Posts Tagged ‘food’

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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It’s safe to say that my anticipation for Easter has never been greater than it was this year.  Not even a 3:30 a.m. wakeup from the yappy dog next door or a 4:30 a.m. sunrise Easter service could dampen my spirits.

It was dark out when we ate mangoes and croissants before church; they were divine, and prompted numerous Josh Eichorn-style grunts of satisfaction as we devoured them. (I couldn’t help noticing that we paid a little less for them than what we’d spent for an entire day’s food the day before.)  We were so excited about eating a non-egg breakfast that we did it two more times, cereal at 6:30 a.m. and French Toast at 10.

After third breakfast, we went to work cooking.  We made Thai chicken curry from scratch (even pounding our own curry paste), had a large salad with fresh vegetables, ordered a giant (36″ inch) pizza, and even prepared mangoes and sticky rice for dessert.  Every bite of it was delicious–and in one meal we spent more than we have in the entire last week.

But the highlight of the day wasn’t all of the good food we ate, or going for our first run in a week this evening, or even the wonderful feeling of being full.  The best part of this Easter came in the form of little kids who couldn’t resist looking in our refrigerator, opening our drawers, and exploring every inch of our apartment while their young mothers tried to keep up.  By the time the sun went down, there were candy wrappers everywhere, the white tile bathroom floor was a splotchy gray, and one of the kids had diarrhea twice on the kitchen floor.  There were large piles of dirty dishes in the sink, the food was gone, and our wallets were empty.  We were delighted.

Our guests were about a dozen of the Samaritana women and their children, all of whom couldn’t afford to go back to the provinces for Holy Week.  After the past week’s peso-pinching, shopping for this meal felt  painfully indulgent, but we didn’t regret it.  We realized last week that if you’re living in poverty, there’s no such thing as holiday feasts or special treats like pizza.  We wanted to celebrate not just Christ’s resurrection, but the women who have become so dear to us and taught us so much.  We wanted to make this Easter special for them, for them to know just how precious they are to us.  We hope that in some small way this helped them know how precious they are to God.

For five hours, our apartment was filled with happy chaos.  There was a candy hunt that the adults were just as excited about as the kids.  There were giddy cries of disbelief when the three-foot-wide pizza had to be tilted to fit through the door–and then the wolf pack descended.  When it was time to go, 4-year old Penelope* (who a few months ago was afraid of strangers, but now has taken to calling us Uncle Nate and Aunt Laura) gave us hugs and said she wanted to come back to our house tomorrow.

After the crowd had gone and the hostess adrenaline faded, I was tired, but happy.  I thought about the story of the woman who anoints Jesus with perfume that cost a year’s wages; his disciples were indignant at the waste, but he said that what she’d done was a beautiful thing.  The Global Hunger Fast made me conscious of every peso we spend, but it also challenged me to find the right reasons for spending money at all.  Compared to how we’ve been living this past week, our Easter feast was extravagant.  But we hope that for the Samaritana women and for God, it was a beautiful thing.

We mentioned at the beginning of last week that we’d be donating what we saved last week to Samaritana.  If any of you would like to do the same, we’re providing the information you’ll need below.  With six women on the waiting list and recent news that Samaritana’s largest source of funding will be cut in half next year, there is a great need.  $100/month will support a new woman at Samaritana, but as we’ve mentioned before, every little bit goes a long way here.

Thanks to all of you who have done this Global Hunger Fast with us, either by participating or by following our daily reports and encouraging us along the way.  We hope our experience blessed you.

Happy Easter!


Here’s how you can donate to Samaritana:

Supporters in the United States may donate through our US partner Mission East Asia National Support (MEANS), and receive a tax-deductible receipt. Make checks payable to MEANS, and designate Samaritana in the memo. Mail to: P.O. Box 8434, Bartlett, IL 60103.

*Not her real name.

We cheated today.  Sort of.

Samaritana, like everyone in the Philippines, is off work for Holy Week.  While this means vacations or trips back to the provinces for some, it means no income for the Samaritana women.  So when two of them asked us with all of the hope of little kids begging for ice cream if they could clean our apartment, we decided it was worth bending the rules a bit and paying them a fair wage, even though it meant going way over our daily P180 ($2 apiece).

When they showed up at 8:30 a.m. this morning, a half hour early, we were just about to eat our breakfast of 3 eggs and two small rolls.  When we discovered that neither one of them had eaten, there was nothing else to do but split the meal meant for two into four, and sit down with them and enjoy sharing.

Lunch was a similar math problem–division, really–and I walked to half a dozen street vendors, a grocery store, and the palengke to solve the equation.  After about an hour, I came back with 4 small fried rolls (lumpia, a popular street food that is like an egg-free egg roll), a half-deck-of-cards-sized portion of pork, some green beans, 3 more eggs, peanuts, a head of garlic, one onion, and a single potato.  We still had rice leftover from Sunday, and a small portion of oil from breakfast.  Nate and one of the women spotted some common leafy greens on the neighbor’s tree, and were rewarded when they politely asked for some.  I felt pretty great about what looked like an abundance of food to my hungry eyes . . . until I realized that it would not just be lunch for four, but also dinner for two.

It hurt to know that we’d spend the day mostly hungry again–but what hurt more was not being able to be as fully hospitable to our friends as we wanted to.  We were amazed by their willingness–no, excitement–to clean for us, and wanted to bless them in whatever way we could.  We wanted to give them a great meal, to send them home full, but instead we worried that the meal of mostly vegetables and a too-small portion of rice might’ve left them as hungry as it did us.  It occurred to us that this is the twofold pain that millions of Filipinos experience all the time.  Filipinos are famous for their hospitality, and we’ve experienced this first-hand whenever we’ve dined in any Filipino home.  The pain of hunger is compounded by that of not being sure that your guests will walk away satisfied.

Hospitality has always been important to Nate and me; we’ve always taken great joy in sharing home, food, and drink with family and friends. But now, once again, this Global Hunger fast is teaching us a hard lesson: how much hospitality can really cost.


It’s only Day Three of the Global Hunger Fast, and already a generalization is starting to form: I’m almost always hungry now. Have we simply not been creative or industrious enough with our shopping, or is it just not possible for a person with my metabolism to be full on $2 a day? Sure, there are countries in the world where food would be even cheaper than here in the Philippines–but not many (rank by “grocery” column). Perhaps there’s some combination of beans, rice, and fish that would be both substantial and available for the pittance we’re working with, but we haven’t found it yet (beans don’t seem to be as cheap or easy to come by here as in other parts of the world).
And yet even if we did find it, this elusive goulash of sustenance, what then? We’d still be lacking what turns out to be another luxury, something that (as an American) I would’ve considered not a luxury, but an inalienable right: variety. Who cares if there are 30,000 products in the grocery store when the only ones you can afford are the ones on the bottom shelf? Oh wait, never mind: you’re not shopping at the grocery store anyway: you’re shopping at the palengke, the open-air wet/dry market where the lady may or may not be bothered to swish the flies off that fish that might be your dinner.

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For the Old American Me, eating was often an exciting venture into a carnival of carne, a midway of tastes and smells with an overwhelming number of fun rides to go on. But not for Global Hunger Fast Me. Oh no. Eating for Global Hunger Fast Me (to use a rich-person analogy) is like being forced to refuel your car at the gunpoint of your hunger–and wincing at the price of gas every time. As a poor person, chances are your food will be brown and white, and that it will either be the same thing you had for your previous meal, or the same thing you’ll have for your next one. To illustrate, though you’ve seen some pictures, here are our meals for the last three days:Sunday
breakfast: a few tiny oranges, eggs, toast
lunch: stir-fried vegetables and egg on rice
dinner: stir-fried vegetables and egg on riceMonday
breakfast: splitting a mango, an egg, rolls, and three small bananas (But hungry by 10:30 am).
lunch: sinigang–sour soup with a boiled fish head, and rice
dinner: fried fish tail, lentils (yes!), and rice

breakfast: eggs, 1 small dried fish, garlic rice (how they use the leftovers from the night before)
lunch: sour soup with a boiled fish head and rice
dinner: rice porridge with small bits of chicken

Notice a few recurring themes here? And the absence of meat, dairy, and produce? For Americans accustomed to a life of plenty, of having the world’s bounty at the swipe of a credit card, eating repetitive fare like this gives one pause. And yet, as Laura commented before, the Samaritana women–some of the most joyful, life-giving people we know–have been eating like this their whole lives. Looks like Global Hunger Fast Me, like them, needs to look for happiness somewhere beyond the dinner plate.
-Nate* * * * *Daily Tab (for Monday and Tuesday):

30 pesos per meal at Samaritana–ridiculously cheap for Old American Me, and quite cheap for New Missionary Me. But for Global Hunger Fast Me? If it hadn’t been for our friends giving us a ride, we’d still be walking home.
P30x6 meals = P180 (not including internet use on Samaritana’s computer)