Posts Tagged ‘global’

Most of my calories this week have come from these exciting sources

Traveling in the Philippines with one of our Samaritana coworkers, we were returning from deep in the province. Ravenous after a six-hour bus ride, we turned to Ate Becky to ask what she wanted to eat. Her response? “Something to fill the hole.”

This struck me as funny, because mere sustenance is not how I think about eating: eating is pleasure! In America, meals mean choices, a flood of dopamine, an adventure of nourishment, novelty, and now. To merely fill the hole? What a letdown. In fact, mere hole-filling, mere placeholding in any area of life–partner, job, school, house–is countercultural in a land where anything is possible, and most of it’s affordable.

Then I started the Global Hunger Fast.

Giving up great food I was somewhat prepared for, since we did that last year. Ditto for giving up exercise. But giving up sleep and sex as well? Now we’re talking about the four chief sources of pleasure in my adult life; as one might expect, I’ve been pretty flatlined this week–but for one thing: Gabriel.

Our three-week-old son is the reason for the subtraction of sleep and sex, yet he’s sweet and soul-stirring and unquestionably worth it. In the Bible he’s a messenger from God, and our Gabriel brought a message for me this week: “Without your usual sources of fulfillment and fun, what will you use to fill the hole?”

One answer, of course, is people: Gabe and Laura; our generous and loving parents; the friends and relatives who have showered us with affection. I see better now why older, wiser cultures place such emphasis on relationships, because even when you’re unshaven, unemployed, under-slept, and undernourished, the right people still care for you. But people aren’t everything, and often it’s those closest to you who can hurt you the most. So under the gifts, the hugs, and the new life, the question remains.

Christians may be familiar with the idea of the God-shaped hole in humanity, and this week has reminded me of what I’m using to fill my holes, pie and otherwise. I’d hoped to glimpse God through this spiritual discipline, have my time atop the mountain, but I haven’t yet–or was snoozing on the bus (dreaming of steak and produce) when the divine light shone down. I’m still awaiting a moment of illumination, but I’m getting a new angle on my faith without these other things in the way.

-Nate

A little over eight months ago, Nate and I returned home after a year in Manila. In those early weeks of re-entry, there were long lists of old pleasures that were suddenly new again: real Mexican food, redwood-shaded trails, our own car, clean air. Months later, most of these have become routine, and we have to remind ourselves how lucky we are to have them. But there is one thing that hasn’t stopped feeling like a treat: hot showers.

It’s been a subject of much discussion, something we’ve commented on to each other daily. We marvel that it still feels like heaven every time, even on the warm days. We joke about getting “stuck” in the shower. I once asked Nate to come in and turn the water off because I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Since becoming a mom, hot showers have gone from being a luxury to a sanctuary. Thanks to family, I’ve been able to take a shower every day since I came home from the hospital. After spending most of my waking hours caring for Gabriel, it feels sneaky to have those minutes to myself. It isn’t just the act of getting clean (although I do appreciate cleansing the sticky smell of milk); I’m always getting cold too, so the shower is the place that restores my temperature–and my sanity. It’s alone time, me time, proof that though Asia has influence me, I’m a still a Westerner at heart. So showers are glorious: the sweet release of knowing that no one will bother me.

It was during my daily hot shower yesterday that I was struck once again by the contrast between my own life and the one I’d be living in the developing world. I remember vividly the showers I took when we stayed with some of the women we knew. There was a communal slab of cement outdoors, enclosed on the sides by plastic tarps–which might also be used for urinating. We’d carry in a large bucket of water, and a small dipper to pour the water over us. Even in the heat, the cold water was bracing, functional only, something you tried to get over with as quickly as possible. There was no spacing out, since if you used up the water before you’d rinsed off soap or shampoo, you were out of luck. There was no solitude, since you were always aware that someone else might be waiting. All of the smells and sounds of life outside surrounded you.

Just like that, I knew what I had to do. Since I’m not fasting from food this week, I’ve been trying to think of other ways to fast and live in solidarity with those in the developing world. What better way to do it than to take my greatest daily pleasure–my greatest daily luxury–and give it up?

I turned the dial to cold, shivered, and got out of there as fast as I could.

-Laura

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When this year’s Global Hunger Fast fell on the third week of my son’s life, I reluctantly agreed with my husband and family to sit out this time around. But as I think about my Filipina sisters at Samaritana (and women in developing countries worldwide), I’m acutely aware of how privileged I am for this to be a choice. While I don’t believe in punishing my son for the sake of making a point, I don’t take this contrast lightly.

Early in our time in Manila, I read that Filipinos are among the shortest people in the world, largely because of malnutrition. While I’m eating my affluent diet loaded with produce and protein, new mothers around the world are eating whatever they can get–which is to say, not what they need for themselves, let alone a baby. While I have the luxury of breastfeeding and pumping out plenty of milk to be frozen for future months, the mothers I knew at Samaritana had to make do with what their bodies would produce (or whatever they could afford), and they certainly didn’t have breast pumps or even refrigerators (or freezers) to store food or milk.

As every new mother knows, these first weeks are a haze of chaos and fatigue. But when I think about my first seventeen days of motherhood compared to those of the Samaritana women, my version of motherhood looks a piece of cake.

Even before Gabriel was born, my experience of labor and delivery was, by the world’s standards, pretty cushy: Nate and our doulas rubbed my back; I snacked when hungry, took a hot shower and hot bath to relax, all the while listening to the soothing sounds of Miles Davis. After contractions picked up, we drove ten minutes in our own car to the hospital, where for the next five hours, a flock of medical staff monitored Gabriel’s heartbeat and kept Nate and me informed. When his heartbeat kept dropping, yet I wasn’t dilating despite ever-stronger contractions (Gabe had his head turned sideways), the possibility of a C section first came up.

Ninety minutes later I was in the operating room; a half hour after that I heard Nate say “it’s a boy,” and then Gabriel Sagada Davis was in my arms and my husband was sobbing tears of joy beside me. While it didn’t happen quite as planned, and there were many painful hours, the whole experience was remarkably calm–pleasant, even. I had only a flicker of a thought that my baby and I might be in danger, and then it was gone with a simple prayer and the knowledge that I was about to go through a procedure that, while major, was also somewhat routine. The first four days of Gabe’s life were spent in the hospital, and Nate and I were continually impressed by how excellent the doctors and nurses were, how our every need was met, and what a gift it was to be in a setting with so many people who clearly love what they do.

I recap the birth because while I never set foot in a Manila hospital, I heard enough about them to make me glad I had no reason to. One Filipino friend told me that people avoid going to the hospital because once you’re there, you’re much more likely to die. And while good medical care is available in Manila (for the rich), as a new mom I also can’t ignore the world infant mortality rankings, which suggest that Gabriel would’ve been three times as likely to die had he been born a Filipino baby–or twenty times more likely as an Afghani.

It’s easy to walk away from these sobering contrasts feeling guilty for having so much, but I think I’m missing the point of the Global Hunger Fast if guilt is all I feel. I can’t change the world’s infant mortality rates or improve nutrition by feeling bad. But my awareness of the disparities between my life and the lives of women around the world can make me softer and more compassionate. It can open my wallet a little wider. It can keep me praying and looking for ways to love and serve, one woman at a time.

-Laura

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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!

-Laura

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.

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.
–Nate
* * * * *
Daily Tab: 

Breakfast
2 rolls–16
(3 eggs left over from yesterday)
oil–15
mangoes–27
Snack
2 bananas–10
Lunch/Dinner
peanuts–33
beans–10
garlic–5
onion–4
potato–16
4 eggs–24
(rice–left over!)Miscellaneous
internet–20

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!

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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.

-Laura

Daily Tab:

Breakfast
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

Miscellaneous
internet–20 pesos

Free:
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


These are my running shoes. They’re last year’s model, bought on closeout from runningwarehouse.com for $60. Plus they had free shipping! Pretty thrifty of me, right? What a great sport running is: all you need is a pair of shoes! Everyone should get into it.

Global Hunger Fast Me reads that paragraph, and he wants to hit Old American Me over the head, steal Old American Me’s shoes, and then sell them so he can feed himself and his wife. (Maybe even eat meat a couple times!)  Because those $60 shoes–that’s a month’s earnings right there! There’s no way Global Hunger Fast Me, wearing his one pair of $2.50 flip-flops, could ever afford Nikes. There’s a reason Global Hunger Fast Me doesn’t see any joggers in the squatter community around the corner: as uncomfortable as it is for Old American Me to hear, running is a sport for the comparatively rich. If Global Hunger Fast Me wants some exercise, he’ll do what the millions of other urban poor around the world do, activities you can do in flip-flops or barefoot: walking, basketball, or soccer. (Or, since activity just makes you hungrier, probably not.)

Over the past nine months living in metro Manila and working at Samaritana, we’d already come to appreciate another of the reasons poor people don’t exercise: they don’t have access to the knowledge, the facilities, that we do as rich people. (For example, some of the women’s kids go to Batasan Hills High School. How many students do they have there? 40,000. (in morning and evening shifts). One of our friends teaches the morning shift, and has five classes of 65 kids each. Does it sound like there’s space for a gym? If they’re in school, the $2/day kids may well be in one like this, or–if they’re like a lot of the women we work with, had to drop out of one like it.

Thanks to this brutally peso-pinching week, it’s unforgettably clear to us why most of the Samaritana women (on top of lack of knowledge or facilities) had never exercised. There’s just no way for them to afford the gear–which puts in even richer perspective the donation that enabled us to start the Super Babae fitness program at Samaritana. Thanks to our Patron Saint of Exercise, Krista Ford at Nike, we were able to help these women do something they never otherwise would’ve been able to: jog around the block.

So since the true purpose of this week for us isn’t only self-denial, but gut-level lifestyle understanding, we haven’t run at all this week. We haven’t even exercised beyond walking to buy food–which brings me the third uncomfortable conclusion about why really poor people don’t exercise as much: it just makes you hungrier (and rice doesn’t grow on trees). Earlier this week I noted that for Global Hunger Fast Me, every decision comes down to money, but perhaps what would be more accurate is to say that every decision comes down to hunger. So exercise? Sorry. I’ll be sitting on the curb.

–Nate

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Daily Tab:

Breakfast
2 whole-wheat buns–16
1 mango–16
oil–10
3 eggs–15

Lunch + Dinner
bag of mung beans–33
2 hamburgers–22
2 tofu blocks–8
1/2 kilo rice–15
garlic–5
onion–7
1 egg–6

Sundries
internet–20
shampoo sachet–6

Daily Total: 179