Sunday, July 15, 2007

Walang mabuting balita (No good news)


Do you know the expression about when you don’t have any good news? Well, that is part of the reason that I haven’t written in a while. The reality is that I did have many good things happening to me, I just couldn’t see them at that point. I won’t go into the reasons why. The reasons wouldn’t be printable on this site at least until after my service ends.

Fortunately, I had some friends who were very supportive and understood the challenges that ex-pats face. I feel so selfish though, sitting here in my own two floor house while some one I know sleeps beside her children on the only mattress in a two bedroom shack in someone else’s backyard. I had a choice to stay with my host family or not. I chose to move. I am happier now but I am aware of what I have given up. I regret that sacrifice. Maybe, I needed to learn to be more patient and flexible when living with others. I wish that I had been able to. But I do not have the conveniences that I had in the other house, so maybe living on my own will help me understand some of the inconveniences and hardships most Filipino's encounter daily.

I’ve have faced a great many challenges in the past two months regarding intercultural relations at work. I feel as if I failed some test. My relationship with the principal is not as good and I know it is because I have failed in some ways to act as expected of me. I know that this may be difficult to mend and may not be reversible. I have hope that it is because I know that the principal has a good heart and is a forgiving and kind person.

If not there are always other projects to pursue. Nothing has come up so far except trying to promote Dengue awareness. I made a connection at a going away party which may lead to a AIDS awareness campaign at the local health center. I would really enjoy working on another health awareness project. Health is so easy to maintain if one is educated but without the right information, the human body can fall into amazing disrepair. Education and spreading awareness and information is tantamount for me. Why wouldn’t I want to shove as much information into the minds of my students on and off campus if I can. It is so difficult for me to hold back. Be patient and wait until the right time and the right way to deliver the information so as not to violate cultural rules.

I think that I am failing to meld into cultural norms. I am still finding it difficult to distinguish how to address work proposals. I’ve tried informally talking to teachers. I’ve tried talking to my supervisor and principal. This sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. I still can’t figure out the process. Maybe I need to just present everything in writing first and then see if it will happen. I will try this approach, a more formal approach with my supervisor and see if it helps at all.

Ways my life and habits are changing:

I wake up beneath a cloud of gauzy mosquito netting that blocks neither the bright sunlight nor the roosters, dogs, people, squeaky crank, crank, and rushing sounds of the water pump in the alley beside my house. I always try to sleep a little later but the noise keeps me up just the same. It's better this way. I am more likely to get to work on time.

I walk down into the kitchen/living room, dark and cool, drop my wrinkled clothes onto the vinyl duvet and climb into the soap-scum ridden blue/white bathroom with a squat porcelain toilet and tiled floor. Take my giant measuring cup (probably used in some countries to scoop 8 cups of rice into a container) to wet my hair.

I am awake in 2.3 seconds staring at the woman in the mirror thinking that would have been a lot more refreshing if I'd gotten up earlier and gone running.

I squeegee the water on the tiled floor out of the tiny hole where the dirty water goes and then replace the rock that covers it. (I can’t leave the tiniest puddle inside the house as it attracts mosquitoes some of which might carry Dengue Fever, a lesser form of malaria, is prevalent in my region.)

I fill the steel sauce pot with water, turn on the gas, switch on the stove and heat the water for my 3-in-1 sugar free Nescafe (instant coffee, it’s really popular here). After ironing my clothes, brushing my hair and racing back and forth to the one electric fan to periodically cool off, I dash out the door, squinting against the sun already searingly hot at 7 am, looking for a tricycle to take me only 500 yards away to my school. Yes, I know it sounds sad that I sometimes take a trike such a short distance to get to school but appearance are unbelievably important here and I am constantly criticized, in a motherly way, by my co-workers that I should be more careful and not walk in the rain and hot sun. They think that I’ll get sick from letting the sweat dry on my back. The only thing that I have to fear really is bacteria, but I’ve found myself taking on these practices as well. I still run everyday. I need to and no need to fit in is going to stop me from pursuing staying fit and leading a balanced lifestyle. That should never change.

Another interesting change. Slow cooking. I don’t have a refrigerator and am attempting to live without one because they are ungodly expensive here…I actually prefer using all fresh ingredients and being forced to eat all the vegetables and fruits I buy before they spoil. It is helping me make healthier eating choices. I though that it would be hard for me to cook for myself without having too many leftovers but I’m managing just fine. I am enjoying the time to myself and living alone. Something that I’ve never done before and never really thought I wanted to do. I think that I had serious fears about living alone, that I would get too lonely. The young people that run the sari-sari, a couple named Jun and Marisa are super friendly and I’ve visited them briefly once in a while at their shop in the course of buying load or “text messages” or soy sauce or pan de sal (soft doughy rolls sold everywhere and eaten for breakfast only). I talked to them tonight about bringing cards with me next time so we could play Tongits (similar to gin rummy) and they were interested….It would nice to hang out with them more. They always correct my Tagalog which now I find more helpful than frustrating. They both also correct me in such low and kind voices that I don’t take it personally. Are all the people here saints? I’m starting to wonder…I know that I probably just jinxed myself. (God protect me from any illness or harm.)

A driveway with a fence covered window on one side and a gate on the other serves as their “tindahan” or store front. There is a pool table inside and a few folding chairs. Usually it is only Jun and his wife or one of his other sisters sitting in the room. Sometimes other people (garage??) the girl is always busy writing something down, doing embroidery or text messaging. Her husband sits and talks with me smiling widely. He is more confident with his English and loves to practice. He is on crutches right now but is still working in spite of his injury. Probably no insurance. I’ve asked him on more than one occasion how he hurt his ankle. He always laughs off the question.

Today was the six month anniversary of when 72 Americans left (Cleveland airport name) for Manila. I texted all my closest friends here and told them I was glad that I was on this journey with such amazing people..They are so dedicated, talented in so many ways, smart, driven, kind, fun, adventurous but in such different ways you can’t imagine. I’ve learned volumes about myself and other people and how they tick just by sitting in the dorm rooms during PST training or in a restaurant/videoke bar and listening to other people talk about themselves.

l Mainit-mainit

Here it is the end of September when even in Baltimore the humidity has started to relinquish a few cooler days to families in the park in long sleeved shirts playing friz bee. Not in Siniloan, Laguna. I had heard that the rainy season, though muggy and rainy every day is cooler, the sun feels just as strong. Here, rain doesn't always mean relief from the heat. Sometimes, it is so hot that the field and concrete turns into steam when the pouring rain hits the ground. So walking outside after the rain has stopped has the feel of a sauna, moist and warm. The only relief that comes from these sort of rainstorms is that the sun is hidden by the clouds so the heat isn't as strong.

Lounging for a cat nap on a hard wooden bench, seven women sit knees to the others elbows or nearly, trying to sleep off the past 4 hours of standing in a tin box of 80 children with two electric fans, sweat tracing rivets along your sides, back and stomach. Heat stifling the air and making it hard to breath. Or maybe, I’m just a weak American. I don’t bother to complain or say anything at all. Mainit-mainit (the hottest), says one teacher laughing. Always laughing even when uncomfortable, sad or angry. Always smiling through it all. Amazing. They really are amazing these friends and mentors of mine. They get up every day. Some of their husbands can find work some work as a teacher and another odd job because their husbands can’t find much work.. (Interesting. I wonder if the reason why there are more female teachers has anything to do with the fact that the principals are men and the women would not be a threat to their power…I know this sounds crazy or would in the states but not here. Here everything is behind by about 25 years. I read Gloria Steinem and feel like I must be tripping because I’m living in a flashback of the workforce before feminism. Ok. My boss isn’t a jerk but he holds his authority over everyone’s head)

One woman pats her brow and lips with a corner of a polka dotted handkerchief, another dabs powder on her face, a third places a sheet of recycled copy paper beneath the back of the formers’ shirt to absorb the sweat (this is common practice).

There is so much that I want to achieve while I’m here but I think that I’m trying to make up for being afraid the past ten years of doing what I should have been doing long ago serving the global community…Guess there’s no wrong time to start as long as one get there, right? Guilt. I’m not letting guilt be the driving force in my life anymore.


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