Friday, January 2, 2015

Humans of New York

I discovered this Facebook page last year, and I'm in love with it. This page draws me in with its realism. The basic concept: a man walks around New York and asks people if he can take a picture and asks a few questions. He leaves us with a photo and a quote. Sometimes it's heartbreaking. Sometimes it's joyful. There are love stories interwoven with tales of crime, abuse, and heartache. There is diversity. There are celebrations, personalities, and a hundred million stories waiting to be told.

Here is a random selection of some of my favorites. (The photographer traveled abroad earlier this year. Some of my favorites are from that adventure.) (And sorry about the inconsistent fonts in this post. I couldn't figure out how to standardize them! Aiiii!)

“I want to be a hematologist. That’s a blood doctor. Well not a blood doctor, exactly. But a doctor that finds cures for blood diseases.”
“How’d you decide on that?”
“We were dissecting frogs in class and learning about how the blood flows through the body. And I went home that night and wrote an essay. And it wasn’t like any other essay I’d ever done. Normally when I write essays, it takes me a long time, but this was the fastest essay I ever wrote. So the next day I was asking the teacher mad questions, and she was like, ‘You know you can get a job in this.’ And she pulled it up on the internet, and was showing me all about hematologists.”

“I was the youngest in the family. I went to Israel first, and the rest of the family was supposed to join me. Nobody made it. We sent letters to each other for the first few years. The last letter I got from Poland came in 1941. It was from my mother. It asked me to send food. Then the letters stopped. I knew that the Germans had occupied Poland, and I heard rumors about the things that were happening. I never learned the specifics of what happened to my family. I never wanted to.”


“My father came from Nicaragua and got a job as a construction worker. My mother immigrated from Puerto Rico and got a job as a cleaning woman. One day he was working high up on some scaffolding at an office building, and he saw her cleaning inside, so he knocked on the window. And here I am.”

"After they beat me, I heard shots. And I walked to the shop next door, and found my neighbor dead on the floor. He was one of the nicest men in the town. Every day he would put out food for the cats. I would tell him: 'You must stop feeding the cats, they are overrunning my shop.' But he would never stop feeding them. He would tell me: 'I have to feed them. Or they will die.'"
(Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan)

“It’s tough to take the right steps when you grow up in this neighborhood. It’s hard to get up and go to school everyday because you see so many other kids who are dropping out, and they still figure out a way to handle their business. A lot of kids around here don’t get any support from their family. So everything is on them. If you have a backbone of support, it’s easy to take your time and go from A to B to C to D. But when you’re looking out for yourself, you’re in a hurry. You’re looking for a way to get from A to D.”

“I’m trying to raise my daughter with the same values that I learned in Jamaica, but it can be hard to instill gratitude and appreciation when we are surrounded by such abundance. When I was growing up in Jamaica, every time I wanted something, my grandmother made me go through the same list of questions: ‘Why do you want it?’ ‘How much will it cost?’ ‘Is it going to make your life better?’ There wasn't enough money for things we didn't need, so we were always forced to ask those questions-- even for simple things like a new pair of shoes. The necessity of that ritual really helped create a deep appreciation for the things we had.’"

"Do you remember the happiest moment of your life?"
"One day, I was sent home from my final exams because my mother had not been able to pay the registration fees. On the way home, a man came up to me and asked what was wrong. 'Nothing,' I told him. He asked me again. So I told him that I'd been sent home from school. He then gave me the money I needed to take my exams. I'd never seen him before, and I've never seen him again."

(Entebbe, Uganda)

“What’s surprised you most about being a parent?”
“The feeling of being called ‘Dad.’ It’s the best feeling on earth. The first time my daughter called me ‘Dad,’ we were playing hide and go seek. I was pretending that I couldn’t find her, and I kept searching and searching, until finally she screamed: ‘Dad!’ It almost made me cry. It made me feel like Superman.’”

(Nairobi, Kenya)

"I was going to one of my first exams, and suddenly there was a bombing. In downtown Damascus! I couldn't believe it! I didn't think this was possible. Windows were broken everywhere, and there were people on the ground, and the sounds of ambulances. Then over the next few weeks, everything changed. The taxis in the streets were replaced by tanks. You no longer knew who was your friend and who was your enemy. Suddenly you could be killed, and nobody would ask why. Before war, you have rights. People will ask why you were killed. When war comes, nobody asks why you were killed anymore." (Erbil, Iraq)

"I'd been studying German for a few years, and I met this woman who gave me the opportunity to go to Germany for a full year. The brochure looked very nice. The program included hikes, volunteer work, singing in church. It was very expensive, but my family thought it would be a great experience for me, so all my relatives chipped in to pay the program fee. I was so excited for months. On the day that I was supposed to leave, I went to the airport, and waited in line to check my baggage. When I got to the front of the line, they told me that my ticket was a forgery. When I tried to call the woman's phone, it had been disconnected."

(Nairobi, Kenya)

"They sometimes ask me about their grandmother, and I only tell them about the good times. I don't want to worry them with all the things my mother and I had to go through when I was growing up."
"What's your fondest memory of your mother?"
"We were so poor that every day she'd have to go out and try to find us some food. And on the days when she came home empty handed, she'd help us forget our hunger by putting on music and dancing for us."

(Jinja, Uganda)

"I'm bringing leaves to my friend!"

"When I was thirteen years old, government troops passed through our town when they were fleeing the rebels. At first I heard the gunfire, and then they came into our house and took everything they could. I was hiding under the bed. I heard them say they were going to kill my mother. One of them took off all my sister's clothes. But at the last moment he was pulled away, because the other soldiers told him there wasn't time for that."

(Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo)

"I'm coming up on five years of never missing a Sunday."
"How have you changed during those five years?"
"Before I met my creator, all I did was smoke and drink and party. Then five years ago, my aunt dragged me to church with her. I started following God, got off the streets, and stopped hanging out with my old friends. Church helped me to surround myself with people who were committed to changing themselves."

"He's only five years old, but he acts like an old man. Just now, he was just telling us that he was tired of our immature jokes. He doesn't even like to play. After school, he usually comes straight home and reads."

(Nairobi, Kenya)

"I'm losing my eyesight. It's a condition called retinitis pigmentosa. It starts with your peripheral vision and moves inward. It's not too bad for me yet. Sometimes I don't notice when somebody is trying to shake my hand. And sometimes it can be hard for me to keep track of what line I'm reading. But I got the disease from my father, and he went completely blind in his 40's. So I try to spend as much time as possible looking at things like the colors of the leaves and cool cloud formations."

"My happiest moments were when my mom was still alive."
"What's your fondest memory of your mother?"
"One time when I was six years old, we went to pick up my father at the airport. On the way, my mother explained to me the concept of boarding a plane and taking a trip. And then while we waited for my father, we sat in a nearby restaurant, and we planned out all the imaginary trips that I wanted to go on."

(Nairobi, Kenya)

"If I'm ever arguing with her mom, I just look down and remind myself that this beautiful woman gave me this beautiful child. And this child doesn't care who's right or who's wrong, all she cares about is that mommy and daddy are there."

"She shares her yogurt with me."

(Nairobi, Kenya)

“One time we were spinning with blankets on our heads and we spun into the TV!”

"What's your largest goal in life?"
"To find my children. They are five and seven. I told them I was taking a short trip to Juba, and I'd be back in a couple days, but then I got stranded by the fighting. They were crying so loud about my leaving, I had to sneak away while one was playing and one was sleeping. That was almost a year ago. I haven't even been able to hear how they are doing."

"Some people still prefer the arranged marriage, especially in the countryside where tradition is still strong. The thought is that your parents know you very well, and will make the decision based on experience and not emotion. The divorce rate with arranged marriages is lower, because both families are heavily involved and there are many people committed to making the match work. But the tradition is on the way out. It used to be that you didn't even see your wife until your wedding day, and you fell in love after your wedding, as you learned to support and care for each other. But today there's Whatsapp and Facebook, so keeping two people apart is almost impossible. 'Love marriages' are becoming much more popular than arranged marriages, and even arranged marriages involve much more interaction than they used to. Many families still choose to uphold the appearance of an arrangement. Their children will come to them and say: 'I fell in love.' And they'll say: 'OK, let us arrange it.'"

(Jammu, India)

"I can't see, so he guides me. Whenever I make a sound, he will come running. He reads to me. He cooks for me. And he got the second highest ranking in his 6th grade class."

(Nurpur, India)

"He found me and my son on New Year's Eve, sleeping in a construction site. We'd been forced out on the street after my husband abandoned us. He said: 'You shouldn't live like this, come home with me.' He let us live with him for months, and he never asked me for a thing, and he very good to my son. Sometimes I'd come home and find him carrying my son on his shoulders. After a few months, we developed romantic feelings for each other."

"When I was fourteen, I had a friend over to my house and we were sitting on the floor of my closet making jewelry. My mom poked her head in the room and asked us what movie we wanted to see that night, and we said 'Brokeback Mountain.' She said we were a little too young for that, and suggested an animated movie instead. My friend started laughing at my mom and calling her lame. I joined in, even though I actually really liked animated movies. When my mom came back with the showtimes for Brokeback Mountain, I noticed that she was sniffling and her eyes were red. We saw Brokeback Mountain that night, but I've never wanted to watch it again."

"When I was fifteen, I was raped by three boys while competing at a gymnastics tournament. I was so ashamed, that I stood on a train track, and waited for the train to come. At the last moment, I tried to jump away. I woke up after a month. It was the middle of the night, and I could immediately tell that something was missing. I started feeling all over my body, and that's when I realized that I'd lost my arm. Now I counsel teenagers who have been diagnosed with HIV. I'm normally the first to meet with them after they get their results. I try to explain to them that there's a way out of even the most impossible situations."

(Odessa, Ukraine)

“I grew up on an island off the coast of Honduras, and I came to America on a banana boat when I was very young. I’m the superintendent for some of the apartment buildings around here. I always try to collect the clothing and junk that the tenants throw away, and every couple of months, I pack it into barrels and send it back to Honduras. I especially try to find medical equipment. If a crippled man in Honduras has nothing but a stick, a crutch will change his life.”

“I met my dad for the first time when I was fifteen. I visited him in Trinidad for two months during the summer. He met me at the airport and acted like he missed me more than anything else in the world. He ran up to me and lifted me in the air and started kissing me and saying how much he missed me. He carried all my luggage, and gave me money, and stopped by the supermarket on the way home to buy me all this food. He was introducing me to his friends like he was so proud of me. He’d say: ‘Look at my beautiful daughter,’ and things like that. It actually got me imagining how nice it would be to have a dad. Then at the end of the day, he dropped me off at my grandmother’s house, and I only saw him two or three times for the rest of the summer. The last night I was with him, he got really drunk, and he told me that I’d been a mistake. He was laughing when he said it, like it was a joke, and I should think it was funny. I pretended like it didn’t bother me, but it did. I thought: ‘So is that why you never wanted to visit or talk to me all these years?’”

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