Smidgen of hope

The drug dealers around the corner work long hours, rain, snow or shine. Sometimes they purposely look away when I walk by. Sometimes they say hello/hi/good morning or “Do you have a light, ma’am?”, to which I respond, “No! I don’t smoke. And you shouldn’t either!”. Sometimes they look like hardened criminals with their lower orbital tattoos. Sometimes they look pitifully vulnerable sipping on a Capri Sun. If you’re sipping on a Capri Sun, I’m gonna have a hard time taking you seriously. Victor is one of the local dealers. I met him a year and a half ago.

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Smidgen of hope

Dog sitting vignettes

One of my favourite things about living in North Philly is the constant exchange of cultures. I love when friends from other neighbourhoods visit so I can watch their reactions to a foreign environment. Moreover, I enjoy watching my neighbours’ reactions to my non-North Philly friends/visitors. There was a point last year when I was probably unhealthily addicted (redundant adverb?) to culture shock. I think that has subsided for now. On various occasions I have had the pleasure of witnessing some cultural exchange transcended to the dog world.
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Dog sitting vignettes

Health Education Inside and Outside Philly Schools

My neighbours, McHale (15) and Yahsair (13) came over the other evening. The three of us ate yogurt with granola for dinner.

M: Yahsair, you’re gonna like this. It says organic yogurt. And organic granola.
Y: This is delicious. Is granola always like this?
Me: No, this is the sugary kind. That’s why y’all like it. What did y’all learn in school today?
Y: Nothing.
M: People think we learn something new in school each day, but that’s not true.
Me: Sad.
Y: Well, today we had an assembly. There was a woman who came with another woman cop. She was old. She was like 52. She was carrying a big gun. Bigger than the cop’s gun! When her daughter was 16, she went to a party with a friend. There was a joint. She thought it was just weed so she smoked it. Then she died. It was heroin. Continue reading “Health Education Inside and Outside Philly Schools”

Health Education Inside and Outside Philly Schools

Only as an urban resident — Ep. 1

A prequel:

Episode 1 — Lil’ Annikin

Shihiem is the third out of 10 living children born to his mother. Mom started having kids at age 16. Daddies took turns fathering children while taking turns in and out of jail.

At age 4, Shihiem set the curtains on fire. The firefighters came and found him unsupervised with one infant sibling and one toddler sibling. The state was concerned, and that is how the first five kids ended up in foster care. Continue reading “Only as an urban resident — Ep. 1”

Only as an urban resident — Ep. 1

Maybe I should have taken grappling lessons

The other day, I texted a friend, “Today my assistant put a kid in a headlock while his grandmother straddled him so that I could remove his tooth. Horrible experience!”

She responded, “Headlock and straddling? Taken out of context, I’m pretty sure I could have you all arrested.”

Lawyer friends are the best!

Alas, not all children are well-behaved. Not all adults are well-behaved either. (Stupid sin nature!) It is not textbook dentistry to manually restrain children. I hate doing it. I didn’t want to do it. The grandmother pleaded with me to finish her grandson’s treatment. She lay on top of him, restrained his arms with one arm, and plugged his nose with her other hand on her own volition. When it takes 2 seconds to remove a necrotic baby tooth, maybe it’s better to get it done WWE-style, than to be put on a long wait list for general anesthesia, (financed by our taxes?) And, hopefully the Spiderman sticker we gave him helped him forget the trauma.

Sometimes we have to hurt a little in order to heal. I always feel miserable when I have to give someone an injection. There’s a part of me that wishes I could find joy in ALL tasks of my job at ALL times. My generation is supposed to love what we do. Or something. Work to live, not live to work? That’s totally not in the Bible. Anyway, I’ve quickly resolved that if I were to ever turn into someone who actually enjoyed inflicting pain on others, even for the ultimate end of helping/restoring/healing, then it might be time for a career shift.

Maybe I should have taken grappling lessons

Only as an urban resident — Ep. 8

An epilogue of some sorts:

Shihiem does not come to my house anymore. After my neighbours told him whatever they told him to get him to leave my porch, they have spotted him twice pacing around the block and teaching little kids how to punch and kick each other. He showed up at work for a few days after my final porch incident. The last day he slammed doors and flipped some chairs in the waiting room. He is now no longer allowed at my workplace.

He showed up at the local church that Sunday and probably stole the pastor’s iPad. Then he left town. A week later his mom loaded up the younger siblings and their belongings into a U-Haul at midnight on a Wednesday and left town. That subsequent Saturday, the house burned down. Thankfully the firefighters come when called. A problem with row homes is that adjacent homes will always suffer some damage from fire. However, no one was injured (except a cat).

One of my roommies is a story-teller by training and by trade. To quote her, “That is the only way this story could have ended.”

No one wished this would end with exile and fire.

These days we just pray for him. We pray for his mind to heal. We pray for his mom. We pray for his siblings. We pray for them to know Jesus. That’s the only thing we can do for Shihiem. That’s the best thing we can do for Shihiem. That’s the best thing we can do for anyone — to commit people and situations in the hands of the Lord who created, knows, and ordains all.

We believe He calls and brings people home. We believe He makes beauty from ashes.

Only as an urban resident — Ep. 8

Only as an urban resident — Ep. 7

It’s Tuesday morning. I normally wake up 20 minutes before I have to be at work because I can get ready in 12 minutes and walk to work in 6.5 minutes with 1.5 minutes to spare. Today I am up a couple hours early. I text my office manager that I will visit the District Attorney at 9 a.m. to try and file a “stay away” order for Shihiem. I text my team members to give them a heads up. I email my boss and other site managers to let them know my situation. The cascade of emails that follows is supportive and encouraging.

I am thankful I have non-clinical time scheduled this morning, that my employer is understanding with these types of situations, and that missing a couple hours of work does not affect my livelihood.

I arrive at the DA’s office before 9. The nice lady at the raw juice bar tells me it’s locked until 9 on the dot. I order a drink, then hope I don’t have an allergic reaction to the celery in it.

At 9 I take a number and start filling out a form. The nice officer receiving the forms comes out to talk to the couple in line before me. This couple explains they are being harassed by the man next door. He waved a hot barbeque pick in the woman’s face and threatened her, “Imma get you!” He is rude, loud, and involved with drugs. The couple has the police involved, as well as licensing & inspection. They seem to have covered all their bases. They have a police report number. They want to file a private criminal complaint and serve their neighbour [restraining order] papers.

The officer explains that the DA cannot do anything because the man did not actually commit a crime. The threat was too vague. The couple needs to keep calling the police. The couple can try going to L&I again for the neighbour’s housing violations.

I listen to all of this and figure the odds of serving papers to Shihiem are slim. The officer is still willing to hear my story and attempt to advise me.

“Again, we only handle criminal cases, in which a crime has been committed. Harassment is considered a summary, which is less than a misdemeanor.”

Basically there is no prevention, just damage control. Kinda like how nobody flosses. 🙁

“A terroristic threat has to be something like, I’m gonna shoot you, or I’m gonna blow you up. I’m gonna get you could mean I’m gonna get you flowers!”

Note to self: next time someone threatens me, ask him or her to be very specific. 🙁

“You could potentially sue him for damaging your property.”

I love litigation! Riiiiiight. 🙁

“He’s homeless? We can’t serve him papers if he doesn’t have an official address where the cops can find him.”

Afraid of getting served? Just move to the streets! Ugh!

So maybe the purpose of this experience was to empathize better with my community, and endure our broken justice system together. I chose to live here (or God did), whereas many of my neighbours cannot afford to live elsewhere. I know God doesn’t promise perfect justice here on this broken earth. It is unsettling to know that where I came from, the police will come when called, and they are not too busy/overworked/understaffed/tired/jaded to address harassment cases. On the flip side, we’ve come a long way from the guillotine, which is still unfortunately a reality in other places.

Lord, Thy kingdom come!

Only as an urban resident — Ep. 7

Only as an urban resident — Ep. 6

A college mentor once told me that if one wants to sound intelligent in a group conversation, but doesn’t really know what’s going on, one must simply exclaim, “But where do you draw the line?!” preferably in a British accent.

I’m drawing the line here.


I finish crying and resolve to finally draw a boundary between Shihiem and my home, as well as my workplace. He has gotten out of control. Something has to be done to protect my roommates, my neighbours on my block, my coworkers, my patients, myself, and Shihiem.

I look up on the Internet: what is a restraining order, am I eligible for this, and how do I get one for Shihiem?

Somehow my neighbours were able to get Shihiem to leave my porch. I explain to them that we are finished trying to help him. As of now, he is not allowed to loiter or squat on my property. They are all relieved. They don’t like him knocking on our door all the time. They don’t like him kicking the church walls across the street. They don’t like him tampering with our mail. They don’t like him sitting across the street watching my house at night. I tell them I will try to get a “stay away” order. They are happy to help, and they are happy to look out for my roommates and me.

Per the police website, my roommie and I go to the justice center after business hours to file a PFA (Protection From Abuse). The security guard points me to a phone with written instructions. Dial this number. The nice woman on the line tells me that I cannot file a PFA because Shihiem is neither my relative nor my boyfriend. I need to go to the district and file a police report first. Then I need to go to the District Attorney at 9 a.m. in the morning with the police report number to file a private criminal complaint.

I look up on the Internet: in which police district do I reside, what are office hours for the police? (24 hours!)… I’ve learned that not all things that should be obvious or intuitive are necessarily a reality, so why should I assume that the police would be open 24/7?

I am at the district. The nice police officer is taking my info down and filling out a long fancy form.

“So, you were threatened by your boyfriend?”

“Umm. No. He is my neighbour.” (According to the Biblical definition of “neighbour”…)

He sighs, then rips up the form. “I can’t serve papers unless he is a relative or a romantic partner!” Then he pulls out a dinky half-sheet form. On the brink of being annoyed, “Ok, tell me what happened.”

He writes a little narrative: Trespassing, loitering, sleeping on property without owner’s permission, leaving trash on property, damaged property, verbal threat, shows up at my workplace every day.

“Here is your police report number.”

I return home around 11:45 p.m. It’s only Monday. I don’t know how people do this if they had to rely on public transportation.

Shoot. I should have just fibbed and said Shihiem was my boyfriend. Maybe that would have sped up the paperwork. Just kidding.

Only as an urban resident — Ep. 6