Tuesday, May 26, 2009

They still have phone booths, here, although I have not seen anyone use them!

Content to be alive in the moment

Today, as I was waiting for a bus that would bring me home, I noticed the black rounded taxis, the billowing clouds, the wind and sky, still damp from an earlier rain, the doubledecker buses, filled with people from top to bottom, and I was thinking how happy I am to be in this life, this world, this moment in time--and how fortunate. I am beginning to understand the areas that make up my borough, and to know, at least in part, how to navigate my way around them. I am becoming more familiar with the buses, the tram, the trains, and the "tube." I am able to walk up a street and know which one connects to it, and to keep an eye on traffic without feeling like I am going to be squashed flat.

It is the first day of my third week of work. I am beginning to make a bit of sense out of the system here, to understand the documentation, to comprehend the progression of a case through the system. And I am beginning to appreciate the differences here, the way they approach people, with a less authoritarian air, with more of an attitude of support. It is feeling more comfortable, to be a helper rather than a representative of the system, to allow families more latitude to live, to not feel it necessary to micromanage families, to let them come to their own solutions, while offering resources and support. Of course, they receive more economic services here, with less headache and groveling, so much of the stress is relieved for them. Our borough has approximately 330,000 people in it, and there are only 120 families here on child protection plans. It will be interesting, as I learn more, to see if this is dangerously low, or if it is all that is necessary, because the system addresses their needs in a different way.

Yesterday was a "bank holiday," as they call them here, but it didn't carry the particular sentimentality of Memorial Day that we have back home. I explained to my roomate that in Indianapolis, this is the biggest weekend of the year, with the Indy 500, and how everyone would listen to the race on the radio, or attend it in person. I remembered Mom, carefully following the race and marking in the Indianapolis Star who was winning at the end of each 25 lap stretch.

I think that my grieving is getting some room to flow, here, as I am opening myself up to new feelings and experiences. At home, I had shut myself down, a matter of survival, I think, closing out the recurring images that crept into my mind of Mom and Debra, of my last few months with each of them, the way they looked, the fear in their eyes, their progressive weakness and frailty. Each time I encounter an old woman on the train, I see my mother, and I feel sad for a minute. I think it is a necessary step, though, this breathing in and out of grief. Otherwise, I would become hardened and stoic, and that is not who I choose to be. I want to be soft and yielding, open and willing, able to feel, and to be vulnerable, and to risk.

A friend and I went to Camden, in London, this weekend, and happened to walk into a cafe that was too crowded to eat in, but on the way out, I picked up a brochure of coming events there, and was so excited to find that one of my favorite folk singers, Richard Shindell, is playing there June 17th! I came home and, at the urging of my roomate, bought a ticket online, only to discover I had gotten one of the last two tickets! The last time I saw him, he opened for Joan Baez at the Tampa Theater, and I have been a huge fan of his ever since. I am so happy to be able to see him in such an intimate setting, in London, no less!

That is the way my life is flowing, right now, today, with opportunities falling into my path, requiring no massive amounts of effort or control, with my housing situation and job placement turning out to be the perfect fit for my personality and my needs. So I am trying not to worry, to learn to rest, to let things happen, to recognize that it is all good. As my friend Mo always used to say to me, "it'll all work out!"

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Trial by Fire

I finished my first week of work in an entirely new system, a system in crisis not wholly unlike the child welfare system in the U.S., just with fewer formal methods of training and orientation, which is discombobulating at first. It is hard enough to enter into a new job at my age, let alone try to understand a completely new system of paperwork, documentation, and staffing, with few formal methods of teaching these important pieces. Others in my group, who work in different units, are similarly frustrated. It is a system in trouble, a bit shattered, and it is clear that they are in desperate need of new social workers to fill the gaps. I am working in a hospital, Mayday, which has a maternity unit that serves the entire borough, so we deal primarily with pregnant women and newborns. I was surprised that they encounter few egregious abuse cases, the shaken babies and burns and twisted and broken bones with which I have become so familiar in my twenty years of U.S. child welfare work. I am not clear if it is that there are fewer cases of severe abuse here, or if it is that the GPs and clinics and hospital staff are not recognizing the injuries as non-accidental. I will find out more about the trends here as I go along, I'm sure!

The GPs, or doctors assigned to the National Health Service Clinics, have visiting midwifes and health visitors assigned to their practice as well, so most women receive home visits and work closely with nurses who follow them throughout their pregnancy until the baby is born and deemed healthy and safe. Economic services are also easier to obtain here, so women automatically receive child credit and men and women can get job seeker's assistance. Housing subsidies are also provided, and pregnant women receive priority for housing. There is so much I don't yet know about the system and some nights I come home exhausted from trying to absorb all the new information that is coming my way.

Meanwhile I am dealing with the minor frustrations and irritations of adapting to a new way of life. My supposed 24 hour grocery is closed on Sundays, I learned. How can a 24 hour store be closed? Many things are closed on Sundays and most stores, including the mall stores, close at 6 (or 18:00) p.m. You have to prepare and plan things in advance, here. Clothes washing takes longer, most people hang their clothes out to dry, few people have driers. Bus transportation takes time and planning, and you have to learn to carry many things with you that you may need throughout the day, but not so much that your bag is heavy and cumbersome! Three essentials, I have learned, are a jacket, an umbrella, and a map!

I have given up my easy and comfortable and known life for an unknown and uncomfortable and sometimes exhilarating experience. I am anxious at times, excited at others, full of new thoughts and ideas, and not a bit sorry yet!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Becoming a Child

Yesterday I worked my way into the city on the public transportation--a conglomeration of busses, overground trains, and "the tube," as they call it here, London's underground railway system. I felt like a slowly moving and fat rat in a rush of hoardes of faster rats swirling all around me. I am learning to adapt to new ways of thinking and living as I enter into the rhythms here, and I recognized that in a sense I am like a child, here, learning how to act in the new world in which I have placed myself. There is so much I don't yet know and with which I am unfamiliar--the money, the way the busses run, how to transfer from bus to train to tube. I must be willing to accept my ignorance and not feel stupid. I have to remind myself that I am new to this place, that adjusting is a process, and doesn't happen overnight, that I don't have to get it all at once. I must put aside my anxiety and my desire for instant gratification and mastery so common in our American culture, and find joy in the journey, in the experience, in the learning about and exploration of my new world. I'm going to need to learn balance between exploration and retreat, between activity and rest, to give myself time to both discover and process all that I am learning.

Meanwhile, I have already entered into some healthier patterns for myself. Only five channels on my bedroom tv forces me to find more quiet--which gives me more time to think, and to get back to my words on the page. Busses and trains must be walked to and from, and traipsing up and down the hills of my neighborhood is bringing me more exercise and activity. The English eat smaller portions and food is not their primary focus in life, with fewer fast food places and more vegetable and fruit corner markets, and tiny restaurants offering Indian and African cuisine, which includes rice, noodles, beans, and light meats in tasty sauces and stews. No iced tea with artificial sweetener, less coffee, means more water and juices instead. I hope to continue to incorporate these healthier habits as I begin the world of child welfare work next week.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

London Town Day Two--I am having a very difficult time figuring out this blog site and it is taking me forever to post pictures. I am not clear on the concept, I guess. Anyway, today was a great day. We went to London and walked London Bridge and the Tower Bridge. I am constantly amazed that I have been given this opportunity to live in such an exciting place.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

London Town

I arrived in London town this a.m., picked up by a driver and brought to my new little home. It is cute and old and the woman I am living with is full of hospitality and balanced spirit. She showed me around our borough today and got me acquainted with the bus system. My first time on a double decker. The streets are narrow and filled with roundabouts that seem very confusing. Pedestrians have the right of way here--what a novel concept! I saw old Indian ladies in saris walking for blocks and climbing into the buses. I rarely saw old folks walking in the U.S.--if they did, they hunched painfully over their walkers and managed only a few short steps down the sidewalk before they turned toward home. My roomate introduced me to her butcher and to the neighbors across the street. There is a tiny plot of land filled with carefully cultivated flower bushes and newly seeded grass behind the house. Englanders emphasize green living and signs supporting recycling and wise use of resources are everywhere. The streets are filled with people of all colors and nations--mosques on many streets, women in their hijabs, some in burquas, others in saris, scarves, silky and flowing. I fluctuate from anxiety and sadness to absolute wonder that I have made it to this place, halfway around the world, where I have the opportunity to renew my spirit.