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