Friday, September 26, 2014

Why Comfort?

This week marks the end of my first month in the Philippines. I have learned so much. My comfort zone has expanded in ways that I naively thought were not possible. I even made a pretty drastic hair cut that I absolutely love! I have changed and/or strengthened my views on certain topics. I am finally starting to get the hang of this country and its beautiful culture. I am starting to learn bits and pieces of the language. I catch myself mimicking facial expressions that I see all the time. It’s nice. I am starting to feel comfortable here.

I decided simple living meant getting a hair cut that allowed me to be more efficient with my time and resources.

I have also received a fundraising update. As of September 17, I have received $7,455 in gifts and pledges! Thank you so much! This month has shown me just how important it is that I have a strong cloud of witnesses praying for and thinking about me. I am so humbled by your love and dedication.

I just want to share a few things about this week. We arrived in Dumaguete 4 am Sunday morning, September 21. This is where fellow YAVs Tyler and Kendall will be living and serving and where our lovely site coordinators, Dessa and Cobbie live and work. Tuesday to Friday, we had our first retreat as a group. As I have explained in previous posts, this past month has been full of orientations and immersions into various parts of Filipin@* culture. Most of these have put us in situations we would have thought uncomfortable two months ago. However, we have adapted and grown thankful that families simply open their homes and hearts to us.

During these experiences, I have tried to maintain a practice of journaling about each day and reading chapters of the Bible. My goal is to finish at least the Old Testament, if not the whole Bible, before I leave the Philippines. I started this project of reading straight through the Bible sometime during middle school, so clearly I’ve encountered some troubles (mainly thanks to the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles).

When we left for our retreat, we found ourselves about an hour south of Dumaguete at a resort called KoKoo’s Nest. It is a wonderfully tucked away placed owned by a lovely English couple and their five dogs (four of which are beautiful golden retrievers). It is exactly what I signed up for when I wanted to come to the Philippines. The clear blue waters and lush green scenery were almost perfect, especially with hammocks everywhere and beautiful wooden huts for our rooms.

Driftwood, our home for retreat

Even though this felt so perfect, I still had issues. We have so much privilege. The privilege to leave is one of the most significant in my mind. Some of our guides have congratulated us on “surviving” these immersions. I have strong feelings against the use of that word. It is insulting to those communities to say that we “survived” life there for only 2-3 days. Sure, it was difficult sometimes, but that is how they live every single day of their lives. Just because it may be different from what we are used to does not mean that it is worse than our lives in the US.

Additionally, what did it mean that we literally retreated from most of Filipin@ culture in order to process what we had experienced in less comfortable situations in this culture? This was the first establishment with non-Filipino owners that we experienced. It was quiet, save the sound of the waves ebbing and flowing onto the beach. We did not have to eat rice for every meal. Everything was in English. We heard very little Cebuano. We saw Filipin@s working to cook our food, performing maintenance tasks, and on the arms of older white men. That last point is a whole different issue.**

I felt incredibly comfortable. I didn’t journal all week. I didn’t read my Bible all week. I had all the time in the world to do it, but I didn’t feel that I had to. It wasn’t a coping mechanism for me anymore. Even when I felt bored, I didn’t reach for my pencil and journal. I didn’t even read a book. Instead, I escaped into my phone and the wifi. I reverted back to the habits I have in the US. I found myself annoyed during the day when my news feeds wouldn’t refresh fast enough to satisfy my need for entertainment because it was the middle of the night for most of my friends and family. I was aware of this issue, but it didn’t make me change it. I rationalized it to myself that this was the best wifi I had experienced for a month, and wifi in Kananga, my site placement, will not be this good. Naturally, I should take advantage of the time to feel as if I were just on a vacation and still connected to home. Even though I had all of these blog ideas, it was only when we returned to the city that I felt a strong urge to just sit and write (What I was planning to write was actually a blog post I’ve been composing in my head for about three weeks now and not this. Perhaps I’ll still feel motivated after I post this…).

Don’t get me wrong. I am so grateful that Dessa and Cobbie gave us the opportunity to relax, process, and ask more questions in a safe place. I thoroughly enjoyed the great snorkeling, beautiful sunsets each night, and time to build relationships with our community and our site coordinators. It just feels weird and uncomfortable to take that time to process when so many of the people who welcomed us and fed us do not have that time to just sit and process. So I guess the point of this post is that this year is already changing me. Even when I am comfortable, I still have this underlying sense of discomfort. Will I ever be able to enjoy a relaxing vacation again? Who knows? I think I have truly experienced the presence of the corn in my foot, an illustration that one of our leaders on cultural competency used during (dis)orientation. I am thankful for the presence of that corn, that annoying thing that just won't go away, but I am still unsure what God wants me to do with it.

One of the incredibly colorful sunsets we had the opportunity to witness

*A note on my use of the word Filipin@: at (dis)orientation, I first saw the use of the word Latin@ to describe both Latinos and Latinas. It is a way to include women in languages that have a heavily gendered way of describing groups. For example, 100 women and 1 man would traditionally be a group of Latinos despite the overwhelming majority of women in the group.

**Particularly in Dumaguete, we have seen a fairly high number of older white men with much younger Filipinas with them. With this whole notion of privilege and social classes, the older men have access to resources that may be the only opportunity that Filipinas have for upward mobility. It is also seen as an opportunity for “good breeding.” Perhaps, if you have children, they will have lighter skin or a straighter, longer nose. On the flip side, we watched a man and his younger Filipina companion swimming and kayaking in the middle of the day with the hot sun out. As Cobbie put it, any Filipina would know that she does not want to be there. Any time of sun exposure means that your skin could get darker. The overwhelming presence of whitening lotions, creams, and other products make it quite clear that Filipin@s want to have lighter skin. However, she does what he asks because so many factors give him the power in the relationship. On the other hand, I have absolutely no problems with interracial relationships or healthy, loving relationships. Perhaps I am being too judgmental. However, in my mind, the potential is extremely high for power dynamics and privilege to create ulterior motives in the relationship for both parties.

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