Posts Tagged ‘Nate’

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As many of you know, we try to be frugal: food from Grocery Outlet (discount store), clothes from Thrift Town, baby clothes from friends, (one) car from eleven years ago. But even after our year overseas, and the re-evaluation of our lifestyle, there are still a few things we’ll spend top dollar on: chocolate, coffee, and Christmas cards.

Why those? Because they can all be bought fair trade, meaning that unlike cheapo Hallmark cards or Hershey’s chocolates,* the people making them are guaranteed a fair wage and livable working conditions.** They don’t grow cacao or coffee at Samaritana, but they do make greeting cards. These are a great way to broaden awareness of the human beings on the other side of every purchase, while also investing in relationships with your family and friends. At Samaritana, each woman signs the card after she makes it, and it also includes a few sentences about how the purchase helps that woman build a new life.

We saw the difference fair trade makes firsthand during our time in Manila. Although the Samaritana women are also trained in catering, house cleaning, jewelry making, and sewing, the card business is their best income source. Two of the women we knew not only fed their children this way, but also paid for electricity to be connected to their parents’ rural home. For a few dollars more than the generic brand, these products helped an entire family—and that, in short, is the power of fair trade.

Granted, five dollars a card might seem like a lot–but it’s comparable to other handmade cards you’ll find at specialty stationery stores, and not that much more than customized photo cards you get online. But best of all, every card you buy is a step toward the kind of world we want to raise our children in.

Cards (Christmas, holiday, and general greeting) made by Samaritana women are available at Samaritana’s US partner, Sanctuary Spring.

–Nate

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*Historically, Hershey’s has been a notable violator of fair-trade practices. They recently committed to certifying 100% of their cocoa in the future, but have been vague on which certifications they will adopt. The upshot is, whether it’s Hershey’s, Nestle, Dove, or any other brand, unless you see the black-and-white Fair Trade logo on the wrapper, it was likely produced using slave labor.

**We’re happy to report that most of the major coffee chains now sell a fair-trade variety, including Caribou, Dunn Bros, Dunkin’ Donuts, Peets, Starbucks–and even Costco and Wal-Mart! For a longer list of shops selling fair-trade coffee, plus other fair-trade foods, you can scan this guy’s blog post. (Just remember that you have to ask for the Fair Trade coffee, since in most cases these places won’t automatically serve it.)

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What kind of world will our sweet little boy grow up in?

This is our son Gabriel. He’s three months old. My hope for him as a parent is that by the time he’s ready to have children of his own, human trafficking won’t be the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world. That the threat of being trafficked won’t loom over countless young women in developing countries. That jobs and justice will both be more prevalent in places like the Philippines.

A sea change in society won’t come about with us simply carrying on with our regular lives, and this is why I write today. Some of you may already be familiar with Kickstarter, the crowd-funding platform for creative projects: someone has an idea, sets a funding goal, and if you’re interested you can pledge online to support it. (The nice part is, your pledge only goes through if the goal is achieved–and it works through the Amazon e-commerce system, so it’s easy and secure.)

I’m hoping you can spare a few clicks, and a few dollars, for Hello Forever, a movie being made by some high-profile Hollywood talent in partnership with the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. CATW is a great NGO that has worked with Samaritana on anti-trafficking initiatives in the Philippines.

Let’s take a small step together toward the kind of world I want my little boy to grow up in: a world where women are valued, respected, and have just as many opportunities as he will.

–Nate

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

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From Laura: I promised that I would post something as soon as we had news about my literary, or literal baby. For those of you not on Facebook, forgive us for taking a few days to announce that the baby is finally here! Gabriel Sagada Davis was born on Saturday, March 17 at 8:07 a.m.
After a hard night of labor, we learned that our child was every bit as stubborn as his parents: he was trying to come out sideways, and as a result his heart rate was dropping to dangerously low levels. While a C-section wasn’t what we’d planned, we are intensely grateful for modern medicine; if this had happened 100 years ago, Gabe and I probably both wouldn’t be here now. He came out perfect (except for an oblong head and bruised face, which have since healed) and healthy, and even on the tired nights, we’re delighted to realize how much fun we’re having with him in our world.

“Gabriel” means “mighty man of God,” a blessing we have had for this little boy for many months. Sagada is the name of a gorgeous mountain town in the Filipino rice terraces, and one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been. We want this child to grow up understanding that he was not just made in the Philippines, but that our year there readied us for parenthood. We hope he will love that country as much as we do, and look forward to taking him back there someday.

As for the literary baby, after getting some feedback from agents and other readers, I revised, revised again, and revised again to complete draft #7–what I hope will be a final draft (at least for now)–just days before Gabriel was born. Three literary agents have asked for it in the past three weeks, so now I get to pray and wait.

From Nate: when we were in the Philippines, the story we often heard was that women turned to prostitution because they had no other options, and would do anything to support their child. Now that I have one of my own, I can understand their actions as I never could before. 

Notes from a Hundred-hour Dad
It’s been four days since the rest of my life began, 100 hours that will forever stand out from the previous 300,000 I’ve lived. In the huge realm of fatherhood, I’ve earned just a spit-up of knowledge—but here it is:

To be a dad is to feel unworthy of the title. Unfitting of the shoes. Unsure of the task.

It’s fumbling and funneling formula to your child in the dark through a finger-taped tube.
Coming to terms with non-word neo-cuteisms like “boppy” and “onesie.”
It’s posting the same pictures your pre-dad self found vapid.

To be a dad is to live life in the margins, have but a single hand to yourself, pause writing for burping. To be a dad is to hold the tuna sandwich in the right hand and the baby in the left.

It’s accepting that life is going to happen to your kid no matter how tight you hug him.
Putting oneself second—or third—despite one’s first inclinations.
It’s a blankie burrito that keeps coming unwrapped.

To be a dad is to feel soul-stretching affection and deity-doubting anguish in the span of an evening. To wonder what on this wretched planet will stop the crying that jars the joists of your being. To be a dad is to understand why babies get shaken.

It’s dreading that your child will be weighed in the hospital scales, and found wanting.
Worrying—or not—being separated by tenths of a degree.
It’s praying for pink skin, yellow pee, and green poop.

To be a dad is to have discussed all the topics, bought all the books, asked all the relatives, hit all the web sites, stockpiled all the stuff, downloaded all the apps, heard all the advice, joined all the groups—and still not know if you’re doing it right.

It’s being forced at bottlepoint to dig deep within—and not knowing what you’ll find.
Wandering an unfamiliar land wearing a backpack of neglected-family guilt.
It’s heritage and hope made squalling, squirming flesh.

To be a dad is to stand at the corner of universal and personal, to find your needle in the haystack of seven billion straws, to have numbers tattooed on your soul. It is to have six pounds, fourteen ounces be not an amount on a scale, but be love encapsulated, medicine’s gift, dark tiny eyes looking up.

It’s watching the unfolding of the mother in your wife—and holding onto the lover in her too. It’s remembering that sexy lasts longer than stretch marks.
Snapping from sleep at a single squeak, a single snuffle, a single ragged breath.
It’s wrenching your reluctant body clock into Baby Nonstandard Time.

To be a dad is to take love-at-first-cry economics. To grasp that cars, houses, jobs and kidneys are coins in the cushions compared to the miniature human in the bassinet. To think you’d do anything, and mean it.

It’s being half of something wonderful, sidestepping karma, seeing the divine wearing a diaper.
The shaking-hands panic of being trusted with something so valuable.
It’s sobbing a blessing over your son and hoping it will stick.

To be a dad is to strum a primal string, to stub one’s toe upon Rage boxed up in the basement, to think Woe to Him Who So Much as Pulls a Hair from My Child’s Fragile, Still-forming Head. To be a dad is to glimpse the killer within.

To be a dad and an employee is to wonder if they notice your ragged edges.
To be a dad and an artist is to face the inferiority of your every other creation.
To be a dad and a husband is to juggle two balls, and hope they’re rubber, not glass.

To be a dad is to be shoved into being the Here where the buck stops. Being Provider, Proclaimer, Protector. And ruing and regretting when you can’t, aren’t, or didn’t.

It’s knowing you’ll screw up perfection, and not knowing how bad.
Having your heart burst out your tear ducts.
It’s seeing that love is too meager a word.

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Growing up, I never thought I was that fortunate. I was short, skinny, and had glasses: shrimp, four-eyes, not exactly precocious with the ladies. That was me. And since my mom sacrificed her life to home-school me and my siblings, we had one income for a family of seven, so I couldn’t always sport Z. Cavaricci and Hypercolor like the cool kids.

I saw more of what I didn’t have than what I did. I read National Geographic, but for a kid, is the exotic much different than the make-believe? Even living abroad, I picked up on details–why can’t they get good orange juice in the UK? Why are the Palestinians always angry?–but missed the part about how traveling is a privilege.

Then Laura and I moved to Manila. As we noted on several occasions on our blog, it was the biggest, sweatiest, loudest, dirtiest, most crowded place we’ve ever been. But as hard as life is there in a city of twenty million, it’s often even harder elsewhere. So people keep coming.

We had gone there to volunteer for a year, to donate our valuable time and skills: Laura coaching and writing her novel on trafficking and prostitution, and me with communications. Yet amidst the dripping-wet waistbands, the pre-dawn roosters, and the smoggy hours on buses, life got stripped down to the essentials. We got to know a wonderful country. We received more than we gave. And at Samaritana, we not only found beauty, but also saw God.

After some reflection, “quiet miracles” is the phrase I’ve arrived at to describe what goes on there. How else to explain the reclamation of society’s refuse, of women considered worthless, of human beings robbed of humanity? It’s a slow process, of course, often painful, frustrating, and heart-wrenching for the marvelous staff and volunteers. There are tears, harsh words, sullen looks, and defiant walks out the door. But they come back, and when they do, with counseling, prayer, hugs, singing, cleaning, cooking, and crafts, the lacerated lives get stitched up, day by day.

Artists say that the plain human form is the most beautiful subject; in the same way, there are few more beautiful events to witness than a simple smile emerging at last from a person whom life has taught to despair. This was the beauty we saw at Samaritana–and was a new side of the God I’d read about in a book all my life, yet just came to understand this year.

Now we’re back. We returned to zero jobs and one big mortgage, yet the freelance work for me has come in, Laura’s gotten to stay home and write, we’re healthy, and little Kierkegaard Umlaut Davis is supposed to arrive in March. Plus we have hot showers, our own car, potable tap water, and now two lives’ worth of friends. A year ago we thought we were giving up so much, and yet we’ve been given it all back, and more.

After 35 years, it’s finally seeping into my dome how fortunate I am. If you’re thinking “Wow, finding beauty and seeing God? Sign me up for a sabbatical year,” then nothing could make us happier. (Note: we saved for four years leading up to this; it’s all gone.) But for a year like this? Such a deal.

-Nate

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After you've eaten mangoes in the Philippines, it's hard to eat them anywhere else

Since we got back, our time has been divided between me looking for work, Laura revising her novel, us trying to find health care, getting used to the idea of having a baby in March–and trying to figure out something even more important: what do we want our life to look like now?

As we’ve remarked to people who have asked us about the transition back over the last four months, one of the hardest things, we’ve found, is resisting the temptation to simply be re-inserted back into the matrix. After all, our home, car, food, family, and friends are all here for us, tempting us to pick up the Bay Area good life again and let the life-altering experiences of the past year fade into the background. Like skills you don’t use, it’s alarming how quickly memories fade.

What we’ve concluded is that just as we’re committed to exercise to stay physically healthy, we have to be committed to working for Samaritana, for other trafficking and prostitution victims, and for these issues at large if we’re to remain spiritually healthy. One way we’re doing this is sharing our story every chance we get, so we were grateful for Converge Worldwide (our missions organization) giving us the chance to do two guest posts on their blog.

If you were busy from July 2010-July 2011, but are a little curious about what it’s like to quit your lives for a year and go overseas, this is the perfect time to catch up: Laura encapsulates our process leading up to the sabbatical year, and what we did, in just two posts. Please click over to read here.

And as always, thanks to all of you who helped us get there.

We’ve only been gone a year, but my friend says I look older. At age 34, that’s the first time anyone’s ever said that to me. I’ve always had a baby face: on my 15th birthday my friends suggested I ask for the 12-and-under price at the county fair; in my passport photo (age 27), I look like a college freshman. But it seems that this year has left its mark.

So what have I seen that’s made me age? Life how most of the world lives it: orphaned siblings sleeping in subway stations. Squatter families living in cement-block shacks the size of an American suburbanite’s walk-in closet. Street women selling themselves for a few dollars or less. Sights that would change anyone with eyes to see. But my eyes have widened joyfully as well: gawking at Avatar-inspiring marine life, eating heartstoppingly-good native mangoes, high-fiving women (who’d never before exercised) as they finished their first race.

But next month, I’m returning our old fantasy life, the Bay Area. Land of data plan complaints, hybrid hypermiling, and wine even in gas stations. Beloved Bay Area folks fret about real estate values or finding organic baby food at Whole Paycheck; Filipinos we have come to love worry about buying food for six on four dollars a day, or having to return to prostitution to pay their dying baby’s medical bills. Our old friends may see the change in my face, but can they feel it in their hearts? Will they even try? After a year of being a foreigner, an outsider, and a target, I fear being an alien in my native land.

When my wife and I quit our jobs last summer and moved to Manila for a year of volunteer work, I naïvely assumed it’d be similar to family trips as a kid: live overseas, see some old stuff, then pick up where I left off. But as a young but astute friend observed, the Philippines has “ruined me for the better.” So now my face tells a more serious story; my eyes focus on things besides literature, nature, and wine. Question is, will others want to see through them?