Day 172 - Tanya (2nd person I approached)
June 21, 2014 - Bending rules. I’ve always been pretty good at it. I was near the Pacific Central Station at Main Street & Terminal Avenue. This is where trains and busses depart from and arrive in Vancouver. It sits on the edge between new high-rise condos on one side of the street, and great poverty on the other side. Tanya actually approached me.
“Excuse me Sir, I wonder if you could help me out with any change you might have. Anything would be helpful,” she said. I rarely have cash on me. And today, I didn’t even have any bank cards with me. I told her I was sorry that I didn't have any cash.
"Thanks anyway," she says smiling softly. I kept walking. And then I turned around and went back, and asked Tanya if she’d chat with me.
“Sure, but I really need to get $14. I’m trying to get a bus at 6:30,” she said politely. I asked if we could chat while she continued asking for money.
Tanya was born on the Walpole Island Indian Reserve in southwestern Ontario.
“I have two older brothers and one younger sister. One of my brothers has passed away so there’s only three of us now,” said Tanya, then listing the ages of her siblings. She was nervously pulling on the sleeve of a sweatshirt tied around her waist. I asked if she grew up on the reserve.
“Well I lived there until I was seven. But I don't have memories of very much before I was seven years old,” she told me.
“That’s when I was adopted. I remember being in the court and the judge asking us if we wanted these people to adopt us. The judge actually asked us if we would be ok to go live with them. No one had asked us before what we wanted. We said yes,” said Tanya. The family had adopted all four children together.
“They are my mother and father. When I speak about my parents, it’s them. They took all of us in, and raised us and looked after us. They kept us together.” While she chatted with me, Tanya continued to look at people passing us by, hoping to make eye contact. Everyone kept their eyes on the ground, or looking directly ahead. No one looked at us.
The children went to live in North Bay, Ontario with their new family.
“I did well in school. My mother put me in a french immersion school. It kind of pissed me off. None of the other kids had to go to french immersion. But it was because I did so well at school. I was a pretty smart kid I guess,“ she said. We sat down on a nearby bench.
“School was okay. I stayed in french immersion for all of my grades,” Tanya said. After she completed school Tanya went to work for her parents who own a plant nursery in North Bay.
“I worked there for ten years. Learned all about running a business and working with plants and helping my mother. I worked hard for years. It was good, I liked the work,” she said.
After reconnecting with her birth mother, Tanya decided to move to Vancouver.
“I tracked her down and it didn't go well. At all. It was a shit show really. I didn’t know anyone here in Vancouver, and my boyfriend suggested we move out here, so I came to Vancouver with him. That relationship didn’t last though. We kept trying, but things just didn’t work out between us. We do have two beautiful and very smart daughters together though,” she told me. Even though the relationship didn’t work out, Tanya and her ex-boyfriend have remained friends.
“He has my daughters just now. Things got a little messed up and about two months ago, he offered to take the girls with him to Kelowna. That's where he lives now. I’m unemployed and it was just difficult. I’m stuck right now. But as soon as I get a few things sorted out, the girls will be coming home with me again. BC (British Columbia) Housing is trying to help us out. It all just takes time. So meanwhile the girls are with their Dad,” said Tanya. Her daughters are three and two years old. She smiles when she speaks about them. She continues pulling on that same sleeve of her sweatshirt.
“I’m trying to catch a bus at 6:30pm to go to Kelowna to see my girls. But I’m short $14 for the bus fare. I feel bad asking for money, but I have no other way to get there, and I need to see them,” she says, looking around for passersby. We are invisible.
I take Tanya’s picture and thank her for her time. She shakes my hand and smiles.
“It was nice talking with you. I hope you have a nice afternoon,” she says. I start to walk away and Tanya approaches a woman crossing the street toward her.
“Excuse me miss, do you think you,” is all she gets out. The woman doesn’t even look at her, doesn’t stop and gives no reply. Tanya keeps her head up. I have one more question for her, although I feel awkward asking. I don’t want to make incorrect assumptions. I’m sure I know the answer, but I want to be able to say that I asked and that we talked about it. I tell Tanya I have one more thing to ask about.
“Yeah, for sure,” she says. I tell her why I’m asking; it's about assumptions people make under these circumstances. I ask Tanya if she has any substance abuse issues or drinking problems. She shakes her head, and looks me right in the eye.
”No, I don’t have any drinking problems and I don’t do drugs,” she says. My assumption had been right, twofold.
“That’s the thing when you ask people for help. The only thing people do say to me, if they say anything that is, ‘I don’t want to give you my money so you can go spend it on drugs.’ I don’t do drugs. I’m just stuck. I just want to see my children.” #notastranger