Global Hunger Fast, Day 7: Looking for Medici in Manila

Posted: April 24, 2011 in Life in the Philippines
Tags: , , , , , ,

There’s a girl here that I have a soft spot for. Jessamae is 15, the oldest daughter of one of the Samaritana women (who’s 34, like me). Jessamae caught my attention because she’s good at drawing, and Old American Me, who worked as an ad copywriter, used to partner with art directors to make ads.

But Jessamae, gifted though she is, is a long way from portfolio school. Global Hunger Fast Me knows this because a ballpoint pen (to practice drawing) costs P19–an egg apiece for each of her three siblings, plus a roll from the bakery. A pad of paper, P100–that is, enough rice to feed her whole family for three days. So where does that leave our budding artist? In the squatter community.

Now Missionary Me–with a fraction the money of Old American Me, but quite comfortable by local standards–was going to commission some drawings from Jessamae. But can Global Hunger Fast Me afford to be a patron of the arts? That P20 means the difference between me going to bed hungry or not. Global Hunger Fast Me hates to think that poverty will change his values, but this question makes him stare really hard at his empty dinner plate. But if it comes down to his stomach versus his blank living room wall . . . that’s wall’s probably going to stay blank.

What Jessamae’s case brings up though, in light of this past week for us, is the bigger questions of What place does art have in the lives of people who are just getting by? And if a girl like her does have an interest in art, how does she develop creatively when she can’t afford materials, and all she’s surrounded by is clutter, ugliness, and advertising? I think about my own middle-class American upbringing, and on top of being free to try my hand at art (just like sports and music–two equally troublesome topics in this context), I had the privilege of going to museums, concerts, plays, movies, and seeing the ultimate artwork–nature–camping. But what if, because being physically full was the paramount concern, I’d had to go aesthetically hungry as well? Would I be where I am today? I think not.
My fellow Americans, I imagine that you too are deeply bothered by the idea of someone not getting a fair shot, of not having the same opportunities you had, right? And I think that many of us–myself included, at times–are conceptually in favor of the arts (like soccer, diversity, and NPR). But when the annual pledge drive comes around, we all change the channel. Too often, our support of the arts is limited to buying the occasional movie ticket. However, there’s a comforting reassurance knowing it’s all out there, right? That we could go to a play if we wanted to?

But what if you couldn’t? What if the arts disappeared from your life? Or more accurately, were something you only heard about secondhand? Jessamae’s mother is already working hard enough to put rice on the table for four children, which is why I turn these questions to society: life and liberty might be the easier parts, but what about the pursuit of beauty? If the people can’t afford to go see the art, how do we bring the art to them?
Until we can answer these questions, my walls–and a lot of unpainted cinderblock ones–are going to stay blank.
* * * * *
Daily Tab: 

2 rolls–16
(3 eggs left over from yesterday)
2 bananas–10
4 eggs–24
(rice–left over!)Miscellaneous

Total: 180

* * * * *

If you’re Lester Nelson, you start a non-profit portfolio school for Filipino kids like Jessamae. If that’s part of the world you want to live in, please donate easily online through the Paypal link on their site, and sign up for their newsletter!

  1. robindavis says:

    As it is now Easter in the US and you are half=way through your Easter, your reflections remind us that our true riches are not in the things of this world but in Christ. Easy and trite for me to say as a rich white American. And what does spiritual life look like with no money? The Samaritana women worshiping at Friday fellowship certainly ministered to me in their joy in the Lord. Thank you for these posts. I hope they can receive a much wider audience. Happy Easter!

    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks so much for your love and comments, Mum. We’re so blessed by you and Pop, and so grateful that you guys got to come here and see all of this first-hand. The women ask about you, Pop, and Elliot often. Several of them mentioned during the last week that they missed you and hoped to see you again. You are still very loved and missed by them and by us.

  2. Lester says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, Nate. I’m subscribed to your web site and read every new post, but somehow missed the mention at the end. I’m free next the first half of next week if you’d like to meet up! I hope you can; I’ve been looking forward to meeting you for a long time, but our different schedules can be so hard to coordinate. I’m looking forward to my off time next week though, so it’d be a perfect time to take the plunge and say goodbye to this whole internet-friend business and say hello to this whole real life friend business. Ha.

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