AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: a big week for talkers and listeners.
This Thursday, millions of Americans will gather with family and
friends to celebrate Thanksgiving -- or "Turkey Day," as many call it.
That's because a roasted turkey is the traditional star of the holiday
meal, usually served with extra helpings of the latest family news.
This year, a nonprofit group that collects oral histories for archiving
at the Library of Congress is urging Americans to start a new tradition
-- a National Day of Listening. StoryCorps is inviting people to set
aside one hour on the Friday after Thanksgiving to record a
conversation with an older relative or someone else important to them.
The interviews can be uploaded and shared at a Web site,
RS: You don't have to be a trained
sociocultural anthropologist to be a good listener, but it probably
helps. Kath Weston is a professor in the Anthropology Department at the
University of Virginia in Charlottesville. And she is the author of a
new book, based on five years of riding cross-country buses and
listening to people talk about lives of poverty.
AA: Her book is
called "Traveling Light: On the Road with America's Poor." The Census
Bureau says the nation's official poverty rate was 12.5 percent last year, or 37 million people. Experts are
predicting an increase as a result of the current economic crisis.
Reporter Jesse Dukes recently talked with Kath Weston. They rode a bus
operated by Greyhound, the largest intercity bus company in North
JD: So the driver takes our tickets, we get on the bus, find seats and settle in.
"We're scheduled to arrive at our main station in Washington, D.C., at
seven twenty-five p.m. The use of electronic devices is done so with a
personal headset ... "
JD: Once we get moving, she tells me she
wanted to write a book on living poor in the world's richest nation. As
far as setting the book on buses -- well, bus tickets are relatively
cheap, so if you are living poor and you have to travel, you're likely
to take the bus. And while Weston does write about the causes of
poverty, she's was more interested in talking to people living their
KATH WESTON: "You know, I really did want to emphasize
the motion. When you talk about it as living, I mean that is what
you're doing, you're living. And how do you live? Those are the kinds
of things that I'm interested in."
JD: Weston likes that bus travel
is a chance to meet all sorts of people traveling for a variety of
reasons: people migrating to find work, people visiting relatives or
traveling to a political rally. She met a young Latino, traveling to a
job, who gets hassled because he can't understand an English-speaking
She stood in long lines for hours or shared food with strangers, or babysat while they went to the bathroom.
One of her more telling anecdotes is about T.J., a young African-American man travelling to Oklahoma for a new job.
WESTON: "So we start talking to him, and he says: "Well, I'm traveling
because I have a new job in food processing.' And food processing turns
out to be a kind of euphemism for working in a meat-packing plant. In
the course of the conversation, it becomes evident that T.J. had no
food with him on the trip and he had no money for food on this trip
that was going to take more than twenty-four hours.
then when we get to a rest stop, there's a counter there where they're
selling soft tacos. And the guy from the front of the bus and his wife,
both of them are Mexican-American, they come back with this whole bag
full of soft tacos and they give it to T.J. and say 'Please take this.'
And he's hesitant, but he's hungry, and he does eventually take them.
And then he says to them 'gracias' [thank you], and this is a guy who
doesn't speak Spanish basically."
JD: "So he's making a gesture."
KATH WESTON: "So he's making a gesture."
likes the story because it shows how riding the bus, which a lot of us
think of as uncomfortable, can also bring strangers together. But like
most of the stories in the book, it also helps her make a sociological
She says poverty and wealth are relative. And, for
example, although America is a very wealthy country, the income of the
bottom twenty percent actually fell during the boom of the nineteen
KATH WESTON: "And it was not lost on any of us, the
irony of this kind of situation. You know, here he is in a position,
he's going to pack the food, but he can't afford to buy any and he
can't afford to eat it. So what does that say? That's a story about
relative poverty. What does it mean that these are the people who are
basically supplying and processing the food for the world's wealthiest
nation?" Weston says that people on the bus have opinions about this
sort of thing too, but she didn't want to just observe, she
JD: Another rider overhears us and wants to add her two cents to our conversation.
WOMAN: "If indigenous people were listened to ... "
just the sort of moment that could be in "Traveling Light," and the
three of us talk until we get to the station, where we go our separate
JD: For VFH Radio at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, I'm Jesse Dukes.
AA: And that's WORDMASTER for this week. Archives of our segments are at voanews.com/wordmaster.
RS: Thanks for listening. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.