The streets in the Gold Coast are filled with a never-ending flow of people. In the morning, fast walkers swiftly navigate around the more relaxed movers- people walking their dogs, cleaning the sidewalk, perhaps those still trying to become fully awake. There is streamlined movement towards the redline stop at Clark and Division, and there is even an unspoken rule once you reach the escalator there in order to maximize efficiency: Walkers to the left, standers to the right. This rule will switch from unspoken to very-emphatically-spoken if broken. People want to get where they’re going as fast as possible.
As I move farther north on the train, towards my internship site, the attitude of the city seems to shift. Sure, there are still decidedly left-escalator-side folks walking briskly around Rogers Park with a coffee in hand, but there is an overall less sense of urgency. The shift in attitude is palpable. That’s what I love about Chicago- within city limits there exist completely different worlds to explore.
Interning at Heartland Alliance in the Refugee resettlement department has taught me a lot about waiting. When refugees arrive to our country they have often been waiting in a secondary country, not their home, for upwards of four years. Some families have been waiting over 15 years. When you have done all you can, and are at the mercy of a system, sometimes all you can do is wait. It’s hard not to DO something when you know there is something to be done, something that needs to change for yourself or your family. Waiting is hard. Being bored is hard. Feeling helpless is hard. Action is often a luxury, and waiting is a purgatory relegated to the vulnerable– who most often handle it with grace. The people I work with every day give us endless patience, even when we sit together waiting in the social security office for hours.
I’m grateful to live in Chicago for the semester, and learn how to keep up with the pace of the city, to take classes and intern full time and explore in my spare time. I have learned so much about becoming a professional Social Worker, and becoming a more attentive person. Every day in the city is different, and every day, whether fast or slow, teaches me something new.
Today I stood beside a bin of pumpkins with a woman in a beautiful ornate burka and her full cart of groceries, as her two-year-old son sat on the ground beside us and fervently used both of his hands to eat four whole sardines out of a tin. He was sporting a full sweat suit in a nice pink shade, complementary pastel pink sneakers, and a smart gray business jacket. All in all, he looked like a very hungry, very tiny professional. He finished the fish, and sat quietly in the cart as his mother taught me how to say pumpkin in Sango, a Central African language, and laughed gleefully when she realized she knew the English “home”. We stood in the sun, waiting and full.
Sometimes, you have to stop whether you want to or not. And if you’re hungry, you should just eat the sardines.
By Elise Mitchell