Photo by btm on flickr.
My name is Jodie and I volunteered with Megaphone for about a year. I'm 30 years old and from the Southeast of England and lived in Vancouver for nearly two years. And while I’ve since returned to England, I thought I’d share my experiences in Vancouver with you.
I came to Vancouver for the change, the natural beauty and to meet new and interesting people. One of my first thoughts on Vancouver was how easy it was to feel like you're not in a city. I'm a country girl and I must admit I was a bit worried I'd feel suffocated by city life. I guess many city dwellers would probably use that word to describe small town, country life.
The first time I realized I would not feel suffocated by the noises and the pace of the 'big city' was one afternoon when I went to Coal Harbour to lay on the grass and read. I was looking up at the bright blue sky and could see just the tops of the skyscrapers on Cordova Street; all I could hear was the water lapping, a few sea gulls and some cyclists going by. I remember thinking, who would know I was in a city? Then it started to rain, and I saw my first full circle rainbow circling the tops of those buildings. Beautiful.
The second thing I remember thinking was how friendly and helpful everyone was. My first few weeks here were spent walking around town with my head in a map, and I don't think there was one time where someone didn't stop me and offer time out of their day to give directions or simply have a chat. Us Brits are really friendly when you get to know us (we are - honest!), and would do anything to help another but it can be hard to break that barrier. We are known for keeping ourselves to ourselves, whereas here people seem much more comfortable in inviting themselves in, so to speak.
On the subject of finding my way about the city, one of my most memorable and poignant experiences was accidentally stumbling across East Hastings Street, and wondering what invisible line I had just crossed. I remember the shock and fear I felt at this dramatic change in atmosphere, people and surroundings. This is at stark contrast to how I feel now, after having lived in East Vancouver for nearly two years and been more exposed to the community of the Downtown Eastside.
I can't remember the first time I bought Megaphone, or noticed a vendor and wondered what he was selling, but whenever it was, it obviously caught my attention as I stopped and bought one. The magazine never lost my attention as I've bought every issue since then, and ended up volunteering for the Megaphone office.
After reading that first issue, I felt so inspired by the sense of community and hope, I wanted to get involved somehow. This experience was at complete odds with my day job, where I served wealthy travellers and entrepreneurs in a high end hotel restaurant. I met some kind and interesting people there (and some very challenging ones), but the people I've met through volunteering with Megaphone are the ones who've given me the most to think about.
I've always been very aware of issues of the socially and economically deprived, but the strange thing is I never bought the Big Issue (the street paper in London, UK). I'm not sure why Megaphone jumped out at me, perhaps it's to do with the cultural difference I talked about earlier. Homelessness does seem like a much more visible issue here in Vancouver. It's definitely all around in London, but it seems to blend in much more. I'm not sure if this has to do with the forwardness of the culture here or if it's more to do with the stark contrasts that invisible line creates.
'Contrasts' seems to be a good word to sum up how I see Vancouver. The nature versus the city. The rain versus the sun. The wealth versus the poverty. Something I will take away from my time here will be the powerful reminder that positivity, hope and determination can exist amongst poverty, hardship and deprivation. I came here for the change, the natural beauty and the people. I have certainly had the change I was looking for, the natural beauty of Vancouver will always be imprinted on my mind, and the inspirational people I've met (and read about in that first copy of Megaphone) will always be a part of my experience in Vancouver, the city of contrasts.