From Country Made to Fair Trade

For the first 18 years of my life, I grew up in a cliché small town where two of the “exciting” Friday night activities consisted of parking your truck in the Kroger parking lot to compare vehicles or taking goofy pictures at Wal Mart. Although there were about 35,000 people in Cleburne, they are all descendents of the original settlers (some people may even be the original settlers to be perfectly honest).  In other words, you could still leave your door unlocked at night knowing that absolutely no one would break in to your home. Needless to say, this made me lack in the “street smarts” department. Thus, my only insights of sustainability, Fair Trade, and global perspective were what I picked up doing community service with various organizations and watching the Celine Dion impoverished children commercials. In other words, I knew little to nothing about the real life issues involved with unfair trade. That all changed when I chose to complete immerse myself in the passionate and powerful culture of Austin.

I have learned many life lessons thus far by simply becoming an Austinite, one of the most eye opening being the terrifying night that I got lost downtown. Two years ago, I was put in charge of writing a concert review for the university newspaper which seemed easy enough. My idealistic plan consisted of attending the music festival then walking a couple of blocks to meet my friends at another concert that I happened to be covering. Easy enough, right? Absolutely…not. Tragedy first struck when I forgot to charge my phone, so the battery was at 10% an hour in to the music festival. Having been a bit of a McGyver fan as a child, I grabbed my faithful red lipstick and wrote down a friend’s number on the back of an index card that I just so happened to have in my wallet and went merrily along my way. Towards the end of the festival and almost five hours later, I realized that I was so famished that it felt as though that nasty thing from Alien was about to pop out of my stomach. I rushed to the concession stand only to find that I had left my debit card back at my dorm. Having inherited my mother’s stubborn nature, I marched onward to the next concert venue and figured that I could always wait until I met up with my friends to get my dinner on. This is when my pride officially ran out and was replaced by my naivety. Upon getting to the next concert, I was dizzy and to the point of dehydration. By this time, my phone had already died, so I became dependent upon the fortunately nice family in line behind me to borrow their phones and water bottles. After five phone calls and three voice mails, I felt less like McGyver and more like McLoser. To this very day I have no idea what possessed me to start walking from 8th back to St. Ed’s, but that’s what I did. The entire time that I walked back in the darkness all I hear was my mother’s voice warning me about the dangers of walking along in a big city at night and how a young college girl by herself was a Lifetime movie waiting to happen. Tired and Terrified, I trudged on hoping for kindness from a stranger in almost an Annie scenario where a Daddy Warbucks type would whisk me away into his limo for food and a ride home. However, kindness came from the unlikeliest of places.

The only person who was nice enough to ask me if I was okay, although I clearly looked frazzled at this point (think Ke$ha after a wild night), was a homeless man on the corner of 1st and 2nd. Having always been taught to give whatever I could to those less fortunate, I dug around in my dress pocket to find a whopping 15₵. I placed the small change in his cup and apologized for not having more. He grabbed my hand and said, “Sit down, sugar. You look like you’ve had a rough night.” I must have looked absolutely frightened at the idea because he smiled and said, “I promise that I’m not trying to trick you so that I can steal your stuff. I just know how it feels to have people walk by you and not care.” I smiled back and told him about my tale and realized how ridiculous it was that I was on the verge of tears because my smart phone died, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and I had to walk a few blocks back to my nice dorm room where I planned to take a hot shower and then curl up in my warm bed.  After I finished explaining my situation, he advised me to walk one more block to the hotel so that I could get bus fare from the concierge. I got up, thanked the man, and left. As I was walking away, he thanked me as well for not ignoring him and giving him the opportunity to help someone else for a change instead of asking everyone else for change.

You may be asking yourself what my story has to do with Fair Trade. In my humble opinion, it all comes back to social justice. During a normal weekday, we greet the day with a cup of coffee and then get ready for work, school, etc by (hopefully) putting on clothes for the day. Do you happen to ask yourself where the coffee currently steaming in your favorite mug, in my case a Halloween Old Navy from circa 2002, came from? We often don’t take the time to think about the unjust working conditions involved. Social injustice often exists in our own homes, and we usually don’t even think about it. It often takes a real world experience to open our eyes, minds, and hearts to the truth about what goes on around in our world, country, state, or even neighborhood. We have this skewed perception of others when frankly we could lose everything just as easily. I am not saying that I’m not guilty of thinking this way at times, but what I am saying is that I am more open to just talking to the homeless people that I walk by every day and more thoughtful before complaining about cafeteria food or Twitter being down because at the end of the day, I know where my next meal is coming from and that I’ll wake with a roof over my head. Everyone doesn’t get that luxury. I think that’s why I’m so passionate about making a change in the world. A ten minute conversation inspired me to help change the world. What will it take for you to do the same?