A Different Kind of Normal

I love the view out of my window today.  Each gust of wind whisks a cascading twirl of leaves that settle in my yard, beckoning for my kiddo and dog to rake and splash them about before packaging them for compost.   Beyond the beauty of the fall, I love my view outside and inside my window because it is my view. Mine. I have chosen it and make it my own on a daily basis.  I invite people I care about to fill the space about me and to create and share my view.

As much as I love returning to my view, I find value in traveling. It’s a process to see beyond the first glimpse that a new view offers—to peer deeper into the everyday lives of the people who inhabit the space, the space they invite me into.  The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes; they all contribute to the reality of my growing worldview.

I recall the first time I saw a favela in Brazil. It was almost too much (no it was too much) for my aspiring middle-class, twenty-something, American mind to process.  Also imprinted upon my memory is a moment in Bolivia while crossing a bridge-- my experience up until that point in time told me I traversed over a garbage dump; but a glimpse of an orphaned street child huddled into a drain pipe cemented the realization it was a home to someone. It left me numb and silent.  I searched the procedures-- the laws that didn't allow me to adopt that child, or another little one half-wrapped in bright colored, dingy llama wool peering up from under a bridge.

Years later, after seeing countless similar views, my mind still doesn’t process these sights.  It doesn’t because it’s simply not fair, and I should find it unsettling!  Yet, I now realize the people inhabiting these spaces have unique voices that reach beyond my silence.  Beyond. Silence. Mine.  Kids in poverty. Their voices reach beyond anything we pretend makes sense. 

Simultaneously, I never cease to be amazed by the juxtaposition of joy and rich culture that is experienced within these spaces.  Through reading; discussion of space, design and architecture; traveling; and technology, I continue to expand the view beyond my window. 

Ingenious Homes in Unexpected Places is a TED Talk by Iwan Baan that recently expanded my view. It is something you must watch! Through photography, he shows how people build homes in unlikely places.  I continue to reflect on Baan’s phrase, “a different kind of normal.”

Bann’s talk reminds me of The Landfill Harmonic Orchestra in Paraguay, where three of my favorite people in the world live.

It also brings up connections to James Mollison’s photography in his books, Hungry and Where Children Sleep.   (Hint: Use the “next” button to view Mollison’s photos. They are worth it!)

The related issue of poverty is NOT a problem that only exists outside of my home country.  All I have to do is look beyond my window’s view within my state, within my neighborhood. Some of the struggle of families in my own back yard are highlighted in the documentary,  American Winterthat follows eight families in Portland, Oregon. 

This has direct implications for us as educators.  Here’s some information from the program I work in about cultural and linguistic diversity in Oregon’s schools.  These kids and families ARE our community. We ALL have a responsibility.

It’s not enough, but through technology, I am slowly finding a way to both hear and give voice to those in poverty, to those who don’t have access to the basics such as clean water and food, yet whose voices capture the complexity of the human spirit in music, art, compassion-- found in spaces they make their own.  Their voices shape my view and push me to look at a different kind of normal.

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