After much thinking, after convincing myself , that I also may have signed up for the Mizzou Alternative Break (MAB) Winter volunteering trip to McKinney, TX for a little more than just my psychic satisfaction, I packed a small brown bag full of clothes I had never worn, and items I would never need, to a little town in Texas I did not know.
A place called McKinney.
I had with me a small pack of salted cashew nuts, in case we tumbled off the freeway and stayed stuck for days in a dry, dark ditch. I also packed a backup battery, in case we found ourselves in a grassy off-the-grid vista, where electricity supply was hampered by a rambling brown river that cut off the only nearby small town from the national grid by sheer brute force. Suffice to say, my marvelous paranoia was the stuff of legends. It was my thing – the constant preparation for an impending apocalypse that would wipe out all of this universe without notice.This perhaps is the woe of the writer. Life for animals like me is a menu of terrible catastrophes in my chest, in a small village in Myanmar, in the loud sexing of immigrant neighbors. I wait patiently for magic.
We rode for hours in two nice trucks. One of them, a huge white Suburban, we named ‘White Lightning’ and another we dubbed ‘The Soccer Mom’. The traveler’s etiquette was steady: fast asleep for small minutes, jarred awake by a pothole, tired lips spread ajar. You know how this goes. When alive, we killed boredom with pointless trivia’s and games, gasped at baby cows in the vista and so on. Sometimes, the tsch-tsch static sounds from small walkies-talkie’s broke the silence.
Our mission was clear: we were off to save the world.
And this we would do with eyes brightened by pure verve and thoughts infected with only determination, starting out with the mostly homeless and branching out to any other such deprived comrades of this sinful society that tickled our philanthropist fantasies. Our only sin was the absence of colorful capes and stretchy tights. Every other thing was primed and ready. It was a breezy ten hour road-trip that ended, finally, in the gravelly driveway of a building of adobe red bricks, where we stayed to rest tried and tired bones, as we each pretended that the idea of snoozing in sleeping bags only needed a little bit of getting used to. This fact I found, to be gravely fictitious after a while. Indeed to be a professional savior, one needed to stomach a sprinkle of discomfort and itchy meekness here an there, and an unprecedented ability for Gandhi-like patience. For the most part, it was a life lesson in textbook humility.
To give a bird’s eye view of the happenings of my day, I chronicled nightly, transferring my mounting aggravations to the touchscreen of a smartphone, as I struggled with sleep. The product of this nocturnal dance, a document of certain matters of interest in my day-to-day is jotted below, in painful English:
Day 1:The Samaritan Inn, a nonprofit organization, is the largest and leading homeless program in Collin County, Texas. The facility boasts of 160 residents, about 60 of them are kids. Today, we went round to an extensive tour of the facility and spent the rest of the day sorting and organizing calorific food donations at the hygiene shed. The crew also got around to serving lunch and dinner to the far-too jovial residents at the Gateway Transitional Apartments too. Administrative tasks were also assigned to help assess and update the organization’s website, marketing materials and brochures and other such whatnot’s. We caught the tail-end of an animal petting show and an art class for little girls. It was fun watching how our little efforts could eventually translate into functional outcomes in a place where hopelessness was met with nothing but a spirit of upliftment and dignity and genuine care. There is often something terribly poetic and beautifully sad about lack. This insight is often not shared by the lacker. But it was a good day. And I couldn’t have done anything better with my time and effort.
Day 2: It was an eager dawn, the night died from a childhood ailment…leave it to me to try and give this entry some literary spin. However, it was another day of unhindered fun at the Samaritan Inn. Our day started at 9am, as usual. Sorting and organizing and stacking canned goods in the Food Shed with frozen fingers and eager eyes was something to die for. Literally. It brought to mind the blistering winter of The Game of Thrones. Or maybe even worse. Where I come from in Sub-Saharan Africa, winters are little discomforts we read of in storybooks. I couldn’t feel parts of my face. Occasionally, I would hold up memories of my Nigerian past and my American present, and a smile would die. Look how far we’ve come. But our spirits stayed undampened. We pulled through that task like Grecian champions. While some of us sorted out inventory for the organization’s forthcoming gala. Some others worked on design projects and sponsorship sourcing for said event. We served lunch to the residents too. I gotta confess the egg soufflé thing was not my thing. It was just blissful interacting with some folks there. I listened, they talked. All the while I mastered the taste of a strange lunch and the smell of the memories from strangers I had never before known but was going to become good friends with. Everybody you met, no sooner, had a story or two to tell. Later, we ate dinner with the residents and held a College 101 session with some of college-hungry kids, where pertinent and interesting questions were answered regarding college enrollment et al. It was fun watching little curious kids and adults inquire about their future plans, especially at Mizzou (our alma mater). Our ‘townhall meeting’ was a blast, talking about out highs and lows for the day and the headaches and joys of American non-profit management or mismanagement. Movie night was canceled, because well, how do I put this nicely…we all needed our sweet sweet frigging sleep. #Mizzou #McKinneyTexas #MAB_McKinney #SamaritanInn #EvenHeroesHaveTheRightToBleed @SamaritanInn
Day 3: Just finished an interesting game of ‘Cards Against Humanity’ with the cool crew. And as usual I’m out of gas! That’s what happens when a day is well-spent. And spending we did. I may have saved a couple of ‘baby lives’ sorting and censoring baby foods and paraphernalia, especially the batches so very close to expiry. But..Just so you know, if they sold babies at Walmart, I’d buy one. Those little cherubs cast a great deal of precious humanity on us just by being so unmistakably precious. Why they don’t stay babies and precious forever is another mystery I would rather prod with a really long stick. It sure was a delight sorting through all the miniature baby Sippy Cups and pacifiers and clothing. Lunch was lasagna and some cabbagey mushroomy thingy. But it sure was tasty. As my dad would always say: Everything tastes better when you’re hungry! It’s always a blast working with these amazing friends, all of them prestigious Graduate Students, all of of them self-effacingly rendering their much needed talents and energies towards a thankless cause. Sorting out antiquey furniture and utensils, some of them older than time itself, was a back-breaking maladventure at the thrift store. But the god of Bukowski smiled on me when I found an awesome 1976 writer hidden in a dank corner. I impulsively typed away an amiss love letter on the poor thing, true words to a secret admirer risking her life and faith to study my garish novel, in dusty dim closets, in a monastery somewhere in Europe. I imagined its original owner and the many fabulous or terrible stories and letters invented on that precious thing. Even more so now, I have sprouted a greater appreciation and remorse for the state of being privileged and overfed and wanting for little, especially in a world where the poor and beaten constantly dwell amongst us. Reminding us even, as we pretend not to notice, that humanity and everything that comes with it is only so precious because of its fragility. Situations can brighten or darken without cause. The weather was friendlier and most of our tasks were under conducive scenarios. Amongst other things, the team was able to achieve a plethora of administrative and allied tasks including designing a Homelessness Simulation to raise awareness on the topical issue of homelessness and destitution. McKinney, Texas has worn a frown all week, but I hear tomorrow she’d smile and we’d enjoy a little bit of her seductive sunshine. And I hear her smile is nothing if not stupendously contagious.
Day 4: Pulling weeds! Yes! While first-time millionaires were made and marred as the NYSE traded in a drunken frenzy; and The Red Cross helped vaccinate newborns in the scalding South Sudan heat; and an obese, masturbatory teen in South Beijing invented the blueprint to a maverick, earth-shaking idea that could end global air pollution in a hurry. I spent my day pulling weeds!
With bright neon-orange gloves, I bowed to the earth, with the sun’s brilliance on my behind, pulling out those greenish unpleasantness as a part of my service to humanity.
But hold that thought.
Allow me to mount my soapbox.
Let me first proclaim that the issues that bite social good in the ass, are not issues of non-performance, but of misdirected good will.
This particular line of thinking brings to mind a quote I once found on a restroom sticker, and I quote terribly: “There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes”. I’m one to fling a book right across a room for spewing out tired old cliches. But this saying holds true, even more so now, when I try, painfully, to build rationalizations around the concept of menial jobs in volunteerism. Ever notice how garbage strikes end in a jiffy? It’s because certain tasks have to be done. Somebody has to do it. Period. It’s those belittling tasks that actually oil the wheels of progress. Even though some egos need be broken in the making of said progress.
In other news, I bought that 1976 Coronamatic 2200 electronic typewriter for pittance. Now I can die happy, with a smile spread across my lifeless lips. Veni Vedi Vici. Now I can pretend to be a Charles Bukowski, with better hairline. Ugly and drunken to the world. Yet a god amongst words. And in typical John Fante fashion: I can someday, on this typewriter end a gravely fictitious book, putting the final sprinkle of bland colors onto a blank white sheet of paper, rolled up nicely into the inky bowel of the old gadget, after weeks and weeks of surviving only on oranges and cigarettes, after weeks of feeding orange peels and cigarette stubs to Sir Lancelot, the picky pink-nosed mice that laughed at me from a hole in the wall on those long arduous nights when I hated my book and my life and the shape of my nose and my landlady and my writer’s block; wishing only to drink a clean glass of water before leaping off a tiny balcony, head-first into my predicted demise. Death to the best amongst writers! I deviate. Pardon the darkness.
The day ended with a feeding frenzy at Hutchings BBQ. An All-you-can-shamelessly-eat restaurant. A game of Bingo united the fledgling and elderly today at The Samaritan Inn. McKinney, Texas shimmied in the sun too. She smiled and lifted her skirt for those who were willing to peek. The sun caught her best side. It was a marvelous day, babies were born, dandelions were sprouted and unicorns were thought of and the rest of this post should probably go on a blog. Why you have read thus far would surely amaze me sufficiently. Goodnight.
Day 5: The Death of a Memory.
A brief glimpse into the undertakings that engrossed me today would reveal amongst other things:
A Richard Branson look-alike.
32 ounces of juicy steak.
A night of a thousand laughs.
A car with a billion stars.
And tearless farewells.
Today we completed our week-long volunteering service with the marvelous Samaritan Inn, McKinney. But not before final last minute brush-up’s to the things that kept us remarkably engaged but unruffled these past few days. With eyes glowing brightly from laptop screens, a tale of ten errant souls, that began with much uncertainty and ignorance and compromise, ended like a godlike carnival. Indeed, the invaluable wisdom we now take back with us would last an entire lifetime.
At 4pm, Our dance workout session involved a bunch of jittery people sweating it out in a tightly crammed space. Drunken, only, with endorphins and euphoria and the sweet heady voice of Beyoncé from makeshift speakers, calories were shed as hearts were warmed.
When it was all said and done, hugs and farewell’s went around as we observed the inevitable wilting of a beautiful experience with our best renditions of poker faces. It was easy to pretend that we had not each left behind, slices of our souls in this place of unblemished hope. However, in tiny corners of our hearts, seeds were planted, waiting to sprout in Spring.
On a lighter note, this recap would be a pallid waste of words if I fail to mention our gubernatorial-style round-table dinner at the renowned Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, Dallas. Our host was as gracious and as charismatic as they come. He may have looked a bit like Sir Richard Branson, too, if you tilted your head the right way. Dinner was nothing short of a feast. As tasty shrimps paved the way for an assortment of salads, which in turn gave heft to a battery of balmy, dripping slabs of pure Texan steak. Each slab, a coronary on a platter. The kind that easily brought tears to one’s eyes. While I yet breathe, I witnessed, with trepidation, the chowing of over thirty-two ounces of steak by a very good friend. A feat performed with the meticulous candor of a surgeon, but the agility of a wasp. He speedily consumed this almost-whole-cow steak without batting an eyelid. Over ten attendants – each one trying desperately to outdo another – swooped in to advertise an array of sides, from brussels sprouts that I swear were harvested from the Garden of Eden directly, to an otherworldly lobster mac and cheese highlight. An eye-massaging fleet of desserts, each one looking like a playground of sweets and colors, followed the main course.
The night was crowned with smooth swigs of the mildly caffeined Del’s Delight. The content of which escape me now, but the after-taste shall outlast its memory. With grace, our host, a Mizzou Alum, entertained a plethora of questions. Seeing in us a zest for conquest and accomplishment, similar to the type he brandished many many decades ago.
When our bellies and consciences could hold no more, we left to gaze in awe at his 100th edition Rolls Royce that slighted. Crouching nearby, It’s rooftop glittered with a million tiny lights like stars.
Finally, in our little apartment, the night ended with fond memories and thoughts and laughter. Tomorrow we return to our various abodes a lot better than we were when we ventured 500+ miles South in search of a world to conquer, but instead found ourselves. Adieu