I have this weird thing about blogging: I only like to write when I feel moved to do so. For various reasons, I haven’t felt the need. I’ve been busy and blah blah blah…everyone is busy. Or everyone at least thinks they’re the busiest person in the world. Have you ever noticed that it’s become like a contest…who is the busiest bee in all of the hives? It’s strange the way that Americans wear busyness as a badge of honor. Anywho, I’ve had some more weird health stuff going on, and I told myself that I wouldn’t blog until I had some clear answers or some important things to share. Well, here it is, many moons later and I still have no clue what is going on with my massively stupid body and have nothing important to say. Lucky you. So today, I opened my computer and thought, “maybe I’ll write.” We’ll see if this actually makes it to “published” status.

If you haven’t been to The Ballad before, take a looksie around. I begin talking about beginning my battle with SIBO and other things here, you can check out some yummy recipes right hurrrr, why I chose the Fast Tract Diet here, my elemental diet days here, my issues with Ovarian cancer and SIBO and all things health right cheeeer, a SIBO guide section of stuff I found interesting and helpful here, and if you’re just here for the pretty pics and travel diaries, check out that stuff here.

What has been going on in the life of Katie, you ask? I just know you are waiting withblog1 breath that is bated, riiiiiight? I kinda can’t believe I haven’t written since like, winter. Of last year. What a terrible blogger! And here we are smack dab in the middle of fall. That blogging spirit really did not move me at all, apparently. I had just experienced gene testing the last time we spoke (yes yes, I spoke to you through the written word – das how I roll) and was super fascinated with its results. If you can afford to get this done and have it read by a professional, I highly recommend it. It was like a road map to why I’m such a friggin’ mess at such a young age. My genetic code pointed to everything from gut disorders (heh. ya think?) to a predisposition to Ovarian cancer to high anxiety and depression. My fabulous ND and I began treating my mutant-y mutations and I also got a highly informative amino acids tests (another I highly recommend), which helped me to comprehend what my genetic mutations are supposed to do, versus what they are actually doing.

I continued to do my usual thing…follow the Fast Tract Diet (which I HIGHLY recommend for SIBO and don’t know why doctors don’t know more about it), take herbal antibiotics every now and then, and do little mini elementals to help stave off a SIBO relapse. It all seemed to be working rather well. Then, while Joe was on a work trip to Guam and I was home alone, I was struck down by some kind of mutant death virus. A crazy high fever, headaches, body aches, and the worst – AND I DO MEAN THE WORRRRRRST- sore throat I have ever experienced in my life. Unfortunately, right before I got sick, I had decided to do a massive spring cleaning of our entire place. And I don’t clean like a normal person. I pull errrrrythang out tha drawers, cabinets, closets and set to work throwing things out, making piles of stuff to donate, and scrubbing any little anything in my path as I go along. So the house was torn to shreds and looked like an army of methed-out angry toddlers had stormed the place when I woke up sick as a damn dog. It was quite unsettling to have to stumble feverishly through my piles of crap on the way to the kitchen. The fevers lasted about 4 days and the sore throat lasted TEN DAYYYYYYS. Terrible. It felt like it was never going to end! I must confess to you now that I am the biggest baby about sore throats that you will ever meet in your life. I would rather slide down a banister of rusty nails naked and land in large puddle of rubbing alcohol than have a sore throat.

I might also be the tiniest bit dramatic. But I like for real hate sore throats.

I tried to clean here and there while sick, because I just couldn’t stand leaving the crazy mess. It stressed me out just knowing it was there, lurking. After about 8 days of dragon throat (I felt like I could breathe fire it was so raw and red and sad and terrible and pitiful…again, Idonotlikesorethroats!) I went to my ND and had her do a strep culture. She obliged and a few days later I found out I had a strain of Strep B. Fine then. She gave me antibiotics (Zpak) which I am loathe to take because of my messed-up tum tum, but I was desperate to feel better at that point. So I downed those bad boys and began to turn around.

blog2But wait!!! Ya know those infomercials that always have the “but wait!” at the end so they can lower the price or add on a weird extra prize that they act like is a mini ipad but in actuality it’s a plastic back scratcher? I often use the phrase in common conversations dramatically like that and no one ever gets it. It’s hard to be me sometimes. Even though I started feeling better, I never seemed to fully recover from that gnarly illness. I am in the habit of taking my temperature regularly because of my thyroid issues, and I noticed that every day, I had a low-grade fever. It was small and nearly imperceptible, but it was always there. It ranged from about 99.5-100.5. Because of said thyroid issues, I am usually around 97.0-97.2 so this was quite high for me. I continued to take notice of it but since I felt so much better, I wasn’t too concerned.

Then, I started noticing a really heavy-handed fatigue coming over me, most especially during exercise. My runs became painfully hard, and I was barely slogging through 3 milers blog6without wanting to just give up and die right in the middle of my running path (nope, not dramatic at all!) For years I’ve run about 40 miles a week…I slowly began knocking the mileage back, back, back because of how tired it made me. I went from 40 to only 15 in a matter of a few weeks. As is usually the case though, I adjusted. I pushed through because running is important to me. The weird fevers and fatigue sort of became my new normal. I of course knew they weren’t actually normal, but they weren’t severe enough to reallllllly hold me back in my daily life. Much. However, my ND and I set out to try and figure out what was causing them.

I had a plethora of blood tests to try and rule out things like Lupus and Lyme disease and EBV…but it’s difficult because many of these tests can produce less-than-accurate results. I learned I was having adrenal problems again (low cortisol via blood tests) and went back on adrenal support, but even though adrenal issues can cause fatigue, it was unlikely it was the cause of the persistent fevers. I had stool tests and the MEGA-MOMMA-OF -ALL -LYME tests (Igenex) just to be certain that it wasn’t Lyme. Everything came back fairly normal.

As this was happening, I was still living my life as best I could. I began teaching at the University of Hawai’i again,
blog3which is seriously just something I LOVE. I taught Undergraduate Women’s Studies over the summer and then was asked to teach Graduate-level Social Work for the fall. I must admit that I was a wee bit nervous to teach graduate school. I really LOVE undergraduates. I love the ages of 18-22 and find the kids to be so open, so eager to learn, so excited about their futures…I didn’t know what to expect of teaching the little baby social workers. However, it’s been fabulous and really solidified the notion that I believe I was born to teach. We get into some really heavy topics for both disciplines…things like addiction, rape, domestic violence, racism, trauma, and I love to find creative ways to challenge my students and to keep the classroom a fun and safe place. I think all of my goofiness and creative powerpoints (read: a lot of cat gifs) really
blog5seem to help. What else? My birthday came and went and I’m now 30 *cough cough years old. I love birthdays. I love the idea of celebrating someone’s life for that day and the start of a new year, despite getting older. Ask me again if I love birthdays when I turn 40, though. 😛 My niece

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graduated from high school and came to visit her aunts in Hawai’i (way to REALLY make me feel old!) and we had a BLAST playing around my island. I have the coolest niece in the whole world, guys. She’s hilarious and smart and a super talented artist. It is so fun watching her grow into an full-blown adult! I was enjoying teaching and life so much that I began to almost ignore the fatigue and fevers. I mean, WHATEVER, at this point, right? But I did notice that after teaching a class, I was exhausted. I bike to school and back, and just getting on that bicycle and making it home was the most ridiculous chore. I had to keep digging to figure things out.

There was a little niggling voice in the back of my mind, though I dared not speak itblog4 aloud. CANCER. Was it back? I know fevers to be a definite sign of a re-occurrence and I’d also been suffering from bloating again. It’s very easy to tell SIBO bloating from other bloating, btw. SIBO bloating tends to be smaller in the morning and grows throughout the day, as your food sits in your intestines because of a pitiful digestive system that doesn’t know how to do it’s FRIGGIN’ job (like how hard is it to just digest food, right?) But this was the sort of smaller bloat that was just always there, just hanging around like an annoying little sibling. Even though I feel like I handled my initial cancer diagnosis like a BOSS, I must confess (again) that I am overly fearful of it returning. It’s like this dark scary monster troll that’s waiting under the bridge for me. But alas, I had Ultrasounds and a CT and while I had many large polyps on my remaining little ovary (fondly named Kanye West), it was just representative of PCOS, which I’ve had all of my life. Phew. Double phew.

After all of the tests, one tiny thing came back…I was low in T3. I have Hashimoto’s, a thyroid autoimmune, and take natural thyroid supplements daily for it. But low T3 can certainly cause some sluggishness, so my ND decided to prescribe some in addition to the Naturethroid I already take. I started poppin’ those bad boys, not really expecting much to change. After a few weeks, however, I started to notice that my runs were a little bit better. I wasn’t having the massive afternoon crash as much. I could actually manage to squeak out 5-6 miles at a time without breaking it up into 3 separate runs. I was thrilled to have more energy, even though the freakish slight fevers persisted.

blog7At this point, I unilaterally decided that I don’t give a FUCK anymore, y’all. Yeah. I said it. I didn’t even use a * in the word fuck. I just went for it. The fatigue had been more limiting than almost anything else, in terms of really slowing my life down. I even had to say no to an amazing hiking trip to Canada with my husband and nephews because I was so exhausted all of the time that I feared I would slow them down or frustrate them. And if any of you know me at all, you know that I don’t turn down travel. Like ever. I just decided to stop fretting over all of it. I’m not a healthy girl. I may not ever be. I know I’ll never be the picture of health that I once was. But I’ve gotta LIVE. Over the past few years, I’ve turned down countless parties, trips, birthdays, time with family and friends, cocktail hours, events, athletic stuff…and I just don’t wanna do it anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I think for the most part I’ve been pretty damn chill with all of my health issues, and haven’t let them completely control my life…but I finally decided to go even further than that. I’m actively moving them further down on the list. Life is short, and I wanna enjoy myself.

That of course doesn’t mean that I’m having pizza every meal (oh that I could!) or sprayingblog9 champagne bottles all over a crowd in a club (though that does sound fun), but it means that if one of my girls needs a cocktail night, it’s happening. If my husband wants to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we’re going out for a schmancy meal. Traveling is one of the most important things to me and I’m not waiting until I’m “all better” to do it. I might not ever be all better. In fact, chances are that I won’t. This is it. This is the stage: acceptance. I finally made it, guys! It only took 2 years! I’ve always been a late bloomer (I swear I played with Barbies until well into my teenage years) what can I say?

After I decided this, I was so much happier. I was even better. Less stressed, less fatigued. I started running and exercising even more. I started having pizza Fridays with Joe again (gluten free, of course, with my very own kickASS recipe on this page, if you’re interested). If I craved chocolate, I had it. I’ve been hiking and beaching and day drankin’ with friends. I think this is partly why I haven’t blog10been blogging…I’ve been busy actually living! 🙂 And no, before anyone attacks me, I’m not telling you all that you must make this same decision. You have to be where YOU are, and that’s ok. This is where I am. And when things were really terrible (back when the fatigue or SIBO was at its worst or right after surgery), I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t give up the f*cks. The point is, I think I was waiting until my health was perfect. I finally realized that it is pretty damn good, comparatively, and that I need to enjoy it and stop making it the center of my universe.

So, when Joe announced that he had another work trip to Guam coming up I said, “I’mblog11 going with ya!!!! I wanna see Guam!” I have 2 close friends from Hawai’i that live there and since his company pays for the hotel and food, it seemed too good to pass up! So, off to Guam we went! We stayed at an AMAZING hotel (Dusit Thani) which hand-to-God was the nicest place I’ve ever stayed. I felt like a damn movie star at that hotel. I wanted to live there. The staff is incredibly attentive and even surprised us with a little cake in our room the first night! Sweeping ocean views,
an amazing pool, and the best brunch I have had, maybe ever. Even the friggin’ gym had cold towels in a fridge, soaked with lavender oil for your enjoyment after a nice workout (I’m so fancy, Can’t you taste this gollllld, Remember my name, ’bout to blow…ok sorry, I had a weird Iggy Azalea moment there inspired by decadent lavender-soaked gym towels). This was the first vacation I have had in ages where I relaxed. Usually, I am just running around, trying to see all of the things. This time, the trip was to hang with my friends and have some pampering. I read, I blog13laid by the pool, I ate delicious food, I swam in the ocean, and I went to the spa not once, not twice, but THREE times. Because, vacation Katie. Btw, if you’re ever on Guam, hit up The Westin Guam Spa for an experience you’ll LOVE. I had a body wrap, facial, and two amazing Thai/Swedish massages. It was so good I just kept returning! They will take CARE of you. Best of all, they were all Filipina, so we got to speak a little Tagalog and talk about the Philippines! 🙂

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It was so wonderful to catch up with my friends, Faye and Kristin, and to see their lives on Guam. We met 8 years ago in Hawai’i, and I feel like we picked right up, like no time has passed at all. We shopped, we ate, we drank, we beached, and we gabbed. We even cooked! 😛 Sorta.

 


There is just nothing in the world like good girlfriends, I tell ya. Women have this bond that men will just never understand. Some pics of our fun times:

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Guam is an interesting place, lemme tell ya. It is often described as a mix between Hawai’i and Texas, and I have to say, that description is surprisingly accurate. It is similar to Hawai’i in that it’s tropical (though waaaaay hotter!), but it also has an intensely large military presence, which is where the Texas angle comes in. Everywhere we went we saw military, heard country music, and saw elements of Southern white culture. It makes for a strange little mix. The local Chamorro people were amazingly welcoming, sweet, and so friendly, but the large military population was very intense. As women, I felt like we could hardly go anywhere without being hit on, harassed, and followed. It was OVER-THE-TOP, people. Toxic masculinity abounds on Guam. On one girl’s night in particular, we were walking to a local bar when it started raining, hard. We ducked under the awning of img_1283another bar, and so did a group of men. They were so aggressive with us and intensely macho that we chose to dart out into the POURING (and when I say pouring, I do mean tropical-storm-pouring) rain just to get away from them. Which is why we look like this in this picture. I thought to myself, “How ridiculous that you scared three girls so much that we decided to run into a monsoon just to get away from you. All because you couldn’t understand the word, ‘no.'”

Despite the military pressures, Guam is very lovely, with beautiful clear water and some interesting local attractions. Unfortunately, Joe and I only really got to play together for blog14one full day, but I feel like we did pretty well in that one day. We went to see Two Lover’s Point (or Puntan Dos Amantes) which is essentially the Romeo and Juliet of Guam folklore. Two lovers tied their hair together and leaped to their watery death to escape persecution. The statue was truly most impressive, as were the incredible views. Next, we moseyed on over to see Talofofo Falls, which was blog15a hilarious experience. It has a sort of theme park surrounding it with different “attractions.” Some of those attractions are a super weird, out-of-place ghost house (a haunted house), a little park with pornographic statues, the cave that a man lived in for 28 years (Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi, A Japanese imperial army straggler that hid/lived in a tiny cave, not knowing the war was over… I mean yo, this dude lived in a friggin’ CAVE for 28 YEARS, people!!!), and the “monorail” that takes you around the park (which is essentially a plank with folding chairs nailed to it that travels along a wire and is operated by what appears to be a small lawnmower motor). 😛 I’m telling you, this park has character.  We DIED when we saw the monorail. Best thing ever. The falls were beautiful and we really enjoyed the park. However, my favorite part was most definitely the piggies. 🙂 Can you tell I’m excited? 😛


Sadly, this was our only day to play because on the 5th night on Guam, I came down with horrific food poisoning. Now, in case you don’t know, those with SIBO are more prone to get food poisoning, so it’s a good idea to really try to be as cautious as possible. I came armed with Xifaxin, Neem, and Berberine. I thought I was doing everything right, and honestly, I wasn’t really that worried about food poisoning, because come ON…we weren’t in the jungles of Malaysia, we were in Guam! I had planned a fantastic chill night by myself on the evening that I got sick. I had a bubble bath, had ordered a cheesy chick flick, and ordered a pizza. I was super stoked to just BE and do a little vacation pigging out. Right before my pizza arrived, I started feeling super weird. Clammy and achy and my stomach hurt. I really thought it would pass and figured maybe it was just my body’s way of telling
gallery9me that I needed to lay off the vacation alcohol (I’d been having some fun. I mean my hotel gave out free jello shots, y’all!!! What’s a girl to do?) I had about 1/2 a slice of pizza and then had to stop. I was deathly sick you guys. I puked 9 times in 3 hours. You know how when you get the stomach flu and there are those like 20 minutes right after you barf where you feel better, almost normal for a short while? And you’re SO grateful for those 20 minutes?! Nope. I got like 2 minutes of that in between each up-chucking sess. I had a crazy high fever and felt like I was dying.

Hilariously, and I am not ashamed to tell you all this because you KNOW I keep it real, Iblog17 had (pre-puke explosion) texted Joe (who was out to dinner with coworkers) that tonight was THE night for sexy sexy time. We’d been so busy seeing friends and working while there that we’d barely had any time alone. So I texted him a provocative bubble bath photo and told him that the hotel would be put to good use. And then yeah…flash to him skipping through the door thinking he’s gonna get laid only to hear the disgusting sounds of me puking in the bathroom. Sexy, indeed. Purrrrrrrrrrr.

I was in bed all of the next day (the ONLY sunny day of my trip, btw…thanks Obama!) but made it out on our last day to play around the island. Even though I felt well enough to get out, I couldn’t eat normally for nearly 5 days, and subsisted on crackers and oatmeal in the meantime, losing about 7 lbs in only 5 days.

When I got home, I unfortunately started having quite a bit of digestive trouble again. My SIBO has been in some form of maintainable remission for over a year and a half, but the food poisoning definitely set me back. I tried to give my old tummy a little time to settle img_1469down, but after being back a week and still struggling, I dragged myself to my ND’s office. Good grief, I don’t even know why I call her “ND” as I should just call her Kristin (her name), since we’re basically besties at this point and I’m pretty much paying her monthly mortgage. A slew of stool tests were ordered (always super fun to poop in tiny tubes – welcome to the world of SIBO!) to see if I brought any little friends home with me. But, no parasites to be found! I had to admit to myself  that the food poisoning might have brought my SIBO back in full effect. So once again, I trudged to the Gastro office to blow into tiny tubes for 3 hours.  I knew that if the numbers came back positive, I would just go straight for the elemental all over again. I don’t wanna mess around. Though even typing those words make me want to cry all over my keyboard.

Alas, the number came back very, very low…meaning I am SIBO free! HOW?!?!?! I have no fucking clue. But I don’t currrrr because I’ll take it! I made the nurse snapchat a Happy-No-SIBO dance, and I’m pretty sure she thought I was bonkers. I suppose that’s not a far off assessment, to be fair.


I suppose all of this hard work has actually lead to some healing. I am still having a little bit of bloating and digestive distress, so I will continue on my new regimen of Chinese herbs, which is a new thing I’m trying. My ND decided that since I don’t respond to herbals OR antibiotics, I might be able to keep bacteria at bay with Chinese herbs, specifically tailored to some of my issues (in my case in particular, something called Raise Qi ).

Once I got food poisoning, several people in my SIBO group asked if I would stop traveling.blog19 My answer: HELL NAH! Traveling is one of my all-time favorite things in the world. If I have to puke every time I do it, so be it. 😛 Not only is it one of the best teachers (of the world and about yourself), but it’s something Joe and I both love to do. Anytime we start to struggle as a couple, we take a trip and it’s like this lovely blog20little reset button. We remember why we’re us. We relax and play and enjoy each other and come back home more refreshed and in love. So no, I will not be stopping. Traveling also gives me great perspective on any trials or illnesses I have. It shows me how small I am in the world, and how small my problems are in comparison. I don’t say that to shame others that are struggling with sickness or grieving their old life (that is totally a part of the healing process) I am just speaking about what helps me, and that involves keeping a wider perspective.

Just because my test was negative and I no longer give allll of the f*cks, doesn’t mean my health journey is over. I still have things to figure out and work to do, and I’m happy to keep plugging along. I’m also happy you’re plugging along with me. Maybe it’s time for you to give less f*cks too? 😛 Let’s start a hashtag: #igivenomorefucksaboutsibo

So, das about it! I have GOT to do better than this. I promise to be a better blogger. Oh who am I kidding? I’m always gonna struggle to keep this thing up, but I promise not to stop, how’s that? Before I leave you, I want to mention that many times, people try to friend me via facebook because they follow the blog. I so appreciate you wasnapcodenting to know me more and better, but I try to keep facebook to friends and family only. However, you are welcome to follow my travels and antics and cooking and cat videos and silliness on instagram (katiemcaldwell) or snapchat (katiemariecqld) where I talk about errrrythang. I f*cking LOVE snapchat.

So, here’s to health and wellness and stool tests and blowing in tubes and travel and love and always, always, ALWAYS kickin’ some SIBO ass. 😛

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Nope, I didn’t decide to get cancer and disappear on you. I know it seemed I like I dropped the c-bomb and then abandoned my bloggy ship, but really I’ve just had a lot going on. I did recently update the Recipe Page with several new goodies, so if you haven’t moseyed on over thurrrr yet, ya should. I spend quite a bit of time and effort trying to find recipes that are easy, yummy, made with few ingredients, and SIBO-friendly. So get yer ass over there and get to cookin’!  If you’re stopping by my blog to learn about SIBO, try my SIBO Guide for tons of info that I’ve found helpful (as well as a list of doctors that might be in your area).


A lot has been happenin’ in my world!  First, the most fun and exciting thing, my husband Joe and I just recently got back from a trip to Taiwan!!!  Before I started talking about my intestines, this was mostly a life/travel blog.  So of course I have to talk about my trip at least a little bit!  Living in Hawai’i makes travel a little more difficult.  Hawai’i is quite literally 
the most isolated land
mass on earth.  That makes it both time consuming to travel (can’t just jump in a car or on a plane and easily be somewhere in a few hours) and expensive. But Joe and I both LOVE to travel, so we’ve made it a priority.  This is our 4thmoleblog country in the past year. Traveling is the greatest thing we have in common. For those of you that don’t know my husband, he is the stereotypical engineer: introspective, quiet, intelligent, and logical.  I, on the other hand, am talkative, goofy, friendly, and emotional. AND wildly intelligent also, OBVI. We don’t have a ton in common as far as interests.  But as long as we’ve been together (12 years Nov. 1st!), we’ve traveled well together.  It always manages to solidify us as a couple.  It renews us somehow.  And after a hard health year, it was just what we needed.


Taiwan is a super interesting little country.  I think it may be one of the most unique places we’ve ever traveled.  Our plan was to partake in a LOT of outdoor activities: a 2-3 day mountain trek, biking (Taiwan is amazing and safe for bikers…there is literally a bike trail that goes around the ENTIRE country!) and possibly getting scuba certified.  But alas, the karmic gods dropped the hammer on us, once again.  It seems every time we go to Asia, the typhoons have a field day.  As soon as we landed, we heard that a typhoon was moving up through the country from the Philippines.  We had decided to move along the East side of the island, because it is more rural and mountainous and most unlike Hawai’i…but when we heard of the crazy

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Sitting in the rain, pissed.

weather fast approaching, we had to rethink our options.  We headed to a little cafe in the pouring rain, got coffee, and sat down to discuss what we should do.  We were bummed.  I suggested we chuck the entire trip.  I looked up flights to Singapore and they were cheap and it was sunny.  We ALMOST did it.  But Joe talked me into rerouting our trip back through Taipei and traveling along the West side of the island instead.  The West side is far more populated and not quite what we had in mind, and this meant that most of our outdoor excursions were not going to happen.  It took us about a half day to get over it and let our original plan go. We hopped on a train and tried to chase the sun.  It still worked out pretty well.  🙂


I’m having a difficult time summarizing our time in Taiwan succinctly, so I am abandoning succinct. 😛  We arrived in Taipei at 6am, hopped on a bus, and went on the great hotel search.  I had blindly booked a hotel (not knowing anything about this GIGANTIC city of 7 million), and we had some moleblog2trouble finding it. We had both only brought backpacks for the trip, which turned out to be brilliant because of all of the traveling we did while there. We had a funny introduction to this country. Being typical spoiled American assholes, we stopped several cabs to see if they could take us to our hotel.  I only had the hotel name in English (brilliant, right?) so none of the cab drivers could read it.  This is the first time that I’ve not prepared properly for traveling.  I usually spend at least a few weeks learning phrases and words in whatever languagemoleblog3 is prominent for that country, but with all of the crazy health stuff happening beforehand, I just…didn’t.  I knew “hello”, “thank you”, and “how much?” in Mandarin. That doesn’t get you very far with a cab driver. We were given a map in Chinese by a policeman, but trying to read the Chinese characters and match them up to the street signs was downright hilarious.  I felt like we were on the Amazing Race.  And we would have lost.


We were really cracking up at our idiocy.  I finally managed to convey, through wild charades, what street we were searching for to a Taiwanese shop worker.  She took me by the hand and walked me all of the way to the street. The Taiwanese are EXTREMELY kind and helpful.  They will seriously bend over backwards to assist you. It’s lovely.  We threw our packs in our room and went out to explore Taipei.


moleblog4The city is, like I mentioned, huge.  It’s a whirlwind of activity.  Scooters are the main form of transportation and on the bigger streets, you can barely talk because of the loud hum of scooters buzzing about.  We “city hiked” (as Joe calls it) for hours, just taking in our surroundings.  We often don’t have a master plan when we visit somewhere new.  We kind of let fate guide us.moleblog5 We saw some AMAZING temples and an older Taiwanese man painted a sign for us to use in prayer.  It says, “Love.”  🙂  As it so happens, good ole fate guided us to “Modern Toilet” a restaurant where you eat out of giant toilet bowls.  It was the perfect introduction to this weird little Asian country.  We got a BIG kick out of it, and it seemed appropriate, given all of my digestive issues this year.  You could only find this kind of awesome strangeness in Asia.

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The next day, a very kind friend that lives in Taipei, Allen, offered to drive us to a little town called Jiufen.  It’s built right into the side of a mountain,moleblog8 overlooking the ocean. It’s GORGEOUS. We booked an adorable B&B there with sweeping ocean views. Jiufen has a great market on Old Street that we spent hours wandering through. We ate about every 5 feet.  Eating in Taiwan was kind of hilarious. Because nothing was ever in English, and because we don’t read a bit of Mandarin, we would often

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The only thing we understood. Hahaha

end up just pointing to something on a menu and saying, “this” not knowing what the hell we were going to receive.  We just hoped for beef or chicken, but never really knew.  That was kind of difficult for me.  I will try just about ANYTHING, but I at least like to know what I’m shoving in my mouth. However, when it’s your only option, it’s your only option!  The SIBO diet was OUT the window, completely.  There was really no choice.  When I could, I pointed to someone’s rice nearby and tried hard to stick to rice andmoleblog9 meat (something pretty easy to come by in Asia, thankfully). My ND had instructed me to bring Berberine on the trip to take every day, as it is an anti-microbial, to help combat possible food poisoning or traveler’s diarrhea. After the crazy nasty parasite I picked up in the Philippines, I was a little worried about getting sick,but we both did great! In other fun SIBO news, I reintroduced eggs while on my trip, basically out of necessity.  I kept accidentally ordering dishes with eggs.  I’m happy to report that it went great!  Eggs came up off-the-charts high for me on an allergy test about 10 months ago, so I totally cut them out of my diet this year.  But I was hoping to try them again soon, because an eggless life is surprisingly more difficult than one would think!  They’re in everything!  It’s the little (egg) things, ya know?  


moleblog10Later that day we hopped on a train to Shifen, a little town with big personality. We ate even more there (seriously…sooo much food), and let a lantern go in honor of our relationship. Chinese Lanterns can represent many things: a wish, a blessing, or the letting go of something.  I loved it.  The lanterns are huge and look so magical as they float up through the sky.  We had fun painting ours and on one side wrote “Two drifters, off to see the world…” and on the opposite side continued, “…there’s such a lot ofmoleblog11 world to see” – from the song Moonriver (our song) and then on the other side we wrote, “If we ever leave a legacy, it’s that we loved each other well” – also from a song (Indigo Girls) and then “Loving Kindness Compassion” and “May God bless our union as well as our individuality” on the last side.  We let it fly up into the air until it was a tiny spec, taking all of our hopes and prayers with it.


moleblog12We went back to Jiufen that night and wandered around Old Street some more, which at night was all lit up with beautiful red lanterns.  We had tea at a beautiful old tea house, overlooking the gorgeous scenery.  All day long we kept talking about how lucky and privileged we are to be ablemoleblog13 to see so many different places and cultures.  I believe traveling is one of the greatest teachers. It puts our ego in check, showing us how small we really are in the world, and it brings perspective to the trials and tribulations we think are SO big in our own lives, as we see how others live, how others suffer, and how others muster up incredible resilience in the face of great adversity.

 

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Rice fields!!!

The next day we headed by train (Taiwan makes it SUPER easy to get around with their kickass train system) to Jiaoxi, to hit up some hot springs.  We passed through beautiful scenery along the coast of rice fields and mountains. We made a quick stop in Dali to see the jade temples (temples errrrrywhere! They’re so ornate and
amazing! And unlike the temples of China, they are perfectly preserved) where an old Taiwanese woman taught me moleblog16how to properly show benevolence and say a prayer.  By the time we arrived in Jiaoxi, it was pouring rain and we were soaked and tired and grumpy. We came across a beautiful hotel that had hot springs on site and even had the hot springs pumped right into your very own bath! I told the clerk, “Please give me the biggest tub in the place” and BOY did she comply!  😛  This was our big moleblog17“splurge” as far as hotels go, which is funny because this amazing 5-star hotel was only around $69 a night – the price of a 2 star, kinda crappy hotel in the states.  We LOVED the hot springs!  They had both fully nude (separated by gender of course) and co-ed.  That night we tried out the co-ed and stayed in as long as we could stand it.


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The next day we were in a pickle (that may be the first time I’ve ever used that utterly ridiculous phrase).  This is the day that we realized the typhoon moleblog19was DEFINITELY coming for us, and we needed to make some decisions. We spent the morning eating delicious Taiwanese pastries and getting “pedicures” courtesy of little creepy fish that eat away the dead skin on your feet while trying to make decisions about the rest of our trip. We decided to hop on another train and head to the famed Taroko Gorge, which was supposed to be beautiful.  We wanted to do at least ONE outdoor

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Fish nibbling on your feet tickles!

thing on our list, even if it poured rain the entire time. Several hours later we exited the train and got to hike through the gorge. Lucky for us, the weather held out just long enough to enjoy the gorgeous scenery! I’ve never seen water that color before, it was breathtaking.  To make it back to the visitor’s center in time (where we had left our packs) I had to run the 2 mile trail back.  Joe was like, “good luck!” – he is NOT a runner, so it was up to me.  I made it there just as they were about to lock the doors and they cheered me on as they saw me rounding the corner in a dead sprint. 🙂

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Since we were re-routing back through Taipei to go down the other side of the island, we decided to stop back in Jiaoxi to stay at the same amazing hotel. This time, we went for the all-nude hot springs.  My experience was totally normal, in fact it was mostly empty.  But Joe…ohhhhh Joe.  He stripped down and walked out in what God gave him and came face-to-face with 4 other men that were…wearing swim trunks.  He turned right back around. Hahahahahaha! Don’t have any pictures of that one, but I sure wish I had a pic of his face when we first walked out.  


The next day was mainly a travel day, as we rode trains all of the way down to Chinghua, and a bus to a little town (little for Taiwan, anyway) called moleblog22Lukang. We wanted something small and quirky, and Lukang delivered.  I’d booked a B&B online and the proprietress was AMAZING.  She was talkative and hilarious and told us tons of stories about the history of the town, as well as drawing us a very detailed map of the street food vendors and indicating which had the best buns, noodles, and desserts.  We loved her.  The B&B was crazy immaculate and adorable.  We decided to stay for two full days to explore the area.


We biked and walked all around the town for the next few days.  Wemoleblog23 explored quirky little places like the “tiniest street in Taiwan” called “Touching Breast Alley” (ooh la la) because if you stand with your back to each wall you will touch breasts (um, apparently people had bigger breastsmoleblog25 than I several hundred years ago).  😛 Being in a smaller area was interesting because Joe and I garnered a LOT of attention.  In the cities we would sometimes get stared at or have people trying not-so-conspicuously to take our picture, but in Lukang they were blatant about it. Teenage girls would run up to us, all giggles and smiles, and want to take pictures with us. We couldn’t really wander around unnoticed. It was a trip. We saw more incredible temples, many that were crazy old and hauntingly beautiful.  We took a day trip to Changhua to see the famed Changhua Buddha and temple, which was truly impressive and  peaceful. We found ourselves an adorable little cafe/wine bar and spent the afternoon day drankin’ and people watching.

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Then it was time to return to Taipei, where we had a lot to do in just a few moleblog27days. FIRST on the list was to try out a cat cafe. I mean duh. For those of you that don’t know, cat cafes originated in Taiwan. A cat cafe is exactly what it sounds like…a cafe with cats. Cat themes, and REAL LIVE cats. They’ve become wildly popular in Japan but when I heard they originated in Taiwan, I HAD to do it.  I mean, I love cats!  And I love coffee! And yeah it’s a wee bit weird to combine the two but it’s also quirky and awesome.  So we did a little research

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Loved this grumpy kitty!

to find the best one and off we went. OH MY GOD it did not disappoint. There were 16 cats and 2 dogs in the cafe.  The owners give you “kitty treats” to feed to the kitties and they just play and crawl all around while you sip your latte.  So if you’re weird about animals and food, this isn’t for you.  I will say though, the place was immaculate.  It didn’t smell, it was hair-free, and super clean.  And shockingly, the coffee was super delicious. We had a whale of a time.  Ahem, I mean a CAT of a time.  (Yeah, I went there)


I then decided that since I was in Taiwan and so close to all of these incredible doctors of ancient Chinese medicine, I should really find a way to see one.  I contacted my friend and asked if he knew an herbalist that spoke English.  He sent me the address of one and off we went.  It was a HILARIOUS experience.  I walk in and everyone in the office let out a, “Oooooohhhh” and immediately started whispering.  But they all very kindly greeted me with shouts of “Ni hao!” I think they were just shocked to see a blonde-haired white American in their doctor’s office.  I get called in to meet the doctor and he doesn’t speak a WORD of English, not even hello. Not that I expected him to (I mean, we ARE in a foreign country) but I had to think quickly. Thankfully I had had the foresight to google translate all of my many ailments from English to Chinese characters and had taken screen shots of them on my phone. So I could at least tell him that I had ovarian cancer, SIBO, Hashimoto’s, and PCOS (I left out the others). He would speak to me in Chinese and I would nod my head like I understood like a total moron, then I would speak English and he would do the same. Neither of us understood a single f*cking word the other was saying.  After I showed him the translation for SIBO though, he said, “Ah!  Poo poo!!!!” and pointed to his butt.  I laughed so hard I nearly fell off the chair.  “Hao,” I said (yes), “Poo poo.”  It was the only time we understood each other.  He had his nurse prepare some herbal concoction for me and sent me on my way.  There’s no telling what he gave me.  I think it was of the I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-you’re-saying-so-here’s-some-shit-to-help-now-get-out variety.  😛  The whole thing was certainly an experience and only cost around $7, so it was totally worth it.


moleblog29The rest of the day was spent at Taipei 101 and the famed “snake alley” night market, where you can get a bowl of snake soup.  It was crazy to see all of these restaurants with GIANT snakes sitting out front, with rat cages right next to them for feeding time.  Snake soup is supposed to increase male virility, but Joe was having NONE of it.  Haha!

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We decided to get massages (pronounced by locals to us as “massage-eeee!”) because they are so popular and cheap in Taiwan.  We opted for the 40moleblog31 minute leg and foot massage with a 20 minute back massage included.  Let me just say that they do massages differently in Taiwan.  They basically beat the hell outta ya. We groaned and winced and carried on so much that our two masseuses kept exchanging glances like, “Sheesh these Americans are wusses!”

 

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My face fortune! 🙂

And suddenly, it was our last full day.  We spent the day exploring more of the city and went to a Taiwanese fortune teller, which I had read was an extremely popular thing to do for locals. We went to the “Street of Fortune Telling” which is a whole underground row of fortune tellers. We were told that this was the only place they would speak English.  They read our palms and faces and I have to say, were pretty dead-on.  The fortune teller NAILED Joe, telling him that he was “science-minded” and “too caught up in his own thoughts” and “not very good at the real talk” when it comes to talking with his family.  She told him he needed to be more honest about his emotions with me and his family. When she read his face, she noted that his ears showed that he was having liver trouble and that he needed to get that checked (fascinating) and that though he would always make a verymoleblog33 strong living financially, he never needed to own his own business or to be number one in his company.  She then turned to me and when she read my face she noted that my bottom lip was much larger than my upper lip. In China, apparently the upper lip represents the male and the lower lip represents the female, so she noted that my personality was quite dominant. Hahahahahahaha.  Ya think? She told me I should be less picky with Joe and be patient with him because he cannot communicate like others.  We both cracked up at this because this is by FAR our biggest struggle.  The whole thing was very fun and interesting.


moleblog37That night we checked out the famed Shilin night market but unfortunately, it was POURING rain.  And I mean monsoon-style. We tried to stick it out but we only lasted a few hours. There was soooo much good food there, though!  I wanted to shop because it seemed like the clothes shopping was cheap and fabulous but it was too difficult with the rain onslaught.  We eventually returned back to our hotel wet and weary.  The next day we reluctantly boarded a plane back to Hawai’i nei.  It wasn’t the trip we had in mind, but it was still amazing and fascinating and fun.  I think we needed some time to just BE. Without doctors and the daily grind. It was refreshing.  Here’s a brief slideshow of some of the rest of our travels, if you’re interested.  🙂

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So now that I’ve given you (a probably totally unwanted) play-by-play of my trip, we’ll get into other business.  The last time we chatted (yes, I like to pretend like I’m chatting with each of you individually, over a cup of coffee or glass o’booze, so just go with it…) I had just learned that my biopsy after surgery had come back malignant for Granulosa Cell Carcinoma, aka ovarian cancer. While NO ONE – no matter how zen or chill or optimistic they are – can say they don’t react at all to hearing the dreaded c-word, I honestly thinkmoleblog36 I’ve handled it rather swimmingly. Maybe that’s because I learned that I’m in the earliest stage (stage 1A) or because I sought the opinion of another gyno-oncologist that concurred I don’t need much further treatment (right now), or maybe it’s because I’m a total f*cking moron. But in any case, it hasn’t yet had its desired cancer-y effect (I imagine that cancer is sort of the school bully…wanting you to feel frightened and belittled and powerless). I know how lucky I am, BELIEVE me. Not only did I watch my Mother die at a young age from lung cancer, but I am also a part of a few cancer groups online in an effort to gain some insight into this rare tumor. There are many VERY ill people in those groups, fighting for their lives with bravery and style and sass. I’m pretty quiet in these groups. I feel like the girl that joins weight watchers to lose 5 lbs…errrrbody hates that bitch. 😛


I’ve learned a lot from those two groups, however. Not even so much about cancer (though that too!) but about attitude. I hesitate on how to write about this, because I fear it will come across as belittling or mean, and that is not at ALL my intention. I’ve struggled with how to put it into words without being offensive. I hope most of my readers know that what I’m about to say comes from a place of love and care. But if you don’t know me well or haven’t been following me, please take heart in the fact that I genuinely care about people. I’m a social worker and a bleeding heart. But also, I’m a bit of an ass. How can moleblog39those coexist you might wonder? They do, trust me. What I mean is, I will do anything for anyone. I will bend over backwards to help you and I will do it joyfully and with love. But, I’m also painfully blunt, tactless, and honest (to a fault, even) and will always give ya the real talk. Sometimes this real talky-talk doesn’t sit well with others. Sometimes we fight hard against things we don’t want to hear. Even if we need to hear them. Even if they make make the deliverer an ass. I also say I’m an ass because I’m painfully pessimistic. I’ve somehow managed to snow some of you into thinking I’m an optimist. Mwahahahahaha. Nope. I’m silly and goofy and use humor a lot, because I come from a massively funny family, but I’m totally a pessimistic assface about my own life. It’s truly just a part of who I am. I used to be pretty ashamed of this part of myself, but as I came into my 30s, I began to embrace it. I attribute this greatly to Barbara Ehrenreich’s work on toxic positivity. Have you ever read her work? She’s AMAZING. she’s the cat’s meow or the cat’s pajamas or the cat’s hiss or whatever. She talks about our western obsession (and it is indeed an obsession) with positivity. When people tell us bad news, we chirp something annoying to them about silver linings and find some ridiculously minuscule thing for them to be glad of. When someone gets ill we tell them to “think positive!” Or “stay positive!”moleblog40 When someone goes through something horrific we solemnly and tritely tell them “everything happens for a reason” in a hollow effort to console. But all of these well-meaning endeavors only succeed in silencing the person suffering. It doesn’t enable them the space to grieve, to be upset, to be angry or hurt. It makes them feel guilty for not being “positive” and forces them to try to slap on a fake smile just to please others. I think this is brutally unfair and causes the masking of feelings that lead to isolation and depression. Ehrenreich writes about this even in relation to her own breast cancer experience:


But, despite all the helpful information, the more fellow victims I discovered and read, the greater my sense of isolation grew. No one among the bloggers and book writers seemed to share my sense of outrage over the disease and the available treatments. What causes it and why is it so common, especially in industrialised societies? Why don’t we have treatments that distinguish between different forms of breast cancer or between cancer cells and normal dividing cells? In the mainstream of breast cancer culture, there is very little anger, no mention of possible environmental causes, and few comments about the fact that, in all but the more advanced, metastasised cases, it is the “treatments”, not the disease, that cause the immediate illness and pain. In fact, the overall tone is almost universally upbeat. The Breast Friends website, for example, features a series of inspirational quotes: “Don’t cry over anything that can’t cry over you”; “When life hands out lemons, squeeze out a smile”; “Don’t wait for your ship to come in… swim out to meet it,” and much more of that ilk. In some cases cancer is even touted as a “gift”, deserving of the most heartfelt gratitude.


moleblog35There is sooo much literature that focuses on positivity and cancer. This inevitably, she discusses, sets the patient up for failure. This places the onus and responsibility on the patient, instead of on the fact that a disease is literally attacking their body, and that life is sometimes, all too often, unfair.  They might stay crazy positive throughout and still aren’t able to get well, thereby feeling as if they have failed despite their undying devotion to positivity. This may make them feel guilty, like they are letting down friends and family, or suffering further because they cannot seem to put on a happy face and fight the cancer demon with a smile.  Of course, the other option is that they remain positive and ARE able to successfully heal, and this is the tiny group we’re always shoving down cancer patients’ throats.


Barbara’s work (I like to pretend we’re on a first name basis and that we’d be buddies) discusses how detrimental this guise of positivity can be…so detrimental it can be toxic. **NOTE: I think it’s really important here to distinguish the difference between positivity and a sense of humor.  Many use humor to cope (including myself, obviously) and I think it’s often mistaken as positivity.  I HUGELY promote the use of humor as both a relief from the horrible things we must endure and as a coping mechanism.**  I wrote a large paper in grad school on positive toxicity and women, as I think women are especially susceptible to this concept of toxic positivity. Women are often called emotional, irrational, or moody and because of these labels, I think we feel a real need to gloss over our emotions with a sunshine-y demeanor. Always careful not to seem crass or wildly unhinged, we believe that by presenting a positive front, we may appear more palatable to others. Because women are a lot about presentation, right? We almost have to be, because wemoleblog41 are so harshly judged on presentation. We are also more susceptible because of our desire (as well as the pressure placed upon us) to be perfect. While men too sometimes struggle with issues of perfectionism, I believe the burden of perfectionism falls more heavily on women. We must be the perfect friend, mother, wife, and sister, while also being kind but still with an edge, intelligent but not overly powerful, humble but confident, and strong but not threatening; all while maintaining a slim figure and being endlessly stylish and endlessly young. It’s. EXHAUSTING. Studies show that women still do the majority of child-rearing and housework while also working full time. And on top of all of that shit, we have to be SUNSHINEY too? Um no. Can I get a HELL NAH?!?!


My point is, cancer sucks.  I probably could have just written that, but whatever.  I’m long-winded. My cancer is small and well-contained for now, but I watched my Mother struggle profoundly.  I witnessed round after round of god-awful chemotherapy. I watched her lose her hair and her dignity (her appearance was soooo important to her).  I watched my always-plump, jolly Momma turn painfully frail and thin with hollowed eyes and

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My Mommy. 🙂

dark circles.  I watched as the pain pills affected her so terribly she couldn’t tell you what day it was.  I watched her cry as I cleaned her house, because she could barely walk to the bathroom, let alone clean or bend or move about.  I watched her slowly come to terms with her death and how this meant saying goodbye to 4 young daughters that she would never know as true adults. Cancer SUCKS, and pretending it doesn’t isn’t a service, it’s a disservice to those fighting and struggling. And as I am coming up on the 11 year anniversary of my Mom’s death (Nov. 5th), I want to honor her by writing this and putting it out into the universe…I’m sorry.  I’m sorry I didn’t understand all of this when she was ill. I’m sorry I was so self-absorbed and young and stupid that all I concentrated on at the time was how hard her illness and death would be for ME.  I’m sorry I didn’t give her the proper space to grieve, to feel exhausted, to express how truly terrified she was. I feel terrible about that to this day.  I wish I could tell her how sorry I am and how much I regret not allowing her to speak freely about how she was feeling. It’s easier for everyone else if you are ultra-positive, right?  It’s easier for doctors and nurses and friends and family but not so easy or fair for the person that is actually sick.  As my ole buddy and kindred angry spirit Barb writes:


Breast cancer, I can now report, did not make me prettier or stronger, more moleblog43feminine or spiritual. What it gave me, if you want to call this a “gift”, was a very personal, agonising encounter with an ideological force in American culture that I had not been aware of before – one that encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune and blame only ourselves for our fate.


I highly encourage you to read her book, Bright-sided, or read this paper, Smile, You’ve Got Cancer! or watch (one of many!) her Ted Talk, Smile or Die.

The funny thing is, these groups HAVE given me something in the way of positivity.  They have given me perspective.  This is, by the way, the part that I fear will be offensive.  So please kindly remove your easily-pissed-off hat, and just try to go with me and know that I only mean this in the most loving, “real-talk” kinda way.  It’s really interesting to oscillate between the SIBO groups and the cancer groups.  Sometimes the posts on my facebook feed will be one right after the other, and the difference is almost startling.  SIBO blows, don’t get me wrong. Don’t even get me started on how much it can suck.  It can be isolating, painful, disgusting, embarrassing, and depressing.  I KNOW.  But, it’s not cancer. It’s not death.  It’s not losing your hair and having constant mouth sores and pain so severe you cannot sleep or move (at least for 98% of us SIBO sufferers, anyway). It’s not facing your own mortality. It’s not looking at your children and knowing you’ll never see them grow up or have babies or get married.  A few times I’ve seen people in the SIBO group compare SIBO to cancer and I have to say that I take offense to that.  They’re not comparable. Stop doing that for the love of God.  Please. I almost don’t even care if that one statement offends you.  If that offends you, you have some serious soul-searching to do around empathy and compassion and reality.


I feel the need to say that I know some in the SIBO group are SUPER ill. I am not talking to you…I know your life is beyond difficult right now.  I also think that SIBO is likely not your biggest problem.  Meaning, if you are that ill, it’s possible there is something much larger happening in conjunction with SIBO, or MANY things.  Stay the course, advocate as hard as you can.  You deserve health and happiness.


What I’m trying to express (probably poorly) is that I’ve seen so much resilience and inspiring strength from the cancer groups.  It really puts SIBO and hashimoto’s and even my own cancer into perspective, because these women are SICK, yet they use humor so fiercely and wonderfully to fight their way through this.  And while I don’t want to spread the positivity fever, it does really help me with the attitude I take about my own illnesses.  At the same time, however, I see bits of (toxic) positivity being pushed upon people in the cancer groups on occasion.  I don’t blame them, because I think it’s so pervasive, but I do want to call attention to it.  Moving between the two groups is startling because the SIBO group is far darker. Obviously since I just blathered on about how toxic positivity can be in circumstances of illness I don’t expect everyone in the SIBO group to “suck it up” or pretend to be ok…but I do hope to spread some awareness about perspective.  PUHlease don’t misunderstand…you are allowed to feel your feelings.  You are allowed to be frustrated and pissed off and depressed, but it’s painfully debilitating to live in that depressive space. This isn’t a “buck-em-up” speech, but it is a call to think about how you’ve let SIBO hold you back. And it is simultaneously a call to the cancer group, to not let the happy spin of positivity that’s shoved down your throat by anyone else make you feel like you can’t be who you are and what you feel. Someone ACTUALLY posted the other day that “Sadness is a waste of time.”  Wow.  No. You do not get to tell people that

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GROSS. Get outta here with that bullshit.

their feelings are a waste of time.  Ever. Allow yourself to be honest, allow yourself to be true to your feelings and express it to friends and family. You deserve the right to feel how you feel. It honestly kind of seems like the two groups need a good dose of the other sometimes.  I feel kind of honored to get to be in all of them, because as I stated, it really brings interpretation and perspective to my life in a really profound way that I am still figuring out.


I am not immune to either of these issues, by the way, because I am an unperfect person like yourself.  I’m guilty of both allowing myself to wallow in my own depression about SIBO and of chirpily pretending (maybe even to moleblog45myself) that hearing I have cancer doesn’t affect me. I have taken to my bed over SIBO and I also didn’t shed a single tear or have a single panicky moment over my cancer diagnosis.  Both of those seem a little strange.  In one instance, I was throwing a HUGE pity part that seems out of proportion with my illness, and in the other instance I was completely denying myself the right to feel scared and worried and freaked out. Looking back, I feel like an emotionally inept idiot.  


We all have battles.  I will never understand why some are burdened with mountains and others with molehills, but I believe it’s important that we don’t make mountains out of molehills, or molehills out of mountains.  Don’t pretend your SIBO is cancer, and don’t pretend your cancer can be taken away with sheer positive vibes.  😛 I realize that it’s impossible to find perfect balance always, and that at times we will waver back and forth between being too dramatic and not dramatic enough, and that’s ok. I think the most important thing is to be authentic, but also always strive to understand your own privilege  and reality in this world.  ❤


On my own cancer front, I got great news right before my trip (the day that I left) that my endometrial biopsy came back all clear, which was FANTASTIC news.  I start natural chemo this week with my ND, and am hopeful and confident that I will be considered officially in remission soon.  On the SIBO front, I’m doing great…the best I’ve ever been, actually.  I still have some bloating issues with certain things (like wine, for example…which I keep trying to make happen because ohhhhh how I love wine!), but for the most part, the bloating is down, my weight is up, and I’m feeling energized and moleblog46healthy.  I’m able to eat a really wide variety of foods that I still try to keep as low FP (fermentation potential, a la the Fast Tract Diet) as possible most of the time.  After a full year of dealing with health issue after health issue, it’s nice to be able to say that. And bring ON 2016…2015 can SUCK IT. Seriously.  If I could beat 2015 with a bat, I would.


I wish you all health and happiness and recovery!  And until next time, here is a pic of Joe and I on Halloween.  We were snails.  (We are weird).  😛 Aloha to you all!

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I wrote this blog right after we returned from our trip…4 MONTHS AGO.  Whoops.  It’s amazing that I love to write but hate to post.  😛  So, please accept this belated blog along with my profound apologies (regarding its tardiness) to my 4 readers.  🙂

To Morocco we go (or, errrrr…went)!  We hopped a plane to Marrakech (after a horrific experienceMblog with RyanAir…avoid this airline!  Trust me.).  I have wanted to go to Morocco since I was about 16 years old.  I was giddy as can be on the plane.  A friend of mine here in Hawai’i put me in touch with her friend in Morocco.  He is from Casablanca and organizes and guides mountain treks with tourists.  She promised we would be in good hands.  Rechad kindly picked us up from the airport, saving us from the blast of taxi drivers that encircled us as soon as we stepped foot onto Moroccan soil.  He quickly negotiated a price in Arabic and then showed us to an apartment he had rented for the night.  It was quite difficult at first, as Rechad’s English is mblog2limited and my French is even more limited.  I have been in these situations several times before, and it never fails to amuse.  You get very creative when you cannot communicate in the same language.  Hand gestures, charades, and limiting your speech to the most basic of words.  It’s a fun and funny challenge and reminds you that we’re all just human.  We love to think we’re special in various ways but when you’re miming the word “toilet paper” to an older woman in a foreign country, it’s simultaneously humbling and mortifying. 😛

Joe had been sneezing and snotting on the plane and I was very concerned he was getting sick.  We had arranged to have Rechad take us on a mountain trek to the summit of Toupkal, the highest mountain in North Africa.  I. Was. Pumped. I love this shit.  But Joe was getting progressively worse as the day went along.  I warned Rechad that we might have to push the trek back a day or so.  I feared taking Joe up a mountain with a small cold because I was concerned it would manifest itself into something far worse…on top of an ice-covered mountain.  We mblog3decided to wait an extra day.  Our first night, Rechad took us out exploring the great market of Marrakech: Jemaa Al Fna.  WHOA. What a scene!  Snake charmers, monkeys, belly dancers, music, beggars…it was almost too much to absorb.  We walked all around the markets just taking in the scenery.  Foreigners (most specifically Americans) like in many other parts of the world, are perceived to be extraordinarily rich, so you get hassled incessantly.  It can be quite overwhelming and intense.  There is a famous quite by feminist novelist Elizabeth Eaves: “Academics have spent tmblog5oo much time trying to explain objectification, considering that there’s an easy way to make white, Western men understand: You just have to go out in public somewhere poor. You become a thing. Your conscious and unique self becomes irrelevant, as a thousand eyes try to figure out how to best tap your wealth. The harassers become an undifferentiated mass themselves, made up of identical things that torment.”  I kept thinking of this statement over and over again as Joe mblog4marveled at being treated, in his words, “Like a walking dollar sign.”  We’ve definitely traveled in developing countries before, but this was by far the most intense version of this.  And I have to admit, it was interesting to witness his reaction to it. If only men could ever REALLY understand that women deal with this objectification their entire lives.  But again…I’m getting off point.

mblog6Marrakech was especially different for us.  I have never before traveled in a Muslim country.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  As a die-hard feminist, I wondered how I would feel.  As a foreigner, I wasn’t expected to cover most of the time.  I asked Rechad to please inform me when it was necessary, as I wanted to be respectful of the culture.  Plus, I have the brightest hair in the world, so I’m already prone to drawing attention.    Many women in Morocco do not wear a full burqa or niqab, but many wear a hijab, chador, or khimar (mostly just covering the head and/or hair).  However, enough women were fully covered in burqa or niqab to get my attention.  I do not want to attempt to explain to you my thoughts on the subject of veiling.  It is too intricate and I am too uneducated to even begin to give an analysis.  I can only explain how it makes me feel.  I had a professor that always said, “Feelings are never right or wrong, they are just true.”  (Shout-out Joe Bloom!  I use that piece of advice a lot!) It’s a strange experience for a loud-mouthed, liberal woman to see other women wholly cloaked, moving soundlessly along the streets with not so much as their eyes to be seen (many that were fully covered wore the eye netting over the tiny holes cut into themblog7 cloth for their vision…this is the difference between a burqa and a niqab).  The men would walk beside them, free to laugh, talk, chat, and wear whatever they wanted.  Many were in shorts and a long sleeve tee.  They often made strange pairs, standing next to each other dressed so vastly different.  At one point in the market, I was attempting to speak (butchered) Arabic to a female merchant in a full burqa.  I had learned a few words in Arabic (yes, no, thank you, how much, etc.) and was putting them to use.  I greeted her by saying the common “As-salaam alaikum” (arabic for “peace be unto you”) and inquired about the price of her beautifully knit hats.  Of course my Arabic was sloppy and terrible, but I thought I caught a glimpse of her smiling behind the netting of her burqa.  I saw a slight movement in her face (because the fabric moved) and a slight crinkling of the eyes, maybe indicating that she was smiling.  I caught myself staring at her, trying to decipher her reactions and emotions through the black cloth.  I smiledmblog9 largely, and ended up buying two hats.  I walked away thinking how strange the exchange was.  I couldn’t really tell if she was smiling…even facial expressions, one of the most basic forms of communication (most especially if you do not speak the same language) are not seen behind the burqa.  I found myself thinking about this interaction for days, wondering if she really WAS smiling, like I had hoped.  Or was I just projecting an emotion onto the emotionless figure in an effort to humanize her?  I don’t understand veiling, and I very much struggle with it; but hey, I don’t understand 3 inch heels either.  And so I read things like this, and things like this, and then still remain confused and under-educated.  But, as my professor would say, my feelings are true, right?

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The next day, Joe was too ill to attempt our trek.  I found myself feeling frustrated.  Not because of poor Joe, who I felt HUGELY sorry for, but because we were in Morocco, a place I longed to be for so long, and I was sitting in an apartment reading a book.  I was DYING to get out, but I had read many times over that a woman should not go walking alone in Marrakech.  I finally, frustratedly, asked Rechad to take me back to the markets (we were within walking distance).  The markets are just so mblog10INCREDIBLE.  Filled with beautiful fabrics, jewelry, spices, food, ornate metal lanterns and mosaic plates.  Dis’ girl was ready to SHOP.  I always feel awkward shopping with men, and I tried to explain (in Franglish) this to Rechad.  He told me he had a woman friend nearby that would probably love to meet me, and she spoke excellent English.  On the long walk to the market, Rechad and I bonded.  For some reason, that man completely mblog11grew on me during our walk.  It was hard to know what to make of him at first.  He was of course a complete stranger and with the communication barrier, it was difficult to assess his character.  But on this walk, we chatted more in Franglish, laughed a lot, played with the birds, and stopped for freshly squeezed orange juice.  I found him soothing.  I was comfortable, despite not being able to tell him so.  Every child that held out a hand for money, every beggar or old woman that hobbled up received a dirham from Rechad.  We may be different genders, different races, raised in completely different ways and in totally different circumstances…but it was then that I learned that he and I were cut from the same cloth.  🙂  I told him later that night that I thought we “are the same” and he beamed and said, “Yes.” And I knew he understood what I meant.

mblog12At the market we met up with Mouna.  I liked her instantly.  Gorgeous, friendly, and with flawless English, she led me around the markets.  We bought “magic” cookies (because of their decadent deliciousness) and she took me to her favorite dress shop.  I bought two local kaftans, after she assured me that I was not indulging in cultural appropriation.  😛  “Oh you must!  You must buy them…you are in Morocco!”  After I bought two, the shop owner was pleased and offered to serve the American girl their famous Moroccan mint tea.  So we all (6 of us) huddle in a teeny Moroccan shop (about 3 ft. by 3 ft.) and had tea.  They taught me a few more Moroccan phrases and gmblog13iggled at my terrible pronunciation.  It was amazing.  Afterward, Mouna took us to her favorite tea house where we had more tea (Moroccans drink tea like nobody’s BUSINESS) and I watched the market activity while Rechad and Mouna chatted in French.  I was warm and fuzzy and content.  This is the kind of travel I live for.

Mblog14 The next morning, Joe woke up feeling rested and ready to head into the mountains.  We decided to take it easy that first day, and only hike up to the first little village of Imlil, where we would stay the night.  This way, Joe would have another full day of rest before tackling the serious part of Toupkal.  We arranged to take a group taxi into the mountains.  This is mblog99basically a compact car, which in America would normally fit 4 comfortably, maybe 5 (with someone in the middle back seat).  But in Morocco, it will fit 8 or 9 people.  5-6 in the back, 2 sharing the passenger seat, and the driver, with everyone’s luggage and our backpacks.  This reminded me so much of the Philippines…sitting in a van or jeepney that looks to fit about 6, but somehow managed to accompany 14.  As the saying goes in the Philippines, “There is always room for one more Filipino.”  😛  We crossedmblog16 gorgeous scenery and terrain while in the car.  I was tired and found myself nodding off, feeling nostalgic for the Philippines and totally comfy and cozy with all of that body heat.  As we got closer to the first mountain village we saw fewer and fewer people, while buildings and houses began to look more ruggemblog15d.  About 3 hours later, we arrived in a small village, unloaded our belongings and began the short 1.5 hour hike up into Imlil.  You cannot take a car to Imlil, you must go by foot or by mule.  We were staying at a tiny inn run by a friend of Rechad’s.  When we arrived and walked up the stairs, we could NOT believe the view.  STUNNING.  Night was beginning to fall and it was getting quite cold.mblog17  Our room was lovely and clean but shockingly cold.  We all huddled in the main room where Rechad’s friend served us mint tea and mountain apples while his wife cooked couscous for our dinner.  We took turns holding our feet and hands up to the one tiny heater provided, as our appendages were turning to ice in the mountain room with no heat or fire.  mblog18These people from Hawai’i were C-O-L-D, lemme tell ya!  😛  We had a DELICIOUS dinner (the food in Morocco is amazingly tasty and wonderful) and had long talks with Rechad about his life, his family, and his trmblog19ansition from struggling salesman to mountain trekker.  He speaks about the mountains like an old Hemmingway character would speak about the sea.  He loves his country and loves to show foreigners his Morocco.

We eventually decided to head to bed, as we needed to get an early start the next morning.  We would be hiking all day in snow and ice.  Joe and I went to our room where 6 wool blankets were waiting on our bed.  We crawled under the covers with all of our clothes on and all 6 blankets, still FREEZING.  It was the coldest night I have ever spent in my life.  We slept with our noses tucked under the wool. 

mblog20We woke up early the next morning to tea brewing and Msemen (amazing Moroccan flatbread served with cheese and honey or jam).  We sat on themblog21 terrace with the sun warming our faces, overlooking the incredible scenery.  I had awoken that morning with a scratchy throat and a headache.  I feared I was getting Joe’s cold, but I wasn’t about to flake on that mountain.  I decided to keep this information to myself.  After we gobbled down a hearty meal, we threw on our packs, said goodbye to our wonderful host, and were off!  The goal was to hike to the mountain refuge about ¾ of the way up Toupkal and stay the night, then continue to the summit the following morning (weather permitting).   And just like that, we were off!

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We walked through the village and began our trek.  We walked through amblog23 vast field of broken rock and rubble. Occasionally we would see someone digging in the mess.  Rechad explained that because of the floods that had happened recently in Morocco, many mblog45homes were destroyed and some even crashed down the mountain because of mudslides.  The people digging were looking for belongings.  Heartbreaking.  That kind of devastation set against the backdrop of such snow-capped beauty made for a strange juxtaposition. 

mblog24We began our ascent.  Even with my scratchy throat, I was peppy and excited.  We stopped here and there to take pictures and drink water, but for the most part we were fast and steady. We saw what seemed mblog25like hundreds of mountain goats and many mules.  The mules knew the trail so well that they didn’t even need a human to guide them.  They could be sent down for supplies amblog27nd relied on to eventually make it back up, full of food or medicine or clothing attached to their bodies.  It was wild.  At first the terrain was rocky and muddy, but after 3-4 hours it turned to ice and light snow. 

We came to a teeny little village nestled into the side of the mountainmblog28 and decided to rest there for a bit.  We walked to a restaurant, which was basically one table and a few chairs on the rooftop of a building.  A man came out and served us mint tea and sandwiches.  We sat on a rooftop munching on our food and overlooking the snow-covered valley, watching mblog29village life.  I peeked into a little shop and found a stone-chiseled mule (or “Moo-lay” as they pronounced it in English) and vowed to purchase it on the way back down.  Rechad told us that the kids in the village have to walk down the mountain several hours just to get to school every day.mblog90  We saw several people running up and down the mountain on our way to this village.  And I do mean running…they were crazy fast!  Again, Rechad informed us that people run up and down from village to village to get supplies such as food and medicine to bring to their home village.  Imaginemblog30 running an hour down a mountain and 2 hours back up to be able to bring medicine to a family member.  Our privilege was palpable.  As we chatted with a villager that helped serve us tea, however, before we left he said, “Uhhh you are…on the Facebook?” in French. Worlds apart in every way, but still…the Facebook.  😛  They of course do not have internet in the mountains, but when they travel down to the main village, some can access it there.  In those instances technology mblog31seems like a wonderful thing, showing them a world outside of their own and connecting them to family and strangers (like us!) alike.  How strange it must be to live on a mountaintop and then access something like Facebook. 

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mblog33We finished our meal and then started what would undoubtedly be the most difficult part of our day.  As we went up, the ice and snow began to increase.  Coming from a tropical island, we really don’t own serious winter clothing.  Rechad had gotten second-hand warm clothing for us,mblog34 which of course helped, but still we were ill-prepared.  As long as we were moving though, we were warm.  The ice really began to increase, and we started moving more slowly and carefully.  Occasionally a hiker would pass us coming down the icy mountain, and we began to get nervous, because they were all wearing crampons (which we did not have).  Rechad assured us that they were not needed for this part of the trek.  Still, as we mblog35nervously slipped and slid precariously on ledges, Joe and I exchanged worried looks that our guide might be mistaken.  We should have never doubted good ‘ole Rechad, however.  He knew what he was doing and made sure we were safe every step of the way. 

mblog37A few hours after our break, we were getting tired, cold, and the wind was picking up.  If we slipped off the trail (which happened about every 2.8 seconds), we landed in over 2 feet of snow.  My leg would disappear up to my thigh and the boys would have to pull me out.  It was strange for this Hawai’i girl!  😛  As the day and the trail wore on, I started feeling progressively worse.  My tiny little scratchy throat wasmblog79 becoming a throat on fire, and my niggling little headache had become really intense.  Annnnnd when you’re teetering on a snow-covered mountain, that can get to be a problem.  I did my best to remain perky and I decided mblog39not to tell Rechad and Joe I was feeling so bad.  I didn’t want to freak them out or worry them on the trail.   Even as terrible as I felt, I couldn’t help but stop to notice how beautiful it all was.mblog40   The sun was setting amonst the mountains, turning the snow multi-colored and sparkly.  It was breath-taking.  Night was quickly falling however and it was getting progressively colder and windier.  As we rounded the last bend, the wind gusts were crazy intense.  I could see the mountain shelter smoke stack far in the distance, but we were still over an hour away.  We put our heads down and trudged along, with me falling every few minutes from dizziness.  I kept trying to quieten the voices inside my head telling me that I was going to be painfully ill, stuck on top of an icy mountain.  I had visions of helicopters choppering me out deliriously.  (Shut up, I had a fever ok?)

mblog38The last hour was by far the worst of the trek.  It felt like it would never end.  I kept telling myself that I had made it through multiple marathons in the thick Hawaiian heat…I could easily do this.  We finally hobbled up to the shelter with frozen toes and fingers, too tired to even take a celebratory picture.  There was one room (the dining room) in the shelter with a small fire for heat, the rest was unheated.  I was shivering like crazy but tried to plaster a smile on my face so I didn’t alarm Joe or Rechad.  When I sat down to take off my shoes and sock and gloves, I simply could not stop shaking.  Joe started to get a little concerned and I finally confessed that I felt A-W-F-U-L.  Head-pounding, full-body-shivering, achy-all-over AWFUL, and had for several hours.  He immediately got concerned about Hypothermia, but I was convinced I was just sick and the mountain and cold had taken it to another level.  I was trying to be quiet because everyone was staring at the new (poorly-dressed-for-these-conditions) Americans and I was embarrassed and didn’t want to make a scene.  Anyone that knows me knows that I LOATHEmblog41 looking weak.  Joe plopped me in front of the fire to dry me out, but even after an hour, I couldn’t stop shivering.  I just wanted to go to bed.  They took me up to a huge room filled with dirty steel bunk beds.  The bedding was scratchy, dirty, and gross but I could not have cared less.  I crawled in fully clothed and they piled blankets on top of me.  I thought to myself that I might have to live there and become a mountain person.  😛  They managed to get me downstairs later that night to eat some soup, and I wearily tried to act normal and make small talk with the new hikers that had just come in.  I spent a horrible night with a terrible fever.  The next morning, we were supposed to trek the rest of the way to the summit, but I knew that was out of the question.  I was very disappointed. I slept as long as possible, then had breakfast with some of the new friends we’d made at dinner the night before.  Ninamblog91 and Diki were from Geneva and had decided to trek Toupkal as well.  We all hit it off immediately (even in my fevered state), as they were so friendly and funny.  I made the decision to go down the mountain, fever be damned.  I was NOT going to spend another freezing cold night shivering in a bunk.  We decided we would meet at the village at the bottom of the mountain and share a taxi back to Marrakech.  If we were going to be squeezed like sardines in a taxi, we might as well be squeezed in with people we know and like!  🙂

mblog47After breakfast, we bundled up and took off.  I was much slower than the day before, but I tried to keep a steady pace and not slow the boys down too much.  I did pretty well and was pretty proud of myself, despite how I was feeling.  It was a hard thing for me to swallow.  I am hugely active and competitive and fancy myself a hard-core athlete.  I hated being the snail of the group.  A funny thing began to happen, however…the farther we descended, the better I felt.  I began to think that all of my issues were altitude sickness.  I have been in higher altitudes before, and have even hiked in higher altitudes before, but for some reason, this hit me HARD.  I have nomblog48 idea if this was actually the case or not, but it’s the only logical conclusion I’ve come to, because after we descended and I got a full night’s sleep, I was a new woman. 

We trekked, trekked, trekked in the snow and ice, which was even trickier going downhill.  But the snow and mountains were just as breathtaking as the day before, and I stopped many times to marvel at how mblog49lucky I was to experience this, ill or not.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. As we slowly inched back toward Imlil, we could hear the call to prayer echoing through the mountains.  It was surreal and beautiful.  Joe’s knee started giving him trouble about halfway down.  He often has knee issues on long hikes, but this was the worst he’s ever experienced.  Could we have BEEN more of a MESS on this hike!?!?  Poor Rechad was so patient and sweet, but he HAD to be annoyed at how much trouble we were!  Between sickness and injuries the entire trip, he probably couldn’t WAIT to get rid of these Caldwells!  We were (accidentally) the epitome of high-maintenance Westerners.  ‘Murrricans.  Whoops.

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We made it back to town, dirty as can be and weary as ever.  We all decided to stay at themblog52 same hotel so we could eat, shop, and play together.  It took some major work to find a cheap hotel with hot water and wi-fi (our only real requirements), but we did.  And that shower was FABULOUS.  It reminded me of my first hot shower in a hotel in the Philippines after months of freezing showers.  It was like a 4-star spa experience.  I drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep.

The next day was our last in Morocco.  mblog51What a crazy ride.  We had lunch with the girls and Rechad, our last experience of Msmen deliciousness.  Then Joe and I were taken by Rechad to fulfill a life-long dream of mine: riding a camel.  From the MOMENT we considered North Africa, my ONE request was to ride a damn camel.  I had initially tried to talk Joe into a 3-day desert trek by camel, but he, ahem, didn’t go for it (hence the mountain mblog54compromise).  But I was NOT going to miss my camel experience.  Rechad, knowing everyone and everything, took us out of the city to a little palm tree oasis, where we could ride camels that were treated humanely.  Nomblog56mblog57 one wants to ride a camel on a busy city sidewalk anyway, right?  They dressed us in traditional Moroccan attire and we hopped aboard our camel friends.  I was so happy I was downright GIDDY.   Rechad kept laughing at how excited I was, as camels are a dime a dozen on the streets of Morocco.  Bucket list? CHECK. The noises those animals make are priceless and hilarious.  I took about 4 billion pictures and become good friends with Joe’s camel, who was almost laying his head on my leg as we walked.  It was only a little mblog55over an hour, but I was in camel heaven.  We really need camels in America, folks.  Just trust me on this.  They are way fun.

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After our camel ride, we hit the markets for one last nighttime market experience.  I wandered and took pictures and was inmblog64 market heaven.  I could have spent a year’s salary in those markets.  Afterward, Rechad took us to one of his favorite restaurants for dinner.  We met up with Nina and Diki and had a truly impressive traditional meal.  Then, Rechad had a surprise for us.  He wanted to take us to a traditional Hamam.  A hamam is a communal Turkish bath, and they are very popular.  I was THRILLED.  It was one of those experiences I really wanted to have, but I felt sheepish seeking one out as an American.  It seemed to me like something that one needed to be invited to.  We all walked down a dark, narrow ally to a giant steel door with a tiny sign reading “Hamam.”  There were separate baths for men and women, of course.  A large, gruff woman flung open the door and mblog61barked at us to come in (at least we thought…she was speaking Arabic).  We 3 girls exchanged glances and stifled our giggles.  She was something out of a sitcom.  We walked into a damp stone room and were directed to a bench to remove our clothing (I don’t have pics of the hamam for obvious reasons). There are several GORGEOUS hamams throughout Morocco, with beautiful tiling and a more  spa-like feel.  This…was not.  But I loved it.  It felt more real and authentic to me, like it wasn’t just there to cater to rich tourists.  This is where a normal Moroccan woman would go.  It was late and we were the last to enter for the night.  Other women were leaving.  We girls (not knowing what to do) had brought our bathing suits, but every woman walking out was stark naked.  It occurred to me how funny that was, since their culture is in general so covered up and so afraid of showing skin.  Conversely, America is all ABOUT showing skin; yet nudity, even in an all-female locker room, is strange or frowned upon. The other girls put on their bikinis and the same woman who opened the door pointed at them and said loudly and fiercely in Arabic, “YOU!  NO!!!” as to indicate that we were doing it wrong.  I looked at the girls, and I looked at her stern face and said, “Sorry girls, get ready for some nudity…’cause I’m going for it.”  I mean, when in Morocco, right?

I stripped right down to what God gave me and walked off to the back chambers, which were filled with hot steam from the hot water.  I suppose this gave the others girls courage, because they followed me, sans bikinis.  We were kind of giggly and nervous, not really knowing what to do.  We plopped down in the middle of what was essentially a giant shower, and one by one the woman and her little helper, came over to us.  She had in her hand a loofah-type device and the traditional Moroccan black soap…black as the night, which is famously known to give Moroccan women their beautiful, blemish-free, wrinkle-free skin.  She came to me first, and began to bathe me.  Maybe “bathe” is not the right word…more like, “attack.” She scrubbed me furiously, like I was a dirty wet dog.  It was totally comical, and I saw the girls’ eyes widen in hilarity.  We tried to stifle ourselves but every time she jerked me around to violently scrub me, someone let out a “whoop” of laughter, which got us all going.  At one point she spun me around gruffly, threw me over her leg, and began attacking my back with her loofah, my face sort of half pressed into the floor like a criminal, half in her crotch. The girls lost it at this display.  I eventually just embraced the hilarity and started calling her “Jdda” (Grandmother in Arabic) which made her rather stern face break into a big, grinning, toothless smile. 

She took turns cleaning the other girls, and then washing our hair.  It was getting late, so we began helping one another…taking turns filling the bucket and rinsing one another’s hair.  I laughed to think of what we looked like.  There was something beautiful and simple about it…washing one another’s hair gently in a tile-filled, steamy room.  But as innocent as it was for us, had a (Western) onlooker peered in, it probably looked like a very elaborate soft-core porn moment; 3 naked women softly washing each other’s’ hair…I laughed to myself as I thought that this was probably every man’s fantasy.  I then wondered if Joe was being harshly scrubbed by a large hairy Moroccan man, and how he was handling that…

mblog62We left the Hamam pink-skinned, fresh and clean, and relaxed.  We met up with the men outside and walked back to our hotel, sad to see the day go.  We were parting ways, as we all had different destinations the following day.

We met up with Rechad in the morning for a quick breakfast, then hopped in a cab.  As we parted at the airport, I wanted to cry.  It was hard to say goodbye to my new friend.  As I hugged him, he put a toilet-paper wrapped gift inmblog63 my hand.  It was the “moo-lay” from the mountain village!  I was wildly touched.  It is definitely my most prized keepsake from our entire trip.  We bid Rechad farewell, and hopped back on a cramped plane to jolly old England, an impromptu decision made late one night while in Morocco, after stumbling upon a cheap fare.

mblog65After a short flight, we landed in the United Kingdom.  How different it was to hop between these two worlds, only hours apart by plane!  We took a bus to Stratford, where my friend Renata lives.  She was out-of-town, but generously offered us her place while we were gone.  We have the most AMAZING friends while traveling, I tell ya!  We did not arrive atP1020259 her place until rather late (around 5pm) but could not resist getting bundled up and going out to explore.  In Morocco (except for the mountains, of course) the weather had been very mild…55-60 degrees most days.  But in London it was a painful 25 degrees.  We bought hot chocolates and shivered and walked the streets of Piccadilly Circus, stopping at the big tree to hear some carolers crooning Christmas tunes. It was all very…London.  (imagine that?)


We had a great, hearty dinner of cheeseburgers (we really needed some good pub food after a week of couscous, delicious as it was!) and caught the last tube back to Stratford, where we fell into bed.  The next day I woke up mblog66early to run around Olympic Park in the brisk, cloudy morning!  I had not run at all in Morocco (because of not feeling safe enough), so it felt good to get in a few chilly miles.  We booked our tickets on the chunnel back to Paris, tmblog67hen set out to absorb as much of London as possible!  London is VERY Christmblog69mas-y, which made it really fun for us!  We had a big lunch complete with dark beers, walked across London Bridge, saw Big Ben, Westminster Abby, and Buckingham Palace.  We had booked tickets to see Wicked! which was the perfect cap to our London experience!  We both really enjoy musicals and had not yet seen this one.  In another life, I was a Broadway star.  I am certain of it. 🙂

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We ended our London excursion by meeting up with Kelly Marie, our friendmblog71 from Hawai’i who now resides in London, over cocktails at a beautiful hotel bar.  The bar was ornate and full of rich mahogany and splendid fancy drinks.  We took the last tube back to Stratford (literally RUNNING to make it) and felt very happy with our short London stay.

mblog72The next day, we took the chunnel back to Paris, a whip of a ride that took no time at all, and settled in at a new, ultra-modern hotel near the airport, as we had early (separate) flights back to Hawai’i the next morning.  However, one cannot be in Paris one last night and spend it in a hotel.  We jumped on the metro back to our beloved Montmarte, in search of a fondue restaurant that was recommended to us for its charm and for its certainty in creating quick and easy new friendships.  It did NOT disappoint!  We walked into a tiny room with money-covered walls from every country/stamblog73te/city in the world.  Our waiter boisterously greeted us in French and asked if we wanted white or red wine with our meal (they serve nothing else to drink – our kinda place!).  We were then served said wine in…are you ready for it? Baby bottles.  Yup, picture about 30 adults sucking wine out of baby bottles.  BRImblog74LLIANT. 

The proprietor was smart enough to sit liked-minded people near like-minded people.  I was really impressed with this.  The place is so packed that you literally have to take his hand and step OVER the table to get into your seat.  He knew we spoke English, so he sat us next to a young couple from Scotland.  We LOVED them and immediately hit it off.  We ate cheesy, gooey fondue, suckedmblog75 on our baby bottles, then headed down the street to a bar for some bourbon.  We drank late into the night with our newfound friends.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip. 


I know how fortunate we are to be able to take trips like these.  Sacrifices of course are made on our end…saving money, living in a cheap (but adorable!) apartment, driving older cars, packing lunches instead of eating out, but we are mostly lucky because of our immense privilege.  Privilege like being born in an affluent country, born to parents that worked hard and encouraged and loved us, being able to freely attend college and choose career paths that make us happy and pay us well, and many more privileges that are always there (hellooooo white privilege!) but not as blatant.  We are not “blessed” or “lucky” – we are privileged.  Nothing will remind you more of that than traveling.  Traveling is something huge and important that we share…the love of wandering.  Nothing connects us more, nothing solidifies us more as a unit or as a couple.  Even though I was happy to be back at home, snuggled in our bed in Hawai’i, I immediately wanted to start planning our next big adventure.  I’m so glad and happy that I have a huckleberry friend in Joe, to adventure with me.  🙂

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Train selfie!

Here I am, on the train from London to Paris (the “chunnel” as it’s called, because it goes through a tunnel under the English channel to reach France) near the very end of our trip.  Just one more night in Paris and we’re Hawai’i-bound.  And I am sad.  It’s been such a lovely trip.  A bit stressful at times, as traveling always is (most especially in a foreign country), but full of fun and discovery and all-things-travel-worthy.  I have been meaning to write the entire trip, but every time I found myself in a writing sort of atmosphere, such as sitting in a Paris café sipping café crèmeblog 4, I instead always got distracted by the people and scenery around me.  A chic French Mom and her daughter practicing counting to 20 in English, an older Frenchman playing the accordion outside the café (yes, that really happens), 2 tipsy Frenchmen having a pint midday on their lunch break, or just talking to Joe about what was unfolding before us; the cultural differences we observed and what it would like to pick up and move abroad again.  And so, my laptop remained firmly in its little cat-with-sunglasses case.  I do not blog often and in fact this has probably been my longest dry spell.  The last time I blogged was the last time I was abroad, living in the Philippines.  Perhaps my everyday life is just not exciting enough to write about?  But after the trip synopsis, I promise to write a few updates on my boring American life…

blog7Joe and I have been talking about a big trip for over a year.  We’ve really tried to make travel more of a priority over the last 3 years.  When you live on a teeny island in the middle of the Pacific, it can be a little harder, but it is important to us. We committed ourselves to doing it as much as possible. We’ve had a very difficult year.  We were struggling in our marriage and in our relationship and eventually decided that we needed some serious time together.  We both LOVE to travel, and since my job ended in November and I would not start teaching again until January, it seemed the perfect time to take off.  We have always talked about Paris, as it has long been in Joe’s top 5 places to visit.  We thought that a romantic city like Paris, all decorated with twinkly Christmas lights, might be just the thing to help us to reconnect.  I have long been fascinated with Morocco (and it has been in MY top 5), so we agreed to take a week there as well, infusing the trip with both the adventure and difficulty (and reward!) of traveling in a developing country, but also with the sophistication and elegance of France.

blog 3We spent our first 2 weeks in Paris, in an area called Montmarte.  It’s sort of old world Paris and I recommend it to anyone who wants the “real” non-touristy Paris.  People still wear berets (not ironically) and play “La Vie En Rose” on the accordion on the sidewalks.  The cafes are splendid and the streets beautiful and ornate.  Everything in Paris is eye candy.  Every blog 5building is old and intricate and even the streetlamps are spectacularly ornate.  Every door is enormous and grand and every window is filled with artistic flourishes.  Women and men are dressed spectacularly with chic scarves and tailored clothing, leaving Joe and I looking like endlessly frumpy Americans.  No one wears sweat pants.  French women ROCK bright red lipstick, which looks so blog9lovely and sharp against their pale skin.  Every meal is sublime and every patisserie filled with delicious, colorful confections.  We were enchanted. We spent our days in Paris the way we always travel, simply absorbing and seeing the city and the people in it.  Of course we hit major Parisian attractions like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Champs Elysees, but we spent a large amount of our time simply walking through the streets of different arrondissements, stopping when we were

blog6weary to have a glass of wine or perhaps a tartine and a coffee, always choosing a window seat so we could people watch while we rested.  I adore that we both travel this way, with no strict itinerary in mind, just a desire to really witness the culture.  We both like quirky, off-the-beaten-path kind of adventures, so we chose these whenever possible.  We explored the dark, somber tombs of the Catacombs, which sort of shocked me.  I thought it would be one of those strange little travel adventures, and it was, but depressingly so.  We walked through dark corridors of underground tunnels, which lead to curved pathways full of skulls and bones.  If you know nothing about the catacombs, read here, as my limited knowledge will likely confuse you and embarrass me.  As we walked further and further in, viewing bones stacked on top of blog10bones, I felt myself growing somber and mournful. How many people it was…how many lives, spirits.  Children, women, men. How many dreams dashed and bodies riddled with disease and bones cracked from undernourishment?  I  got more and more quiet as we walked along, thinking of the many people stacked like stones.  It put me in a dark place, sorting out in my mind that this is what becomes of us when we leave this earth.  It still affects me as I write about it.  What a strange experience.  It took awhile to shake that one off.  Apparently it was a morbid kind of day, because afterward we walked to Montparnasse Cemeterie where many famous writers and philosophers are buried.  Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir, Emile Durkheim,  Gustav Khan…and many many more.  I’ve long lovedblog8 Simone de Beauvoir, so we stopped by her grave, where she is buried with her longtime lover, Sartre. There were kisses on the grave from people paying tribute, which we both thought was touching.  Later that week, we sought out Les Deux Maggots, a famous cafe where Hemmingway, Sartre, and Gertrude Stein would stew in their own brilliance, writing.

We walked across the Seine to Shakespeare and Company, the old famous blog11bookstore where Hemmingway would “borrow” English novels that Sylvia Beach assured were fodder for inspiration.  We then found Hemmingway and Hadley’s first Parisian apartment at 74 Rue de Cardinal Lemoine. We stood outside and marveled at the fact that someone actually lives in that space and maybe sits in front of the fireplace that he describes in A Moveable Feast.

We were lucky enough to reunite with our friend Kelly, who lives in London but occasionally works in Paris (hard life, right?  Just hop a train andblog12 boom!  You are in Parisian heaven).  Kelly and I met in Hawai’i about 6 years ago and it was lovely to catch up with her. We lunched and met at the Musee de L’orangerie, then walked along the Paris Christmas markets and had hot wine (who knew?) and gingerbread.  Great to see you, friend!  We also shopped at the biggest antique/flea market in Europe, ate the best fondue of my life in the Latin Quarter, enjoyed the incomparable Louvre and Musee D’Orsay (our favorite Museum!), ran all over Montmarte in the chilly Parisian mornings,blog14 read the quirky and sentimental “love locks” on the famous bridge (and no, we did not put on our own since we read that the weight of the locks is causing the bridge to collapse) and explored the many gorgeous cathedrals and neighborhoods of Paris.  And much, much more of course.  Below, a photo collage of some of our Parisian awesomeness.

My Slidely Collage (1)

As many of you know, I have lived abroad in two other countries, Argentina and the Philippines.  I believe it is because of this that I had far more confidence to try and speak the language than I have ever had before.  The French are notorious (in America anyway) for being snooty and snobby about the language.  I did not find this to be true, at all.  They were alwaysblog13 very kind and gently corrected me with a smile.  When living abroad, it can be hugely intimidating to try to speak to locals in their native tongue.  You feel like a royal moron.  Even if I know EXACTLY what I am supposed to say, when the time comes I inevitably get nervous and sweaty and end up butchering it.  Then I feel embarrassed and shameful.  But most of learning a language is practicing it and being willing to look like a damn fool.  You just have to get over that debilitating fear of looking so very stupid.  I went for it in France.  I just went for it.  And I think it served me well.  It’s also worth noting that I think some of the stereotype of French snootiness comes from the basic cultural differences of the service industry.  In France, waiters do not hover around you constantly refilling glasses or asking if you need anything else…that type of behavior is considered rude.  Of course in America, it is the opposite.  I can see how looking strictly from an American standpoint, some of the bartenders or waiters could be misconstrued as rude, but as soon as I smiled or engaged them at all, they were instantly very charming.  It’s just yet another reason to travel, as it moves you outside of yourself and the small confines of your own upbringing and culture.

blog16 Paris was most certainly a turning point for us.  Meaning, it got us back to an “us.” You may think it strange that I talk about our relationship this way…so publicly, I mean.  But I wish to remain as transparent as possible when it comes to my life and the things I find challenging.  I feel that people, and even especially women, do each other a great disservice by not talking honestly and openly to other women about how hard marriage can be.  It’s like we sometimes have this secret desire to keep the fairy tale ideablog17 alive. This, in my mind, can become detrimental because it makes women who do NOT have the fairy tale marriage (read: pretty much everyone) feel like something is wrong, something is missing.  I love my husband with all of my little heart.  I even love being married.  But that does not mean it is always easy or that our relationship is always as close as it should be.  I think some of this is exacerbated by our easy consumption of social media, as well.  We post adorable pictures and report what charming or sweet things our husbands have done for us, but do we post about how MUCH we want to STRANGLE our spouse sometimes?  HOW IF HE DOESN’T SWEEP AND MOP THE DAMN FLOOR BECAUSE I’VE ASKED HIM NICELY 10 TIMES I might just Lose. My. Shit?  Of course not.

Hmmm.  I have gotten off track here.  Shocking, I know.

Mainly, I just want to say that if you want honesty, you’ll get it here.  Always.  🙂

Anyway…France, relationship, marriage.  Okay.  Joe and I have always traveled well together.  We enjoy the same things and really just enjoy each other.  I always say that I don’t only love my husband, I actually like him.  It always shocks me that some couples may have love for each other, but very little actual fondness for each other.  This time together was really important.blog18  It reminded us of why we are married, why we fall in love over and over, and why we chose each other to be life partners.  I am not naïve enough to say that we’ll always be together FOREVER (though of course I hope this is so), but I love that 11 years down the line, we can still renew that sweetness and love for each other.  It is not a fairy tale, but it is definitely love.  🙂

After 2 weeks of roaming around Paris, we hopped a train to Aix en blog19Provence, a town in the South of France.  This was my first time on an actual train, and I found I had WILDLY romanticized it in my mind.  I had visions of a grand dining cart with white linens and tea served in delicate tea cups (à la old movies and Anne of Green Gables), but instead I was met with cramped stool seating in a diner-like car, with paper cups filled with terrible instant coffee.  Image shattered.

The South of France was INCREDIBLE.  I dare say it was even more impressive than Paris, as its uniqueness was even more surprising.  We rentedblog20 an incredible flat in Old Town (check out that view!), and spent 3 days exploring old, winding, cobblestone streets.  It reminded me of Hemmingway’s Paris…what Paris used to look like long ago.  There were amazing markets and beautiful old fountains on what seemed like every corner.  Bright red geraniums hung from gorgeously ornate window boxes on 15th century blog21buildings.  We were in Aix for Thanksgiving and had a fancy dinner in Old Town, staying out late drinking wine and talking.  I ran (and got lost!) in all of the old winding streets every morning, but enjoyed every minute. We wandered and bought Christmas presents and ate more than I care to admit.  I cannot express how much we adored Provence. The pictures certainly don’t do it justice (as is always the case).

A few days later, we rented a car and headed further into Provence, drivingblog22 through the gorgeous and charming French countryside, which was filled with olive groves, vineyards, and old stone houses with grazing goats.  Our next stop was the tiny town of Lourmarin.  I had read it was the named the “2nd prettiest town in France” (after Gordes, which we also explored) by multiple websites and travel blogs.  It did NOT disappoint.  The town was probably one of the most beautiful and delightful places I’ve ever seen.  Flowers and bright trees everywhere. Tons of art galleries and cafes and weird little shops line the tiny cobblestone blog23streets and on a random Tuesday, there was tango in the town square. We toured an old castle and tried local wine made from the grapes in the town vineyard. It was like a dream.  We stayed in an old B&B run by an older French woman that was quite possibly the most charming place I have ever stayed. As she served us tartines with confiture and cafe, she told us (in a mixture of French and broken English…Franglish) about opening up the place 30 years ago with her husband and how she’s been featured in numerous travel magazines (which she of course showed us), only to be

blog25interrupted by a phone call from the daughter of Albert Camus, a hugely famous writer and philosopher that had once lived in Lourmarin.  We adored her.  Lourmarin is straight out of a fairytale.  If you ever get the chance to go there, seize it.  Just do it.

blog26The next day we moved on to Bonnieux and Gordes, two truly midevil towns.  I honestly did not know that places like this still existed in the world.  We were enamored.  We had so much fun walking through the amazingly winding streets; imagining men delivering milk from carts drawnblog27 by mules many years prior.  These two towns were BEAUTIFUL, but very quiet as it was not tourist season.  This made us take on a shushed sort of presence while we were there, as if we did not wish to disturb the beautiful stillness.  We found ourselves whispering to each other, which would make us giggle.  We explored all day, marveling at every turn.  We had wine and cheese in a gorgeous mountaintop café and talked to some local women in blog28broken French about their town.
After we hit up these 3 little Provencial towns, we headed to Les Village Des Bories, a historic village in Provence that dates back to the 7th century.  This is something we just happened to stumble upon, but we wereblog29 mesmerized.  A perfectly preserved village made entirely of stone without mortar.  Of course Joe the Engineer was truly fascinated.  🙂  We ended that night in L’Isle Sur la Sorgue, an adorable town with a river running through and known for its amazing antique markets.  Because I took SOOO many pictures in the South of France, here is another lovely little photo collage!

My Slidely Collage (2)

Our time in France was ending and we prepared to continue on to Morocco (another blog because that trip deserves its own).  It’s amazing how quickly 3 weeks can fly by.  We both felt we made the right choice with France.  We longed for loveliness, romance, and beauty.  I love traveling and am excited to go just about anywhere, but at this point in our lives and in our marriage, it was the salve we needed for our relationship.  It brought us together, challenged us, and reminded us of how lucky we are to travel and to see the many, MANY wonderful places in the world.  I am convinced that very few things can teach you as much as traveling; about humanity and about yourself.  As the title of this blog states and as Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “Out of my country and myself, I go.”

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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.


If the above quote is true, I am learning sooooo much!  🙂 Where oh where to begin?  I have around 2 weeks left and I simply cannot believe it.  I feel like I am finally getting into a really comfortable place here.  My relationships with both the girls and the women of WESADEF have really deepened.  Just last week, my boss, (Ma’am Emma) and I sat talking after lunch for nearly 3 hours.  She had incredible stories about herphilippines2 033 work in her early 20s right out of college.  She was working for an NGO that delivered medical supplies to the most remote areas of Samar, deep inside the jungle.  There were, at the time, massive outbreaks of malaria, tuberculosis, and typhoid.  She and the other workers would hike for 18 hour stretches, with backpacks full of medicine and supplies, sometimes travailing rivers neck-deep and in the rainy season, flooding as high as their waists.  She even told me a wild story about getting kidnapped (with 4 other volunteers, 3 female and 1 male) by military insurgents that held them captive for 5 days and took away all of their identification.  She was just a young girl and petrified.  And while some may be shocked that this quiet, shy, introspective Filipina could have had such wild adventures and experiences, I was not too surprised to discover what a complete BADASS she is.  Ma’am Emma has a presence.  She is indeed, reserved and reflective, but chooses her words carefully and has a quiet determination about her.  I loved hearing her stories and got the impression that she does not often talk about herself, and also does not often break out these rowdy stories for just anyone.

 

Philippines8 056The other women and I are getting closer, also.  Ate Wang has taken on a big sister/protector kind of role with me.  Always checking in on how I am feeling…quick to bring me medicinal herbs and potions that she think will quiet my ever-churning stomach issues.  Even Ate Janet and Ate Terry, two women that have interacted with me the least, have been very friendly and fun-loving these last few weeks.  It saddens me to leave just when I feel like I am making real and lasting connections.

SAM_1101The girls and I are growing closer by the day.  I’ve taken to going to the shelter every single night and spending the majority of my weekend with them.  I just adore them.  We have continued our yoga practice and I think I have sufficiently guilted Melissa into continuing yoga with the girls after I leave.  😛  They enjoy it so much and I believe there is merit in yoga for healing purposes.  Last weekend, I taught them the Philippines 1 Billion Rising dance, set to Isang Bilyong Babaeng Babangon, in Tagalog, of course.  They LOVED it!  We must have danced for over 5 hours that day, because they made me do it over and over and over again.  The song is great because it’s all about rising up together, as strong females, and no longer allowing for abuse.  Next week I am teaching them the American/English version of 1 Billion.  It’s so funny that I came to the Philippines, expecting to do more singing and guitar-playing than dancing, but the exact opposite has happened.  I only wish (for their sake)SAM_1111 that I were a better dancer!  Ha!  They decided that they want to perform both the hula dance and the 1 Billion Rising dance at a school function this weekend.  They are so excited that they can hardly stand it.  Some of them are really beautiful, natural dancers…I wish Calbayog had more options for girls that would like to pursue dance.  Because they are performing this weekend, we have practiced every night this week.  Every night they come pounding on my windows… “Ate Katie!!!!  Ate Katie!!!  Practice na!”  We have so much fun.  I am so gonna miss those monkeys.

One night this week, after practicing, I decided to have them “free dance” for a while.  This is when some of the music therapy seems to take hold, as every time we do a “free dance” session, something happens.  This time, one girl that I have taken a particular liking to, sat down in the middle of the floor.  She was staring off into the distance, not speaking.  At first, I just watched her and the other girls interact.  Some girls were trying to cheer her up by making funny faces or dancing around her.  Some stroked her hair or her arm.  Some of the older girls teased her a little.  I have noticed that Filipinos in general (and please take my “generalities” with a grain of salt, as I am by no means an expert and these are just some observances I have encountered in my short stay) are not very comfortable with “negative” emotions.  They do not easily express sadness or anger.  I could see that the girls were immediately uncomfortable with the girl’s reaction.  When one of the other girls started making fun of her by calling her the name of the little girl that was admitted into the psych ward (this is the little one that has suffered from hallucinations and psychosis that I have written about before), I immediately stepped in to shut down the teasing.  I said (in what I am sure was particularly horrific Waray) “It’s ok to be sad.  It’s ok to feel what you feel.  There will be no teasing and no more making fun of her or anyone else for feeling their feelings.”  I sat down next to the little girl and put my arm around her.  She immediately began sobbing…really sobbing, with deep, heaving breaths.  We sat that way for a long time until she calmed.  I get so frustrated with the language barrier sometimes, as I so wanted to talk to her or say something to comfort her.  But all we could do was sit together, which of course, sometimes is enough.

The next day I talked to the shelter social worker and suggested she check in on the girl.  She did and the little girl confessed that she has had nightmares every night and has not been eating.  She is going through the process of filing affidavits for a court case pending against her rapist (her uncle) and I think re-living all of the trauma has been very difficult for her.  It makes my heart so heavy to think about it.

pi 017On Sunday the social worker conducted a group therapy session, which I sat in on.  I was so happy to see some kind of therapy happening…in my opinion, there is just not enough of it.  The session was with about 5 girls who are close to the same age.  It went fairly well…the social worker used a workbook she received at a training she attended last year.  The session seemed very stiff to me, however.  The girls did not get any kind of break and the session lasted over 3 hours, which seemed too long and intense for children.  Even I was getting very restless.  I wrote down some observances, comments, suggestions, and then the social worker and I talked through them afterward.  She seemed so grateful for some help. She is a very natural social worker, very patient and kind and the girls really seem to respond to her.  But shepi 015 admittedly feels like she needs some guidance.  It was difficult because I felt like she was turning to me for the ultimate guidance.  I told her that I just couldn’t provide the help that she needed, that I’m still in school, and that this is honestly my first time working directly with children, especially young children.  I told her that working with a Filipino social worker would be best and that I would ask Ma’am Betty Jane (My Practicum Instructor) for some suggestions on someone that could help or even monitor the social workers in therapy for a while.  I did give her my honest feedback, however, and she seemed grateful for even that.

Onward…Monday was a very busy day with sign-language practice in the morning at City Hall, meeting with ma’am Emma and the social workers (to approve our changes in paperwork), and then attending a dinner held by the Civil Societies Council of Calbayog.  Ma’am Emma wanted to take me.  It was quite fancy with a formal dinner, held at the convention center here in Calbayog (which I didn’t even know existed).  There was quite a show of parading around the white girl, which I’ve grown pretty used to.  I met the mayor and the assistant mayor, and then they started thePhilippines8 018 “program”.  Another mildly amusing observance is that I have noticed that Filipinos LOOOOVE ceremony.  They love speeches and they spend a lot of time acknowledging  people over and over.  At this particular dinner, they had twelve, YES, T-W-E-L-V-E speakers and every time one took their turn giving a speech, they had to acknowledge the 6 “important” people sitting up front and we all had to clap after each name, each time.  Meanwhile, THIS girl had skipped lunch and was DYING to each!  Haha!  Even Ma’am Emma turned to me and said, “This really annoys me about Filipinos.”  Hahahaha!  After the program, we finally devoured our food and then the dancing began.Philippines8 028 The Karacha, a traditional Filipino dance started.  If you don’t know, the music is sort of whimsical and the man chases the woman around a blanket in the middle of the floor.  Then people come up as they dance and place money on the blanket.  I ran to the restroom during the 1st karacha dance, and when I returned, 3 Filipinas grabbed me and dragged me (quite literally, I might add) to the middle of the floor and said, “You dance Karacha!  Go!”  It might as well have been, “Dance monkey, dance!”  It was hilarious.  I stood there for a minute, deciding if I should make a break for it,karacha then I just decided to dance.  I had NO IDEA what the hell I was doing, or how to properly do the Karacha, so I just started twirling over and over like a 4 year old in a kid’s pageant.  Well, of course they roared with laughter and all took my picture and clapped loudly and karacha5supportively.  I gotta say, Filipinos are a damn fun lot.  😛  An embarrassing, but memorable and hilarious moment.


Tuesday I got to go to another school visit with my Ate.  The last time I went, they were terribly shy and hardly spoke to me (it was my first week here).  This time…Philippines8 062WHOA.  The kids came running up to me, touching my hair, taking my picture with phones, posing with me, asking tons of questions as fast as they possibly could.  It was so funny!  The girls from the shelter were soooo excited to see us and I think that they were very proud that they were the source of all of this attention. (The children pictured here are NOT part of the shelter, as I cannot post their pictures online because of confidentiality). They were Philippines8 070very authoritative with their schoolmates and very protective over me.  It was fun and we found out that the girls in high school are doing really well.  Good grades, good conduct, good social interaction.  That’s always nice to hear.  I felt like a proud parent.

On a side note, it was super hot and humid that day.  I was sweating PROFUSELY.  I seriously came back to the center and rang out my dress before putting it into my dirty clothes pile.  When we were at the school, I could feel sweat pouring down my face, stomach and back and I had huge sweat stains all down the front ofPhilippines8 067 my dress.  I looked at my Ate, who was wearing jeans and a polo-type shirt, and she was barely perspiring.  I guess my body has just not acclimated to the heat yet.  When I am dancing with the girls, they absolutely marvel at how much I sweat.  I read somewhere long ago that the more in shape you are, the harder you sweat.  I would love to think that was the reason.  😛

On Wednesday I had the domestic violence training for CSWD that I mentioned in my last journal.  I struggled a bit on how to prepare for this, as I knew both victims and their batterers would be present.  I decided to focus the training around the basics of DV (which was a requirement for my section), and on the value of equality and how the lack of equality contributes to domestic violence.  I tried to draw the link between how viewing someone as lesser than, can lead to dehumanization, which can lead to an easier justification for violence.  I tried to keep it simple and my PI seemed to really like it.  I was afraid it was too much, or tooPicture1 liberal, but she assured me that it wasn’t.  I wanted to make clear that when I speak of equality, it doesn’t mean that men have to do what women do and women have to do what men do…it just means that both sexes’ work is equally valid and important.  I was nervous about this section of the training but it went over very well.  Some of the women in the room even clapped when I talked about respecting the work that women do as important and valid.  This is of course a struggle for me, as I am a feminist through and through.  The conservative outlook and religious leaning in this country make it hard for me sometimes, but I try my best not to judge and just work with what I can, which of course involves respecting their values as much as I can.  It is difficult sometimes, however, to manage that inner voice that screams, “But…but but but that’s not FAIR!!!!”  😛

 

Well, it is now time to rest.  I worked all weekend and Saturday night I fell very, very ill again.  I have no idea what is happening to me in this country!  It’s really beginning to upset me.  I have had incredibly high fevers these last few nights.  I finally went to the doctor today, which was an experience…trying to explain to a doctor how I am feeling in Waray is not easy.  And there’s just not a pretty way to mime diarrhea or vomiting, hahaha!  I am waiting on the results.  So with that, I will leave you and try to keep you posted on the dramatic health front.  🙂  Salamat po for stopping by!  Mwah!

 

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 

1070030_10151479908071431_1974774420_n

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).  🙂

Well, I got far too busy near the middle of my time abroad to keep up my blog.  However, I did keep up my journal, so I am simply going to copy and paste my journal entries here for those of you that wanted to keep up with the journey!  🙂  Sorry for the delay, and this is likely one post of 3-4 journals that I will try to put up in the coming weeks.  My trip changed drastically toward the end in a really positive way, as my relationship with the girls and my Ates grew deeper.   

 

ImageLast I wrote, I was headed to Tacloban for the weekend!  I headed out at 6:30am on Friday; my first foray into public trans-portation from town to town.  We took Grand Tours vans, which provide about a 4 hour ride from Calbayog to Tacloban.  I was warned by the Peace Corps volunteers that public transportation was ROUGH, but honestly, I thought it was just fine.  It was crowded, about 12 people to a van, and the roads were winding; the drivers FLY down those winding roads…but it was really fine.  I was comfortable enough to sleep about 50% of the time, so it can’t be that bad!  I think Americans are just spoiled and dramatic, honestly.  😛  Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived a small typhoon hit Samar.  It began raining as soon as we stepped out of the van and honestly did not stop the entire weekend.  ImageSo, there was no fiesta, no parade.  (see Peace Corps folks doing a hop, skip, and a jump to get across the watery street!) I was soooo sad!  We were meeting about 15 other pc volunteers there, and of course their main motivation for going was to reconnect with each other and to party…but my main motivation was the festival!  It was the only chance I had to experience a city festival, so I was bummed.  ImageI had a good time anyway, however, and the peace corps group was lively and fun.  It was cool to see another city, however drowned in water, it was!   ImageAlso unfortunate was the fact that I had caught yet another stomach bug (which of course affected how much fun I could actually have).  This is the 3rd time I have suffered some serious stomach pain.  Very frustrating.  Especially because we were finally in a big city with real food that I was excited to eat!  And the wine…delicious wine that I could barely drink!  Sunday I did not eat all day, not until dinner.  I did not want to have major stomach issues on the van ride.  I’ve always had a bit of a sensitive stomach, but this is getting ridiculous.  (Below: the wet streets of a deserted Tacloban)

 

Image

 

I left before the rest of the group on Sunday, because I wanted to get back in time to unpack and grab a shower before meeting…Paula!  Paula is my professor from UH and she was coming to check up on me and the site.  They’ve never sent a student to Calbayog before, so they wanted to make sure that it was a good site to continue to use for the future.  I was sooo excited to see her!  The rest of the group was staying well into the afternoon, which meant that I was going to have to navigate the transportation alone for the first time.  I was a bit nervous.  I wanted to go to Robertson’s to hit the big supermarket so I could grab some things (ok, cheese) that I cannot get in Calbayog.  That meant I had to take a multi-cab and a jeepney to the market, then both back into the city to go to Grand Tours.  Then I had to transfer once in Catbalogan.  Even though transportation in a foreign country is always intimidating, I needn’t have worried.  Filipinos are so kind and helpful that all I needed to do was ask, and immediately people were helping me, telling me which multi-cab to take and yelling at the driver to wait for me.  😛  I made it to Grand Tours and took the trip home.  I arrived 4.5 hours later, tired and dirty.  But when I got back to the center, I found that one of the ladies had accidentally locked me out.  I only had 30 minutes before I was to meet Paula!  I ran to the center to call Ate Vicky, who said it would take her at least 20 minutes to come open it.  I took that time to practice hula with the girls, one more time before their “performance” for Paula.  They were so cute…suuuper excited, decorating her sign and showing me how much they had practiced.  I missed those monkeys over the weekend!  I finally got in, grabbed the fastest shower in the world, then headed over to Ciriaco hotel to see Paula.

 

It was so wonderful to see her!!!  She was like a little slice of home.  We sat down and had dinner at the Ciriaco restaurant.  It’s so funny, because that restaurant is known around town to have “incredible” food.  All of the ladies at the center told me that I should take Paula there.  We ordered 3 dishes and all of them were mediocre/bad.  But that’s just food for ya in Calbayog!  Definitely not the town for a foodie.  We talked a long while about the center, the girls, the culture, and the town.  It was really great to see her.  After dinner we migrated to the back porch and talked until almost 11pm.  I came home tired, but still needed to shower and unpack.  I got to sleep very late and didn’t realize how exhausted I was from the weekend away.

 

The next morning I decided to skip my morning run, since my stomach was still bothering me.  I got ready and went to meet Paula for breakfast.  We had yet another mediocre meal (haha) and then headed into Calbayog proper.  We rode to City Hall toImage meet Ma’am Betty Jane (my practicum instructor).  I adore her, and I was excited for her to meet Paula.  Paula and I both asked her what I could be doing better, but she Filipina’d us…demurely stating that I was “perfect.”  I know, I know…when you’re perfect, you’re just perfect!  🙂  I wish she could have been a bit more upfront, but she is not the most direct person.  This also plays into the way that Filipinos relate to Caucasians.  As I’ve mentioned before, they tend to give us so much power, so much (undeserved) authority.  There were so many times when this amazingly smart, experienced woman would look to ME for guidance on certain issues or for advice.  It is a delicate maneuvering; learning how to navigate that automatic power, something I have definitely not learned to do smoothly.  She did mention that she would like me to conduct a little training with her staff regarding domestic violence.  This is the first time she’s mentioned it, and both Paula and I thought it would be a good idea.  I’m very comfortable with the subject, and perhaps I can give an outside perspective that will be useful.

 

ImageFrom there we moseyed around the town for awhile.  It doesn’t really take long to tour Calbayog on foot.  We stopped in my favorite café for some lunch and mango shakes, and talked some more.  I just adore talking to Paula…she’s not only bright and interesting; she’s incredibly funny and easy to talk to.  We headed to WESADEF so she could meet and talk to Ma’am Emma.  I told her that Ma’am Emma is the most direct, liberal Filipina that I have met, so she could feel free to be a little more…to-the-point with her.  We toured the shelter and the office, then sat down with Ma’am Emma.  It was good to have Paula there, as I could sort of use her visit as a catalyst to learn what else WESADEF really wants from me.   Ma’am Emma mentioned that the social workers are often consumed with repetitive paper work and case files.  I will admit that it isn’t what I had in mind.  Sorting through paperwork and recreating their case file system isn’t exactly my dream of helping in the Philippines.  Plus, I am not a highly methodical, organized person.  But, there is a need, and I am here to fill it.  So fill it I shall.  Or try to fill it, anyhow.

 

We had to wait a few hours for the girls to return home from school.  We spent most of the time chatting and talking about other ways to help.  Then, the girls started arriving…noisily, as they always do.  I was sooo stoked for Paula to meet them!  We went over and immediately they swarmed us.  “Ate Katie, Ate Paula!!!!”  Paula’s name is pronounced like Pow-lah, and it is adorable.   I want to call her that from now on.  We went inside and I’m sure they asked Paula a million questions.  I Imagehad told them before she came that she was part Filipina, and they were so impressed to learn that she is a professor, and so educated.  After everyone settled down (as much as they possibly could), they donned their “costumes” for the program, which basically involved their grass skirts, flowers in their hair, and some “leis” we made out of construction paper.  They looked so cute I couldn’t stand it. (Here is a pic of Ate Paula, dancing!  I wish I could show you more, but they all show the girls’ faces).   We performed our hula for Pow-lah, and then they sang another song, “Yesterday’s Dream” which always makes me teary-eyed.  It is so sweet and so hopeful.  Ma’am Emma was teasing me that I might not be able to leave, that Joe and I have to move into the center.  She might be right.  😛  The girls performed a few more dances, and dragged Paula and I up to dance with them.  Paula joined right in like a trooper, which they loved.  If you dance with them, you are IN.  I hoped that by experiencing the girls in this setting, Paula would understand a little better how far music can go in assisting me (and the girls) here.  Many of the dances are ones we have made together, and it is such a great bonding tool.  Plus, music therapy is healing and soothing for them.  It lets them get out aggression, or makes them feel confident and giddy.  I think she saw that a little more clearly after meeting the girls.  I hope so, anyway, as it is the thing I have been working hardest for while here.  It was a great night, and so wonderful to share my girls with her.  After we were sweaty and tired, we had a huge dinner – well, huge for the center, anyway.  They had quite a spread for Paula.  I finally looked at my watch and realized that it was nearing 8:30pm, and decided we should wrap things up.  I know it’s hard for the ladies to stay at work that late, when they have families and responsibilities at home.  I was so proud and so touched that they stayed for Paula.  I then shipped Paula off to her hotel, sad to see her go.  

 

A few days later, I observed the pre-marital counseling session provided by the CWSD (Child Welfare Social Development) office.  My practicum instructor wanted me to observe the class and give her feedback for improvements.  That is SUCH a hard task.  Not only is my understanding and absorption limited because of my poor Waray skills, but it is so hard as a Westerner and outsider to critique how a session like this is conducted.  However, I tried.  It was quite interesting, actually.  

 

I am still always surprised at the use of religion in public spaces, such as school or government work.  It is just really strange for an American to see.  The session began by the social worker conducting a prayer and then asking the group how they would define marriage.  Unfortunately, I could not completely understand their responses…just snippets and pieces.  They seemed a bit nervous to speak in front of me, despite the fact that I completely and embarrassingly massacred their language when it was my turn to introduce myself.  😛  What I did notice, was that the word “equal” was never used.  An equal partnership would be the first thing I would go to, to personally define the term “marriage.”  And no, it is not solely because I am a feminist.  If a woman chooses to take care of the home and raise the children, that work should be validated as not only equally important to “man’s work” but as difficult, challenging, and tiring work.  From my perspective, equality needs to be worked into these sessions.  I truly and firmly believe that patriarchy is defined by its insistence that women are lesser than.  A society that embraces patriarchy and the idea that men are somehow superior, is one that is indefinitely also rooted in violence against women.  This is the problem in the U.S. and I believe that it is the problem in the Philippines.  I have noticed that it is a general belief across the board in the Philippines…that women are not as important as men; it is a belief held by both men and women alike.  The church tends to aggravate this notion.  I really hate that.  I firmly believe that you can believe in equality AND religion.  And when it comes to issues of rape, abuse, violence, or even an overall conviction that women are less significant, this is a problem that will infiltrate every family and every social system, only continuing to perpetuate the system, in both big and small ways.  I think a firm discussion of equality would be hugely beneficial to these counseling sessions, and even making the link from equality to violence would be helpful.  Making that connection is vital, as it starts to educate people on why domestic violence and sexual violence occurs.  When women are treated as lesser than their male counterparts, it effectively dehumanizes them.  When someone is dehumanized, it is far easier to feel comfortable taking advantage of them, to treat as less than human, as an object.  I believe this is the first step in educating the masses about the inherent importance of women and females.  Phew.  That was a mouthful.  I apologize for droning on, but this issue is so complicated, so convoluted, that I could talk about it for ages. 

 

I additionally thought that the counseling session was too gendered.  Meaning, I think that the counselor played on “traditional” ideas of femininity and masculinity.  Not all women are overly emotional, or more emotional than men (as suggested).  Women are just allowed and expected to be more emotional.  Men are expected to not show emotion.  When we constantly (and we do in big and small ways, CONSTANTLY) reinforce these gender roles, we trap each gender further in our expectations, not allowing for change or acceptance of traits that are not in line with our gender.  For example, men are often still expected to be very traditionally “masculine.”  They work; they do not cook, do laundry, or help much with the children.  They are stoic, quiet, and slightly aggressive.  These are all “masculine” qualities in the U.S. (and many other countries).  When my husband and I first married, I will admit that he was a rather poor communicator.  He could not accurately identify and convey his emotions.  And even though he was fully aware that I am a feminist and would not be “serving” him in any capacity (doing his laundry, cooking his meals, cleaning his messes), I think somehow he still expected it and somehow I sort of fell into that role, anyway.   It’s just so ingrained in us, isn’t it?  Now, after being married for 10 years, I can see a tremendous change in myself and my husband.  He is more of an effective communicator.  He is loving and affectionate.  He does half of the housework and doesn’t expect me to do more than him.  I, in turn, have learned to let go of that female obligation to take care of everything and I too try to be a more effective communicator.  These are all positive things that improved or came about, I believe, because he (and I) became more educated about gender roles.  I am not claiming that I myself educated him, I think we grew in these ways together and became more educated about these things as we matured and grew as a couple.  Together, we explored and questioned the environments we grew up in.  Together, we navigated a new road that we wanted to take…a road of equality.  My point is, people can change and outlooks can chance.  Education about a different way of perceiving things is key.  Gender roles are not locked and bound by science…they are socially constructed (for the most part) and trap each gender accordingly.  It not only traps and pathologizes women…it traps men as well.  Isn’t it time we move away from the trappings of gender?  

 

This is, I know, a very Western viewpoint…but one that I feel should be conveyed.  I care about it so much because I believe inequality leads to violence, and I never want any woman to remain in a relationship where she is tortured, miserable, beaten, and left a lifeless shell because of her social, religious, and female obligation to endure such atrocities.  I also think it is wonderful that this counseling service is mandatory before marriage can occur in this country.  I wish that the U.S. had something similar.   I care deeply for women and men, and for human rights issues.  Marriage obviously falls within those boundaries.

 

Present day excerpt:  It is scary thing to literally post your journal online for the masses (ok, maybe the word “masses” is a bit ambitious for my puny little blog, but still).  It makes me quite vulnerable.  Many might not agree with the above opinions or even be angered by them.  I challenge you to open your mind to thinking about things differently, to move deeper within your understanding of gender, and to question why the notion of equality would actually anger you.  And I also encourage you to talk to me about it, post your thoughts and opposing viewpoints if you have them, but in a kind, constructive way.  That is all.  

 

Ok, done with that!  I had a really, REALLY hard day yesterday.  I hadn’t showered in days (the water was off), the long meeting in Waray made me tired and frustrated, and I was really missing Joe.  I could not get him on the phone, yet again.  The internet was spotty and not working.  I decided to go for a run to try and lift my spirits.  It was pouring rain, so I fired up the treadmill at the center and got going.  About 10 minutes in, there was a brown out.  The treadmill stopped abruptly and threw me into a chair, banging my shin.  You should have heard the cursing that ensued.  It was pretty funny…well, now it is, anyway.  I was sweaty and gross and the water was finally back on, so I went to shower in the complete pitch black (it was night).  I had to try and make my dinner in the dark, which was difficult with just a headlamp, and I could hear and see shadows scurrying all around me.  I was getting bitten like crazy because I couldn’t see to smack mosquitoes.  I finally just opened a pouch of cold chili and went to my room to eat in the dark, sweating profusely because there were no fans.  My computer wasn’t charged so I sat listening to an audiobook on my ipod, one that I had read 3x before.  I was pissed.  Hahaha!  It makes me laugh now, but I really just had one of those hard days.  The electricity eventually came on at about 11pm, and I got my beloved fans back. 

 

Most days, I am fulfilled and happy and the best part of my day is when the girls come home from school, chattering and singing and yelling, “Ate Katie!!!” at my window.  But some days I get lonely and sad and even wallow in it a little too much.  And even though by many others’ standards, my living situation would be considered “rough” it certainly is not by Philippine standards.  I am quite lucky to have internet while here (at least most of the time) because it gives me that much-needed connection to friends, family, and my Joe.  It makes me feel less lonely when I get into those dark head spaces.  🙂  

 

This morning I made myself get up early to get in a proper workout, and a proper breakfast.  I am in a much better place.  It’s so funny how I allow myself to fall into a weird funk sometimes, making things even harder than they have to be.  But that’s what this experience is all about…challenging myself and trying to make a difference, both in the lives of the girls, and in myself.  

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.  

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My sakay! My ride!

Heh, I choose that title only because I stand out so fiercely at the moment.  It is another brown-out and I am sitting here in a lovely little local café in Calbayog, enjoying wi-fi AND AC, provided by a generator.  It feels like a luxury to be in air-con.  I took a trike to get here …from the center they are only around 7 pesos, or 17 cents.  Crazytown.  But I was able to tell the driver where to take me in Waray, and he understood me!!!!!  It’s the little successes.  😛  I am trying to get more comfortable walking around town and being seen in the town.  It’s sooooo intimidating, though.  Sitting here in the coffee shop, I have 3 teenage boys sitting across from me, staring.  Occasionally they talk about me and laugh.  I try to smile at them, and they giggle and smile back.  I try to ignore them, but they just keep staring.  In the grocery store this week, there was a very long line.  Grocery shopping here is an EXPERIENCE.  You often stand in line for over 40 minutes, in the sweltering heat.  The woman in front of me literally turned completely around while in line, just so she could stare at me.  Not for a few seconds, not for a few minutes…for the WHOLE. TIME.  What an interesting experience.  

ImageI have been a busy girl.  Where to begin?  We went to the high school for school visits.  They weren’t quite as fun as the little kids, though.  The older kids are more shy about coming up to me.  A few brave girls asked where I was from.  When I tell them Hawai`i, they seemed either confused or unimpressed.  I don’t think people here have any concept of where or what Hawai`i is, which I suppose isn’t too surprising.  But I notice all of the time how many commonalities Hawai`i has with the Philippines.  You can really see how heavily Filipino culture has influenced Hawai`i.  Later that night, Melissa and I were sent to Ma’am Chad’s “farm” on the outskirts of Calbayog.  Ma`am Chad is a rather big deal, it seems.  She’s some sort of public official for Calbayog.  She sent a real car to pick up us, (I’ve seen like 2 in this entire town), and it had air-conditioning.  You know she’s a big deal when that happens.  When we got to her farm, it was basically a summer country house.  She also has a home in town.  It was BEAUTIFUL.  The house was amazing and the outside dining area was incredible.  She had a massive spread of food for us.  We walked up and started murmuring to each other, “Why are we so special?  Why were we invited to this?!?!”  Other people began arriving.  3 doctors traveling and researching maternal health and child/mother mortality during childbirth.  2 were Swiss and the 3rd was a Filipino doctor, showing them around the most rural parts of the country, where infancy and mother mortality are at their highest.  They had fascinating stories and I really enjoyed speaking with them, as that subject matter is right up my alley.  It occurred to me that they were why we were invited. They spoke English and I think we were brought in to help entertain them.  Also, I have noticed that I am getting special treatment at the center.  Melissa mentioned to me that she did not get any kind of special breakfast, orientation, gifts.  I, in contrast, am invited to every meeting, every everything.  I think this is because of Consuelo.  Since they are the major funder of WESADEF (the agency I am volunteering for), I think they feel the need to impress me.  It makes me feel guilty though…I obviously have no control over funding and did not know much about Consuelo until this trip.  Melissa finds it both funny and annoying (understandably so), as she has volunteered her time here for 2 years, and I am just here for 2 months.  Yet I am the one treated like a star.

 

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All of us! (Ma’am Chad is beside me) I love how sweaty we all are.

Anyway, we had a lovely meal and a lovely conversation.  I got to bed very late that night. In fact, the workday here is often from about 7am-7pm or so, which makes for a very long week.  As I mentioned before, they seem to enjoy staying at work late, but that means very little alone time for me, which is really hard. 

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I feel like something is scheduled every 5 minutes!  Even on days “off.”  Friday night, I went to Ellen’s house with Melissa (both Peace Corps folks) and we made tacos and drank some wine.  It was nice to relax and hear their musings on life here.  The tacos were AMAZING.  I feel like I am starving here!  I have been eating terribly because I just can’t figure out how to cook.  I have a kitchen , but at night it is so full of mice, mosquitoes, roaches, ants, spiders…I can hardly cook without getting bitten to death, (and freaked out by the rest), despite dousing myself with bug spray.  I eat a lot of eggs and fruit and ramen, because they are simple.  I’ve got to figure it out though, because I can’t live on that for 2 months.  I go to a café 2x a week for tacos or a chicken plate that is very good, and that helps. Anyway, we had a nice time but it’s interesting to hear them talk about Calbayog.  I’m sure they find me overwhelmingly annoying, as I am so excited about everything.  Haha.  I just can’t help it!  They seem to make fun of my “newness” which is both understandable and irritating at the same time.  I think they’ve forgotten how exhausting and overwhelming it is to be new here.  I am grateful that they include me in things, but I also feel like a burden to them.  I try my hardest not to rely on them and to be as independent as possible to curtail that.  But I suppose there really is no getting around it.

Anyway, the next Saturday was a great day!  ImageI spent all morning with the girls. I brought my guitar and we sang and danced for HOURS.  It was great!  (I have to blur their faces for confidentiality).  They were so excited to teach me dances and to sing for me.  They only sang in English, I think to impress me.  ;P  We danced until we were sweaty and exhausted.  They hang all over me and compete for my attention.  I am reviewing their case files to choose a case or two to follow for my time here.  I am particularly interested in one girl at the moment.  She is about 10 years old, and very quiet.  She rarely joins in with the girls when they dance, andImage when I speak to her, even in Waray, she barely answers above a whisper.  She was raped by her Father and Uncle and obviously has some serious trauma.  However, when the girls were singing, I asked her to join in and she did.  She was sitting beside me, singing quietly, but I could hear her well and she has a really lovely voice.  Especially in one so young.  I later asked her to sing for me, and she did.  I was truly impressed.  I would like to work on a song with her, if she can get more comfortable with me.  She seems to have taken to me already, however.  We’ll see how that goes.  I know I need to be careful about giving special attention to one girl, but for music therapy to work, I need to be able to work one-on-one at times.  There are a few others that I am particularly drawn to.  Those are the ones that I want to scoop up and take home with me!  😛

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The next day, I walked around, got fruit and food for the week, and came back to the office, sweaty and tired and ready to just read and relax.  I was about to take a wonderfully needed cold shower, when I heard, “Ate Katie!!!!  Ate Katie!!!!!  Sayaw!!!”  and banging on my windows.  I threw on some clothes and opened the door.  The girls climbed all over me and told me to come to the house, and to get my guitar.  I told them I would for a bit, and headed over.  OH MY.  Everyone was there from the office with food, 3 guitarists, amps, music…I walked into a party!  It was so funny…no one even bothered to tell me about it.  I have noticed that plans are beyond loose here.  I feel like I never have any clue what I am going to be doing on a daily basis.   I was completely unprepared.  Since Sunday is truly my ONLY day off in the week (because Saturdays the girls are not at school so I like to spend time with them for at least a half day), initially I was annoyed.  But, I tried to roll with it.  The girls are so sweet and cute I cannot resist them.  ImageI played and sang, they sang for me in Waray, and we danced for hours!  I had a lot of fun, but one of the songs the girls danced to was Psy’s “Gentleman.”  (Psy is the man that made Gagnum Style a world-famous hit).  Don’t get me wrong, I am not a prude in any way, and even though I’m a feminist, I love to have fun with music.  But it seemed so strange to me that the girls were all dancing in unison (as in, they knew the actual dance) to a song that seriously objectifies women, with the “dance” being  women (who in the video are of course half-naked) “dancing” sexually in front of a “gentleman.”  The staff didn’t bat an eyelash.  It just seemed so odd to me that a big group of girls who have been sexually abused, molested, and raped (2 as young as 6 years old), were encouraged to do this dance.  I sincerely didn’t know what to do with it, but needless to say, I was surprised.  I know a woman’s role here is to find (and subsequently to serve) a man, but the center seems so much more progressive than that.  It goes back to my notions of patriarchy as the underlying problem with violence against women.  Again, both here in the Philippines and in the U.S., we treat the victims and not the root of the problem.  I think until we can finally have honest conversations about REAL prevention (meaning, groups centered around educating men and boys, the primary perpetrators), the problem will continue.  I hope to at some point have an honest conversation with Ma’am Emma regarding these things, but I have to be wise about timing and phrasing.  I finally told them after several hours that I needed to shower and relax (it was 9pm) and left.  I felt terrible being the first one to leave, and I was praying that they weren’t offended.  One never really knows because I suspect Filipinos are not the most confrontational group, even when asked.  I fell into bed that night, exhausted.

The next morning, I made myself go for a run.  I could feel myself getting a little crabby and run down and I thought a run was just the thing I needed.   While it was nice to run, that whole relaxing thing was a short-lived reprieve, as I got out a little bit later (around 6:40am) and traffic was heavy and kids were walking to school.  Which meant, you guessed it, the inevitable staring.  Most of the time, I can chalk it up to just curiousness, but on this particular morning I was struggling. My runs are usually just for me, my biggest means of de-stressing, allowing me to totally zone out and get into a meditative-like trance.  But running here is completely different.  It’s stressFUL.  I am on constant alert; dodging trikes, motorcycles, dogs, all while withstanding serious leering and staring and about every 20 feet some man asks me if I’m married.  Why yes sir, please stare at me creepily then continue to try and have a conversation with me while I’m literally running away from you.  So, you get it.  It was a rough morning.

I finally met with my practicum instructor that afternoon, whom I had already met at the Consuelo conference.  I adore her.  She is so very sweet and quite intelligent.  There is definitely a language issue, however.  Her English is pretty decent most of the time, but I have to really simplify my word-choice when speaking to her, and annunciate every word.  She, of course, has to do the same for me in Waray (though her English is far superior to my Waray).  She also seems, like many women here, to be a little self-conscious about her English, always doing the hand thing…placing her hand in front of her mouth, making it more difficult to understand.  She, like the other women at the shelter, wants me to have a very well-rounded experience here, which naturally means continuing to take me to absolutely everything.  I tried to explain that I would really like to pick a few specific focuses, but I’m not certain it landed.  We shall see.  She invited me to go with her on Wednesday (Philippine Independence Day) to a nearby barangay, where she works with a local charity, helping to build houses.  It is sort of similar to Habit for Humanity, building small huts for families that cannot afford it.  I was STOKED!  She explained that I would have to do a river crossing, on a stand-up raft, which just made me even more excited.  Plus, building a hut with a bunch of Filipinos sounded amazing…what an experience!

ImageThe next morning was my very first intensive sign-language class at city hall.  I was reallllly excited!  It was about 6 hours, which is A LOT of information, but I think I took to it quite well.  Sign-language is so intuitive, so many of the signs just make sense and that makes it easier to remember.  The instructors are deaf and mute (there is of course, a translator) and so very patient with us.  But I still think it’s so funny that I am taking a 2nd language in this country, and that it’s taught in mostly Waray.  That just makes me laugh.  

The next morning I received a text, cancelling my super-cool-barangay-hut-building-visit.  I was bummed!  Ma’am Jenai wasn’t feeling well and decided not to go.  At first, I thought…”Well, at least I actually have a day off!!!”  But then, Ma’am Emma called and told me that I should go to Ate Joan’s son’s christening.  Since I had backed out of dinner, I certainly wasn’t going to say no again.  I had no idea what to do for this christening.  No idea what to wear, where to find a card, Imagehow much money to give…I am in a constant state of ineptness and idiocy in this country.  I finally just made a card (and lemme tell you, it was gorgeous…I have ZERO artistic ability, haha) and put some money in it.  I rode to the church with another worker, Ate April.  The christening was very similar to an American one, but it was in a teeny little church in a neighboring barangay and hot as…well, hell.  I don’t think I have ever sweat that much in my life.  And I run marathons.  The ceremony was short and sweet though, and I felt honored that they included me.  After, we went to her parents’ house for a fiesta.  Their house was very nice and there was videoke galore!  Man, those Filipinos love to sing!  It’s great!  A lot of the kids performed for us and we had an amazing meal…probably the best I’ve had, yet.  Again, the kids performed Psy’s Gentleman song.  Very odd to me, but I guess less so compared to the girls at the shelter.

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When I got home that night, the girls came running to my window as they do most nights.  I’m not going to lie, always having them pounding on my windows is annoying at times, but it’s also really endearing and cute.  I have a hilarious picture of them all smooshed into my window frame…I wish I could post it!  I’s adorable.  🙂

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San Policarpo

That afternoon, I accompanied Ate Racquel to a micro-finance home visit.  We went to San Policarpo, which is the largest barangay in Calbayog, about 6,000 in population.  It was such a strange barangay…parts of it were filled with beautiful houses and other parts were so poor.  We were visiting a client that was taking out her 2nd loan from the micro-financing program.  Her business (a sari-sari that also sells gasoline to the trike drivers) has been so successful that her 2nd loan is for $25,000.  If they pay their loans back on time and their business thrives, they can take out a significant amount for their 2nd loan.  Her husband is abusive, however, and much of what they discussed was lost on me due to the language barrier.  The little baby with her (her granddaughter), had a distended stomach from dysentery.  The woman told us that her daughter is only 31 and has 9 children.  The workers said that they were trying to encourage family planning.  What methods, I’m not sure.  I like the family visits, it gives me a better peek into the culture here and lets me see different areas.  I feel a little awkward, as I know my presence is strange and maybe even alarming to them, but I try to smile constantly and make them as comfortable as I can.  Speaking a bit of Waray really seems to help and goes a long way.  Though speaking to me in Waray is akin to speaking to a toddler.  I sound like Yoda.  “How today are you?”  “Delicious this food is for my stomach.”  “Your shirt is in love with me!” (I actually said that one a few days ago…I was trying to say that I loved her shirt).  

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Videoke and hot cakes? Philippines are my kind of place.

I was with 3 women for this visit, and afterward, one of them invited us all to her house for merienda and videoke.  I couldn’t say no.  For merienda, they fed me hot cakes.  HOLY CRAP those things are deeeeelicious!  They are basically little waffle/pancakes with syrup baked in and wrapped in banana leaves.  I wanted to eat 10.  So dangerous!  We sang for a few hours together, and it was my official initiation into videoke.  I love that they love to sing and dance so much, I fit right in!  It was a good way to end the day, but of course it put me getting back to the office late, at about 7:30pm.  Some of the staff were still there.  I couldn’t wait for them to leave so I could take a shower and relax.  Long, long days.  But good days.  🙂

Ate Racquel took me out to a home visit again the next day.  This time, it was farrrrrr away!  We rode on a bumpy trike for about an hour and a half.  It was blazing hot and we were crammed in this tiny thing with TEN other people. Those clever Filipinos can always squeeze ONE more person in!   I think Racquel was really worried about me because she kept asking if I were ok.  I really was.  I actually sort of enjoyed the scenery, despite having 9 people who were THISCLOSE to me staring straight at me for an hour and half.  Haha.  We finally arrived at Bangaray Timabacan Sur.  This was definitely one of the wealthier bangarays we’d visited, as there were some really fine houses, which Racquel was quick to point to and simply explain, “Foreigner.”  However, the house we headed to was sort of a shock.  Amongst some really desirable places was a tiny little shack with dirt floors, no walls, and…not much else.  Oh, except pigs.  Yes, pigs were kept in the kitchen.  I got very excitedPhilippines 4 097 about this.  I think the fact that I was so happy about the pigs made the woman that we were visiting much more relaxed.  She laughed and laughed at me.  She spoke a little English and with my little Waray, we were able to speak.  She had a very interesting story.  She is a part of the micro-finance program and is awaiting her 3rd loan.  She makes “rice bread” and sells it, as well as breeds pigs.  I wanted her to show me how to make the bread, as she explained that it takes almost 4 hours to make just one loaf (but because of this, she is able to sell at high prices) and it would good for me to experience the Philippines 4 102kind of back-breaking work that women do to support their families, but she was not working that day. She is a former abuse victim but her husband and she are now separated.  Divorce does not really happen in this area at all, so couples separate and will even start families with other people, but they will not divorce legally.  She has two daughters in college, whom I met.  Both were shy, but well-spoken, sweet, and beautiful.  One of them is also a micro-finance recipient, as she got money to start her own sari sari store.

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The woman told us that though she and her husband are separated, he still comes around sometimes to see the children.  She is very afraid of him.  In fact, the night before, he came over drunk and with a gun.  She was very scared.  This alarmed me.  She has a protection order and so I inquired if protection orders were really enforced.  Both she and Ate Racquel said no.  Of course this limits the victims’ safety severely.  I tried to do some minor safety planning with her, but it is difficult because there are not any good options.  She usually goes to a friend’s house when he comes over, but this time, he took her by surprise.  How frightening.  I have noticed that there are NO options for victims of domestic abuse here.  While this does not exactly surprise me, I’ve been trying to come up with some way to support them.  I think I will mention starting a support group with Ma’am Emma.  I can help organize and start the first one, if someone is willing to commit to keeping it going after I am gone.  At least this way, the women will receive some understanding and support for what they are/have been going through.  The older girls that have aged out or been released from the shelter could join as well, as a means of some post-assessment work.  It would be a way to keep the girls in touch with one another and to continue some sort of service.  I worry to take on yet another big “project” but I would really like to feel like I made a difference and left something behind.

After our home visit and our long ride back into town, I started to feel strange.  By dinner time, I was in hell.  I became violently…let me stress that again, violently ill.  I think it is the sickest I have ever been in my life.  I have NO idea what caused it, as I have tried to be super diligent about being careful with food and water, but somehow, something got to me.  For the entire night, I was in agony, even passing out on my way from the bathroom back to my sweaty bed.  If I had been able to, I probably would have attempted to go to the hospital.  But the thought of trying to ride a trike on a bumpy road for 40 minutes, forcing him to pull over every 20 minutes so I could vomit, was not an appealing option.  Obviously, I was a mess.  By 8am I had not slept at all and still could not keep anything down.  I texted Melissa and begged her to somehow, some way, procure me some Pedialyte.  It was Pedialyte or hospital.  Miraculously, she found some and very sweetly brought it to me.  As soon as I began drinking it, I immediately started to improve.  It took me a full 3 days to get completely over it. Dear God that was rough!  I do not wish that on anyone.  But now I have my badge of honor and fully expect to never get that sick again.  Do you hear me, stomach???  I’m lookin’ at you!

By Tuesday I was back in fighting condition.  I woke up early to get in an easy workout.  IPhilippines 4 109 have not been exercising regularly and I can really tell that it is affecting my mood.  Just because I cannot run like I normally do at home does not mean I can’t exercise – it’s silly to use that as an excuse.  So, I have made an effort to work out every day this week.  I feel much better because of it.  On Wednesdays the women do yoga with the peace corps volunteer, Ellen.  It’s a great wellness idea for the staff, and good for this girl, too!  It’s also something less professional and active to bond over.  I love Wednesdays because of it!

This week has been slower, which has been a blessing.  It is OFFICIALLY rainy season, as it has rained for the last 5 days straight.  While it does cool things down, I think I almost prefer the sweltering heat, because when it rains, it traps you.  It is nearly impossible to go anywhere, because the roads get so muddy that the trikes get stuck.  It floods so quickly here.  The mosquitoes get especially bad in my place when it rains.  I am COVERED in bites.  Philippines 4 116If I escape this experience without Dengue, I will be shocked.  😛 On the (hilariously) bright side, I am getting super good at killing mosquitoes.  I kid you not, last night I killed one by grabbing it out of the air with my thumb and forefinger.  Maybe I am part Filipina after all?  One of the women saw me grab one out of the air and decided I needed a “mosquito racket.”  I had NO idea that these things existed!  The next day, I was presented with one!    Because of the rain, all of the home visits scheduled for this week have been cancelled, which bums me out.  It did, however, give me time to prepare for “Hawai`i Day!” with the girls!  I’m excited to show them my home.

Also, and this might just be my most exciting thing to report (sadly), I received an amazing care package yesterday from Sessan from Consuelo!  She emailed to check on me and asked me about the food situation here.  She has been to Calbayog and knows that there are limited food options.  Plus, she told me that she has lived abroad before and knows it can be a struggle to learn how to eat.  I told her that I’ve lost weight, despite being fed all of the Philippines 4 113time, and that actually, my biggest struggle in the Philippines revolves around food.  There is no cheese in this town (I ADORE cheese and put it on everything) and there is only a plain, white bread that is really sickly sweet and sugary.  There is also very limited meat in the meat shops.  They almost always have chicken, but that’s about it.  As I’ve mentioned before, I live on eggs, fruit, and rice.  She immediately jumped into action and said she would send a box on the next flight out.  I couldn’t believe it!  I was almost drooling over my keyboard thinking about cheese.  Glorious cheese!  When it arrived, I felt like it was Christmas!  The box was chock full of delicious goodies!  Not only cheese (though there are FOUR kinds of cheese…gouda, greyere, cheddar, Monterey jack) but taro bread, cans of chili, turkey slices, bacon, ham slices, wheat bread, and a box full of delicious pastries!!!!  Needless to say, I had a feast that night.  I apologize for writing so long about food, but that should tell you how hungry I was!  Ha!  Consuelo sure does take care of us!

Now I am sitting in a coffee shop writing this (again), where the employees are gathered around the tv watching a Filipino game show. The show’s host has some kind of Slurpee or shake in a cardboard cup with a straw that he intermittently sucks on while he hosts the show. I friggin’ love this country.  A few minutes ago the Macarena came on and all of the workers jumped up and started doing it.  I was dying.

That’s about it!  I’m trying to stay on top of these blogs, but it’s difficult!  I apologize that they are so long-winded, but I promise I am leaving A LOT of stuff out.  Many thanks to everyone for the amazing support, the sweet facebook messages, the cute emails, everything.  You have NO idea how much I need it!  Mahalo, thank you, and salamat!

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Since I have been “sick as a DOG” as my Mom would say, and haven’t had time for a proper blog entry, here is a wee little snippet of cultural observations I have made while being here thus far:

 

Some cultural observances:

1) Filipinos don’t appear to drink a lot of coffee.  Since I take my coffee in a vat, this could be an issue.  In fact, many places only serve instant coffee.  I was told to take some brewable coffee to Calbayog with me, so I purchased a super cheap French press and some local coffee.  Every day at the conference, Chad and I were the only ones that would drink coffee.  Apparently, Americans are on over-caffeinated lot…by comparison, anyway. 

 

2) Americans are L-O-U-D.  Everywhere our group  went, I felt like we were yelling compared to everyone else.  This is something I often observe in other countries…and even in Hawai`i.  You can always pick out the Americans by their loud mouths.  I went to the bathroom in a restaurant and could pick out each of Chad, Mililani, and Shanda’s voices, but not anyone else’s.  This seriously made me giggle.  Why do we feel the need to yell at each other all of the time???  😛

 

3) Standing in line.  Filipinos are not really aggressive in any way, except for getting in line.  I constantly find myself doing it wrong.  In an effort to always be polite, when someone shoves in front of me, I just allow it, not knowing how to handle it.  Every time I attempt to get into line, somehow 10 people manage to cut in front of me.  I am doing it wrong, I tell ya.

 

4)  Food.  Dear GOD, the food!  I have never eaten so much.  And when we refuse, they insist!  Snacks, as mentioned already are a full plate of food: spaghetti, burger and fries, soup and bread…I don’t know how they do it and stay so teeny tiny!  This is actually difficult for me, losing the ability to control my meals…how they are prepared, what I eat, and when.  I have always been a picky eater, so this has been one of my biggest struggles.  I have only been here for 3 weeks and I am already dreaming of Indian food, pizza, and healthy veggies that I cannot get here.    

 

5) Covering the mouth.  I’m not sure what this one is about, and it appears to be mostly limited to just the women.  When they speak, they often put a hand in front of their mouth.  They do it when speaking English or otherwise, but I do notice it more when they are speaking in English.  This could be a sign of shyness or because they are worried about their English skills, but it can be sort of frustrating because it makes it harder to understand.  It makes them quiet and mumble-y and I have to ask them to repeat.  When they do it in Waray Waray, it’s especially frustrating, as I am desperately trying to learn.  I have not noticed men do this.

 

6) The staring.  I’ve mentioned it already, but it’s so intense it gets mentioned twice.  I don’t know if Filipinos consider staring rude, but I would guess not.  Americans are always taught not to stare, even if something is stare-worthy.  Filipinos seem to have no issue with it, as everywhere I go I am stared at like I am a walking Mona Lisa.  Other standards of “rude” are different, as well.  For example, they will often tell someone, ‘You look fat today.” Or blatantly ask your age, or why you don’t have children.  These things would be considered very rude and intrusive in America, as Americans so fiercely guard their privacy.  And also – the belching!!!  People (even women) let out HUGE, LOUD belches and don’t seem even slightly embarrassed.  They don’t say, “excuse me” and it makes me giggle like a 4 yr. old (I’m verrrry mature) every time someone does it, especially a woman.  Very interesting. 

 

7)  Filipinos hate rain.  It is the rainy season here, and it rains daily.  They take their umbrellas with them everywhere they go, and pop them up the second it starts to sprinkle like they are going to melt.  They find it so odd that I don’t do this.  I really don’t use an umbrella unless it is REALLY raining, but they pressure me into it, always saying, “It’s raining!  What are you doing?  You don’t want to get wet, do you?”  I can understand not wanting to get wet, but what entertains me more is their reaction to me.  

 

8)  Generous.  I am blown away by the giving spirit of people here.  I have been in some of the poorest homes I have ever seen…dirt floors, no plumbing or electricity, only mats to sleep on…but every time I am offered something, even if it’s just crackers and coke for merienda.  It’s quite astonishing and happens everywhere we go.

 

9)  I was told by many people that Filipinos are a happy bunch.  I don’t know why, but it always irritates me when Americans go abroad (like, to Africa, say) and come back saying, “They don’t have anything, they are the poorest people you will ever meet, but somehow they are still so happy.”  Bleh.  I think that is an ignorant outlook and many factors contribute to that mindset/observation, one being that Americans really need to justify poverty like that.  It is hard for us to see, so we pacify ourselves by focusing on how happy they still are.  Anyway, though Filipinos are a super fun lot, I don’t think it is really part of their culture to express negative emotion the way that we do.  For example, a woman was telling me a very sad story about losing her son, but she said it with a smile. 

 

10)  They praise my whiteness.  In a country chock-full of whitening creams and lotions, you realize immediately the pedestal in which they place whiteness.  I am not a troll, I realize, but I am told I am beautiful about 30 times a day.  Uhhh, I ain’t that pretty!  People stop me on the street to tell me, little girls pet my hair and call me Barbie, and the girls and women at the center tell me every time that I see them.  I am going to go back to Hawai`i wondering why everyone isn’t constantly praising me for my beauty!  😛  While it is flattering, it also saddens me, because it is strictly related to my whiteness.  I tried to tell a woman that works in the office with me how beautiful I think Filipina women are (and they really are!) and she scoffed at me, immediately saying, “We would all rather have your hair, eyes, and skin.  White women are the beautiful ones.”  I looked at 9 different stores in Manila for a simple lotion that did not contain a whitening formula before finding one.  I find this hugely depressing and sad.  Even today, as I lay in bed, deathly ill and looking like it.  All of the ladies in the center told me how beautiful I still am, even sick. 

 

11)  In relation to the above, I also think they give me too much authority (which I also think is based on my whiteness).  I have to be careful about how to express opinions because I feel they give what I think too much importance.  For example, my Practicum Instructor, who is a wonderfully sweet, funny, and smart lady and also in a high-ranked position at City Hall, told me that she would like me to observe her and her staff to see if they could be doing things better.  This threw me: I am supposed to be learning from her. I’ve even had people give up taxis or trikes for me, not knowing why initially, then realizing that (I think) it’s because of how I look.  This privilege is very, very odd and it makes me massively uncomfortable.  It’s also strange coming from Hawai`i, as my whiteness is almost a thing to sort of overcome, there. 

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