Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I Still Know Nothing

24 days left in this beautiful country. I have learned so much in the past 317 days. This year has stretched me beyond what I thought was an already expansive comfort zone. However, I still know nothing.

That is a big statement for me to make. I'm a knower. I like to know things. I pride myself on knowing a lot about a lot of things. I ask questions. I read articles like nobody's business. It still does not mean I know much.

Last week was our last YAV retreat. We took some time to visit Tondo in Manila, which is one of the poorest places I have ever seen in my life. We visited a community of people who used to live and work on Smokey Mountain, a huge landfill in Manila, surviving off of everyone else's trash. Once international pressure reached a boiling point, the Philippine government finally relocated the community off the landfill to a different part of town nearby. As typically happens in these situations, "temporary" housing becomes permanent as resources to actually house thousands of people disappear quickly. The homes and people we visited have moved from the secondary location to a third location. This visit broke my heart. I was moved to tears as we walked through the narrow, dirty, wet, and dark passageways under stories of dwellings built out of scrap metal and wood pieces. People have expanded wherever they could find space, including directly over the river under the highway bridge.

Clothes dry outside of the homes built under the bridge and over the Pasig River. At high tide, the water splashes over the levees and floods the walkways and homes of the community. If a storm raises the water levels, then the structures under the bridge wash away.

A part of this whole process is expanding one's comfort zone and becoming comfortable in what was once startling and uncomfortable. I have become accustomed to seatless toilets almost everywhere, rice three times a day, trash on the streets, stray cats and dogs anywhere you look, and air-conditioning as a hot commodity. Nonetheless, I still maintain my privileged status as a white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, educated, native English-speaking woman with a US passport, a bank account, and an iPhone. Even in my work, I can buffer myself from the realities of my students' lives. I do not see where they lay their heads to sleep every night. I do not walk with them from the mountains to the highway to catch a tricycle to bring them to school, maybe on time, maybe not. I do not see some of the abuse that I know occurs in the homes of some of my students. I do not experience the financial or family problems that prevent recent graduates from continuing to college. I have never experienced not being able to afford the 10 peso (~$0.25) fare to come to school.

Reflecting on the reality of Tondo and of my students' lives this late in the game has me questioning what impact I actually had this year. If we are thinking large scale, the answer is not much, not much at all. On the smaller scale, it is still not a whole lot, but it is something. At least I have been able to develop a personal relationship with many of my students and community members. They now have some exposure to people from the US beyond what Hollywood and the media show. It is probable that I will not be around to see any positive impact I have had on this lovely place this year. That is ok.

However, I am still stuck with the questions of what to do to make this world a more equitable place. How can we truly show that black and brown lives matter all over the world? When black lives are taken left and right and black churches are torched, reminiscent of terror acts of the 1960s and 1990s, how can we keep a spirit of hope? When the murder of nine worshipers during a Bible study in Charleston makes global headlines for weeks, but an attack on UCCP-Pikit during the mid-week prayer service that killed two and injured three barely made a blip on the Philippine news and has barely been investigated, how can we persevere for justice? I do not mean to deflate the importance of any of these events, as they are all tragic.

I recently watched a Ted Talk that addresses and offers a solution for one of the biggest struggles I have witnessed this year. In a culture that is so non-confrontational, it is difficult to navigate enforcement of rules and policies, as well as holding people accountable for their decisions.

Violence does not start with someone walking into or driving by a church with the intent to kill. Violence starts when grade school boys touch the girls in their class inappropriately, which creates an association of fear with the classroom. Violence starts when offensive comments and microaggressions go unchecked. Violence is ignoring the sounds of abuse coming from the neighbors' home. Violence is fences armed with barbed wire, spikes, or broken bottles surrounding almost any lot in this country. Violence is why people are afraid to leave the house when they hear commotion on the street at night.

Last week, one of the teachers gave the message at the mid-week prayer service. She referenced the emergency number recognized worldwide but only used in the US and Canada: 911. As Gary Haugen points out, most of us in the US have the privilege of knowing that we can call 911 when we have an emergency. I acknowledge that some communities do not feel safe calling 911 to report a crime out of fear that they will be perceived as the perpetrator and not the caller. Not to diminish that fear and reality, I argue that at least we have someone to call. The expectation is that emergency services will respond to help if we call, even if that reality does not always come to fruition. That is a privilege we do not have here. If abuse occurs in Kananga, there are not resources to provide an escape whether it is spouse or child abuse. If a car accident happens, people simply get on the next transportation option to get to the hospital rather than wait for an ambulance or police officer to respond. The infrastructure simply does not exist. Where it does, politicians can easily buy their own protection, which has led to paramilitary groups wreaking havoc in the communities of Mindanao for decades. I see more private security guards at malls, businesses, and homes than I see police officers on the streets. We have a guard at school 24/7. My students and my community deserve to live under the protection of the law.

They also deserve to live where laws and policies are enforced for the common good. A tragedy hit our beloved region last week when an overloaded boat capsized 200 meters away from the port in Ormoc, the closest city to Kananga, killing at least 61 people with 145 survivors. The Kim Nirvana is the very boat I took with the family just over a month ago on our visit to Camotes Islands. This hits close to home.

As I am preparing to leave, I admit that I am still extremely ignorant of much of the Philippine situation. I do not have all the answers. I may not even have a few of the answers, but I will not stop fighting for justice. I will not stop asking questions in the hopes of learning more. As Vaclav Havel said, and David LaMotte often quotes, “Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” I will continue to walk on this journey in solidarity with black and brown neighbors in the face of police brutality, white supremacy, corrupt governments, and dangerous lack of enforcement, whether I am in the Philippines, the US, or any other part of the world.

1 comment:

  1. Inspiring, honest words. Thank you for the reminder of where this systemic violence starts and why how we act everyday MATTERS! What we do in our life matters! It can affect other people and it is worth our time to be reflective, discerning, and choose actions of love and justice!