Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Visitors for Tea

This morning, I got out of bed, looked out the window and noticed that there were some bikes and two tents set up in the green space behind the house. My curiosity was piqued. Obviously, some cyclists were on a long journey and gotten as far as the green space (in the middle of the city) and had set up camp and bedded down for the night. Where were they from? Where were they going? What adventures had they had so far?

When I noticed that they were stirring, I went out to talk to them. Having done some cycle touring myself, I knew that they would appreciate a hot cup of something before they set off for the next leg of their trip. I wandered out to their camp and met a 50-ish lady at her tent. Vel (as she introduced herself) seemed a bit disheveled (as you normally are after a few nights living in a tent) but quite nice and friendly. I extended an invitation to her and whoever she was with into the house (via the back gate) for some tea.

When she came in, she was accompanied by another woman of similar vintage. After introductions and as tea was poured, a different story unfolded. Mary (Vel's friend) had decided to take up residence in the tent after a rent increase (doubling from $1,200 to $2,400 a month) had forced her out of her apartment. Her employer, upon learning that she had now given up her permanent residence, had laid her off. She now had no job, very little chance of acquiring gainful employment.

Suddenly, the situation I was in just turned on its head. Instead of having some well-heeled cycle tourists in for a spot of morning tea, I now had two homeless women of unknown metal state, sitting in my very private kitchen with full access to my house and everything in it. You could have almost heard the gears madly trying to change directions in my head. How was I going to deal with these two? How could I politely tone down my obvious affluence and not offer or obligate myself, without seeming haughty or uncaring? How could I end this awkward (for me) situation and send these two polite ladies on their way?

I managed to wind down the conversation, wish them a pleasant day and not offer out more than I was willing to give. They packed up and were on their way, but they did leave something behind for me - food for thought.
  • How could I have felt so differently towards them once I knew their situation? They hadn't changed at all - just my perception.
  • how hard would it be for someone I love to end up in a similar situation? After all, having your rent double would hit most people hard, especially those without a lot of savings.
  • Mary seemed to be nice enough person. She claimed to need just a spot to pitch her tent for a few weeks. How could I consider myself a charitable person when here I was with a spare room downstairs, and a person with such an obvious need in front of me? (personal safety for myself, Kate and my girls was the answer after just a wee bit of thought)

All in all, it was a very enlightening and thought-provoking morning.

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