Well it has been a much more difficult journey than I thought, though the people I have met and my amazing growth in cultural understanding have made it well worth while.
Last night my brother asked me what I've missed the most? Computer, TV or a bed? But what I've missed most is the social interaction and good conversation with friends. It's the relationships and making new friends that were the highlights of the week. Food is really just food, entertainment is fleeting, a bed is for when you're switched off, but real stimulation comes from interaction with others. There does seem to be a lot loneliness and solitude in the lives of the poor and homeless, and many just seek a little bit of attention and friendship. They are real and interesting and friendly people, that are tuned out of the minds of most that pass them by. They are not the wolves at the door, but more the friendly neighbor you have never bothered to go next door to meet. (Yes, there are exceptions.)
Sleeping on stone or a hard surface is really not that bad, it just takes a little bit of time to get used to; last night I think I only had to change position three times. Lack of sleep has had surprisingly little effect as well! I am sleeping only 5 to 6 hours a night (usually about 2am to 7am) and find it is plenty, a shock for someone like me who normally likes to sleep 8 to 10 hours. Sometimes a 1/2hr nap in the afternoon will boost me back to normal as well.
Walking is no longer a mental decision. It is just the way I travel, and so when I need to go somewhere I just head off and rarely stop until I get there. My legs don't get tired, which I guess is a good benefit from cycling an hour a day for the last couple of years. I now wonder about the waste of money people spend on transport to travel relatively short distances, of course I have a lot of time to walk places as well.
Eating has become somewhat of a chore. With no pantry to raid at leisure, I need to plan ahead about where and when I am going to go for a meal. It is the center point of interacting with the community. A lot of the same people can be found from one place to the next, based on meals. Overall the food is very good, although I heard on person complain about Credo and the Hare Krishna Depot as they are vegetarian. This is the limitation of the poor. The limitation of personal choice. It is the same for drinks. In my situation I can't just go and get a Pepsi, I am pretty much limited to the many water drinking fountains around the city, which does the job, but the fact that water has no taste, does (over time) tend to leave a sour taste in your mouth.
Shops. There are so many! It's not that you can't just go and buy the food at the cafes and restaurants that bothers you. It's that without money there is no purpose in entering the shops, and if you're not going to buy something then it doesn't feel right to be there. So in a way it's like you are shut outside. You see all these people drifting in and out of shops, but I am now an 'outsider', not able to participate in this 'normal' social function of the living community.
Boredom is a huge issue. I have seen one guy in four different locations at regular times just sitting. During the day is not so bad when people are around and things are busy, it's early morning and late at night, when there is absolutely nothing to do and nowhere to go. I don't have a TV to sit and watch, no internet, no music to listen to, and friends seem a long way off, out of reach. All the charities close in the afternoon, the city could do with some sort of 'drop in center' that operates late arvo and early evening, as a place where people can meet and chat.
Sleeping Location is a difficult nightly decision. It needs to be out of sight as much as possible, apart from avoiding the police, a bit of solitude and a break from the disapproving eyes of the public is welcome. Shelter out of the wind and possible rain is important, very difficult to find in the CBD. Ironically whenever I check the weather reports now, I am checking the nightly minimums, rather than the daily maximums. Walking around at night you notice all the big empty warm spaces in buildings and offices, just behind a locked door, it's like a tease. Also there is no sleeping in, as soon as it is light you need to be up and about, as the security of the darkness has dissipated.
Discussions within the community are always limited. What do we have to talk about? Not much else besides the weather and the charities. It takes time to get to know people and gain trust, and so shooting the breeze, if not just a hello, will have to suffice for the moment, until I step across cultures and then there is lots to discuss.
Churches are good to visit to take a break from the day, do some prayer and maybe catch a service. While there are a few churches open all day, they mainly only have their service once a day at midday, which is hard to catch as it is also the time to meet people at lunch. The different denominations around town all seem to have a particular strength, but there seems to be no 'complete' church. That may be more a reflection on me than the churches, but there's still more to check out, but as many are only open Sunday morning, it is a slow process. I wonder if anyone has done a guide to the churches, like they do for restaurants?
Helping people, and being helped by caring people, has been the highlight, that keeps me motivated onwards. Finding a lost sheep and pulling one out of a hole (Christian speak) is rewarding work. It's also an encouragement of God being active and working in peoples lives; a reflection of his love. It's the 2nd biggest message of Jesus. He says to first love God and then love others. Nearly all his other parables and teachings are based on these two themes, which are combined into one action on the cross. His death is a simultaneous action of loving God and loving us.
Understanding just what is poverty and homelessness in Melbourne has been a great revelation over the last week. To think I have lived here all my life and had no idea of what is going on shocks me.
What for the future? I am still not sure. I think I will be out here, on the streets, until the end of December, and then some other options are open for me to consider. Certainly long-term this is an area of life I will no longer be able to ignore. I hope I will be able to continue to find a way to share my heart, and God's, with others, as we meet on our respective journeys.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
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