I have the privilege of living in suburbia, but I get my hair done in the city. Each time I venture downtown, it is nothing short of adventurous, and today was no exception. As usual, I stop by the local corner store and get all the nostalgic two for a dollar “strawberry flavored” sandwich cookies, and 25 cent giant, “mystery” white Icee’s that my children love (because you can’t tell what flavor they are until you bite into them, what could be better?). All the (good) memories of my childhood rush back, and I get tons of (bad) goodies for the kids. The visit to the corner is a must whenever mommy goes to the hairdresser.

Today’s visit, however, was a little different. Maybe it’s because I’m more steeped in my career, or that I have a few more grey hairs, but the reflective nature of my interactions was difficult to escape.

As soon as I enter the store, the Middle-Eastern store clerk (he’s still the owner!) says to me, “We have good food here…BIIIGG steak sandwich, $5.” 

I chuckle at the irony. Corner store and good food do NOT go hand in hand, buddy.

“How much is your ice?” I ask. 

“5-pound bag, $1.75”

I put it back. Expensive. I want to strike a deal because I know this is overpriced. I attempt to bargain (the audacity!). The man is not having it.

“You high class or something?” He asks me

I respond in my accented African-British English, “If I was trying to be high class, you would know.” 

He smiles irritatingly. 

I realize. I sound high class-y!

As I’m cashing out with my artificially flavored strawberry cookies and mystery freezies, sans the overpriced ice, he says, “You want slice of pizza for 75 cents?”

Again, I chuckle, thinking, “I would take all those rotting bananas for 75 cents for a mean banana bread” but I’m sure the man has had enough of my bourgeoisie self.

I cash out and leave.

I retreat to suburbia, where a 20-pound bag of ice costs $2.99, like it should. Where instead of artificially flavored strawberry cookies, I can get real strawberries, sliced, diced and overpriced. Ready to eat for $9 a pound at the food buffet, if I want. They are fresh, and I can even get the organic variety if I want.

I can CHOOSE, I have the CHOICE to enter and exit each of these dichotomous universes at will. This is the luxury that privilege has afforded me.

But as I meander through these two worlds, I cannot shake the realization that my luxuries are someone else’s reality. The lead laden house next door to my hairdresser’s house is her everyday reality. The BIIGG steak sandwich that has been under the hot light for Lord knows how long? Someone’s dinner. No fresh strawberries, just rotting bananas.

Yet these realizations are also MINE. For they are what motivate my work. These disparate differences between the two worlds I navigate, motivate me to continue the work that I do, in Clinical Medicine.

We, I, must not forget the reason why I Public Health.