Monday, April 22, 2013

Under the Bridge

I posted this on facebook a couple weeks ago, but I forgot to post it here. Here it is now: I have a lot of things I want write about New York still. I learned a lot and I want to get it down before I forget it all. DDR, the Arms Trade Treaty, the New Humanitarianism,the Model UN, Disaster Management in Bangladesh, Ecosystem-Based Adaptation and Development. All these exciting ideas that I have scraped the surface of in the last three months, that are swirling around in my mind and begging to be written down before they evanesce into the back ground of the ongoing adventure that is my life. And I will do that. I need to. But right now, what I really want to talk about is New York itself. One night last week, I was standing at the subway contemplating my imminent departure and watching a rat eat a Starbucks cup. A man on the other side of the platform was playing a heartbreaking song on the violin. The odd person would put money in his violin case and he would nod and keep playing. In that moment, for some reason, I realized how much I love New York City. Experiences flashed through my mind. Running to make it to my kickboxing class at 7 am, eating one dollar pizza, walking those two freezing blocks from the subway station to my house, that little culvert by DC2 that smells like pee, the view of the east river from the 25th floor of DC1, the fireworks on New Years Eve, studying at Starbucks at 3am with Caroline, discussing Islam with Hadi in a restaurant in Chinatown, drinking coffee with Christine in the Russian Tea Room, arriving at Grand Central Station, walking home from Avenue U when I fell asleep on the subway, taking the bus to Boston with John, running in Central Park with Jerreh, dancing with Aaron, sneaking into receptions at the UN with Merel and Lise, standing on top of the Empire State Building with Nandor and Giulia. Drinking Jack Daniels on second avenue with Seb and Nandor, seeing forty people show up to dinner at the Stag’s Head Pub to say goodbye, walking through a water fountain. My heart swelled up with the intensity of all the experiences I have had there. There’s a raw energy in that city that I picked up with enthusiasm and absorbed into myself, desperately trying to experience everything. It was exhausting, but thrilling. Its not that I love my other cities less. Mombasa,Vancouver, Toronto. But more that my heart expanded to include another city. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have felt this way. Sometimes I feel like I’m always leaving. Each part of my heart that belongs to a city has to stay there when I leave. I have to tear myself away from it like a Daemon in His Dark Materials. It’s still connected but no longer part of me. Fragments of my heart live all over the world, ready for me to claim them when I return. Maybe I’ll never be whole again, but I have so many places to go back to, and great memories from the places to which I’ll never return. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for that feeling of bittersweetness that the time of my life just doesn’t quite capture. For Anthony Kiedis, Los Angeles was a companion. Maybe she did love him. I think New York is too proud and in a way too damaged to show love to its inhabitants. You can drive yourself crazy trying to keep up with it, impress it. Catch its attention. But as hard as you try, you can never count on it loving you back. I think that’s why you find bitter people there and there who have been chewed up and spit out by the city that never sleeps. Or maybe it’s me that starts the arguments. Maybe New York has already started to change me. Of course arguing doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There was one day during the Model UN conference where one of the staff said something backhandedly offensive, and without getting into any details in this very public arena, I will say that I stood up and told him in no uncertain terms that I was offended by what he’d said and this is why. Several of the chairs told me after that they had wanted to stand up and hug me on the spot. Having put myself through living there (albeit for only three months), I must say I leave New York now with a feeling of empowerment. I really think I took on the challenge of living there and excelled at it. I think being a UN/NY intern is something I am good at, and that is a good feeling. Sometimes I worry that my true potential to do good in the world is hindered by my stubborn attempt to do things I’m not actually good at. So it’s always nice when I discover a talent I didn’t know I had. I should clarify that I’m not talking about arguing, although I did a decent amount of that. I’m actually talking about my work, and more importantly for the sake of this note, my social life. I have never been an exceptionally social person, but in New York, I was the one getting text on Friday night from everyone asking where we were going and what was going on that weekend. People at work don’t believe me when I tell them I’ve never been a social mobilizer. But I found myself in that position there and I loved it. I loved organizing and attending events, connecting and making friends with so many different people. And even though the time was short in the big scheme of our lives, all of us were looking for connections and emotional feedback, so many of the bonds felt very powerful. It’s funny how you can know almost nothing about someone but feel so close to the mat the same time. Now it goes without saying that it was the people that really made my experience in New York. Most of the experiences mentioned above have names associated with them. And lets be honest, the buildings are impressive, but without the people… well it would probably still be impressive. But if I try to think of what some of my best memories were …. Well I hinted at some of them already. They all involve people. Lovely, wonderful, interesting, amazing people. In the last two weeks, I’ve tried to cram in as much visiting and sightseeing as possible. During the week of the Model UN, I worked 14 hour days, but I still made an effort to see my UN friends every night. This culminated in one lovely shipwreck of a night and I would like to thank Nandor for his assistance in my time of need, and for the new umbrella. I also made some wonderful friends at the Model UN. On the weekend before I left, I tried to see as many sights as possible. On Saturday, I went with Guilia and Sherlita, two of the staff from the Model UN, from Italy and Bangladesh respectively, and we went on an adventure to the Staten Island Ferry and saw the Statue of Liberty. We also saw a really excellent street show where these three guys from the Bronx did a whole comedy routine that was a build up to a feat of acrobatics that turned out to be a little disappointing. But man did they milk the crowd for money. What a racket. They got bystanders to come into the circle to be part of the act, then allowed their loved ones to pay for their release. They made a lot of jokes about stealing money, like “hey where are you from?” “New York.” "No, you look rich, I mean like what apartment?” It was a gorgeous day and the ferry was lovely. After that we met Nandor in town and went up the Empire State Building. The line was long, and the little ride you have do go on first – a virtual helicopter tour of New York – was pretty cheesy, but the view was amazing. I have some pictures, but of course they will never have a hope of doing it justice. What I learned that day was that, like so many things in the world, New York looks the most impressive from far away. That night we went dancing at the Jane Hotel, a great place close to the water on the west side. I wish we had gotten their earlier, and I would like to try to return there one day. On Sunday, Nandor and I visited Lower Manhattan. We went to Ground Zero, which has a very impressive monument to the Twin Towers and a great view of the new World Trade Center building, the “Freedom Tower”. Then we walked around and checked out the Financial District, the New York Stock Exchange, a couple interesting statues. I climbed up a statue of George Washington. It was a bit wet and cold, but still thoroughly enjoyable. Then we met up with Guilia and went for a drink with John and some of his Canadian classmates who are interning with the federal government. On Tuesday night, I had a going away dinner. I made a reservation at the Stag’s Head Pub for about 15 to 20 people. About 40 showed up. I can’t express how heart warming it was to see so many people come out to say goodbye to me. I think about the older generation of interns – Sonia, Michelangelo, Caroline, Eugenia, Christine (I don’t mention Hadi or Aaron because they’re still there), and how everyone was so sad to see them go and I felt like maybe all the new people now feel the same way about me. How amazing that I am potentially as loved as they were. Following my goodbye dinner, we went out for drinks. Then we had lunch the next day and went out again on Thursday night. By the end of it, everyone had said goodbye to me about twenty times. I was a complete basket case by the time I got on the plane. I’m so glad I actually made it to Holland. And now I’m moving on again. Two weeks in Holland and then on to Kenya/More new places, more experiences, more people, more goodbyes. The sadness of leaving is definitely worth the fun of being there. Mr Kiedis never wanted to feel like he did that day. Me, I’m looking forward to a lifetime of it.

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