Tuesday, 21 July 2015

My American Adventure: Second day in the Bronx

I was back in the Bronx last Friday for another legal clinic. This time we served the South Bronx area. It wasn't that far from Manhattan, only a 20 minute train journey. As soon as I left the train station I thought, "yes, this is the Bronx I've been hearing about!" It wasn't even 9 o clock in the morning yet, but the streets were so busy, loud with a lot of people around.

  They were a lot of people shouting and speaking so loud. I could tell that most of them were either drunk or high on drugs! My colleague who is from the area, later confirmed what I saw when he was describing things I will see in the area. That didn't bother me to be honest and I was still looking forward to spending the day in the Borough.

As it was early and we weren't due to start until 9.45 I decided to get something to drink. I had breakfast before I left for work but I was extremely tired as I only slept for 3 and a half hours. I went to a comedy night in Brooklyn with some friends and didn't arrive home until after 1.45am, due to the train times! I slept around 2.30am and woke up at 6am. I'm an early bird and like to be in bed by 11pm so this was way out of my routine and I felt it. I needed a large strong coffee.

 They have these food trucks, which I like, so bought a coffee and a donut from here. It did the trick because I survived the working day without wanting to fall asleep or feeling exhausted. I think being busy helped too. The majority of the people in the area seemed nice and friendly. They smiled at me and said "good morning" while I walked to the venue.

  I was one of the first ones there so I just had my coffee and donut and spoke to Elliot, my Puerto Rican colleague who I really like to talk to. From where we were, I could see a lot of large blocks of apartments, similar to high rise council flats in England. Elliott explained to me that they are called The Projects. He said its a very hot area, meaning a lot of criminal activity such as drug dealing, goes on there and that's why there are police patrolling the area all the time.
I've been to different areas in Brooklyn, Jamaica Queens and Harlem, but am yet to see projects like the ones I saw in the Bronx. They were so many! I started to think about the people who live in the area and how many problems they must be facing. Many are probably misjudged because of where they live. Some end up living a life of crime because its all they've seen and known growing up. It was heart breaking seeing young girls and boys walking round acting so thuggish and with tattoos all over their bodies that looked like gang affiliated tattoos.

I guessed that we were going to get a lot of clients with serious legal issues and I wasn't wrong. All of the cases I dealt with were really heartbreaking. We do consultations for 45 minutes each but spent nearly an hour and half with the first client because of the severity and complexity of her issues. She cried a lot but I had to be tough not to show emotions because two people crying will not get us anyway. I've really learned to keep emotions under control because they can cloud my judgement when making decisions or being focused on how best my help the person. All I can say is that it's really only God who has kept her alive up until this point from all that she's been through.

Other clients had issues that I've only ever watched in films about life in the ghetto and the hood. Having someone in front of you going through it shows that these problems never went away and they very much still exist today and even on a worse scale. They're people living in grave conditions and not by choice, in the country known as "the land of a free".

The highlight of the day was with one of clients who had a consumer protection issue. Beforehand we were told to be careful and call for back up if needed because he supposedly had a mental health problem and was "acting strange". Well he was one of the most organised and well prepared clients having all documents relating to his issue for years. He said "momma didn't raise no fool!" That made me laugh.
During the consultation he stopped and asked me, "how do you control your speech?" He had a speech impediment which is why people thought he was acting strange because of hand gestures and ways he forces the words out. I know because I used to stamp my foot and bang my hand on the table when trying to get words out. My eyes and mouth would twitch or I'd move my head in a certain way to try and get the words out. So to others you look strange, but you're not. You're just trying to find ways to speak fluently. It takes one to know one!

None of my other colleagues knew I had a speech impediment up until this point because of the control, some assumed I was just nervous or limited in my vocabulary LOL! Anyway, I gave him tips that work for me and it was nice to be able to share and give some sort of help to someone about something which I always held as a disgrace and shame for me!
To be continued..

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