By Jen Lee
Yesterday I met my neighbor, Norma. She's Old Slope, a Jamaican immigrant who moved into her building some time after her cousin bought the four-family residence for $27,000. A long time ago.
“I left everything when I came here,” she said. “I had a single suitcase. You think—when you live in other countries—that America is the land of dreams. You think that money will fall from the trees. And then you get here. And you have to buy a fork. I would tell someone else who is coming: bring your forks, bring your dishes. Bring your clothes. Everyone wanted the clothes off my back because they thought I came from an exotic place.”
Where Norma comes from, you don't need a lot to get by if you have the earth. She knows how to grow food and tend animals, but she lives in Brooklyn now, where a simple garden is a luxury—one she doesn't have. Where I'm from, we tend to believe that food comes from grocery stores. To me, hunting and gathering means scouring the Prospect Park farmers market or Union Market for collard greens wide enough to roll around my slices of feta cheese. Times have changed.
During the Y2K anticipation, I worried about my lack of basic survival skills. I'm fairly useless without electricity—even the things I cook are so many rungs up the ladder from survival that I'm not sure what I would do with less. Without fresh parmesan cheese and pitted kalamata olives, I'm practically out of moves. In a way I envy Norma. I would feel empowered knowing that with a little land and a tropical climate that I could get by, grow food, thrive. I would feel as regal as a queen knowing I came to foreign soil with nothing more than a suitcase and built a life.
Due to bereavement, Norma's building has passed through the hands of several relations, and she thinks the current owner may sell it.
“I'll be going to Florida—I have a place there. You got to do these things [buy property] while you're young. Tropical climate is the key—growing season is year-round.” I wonder if Norma dreams of her someday-garden in Florida. I dream of connecting to the earth, but I'm New Slope, so the farmer's market might be the closest I get.