Ten Months, a Hundred Details, One New Perspective

Posted: May 24, 2011 in Life in the Philippines, Thank you to our donors
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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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Comments
  1. Robin Davis says:

    Yes, yes, yes! Even 10 days in Manila gave me appreciation of and agreement with about 1/3 to 1/2 of your categories. Thank you for taking the thought to make these lists for us. It is such a culture shock to come home to quiet, empty streets – lots of green, little traffic, NO ROOSTERS, vast stretches of sidewalk with no one on them. I will be sad for you to leave. While you’re there, the umbilical cord is still connected to Samaritana.

    • freeisaverb says:

      It’s true Mum; thanks to research we were somewhat prepared for the hard parts of life here, but what we weren’t prepared for was falling in love with so many things about being here. All the Samaritana women keep asking when we’re coming back, and we’re thinking about next year, since saving up $2,000+ for the plane tickets won’t be easy, but we can’t bear the thought of never returning.

  2. robindavis says:

    Great comparisons! Really, no hymns in church? dad

    • freeisaverb says:

      To be fair, there have been a few hymns. But from what we’ve observed, it seems like most Filipino churches are either Catholic or more charismatic, and thus praise-chorus focused.

      • Melissa says:

        Hi Nate/Laura,

        I’m M, friend of Joe and Ryan. I’m glad you were charmed by our sweet country. It’s not very popular, but I guess if there’s a word to sum it up it would be home. Not just for Pinoys but because of a strong sense of togetherness that would instantly remind you of home. I hope you experience more love and beauty in the remaining days. 🙂

        Btw, maybe you can check out Church of the Risen Lord in UP Diliman (http://iskwiki.upd.edu.ph/index.php/Church_of_the_Risen_Lord), for hymns.. their choir is really good!

      • freeisaverb says:

        Thanks for your comment, M! The strong sense of togetherness is one of the things we love most about this place–the way people share life together on the street, in the workplace, wherever (as opposed to doing everything behind the closed doors of their homes). I think the other thing we’ve appreciated is how vibrant life is here. Our lives back in the States seem very quiet and boring in comparison to all of the chaos of Quezon City.

        Thanks for the tip about Church of the Risen Lord! I was just there last week dropping off information about Take Back the Night, our fun run on June 18, so maybe we’ll check it out before we go!

  3. Jennifer Rolander says:

    Nate & Laura,

    I apologize for my response being so late, but we have really been busy over here with work and play. I am relieved to hear that there are so many things you will miss and that you might make a return trip to see the women of Samaritana. I hope they realize how blessed they are to have had so much time with both of you. Even though you have done some absolutely amazing things there, I am going to be selfish for a moment and say how overjoyed Raymond and I are that you are coming home soon. We miss you both so very much and cannot wait to see pictures, here more stories and just listen to all you have been exposed to, learned about and experienced in Manila. We anxiously await your return. Please have a safe trip home-we love you!!

    Jennifer & Raymond

  4. Melissa says:

    Joe told me about Take Back the Night! Is there any way I can help?

    • freeisaverb says:

      Hi M! Sorry I’ve been slow getting back to you. Would you be able to help Joe with the results? We’re having all of our volunteers show up at 4:00, but if you and Joe could be there at 3:00 so I could explain to you guys what to do, that would be ideal. Let me know if you’re up for it! We’ll make sure you guys are well fed! Thanks again for being willing to help!

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