“You never know when you are making a memory…”

July 5, 2013

My blogs are a week behind my journals.  I often just copy and paste myphilippines 5 010 journals into this blog.  I am required to keep journals for my practicum, so I just slap them on here and call it a blog.  Otherwise, too much work!

For the most part, life is good.  I have my moments…moments of sheer frustration and irritation.  Everything is harder here (like getting to school, as demonstrated in the picture above).  Even the most basic things are more difficult.  It is more difficult to do laundry, to cook, to shop, to flush the damn toilet.  Everything is constant work.  At first I marveled at how early Filipinos get up in the morning…then I began to understand why…it is simply because every little task takes a long time.

And though I am adjusting to the staring and the intensity of the attention I receive, it still affects me.  I often have to give myself a little pep talk before going to the market, or out for a run.  “You know you are going to get stared at, called to, and create a scene everywhere you go.  Just accept it, move forward with a smile and do what you need to do.”  I am not a person here…I am an object.  And while women have plenty of practice in feeling like objects, it is far more powerful here.  For years, women’s studies scholars have attempted to demystify objectification to make Caucasian men understand.  All they really need to do is experience it.  Go somewhere unbelievably poor, where no white person has walked before.  Your soul and your individuality become totally immaterial, as you transform into a thing.  Feelings and personality and uniqueness seem to float away from your body, as you absorb your thing-ness.  And sadly, trivialization and objectification just create the same in reverse.  Meaning, those staring at me start to meld into a homogeneous mass, composed of identical things that make me uncomfortable and all too aware of my status and privilege.  And you begin to resent them, and turn them into an accumulation of things.  It is a strange, strange non-existence that I still have not learned to navigate.  

On Friday, I worked on my “Hawai`i Day stuff most of the day.  I decidedphilippines 5 065 to head to the outdoor market for flowers.  The outdoor market here is one of the most intimidating places that I go.  I like it because it has the best selection of veggies and cheap fruits, but as opposed to some of the restaurants and cafes I sometimes frequent (for AC and internet), no white people ever go there. Ever.  But, I decided to suck it up and just GO, of course first giving myself the little pep talk to be able to get out of the door.  It certainly was interesting!  They LOVE when I speak Waray, and are so impressed at the most basic things that I say.  And believe me, everything I say is basic. As I moved through the stalls, the attention was so intense that I quickly grabbed flowers at the first flower booth I saw (despite the flowers looking like they had been trampled on by toddlers) and fled the scene.

philippines 5 057Friday night I was invited out by Melissa, Ellen, and Siege, their local friend.  I met them at a restaurant that is quickly becoming my favorite, as it has the best Filipino dishes that I have had in a restaurant.  I got there on time, 8pm, and waited.  And waited, and waited, and waited.  I think they are truly Filipino now.  It was hard to sit there with my beer, waiting…as I felt every man’s eyes on me in the entire place.  Some bravely approached and asked if I were married.  My answer did not seem to deter them, so I tried to blow them off as politely as possible.  At aroundphilippines 5 060 9pm, the others arrived.  I was about to go home, but I was so relieved to see them that I couldn’t even be angry.  We had a lovely dinner and some beers.  It was my first time “out” in Calbayog.  It was fun!  After, we headed to the sea wall to sit and share rum and chat.  It was a good night.

I got home around 12am and could not sleep.  I have not been sleeping well here.  I believe I have only gotten more than 8 hours 2 times since I’ve been here.  I’m not sure why that is…if I am just anxious or stressed?  Sometimes I wake up covered in sweat and have to take a cold shower just to cool off.  My room is quite hot.  

philippines 5 022Saturday morning was “Family Day” at the center.  All of the girls’ families are invited to attend.  The girls give a short little program (song and dance) and then there is a short parenting class.  It was a very emotional day.  There was sparse attendance.  Some of the families that came seemed disinterested and irritated to be there.  Some threw their arms around their daughters and cried.  Many did not show up at all.  It was difficult to witness.  I sat with a group of girls in the corner that were (unusually) quiet.  I asked where their families were and they told me that they were philippines 5 018 not coming.  I told them that I would be their family today, and they began calling me “Mama Katie.”  Then they told me that when they meet Joe, they will call him “Daddy Joe.”  That totally cracked me up, picturing Joe’s face when 21 girls come running to him calling him Daddy!  Ha!  It was too cute!  And also heart-breaking, simultaneously.

philippines 5 052For whatever reason, and for the first time in my entire life, my maternal side has decided to kick in here in the Philippines.  Ok, calm down, calm down…I’m not saying that I am going to run home and pump out children.  I have, after all, never had much of an urge to have children.  I have friends that have dreamed of being Mothers since they were young girls.  After all, it is drilled into women from the moment of birth that this is our purpose.  We are given a baby doll at age 2 as if to say, “Here, go ahead and start figuring that Mother thing out.”  (I believe that line is from a comedian but I cannot remember who), but I was never very interested in baby dolls.  As I got older and more and more friends became Mothers, I just…kept living my life.  The life that I love.  It’s not that I detest children (as people always assume), or that I’ve never truly considered what it will be like to go through life without children.  I simply love the life that my husband and I have carved out for ourselves.  We love to travel…we love each other.  I’m happy.  Why change it unless it’s something we really desire?  But being here…being with these girls…something is happening!  And it is MAJORLY freaking me O-U-T.  I want to take each of them home!  I tease my husband that I am coming home with 5 children, and though it is completely a joke, there IS something rooted in the joke.  I guess I haven’t completely deciphered my feelings about it yet, because I feel I am rambling.  I also don’t really care if this seems like an overshare…I am an open person, and that’s just how I roll.  🙂

The girls were glued to my side all day.  One girl in particular wanderedphilippines 5 036 off alone.  I found her in the stairwell, sobbing.  Her Mother had not come.  I held her for nearly 30 minutes while she cried, trying to soothe her.  She calmed down and we returned inside.  About 20 minutes later, her Mother came in.  She ran to her and buried her face in her Mother’s neck.  It brought tears to my eyes.  These girls are simply aching for love and attention. 

I am unsure of how I feel about the “parenting class.”  I do see the merit in it.  I understand what WESADEF is trying to accomplish, I am just very doubtful that it will make any real difference.  Only one man attended “Family Day” and since men and boys are the perpetrators, I think it is essential to begin prevention programs with them.  But of course, it’s important to alert Mothers and siblings of the signs of abuse, as well.philippines 5 035  Several of the girls have revealed that their parents or guardians did not believe them when they revealed their abuse.  Perhaps WESADEF needs to dedicate a portion of training to this issue…portraying the fact that most children do not make up accusations such as this and it is monumentally important to trust and believe them when they do confess.  Just a thought.  Like I said, I have not thought through this enough as of yet; so why I am rambling on and on about it is a blogging mystery.

I, like the girls, was exhausted by the time it was over.  So many emotions.  It ended around 2pm, and I used the time to finish preparations for “Hawai`i Day” which was the next day.  I made “grass” skirts out of construction paper and yarn, like the traditional hula dancers in Hawai`i wear.  I went to the big outdoor market (like I mentioned above) and bought flowers for the girls’ hair.  I made a presentation with facts about Hawai`i, comparing it to the Philippines so that they could see how similar the two are.  I also input videos of Hawaiian hula, both male and female, and a short film that shows some of the scenery of Hawai`i…the mountains, the waterfalls, the ocean. 

philippines 5 068The next day, I finished preparations and went to get the girls in late morning.  They were so excited!  We went to the center where I had Hawaiian music playing and tied their grass skirts around their waists and placed flowers in their hair.  I taught them a few basic Hawaiian words, like “aloha”, “mahalo”, and “ohana.”  I also told them about Humuhumunukunukuapua’a just to make them laugh.  I gave my presentation and they watched the hula, fascinated.  To an outside observer, hula probably looks very sexual in nature.  I tried to explain however, that hula is sacred, religious.  It is a traditional dance with much history behind it.  I think they had a hard time accepting that, though.philippines 5 080

We then moved all of the chairs and tables out of the way and I taught them an easy, short hula called, “Beautiful Kaua’i.”  They loved it!  They love to sing and dance so much…it’s such a fun and easy way for us to bond.  I told them that my professor is arriving next week from Hawai`i, and that we would practice at night in the shelter and perform it for her.  They giggled profusely and seemed excited.  I just adore those philippines 5 088girls.  I am going to hate leaving them, I can feel it already.

Afterward, we headed back to the shelter for “ice candy” or popsicles.  The language still makes it difficult for us to communicate, but somehow we manage to make it work.  They tease me about my Waray incessantly, and giggle like crazy when I mess up.  It really makes me laugh.

I was sitting with a group of girls outside on the front porch when I heard a commotion inside.  We went to make sure everything was okay, and saw that one of the younger girls (7 yrs old), was seizing on the ground.  She has been in the hospital this last week and was vaguely diagnosed with “Psychosis.”  Psychosis is hardly a diagnosis, however, as it encompasses hundreds of different issues.  She has told others that she has hallucinations, and hears the voice of her Mother (who has passed away).  Anyway, they were in the playroom and she looked like she was having an epileptic seizure.  Ate Joan and 3 of the older girls were holding her down.  My first thought was to tell them not to hold her down, that you never do that while someone is seizing.  But I held back, wanting to observe before passing judgment.  She began to calm down, and I thought the seizure was over, but as soon as the others loosened their grip on her, she lunged forward, trying to attack one of the other girls.  It was very odd, because she was still seizing uncontrollably while lashing out. She would try to scratch and bite, then she would lay on the floor, sobbing and calling frantically for her Mother.  Then she would sit straight up and laugh hysterically, maniacally.  It was insane to witness.  I have seen people in various stages of hysteria, but never in someone so young and never as extreme as this.  It really scared the girls.  It really scared me.  Some of the girls got bibles and started praying over her.  I can understand that, because she really did look like she was possessed.  This went on for over 40 minutes.  Usually during such an episode, the body tires quickly and it will subside, but this lasted seemingly forever.  Then, just as suddenly as it began, she lay down, her body relaxed, and she opened her eyes and asked what was going on.  She asked why everyone was staring at her.  The girls let her go and she sat up, drenched in sweat.  She started playing again, though tiredly.  It was very odd to witness.  Ate Joan made plans for her to go to the nearest hospital the next day with a pediatrician, which is almost 4 hours away. 

I tried to talk to some of the girls outside.  I tried to explain that she could not help it, that it was not her fault.  I tried to tell them not to treat her any differently, but with my terrible Waray, it came out something like this: “She help it cannot. Different try to treat her not. She inside hurt but hurt you she does not want to.”  It was obviously a somber moment, but I think my wretched Waray kind of lightened the mood.  I’m not sure it got through, but I tried my best.

I thought about her all night long.  I wondered what would happen to her.  They took her to the doctor the following day and they want to do a CT scan to rule out any brain injury or tumors.  I think this is a very good idea.  Her Lola, (her Grandmother), only wants to take her to a “Quack Doctor” (as the ladies refer to it).  Basically, she believes her granddaughter is cursed/possessed.  We do not know the extent of her abuse; she in all honesty could have some head trauma that has gone untreated.  I have seen it happen.  From what I saw, it looks like trauma-informed mental illness.  I am no expert, mind you, but I do know that mental illness can lie dormant until something triggers it.  It is so difficult to keep my anger in check when something like this happens.  To know that someone caused this…caused this beautiful little girl such pain that her brain and body just broke down.  The women informed me that they cannot yet afford to take her all of the way to Manila for scans.  This broke my heart.  I have such a strong urge to just offer to pay, though I know that throwing money at these situations does not do anyone much good, and Consuelo was quite firm about volunteers not doing that.  But I feel so completely helpless and horrible!  I don’t know what to do, what to suggest.  I know the women are very concerned about her too, but they are bound just like me by financial issues and obligations.  It is like trying to fit a square into a round hole.  Nothing seems to work.  I left the shelter that night feeling helpless and sad.  It’s been on my mind ever since.  Sometimes I wonder why I chose this profession, as I have a hard time separating my emotions from it.

Every night this week, the girls come bang on my windows and ask me to rehearse hula with them.  I hope they do not chicken out in front of Paula, because they are soooo cute doing the hula!  There are some really natural hula dancers in our group!  Last night, I had just come from yoga and I told them so.  They were VERY curious about yoga, so I did a couple of poses with them.  I have opened yet another can of worms.  Now they want a yoga class!  It’s just hilarious to me, because I am probably the WORST yogi in the world.  But, Ellen (our yoga instructor) is leaving this week for a 3 week training session, so that leaves Wednesday nights open.  I think I will do a short yoga class with the girls, since they seem to want to do it so much.  Ah, life here is funny.  I am an “expert” at everything, even if I don’t know what the hell I am doing most of the time.  😛 

I am still taking sign-language classes, which is going very well.  I hope UH offers ASL classes, as I really I would really like to add it to my Fall schedule this year.  I love joking around with the ladies as I butcher two languages at once!  

The running is getting better.  I purposely, even though it’s boring, use thephilippines 5 007 same route almost every time so that those that walk or live along that road will see me every morning and get used to it.  Something very funny is that when I run at the center (they have an old treadmill that is terrible, but hey – it’s better than nothing though it it hot as HELL, as evidenced by my after-running photo below), the women cannot BELIEVE it.  They are so enamored by my exercising habits.  Sometimes if I am still running when they start to trickle into work in the morning, they will get coffee and just sit and watch me run.  Do you know what it’s like to have 5 Filipinas stare at you while you run on a treadmill?  This girl does!  As an obvious foreigner, I have learned that if my behavior or habits arephilippines 5 118 considered peculiar or bizarre by Filipino standards, it is still the accepted eccentricity of an outsider; a foreigner.  They may marvel at my food and clothing choices (they often do), and at my odd habit of skipping merienda, but they also give me more allowance because I am a crazy American.  

I can push boundaries in a different way than local women too, for the same reason.  Regardless of my tremendous privilege, or more likely because of it, I can stroll to the edge, trying always to chase the inevitable excitement of disorientation.  Because travel, in itself, is a constant state of disorientation, a constant reminder that everything is different, new, and interesting.  Even the shocking, even the grotesque are found fascinating, and you find yourself stumbling along, marveling at the most basic aspects of everyday life in a completely novel way.  Its newness is intoxicating, like a drug.  And while I often long for the simple pleasures of home, I always come back to craving more out of this experience, desiring to squeeze every last drop of newness from it.  

One Response to ““You never know when you are making a memory…””

  1. You do write like you SING! It does seem like you are in your element. I suppose you could just adopt and surprise Joey! Keep writing I enjoy your blog. Love Daddy-o


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