Just like most adventures on Outtatown, you usually don’t know what to expect going into a new week. As we travel through the year, we do so with a particular level of intensity. So, as we entered into the week in Winnipeg and now Vancouver, it was particularly fitting that it is called an “Urban Plunge”. With full-force, we plunged into a cross-cultural experience that didn’t take us over-seas, but within our own borders and in local urban settings.
Similar to any new experience, there were many moments when we felt uncomfortable. But as we entered into each of these weeks, we were encouraged to embrace and distinguish–as we knew we would have to–the moments when we felt uneasy, outside of our comfort zone, or challenged by the experiences we were encountering.
As we journeyed through each week, we learned how to relate to people that were vastly different than ourselves. As one man so eloquently commented to my group,”you look like thumbs that keep getting hit with a hammer.” In these neighbourhoods, we clearly stood out.
Only blocks away in the shopping district, we blended in, becoming part of the hundreds of people going independently about their business.
Straddling these two worlds made the divide even more apparent and this indicated to us just how many different kinds of beauty and brokenness there can be even within the same city.
Although many questions arose through the week, we all questioned what it meant to acknowledge those around us. Walking down East Hastings, economic poverty was incredibly prevalent. Although dysfunctional and broken in many ways, there was a level of respect in the area that caused people to acknowledge each other in ways that were not evident in other areas of the city. This was an incredible symbol of beauty in the midst of brokenness.
In the shopping district, people were independently going about their own business, rarely acknowledging the individuals around them. For the people sitting on the streets panhandling for a living, even acknowledgement was a gift. A smile or a quick hello often meant more than 25 cents here and there. Although the shopping district was rich in brand name stores and with a Starbucks on every other corner, their poverty and brokenness was evident in the lack of acknowledgement that they received from the people around them.
While walking down the street, people diverted their eyes away from anyone sitting on the streets or approaching them, even if the person was simply intending to ask for the time. In situations like these, people begin to question their worth and existence in a world that refused to acknowledge the divide. In an area where everyone marvels at the beauty of the buildings and the clothes on the other side of the glass, there is brokenness that, like so many issues, was being ignored.