By Elizabeth Ellis
I wanted a place to live in at a price I could afford in conditions I could tolerate. Here in America, in our own Twin Cities, I saw walls kicked in, floors buckled from water damage, copper stripped from heating boards, ceilings falling through to the room below, and signs that said, “Unfit for human habitation.”
“What do you know about this place?” I asked the postman walking past.
“What do they call those dogs trained to kill? I forget. They raised them here,” he replied. “There were absentee landlords,” he went on, “lots of evictions, and police calls.”
“What do you know about this place?” I asked a neighbor on yet another city block.
“If you look real close,” he said, “you can see where the bullet hole went in on the corner. Over there. Police presence is pretty high, so response time is pretty fast.”
I asked for crime statistics from the police department of another block I was considering. They told me if the average number of police calls is 68, this block’s number is 203. It didn’t make sense to move into a neighborhood so hardscrabble that others scramble to move out.
For as much as I grouse about these conditions, I remember a European city park where the grass was worn down to pockets of dirt filled with fetid water, littered with dog poop and empty beer bottles. The average life span of an adult male in that particular European country was 58 years: dead from the effects of alcohol and cigarettes. The hacker’s cough of the concierge could be heard each morning following that first cigarette.
And as much as I grouse, I remind myself, “We are five percent of the world’s population,” Colin Beaven wrote in No Impact Man, “emitting 25 percent of greenhouse gases.” And “consuming 30 percent of its resources,” Chaz Davis (Pulse of the Cities) adds.
At a World Press Institute panel discussion of 10 participants from foreign countries who visited America, the woman from Finland asked the audience, “What is it with you [Americans] drinking bottled water? You have perfectly fine water! This is ridiculous.”
“In my country,” the woman from India said, “it is not possible to drink from the tap.”
I was told not to drink tap water in Russia without boiling it for 10 minutes.
A fellow once told me he ran to the bathroom 20 minutes after brushing his teeth with tap water in Africa.
The New York Times (09/17/2010) reported a Roma (gypsy) woman living in Romania with no hot water. As much as I groused about taking a cold shower when the thermocouple went out, I see that woman every morning when I look up into the hot water pouring from the shower head.
She will never know that I give thanks each morning that only fate separates us.
Elizabeth Ellis is the mother of three grown children, a college graduate, a 10-year veteran of the Foreign Service and a native of the Twin Cities. She welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.