Highs and Lows by Ryan M.
My time in Tucson so far has been a phenomenal experience all together with many unexpected twists and turns. That is not to say, however, that it has not been without its challenges and the highs and lows that naturally accompanied it. For this update I will be specifically focusing in on the major moments that have occurred so far during this journey.
Since the post is titled “Highs and Lows” I will be following that logical narrative by first speaking of the major positive experiences I’ve had so far. The most important one I first want to highlight is that the overall community of Tucson is a very welcoming and inclusive space that sometimes brings to mind a small town vibe. Because of a lack of multi-tiered buildings everything is quite spread out which means if you frequent the same spaces you’ll be sure to begin to see reoccurring faces. Another wonderful aspect that goes along with this is the sense of community engagement and pride. Everything from voting issues to various social programs and events are all met with mostly positive engagement from all levels of society. Groups of people even walk down the streets with clipboards asking all those who pass if they’re registered to vote and if they can help them do so if not.
The Community Food bank is also involved in a variety of community engagement programs outside of its normal day to day activities including the farmers market (which I work directly with), internal promotions of various community events, and seasonal events such as a community pumpkin smash the weekend after Halloween to help create a positive engaged atmosphere surrounding the removal and destruction of rotting pumpkins after Halloween. All pumpkins during the event are then composted and used in the Food bank garden to grow food that will then be sold directly through the farmers market.
The greatest aspect overall of YAV life in Tucson is the monumental amount of opportunities and encouragement by the community to engage with them. Since we have been here I have already worked with a migrant shelter, taken part in a Monday night Spanish class, had a wonderful dinner with members of a PCUSA backed community home group, completed a workshop on the historic and current events in Columbia (known as the Columbia Accompaniment Program), and the Tucson Meet Yourself community event was this weekend. This event hosted various ethnic groups from across the globe with food, performances, and music all in one. My house community went last night and just in the short time we were there we grabbed some plantains from a Jamaican booth, enjoyed some Indian food, and witnessed a variety of musical styles from a Hispanic dance group to a bagpipers group to finally a Zydeco music group from Jamaica.
Now, as promised, for the o so loathed lows of my time here. The hardest part of being here so far has in many respects been adjusting to the various cultural differences of Tucson. Now this is not in any way to suggest that people have been rude or unwelcoming, actually, as stated above, quite the contrary. It has just been mainly small things such as mannerisms, the idea of payment scales, differing cultural and political identities within social life, and peoples varying perceived norms of speech and behavior. This however has mainly just been a process of adjustment more than anything.
The other major low since being here was that during the Columbia Accompaniment Training my bike was stolen. During the event my bike was u-locked right outside the building to a street sign but the thief unbolted the sign and lifted my bike over and off the pole and away he went. To make matters worse, this was also done in a parking lot on private property in the middle of the day. As a result, I am currently using another older model in our shed from previous YAV years. Other than that the only other real challenges have been getting adjusted to a new climate, new city, and a new community at home. Regardless, I still feel blessed that my lows have been somewhat limited during this major transition process.
Now that I am settling into a more autonomous position at home and at work I am still thoroughly excited to see where this journey takes me as the holiday season approaches. One upcoming event I am currently very much so looking forward to is in El Paso from November 1st through the 4th. While attending we will be learning about the current state of the Texas Mexican border wall and the state of immigration movement along it with special guest speakers from the PCUSA national office to boot.
Regardless of the journey so far, I still feel so blessed to be able to take part if this amazing experience and the life changing challenges that come along with it. I am also equally excited to see where this journey will take me next and to have all of you walking beside and supporting me along the way.
Until next time….
Never Forget - Rachel
15 years ago, I was sitting in a classroom at Deerlake Middle School, watching endless loops of the same planes crashing into the same towers. A friend, who lived right across the street from the school had said it had happened and none of us believed him. I think it was because, as a young teen (13 to be exact) I believed our country to be somewhat invincible. Something that couldn’t be hurt. That year, 2001-2002, taught me a lot about my perceptions of invincibility. I define that year as less pre and post 9/11 and more pre and post mom, if I’m quite honest. Yes, like everyone, the future was changed by this catastrophic event, but for me, the loss of my mom some seven months later was far more life changing. It’s not to say that 9/11/2001 wasn’t a horrible, sad, transformative day for my future and the future of our country. It’s just to say that, if I had to really balance it in the scales of my own life, it would not be the day that changed me most in that year. That day would be May 23, 2002. Yes, technically that’s the next year, but in a life that has been defined in school years since preschool, it’s hard to break the habit.
This year, 15 years later, I sit in Tucson, Arizona, 1781 miles from the place I grew up, contemplating the changes occurring in my life, my discernment, and what God has planned for me. It’s hard to explain, I feel simultaneously adrift and anchored. It’s hard to explain the loss of the purpose that has defined who I was for the last 10 years. I’m not sure it’s gone for good, but things are already shifting. For the last 10 years, I knew, without a doubt, that I was a music educator. Even in the times where the path muddied, where it seemed impossible to find, with no light to show the way, I knew that’s what I was. What I was going to be. There is most definitely a deep sense of loss, when I see posts of friends discussing their classrooms, talking about “a-ha” moments their students are having, sharing worries and frustrations I, too, had experienced, it’s difficult to understand what it all means. Why it is what it is right now. I’ve been so defined by this one thing, as a student and teacher, for so long that without it, I feel confused and lost.
And at the same time, in working this last week at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, I’ve felt so in place, so alive and overwhelmingly aware of the things I’m working for. I’m working for the chance to help shorten the line. Not just to feed the line. We spend so much time worrying about feeding the line that I think many people forget that we really and truly do need to shorten the line. To some extent, this work is changing my view on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Yes, in a traditional classroom setting, a student cannot learn if they have not had their basic needs met. At the same time, saying we must give food before helping others find a way to sustainably meet the need to have consistently available nutritious food is somewhat self-righteous and self-serving. They have to go hand in hand. And yet, there is another layer, we can give a man a fish while teaching him to fish, but if the man doesn’t have access to a place to fish or the equipment needed to fish, what is the point? It’s something I’m still trying to explore, wrestle with, ponder, notice, and understand. I’m sure that will be part of this year.
In the mean time, I’m also trying to keep the balance of who I am involved. So I found a church choir. And as a result, have found a community choir. It’s kind of a fun story. I was riding home on my bike from Mercado San Augustin, where CFBSA has a Thursday evening farmer’s market, with great live music (the band this week was killer! Great cover band, every single member sang at some point, it was awesome) and great regional food and just an all around cool vibe. So I was planning to ride all the way home (about 5 miles) and go to the church across the street. If you didn’t know, biking and consistent physical activity is pretty new to me (Like, I knew how to ride a bike, but I’ve never done tons of distance etc etc.) so I’d already done about 10 miles that day. Add to that, Tucson is kind of tilted. going East and….North (I think?) it’s a slow but fairly steady incline. That means going West and South is cake. It’s just a constant slow downhill. Getting back though, is hard. So I stopped both to take a minute, cause my legs were jello, like they do after 10 miles when you’re new at it, and to make sure I wasn’t lost (cause that’s happened a few times already) and noticed people getting out of cars and heading into Trinity Presbyterian. So, being extroverted and nosy, I asked what was going on. I was told that it was choir practice (on a Thursday! That was new for me!) and then asked “Do you sing? You should come and sing.” So, I did. I was quickly informed that the choir director was Dr. Bruce Chamberlain of the UofA music school. It was a great rehearsal with music I knew and music I didn’t. At the end, he let me know about the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Chorus that meets on Monday evenings from 700-930 (a time that is very familiar for a rehearsal!) and invited me to come sing with them. They’re doing Ein Deutches Requiem, which I would find difficult to pass up regardless of how much I had on my plate. So in one evening, I found myself back in the heart of what I knew, in a place that was still new, while figuring out what it is that my life will become. It’s truly an odd combination, feeling so at home and yet so displaced at the same time. I just have to keep trusting the process, the path, and all that jazz, that there is something to learn here, something that will help me find what the next step is, in God’s time, and not in mine.
A year of service for a lifetime of change, right? It’s difficult to know what that change is, but I’m sure it’ll come. As always, thanks for reading. If you have the ability to donate towards my year, the info is on the About page, or you can contact me directly for help. I’ll have some fun things being posted in a couple weeks to add to my fundraising efforts. I’d love to write to you, so please, send letters or emails or whatever. I’ve already got a stack I need to send out.
Peace and Love