and admiring the churches, learning more about Coptic Christianity.
We then made our way back to the Egyptian Museum and through the hordes of visitors by the entrance. The museum houses over 5,000 years of history and it would literally take days to see it all. We decided to make our way around the building by starting with the first floor, then the ground floor, and then the mummy exhibit, foregoing the Tutankhamun exhibit, which I now regret. There was so much to take in: coffins, jewelry, pots, artefacts, artwork, tablets with hieroglyphs, statues, stones, stories… I loved the statues of Akhenaten, so handsome in stone, with an interesting history. As I walked through the museum I could only imagine the absolute joy of discovering ancient history, researching a life lived thousands of years before. I left the museum feeling full, but empty, thirsty for more knowledge, more visual aspects of these people who left us so many riches to discover. We visited the mummy exhibit before we left, amazed by how well preserved these corpses are, some with fingernails and hair still present. It appeared as if some had died extremely violent deaths though, their appearance was pretty gruesome. I do wish that we had used the money for that exhibit to see Tutankhamun’s though – I think we missed out.
It took a while for our eyes and minds to adjust back to modern day bright and bustling Cairo, and we walked back to the hostel in reflective moods. We had a few pizzas at Gad, and then slowly made our way to the station where we had coffee and sat around on the platform for a few hours until we were able to board the night train to Aswan.
Cairo is enormous and I don’t think we even had time to scratch the surface of the city. It is overwhelming and noisy and confusing, but also friendly and warm and full of millions of stories. We could have made our lives easier by keeping a map and important points of interest on hand, but I think that our wanderings helped us discover things that we may not have seen if we had followed an itinerary. I will most definitely go back one day, with a little more money and a little more time, to rediscover the pyramids, and learn more about the layers of Cairo.
We traveled to Aswan on the overnight Express train, in 2nd class. At the time we had no problem buying tickets for this route, although there were tourist restrictions on traveling 3rd class, which we circumvented on our way up to Luxor from Kom Ombo by just buying on the train. Since 2009 there are stricter government regulations on which types of trains tourists can travel on, but easy ways to get around them if you are on a budget and/or not interested in travelling in a deluxe sleeper train. I found this information very helpful.
The only time I ever feel like I really belong somewhere is when I am home with my partner and three kids. “Home” is a word laden with so much meaning, too much, mainly because it has no permanence for me, and because it has multiple interpretations. I don’t have a childhood home where I grew up in to look back on, and at this point I don’t even know if I have a country to fall back on in times when I feel completely disjointed. My heart jumps between oceans and seas, pulled into places that no longer look the same as they do in my brain. People identify me as British from my accent, which despite 31 years living outside of the UK I have not lost, but I’ve always felt as British as I feel French. Nowadays I feel more of a mishmash of everywhere I have been rather than a strong tie to one country, even if it is the country where I was born, and where generations and generations of my family members lived and died.
I moved to New York City in 2005. Before that there was rural England, town England, The Netherlands, city life surrounded by mountains France, a year in Israel, a few months in California, and London. I moved from Streatham, London, to Spanish Harlem in NYC, by way of the Lower East Side. I’ve been in this country for 14 years now, longer than I have lived in any other country. I never asked for French citizenship, even though I am eligible and France was home to me growing up, because it didn’t ever feel necessary. I applied for Canadian citizenship because I could, even though I had never set foot in Canada at the time, and had no ties to the country at all. Canadian citizenship and my multilingual skills gave me temporary status in the US, a status laden with so many restrictions, while my permanent resident application inched through years, decades, of time. Nowadays I am pondering on whether I should apply for US citizenship. Do I want it?
Pondering on it, not because this country feels like home, and not because I have fallen in love with this country, but because I want my US-born children to feel safe. I had a difficult, long, and very depressing immigration process that involved a lot of tears and heartache, and also choices that I may not have made if I actually had had a choice. My children’s father, my partner in life, is also an immigrant, and although he is native to these continents we call America, doesn’t come from Norway, or any new “desirable” country name the current president decides to tweet about this week. I often think about the concept of the “good” immigrant and wonder what you have to “be” to fit into that mold. We probably don’t fit into it, neither of us really wanted to be here, we just ended up in NYC, and fell in love with the city (and very much later with each other once our paths finally crossed). I think about citizenship because for one I am finally eligible to do so, but mainly because I don’t want my children to have to worry about us, or be separated from us, now or ever. I know what it feels like to not be allowed to live in the same country as a parent and siblings, and it’s not something I plan on revisiting, ever.
Is citizenship meant to feel like a transaction rather than actual belonging? My blood is undoubtedly very English and Welsh (and apparently Scottish), but I feel like a mix of England, The Netherlands, France, Israel, NYC, and now California, with a little bit of India thrown in, and a lot of Polish heritage, collected through my mother’s second marriage to a man I called Tatuś for part of my childhood. I love parts of all of the countries I have lived in, but do I belong to any of them? I have no idea.
Living for New York for a large part of my time in the US made it easy to pretend I lived on an island slightly apart from the rest of the country, skipping between relocations of England, France, Mexico and Israel faster than it would take me to walk two blocks on my beloved Lower East Side. Languages were everywhere, it was never too difficult to find a shakshuka that tasted like my uncle’s or a packet of Walker’s crisps, or even a perfect French omelette that reminded me of time spent in late winter on the slopes of a mountain in the Alps. I spoke French as much as I spoke English and while I still felt out of place in certain parts of my life, I was able to rectify that by quickly running to Orchard St. Of course I missed so many things from all of my different homes, but NYC made it easier to consolidate all of them together under one roof. That was the beauty of the city for me: I could be at home with parts of my multiple homes and feel like I belonged for a while.
Belonging... Is that not something that we all crave somehow? The need to belong with someone, to belong somewhere? For so many years I prided myself with the statement that I never belonged anywhere except NYC (or the Arava desert, or Grenoble, or Empingham, or Paris, depending on my mood). I would however still be plagued with days, weeks, of deep yearnings for home, a home that didn’t exist anymore. But I belonged on the street I worked, and I belonged amidst my ragtag group of friends from all over the world. I didn’t think I craved that sense of belonging until I actually came close to feeling like I belonged somewhere.
NYC was in no shape or form a bubble. Not for us immigrants anyway. For me it did often feel like I was hovering between the US and Europe, but I was fully aware of what was going on in the world, in the country. I always have been. It felt safer somehow, you could disappear into the streets and be swallowed up by the city’s protective arms. The only airport where I never had problems in when coming back from abroad was JFK. Every other border control has been a story I would euphemize to those around me because I was embarrassed, upset at letting myself be treated like that. Niagara Falls and Phoenix were the worst. Border control agents are obviously trained to diminish you as a person, reduce you to tears, to saying things in a tone of submission despite your intents to remain stoic and strong, and to make you feel guilty even though you are not. Guilty of what? Wanting to go “home”? In the end you really start to wonder why you are fighting to be there so hard: is it worth it?
My own personal answer to that is that it was, because I met my partner, another immigrant but from a very different part of the world, and we have three amazing children together. We have made our own home together, here. Neither of us feel at home anywhere anymore, after years of living in places we never quite imagined ourselves living, but together we are home. Our children are growing up American, and Mexican, and Native American, and English, and French… Isn’t that what America is anyway? We already make the US great, no need for an orange-faced despot to tell us the opposite.
We haven’t lived in NYC for a while now, and it’s harder for both of us to find the same sense of belonging in our current city. But still, it’s “home” for now. We still don’t know where to find fresh tamales first thing in the morning, and I have given up on finding HP Sauce anywhere accessible, or a proper pain au chocolat, but they are just minor inconveniences, aren’t they? I miss the sense of family that we had in NYC, the sense of community, and I doubt we will ever find the same here. But our “home” in NYC has changed, moved on, and evolved too. As you can see, home really does not have permanence for me, except when it comes to my family.
And belonging? It’s a fleeting sense. I feel it during certain marches and rallies, surrounded by other people who I know have a similar sense of floating here and there, digging in roots in a new place. It’s a feeling that starts in my stomach and rises, ending in spontaneous tears as my voice becomes one with other voices. But then we disperse, and that feeling is gone. It pops back up again here and there, a smell, a voice, a thought. It never will be a permanent feeling, but always a surprising one. Oh wait, I belong here in this moment!
There is nothing wrong with never quite feeling at home, never quite belonging to a place. As human beings our nature is to keep moving, to explore, to find each other. Borders are arbitrary and unnatural, barricades are really just a last ditch stand against our nomadic drive. There is no “other”, there is just us.
It’s no secret that the homeless crisis in California is steadily rising and that no long-term solutions are in place to put a dent in the growing numbers. The ongoing opioid epidemic, natural disasters such as floods and wildfires, rising rents and lack of affordable housing, and inaccessible mental health care conflagrate the issue, but homelessness is not new to the US in any shape or form. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and the numbers that appear in city-mandated reports don’t even begin to scratch the surface. Right-wing activists use the homeless as a poster child for their anti-immigration stances (I don’t see them actually proposing actual solutions to get people off the streets though), and others pretend the issue isn’t as bad as it appears. But those of us who walk miles of city sidewalks every day know the score.
I walk eight miles a day to and from my kids’ preschool, rain or shine. During the last autumn and winter I would jot down little stories, anecdotes, and thoughts from these walks, wondering where these people were from, what brought them to the streets of Sacramento. It’s easy to turn our faces away and complain about the (multiple) discarded needles, the human feces and vomit on the sidewalks and the grass, to worry about the mental illnesses that plague so many of the people on the streets, but we have to remember that these people are still people.
Here are some of the stories, fragments of moments in time that caught my eyes.
I suddenly realized the other day that my children are growing up thinking that homelessness is normal. Every morning we walk through the streets of downtown and midtown and they see people sleeping on the sidewalks, under shop awnings, and in tents. My eldest, a four year old, wants to grow up fast so that she can build houses for everyone so “they can have beds and clean toilets and a bath”. She says that it should be easy. It should really, shouldn’t it? I don’t want them to grow up desensitized to what they see. This is not normal. This should never be normal.
As I walk to and from preschool with the kids every day I see the same scenes, different people, but the same poverty, despondency, the rock bottom I hope none of my loved ones ever meet. My father may or may not have been homeless for a while before he died, and while it was a different country, a different time, it was the same sort of drug, and the same issues that none of us lucky enough to have a roof over our heads seem to be able to solve. Sometimes I see a boot, black hair, and I look for him in a stranger’s eyes, but that is a story for another day.
As the sun rises behind the Capitol we walk past figures curled around underground steam outlets, wrapped in blankets with their shoes and bags tied together, some empty cans or food wrappers in a corner. People rise from makeshift beds in the Capitol Gardens, rolling up sleeping bags and putting on shoes, washing their faces in the public bathrooms, walking over to wait for the Central Library to open as no one stops anyone from using the restrooms there. Everyone deserves to have access to basic commodities, to the privacy of a restroom, to a mirror, and warm water. But based on the amount of human feces we have to step around in some areas, that doesn’t seem to be a priority for the officials of Sacramento.
There is the beautiful lady with the elaborate hairdo who is probably much younger than she looks. She applies her make up in the public toilet in the Capitol Gardens, and walks away with her neatly packed cart, her face serene, her age unknown, but definitely in the over 50 range. How long has she been on the streets? Who knows…
What about all of the people who are homeless and breathing the Camp wildfire smoke into their lungs? The micro particles embedding themselves into their internal organs, the air quality deemed hazardous. We are told to go inside, to stay inside, but those people have no indoors to enter. There is nowhere near enough space for everyone in the shelters, so they have to stay outside and breathe through the toxic smoke. My kids had coughs for months afterwards, so I can only imagine how it would have affected those who couldn’t stay indoors.
The first time I saw the arm flexer I was walking alone near the girls’ school. I saw him from afar, flexing his arm muscles as he walked, as if he were readying himself for the ring. He may have looked threatening and possibly creepy from afar, but I took my chances anyway and walked past him: harmless. And then I thought about how life on the streets is so dangerous for him, more dangerous, because those who would call the police are really just calling death. Don’t call the cops on homeless black men in Sacramento, they will arrive 5 at a time and aggressively pin your arms to your back and let your pants fall to the ground while they muscle your yielding body into the patrol car*. Sacramento PD have a notoriously terrible reputation when it comes to gunning down mentally ill and/or homeless black men. I see their actions frequently while walking, four to five to one person, manning their bikes like riot gear, ordering people from their sleeping bags, telling them to move on. This is not a solution. This is not even a Band-Aid. Move on? From the streets to the riverside that is currently flooded, bloated with water from another wet winter?
I see the arm flexer regularly now, in different locations, always flexing his muscles, hyping himself up for the powerful walk into the ring, a boxing ring that only exists in his imagination. Or maybe just every day on the streets of Sacramento is the big fight to survive. I can believe that.
The man who always stands on the corner of 10th and L by the traffic lights selling the Homestead newspaper never forgets to smile, to acknowledge you, and to ask you how you are. He deserves the same consideration, a smile, a hello. I don’t know how he arrived here, and I don’t know where he will go, but our paths cross frequently and he always remembers me. I feel so guilty that I rarely have a dollar on me for his newspaper.
I don’t know whether the drugs came first or they are the way to bear life on the street, but K Street and Cesar Chavez Plaza are where deals happen so frequently that people walk through them without even realizing what is going on around them. I see bags of meth passed between hands in front of my kids’ stroller, and want to clap my hands and tell dealers to stop profiting from the homeless, but then again if they don’t get it from one they will get it from another, right? But still, it makes me angry when I find used syringes in the grass my children are running around in, and I have to teach my daughter to never ever touch those orange plastic things we find littered around street corners all over the place.
How do we actually help people survive the streets long-term, how do we effectively treat mental illness, drug abuse, and years of surviving day to day in a world that runs parallel to ours, visible but invisible, but only invisible because we make them so?
A lady carries a basket of food items out of the dollar store without paying and no one says anything, hopefully she will eat a proper meal tonight. I have spent so many weeks when I wonder how to make $20 stretch unbelievably far, but I have never had to wonder where I will sleep tonight or tomorrow, which I know is a privilege now. There are so many of us who are one small upset away from losing our home, one less paycheck away from the worry of where we are going to go if we can no longer afford the rent. The man who used to sit outside the same dollar store with the sad eyes and the little brown puppy has gone. I sometimes wonder if he just moved on, but my spirit hopes that he got clean and made it out alive.
I used to think K Street was bad, but after our walking commute started taking us along the other side of 16th St I realized that it could be a lot worse than K. 16th St is skid row. I can hear the sound of shoes being scraped along the pavement behind me while I’m walking with the stroller, shoes that don’t fit properly, I assume, but I don’t want to turn around and look. I walk past the Governor’s House, on the floor in front of me are flyers warning of government takeovers, and across the street a homeless man is sleeping in a shuttered shop doorway. The new governor decided to move into a house in a place that is “more kid-friendly”, and while I actually like his policies, I think by doing that he just played into the same old system: building walls around his family so that they don’t have to see what we do every day. It’s just wrong, you walk around and it just gets worse, poverty on the one side, and the rich on the other, construction everywhere, but only for new condos and expensive accommodation, no affordable housing anywhere. (Although you always hear the local government talking about “more affordable housing” there hasn’t been any proof of it).
Coming up to J Street I hear the slouching foot sound behind me again, and then the sound of plastic wheels hitting concrete: someone pulling a bag on wheels. Not the sound of someone going to the airport or the train station, not the sounds of early morning commuters I could hear when I lived in my little apartment in Grenoble, France. This is the sound of people pulling their only belongings behind them, their lives in a bag. Going from one spot to another in the city hoping to find a warm place to sleep, a hot cup of coffee, a friendly face, a dealer.
It was 32 degrees last night, freezing this morning, nothing compared to winter in my previous home of NYC, but for Sacramento this is cold. There are over 4,000 people on the streets every night in Sacramento, but those numbers are from 2017 and I know for a fact that there are many more today, just from walking everywhere. There is never enough room at the shelters, the largest holds about 600 beds but is far from downtown, and in comparison with the actual numbers on the streets is nothing. People are cold, walking around with blanket cloaks, it feels like zombie land sometimes: freezing people slouching along, vacant stares, not here anymore. Nowhere to go, no one to help them, no clue if or when they will taste their next hot meal. I walk faster, away from the footsteps behind me, never turning back to see their face.
This is the “land of the free”, the country where supposedly everyone has opportunities, but these opportunities seem to be only available to those who have the privilege of having those opportunities in the first place.
Walking down P St towards home, I realize that for what could be such a beautiful place in the world, this city houses so much gloom, sadness, and darkness. The sky is so blue, and the sun shines so much; there are so many oranges falling from the trees to rot on the ground, and people are going hungry in the streets. Nothing makes sense. All of the new buildings going up, all of the abandoned structures waiting for new life, all places only available to the richer. Sacramento is no longer the affordable city it once was. In January the townhouses in Capitol Towers were emptied, getting ready to be demolished and replaced by a luxury hotel and newer apartment blocks. They are still empty, all of those homes that could be a shelter to many. But instead they pay a security guard to patrol the area 24/7 to make sure no one sleeps there. I understand why, but it seems like such a waste all the same.
To the man standing barefoot on the freezing concrete: I’m so sorry. To the lady standing and sleeping with her head against a windowsill: I’m so sorry. To the person who left all of their belongings on the slope up to DOCO and disappeared: I’m so sorry. I’m sorry that I don’t know what to do. I walk through DOCO, this new area that feels so posh and shiny, bang in the middle of disrepair, poverty, loneliness, and addiction staring at me from each side. I just feel so sorry, and so guilty, and then angry because everybody is failing these people, myself included.
Every morning I see a new tent popping up amongst the others on a sidewalk, in front of City Hall, in a grassy space that has yet to be claimed by condo-builders. Not everyone has a tent, there are so many who just lie down on the street and cover themselves with a blanket. Residential streets, shopping streets, downtown government building streets: people set up makeshift homes for a night or two, a bed for now. This morning I walked past someone asleep in front of the house that is for sale for $900 grand.
A woman pulls a shopping cart behind her wearing shoes that are at least 4 times too big while the gentleman who spends his nights drinking cheap 40’s in the awning on S and 5th shuffles his government-issued wheelchair across the main road. And people, like me, walk by, parallel worlds in the same world.
Just after the Christmas break it felt like there was suddenly an influx of visibly mentally ill people in the downtown-midtown area. Around the school mainly. It felt like somebody had just emptied a psychiatric hospital out on the streets, a slightly Gothamesque vision every time I pushed the stroller along F St. One morning a dense fog covered all buildings and swirled through the streets, a similar effect seen during the first real snowfall of winter in NYC. Suddenly a woman’s face popped out of nowhere, cackling about Santy and candy, even though we were well into January by then, her fingers pointing at us as I sped past. I don’t know if the drugs came first, or the streets, or both, but she was not a safe person, not to herself or to others. These are the days when I question our determination to bring our kids up downtown rather than in some random suburban setting.
One day I had a sudden weird desire to cross J St earlier than I usually do, I don’t know why. I pondered my impulsive decision to cross where it was a lot less safe when I saw that a man was having a very angry and violent mental breakdown on the other side of the street. He was throwing his suitcase into the air, shouting, and throwing punches around, and there was no way to settle him down. My gut is never wrong, it usually leads me away from danger.
I walk several different routes to and from the school, depending on the weather, my mood, and my anxiety level (being spat on by a neo Nazi back in the autumn always an event in the back of mind). We always end up crossing the same streets and seeing the same people though. I realized while pushing the stroller through another rain storm on 10th St that we would run into the same man at the same time in the morning, in the same place. And then again in the afternoon. And then I saw him again, walking in the same direction at a random time on a Saturday too. Does he live nearby? He is striking, handsome, piercing light eyes, dressed in what appear to be clean clothes. One day I noticed that he was always carrying a neatly folded blanket under his arm. And that he passed by us for the second time when we were waiting on the corner of the street. That’s when it clicked: he wasn’t on his way somewhere at the same time we were on our way somewhere else every day. Passing him by on the same street at different times wasn’t chance. He was walking round the block, again and again, in a determined fashion, a sense of purpose but no real destination. Is he ex-military? Possibly. Homeless? Definitely, as it has since been confirmed that he sleeps is a doorway on that block every night.
On that same block I saw a man light his crack pipe in the middle of the sidewalk a few weeks ago, a few feet ahead of me. Broad daylight, a well-frequented street, children in a stroller close by, and a crack pipe. The streets are hard, unforgiving, it’s freezing at night most of the time, and when it rains the streams of water pound relentlessly onto the concrete, finding their way into gutters, running into doorways, soaking blankets and cardboard and tarp, pooling around tents. But the drug use is so out in the open, desperate, and unforgiving too. There has to be a better solution that ignoring it and hoping it goes away.
There was a woman dressed in a garbage bag yesterday. One of those heavy duty large black ones, a garbage bag dress. The wind was brutal, freezing cold, more NYC than Sacramento. More and more tents are appearing around City Hall, people gathering together for safety and comfort, so many women. I can’t begin to imagine the traumas experienced by women living on the streets. (But the data is readily available online, although it would be good to see more up to date studies as this is a pretty important subject).
I am still haunted by what happened to us last year in the Capitol Gardens… I was helping one of my daughters use the public toilets when suddenly the woman who had been washing her face in the sink started shouting, cursing, screaming (in a British accent). I held my daughter close and told her not to worry and we stood silently in the stall wondering what we should do. My mother, visiting from the UK, was standing outside with the other kids asked if we were OK but I didn’t respond, afraid I would antagonize the lady even more. And then as suddenly as it started it stopped, and she walked out of the bathroom and away. Another day we saw her wrapped in a blanket not far from the toilets, sleeping.
16th Street Donuts is hands down the best donut shop in the city, with the kindest owner. It’s the kind of place where you tack on an extra dollar or two to your bill and ask them to give the next homeless person to walk through the door free breakfast. The kind of place where you can go and receive a warm cup of coffee when you have no money and no home. That strip mall on the corner of F and 16th is home to many people, their faces the same, their faces changing overnight, new ones replacing old. The parking lot is adjacent to the elementary school, a fenced wall separating the two. I’ve seen people shooting up, relieving themselves, buying drugs, sleeping, reading, eating, fighting, and just living in that small 20 or less car parking lot right against the school grounds. I’ve seen people set up camp in front of the school, and in the school playground. I hear the words “but its downtown, you have to expect it” as I walk by. I’m sure apathy never helped anyone though… I think the donut shop has the right attitude though: treat everyone as human. Most days my empathy overwhelms me, but some days I get angry because I don’t want to have to yet again tell my kids to never ever touch a needle like the one we just stepped over.
Those days when I am angry I go into the donut shop and remember that we are all human.
There are so many more stories, so many more people. I just continue to jot them down in my journal, remember their faces, and hopefully remind those around me that we can choose to look away, or we can choose to be present.
*I’ve seen this happen several times. Sacramento PD has a very bad reputation for shooting first, asking questions next, especially when it comes to homeless and/or possibly mentally ill black men.
My two daughters currently go to preschool here in Sacramento. One is nearly 5 and will be starting Kindergarten in September, and the other is 3 and should be enjoying another year of preschool before she goes to elementary school. I also have a 20 month old who would have gone to the same preschool when he turns 3, which would have been a smooth transition seeing as he already knows everyone who works there.
But a few weeks ago the Sacramento City Unified School District board decided to cut the preschool program in half by the end of June. Our school got the axe, as well as half of the programs currently in place. The school board claims that it is the only way to cut the current budget in order to avoid a state takeover, but it appears that this is really just a cover up. The fact that we are losing our preschools, and so many teachers and other staff are losing their jobs, came as a massive surprise to all of us, parents and teachers alike.
We live in downtown Sacramento and don’t own a car. We walk and bike to most places, take public transport, and the occasional Uber when absolutely necessary. We can’t afford to run a car right now, and we actually like living within walking distance from most places that we frequent. Downtown and midtown Sacramento are very walkable areas, and there are grocery stores, parks, libraries, and many other places to go to.
There is however only one full day state preschool within walking distance from our house. When I say walking distance I mean within a 3-4 mile walkable radius. The preschool my children go to is actually a 2 mile walk from our house, and there is no other affordable full day preschool accessible on foot or even via public transport from where we live. I walk 8 miles a day to ensure that my kids are able to go to school, and that’s fine. I’m lucky that I work from home.
At Washington, our preschool, the program is quite specific as it is a full day program, allowing parents to place their kids in a school environment while they work and/or go to school. It’s a brilliant set up for families who cannot afford the exorbitant costs of daycare and/or private preschool to send their kids to preschool while they work.
We don’t have any family around to help out if needed, and the few friends we have here are busy with their own kids. My job allows me to work from home, which is an option that many parents don’t have. But even with me working part time and my other half working two full time jobs we could never afford to pay for private preschool or childcare fees. And without family anywhere within a 1,000 mile radius, we count on ourselves and preschool to ensure that our kids are well-cared for, learn to socialize with others, and also get used to being in a school setting. One of my children was treated for severe anxiety all through last year, and without this full year at preschool she would have had a very, very hard time entering Kindergarten in September.
We love our children’s teachers and caregivers, and it breaks my heart that they will be losing their jobs because SCUSD can’t handle their budget correctly. Last year the board made a promise to teachers and parents that they would NOT lay-off staff or cut programs, and they are doing exactly what they promised they wouldn’t do. In the meantime the board is hiring more administrators, paying themselves nice hefty salaries, see the SCTA website for more information, and basically cutting costs where it hurts those who need the funding the most.
I have written letters to the governor, the mayor, the superintendent, and to board members. The mayor’s office sent back a polite brush off letter telling me that they understood that this is “frustrating” for me (thanks for the condescending attitude), and one of the school board members wrote a kind email back looping in someone who should have had more information (and who never responded). No one else even bothered to say they were looking into it, apologize, or make it right.
So basically it boils down to this:
1). SCUSD have burnt the budget into the ground and continue to refuse to listen to teachers and parents.
2). Instead of actually looking for real solutions the board decided to close half of the preschools and lay-off 350 members of staff (deeming us “unnecessary fat” I assume).
3). All of the “we are doing what is right for our student body” is fake concern as the benefits of preschool in terms of early intervention and providing kids with an advantage are well-documented. Eliminating preschool options is directly hurting our kids.
4). Removing the child development/preschool program hits low income families the hardest as we literally have nowhere else to turn. (Especially when you look at which schools are being slashed and their general location). As my middle child will now not be able to go back to preschool next year I will either have to quit my job or at least reduce my hours, which in turn will put us back on the brink of constantly worrying about how to pay rent again. Moving is not an option, as anyone who has tried to rent in Sacramento with limited funds would know.
5). Every single parent, teacher, and caregiver is affected by this. People are losing their jobs without the likelihood of finding a new one, parents will have to quit their jobs and/or school programs because I can promise you that none of us can afford the $1,000 plus it costs to put a child in private preschool per month. If the state is so focused on making sure that ALL children are given the best start in life then why are the important parts of that being pulled from under our feet?
6). We continue to be ignored. Board President Jessie Ryan refuses to answer her phone or provide parents with a real explanation on why we are losing our preschools, and the rest of the board continue to mislead parents and teachers alike with stories of “putting the students first”.
In NYC preschool is free for all children from 4 years old (and also for 3 year olds depending on family income). If NYC can provide high quality full-day child development for preschoolers, then why can’t Sacramento make it work too? I’m more than happy to be taxed a bit more just so that all families have access to nearby affordable preschool. I would even be fine paying $100 more on top of our regular monthly preschool fee to keep the schools open.
My children have been thriving at school, in terms of learning, making friends, being exposed to the structure of an educational setting. I wonder how I will explain to my three year old in June that I’m sorry but she won’t be going back to the preschool she loves next year because the school district decided that she and her friends weren’t important enough for them.
We still have not even received a courtesy call from SCUSD staff to explain what is happening and how they will help navigate this. They have left that up to the teachers who barely have any idea themselves as they have also been left in the dark.
Walking onto that stage was scary. Walking onto any stage is frightening for me. I have never felt comfortable being the center of attention, not while I’m sober anyway. (Drunk is another story, although even then I never sought the eyes of others, just the idea of being more comfortable in the eyes of others.)
I’ve always found it easy to hide beings a pillar, in the shadows, in a book, behind my hair.
But I don’t have any hair anymore. By choice, because I am lucky enough to have that choice. It was an easy choice too, to be honest... I have all this hair that hasn’t ever been dyed, it’s definitely longer than 10 inches, and it’s so stubbornly healthy. Maybe someone else could benefit from this long, thick curtain that always ends up in a boring braid running down my back? Maybe my hair could raise money for charity?
Cesar grabbed my hand and we walked onto the stage together, and my one thought was “let me get this over and done with without anyone noticing”. Hey, I used to be able to make myself invisible, so why not today? No dice. I ended up being singled out, and asked to stand up and show how much hair I was shaving off for charity... And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. This wasn’t about me, it was about the children who have cancer, the children who will get cancer, and the children who have had cancer. It’s about their families and loved ones, about the doctors who fight so hard to help them, and the researchers who constantly work on finding cures. Shaving my hair off was just a small contribution into a huge bucket of contributions.
Apart from a few times in my 20’s I’ve always had long hair. And when it was short it wasn’t really that short, so this is a completely new look for me, and I love it. I have found myself standing taller, and smiling more.
You can still donate via my St Baldrick’s Page right here, and for all of you who have donated, shared, encouraged me, and sent messages I thank you SO much. Without Facebook and Instagram I was worried I wouldn’t be able to reach people, but everyone has been so wonderful with sharing and hustling (Karli, Mum, Charlie, and Cara looking at you specifically), and we’ve done great!
The importance of the event fully hit home when I met one of my close friend’s child’s oncologist at the event. Childhood cancer research is such an important cause, and I’m so happy I was able to do my part in helping a little.
I think I will keep this haircut for a while.
(The event took place at de Vere’s Irish Pub in Sacramento. I was able to donate my hair at the event, which was brilliant. I’m glad it will be going to someone who needs it).
I love my hair. It’s thick, long, gorgeous, and never lets me down. Even when I was surviving on coffee and cigarettes and stress my hair was thick, long, and gorgeous. Even after three kids and losing half of it, it’s still thick, long and gorgeous. That said, it’s just hair: I have the choice to cut it or never cut it again, whenever I want. My hair is just part of me, and this year I will use it as a statement and a tool to raise funds for childhood cancer research.
On March 11th I will be heading over to de Vere’s Irish Pub to get my head shaved with the St Baldrick’s Foundation, and I am asking for your help to raise funds for this wonderful cause. We all have been touched by the ripple effect of cancer in our lives, whether you are or have been personally affected by the disease, or have a loved one who is or was. We all know how important cancer research is. I have three close friends who survived different childhood cancers, and know countless other friends and family members who have had cancer themselves or have been affected by it.
If you are like me you probably just assumed that all cancer research funding was equally divided based on need. Unfortunately this is not true at all. Approximately 1 in 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer in the US before the age of 20, with the average age being 6 years old. However, only 4% of federal cancer funding is dedicated to pediatric cancer research. And while it is true that more adults are diagnosed with cancer every year, this doesn’t mean that funding for children should be neglected. On the contrary, our children are the next generation, and we should all be working towards creating a better, and safer world for them.
St Baldrick’s Foundation works towards closing this funding gap, and I hope to add my drop into the ocean by raising funds to help. Cesar, my partner, who usually rocks a shaved head will also be participating on the day, and has promised not to shave his head until then (it’s going to drive him nuts, he loves keeping his hair as short as possible!).
It would make me so happy if everyone I know could chip in with a few dollars! Every little counts, and every little bit will go towards the funding of childhood cancer research. And I promise to share photos of my shaved head on March 11th! I’m not on Facebook or Instagram anymore, but you can still find me here and on Twitter, and via email at email@example.com. And please feel free to share my fundraising link below to anyone you think would be interested!
My fundraising page (this is just a starting goal, I hope to raise much more!).