Editor’s Note: We stumbled across Elsiewhere, in Abbotsford on Facebook last week and fell in love with the project.

We think you will too.

We asked Elsie Neufeld, founder and creator of Elsiewhere, in Abbotsford to tell us about herself and her project.

Elsiewhere, in Abbotsford

By Elsie Neufeld. On May 1, 2013, a FB friend shared a post from the FB page “HUMANS IN NEW YORK.” The image was of a woman in her 90s, all dolled up, responding to the photographer with, “Sure, put me on the Internet. Put me on the Google.”

I was hooked immediately, and something about the photo resonated. The connection, I think, between photographer, and woman; and with the woman and the viewers of the photograph. What if, I thought, what if I tried this in Abbotsford?

Who would I encounter on the streets here?

The following day I mentioned this to a friend over lunch, and asked if she’d be my first “subject.” She agreed. As I took her photo, I caught the eye of the people at the next table, and one of them became my second subject. I created an album “Elsiewhere, in Abbotsford”, and posted both photos on my facebook. Feedback was immediate and positive. And now I was hooked!

When I had a dozen photos, I created a new facebook page, and transferred some of those photos, and added several new ones. I also added a note of explanation: “This facebook page was inspired by the amazing facebook page: “Humans of New York” and my own belief that there is no such thing as a “boring” person.

Elsiewhere2If you are interested, others will be interesting.

People are people, wherever they are, and I’m determined to find interesting people of Abbotsford, and to introduce them to you. Enjoy, and feel free to comment.”

By evening I had 80 “likes”. By noon the following day, 104 people had seen that post, and 80 “like” the page.

How do I choose my subjects? As a former hospice employee/volunteer, and as a personal historian, I have learned how to be guided by others.

To do that requires one to be on sensory-alert. In other words, Listen with your eyes and see with your ears. Read the air; read the clothing; read the face, and the gestures. And don’t pry. Let it unfold. Leave a huge space of the person to refuse, but at the same time, invite them to connect. Finally: expect to be astonished!

IRONY: The first person who liked “Elsiewhere” is a friend from New York City, whom I met through Facebook. Charlie has a facebook page “marginal mennonites”. A number of people from Abbotsford follow his page. “
In some way, talking to people on the street is like Facebook in real time, with real people.

Abbotsford is so much more than “the berry capital of Canada”, and “the bible belt.” It’s a city with a population of 130,000 people. And trust me, if you’ve seen one, you’ve not seem them all! They’re like snowflakes.

elsiewhere3Other information: I’m a writer, a personal historian, an editor, an anthologist, poet, essayist, and memoirist. I’m a member of the Creative Non-Fiction Collective.

In addition to this facebook project, I’m in the end-stage of co-editing an anthology of fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry “Mennonite Chefs can write.” Contributors are writers of Mennonite heritage from across Canada and the US.

I’m also helping a woman from Seattle write her life story, and am writing the eulogy of an 85 year-old-woman with Alzheimer’s, commissioned by her daughter.

And I go by the name Elsie K. Neufeld, to distinguish myself from the other Elsie Neufeld, who teaches math. K is for Klassen, my birth name. I credit my mother for my love of stories, and insatiable curiosity about people. Her trademark comment is “Why would they do that?” Said with a Mennonite German accent.

My guiding question is: “And how do you get through this life?”

Elsiewhere1IRONY: I grew up believing that the world was divided into Us (Mennonites) and Them (all others). Abbotsford was Them (and therefore to be avoided); and Clearbrook (predominantly Mennonite) was Us. We shopped, socialized, received dental care, and attended church in Clearbrook.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, you could conduct business of any kind in Clearbrook in the German language. Dad did money business in Abbotsford, at the Royal Bank. Medical care, seldom required, took place in an office across from Jubilee Park.

Now at 55, I’m walking into all the places that were verboten to me as a child, finding resonance with other humans. Growing up Mennonite, we were to be “in” the world but not “of” the world. Die Stille im Lande. The Quiet of the Land. Separate, always separate. There was, it was implied, no common ground between Us and Them. Some still hold to, and try to live, that myth. We are born human, and die human.

Elsiewhere is a glimpse into my in-between.

Why the name Elsiewhere? A term of endearment, created by a dear friend Maggie, professor emerita, U of Toronto.

It’s her perception of how I live. I had an on-line column “Els(i)where: a writer’s outlook” for six months. Topic: the details of my days.

I joined Facebook in December 2011, to connect with other writers, and to promote the column.

Two comments from FB friends, who are both promoting the page!

  • “Here’s a new page based on a great concept. And what a good way for a writer to delve more deeply into place and the kind of details that make each of us unique.” Shirley Showalter, memoirist, who lives in Harrisonburg,Virginia.
  • Charlie Kraybill, of New York City, whose fb page Marginal Mennonites has attracted numerous Mennonites from Abbotsford, was the first person to “like” the page. “Elsie of Abbotsford has a new page, inspired by the FB page “Humans of New York.” Check it out…” In a private message, in response to telling him how few pedestrians there are in downtown Abbotsford: “You’ve got some characters, though. New York worthy types.”

Elsiewhere, in Abbotsford can be found on Facebook here.

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