My neighborhood is home to many East Africans, and from time to time I'm struck by clues to their more community-oriented upbringing. A young woman once approached me on the platform for directions and addressed me as "Sister," which I found lovely.
I can also sense a close community ethic in the way the women are more trusting of their children and strangers. I have more than once helped a woman with small child struggling down the El steps, and given the choice of me taking the bags or the baby, they usually opt for the baby. This isn't carelessness on their part; it seems more like a trust: who would hurt their child? We look after each others' children, right?
Tonight I saw a woman in a bright robelike outfit crabwalking down the steps. She was holding onto several plastic grocery bags that took both hands, and was also trying to lead her little son down the steps, bent over to hold his hand. It made for slow, exhausting going.
"Can I help?" I asked. She nodded.
"Bag or baby?"
She pointed to her son, who looked to be about 2. He was adorable, holding onto a lollipop.
I'm not a mother, but I do know that a lot of kids don't take well to strangers just grabbing them, so I smiled at the boy, held my arms out, palms up, and made the "come, come" motion with my hands, to see whether he was up for it. Let him come to me.
Up went the arms, on went the big smile, and we were off.
"Wheee!" I chanted softly as we went down the stairs. The boy was fascinated with me, and smiled at my face the whole time. He was really adorable - all sturdy. I marveled at how trusting he was, and his mother was, and I thought, "This is the way it should be. People should be able to trust each other. This is normal." The mother kept saying, "Thank you," but as I walked away, waving to the happy baby, I felt like I should thank her that, in a world where I carry a ring of keys to keep my belongings safe, where I go nowhere without locking up or being on my guard, I got to feel for one staircase length what it would be like to live in a nicer world.