“Sky above me, earth below me, fire within me.”

September 5, 2013

These are journals that I kept while abroad and I have chosen to simply cut and paste them here.  So, you are getting the REAL deal – no editing!  Keeping that in mind, please understand that posting my journal for everyone to see definitely puts me in a vulnerable position.  I have also decided to block those that I met in the Philippines from these blogs, as I feel that my honesty and observations could be misconstrued or misunderstood by some of my new friends and I would never want to hurt them or make them feel inadequate or betrayed in any way. I just give my personal observations of what I see and experience, so I hope and pray that this remains hidden to them, but if one happens to sneak in, I hope they know me well enough to understand my love for them, my appreciation for this amazing experience, and my deep fondness for this incredible country.


It has been a little while since I’ve written.  I find that as my time here increases and as my relationships grow and expand with the girls, I have a more difficult time writing about them.  How do I put into words

 all of the emotions that 


rush through me on a daily basis?   When I am with them, I move through so many feelings.  I feel sheer joy from spending time with them and seeing their amazing spirits and sweet smiles.  Then I move into extreme sadness, remembering what they’ve endured and what they still have to face in the years ahead.  Then I feel anger on their behalf, knowing that they will never be the same.  Then I move back into the joy of the moment; dancing with them, singing and laughing.


 I am growing not only to adore these girls, but to love them.  I have had many parents tell me that the way their children look at them melts their heart…that realcamera, girls 020they know in that moment that they are their child’s everything.  I think I finally get that (at least as much as a childless woman can).   The way the girls look at me breaks my heart.  One smile from me will cause them to break out into a grin that lights up their entire face.  They are thrilled when I give them a compliment or extra attention, they hang all over me like they are literally clinging to me for life.  It definitely gives me a sense of worth and purpose that I’ve never felt before, which I can only assume is similar to the feeling of being421361_10151423342691431_295725523_n a parent.  With each passing day, I am getting closer to leaving and am already feeling the weight of what that will feel like.  I am going to have to rip myself away from these beautiful girls, not knowing when (or if) I’ll ever get to see them again.  It truly makes me teary-eyed to even type those words.  


Before I get into the semantics of my work life, there is an interesting cultural story that I just have to share.  As I have diligently and woefully reported via these journals, I have had major stomach problems since I arrived in the Philippines.  At least once a week I have issues for a few days.  Sometimes is it something minor, sometimes it is very painful and lasts for days.  After my trip to Tacloban, I was really struggling.  I was going on 5 days of bad stomach cramps and diarrhea.  I told a few of the women about it, and one of them told me that she goes to a “quack doctor”, or Filipino healer, for help with her illnesses.  I could tell that she was afraid to tell me, in case I thought she was crazy for going to such a “doctor”.  She asked if I believed in that sort of thing.  I decided to just be honest.  I said, “I do not believe it in, but I do not not believe in it.  I try to stay open to things like that, as I believe that some have gifts that I just cannot explain.”  This seemed to relax her and she began telling me alllll about the “quack doctors” here.  She really believes in them, as her Grandfather was a healer.  It was fun to hear her stories and a few of the other ladies chimed in.  One Ate told she that goes to one of the most well-known (and thereby trusted) healers in Calbayog.  He is very critical about who he will treat, however.  He has to assess them and make certain they are “good”.  She asked if I would like to see him for my stomach.  I was like, “YES!”  I mean, how many other times in my life will I be able to go to an authentic Filipino healer?  Probably none.  And like I’ve said before, when it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, you just say yes.  🙂  So, we decided to go that afternoon at 4pm.  I was a little nervous…what if he “assessed” me and then decided I was a non-believer, or worse, “evil”???  Would the ladies ever trust me again?  


Philippines6 002We traveled to a part of Calbayog I’ve never seen.  My other Ate (who also accompanied us) told me that we were in the slums of Calbayog.  I have seen some serious poverty here, as Western Samar is one of the most impoverished places in all of the Philippines, but this was something else.  The houses were all over the “river” which is a polluted garbage and sewer pit.  My Ate explained that very few have electricity or running water, so the CRs (restrooms) are just a hole in the floor (over the river) and all of the sewagePhilippines6 003 goes into the water.  The smell was almost unbearable, but I tried my best not to respond outwardly.  I don’t think the staring has ever been more intense than in this area.  I was looked at like a female version of Jesus.  The pictures do NOT do it justice, but I had share a few.


We walked into one of the shacks, and I let my Ates lead.  She explained who I was and what my problem was to the healer.  He took my wrist and told me to look him in the eyes.  I knew he was “assessing” and got even more nervous.  He then nodded his head in approval (I suppose that means that I am good) and told me to sit.  He asked me how long my stomach issues had been going on, and I told him that I had suffered from stomach issues (pain and bloating) for over 4 years, but that they had gotten progressively worse here in the Philippines.  He nodded and began digging in his cabinet and bag.  He mixedquackdoctor2 some kind of strange concoction and placed it before me.  I drank it and it was possibly the most foul, bitter thing I have ever swallowed (and let me remind you, I’ve eaten balut!).  What was strange was that it immediately made me start sweating profusely.  We were in a shaded shelter and it was a cloudy, windy day, so it was not (strangely enough) particularly hot outside.  He noticed me sweating and wiping my face over and over and commented that it was a common reaction. He then got out 4 pieces of paper.  He rapidly wrote and scribbled furiously on them, in a language none of us recognized.  It was not jibberish, however (at least I do not think) because each of the notes were identical in every way.  And he wrote them so quickly!  He placed one in my water bottle,quackdoctor4 allowing it to float ceremoniously down to the bottom.  He then blessed my water. (Do not worry – I asked permission to have my Ate take photos and also paid him extra for agreeing).  He instructed me to wet each of the remaining pieces of paper each night before bed, and stick them to my stomach while sleeping.  He informed me that I might have strange dreams.  


Then, we left. Strangely enough, on the way to the healer, we rode in a trike, and the bumpiness of the horrid road was painful on my weary stomach.  On the way home, however, the pain was completely gone.  I didn’t even notice it was gone at first.  Then I began poking and pushing my stomach, which before had also caused me pain, but nothing.  Part of me wanted to believe and marvel in this; the other (logical) part of me wanted to refuse to believe and explain it as psychosomatic, or coincidental.  Either way, it was by far one of the most memorable Friday afternoons I’ve spent here.  And I think it actually brought me even closer to two of my Ates and especially,\ to one, who I will admit has been a little suspicious and stand-offish since I arrived.  Now she greets me warmly every morning and has even stayed after lunch to chat with me.  I found in telling the peace corps volunteers about this experience that they were quite appalled and negative about it.  I feel they often treat me like a cultural idiot because they have been here longer than me.  While I understand that they undoubtedly have more experience than me in living here, it can still become very frustrating for me.  They “explained” that a foreigner going to a healer was very taboo and is looked down upon.  I was surprised by this and immediately felt a little shame about my cultural ignorance.  After thinking about it, though, I realize that I should defer to my Ates on this one.  If they invited me personally and thought it was okay, then it surely was.  They, more than two peace corps volunteers, obviously have a more profound understanding of what is culturally appropriate and would not have taken me if it were not ok.  I have decided to look at it as an honor that they trusted me enough to take me there, instead of feeling guilty about being culturally unaware or ignorant.  Perhaps the volunteers are just jealous that they haven’t been invited?  😛  


Each night, I diligently applied the papers as instructed (hey – if you’re going to do it, do it all the way!) and the first night I did have a very intense dream.  I dreamed that my Mother was in my room in the Philippines (my Mother passed away about 9 years ago).  I am often saddened that my Mother really did not get to see me as a true adult, as she died when I was only 25.  But now I can hardly remember the details of the dream.  I just remember the feelings.  She had come back to life, basically.  I was elated, overjoyed, and soooo excited to be with her again and to show her my life.  But then, I began to watch her deteriorate again, getting sicker and sicker, like at the end of her life.  I begged her not to leave, not to die all over again.  But then, she was gone.  The grief; the overwhelming, aching grief that only really accompanies death overpowered me, even in my unconscious state.  I woke up sweaty and tear-stained, with a heavy heart.  It is odd, because the entire time I have been in Calbayog, I have not slept well, and not once have I woken up remembering my dreams.  Normally, at home, I nearly always wake up recalling some aspect of my dreams.  I apologize for this being so long-winded…it was just a freakish, weird experience that I wanted to share with you.  


Ok, enough of that.  The next day (Saturday) I woke up with a sore throat, a massive headache, and a fever.  I’ll just say it: I was PISSED.  I get sick mayyyyybe once a year in Hawai`i, but it seems I am sick every week here!  I was frustrated and irritated and tried to ignore it all day.  I went to lay down for a bit in the afternoon and woke up an hour later, drenched in sweat but also freezing.  That’s when I knew I really had a fever, because believe me, my room is anything but cold.  😛  I was angry that another weekend was going to be wasted lying in bed.  I did nothing that night but try and sleep a ton.  However, I was awoken at 4am by the seemingly innocuous (though actually formidable) sound of the fans clicking off.  Brown out.  It was too hot to sleep, so I got my headlamp and read for a few hours.  I started sweating so much though, that I decided to take a cold shower to cool off.  That’s when I discovered that the water had again been turned off as well.  URRRRRRRGH!  Again, the cussing that ensued would have made Howard Stern blush.  Ate Vicky arrived to drop off some food for the week and told me that neither would be back on until 10pm. That did it.  I packed a bag and took a trike to Ciriaco Hotel, where Paula stayed.  I knew it would be expensive (ok, like expensive for the Philippines which = $30) but I was sick, tired, and just wanted to rest, watch movies, play online, and sit in a cool room.  I felt guilty the whole way there.  Truly, horribly guilty.  Like an American asshole that couldn’t cut it in the Philippines.  I felt guilty as I forked over my $30 for one night, more than the worker would likely make all week.  I felt guilty tipping the boy that insisted on carrying my teeny backpack (mostly full of books and chocolate) up to my room.  Then, I turned on the water and took my first hot shower, without rodents or mosquitoes or freezing water, in almost 7 weeks.  I felt like I could die a happy woman, and watched as my guilt metaphorically dripped from my clean hair, down into the drain.  I felt like I was at the most luxurious spa in the world; with flushing toilets, a hot shower, AIR CON, t.v., and internet that doesn’t disconnect every 4 minutes.  


I emerged clean and smiling, despite still not feeling well.  American asshole?  Yes.  CLEAN AND HAPPY American asshole?  YES.  I ventured downstairs to the restaurant for a quick breakfast, loving the view of the ocean and feeling like I was still in a spa.  I ordered eggs and French toast!!!!  I was unbelievablyPhilippines8 002 stoked about the French toast.  They even served my eggs in a heart shape, which I ooed  and ahhhed over so ferociously that it made the staff laugh at me.  😛


I spent the rest of the day relaxing in the room, ordering room service for dinner and going to bed at about 8:30pm.  I slept 13 hours, which was insane and obviously quite needed.  I considered briefly staying another night, but knew that the guilt would again eat away at me, so I packed up after breakfast (and one last heavenly shower) and left, feeling refreshed.  I have very little time alone at the center.  There are almost always women or girls around, even on the weekends, so it was wonderful to be completely alone for a bit.  I came back to girls jumping all over me, screaming “ATE KATIE!!!!! WE MISSED YOU!!!!” as if I had been gone a fortnight.  It was a definite snap back into reality, lemme tell you.  😛  I spent the rest of the day in bed, downing vitamin C and planning my DV training for the Child Welfare Office.  


The next day, I felt much better and even decided to run a bit.  I took it easy but it felt good to move.  This morning, I met with both of the social workers in the shelter.  I wanted to go over their current case management style, as well as all of the paperwork they have to fill out on a daily/weekly/monthly/bi-annual/annual basis.  W-O-W.  They were not kidding about too much paperwork.  I was floored.  They had forms for literally everything.005  Everything is complicated with color-coded forms, cross-referenced forms, repetitive and redundant information on several forms.  When I saw the mess that exists, I was immediately glad that Paula had suggested and encouraged me to do this.  I think I can help.  I wanted to be clear from the very beginning that I did not want to come in as an outsider and throw out forms, make big, sweeping changes, or do anything that they were uncomfortable with.  We decided to hold a meeting with all of the houseparents and the social workers together, to get everyone’s opinions and feedback.  The meeting went wonderfully!  They seemed a little shy to speak openly about things that they struggle with, or forms that they “forget” to fill out because they take so long and are so cumbersome, but eventually, they opened up.  We got a lot accomplished.   We will be getting rid of about 10 forms altogether, changing the way that the women log the girls’ actions, easing the houseparents’ load.  They all seemed really excited when we were done, and thankfully I will be here for 3 more weeks to help implement some of the new systems and help with case notes (which they have never done before).  So, I am happy to leave something helpful and sustainable behind.  


It’s been a really good, eventful week.  I’m very busy, but I feel like this is the time to kick things into high gear, since I can hear that clock tick, tick, ticking away.  I cannot believe I leave in under 3 weeks!  Eeeeeeek!  Yesterday, (Wednesday) I went to my weekly meeting with Ma’am Betty Jane (my practicum instructor).  I got there early, so I went to the next office over (many of the ladies in there are in my sign language class) to say hello.  I LOVE that office, those women are so hilarious and silly and fun!  Philippines8 083(This is a pic of their awesomeness).  They were really happy to see me, and excitedly (while interrupting and talking over one another) asked me to participate in the inauguration of the new officers of the disability council.  It’s sort of a big ordeal.  There will be a formal ceremony in front of city hall with the mayor and police chief and many of the most powerful and prominent citizens of Calbayog.  The group will be signing to two songs: The Philippines’ National Anthem, and “The Lord’s Prayer.”  I have about 3 days to actually learn the signing, but I said…you guessed it…YES!  It sounds fun.  😛 I then went over to meet with Ma’am Betty Jane and we had a good long meeting.  She would like me to give a talk about domestic violence to a parenting group.  She believes some of the women are victims though she does not know for certain.  It is intimidating for me, however, because I will be working with couples…meaning, the men (and the perpetrators) will be present.  How in the HELL do you talk about DV with a couple?  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know it is done, but I have never done it before.  Oh dear. I am leery.  But, I’ll just do my best and go for it!  


WESADEF photos 057Tonight I did yoga with the girls for the first time.  This is too funny to me, because 1) I hate yoga. 2) I suck at yoga (hence the hatred). 3) I do yoga anyway even though I am so inflexible that I cannot even touch my toes and 4) I am unsure how I will instruct them with my ever-eroding Waray.  But, that’s how it goes here!  You’ve just got to take a deep breath and jump in with both feet.  The girls are really excited – they have wanted to learn yoga for a long time.  It was actually very fun.  I started out with some deep breathing and then asked them to go around the room, one at a time, and tell everyone one thing that they like about themselves.  In our music therapy sessions, we have particularly been working on self-esteem and empowerment, so I decided to continue on that path.  They giggled and giggled, but we got through all of the girls and it was very sweet.  Some said they were good dancers, some said they were smart, some liked their hair or their smiles.  We did a session for about 30 Philippines8 049minutes, and it went great.  I chose pretty basic poses and did not make them hold the poses long.  They were attentive and some were natural yogis.  They begged me to do it next week, so we will continue.  It’s hard because they do not have mats, and the floor gets very slippery, especially when sweating.  If I could get someone to commit to continuing to teach them, I would maybe try to buy mats for them as a parting gift, but I do not know of anywhere here that even sells them.  Exercise is simply not normal or a priority here.


Well, this is getting lengthy so I will sign off.  Thanks to all that have sent sweet, encouraging messages and emails.  It can get very lonely here by myself, with very few people to speak English to!  I am really loving my time here, but it is of course not without its challenges and low points.  I think I am finally really sinking into life here, though.  It’s starting to feel comfortable and more like home.  That’s a nice feeling.  Ok, until next time!  Mauapy nga gabi! (Goodnight).  🙂

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