August in Howard

Per August 1st, me and Nike –my dear Arryman friend- started volunteering at Howard Area Community Center (HACC), a neighborhood-based food depository. In the past, I’ve done voluntary works for children, but never catered for adults. This experience is a completely new one with anxiousness lurking in every corners. Despite worrying whether my English is good enough, and whether my attitude fits or not, I figure voluntary work might be a good chance to engage in a more extensive and intensive environment with native English speakers. Hence, I agreed to this idea after spending a couple of days sitting on it.

Out from Howard Station to N Paulina st, where HACC is located.

Martha, HACC’s volunteer supervisor, assigned both me and Nike to the “in-take” post. As an in-taker, our task is pretty simple. Every “Food Pantry” day -which are Mondays and Thursdays- I have to sit in front of the computer for two hours and welcome HACC’s clients, which are mainly homeless and underprivileged members of the Howard area community. This step is considered vital for the whole food distribution system mainly because we’re the ones responsible in deciding whether a client is eligible for food distribution or not. There are a couple of things that I and Nike have to consider before giving somebody the green light: whether a client is in their thirty-days distribution window or not (come to early, and a client may be rejected!), whether they bring all required documents to claim their food or not, and whether they act according to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) or not.


HACC’s Staff and Volunteers Working together. 

While checking the clients in, and matching their IDs to the Center’s database, I usually slip a bit of conversation starters to know them a tiny bit better; “how’s your day going?”, “is it hot outside?”, “you seem tired, take a quick breather first”, or a simple “hi”. The response varies, it may range from “Hi how are you”, “good thanks”, or even just plain silence. After several tries with different clients, I figure, my initial-customer-care-smile doesn’t always work which ultimately adds more to my pool of anxiousness. Although most of the times all I got was poker faces, there are also people who greets me from afar and just keep on smiling.  S, for example, got in the in-take room with a one-two step dance move, and hands wide open while saying “how you doin’ young fella? What a wonderful day this is, we’re blessed. There are many things to smile about. Wow.”. For people who are open to conversations, I usually take more time to appreciate their friendliness and share stories with them. I enjoy speaking to them, as they embraced me as their own.

Through years of observation in the area, Martha was able to concur that the different response given by clients are mainly due to the different experience they had to deal with in daily basis. One must be aware that most of HACC’s clients are highly exposed to poverty and domestic violence. Some might even had it worse than others; I’ve met with a jobless client who have 10 children, a client who just got evicted with no place to stay for the night, drug and alcohol addicts, etc. Martha was convinced that a client who has been suffering a lot might have a bigger chance of giving bitter response compared to those who had a relatively lax week. Yet, this might not always be the case, because I’ve also met with a client who just got his ID and documents mugged, but can still smile and give positive response.

View of Howard Area surroundings

Whatever the client’s response is, be it painful silence or warm greetings, I am fortunate to get a glimpse of their live. Their response might not fully express their personality, but it tells stories of everyday struggles and joy of living in Howard. From an outsider’s perspective, Howard might not be much due to its lack of infrastructure –some even consider it to be a “no go” area- but for those living in the area, Howard might be a living organism with its own sociocultural dynamics.

As I reflect back to the client’s stories, I realized that I’ve gained a lot from them while it should’ve been the whole way around. Aside from regaining my joy of meeting new people, I also enjoy being thrown out of my comfort zone. On top of it all, I learned to be more appreciative towards small-scattered details in the first part of my US journey. The people at Howard might have little to survive on, yet they still managed to be thankful. Hence, who am I –rather who are we- to not be so?

A Trip to Baha’i Temple

An introduction: many call me Bam(s), and I am one participant of Arryman Program here, at Northwestern University. This is only my first three weeks in the US. Yes, I haven’t been in the states. But, I am not going to talk about my first impression or experience or culture shock in this post. Maybe in another one. So follow this blog! *wink wink

In this post, I would like to share with you about my recent trip to the Baha’i Temple.

About three weeks ago, my friends talked about the Baha’i faith as we passed a sign written Baha’i temple. I just discreetly listened to them as I knew nothing about the faith. Nonetheless, I still had no idea what it is. And today, I was invited to a little trip to Baha’i Temple.

Baha’i faith appears to be a new stream of “religion”. Its history can be traced back as early as the 1800s, when Mirza Husayn-Ali, known as Baha’u’llah found it in Persia. He was believed to be the latest Messenger of God.

Practising and disseminating the Baha’i faith was not easy. Many believed that Mirza’s teachings were devious. The Persian and Turkish governments, then, exiled him. He was banished to the prison-city of Acre in Palestine in 1868. He passed in 1892.

A year after Mirza passed, the Baha’i was introduced at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, USA. To date, the Baha’i faith has more than 150,000 followers living across the US.

Unlike other popular religions, Baha’i has no clergy. Instead, the faith has elected councils at local, national and international levels who administer the religious affairs. In the US, the Baha’i National Centre is located in Evanston. Yes, a city that becomes my new home.


The Baha’i Temple in Evanston, IL


It was quite easy to get to Baha’i Temple. We just took a purple line heading to Linden and got out at the final stop. Afterwards, we walked around seven to ten minutes following the indication provided.

The temple is so very beautiful. It is surrounded by green and well-maintained gardens (I don’t know how much they spend on the gardens only, let alone the building). The good weather today helped a lot with enhancing the view. Maybe I am a little bit bias here as I love the green scenery. But, the temple seems lush with many green areas covering the majority of its land.


One garden at the Baha’i Temple


One may question what the temple is. The temple is basically open for public. It is used for anyone to contemplate and pray according to their own belief. And because it is designed and dedicated for so doing, one must keep his/her noise level at zero level. Well, you can whisper still tho. There is no sermon or whatsoever related. Instead, they usually do some reading about deity.



Inside the Baha’i Temple


The interior of the Baha’i Temple is mostly filled with red chairs as shown in the picture above. The arrangement is quite simple actually. It is like a classroom if I may say. But, there are a bunch of red chairs situated behind a podium. Perhaps, it is where the elected councils sit during a praying. It is just my guess. I didn’t get a chance to ask that question today.

Part of the architecture remains of a mosque. The temple has high ceiling and tonnes of natural light and doors. In the middle of the ceiling, an Arabic caligraphy imprinted (see picture below).


The high ceiling with the Arabic caligraphy


During my visit, I had a chance to talk with, perhaps, one worshipper, real quick. It has come to my understanding that Baha’i faith seems to acknowledge different religious practices and doesn’t impose its believers to follow certain religious practices. It seems so versatile and open as a “religion”. Afterall, the Baha’i is a unique religious teaching which, still, little do I know.

In case you are interested in learning more about the Baha’i faith, just follow this link.

Please write your thought about the Baha’i faith in the comment section below. That’d be nice to learn together, wouldn’t it? 😉