Global Hunger Fast Day 6: Nothing But Time

Posted: April 22, 2011 in Life in the Philippines
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We enjoyed some tolerable weather this April, the kind that cools off enough (at night) so that you can walk around comfortably without sweating–until this week.  As if on cue, knowing that we’d be living without our nightly bedroom air conditioning, summer descended, smothering plants, animals and people into stultifying submission.

Sleep comes slowly and leaves quickly.  Without the double-strength white noise of the aircon and the fan, we hear every dog’s yap, cat’s yowl, and neighbor’s cackle–and rooster’s crow from the dozen next door, especially from 3-6 a.m.  We knew this week would be a sacrifice of food, but didn’t realize it would be a sacrifice of sleep, too.  Some nights we can’t wait until morning . . . but the day only brings a longer, hotter version of the night.  Before this week, I longed for even one day to do nothing but rest; now I find myself wondering where all this time came from.

Nate noted this morning that we probably go more places in a normal week (Samaritana, church, IJM, various grocery stores, the mall, a restaurant or two, perhaps even a weekend trip) than most of the $2/day crowd would in an entire year.  Sure, we could’ve spent 64 pesos (1/3 our budget) to go to the mall and escape the heat, but why bother?  We’ll be less hungry if we stay home and do . . . nothing.

One of our remaining pastimes is figuring out our next meal, a topic that occupies at least a half hour each night while we wait to fall asleep.  We discuss the merits of lumpia (greasier) vs. peanuts (more protein), other possible protein sources besides eggs, which cheap foods have the most calories per peso, and whether the pleasure of bread for breakfast outweighs the savings from eating rice.  We speculate about store closures Easter weekend; as of yesterday, all of our regular street vendors have disappeared, the bakeries are closed, and Quezon City feels like a ghost town (which is rather shocking for a place that normally makes New York look sleepy).  So today we bought half our groceries–but no vegetables–at 7-11.

But that still leaves at least 16 hours to fill. We hand wash laundry.  We wash the rice cooker again.  We pick up the house.  We debate whether or not it’s okay to read books since books are expensive here, and eventually decide to read. Purchasing, cooking, and eating food turn out to be the main events of the day.  If we feel full when our plates are empty, we’ve succeeded.  If the food actually tasted good? Double happiness! All the while, the sun bakes our concrete building, and we feel less and less able to do anything.

At some point every afternoon, I find myself on the couch, dozing off until laughter from a neighbor’s gathering wakes me.  Two thoughts cross my mind: 1) here we are, in this country where relationships are king, and we are alone, and 2) I now  understand a little better why there are so many sleeping men all over this city (though you almost never see a napping woman).

The latter is something I’ve taken a bit personally.  Almost every one of the women at Samaritana has a story about an un- or under-employed dad/husband/boyfriend who drinks away the family’s much-needed income (often earned by a woman).  Every day when I look out the window at Samaritana into a neighbor’s yard I see one of these types snoozing in the yard; he never even seems to feed the roosters.  I’ll confess I’ve I felt unsympathetic to these men; their wives are industrious, self-sacrificing mothers, and yet all they do is roll over and take another sip of booze.

But lying on our couch today feeling hungry, sweaty, and brain-dead, I wasn’t even motivated enough to get up and walk across the room to get a glass of water–let alone face anything as daunting as looking for a job.  Suddenly it made sense: it won’t feed your kids or get your wife to stop nagging you, but for only P40 you can get yourself a bottle of Ginebra to take the edge off for most of the day.  And when you’re this hot, hungry, and bored, you’ll do anything to quicken the slow drip of time.  (This may also help explain the Philippines’ exploding population; birth control is all but outlawed, but sex is one of the few free ways to have fun and not pay for it–yet.) These men aren’t justified in their irresponsibility (their women endure!), but today, for the first time ever, I could relate.

The neighbors’ karaoke rouses me, and the thought floats into my sluggish brain that our impoverished Filipino friends have something we Westerners don’t: community. It’s a rare Sunday when our next door neighbors don’t have a dozen or so family members in their home sharing food, conversation, and their TV.  Walk down the street to the line of tricycle drivers waiting for customers, and even they are sitting around watching a game show on the tiny TV at the trike stand, or playing checkers with bottle caps on a board scratched into the sidewalk.  In the street or at home, Filipinos share life together: if you don’t own a TV, you go to a neighbor’s house; rather than eat alone, you pool resources and gather with family and friends.  They don’t always have enough, but what they do have is someone to share it with.


Daily Tab:

3 eggs-16 pesos
rice (leftover from yesterday)

Lunch & dinner
1/2 kilo of rice-15 pesos
3 eggs-16 pesos
1 head of garlic and 1 small onion-15 pesos
1 can of tuna-37 pesos
1 bag of peanuts-26 pesos
2 small packages of ramen-14.50 pesos
Tax from 7-11-8 pesos

1 small mango-9.50 pesos

internet–20 pesos

2 green mangos from the tree in front of our apartment, which Nate climbed
a handful of grape-like mystery fruits that a guy on the street gave us when we saw him gathering them from the ground

Total: 177 pesos

  1. Robin Davis says:

    Thank you for writing so many details of your daily choices, daily experiences, and how your thoughts and hearts are being changed by this week. You will never look at your American privileges with the same eyes.

  2. jen says:

    Hmm. I wish we had a chance to walk in the shoes of every “irresponsible,” down-and-out person we encounter.

    • freeisaverb says:

      You and me both. I hope I can remember these lessons back in the U.S. the next time I pass a homeless person on the street. I’m already curious about what it’ll be like to do the Global Hunger Fast in the U.S. a year from now.

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