Thursday, September 8, 2011

Engaging The Marketplace: Sharing @ Blim's Farmer's Market

Blim's Farmer's Market along Granville Street

    This post is coming almost two weeks late! Life's been quite hectic, mostly with work both on-site and at the office, so it's taken longer to write this post than I wanted. Two Sundays ago, I had decided to visit the Blenz coffee shop at West Georgia and Dunsmuir street in downtown Vancouver. It was among the most extensively vandalised stores during the riot that followed the final game of the Stanley Cup last June. During the course of the night, all it's windows were smashed, the interior destroyed and systematically pillaged over two hours, while the manager and an employee locked themselves in a room in the back. The store collectively incurred in excess of $50,000 of damage and stolen equipment. It has taken more than two months to renovate and restore this coffee shop to a point where it can open for business once more.

    I was happy to see the boarding gone from their store, and wanted to say so. So as I did before with The Bay, London Drugs and Chapters, I wrote a card for the management and staff, and visited them in the afternoon, hoping to listen to their experience during the riot and their reflections about what had happened to them. However, the manager and employee who had been in the store during the riot were not there, so I left the card with the barista on shift, ordered myself a hot chocolate and looked around the shop. Everything in the shop, I was told, was brand new. There were lots of flowers from well-wishing customers, and a comment board that had been written on. Here are some photos:

The Blenz Coffee at W Georgia and Richards

The entrance to Blenz

The comment board

The newly-renovated interior
     I wandered out onto the street sometime later, wondering if I could engage someone in conversation about life and faith, as I had done before. It was while wandering up Granville Street that I came across a section that had been closed to traffic, and housing a small summer market with a number of stalls. Out of curiosity, I began wandering through them, and suddenly came upon one that caught my eye, titled "The Studio", with the words "Downtown Eastside Studio Society" below it. It turned out to be a non-profit arts workshop and publishing house, exhibiting the works of emerging writers from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, who had/were "facing facing social barriers such as mental illness, addiction, and homelessness to undertake creative writing projects and publish their work into  books." Two such writers were at the table, Chantelle and Melanie, with their facilitator Aaron, who I had the privilege of taking a photo with and have posted below:
With Chantelle, Aaron and Melanie at The Studio
     In the process of conversing with Melanie and Chantelle and looking through a book on sale that contained the works of writers from The Studio, I had the privilege of listening to Chantelle's story, as she recounted how she had emerged from a life involving drug usage through the help of an Anglican church located downtown. As we talked, we shared our thoughts on life, evil, faith, sin and the need for a God to rescue us from the evil that resides in us. I came away both humbled and happy, but also saddened, as I pondered the brief details of her story that I had had the privilege to listen to. Over and over again, it seems to me that those who profoundly understand the power of the Cross and the Gospel seem not to be those who have lived comfortable and "safe" lives, but those who have encountered the power of God in the most wretched circumstances and experienced firsthand both the depth of evil that lies in the human heart, and their redemption from it. I hope I have another chance to speak with Chantelle and other writers facilitated by The Studio, and listen to their stories and perspectives on life.

     Wandering up the market, I stopped by another stall that said "Trudy Ann's Bombay Masala Chai". Interesting, I thought - an Indian tea enterprise in the middle of a farmer's market? I was in for a surprise. One of the ladies behind the table, serving samples of tea to curious visitors turned out to be the namesake of this little enterprise, the "Trudy Ann Tellis" of the business. As always happens when two Indians meet, we inquired as to each other's backgrounds, and I was stunned to discover that she was from Mumbai, the same city that my mother had grown up in. As also always happens when two Indians meet and find commonalities, this led to lots of storytelling and reminiscing, all done while she poured me consecutive samples of the different types of chai tea being sold. "Auntie Trudy" (who inquired if I was Christian, and subsequently informed me that she was Catholic) and her friend Mital, the other lady at the stall, were most kind and conversational, and I ended up buying a packet of Fennel Chai Tea, and signing up for both their music and tea mailing lists, as Trudy Ann's sons happen to be professionally performing jazz musicians. I visited her businesses' website, which turned out to be wonderfully designed in a manner that evoked fond memories of India, and a biography of Trudy Ann. It can be found here. I look forward to meeting them again, and buying more tea!

Mital and Trudy Ann at Trudy Ann's Bombay Masala Chai

Trudy Ann Tellis' biography, from the website
     In all, it turned out to be a most interesting and thought-provoking Sunday afternoon. I came away feeling that as much as I had set out with the intent to share my faith with the people of downtown Vancouver, it seemed that I had been the one who had been shared with, and loved. See you in the next post!