Archive for May, 2011

Yesterday, May 23, was a momentous occasion–and not just because the unicameral Parliament of Finland gathered for its first plenary session on that date in 1907. For Laura and me, it meant only two months left in the Philippines! So often here on sweaty afternoons the time seems to move no more quickly than a stray dog lying in a patch of shade, and yet here we are, 83.3% done with this time that has changed us forever. Return tickets are bought, furniture is going to be sold, and on July 23, all we’ll be left with is an empty tile-floored apartment, six obese suitcases, and a raft of memories.

As any of you who have traveled much can relate, for even the minimally perceptive hominid, foreign countries prompt continual cultural comparison. On sabbaticals with my family as a kid, I’d noticed a few things; for example in Israel: “Wow, this random family’s doorstop is older and has more significance than anything in the entire US!” Or England: “This is the coldest I’ve ever been without snow, and they have black currant-flavored everything.” Figuring out life with a spouse, however (instead of depending on parents), and working with natives multiplied this process. As chronicled here, the observations piled up as we adjusted to a new culture, but with our departure looming, we finally wrote them all down. See if you notice an over-arching theme:

Won’t Miss

Will Miss

pollution Bae (the women at Samaritana)
lack of nature nearby stunning scuba diving
tiny biting ants and giant cockroaches everywhere $7 massages
roosters mangoes
distance from friends and family having lots of time together
“not available” at stores & restaurants Tagalog moments (i.e. when we get it)
Manila’s constant noise and crowds Manila’s energy
permanent daytime sweatiness warm nights
bad hair for Laura’s curls great pinoy hair
double ATM fees & budgeting with cash fewer worries about money in a simpler life
being a target preferential treatment because we’re white
being stared at Laura being told she’s beautiful frequently
few fresh vegetables in Filipino cuisine awesome & only-in-the-tropics fruits
bad “bahala na”–resignation about problems good “bahala na”–life’s too short to be anxious
sex tourists physical affection, especially between women
filtering water street food
deadlines not being very deadly not stressing about time
opening bags for security guards shockingly cute kids
rampant corruption emphasis on relationships
Filipino food Neighborhood balut guy (although not the balut)
running circles at UP, our only option for exercise feeling fast compared to local joggers
expensive local calls prepaid (cheap) cell phones
lack of independence no gas & car insurance payments
not being rooted at a church Samaritana community
dirty rainwater splashing on legs Epic thunderstorms
Absence of food & wine connections Fulbright connections
hitting my head on things feeling tall
tripping on uneven floors & sidewalks the way Life happens on the streets
everything being such a production having time be our own
dressing shabby $2 pedicures
concrete back “yard” not paying for home repairs
obnoxious DJ’s & sound effects everyone singing along
ubiquitous, competing pop music Joniver Robles playing the blues
no legal DVD’s or streaming tv shows cheap movies at the theater
books being expensive & plastic-wrapped being respected because we’re writers
dirty feet wearing flip-flops all the time
tough local meat & expensive, imported dairy the palengke’s scruffy charm
Rarely having hymns at church Paula & Brian, prayer partners & friends
deafening bus horns roller-coaster-esque “ordinary fare” buses
difficulty planning travel beauty of the provinces
benighted attitudes about birth control Four months of Christmas season
hanging out at malls Sebastian’s ice cream sandwiches
not being able to flush toilet paper living someplace tough and non-touristy
Pinoys’ obsession with being maputi (pale) beautiful kayumanggi (Filipino brown) skin
not having appliances having house helpers
neighbor’s yappy dog, who wakes us up nightly kasama (companion) culture
worrying about getting ripped off in cabs riding on the outside of jeeps and trikes
eternal traffic pinoys’ instinctive driving
difficulty communicating stretching our brains
feeling like we have little control enforced dependence on God

As the picture may have given away, what we gradually came to appreciate is that even in a crowded, dirty, noisy place like Manila, it is possible to be charmed. Would we want to stay here for the rest of our lives? We’re not sure–but as the list shows, it’s not as simple a question as one might think. Likewise, is our life “better” in the United States? Yes and no. But wherever we happen to be, I hope we can be a little more content–and a heartfelt thanks and borderline-alarming bearhug to all of you who made this possible.

— Nate

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Take Back the Night is just 15 days away.  As we do our best to prepare for the fun run/race that will, we hope, raise the funds needed for Samaritana to accept the women who are currently on the waiting list, we are grateful for prayers, encouragement, and support from all of you who are near and far.

We’ve recently been asked by a few people back in the States if it’s possible to sponsor a Samaritana woman (or multiple women) to run this race.  The answer is yes!  The whole point of this event is to raise money for Samaritana; whether that money comes from race registrations or donors overseas, the result is the same: more women can get off the streets and start a new life.

There are currently 21 women at Samaritana.  Many of them hope to run and finish their race on June 4.  Please pray for these women, for sponsors to support them, and for all of the planning we’re doing during the next fifteen days to make this a great event for everyone involved.

If you would like to sponsor the Samaritana women, you can follow these 3 easy steps below:

1. Send an email to info@samaritana.org to let them know that you would like to sponsor a woman (or multiple women) for Take Back the Night.  For example, you might say, “I’d like to give $25 for every Samaritana woman who runs and finishes the race.”

2. Write a check to Samaritana’s non-profit partner in the US, Mission East Asia National Support (MEANS), and designate Samaritana in the memo. Samaritana is certified by the Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC); your donation will be tax-deductible.

3.Mail your check to: P.O. Box 8434, Bartlett, IL 60103.

We’ll post pictures, race results, and other news after the race on June 4!

-Laura & Nate

After Taste for Freedom, our fund-raiser that many of you attended or helped make happen, I said to myself, “Never again!” Event planning is just too stressful for me, since it requires both organization and detail-orientation, two things which I most definitely am not.

And yet here we are again. As you may have read a few months back, Laura had the idea to use her coaching experience to start a fitness program, Super Babae, for the women at Samaritana.  Super Babae is gaining momentum (Nike’s second donation is en route from the States!), and when we were talking to our friend Ryan (who worked in sports marketing and managed events), the idea came up of doing a fund-raising race for Samaritana. (All the Samaritana women will get to run the race and get the t-shirt for free, so we’re encouraging them to train the next few weeks as 3k is still longer than most of them have run.)

June 4 is closing in fast, so we’d appreciate your prayers! So far we have a venue, a few partners, and a water sponsor, so all we need is a few hundred locals to register and it’ll be a smashing success!

— Nate

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The week before Easter, we participated in the Global Hunger Fast, an experiment in poverty where we attempted to live on $2 per day, as much of the world’s population does. It was eye-opening, challenging and unexpectedly rewarding (see this recent series starting here). As with the rest of our time here, we were honored by responses from friends and family back home about how great this was, how much people respect what we’re doing, how people can’t imagine doing it themselves, and so forth.

It’s true that life in Manila isn’t easy. But last week, we had the mental ibuprofen of an imminent return to our relatively comfy missionary lives, where we can buy vegetables, exercise, check Facebook at home, and even occasionally go out to eat or watch a movie. In the same way, our Manila grind has always had the soothing “just for a year” refrain in the background. But what if it didn’t?

Dave and Maria Cross are part of Servants, an international NGO whose mission is living with, befriending, and helping poor urban people around the world. It’s a fascinating approach to volunteerism and service that inverts the typical Western missionary souls-and-tasks-first, culture-second paradigm, and for us, and anyone considering such work, prompts serious reflection.

Hailing from oft-idyllic New Zealand, Dave and Maria were living and working with tenement dwellers in a city there, but then felt called to something even less comfortable. So they moved to the Philippines, and now live in a squatter community down the road from us in Quezon City. Since the Servants model is cultural immersion and relationship-building first, projects second, Dave and Maria are spending their first year here studying intensive Tagalog in language school, and getting to know their thousands of neighbors.

In addition to knowing the language, Dave and Maria are also living just like those around them. Their home is about 250 square feet, consisting of a kitchen/dining area and bathroom downstairs, and prayer nook and bedroom upstairs. They do all their cooking over a 2-burner propane range; there is no microwave, toaster,  blender, oven, dishwasher, or even refrigerator. There is no glass on the windows, and no air conditioning; to battle the heat they splurged on two fans, one per floor. They don’t have a TV, and to use the computer they take public transportation to the Servants office 15 minutes away.

When we first met Dave and Maria at language school, we were immediately curious about the life they’d chosen. When we visited Samaritana women in their squatter communities, we thought of Dave and Maria, and were impressed. But when they invited us over for lunch, and told us that the minimum commitment with Servants is three years, we were inspired, humbled, and challenged.

Dave met us at the entrance to the squatter area, and walked us through narrow alleyways, around goats and chickens, past men lounging with potbellies out and women cooking lunch in communal woks.  Everyone seemed to know Dave, and he introduced us to a dozen curious onlookers on the short walk.  When we sat down to lunch, little kids peered in their window to check out the newcomers, and didn’t go away even after Dave and Maria had chatted with them and had turned back to us.  We asked them about all of the things that we knew would be tough for us in their situation.  How did they deal with the lack of privacy?  Were they worried about their health?  Did they constantly feel compelled to give away their own modest dinner? What do they do for fun?

We left with more questions: Could we do it ourselves? Is it the right thing for us? We’re not sure yet. It would’ve been tough, if not impossible, to offer our skills in writing and communications to IJM and Samaritana (and for Laura to write her novel) if we’d lived in a squatter community without a computer. We also have a millstone of a mortgage tying us down, necessitating a return to paid work. And yet Dave and Maria’s commendable lifestyle brings a number of worthwhile points to mind:

  • Wherever we live, we could make do with less.
  • While people with specific backgrounds have their valued place in volunteer work (lawyers and social workers, for example, at IJM), an organization like Servants challenges us to remember how important relationships are in any kind of ministry.
  • Dave and Maria didn’t just up and move to a squatter community the day after their wedding; it was a gradual process that started in their home town. So for the rest of us, maybe it’s time to just donate an hour or two around the corner, and keep an open mind.

— Nate