Monday, July 8, 2013

Northampton: The City of Gluten-Free, Bike Paths and Froyo

Post-Graduation (& Copenhagen) and Pre-Africa.... I spent the past 5 weeks living with my aunt Lida and uncle Billy in Northampton, MA.

Being my normal self, I kept very busy. I had an internship 4 days a week, made new friends, babysat a whole bunch, saw old friends, hiked, swam, biked, read many books and generally kept myself occupied - yet all the while teaching myself to love alone time and free time. I spent many days just reading, biking, cooking - just with me. Free time and alone time are not luxuries I have been accustomed to - yet I learned to love and embrace both aspects during the past 5 weeks.

I leave for Ghana on Saturday the 20th of July. I'm anxious about this trip, yet very excited.

(by the way - the title of this blog refers to noho being veryyy gluten-free fad friendly, wonderful bike paths and really good frozen yoghurt that I am going to miss)

The Internship: Northampton Survival Center  -
*Visit the website for a cool video about the center*

My internship has been an absolute highlight of my trip. The center, which serves as an emergency food pantry for 18 communities in the Hampshire County, is a phenomenal place to volunteer. It serves more than 20 clients daily for monthly packages and sometimes as many as 70 clients a day in November during Thanksgiving time. It is run on both grants and donations - and purchases are usually done at the Food Bank for reduced prices. (Donating money gets a lot more food than donating food - though donating food is always appreciated!) It's a fantastic organization - if you live in the area or are ever here for awhile I highly recommend volunteering for a 2 hour shift per week. I did double shifts four times a week and it was incredible.

Immediately, I was welcomed into the NSC family. Mostly I worked at the Produce Counter, where I served 20-50 clients a day (depending on how busy we were) several lbs of produce. It was all dependent on what we had in stock and what was donated. So some days I was pushing everyone to take squash, kale, tomatoes and carrots and other days I was having to limit everyone to one cucumber, one loose green etc - It all depends. Once you get in the routine it is easy, rewarding work.

There is also a grocery counter which provides canned veggies, canned fruits, peanut butter, canned tuna, canned soups, fresh breads, fresh sweets, pastas/rices, cereal, dairy and meats. It's pretty incredible honestly the amount of support we can provide. Other days I worked in quality control, checking the expiration dates and categorizing things.

Some days are easier than others - there are many wonderful, thankful clients. To make a client happy just makes your day so much better. Sometimes there are long hard days, but a few clients always make it so much better!

I am really going to miss the center - but I know that I will find a way to come back to it at some point.

(Also, now I have learned how to decipher if a produce is organic or not. If it has a 9 it is organic, if it has a 4 it is not organic - a client taught me that!)

Here are two pictures that are not mine - but are from the NSC website.

NOT MY PHOTO : taken from NSC.ORG - Distribution Shelves

(not my photo) Produce Counter with two volunteers

New Friends: Maria
The receptionist, Maria, has quickly become a fast friend. She has been working at the center for 22 years. Born in Puerto Rico, but moved here soon after her marriage at 16, Maria has a spunk for life. Kind, funny and sassy - we got along very well. Maria has certainly been one of the many pleasures of working at the center. Every morning I come in and greet her in Spanish, always asking her in Spanish how to explain something I have forgotten (or never knew) how to say. I managed to say short sentences like "I have pain in my throat" on the day I had a sore throat or "I need to go babysit now." It was good practice - and also made me regret not taking Spanish more seriously in school and learning more of it. No time like the future - minus the fact that I have to learn THAI.

Fiesta: Last Saturday, Maria invited me to come over her house for a party! I joined her and 20 other family members at her house. It was 90 degrees out. Lots of screaming little children outside. There were inflatable pools. Maria, (who is around 70) sat with her feet in the pool and told me her life story. We talked for several hours about family, cancer, language, jobs, poverty, love and loss - it was beautiful. Then we played Jenga together for a few hours, while eating BBQ ribs. Afterward I hung out with Maria's granddaughter Jasmine who is 16 and her great niece Adriana who was 22. They helped me with my Spanish and we talked about casual things. After 5 hours I was exhausted but the party was still going! I thanked everyone for the food and fun and headed on my bike back home.

It was so beautiful to see such a large extended family come together - apparently they do so every week. It was wonderful to be a part of it and to be welcomed into Maria's life.

These are those beautiful moments in life. These friends you make. The stories you collect. When someone tells you their story, and you just listen, it is the most wonderful experience. Maria, whenever I leave the center for the day says, "thank you for your hardwork and thank you for your friendship." It always strikes me as the most beautiful thing. I say the same back to her and then I jump on my bike and ride home. I will miss her.

Extended Family
Living with my aunt & uncle was truly wonderful. Becoming closer to the aunt & uncle I lived with, while also seeing my other aunt & uncle who live nearby was just fabulous!
My uncle is the (elected) City Council President and is very popular in town, so when we go out - we have to go several towns away otherwise everyone will recognize him and want to talk to him. Anyone I tell that I live with Bill Dwight, immediately knows who he is. 

While with Lida & Billy -  (and my other aunt & uncle & cousins) I went to movies, for long walks, long swims, swam laps, talked, read, cooked meals, went out to meals - it was all just fantastic. As much as I love traveling, it was really lovely to spend time with my extended family for a few weeks - all the while having many other experience
Getting to know both sets of aunts & uncles better was really wonderful - and equally letting myself be known. 

Domesticated Jessye & City Biking Jessye
If you know me well, you know I generally preach that I am a terrible cook. One of the things I managed to do in these past 5 weeks was teach myself to cook a few key dishes, throw together some killer salads, and generally feed myself delicious, healthy food. No more Annie's Mac n' Cheese 7 days a week! My favorite thing I made was a laughing cow cheese, sriracha, jalapeno hummus, avocado, tomato sandwich. It tastes a lot better than it sounds, I swear.

I have also decided I LOVE biking. I bike to work, to my babysitting jobs, for errands, grocery shopping & around the neighborhood just for fun. It's so convenient. I love the wind in my hair and face. Sometimes its too hot - but there are some beautiful places on the bike paths. Biking everywhere has been so wonderful.

Thus far - this has been a most wonderful summer. I could not be happier in the post-grad liminal phase. Yes, I will miss Brandeis - but I'm happy with what I'm doing and excited for new adventures!

A bit less than a week in Northampton, then bouncing around for a week+ and then off to Ghana in less than 2 weeks - more adventure blogs to come, stay tuned.

Thanks for reading!

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