By Mary Ann Chacko
Early December I saw a trailer parked opposite my apartment building in uptown Manhattan. Soon afterwards, the adjacent footpath was lit up with light bulbs. A few days later, there appeared freshly cut Christmas trees for sale. Initially, I did not connect the trailer and the trees. Since the footpath was adjacent to Rite Aid, a drugstore chain which sells various every day products, I thought the chain was selling the trees. What drew me to the Christmas trees was their freshly-cut intoxicating smell!
Since Christmas is right around the corner, I knew the trees will be gone soon. So a couple of days ago, I took my camera and went for a stroll. While I was walking on the sidewalk taking pictures of the trees, I saw a guy selling a tree to a couple. I reached the scene just as he was wrapping the tree for them. The trees are inserted into a red machine and they come out wrapped in plastic netting.
When I looked up from my camera, I noticed two guys seated under an awning fixed to the trailer. They were watching me. Suddenly it occurred to me that the people living in the trailer were the ones selling the trees. I felt a tad self-conscious and awkward as I was taking pictures without permission. I walked up to the guys to ask their permission. They spoke with a heavy French accent and told me I could take pictures as long as I didn’t turn them into celebrities!
Seeing my University ID card dangling from my neck, they asked, ‘You are not from the press, are you?’ I told I was a student who lived in the opposite building. We got talking and they told me they were from Montreal. That truly broke the ice! I told them of my student days in Montreal and how much I loved that city.
All three of them were French-Canadians and university students who had decided to travel to NYC to sell freshly cut Christmas trees to make some extra bucks for school. They bought the trees from a Christmas Tree farm in North Carolina. Apparently, North Carolina ranks second in the U.S. for Christmas Tree production, behind Oregon.
The three of them intended to get back home in time for Christmas. I asked them what they would do with the left-over trees that didn’t get sold. They hoped they wouldn’t have to throw away any trees. On the 24th, they usually sell the trees on a discount price and were certain that all of them would be sold out.
While they loved NYC, the young men were extremely bothered by the poor waste management in the city. While things were not perfect in Canada, they were very appreciative of the systematic and efficient waste disposal system in Canadian cities. They told me that even the plastic netting used to wrap the Christmas trees bothered them but unfortunately there was little they could do about that.
While we were chatting I noticed a beautiful lighted globe on the table and asked them why they had brought the globe along. They said, ‘Ah! This was found by John (name changed). He is a geographer. He found it in a garbage bin here. The bulb inside the globe had fused and the owner couldn’t even bother to change the bulb! We just changed the bulb.’ They, then, proceeded to find my city of Cochin on the globe. Since Cochin wasn’t on the globe, I introduced them to Trivandrum/Thiruvananthapuram, my capital city.
We spent some time talking about India. I was eager to know what they had heard and read about India. As we were talking, a guy walked up with bags of food, and they said, ‘Spaghetti is here!’ Realizing it was their dinner time, I bid goodbye to them. They told me that the dinner – spaghetti with meat balls and a bottle of red wine – had been provided by a guy who lived in one of the adjacent buildings. They said that many kind neighbors had fed them on numerous occasions.
New York City!! You never ever cease to surprise me!
Mary Ann Chacko is a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her dissertation examines the Student Police Cadet program implemented in government schools across Kerala, India with a focus on adolescent citizenship and school-community relations. She is an Editor of Cafe Dissensus. Read more of her work on her blog, Chintavishta.
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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Gorkhaland’, edited by Dr. Rajendra Prasad Dhakal, Principal, Kalimpong College, Kalimpong, Darjeeling, WB, India.