Monday, November 14, 2016

Taking Action

My heart weighs heavy these days. I wish I could say it’s just because of the election, but it’s been weighing heavy for a while now, the reality of the world does that to you.

Amongst all the wonderful advice I was given before coming to the Philippines, there’s really only one that echoes my everyday reality.. 

“You’re going to go, and you’re heart is going to break open, and God will be there to pick up the pieces.”

Welp. Step one down. God, where are you?

I find it hard to talk to God these days. Yelling is easy. But it doesn't help. It doesn't help the fact that the last typhoon completely destroyed my host family’s organic garden, a garden used to train other farmers about the benefits of organic farming. Or that the typhoons destroyed thousands and thousands of kilos of crops and flooded roads all over northern Luzon and destroyed homes but the world or even the Philippine government doesn’t seem to care care. Yelling doesn't change the fact that I met a strong young woman who was run over by a police van during a peaceful protest. It doesn't help my white guilt that makes me desperately miss warm showers, air conditioning, and my nice comfy bed back home. Or the fact that the President of the Philippines has mercilessly and unjustly killed over 3,000 people in a war against drugs. And it doesn't help with the fact that I was someone who used to pride myself on my ability to form connections with people but over here I am struggling badly to connect with this country and its people. 

Side note: When you have those dramatic movie moments where you’re walking the 40 minute walk through the mountains to town trying to outrun the sunset after a terrible week and all of a sudden it starts pouring rain and you forgot your umbrella (the ONE THING you’re supposed to have with you at all times in the Philippines) and you’ve just freaking had it so you stop and yell at God and the universe in the pouring rain wondering why they've turned against you, you don’t get an answer. In fact, you kinda feel really stupid for thinking that if you yelled at God dramatically in the rain your life would transform into a a classic hollywood chick flick and someone (preferably a hot guy in flannel with messy hair and a glorious beard who just happens to be your soulmate) would show up and then a montage of your perfect life together would start.

But it’s okay, God is good, the world is beautiful, the sun will shine, God’s got this. 

…..ummm no?

Let’s face reality and call that what it really is: an excuse. An excuse to sit back and hide in our privilege and do nothing while the world sinks deeper and deeper into poverty, corruption, separation, and hate.

Gonna throw another quote your way that again echoes my daily reality.

“You have not heard the Word of God until you have taken action because of it.”

If you had thrown this quote my way a year ago or even four months ago, I would have said something like, “Oh yeah, I totally get it.” Spoiler alert: I didn't get it. The Word of God requires action. It requires more than a solid attendance and donation at church every Sunday. It requires you to wake up and realize that it’s not God’s job to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth, it’s our job, and it’s time we acted upon it. 

Now I’m not saying we all have to just up and move somewhere crazy like, oh maybe, the Philippines, to act upon the word of God. I think this recent election showed there’s plenty of love needed to be spread back home. I am just begging that we wake up and realize that we should be ashamed of the reality of this world that God entrusted to us. We sat back and thought just because sunsets are occasionally really pretty it balances out the fact that we live in a world where children are taken out of school and forced into child labor?

Please believe me when I say I am writing this probably more to myself than anyone else. The realization of my lack of action prior to coming here haunts my thoughts, but I needed that wake up call. Right now, I’m mad. I’m mad at God, the universe, America, The Philippines, life, and the way it always works out the bad things happen to good people. But the anger, for me, is turning into action. Action that will hopefully help me find much needed peace in my life, and God willing, be a helpful step in my part towards bringing the Kingdom of God to Earth. 

To end, I’ll share a story (the number of stories I have from my two and half months here is quite ridiculous). A week after the last typhoon, I returned to my home in Sagada for the first time since the typhoon (I was evacuated to Manila to wait out the typhoon there). I already knew it was going to be a long journey, traveling in general in the Philippines is always an adventure. I got to the bus station at around 10:30 and found I couldn't get a bus until 1. One o'clock finally rolls around and I get on the crammed bus and find my seat, only to be kicked off the bus moments later because there were two buses leaving at one even though the sign only said one bus and I was on the second bus (The lack of information relayed here alone is enough to make me go insane). So I get on the second bus and find my seat, which is unfortunately the seat where the bus wheels are underneath which means there is no leg room which is really a disaster when you’re 5’10” living in the Philippines where the average height is like 5 foot so already a normal seat doesn't have leg room. Six long, claustrophobic hours later we are about an hour away when I discover that a typhoon flooded a bridge so we have to get off the bus, rock hop across a river (not a creek, a river) in the dark and then catch a jeepney for the rest of the journey. I would love to say I was surprised or shocked at this realization that I was currently rock hopping across a river in the dark with a weeks worth of luggage, but honestly, just another day in the Philippines. A total of nine, long, crazy hours later and I finally see my beautiful little house in the cozy mountains. As I walked the final stretch towards my house, the silence and stillness of the countryside took over and I stopped and looked up. I got lucky that night and the sky was crystal clear (that never happens) and the stars were out and boy were they shining. I looked up to see a sky alive and dancing. The dust of the milky way was visible and for a moment, just a quick moment, it felt like this peacefulness, this beauty, maybe it could last forever. 

I’m taking action for those moments; moments where peace, beauty, and brightly shining light, overcome darkness. I’ve got to believe if those moments can still happen in a world where people have to rock hop home because the government won’t help heal and rebuild after natural disasters, maybe if we fight hard enough, they can last forever. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Welcome to Sagada, where we initiate newcomers by being bitten by a stray dog

So picture this: You finally finish up your month long orientation traveling around the Philippines and you leave behind your wonderful community of fellow Philippine YAVS and you move into a tiny new village out in the mountains with a new family. The only way to town is either a jeepney ride or to simply walk the hour walk on the rural but beautiful mountain road overlooking waterfalls and rice terraces as you walk. Three days in to your new life, you muster up the courage to walk to town by yourself. You make it about half way, but then a stray dog comes up, takes you by surprise, and bites you. It isn't a bad bite, more like a little nick, but the bite did break through the skin. So you call your host mom who tells you to immediately go to the clinic. Fortunately, the jeepney passes by so you catch a ride and go straight to the clinic. At the clinic, they give you a shot and antibiotics, but say you also have to get a rabies shot, which you can only get tomorrow in the next town over. After constant calls between your host mom and your site coordinator, it is decided that you will take the bus that night to Baguio (the nearest urban city) which is six hours away, and get your shot there the next day. About 10 mins before you leave your house to catch a ride to town to then catch the bus to Baguio, you discover you lost your wallet (Passport and cards were fortunately safely packed away). You tear your room apart but cannot find it. Your sweet grandmother steps in to save the day, and gives you enough money for the jeepney ride to town, and from there you can use the ATM to get some cash for the bus ride. You get to town and go straight to the ATM, but it doesn't work. It says it wont accept foreign cards. So you go to another ATM. Same response. You run to the bank where you then discover that there’s no ATM in town that can accommodate a foreign card and no other way to get instant cash. So you call your site coordinator in a panic and she saves the day by sending a friend to meet you and give you enough money to cover the bus ticket. So you’re finally ready to get on the bus when you get a call from your host mom who says she found someone with the rabies shot here in town. At this point, you have absolutely no idea what in the world is going on with your ridiculous life, but you obediently walk to the hospital, where you meet your host sister, and where you receive the rabies shot by a nurse on staff. You then go back home and just go to sleep because your mind and body are both done and you can no longer comprehend anything. 

You wake up the next day to relay the crazy story to your parents and all the emotions finally come up at once and you burst into tears in a public restaurant because NO, this is not how your new adventure is supposed the begin.

I guess I should pause here and say I’m fine, and I’ll explain way. 

Though that day was terrible and traumatic and not at all how I wanted to start off my new life in the Philippines, I was overwhelmed with the immediate love and hospitality I received. At that point, I had only known my host family for three days yet my mother was constantly calling to see how I was, and was using every connection possible to make sure I got the right treatment. My site coordinator also kept in constant communication, and made sure every step of the way I was safe and got what I needed. My grandmother was willing to give up her allowance for the entire week just to make sure I got that bus ticket, and my host sister graciously met up with me right after she finished school so I wouldn't have to be alone. 

The Philippines may have many flaws, and many aspects that are hard for me to adjust to, but today I am immensely thankful to live in a culture where community is life. On Saturday I became part of a community that takes care of each other, despite how long or short they know each other.

Life here is world’s different than life at home. I live in an indigenous community with a host family and my host mom has an organic farm and is a huge advocate for indigenous rights and organic farming. So I get to follow her around and soak up as much as I can about life, farming, and what it means to be indigenous and live in a modern world. Day to day life is a much slower pace than I’m used to. Everyone rises early at about 5:30, but its not so bad because my room faces east so every morning I get to watch the sun rise over the mountains and see the world come alive. My sisters have to leave the house by 6:45 to catch the jeep to town to get to school and I have to do garden work early. The sun sets at six and street lights are not really a thing here so life really shuts down after dark. This means 9 is pretty much bedtime, but since I get up at five, I don't complain. Our house doesn't have a shower or hot water, so I’m getting used to cold bucket showers. Once you get passed the initial shock of the first pour, its quite nice. And although we have running water, the water pressure is very low and only sometimes is there water so its a gamble every time I turn the faucet as to whether or not water will actually come out (It never fails that every time I need to brush my teeth there is no water). And cockroaches are unavoidable now. Sometimes I see about three or four just scurrying around all the walls.

But, whenever I’m hungry I can go outside and grab a fresh orange from the trees or go down to the garden and harvest some string beans. And whenever I’m craving some beautiful scenery, I simple walk down the road to where it ends and follow the path through the many rice terraces and beautiful green mountains to my favorite little secluded hill overlooking it all.

The stillness, quiet, and simplicity of life here was tough at fist, but now I find it quite healing and invigorating. This beautiful little community has so much culture, and so much to teach about peace, healing, and resilience. Their history is one that is filled with much corruption, injustice, and war, but yet they found a way to heal and retain who they are as community and as a culture. I am grateful and humbled to walk with them, if only for a short time, and learn to heal and be resilient and attain who I am, despite a broken world. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Life is ridiculous, so sometimes you just have to dance

“How’s the Philippines?!?!?” ………………….

I get that question a lot, and after being here for a month, I am nowhere close to having an answer. The only response that I can think of that comes close is, “It’s a whirlwind!” And it truly has been. This past month has been good and bad, amazing and heartbreaking. I’ve laughed until I cried and cried until I laughed. I’ve seen some of the most corrupt and cruel treatment of people I’ve ever witnessed but also been overwhelmed with love, hospitality, and grace. It’s been one hell of an adventure, and for that I can think of no words to proclaim my gratitude.

To better illustrate how I’m feeling and paint the picture of what the Philippines has been like so far, I’ll share some memories. Just last week we spent about 5 days visiting the indigenous communities in the mountains. It was a very eye opening and moving experience for me, not only for the experience of living with them, farming with them, and hearing their stories, but I will also be working and visiting these communities as part of my work placement so it was incredible to meet these people and know I’ll have the chance to form meaningful and real relationships with them and help tell their story. BUT the thing about these communities in the mountains is, you have to get there. And when I say they live in the mountains, I actually mean they live ON the mountains. As in literally, on top of the mountain. And for those of you who know me well, you know I basically live and breathe for mountains so needless to say I was in heaven waking up on top of a mountain seeing a spectacular mountainous world laid before me. But to get there, you basically have to drive up in a four wheel drive car on the craziest, smallest, and most steep roads blazing up the side of the mountain, reaching highway elevations of over 7,000ft. I was amazed and terrified, but mostly just kept thinking, don't throw up, don't throw up, please dear God don't let me throw up. 

So, picture this: It’s about 7 at night (the sun sets at 6 every night here) its pitch black, we’ve been traveling on these crazy mountain roads for about three hours, we still have about an hour to go, and suddenly, we come upon the steepest road on the side of a mountain that I’ve ever seen. The car tries and tries to keep going but slows down and eventually stops. Our pastor taking us to these communities, just turns around and says, “Well, time to get out!” So, we all step out of the car where we are ushered to the back of the car. We then quickly realize that we are all going to try and push this car up the road, on the mountain, in the dark. At this point, my only response is to start laughing and proclaim that the phrase “It’s more fun in the Philippines!” is 100% true. So we start to push, and the car finally catches, but not before it rolls back a couple of inches which causes us all to scream, thinking this is where it all ends. But it didn’t. We walked up the hill, got back in the car, and continued on our eventful journey. 

The thing is, I’ve already got a plethora of stories just like that one, stories that involve me slitting a chicken’s throat, wheelies on a motorbike, and vidioke (karaoke) with warm beer and boiled bananas. But I’ve also got stories like this one: mining is a terrible thing is these beautiful mountains. Foreign mining companies come and blaze and blast through the mountains, getting gold. They have no respect for the locals that call these mountains home, which means that many households have large cracks in their homes caused from the blasts made by the mining companies. The mining companies also just donated 2 million dollars to the court system, so trying to fight them goes nowhere. The worst damage I saw was a home where the floor caved in. Countless people have come by to look at the damage but it’s been two years and nothing has been done to fix it. 

After being showed this horrifying reality, our pastor said a prayer. In the prayer he thanked God for His amazing grace, and a local woman (whose home had been damaged by the mining) proclaimed, Yes! His grace is good! I then found myself getting angry by her response and wanted to scream, “Grace! What grace! Your home is literally crumbling and no one cares!” Where is the grace of God when people are watching their homes and lives crumble to pieces while I have always come home to a house with running water, cable, internet, heat, AC, a fridge, and countless other comforts I do not find here. I did nothing to deserve that, I was born to a life of privilege, and these people were born to a world where respect for their homes, their heritage, and their history are hard to find. 

I love God with all my heart, and I do see his Grace ring true here in the hearts of the people and the communities that they have built, but every day I struggle with the reality of what the life I will go home to is like versus the reality of life here. Life here is hard, and I thought my life was hard, but I have been humbled to see the reality of the undeserving gifts given to me, and I don't know why. 

So that’s what I mean when I say it’s a whirlwind. I remember a moment at the end of my short trip to mountainous communities, where I thought to myself, this is it, my dreams that I’ve worked toward my entire life are coming true. My dreams of wanting to travel the world and meet people, hear their stories, and fight with them are finally reality. My next thought was damnit why couldn't my dream be to watch netflix in bed forever because this shit is hard.

So life here is wonderfully hard, but wonderfully fulfilling. Over the course of my short life I’ve come to realize and really believe that sometimes life is ridiculous so you just need to dance. Needless to say, I find myself dancing a lot here. Even if there’s no music and it is generally a socially inappropriate time to dance. But hey, do what you gotta do. 

Going forward, I am excited and ready and scared to see the ways I will continue to be broken and put together, continue to question and love the grace of God, and continue to find myself dancing through this incredible journey I have been given. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Week One Reflections

Hi all! I survived my first week in Philippines!

This week we have been stationed in Manila, learning the history of the Philippines and getting exposed to the drastic extremes of Manila.

I don't really know how to structure this post. I could tell you about all the awesome food the Philippines has, or about how all of my near death experiences have happened this last week and have been the result of INSANE Filipino traffic. Or about the stunning sunsets where the entire sky comes alive with vibrant colors that seem to dance with joy. Or I could tell you about all the wonderful, passionate people I’ve already met and how they have welcomed me with open arms. But I could also tell you about the pollution in Manila. How I find myself coughing throughout the day because the air quality is so bad. I could tell you about the trash and how it covers most every street. And I could tell you about the poverty here. How it is so real and about how too many people live in conditions that no human being should have to live in. 

That’s the thing about the Philippines: it openly and so clearly shows the two extremes of the world, the corruption and the beauty. In Manila, so many times I would walk down the street and on one side see a fabulous, elegant building that I’m sure is used by important people to do important things, but on the other side of the street, I would see slums and cardboard and metal scraps used to make shelter for homes and naked children running around, trying to stay cool.

I don’t know what to make of that, and I’ve struggled with it a lot this past week. The people of the Philippines are so joyous, and so proud to be Filipino, despite the corruption and suffering. Part of me is happy to see that, to see that people find so much pure joy despite so much sadness. But part of me is even more hurt by it, and just wants to scream that you shouldn't have to live like this, that you deserve so much more. 

I imagine that this is a struggle I’ll sit with everyday while I’m here, and carry it with me long after. But, despite it all, I’m so happy to be here. It’s a whole other world here, and everyday I’m learning so much about myself, the world, and the people of the Philippines and how they remind me to love God with everything I am. 

Side note: The YAV program here in the Philippines is structured so that, upon arrival, all the YAVs and the site coordinations travel around the Philippines for the first month so we can get accustomed to the culture before departing to our various work sites. So we’ve just finished up our first week in Manila and tomorrow we leave for Dumaguete City. As most of you know, I was supposed to live and work in Davao, starting around the beginning of October. Since the bombing occurred in Davao just days after our arrival, my living situation has been changed. I’ll now be living on the northern most Island in the heart of the mountains, where I’ll work on an organic farm and with indigenous communities nearby. While I’m sad to miss out on Davao, and my heart breaks for the families that lost loved ones, I’m so excited to go home to the mountains. I don't have any concrete details yet, but hopefully will soon.

Blessings to everyone back home

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

I have arrived!

Hey friends and family! I have arrived!

Right now I'm writing from Quezon city which is just outside of Manila, where we flew in late last night.

Its been a whirlwind 10 days to say the least. All last week I was in Stony Point, New York with all of my fellow YAVs for (dis)orientation. It was an intense week that covered many topics but mostly focused on racism and white supremacy. While these are difficult topics to discuss, they need to be addressed and I was grateful to dive into such serious issues with my YAV community. The week was long, draining, and sometimes heartbreaking spending so much time addressing the corruptness of our world, but it brought all of us together, and I am grateful for the many tight friendships I developed over such a short period of time. I will miss my fellow YAVs while across the world in the Philippines, but I trust that we are all walking alongside each other through individual journeys and our one journey as a greater community.

All in all, it took about 30 exhausting and draining hours to get the Philippines. Our journey started at 4:30 AM when we left Stony Point and got on the train to get to Newark Airport. The train journey went smoothly, and for that I was very grateful. Riding on trains while carrying a years worth of luggage with you is no easy task. We got to the airport and caught our connecting flight to Detroit, and landed in Detroit around 11. Our flight, which was from Detroit to Tokyo, was supposed to leave at 12:30, but it kept getting delayed and delayed for mechanical issues. We didn't leave Detroit until 4 PM. While it was a very frustrating situation, we did run into the Korea YAVS right before boarding, so it was very comforting having them see us off.

The flight from Detroit to Japan was 12 LONG LONG LONG hours. I watched a couple of movies, tried to sleep a bit, every once in a while freak out that I wasn't going back home for year, but we got through it! Although right before we landed in Japan we were informed that a typhoon had just moved north of us so it was safe to land. At this point, Im thinking WHAT?! A typhoon sounds dangerous!! I was then told typhoons are the norm here so I’ll have to get used to that.

We then flew from Japan to Manila, which is about 4 hours. Arriving in Manila and going through customs went smooth and quickly, which was a huge blessing. From there it took about an hour to where we are staying right now. Although it was late at night when I arrived, the culture shock was very real. One: the humidity!! I’m told it’s winter here so it will get worse. But at 11 PM it was at least 85 degrees, and more humidity than I’ve ever felt, and yet people were walking around with long jeans on and jackets like it was cold! Two: the traffic. We were driving at 11 at night and it was still bumper to bumper. I cant even image what driving today will be like at rush hour. We were told never to drive during our year here and I will happily comply. I could definitely already notice the crazy traffic norms that I’ve been told about.

All in all, I’ve got a huge mix of emotions jumbled up in my head. It didn't feel real in orientation. It did feel like I was about to move halfway across the world, but man it feels real now. I would be lying if I said I wasn't terrified. Probably the most terrified I have ever been. But I also would be lying if I said this wasn’t the most excited I’ve ever been. This year is going to be one incredible rollercoaster, and I’m doing my best to keep my heart and mind open to what that means. I’m so incredibly grateful for Flanny and Akilah. They are quickly turning into family and I know we can be the support systems for each other needed to get through this year.

Well, the adventure has begun!!! Sending my love to everyone back home, know I am grateful to have you all walking with me on this journey.