Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ode to My Sacred Space

Four walls, two concrete, and two wood with a wooden floor and ceiling form the bounds of my sacred space. A balcony with chairs and a small table overlook my home and lawn.




I look out from these seats to watch the sun rise over the eastern mountains. These same mountains are where I've watched many a rainbow and rain approach this safe bubble.



To the west, I watch the sky turn beautiful blues, purples, pinks, and yellows, a different tint due to the nearby geothermal plant. 


This 12 X 13 space is mine for now, something I can say about few spaces in this country. Despite the noise on the street, the brightly burning streetlight that shines into my room, constant rooster crows, and Catholic Church bells played thirty minutes before every service, this has become my home.

In six weeks I will leave this home for the foreseeable future. If you asked me if I would miss my simple wooden bed, thin foam mattress, and electric fan a few months ago, I would have said no way. I did not really feel that I was creating a strong bond to this place and these people. I had hardened my heart as a coping mechanism, a method of self-preservation. I would simply persevere through this year, accepting the lessons God had already taught me in the first few months.

Even though I was reluctant to invest fully in the people and relationships around me, I am so thankful to worship a God who does not give up so easily. As I still struggle to fully value my people as full humans regardless of how I perceive their productivity level, God continued to provide moments that showed pure love to and for me. Despite my frustrations and disappointments, my heart began to soften and open up to allow this love to flow through my being freely. As the school year has begun again, I only find that love increasing each day, making it more and more difficult to imagine the days that are coming quickly when I have to say see you later.

The same feeling applies to my room. If I find myself sleeping in a different place, I yearn for the comforts of my pillows, malong, thin foam mattress, and electric fan. I have become comfortable in this space, even to the point that I can sleep through the church bells sounding at 4:30 each morning. 

This space holds all of my posessions and stories of my past. The bedside table holds my Bible that has taught me so much more as I flip through the pages this year and the mug that was a Christmas gift from Ate Dobert that now holds miscellaneous items.


The bed that is wrapped in the prayer shawl from my home church reminds me that Oakland Avenue holds me in their hearts and minds on this journey. The malong on my bed reminds me of all the places I've slept, cuddling into this sacred piece of fabric, no matter how high the temperature was. Beside my bed stands my electric fan, which has been my only respite from the heat these past eight months, for which I am so incredibly grateful. The mosquito net hangs in the corner during the day but encapsulates me as I sleep, providing an extra bit of security.



The side table supports the vase of artificial flowers and beautiful red flowered doily that Mana Sally and Ate Dobert placed for me before I arrived, as well as the cross stitch my biological mother poured hours of blood, sweat, and tears into through my last night at home. I hope I have lived up to those words of "Live Simply, Love Truly, Laugh Freely" this year. Beside the table rests my yoga mat, a symbol of centering, that has supported me during intense workouts and served as a bed as I fall asleep while meditating. Above the table hangs a beautifully Filipin@ wall decoration that proclaims "God Bless You," something I think we could all remember more frequently. 


My closet doors are home to a Valentine from a very special former neighbor of mine who has enriched this year more than I could have ever imagined, my prayer card from YAV Orientation where I look to reflect when I need some extra encouragement, and my Washington and Lee calendar that reminds me of years gone by and days to come.


Beside my closets is a collage or shrine of sorts of my life story. Almost everyone near and dear to my heart from many stages of life are represented in these pictures, snapshots of stories, and pieces of my core being. These photographs have given me an opportunity to share more of my past with whoever who enters and asks.


The wooden bench that can become a bed (a wooden futon I guess?) holds everything I have not put away just yet and reminds me of late night life conversations with dear friends and imagining the room were a tree house at camp. Above the bench hang memories of winter in the form of snowflakes from my Christmas/Valentine's Day care package, words of Noel and encouragement from members of Oakland Avenue, a Christmas note and gift from Francis, whom I truly miss, and a map of the Philippines that marks where I have been and helps me to get my bearings.


Two pictures decorate the back of my door, memories of amazing young people whose paths have crossed mine during this year. The first is a drawing gifted to me by one of my extremely talented yet perpetually late students, who also happens to be a pretty great drummer. I received the second from a girl in Dumaguete during a resilience workshop. When we asked the girls to illustrate their ideal future, she wrote and embellished the word "Love."


This space is heavy with symbolism and significance. I thank God for the gift of this space to live, grow, cry, laugh, read, sleep, watch bad tv shows, exercise, and be. I am so appreciative for this town, family, community, work placement, and year. I will forever carry it in my heart as part of my story. These last few weeks will be extremely bittersweet, as we approach the denouement of this step of the journey. Thank you for accompanying me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Manobo Fight for Land, Education, and Their Future

One of our guides from our first weeks of orientation in Mindanao shared this video with me on Facebook this week. I just watched the twenty minute documentary, and it is a great illustration of the context of the Lumad, Indigenous People, in Mindanao, the second-largest and southern most island in the Philippines. If you have the time, please check out this story. It features members of the Manobo tribe and some of the schools like the one we visited in our first week of the Philippines, as well as gives you a taste of what the Visaya language sounds like.

*The New People's Army (NPA) is the armed branch of the Communist movement in the Philippines. Conflict between the NPA and the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been a constant since President Marcos declared martial law in 1972.


For further reading on my experience in this community, please read the following blogs from my first month in the Philippines:

First Week in the Philippines
Immersing and Exposing
Reactions Against the Empire, Part 1: Development

Monday, June 1, 2015

Finding My Niche

Now that I have been in the Philippines a little over nine months, I can begin to reflect on the bigger picture of my YAV year. I have accumulated many stories in these past nine months, and I have wanted to share more with you than I have been able to so far. Unfortunately, this little thing called life gets in the way of my desire to blog about or write down every meaningful experience I have. Nonetheless, I know I have plenty of material for stories around campfires and future sermons. Many of these stories worth sharing have happened in the past two months. I can definitely say that I encountered a providential moment where everything just clicked. I finally felt at home in my family. Yes, this is my wonderful, crazy Filipin@ family. I have been inducted into the "assimilated" club. I have wept out of love for my students at the end of the school year. I have watched walls of privilege and formality that kept my relationships distant finally break down. I have finally found my niche in this lovely country.

As much as I know each of these events deserves a separate blog post, I also know myself and what I am actually capable of blogging in these last two months. Please enjoy this CliffNotes version (which really is not that short) of all the amazing days and experiences I have had in these summer months!

Monday, March 30: Honors Recognition and Moving Up Ceremony, Baccalaureate Service, and Commencement

This was a super long day, but it was definitely worth it. I had just come home from a YAV retreat, and I knew this was possibly the last day I would ever see some of my students. I was so proud of all of them and all of their amazing accomplishments. One of the grade 9 students did not have a parent at the ceremony so he asked me to go up with him to present his award to him in place of a parent. Talk about a proud moment in my time in the education system. I definitely teared up a bit during the teacher tribute when some of the graduating seniors approached me with weepy eyes, open arms, and touching words of thanks. Oh, I am going to miss those kids! I already do! It was bittersweet celebrating their graduation, while realizing that the world is big and scary and waiting for them. I fear that the world will chew up these students I have come to love and spit them right back out, worse for the wear, without the support network of NHI. I'm only starting to understand what it feels like to be a parent, but my parents raised me not to live in fear. Instead I will trust that God has a plan and send them off with a Godspeed.

Tuesday, March 31: Visares

Simon, the other volunteer assigned to NHI, had his dad and sister visiting from Germany during Holy Week. To celebrate, some of the teachers, Simon's family, and I had one of the most Filipin@ days I had ever lived. We piled 10 people (including 3 tall Germans) onto a tricycle to drive ten minutes up the highway and mountains until we got to Visares, a barangay (neighborhood) in the next municipality. We walked about a kilometer through the barangay and then down the mountain to the ancestral home of Kuya Tata, one of the beloved canteen workers and lay pastor at church. While we cooked the food for our lunch, Kuya Tata climbed a coconut tree (no shoes, no ropes, no nothing) and took a machete to the young coconut, buko (Tagalog), butong (Visaya).

Kuya Tata climbing the tree and one of his buko mid-flight

After returning safely to the ground, he chopped the top off of the coconut so we could all drink the delicious juice inside straight from the green sphere. Once lunch was ready, we packed it all up and hiked down another 1.5 kilometers to a beautiful waterfall and mountain spring. It was hot so of course we jumped into the water before eating. Kuya Tata went with his machete and brought back pieces of the trunk of a banana tree. After tearing off the outer layers, he handed us our plates, curved white pieces of the banana tree. I stood in the water as I ate my rice, vegetable curry, fish, and pork in my banana plate, and it was awesome. This was my second trip to the busay, waterfall, and it taught me just as much the second time as it did the first. This was the day that Ate Dobert, my host mom and supervisor, first told me I was already a Filipina. I was honored.


Ang busay sa Visares (The falls at Visares)

Thursday, April 2: Maundy Thursday

I love the liturgical services of Lent, like Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. We went to church for an evening service, which was incredibly meaningful. Towards the end of the service, a few of the elders went to stations at the front and washed the feet of anyone who came to the front. I sat in front of a man who is the father of two of my students, at whose house I ate Christmas dinner, who has graciously welcomed me into his home multiple times. He brought the dipper out of the water, poured it on my right foot, and wiped my foot clean of the dust, dirt, and stress of the week. It was one of the most intimate moments I have experienced all year. I saw the face of God in this man and his act of service toward me. This instance was a perfect illustration of how much my community here has served me, much more than I could possibly ever do to serve them.

Friday, April 3: Good Friday

We had an afternoon service at church, and I missed singing "Were You There?" After the service at the UCCP church, I was able to watch as the Catholic Church down the street prepared for a parade with an actual coffin and a small Jesus figure. Jesus really had a funeral. That was a first for me. I spent most of the day immersed in articles with all sorts of understandings of Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter, who Jesus was, what Jesus did, and the significance of it all. I definitely came away with more questions than answers. Even if someone asked me now what Jesus did by dying on the cross and what his Resurrection means, I would not be able to give you an answer. Definitely still wrestling with all of that, and I hope I never stop.

Sunday, April 5: Easter Sunday

If I wanted to go to a Protestant service on Easter Sunday, I had to be at church by 4:30 am. So I went to church at 4:30 am. It was a good celebratory service, and most of it was in English, which really raised my spirits. I immediately came home to nap around 6 before we went to the beach at 9 to celebrate the end of the Communicant Class (like Confirmation). Every member of the class recited the UCCP Statement of Faith and then went into the ocean to be immersed. As I understand, it is a rededication of baptism that most of the youth experienced as infants. Whenever we go to the beach with the church, I end up with about six little girls, and sometimes a few boys, hanging onto my limbs like monkeys. I have always loved swimming with kids, so this is a wonderful way to have fun and build relationships with some important members of my community.

Monday, April 6: First Day of Work

This was my first day back in the office in two weeks, as I had been on retreat for a week, and no one works during Holy Week. I was looking forward to just cranking out some paperwork and entering grades. It was going to be a perfect day of mundane work...until I found out I would be going to an event Tuesday that I thought didn't start until Thursday. No matter how much I plan things, it never works out the way I expect. I think there is a lesson against self-reliance somewhere in there. I spent the rest of the day frantically trying to think about how I was going to plan a retreat for a group of Pastors' Kids the next day. My last retreat did not go as well as I had hoped for the exact same reasons: lack of planning and last minute changes despite planning. Just as I was about to go home, a few of the recent graduates came by my office after picking up a form. I decided to walk home with them. At my turn, I went straight to accompany them to the market where they treated me to my first kwek kwek, a street food consisting of hard-boiled egg fried with flour and orange food coloring in a cup with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, a salty seaweed, and sweet and sour sauce, and instant chocolate milk. It was a wonderful moment of community and learning from my students.

Kwek kwek not in a cup, but you get the picture.
Thanks to Jae Manuel Sta Romana and http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/244385/lifestyle/food/dining-on-davao-s-somewhat-healthier-street-food for the picture.




Tuesday, April 7-Saturday, April 11: Southern-Western Leyte Conference Retreat and Annual Conference

Tuesday found me traveling to Maybog, Baybay, Leyte for the Annual Retreat for the United Church Workers' Organization, Ministers' Spouses Fellowship, and Pastors' Kids. Think of it as a two-day retreat for pastors and their families before a Presbytery meeting. These happen every year, so these groups have really formed a community. I was in charge of the wonderful group of Pastors' Kids who have grown up together over the years. They wear that title as a badge of honor, which is super cool. PKs 4 Life. These kids stole my heart. I felt like I was a camp counselor again, playing all of the trick games and introducing them to all the other games I keep up my sleeve just for emergencies. They were the first group of people to call me Ate, older sister, consistently, and it was the first time I actually answered to the title. We were able to bond over games and honest conversations where I could answer some really difficult questions. Here's to breaking down binaries and spreading equality! It was a wonderful time, but I was definitely questioning how I did this 24/7 10 weeks a summer for four years. I was exhausted and still battling a cold. I missed some of my wonderful co-counselors who could always share the weight with me.

To end the retreat, we were supposed to have a fellowship night with games and presentations from each of the three groups. With only a few hours to prepare before the scheduled event, I reached into my back pocket and pulled out some of my favorite energizers! We danced and laughed all the way through "Revolution," "Ants Marching," and "Numa Numa." In the end, it turned out that we were the only group to prepare anything so we led the whole group in the energizers. Absolutely one of the proudest moments of this year! The next day, we were asked to lead them again for the opening program of the annual conference. Watching members of UCCP of all ages trying to follow along with this weird white girl from the US was pretty great. If I leave any legacy from this year, I hope it is those energizers.

Sunday, April 12-Monday, April 20: Dumaguete

I went to Dumaguete for a week to participate in the Training of Trainers workshop that Youth Advocates Through Theater Arts (YATTA) was conducting. I figured it would help with leading orientation with the faculty and staff before the new school year. It was great returning to a city I had not seen since September and to visit Tyler, Kendall, Dessa, and Cobbie. After living in my lovely small rural town, it was refreshing to spend a week in a college town with plenty of other twenty-somethings. It was so comfortable. Interactions with people I had never met were so easy. I was not as worried about language barriers or privilege creating a wall between others sitting at the table or participating in the workshop with me. I felt like I could relax back into my quick-speaking, and sassy retorting ways that feel like the real me. At the same time, I was directly confronted with an exercise that was a microcosm of my largest struggle this year: the language barrier. This is significant enough that it will receive its own blog post. At the same time, I found myself speaking more Visaya in this week, and the whole month, than I had in the previous 7 months combined, even though I was around people who were more comfortable speaking English. Although I was only with them for a week, I felt a true sense of community with the wonderful people of YATTA and the other workshop participants. On Thursday, as a part of the practicum of the workshop, I facilitated a workshop with two other participants at Bata ng Calabnugan, a home for girls who do not live with their biological families for whatever reason. It was wonderful to use my new Visaya words to do something that comes so naturally to me. These girls gave me such life and love, and I can only hope we shared some fun, love, and empowering energy.

We wrote our skills and talents down and decorated our body to show what we can do

We also got to celebrate Tyler's birthday and spend time with his wonderful host family at their house and at the beach. Dumaguete has some good people. I am so thankful for the time I was able to spend in a beautiful place with great people.

Birthday boy Tyler with his Green Bay Packers themed cake

Unfortunately, it was not all fun and relaxation. We had a YAV reunion when Emily and Kelsey flew to Dumaguete the same day I arrived in the port. Emily's brain had been waging war on her body for months, and the battle had reached the breaking point. It was with great sadness and great support that we bid Emily farewell from this part of the journey. I treasured every last moment with my fellow Leyte├▒a. Of course I missed returning to Leyte alone, but I knew that this was what she needed to do for self-care. The next steps of her journey needed to be in the US, and I am so proud of her for having the courage to make this decision. Even though she is more than a two-hour van ride away, I still value her companionship on this journey. All my love to you as you continue to heal.

Miss you, boo. Here's to finding your happy place.

Thursday, April 23-Friday, May 1: Wedding in Manila

Mana Sally's son, Paolo, was marrying Pheng on Saturday, and I was lucky enough to get on the guest list. It was a whole family affair with just about all of the Tindoy clan cramming into Mano Jay's apartment. I was definitely a part of the family now. The wedding was beautiful, and I loved having the opportunity to celebrate with them, even if everyone refused to join me on the dance floor. 

Pheng and Paolo after their wedding

I had found myself on a Tindoy family vacation. With that came trips to some touristy places and pictures of anything and everything with anyone and everyone. The motto of the Philippines should be "Pics or it didn't happen." On Wednesday we went to Enchanted Kingdom, an amusement park about an hour outside of Manila. I love amusement parks and rides of all sorts, so it was super fun to experience this with all of the adventurous cousins. It was a fantastic day full of screams, laughter, and lots of fun. I was in my element and with my people.

Anchors Away is so much fun with my awesome family and friends Patrick, Valentine, and Lorna!
Photo Credit: Andrew Surigao

Thursday, I set out to do some souvenir shopping all by myself. That's right. I successfully navigated Metro Manila public transportation and got home safely. Granted, I did have good directions from locals and ran into a woman who worked at the mall I was trying to go to, but no one ever said I had to do it completely alone. As I shopped and tried to bargain, I was impressed by how easy the Visaya came to me. I am definitely not bilingual, but I can say that Visaya is beating out Hebrew and Spanish for second language brain space. Overall, this trip to Manila was an infinitely better experience than sitting around waiting for Typhoon Ruby was in December. I actually found some places that were quite pleasant and grew closer to my lovely Filipin@ family.

Monday, May 4-Wednesday, May 13: Germans in Kananga

I returned just in time for our Music and Arts Workshop at NHI. UEM had sent another volunteer from Germany to spend time in Leyte and Samar for six weeks. I met Annika when she first arrived during the SWLC Annual Conference and again when I was flying out of and into Tacloban. We came to Kananga together and met Simon and Nils, the other UEM volunteers. This was a week of long Uno games, seriously singing for the first time all year, and playing lots of games with students, church youth members, and the choir. Our family expanded and was all the better for it. On Friday night, we went to a birthday party for one of the participants of the workshop, whose family is a close friend and church member. When we arrived, we were swarmed by the kids we had in the workshop, some of the Pastors' Kids, and kids I knew from church. I was in heaven. After dinner, we played games outside and attracted the attention of plenty of children from the neighborhood. I was definitely at camp again, but we did not have much light, which made facilitating games difficult. Either way, it was definitely fun and life-giving.

Annika and I with our younger musicians


This whole year has been a process of coming full circle. I never know if or when people will show up in my life again, but they always seem to make another appearance, each one giving more life than the last. Yes, it takes time, sometimes six months, but that is the price of building genuine relationships. Patience and the effort to keep coming to the table even if you only see the table every few months is what it takes to build community. I can confidently say that I have found my home and my sense of community. The beauty of is that God is not done working in this. I have two more short months to continue to build this community up, and I plan to use every second of them.

Here's to enjoying every one of the 60 Philippine sunsets I have left