Each year, DC’s Adas Israel has focused on an issue of poverty on Martin Luther King Day Weekend. Last year, it was affordable housing. This year, it was food security. A Saturday afternoon discussion with Father John Adams, the president of S.O.M.E. (So Others Might Eat), a successful DC non-profit which provides 1000 free meals a day, as well as supporting other food delivery programs, affordable housing programs and health care and substance abuse facilities, and Alexandra Ashbrook, director of D.C. Hunger Solutions and chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Food and Nutrition. Debbi Wilgoren of the Washington Post was the moderator.
The statistics are appalling, in spite of the extraordinary efforts being made by so many organizations (public and private) in the city. Metropolitan Washington is by far the wealthiest metropolitan area of the country, yet 1 out of 4 children in DC grow up in poverty. The number of families and individuals (including seniors) dependent on food stamps has grown with the recession and not yet sufficiently diminished and cuts in the food stamp (SNAP) programs threaten the food security of many. Even now, it is difficult to make a month’s allocation of food stamps last the month, for all sorts of reasons.
Adas Israel has a permanent food collection drive that benefits S.O.M.E. and there was talk on how to expand that, and also how to provide a place to send left over prepared food after various events held at the synagogue. There was discussion about how to expand the amount of food which is trashed by groceries and restaurants to be send to food providers, a big problem apparently being transportation. The suggestions were many, and typical. But the problems overwhelming, surprising and sometimes hard to comprehend, and all very depressing. How can this be in a country of this wealth, and in an urban area of this wealth?
Look at some of the statistics (from today’s Washington Post), comparing the United States with 30 other countries which belong to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD):
The US is first in GDP and third in GDP per capita. But what this means is that the US is 30th (out of 31) in income inequality!! This explains it clearly – we might have more “rich” people than anyone else, but our poor people are comparatively poorer than those of these other countries and therefore at risk not only for hunger, but for life expectancy (we are 27th) and infant mortality (29th). And, as a matter of public policy (forgetting private efforts), we don’t seem to care, particularly because of the conservative/Republican position that the United States is a land where one can succeed and, as a corollary, where one can fail, and that this is the way it should be. And that this differential has continuing racial implications (the same conservatives/Republicans tend to deny racism continues to exist in this country), and that statistics seem to show that it is easier to move up economically in many other countries than in the US–none of this seems to have an effect on their ideology.
Last night, we attended a performance of “Meena’s Dream”, the extraordinary one woman show written by and performed by Anu Yadav, at the Forum Theatre in Silver Spring. Yadav grew up as a member of a small minority group in Iowa. Her mother was dependent on social security after the death of her father, when Anu was twelve. And Anu as an adult had her own financial problems, where she found herself in need of housing, without any health insurance, and without a stable income.
Now 36 with a master’s degree from the University of Maryland in Performance, Anu based this piece (which I believe was originally prepared as part of a master’s degree thesis) on her own background. Meena is a 9 year old girl. Her father has died, and she is being raised by her impoverished mother. Her mother is ill, and Meena is afraid she will lose her, too. But she is saved (and tormented) by her imagination. A Hindu, she imagines that Lord Krishna, the chief Hindu god, comes to her, speaks to and instructs her, and has denominated her for a special mission, to save the world from the Worry Machine, a continuing task, as the Worry Machine, once it appears, will return and return and return.
Anu plays Meena, her mother, Lord Krishna, the Worry Machine, her schoolmate Judith, the local pharmacist, and others. She also mimes, dances with her feet, dances with her arms, sings, and uses her extraordinary facial expressions. Her performance is beautiful. And, it is augmented by an original musical score written and played by Sam McCormmally and the musician sisters, Anjna and Rajna Swaminathan.
Most single actor performances don’t have the luxury of an original score. But this is not just a simple original score, it is an extraordinary score. First, it is not occasional music, but rather music that continues and informs the entire play, and it is performed with unbelievably tight coordination. It is not background; it is integral. Anu jumps, the music jumps; Krishna appears, his appearance is reflected in the music. The three musicians are multi-talented. The music itself is, I would say, Indian raga with a New Age flair (of course, once again, I speak of music from relative ignorance).
Anu’s talent makes her performance remarkably evocative, of fear, of poverty, of illness. Anyone who gets a chance to see this show, should.
But last night was the final night of its two week run at Forum. But there is more to come. They want to take the show on the road, and are running a crowd sourcing campaign to raise $16,000 to be able to do so. I am sure that they will succeed; they have raised about half of the money on Indiegogo with over two weeks to go.
My guess is you will have more than one more chance to see “Meena’s Dream”. We remarked how well it fed into our afternoon at Adas Israel hearing about food insecurity. “Meena’s Dream” could well become an often played propaganda piece for the anti-poverty movement.