Sunday, July 15, 2007

Malingayang Kaarawan ka sa aking! (Happy birthday to me!)

7/7/06
Kanta at sayaw kami
(We sang and danced)

What a fantastic birthday! What could possibly top having 2000 high schoolers singing happy birthday to you in English, their second language? I was overwhelmed and honored, and sweating like crazy from dancing immediately before in two faculty salsa dance numbers.

Then, the faculty climbed onto the stage and stood behind me singing “Narda”, a song that is very popular here. It’s about a superhero whose in a Filipino cartoon. One of my co-workers was standing behind me moving my arms for me to get me to dance but mostly just making me feel like an idiot. So, I swallowed my pride, tried not to blush and smiled widely.

The Filipinos are all about entertaining each other…I guess that I need to get used to being in the limelight…pretty much everyone is here…Which explains why anything you do in public and some of the things you do in private, if someone shares that information about you, are fair game for They do it not to be the center of attention, as we would believe in the states, but the exact opposite for the benefit of others..to entertain the children. The longer I am here the more attached I become to the Filipino people. They are the perfect melding of three cultures, Spanish, American and Filipino.

After work I went back to the house with five bags of candy for the dozen neighborhood kids who had been my kasamas up and down the street for the past two weeks, making it possible for me to do more than make multiple rounds back and forth on Mendiola. (They wanted to run with me along the highway to the next town and I was afraid they would follow me even though I kept protesting that I couldn’t bring them with me.) They kept begging to play house with me in the Realeza’s house. I said they could hang out on the porch on my birthday and we would celebrate together…I reminded them as I passed the horde of 3-9 year olds, my new found friends, in stretched out, shorts and faded t-shirts with logos for PEPSI, NIKE and Gatorade: Is it in you? They agreed to be at my house in 15 minutes…I realized as I sat for a half an hour and then 45 minutes in vain that maybe children who aren’t in school, as these children, might have no concept of time accept based on the lack or presence of sunlight. I walked down the street with my host cousin hoping to find them outside. I was feeling like an idiot carrying this huge bag of candy down the street and made the mistake of giving out candy to kids I saw on the way. I started to feel like Santa Clause and as nice as it was at first later I realized that I created a class divide between me and the kids in the neighborhood from that moment forward as the rich American, the opposite of what I was going for…I thought that I was being generous but by publicly displaying wealth, I was making people uncomfortable…I now realize the difference between generosity and showing off in the Philippines. I am slightly saddened by this because the kids don’t rush out to greet me anymore. I have a feeling that I embarrassed their families and their parents don’t approve of me as part of the community anymore. A hard lesson to learn.

I don’t how I wouldn’t have… The kids literally swarmed around me when they saw the big bags of candy and kept greedily placing their hands out moving me around the street like the center of a big ameba. I was totally overwhelmed and look to my host pre-teen cousin who was sanguinely sitting on the back basket of a trike looking at something just over my shoulder. There were two kids who looked dirty and their clothes had multiple holes in them. I had never met them but reached a handful of candy out to them only to have it snatched by some other kid that had already stuffed their face. I kept telling the kids that the candy was for the two other kids and they’d had enough…I know they didn’t understand me and spoke barely five words of English. I handed a half a bag of candy to woman sitting in a trike observing this obsurd scene, pointed at the two shy children and asked her to give the candy to them. I have no idea if the children got the candy. I only know that I was completely disheartened by the children’s behavior. Up until this point my experience with children has been nothing but respectful and courteous and these children at the sight of abundant bags of candy turned into gluttons. I was disheartened but realized that the fault lie with me not them…what did I expect their reaction to be? They’d probably never been handed so much candy in their entire life…and knew it might be their last…why wouldn’t they want to grab all that they could? It was probably a banner day for the kids but a tough one for the parents. I should have used more forethought before acting on what I thought was generosity…Appearance is of up most importance…I should’ve just left the candy to the owner of the sari-sari and asked her to distribute the candy to the kids to avoid embarrassing the parents publicly like that.

We had my host mother’s famous spaghetti for dinner. The Filippino tradition is to make spaghetti on ones birthday. It’s like blowing out the candles and getting your wish (Another difference in how birthdays are celebrated in the Philippines: there is always a birthday cake at parties but since the cake is given to the birthday celebrant as a gift, the cake isn’t consumed until the next day along with the other gifts. It’s rude to open gifts in front of the giver because the point is the though not what they gave you. This is also to avoid the giver’s embarrassment in case the gift is very simple.) The spaghetti symbolizes wishes of friends and family that you will lead a long life.

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