A City is When

A City is When

We asked the 2010 HNGR interns who lived in an urban or peri-urban environments to reflect creatively on their 6 months living in a city of the Global South. This is what they said:


A city is when taxi drivers provide daily entertainment, conversation, and wisdom.  A city is when I have 20 million neighbors.  A city is when one can commute by taxi, bus, subway, or on foot--all of which encounter heavy traffic. –Chris

A city is when your alarm clock becomes the drum-like beating of a stick on a gas can as the gas-truck drives by your apartment.  A city is when the voices of newspaper-hawkers, street vendors, car horns, revving engines, and the whistles of potential public transportation passengers harmonize into the background music of your life.  A city is when you hear screams on the street at night, and the last thing you think of doing is leaving the safety of your second-storey apartment to see what the problem is.  A city is when you see men high on glue looking through dumpsters for food, recyclables, and more glue.  A city is when a 15-year old girl with 3 knife scars on her face, a mom strung out on drugs and a 1-year old baby in need of diapers asking you for money.  A city is when the only breath of fresh air within walking distance is the plaza principal, where overly-manicured lawns and gardens provide a tiny bit more oxygen than usual.  –Amy

A city is when your snot is black from breathing in pollution.  A city is when you're alone in a crowd of people.  A city is when you walk fast and act like you know where you're going.  A city is when the woman on the street selling apples and oranges out of a grocery cart calls you "Sister" because you wave and say hello every morning even though you look nothing alike. –Hilary 

A city is when more jobs are available.  A city is when everything is convenient.  A city is when the food doesn't taste as good because it doesn't come from your own cow or garden and it isn't cooked in a wood-burning stove. –Allison

A city is the sharp juxtaposition of wealth and poverty.  A city is when the 'haves' ignore effectively ignore the growing neighborhoods of 'have-nots' around them, while the 'have-nots' do not have the luxury of doing the same to the 'haves.'  A city is when you follow aggressive pedestrians, not street signs, if you ever want to cross a street.  A city is opportunity, met and unmet.  A city is walking in fear of violence and your neighbor.  A city is high-end malls next to sprawling slums.  A city is when seven year-old street vendors obligatorily sell candies. –Abby

A city is when you fall asleep to Hindu worship music and wake up to Muslim calls to prayer. –Heather

A city is when an hour commute is considered short.  A city is when the rich and the poor are neighbors, but have never interacted. A city is when everyone has moved there for jobs, but there are none available.   A city is when people escape violence to violence.  A city is when everyone comes from somewhere else.   A city is when it’s sunny but you can't see the sun. –Catherine

A city is when the pungent scents of garlic and fried fish mix and blend together in the early morning hours.  A city is when you search for quiet and find it in the unlikeliest of places.  A city is where modernity meets post-colonialism. A city is riddled with pain, aching and groaning for restoration.  A city is when a trip to immigration turns into a round the world adventure.  A city is when you understand far less than you think you do or sense you should.  A city is walking down the street hand in hand, kicking up dust with your sandals. –Sarah

A city is when compacted colors of painted cement become your daily palette.  A city is when your lungs learn to breathe smog and car exhaust.  A city is when the sky is the limit yet the shanty slums fall to the ground. –Christine

photo by Erin Olson, Maputo, Mozambique

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