I want to share with you my life in the Downtown Eastside.
How do I do that? If you cannot hear the sirens, smell the urine, see the faces, meet the names and feel the heaviness in the air?
Being here in the Downtown Eastside is a holistic experience: mind, body, and spirit.
In the am when I awake (I don’t have an alarm, I let God wake me, or a few times my roomies have acted on God’s behalf, haha) I stretch out, check the time (usually around 6am) and remove the ear plugs, the sounds of the streets come crashing in, oh gosh! Good morning.
I jump out of bed, shake out my slippers (you never know what might have spent the night) and grab my pink polka dot house coat, if my heater didn’t make through the night it is very very very cold (my widow is single pained and held in by packing tape).
First order of business: pee! As I shiver on the toilet, no heat in the bathroom, I consider crawling back into bed.
Next I go and switch the breaker so that I can get some heat (I normally do this about 5 times before giving up and just start praying that God would heal my electrical outlets). I go over to my roomies room (who generally are still asleep (maybe I should be?) and plug in the hot water kettle (peppermint tea solves all my problems: it wakes me up, warms me up and settles my tummy). As I wait for the water to boil, I put on worship music and stretch out with yoga.
If I have time I will take a few moments to just be silent before God (this is ideal), but usually I am scrambling to put clothing on, make it down the stairs, and to breakfast (which is about a 3 minute walk away at a Salvation Army Rehab). I look forward to my breakfast every morning: hot porridge. Some may not appreciate porridge, but I love it! I take some nuts to add protein and I enjoy every last bite, mmmmmmm.
After breakfast I go back to room to spend time with Jesus for about an hour, and then it is another scramble to get out of the door and to school. Every morning (except Wednesday, we go to St. James for liturgy, this a new experience for me, not my favourite, but it is good to try something different) we start with praying the Bible (we walk in a circle and read the Bible out loud, sounds strange, but it grows on you).
The rest of the day is filled with classes (Who Is Jesus? Can You Here Me? Biblical Interpretation, Evangelism, Consistent Life Ethics, God’s Story, Memorizing the Bible, Celebrate Recovery, and Deliverance) and/or Drill (think P.E.), volunteering (I am working at a thrift store), or Squad (the girls get together, drink tea, share, and pray for each other). In the evenings I am at either League of Mercy (we go visit people and take people out for tea), Re:cre8 (a street café), Knee Drill (like a church service, but don’t tell the Whites I said that), Caribou Hill Temple (a church service), Life Force (we walk the streets and ask people if they want prayer) or Cell (Bible Study). In the in between I try to do homework, rest, meet with friends and do all those random to dos that we all have on our lists. We have full days; generally they are good days, not always fun, but usually fulfilling.
In the pm (I try to be in bed before 11pm) I hit the springs (really, I can feel almost every spring in my mattress) and I pray that God would protect me from the bed bugs (“don’t let the bed bugs bite” has a whole new meaning!), cockroaches, mice, evil spirits, and any other harm, I put in my pink ear plugs, because the sirens and partiers have not got the memo: it is bed time! And I hope that my heater stays on through the night (to be honest I am mostly concerned about my orchids, they are freezing to death!).
Isn’t interesting that I started this post off trying to“share my life with you” and I ended up by giving you a description of what I do. I do therefore I am. This is a similar to how when we meet people we most often ask “what do you do?” We are defined by what we do. I am a busy busy War College student. It used to be (and in some cultures it still is) that we were defined by who our family was (specifically our fathers) so I would be Maria the daughter of Paul Bulk. Also, where we were from so I would be Maria Bulk of Victoria (or the Downtown Eastside, when does a place become home?).
I did not intended to write a blow by blow account of my day, but I think it does demonstrate that it is very difficult to share with you what it is like to be in the Downtown Eastside… so you will just have to come and visit (though even visiting will not give you the whole experience, so you should join War College! (Though I think that being here for only one year will only take me so deep, to truly become part of this community I would need to make a long term commitment)).