Friday, August 5, 2011
So as badly as I want to tell you all about the amazing friendships that I've formed here, or some of the awesome experiences (including a professional Filipino basketball game!) its going to have to wait until I see your beautiful faces!!! Which, is only about a week away. I fly out on Friday the 12th and will be back in cell phone range/America around noon that afternoon.
I can't wait to see all of you and hope you have all had as blessed a summer as I have. See you on the other side.
Monday, July 25, 2011
As you guys have probably figured out by now, I'm not the best writer when it comes to really serious topics and deep thoughts (I prefer telling crazy stories about floods and Jeepneys!) about poverty and foreign missions. I have been processing and experiencing so much about those two topics the past two months and I have not really fully formed my thoughts and heart yet, so I have remained hesitant to write any thoughts here. I know once given more time, the Lord will continue to work and show me his truth and light about poverty and missions, but until them I'm just going to let people who are a lot better at expressing these ideas do it!
The first a some thoughts from the HOPE intern in India. She really expresses a lot of what I see in the Philippines on a daily basis. Just exchange Indian with Filipinos and you basically have my thoughts.
"The more I see of these rural Indians, the more I question what drives their existence. It’s subsistence living at its finest. There’s nothing to be gained except survival for the day; curl up on a mat on the dusty floor at night in the air-condition-less room, preparing to wake up with the dawn to start all over again, in the rice fields, washing clothes, feeding the naked baby, keeping the dogs away from the family and little food. I guess I don’t understand what it is that gives these people hope. Is it merely the fact that this is how they have ALWAYS lived? Raised this way, they know nothing else? I’d like to think that the power of Jesus gives hope–most of the people I’ve seen are believers–but hope for what?! Surviving one more day? Waiting for heaven with everything in them?
Some days I’m filled with total disgust at American consumer culture which lives to be entertained. Shoot, these Indians don’t even know what entertainment is aside from a pale American girl making faces at their babies. That’s not part of their reason to live. But more than entertainment and pleasure, Americans–and all wealthy citizens really–live for freedom. Freedom to go where you want, buy what you want, see whomever you want and do what you want with these friends. When these things are taken away because of poverty that can’t fund a bus fare from one slum to the next, poverty that maybe could afford a coke but certainly not a book or the education to understand it, poverty that kills off your friends and makes your only reason for existence with them the joint goal of survival… this is a terrible kind of bondage."
This next link is to a really moving article written a few years ago about a huge 50 acre trash pile in metro Manila that collapsed 11 years ago killing hundreds of scavengers. This man is an incredibly gifted writer and does more with one paragraph than I could hope to do with 100. Here is a small sample if you don't have time to read the whole thing, but I HIGHLY recommend that you take the time to read it.
"We wander through warrens of shacks, built on blocks to weather the monsoon. The soot-covered houses seem half destroyed, and the people next to the dump don't own the land they live on. Squatters' shacks overhang the banks of the Pasig River, which has been turned into a vast cloaca for the city's waste and yearly rises above its banks to sweep away the most vulnerable settlements. Manila has a severe monsoon, and informal housing among the slum population leaves tens of thousands living in flood-prone, cramped, disease-ridden squalor. Even in the worst locations, or on the periphery where the city fades away into the rice fields and swamps, there is always the threat of a more powerful economic force that can edge squatters out from whatever place they've taken as theirs. They are haunted everywhere by the bulldozers of progress.
Time and again in Manila, huge slums have been emptied to avoid the unwanted notice of the outside world. Imelda Marcos was notorious for clearing out tens of thousands of slum dwellers in the mid-1970s before the arrival of the Miss Universe pageant, the visit of President Gerald Ford, and an IMF-World Bank meeting. Not to be outdone, her nominally democratic successor Corazon Aquino reportedly evicted 600,000 squatters during her presidency. When prices rise and landowners want to clear shantytowns from their property, one of the favored methods in Manila is arson, known as “hot demolition.” A popular technique involves releasing a rat or cat soaked in kerosene and set alight into a settlement, where the terrified creature can start dozens of fires before it dies.
But even in this swampy hell there is a degree of remove, of levity. At the edge of the pier, under a tin roof, a karaoke machine is running, the words spooling out on a screen beneath a shot of a beautiful girl walking on a beach. A young girl in rubber boots, covered with mud, grabs the microphone and starts singing a Filipino pop song in a cracked but totally heartfelt voice. The mangangalahigs have distilled survival, and even joy, down to an essence. That life prevails here is a testament to what can be endured; in the midst of squalor, laughter and karaoke can still be heard. Even the landscape insistently offers up signs of regeneration: when we leave the pier, there is a dim rainbow bent over the piled housing of Navotas. North of the slum, the fenced-off dumpsite of Smokey Mountain lies dormant and abandoned, after ten years its slopes already beginning to be reclaimed by grass and shrubs."
There is a hope I have seen in the poor of the Philippines that I believe is unmatched in most of the impoverished world. More thoughts to come later.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Sad news to all of you Veggie Tale lovers out there... I didn't get to go to Cebu last week...:(. Major bummer I know!!! A quick recap of my trip last week...
My two bosses and I flew out of Manila airport to a small little city on the island of Negroes called Bacolod. A wonderful CCT employee met us at the airport and brought us to our hotel. The next 4 days were a barrage of 4 hour drives and meetings with various SCA facilitators in the area. I quickly discovered just how beautiful this part of the Philippines is. I'll try and post some pictures later, but the weather was perfect all week and the city of Bacolod was surrounded by beautiful mountains and farm fields everywhere. One of the highlights of the week was when we drove a couple hours out to a little small town. We literally had to drive over and through 2 different mountains to get to this little town. Once at the town, we met with a small group of potential savings group members for about 2 hours.
It was really great to get a break from the incredibly busy life of a 17 million person city like Manila. One of the differences I saw immediately was just how bad the poverty in Manila is compared to poverty outside of the city. In Bacolod, the people were poor, but they still lived reasonably clean lives, and had much more land and places for the children to run and play safely. Their homes and neighborhoods were much cleaner and smelled more like nature than anything else. Contrast that scene with the enormous slums in Manila and it shows just how bad poverty is in Manila, where the average slum holds about 500 people per acre. The biggest difference in these two different kinds of poverty is the smell. The metro Manila slums smell of feces, blood, and straight garbage; quite different from the more natural smells of rural poverty.
Despite the nice break from Manila, the trip to Bacolod was incredibly exhausting. We had to work through a couple major problems with some of the facilitators and spent the entire 4 days either driving somewhere or meeting with someone. The biggest surprise of the entire week had to be Friday night when we flew back to Manila. I had expected to become attached to this country and the people, but walking into my apartment felt more like home than I ever thought possible. Even being away from "home" for only 4 days, made me long all the more for the familiarity in my neighborhood of "Vito Cruz". Being in a foreign country can be exhausting and more stressful that I ever realized, but I was amazed at how much more exhausting and stressful it was in a new and strange place like Bacolod. Although I miss my home, family, friends, and school more than anything in the world, it has been comforting to see how the Lord has been moving and answering prayer in such a way as to provide a "home" for me here.
A couple of random notes about flying the Philippines...
1. The safety video on Philippine Airlines was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. It took everything within me to keep from bursting out laughing while they showed it. You know how most safety videos are just some flight attendants showing you how to buckle a seat belt? Well, this video was like a drama with a poor helpless Filipino passenger showcasing what not to do on an airplane. Whenever he did something wrong the flight attendants would pounce on him and catch him in the act. It was soooo funny!!!
2. Airport security here is not quite up to American standards. Upon entering the airport on our way back to Manila I had some ticket difficulty so I had to enter and exit the airport 3 times. Every single time I went back through the original safety check I forgot to take out my keys and the buzzer went off, but every single time no security guard seemed to care! I could have gone through 3 straight times with a gun in my pocket and no one would have noticed. So then we went through the main security to the terminal and the person who was in charge of looking at the x-rays of all our bags had her child in her lap letting her push the buttons and look at all the bags!!! I thought this was awesome and thought how much people would freak out if it happened in America...
This week I'm heading to the island of Palawan for 3 days for some more meetings. Based on the pictures and word of mouth, it looks like I am in for quite the treat next week.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
So not much has happened this week in terms of adventures, just the usual daily routine (although we are making some incredible progress with the savings groups). I'll be posting a "day in the life of..." post sometime next week, so look forward to that! But tomorrow I'm actually flying to a different group of islands in the Philippines called "Visays". There are three main island groups in the Philippines: Luzon (where I am), Mindinao (where the Muslim terrorists are, you don't want to go there), and Visays (which is basically the in between islands.
I'm really excited about seeing another part of the country and I am told that it is beautiful there, so there will be pictures to come. But I also thought it was funny when I learned that one of the cities were are visiting is called Cebu. Some of you might be thinking, "What's so funny about Cebu?" Well you have obviously never seen this awesome video that is sure to brighten your day! For those of you who have never seen this video before, I grieve your childhood (or lack thereof...) Enjoy!!!
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Saturday was a fairly typical Saturday. Me and Charlie (other American) woke up bright and early and went to one of the nearby branches and played in the worship band again. For any of you wondering if I have lost any of my "sick" drumming skills, fear not, I have not lost a thing! Okay, so that last sentence was a stretch to say the least, but I'm still having a blast rekindling a past love of mine. After worship and breakfast with the staff, we headed over to Mall of Asia to catch the new Transformers movie. Following the movie we went over to check out an NBA 3 on 3 tournament that we had heard about. Rumor had it that a famous former NBA player was there for the tournament and to help promote the NBA in the Philippines (despite the fact that the league is currently in a lockout and in all likelihood will not have a season next year, thank you greedy owners!!!).
We walked out of the movie theater and followed the sound of extremely loud music and we found ourselves at the back of the mall with a half of a basketball court laid out with a few thousand people surrounding it.
Next thing we know an MC comes out and tries to get the crowd all fired up (he failed horribly, it was pretty hilarious to watch). Then the New York Knicks dancing team comes out and dance for like a min and then they announce the famous former NBA who was none other than fellow Clemson Tiger Horace Grant!!!! I did not have a Clemson shirt on or I am sure he would have picked me out of the crowd, invited me to hang out with him the rest of the day, grab dinner with him, give me his cell number, and invite me to go with him to every Clemson sporting event for the rest of his life... Unfortunately, none of those things happened, so we just enjoyed the day and watched the slam dunk contest and dancing contest. All in all it was incredibly entertaining and it was great knowing that me and Horace had something in common that none of the other 5,000 people did.
That night, we walked over to the nearby mall to grab some dinner and walked by the Philippines National Sports complex (right next to our apartments) and heard some music and a small crowd gathering around the gates. We had heard earlier that week that the Filipino soccer team (know as the "Azkals" in the Philippines) was playing against Sri Lanka sometime that weekend, but we figured it was being played somewhere not close to us. We go check what the crowd is doing and we see the team getting on the bus. We figured the match had been earlier that day, but when we asked some of the people around us they told that the game was the next day! We were pumped.
The next afternoon we walked the entire 1 block from our apartment complex to the Filipino National Stadium (only seats around 20,000 people) to check out the ticket situation. Well it turns out that Filipinos like soccer more than they let on because the game was sold out! However, using my expert ticket scalping skills (learned from my father) I was able to get us a couple tickets for just over face value (still only like $10). Although I'm pretty sure I still way overpaid, but I didn't speak the same language as the scalper, so can you blame me? We then went into the stadium and grabbed our seats behind one of the goals. It was a beautiful day outside and (fresh in my brand new Azkals t-shirt) we were ready for some Filipino football!!!
Of course a huge rain storm came literally 10 seconds after kickoff. It POURED rain for a solid 25 minutes. There was literally not one piece of clothing that was dry on any person in the entire stadium. But trust me, that didn't stop the rabid Filipino fans from going crazy!!! The stadium was packed and was the loudest small and spread out stadium I had ever heard! Every single person screamed their lungs out around us anytime anything remotely exciting happened. The girls sitting next to us may have permanently damaged my left ear drum as a result. The first goal was scored by the Philippines around the 20 min mark and the place went absolutely nuts!!! What made it even more exciting was the fact that it was still POURING down rain so I think the fans felt more connected to each other for being out there together for their... I mean, OUR team (Yes I now consider myself an official Filipino soccer fan).
I found out through the Azkals program book about how this was the first World Cup Qualifying match ever held in the Philippines. So we essentially attended the biggest game in Filipino soccer history! The Philippines has been truly awful at soccer for a long time and have just recently attempted to build a somewhat respectable team. Another interesting article in the program informed me about the two star players, two brothers named James and Phil Younghusband (yes that is in fact their real last name). They are only half Filipino and don't even look Filipino. Evidently they were born and raised in England (their dad is English) and played with the English Club Chelsea until just recently. Then their parents split up and the Filipino national team asked them to play for them. They agreed and have lived in the Philippines ever since.
The Philippines scored a second goal just before halftime which prompted another crazy celebration. The second half was more of the same, with the Philippines prevailing in the end 4-0. Poor Sri Lanka was just terrible. The players then took a victory lap around the stadium to thank all the fans and thus ended my first Filipino futbol experience. I'm not going to lie, I have never been a huge soccer fan. But this game made me practically fall in love with international soccer. If I ever get another chance to go to another international game, anywhere, I'm going. Seeing a game like that in person makes soccer so much more exciting and intense.
Well, that's all for the weekend adventures! Me and Charlie went and celebrated July 4th by finding the biggest cheeseburger we could. We found it at a TGI Fridays not far from the CCT office. And let me just say, it was delicious!!!
On a more serious note, I have had a lot of quiet and still time since things have settled down here. I tend to be a more extroverted person, so being here has really pushed me into more of an introverted state that I don't think I knew existed. I find myself at night, often just sitting and thinking for hours on end (I never thought I would be able to sit still for so long!). Letting my thoughts pour over life, Jesus, relationships, and God's word has been a powerful experience. Sitting still and being still before the Lord is something I am so bad at, but being forced to do it has led to so much fruit and revelation through the Holy Spirit.
I want to encourage all of you to get out a bible and read over these two passages at some point this week and just be still before the Lord for a bit. Put things down for a few minutes (although I would suggest at least an hour if you can) and just sit before your creator and think. Let the Holy Spirit guide your thoughts wherever he wants them to go. And if you find yourself getting way off on something stressful or something you have to do tomorrow, try and read these verses again and think about what Jesus did for you. If you have never done this before, its going to be difficult, but I think it could also become one of the most restful and filling things any of us can do.
Exodus 14 (all of it). "...Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still..."
Pslam 46 (all of it) "...Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth..."
My the grace of God be with you this week,
Sunday, June 26, 2011
After the first 3 or 4 days of the rain, I finally started wondering if it was ever going to stop. I mean, I had experienced some rain and storms before (Hurricane Isabel for all you Richmonders), but rain for 4 straight days!!! That just doesn't happen in the "real" world. So finally gave up on the rain ever stopping and on Thursday afternoon, I went out to an office branch about 20 min away from my apartment because a Filipino friend of mine invited me to come play music with them. I had zero idea what that entailed.
When I get out to the branch it was not raining hard, and I found out that what playing music meant was that I was going to play in the drums for the worship band on Saturday and we were practicing that afternoon. Every Saturday CCT has what they call corporate worship for all the staff at a few different branches across their network. Its a time to come together every Saturday morning for worship, prayer, and teaching. I was super stoked about that because I haven't really played the drums in about 3 years and its something that I have missed. We had a great time practicing as I slowly got the feeling back in the wrists! But what I didn't notice during our practice was that the rain had turned into a torrential downpour for the last 2 to 3 hours.
When we finished practicing around 7, and then realized that the flood waters had begun to flow! The head of the office we were at informed the staff that the water was at about calf level in the street and no Jeepney's were available to get us back to the elevated train station I needed to get to. So after waiting about 45 minutes, rolling up my jeans past my knees, and borrowing some flip flops, opps... i mean slippers, we thought we were going to have to walk to the station... BUT at the last second, one of the CCT trucks showed up and he willingly drove me through the flooded streets to the station, along with around 10 workers from the branch.
After slowing driving through the smaller streets the truck emerged to the main road which was even more flooded than the smaller roads. Traffic was hardly moving at all and people were running every which was through about a foot of water on the sidewalk. Our expert driver delivered us right to the stairs going up to the train (henceforth to be called the LRT). Me and two other Filipino guys scurried inside the mall right next to the station and grabbed some delicious KFC for dinner. After that, we said our goodbyes and I headed up to the LRT.
The LRT station was completely packed with people because neither the Jeepney's nor the tricylces were not running. I pushed and pushed and finally got myself on the train with my face pressed up against the glass because we were so tightly packed (this is actually pretty common on the LRT, not just on rainy days). After a 5 min ride I got off at my stop, not quite sure what to expect. Keep in mind that the hurricane like rain was still coming down, the wind was blowing around 30 mph, I was wearing borrowed flip flops, and my computer and leather shoes were packed tightly into my backpack.
I walked down the stairs and found myself on the sidewalk in knee deep water!!! The entire street that my apartment complex is on was flooded up to my knees, which consequently means it was sadly up to many Filipino's waists. As I slowly began walking to the street corner that I had to cross, I began to ponder what would happen if I stepped on an uncovered man hole. Way #3 that I could die in the Philippines... fall into an uncovered manhole during a flood and drown to death (#1 was a car crash while riding a tricycle, #2 was being smashed to death by the Philippines excessively responsive elevator doors). As I crossed the intersection the water went considerably up my thighs right to the edge of the phone that was in my right pocket.
Probably the most humorous part of this evening for me was when the buses drove by the intersection. Because the water was so deep, whenever the bus would drive in the water a huge wave would make its way towards the sidewalks, followed by a REALLY loud scream from all the Filipino women. It was pretty hilarious considering the wave was like 5 inches high and the women were already soaking wet from the rain. I crossed the intersection with a Moses crossing the Red Sea esque confidence (it was basically this in downtown Manila), hopeful that the road to my apartment (about 2 blocks away) would somehow be less flooded. I was wrong.
My street was even more flooded! The entire road and sidewalk was well up to my jean pockets, but there were also a lot of stairs leading up to different stores and high rises, so using my expert navigating skills I was able to lower my risk of falling in an uncovered man hole. After about 10 min of walking 2 blocks down the road I successfully arrived at my apartment complex, victory!!! Of course, I was 30 min. late to a Skype I had set up with some of the other interns for HOPE in Pennsylvania and Ukraine. But after I told my epic Indiana Jones like story, they understood (I think).
The biggest surprise about the whole week of rain and floods was how quickly the rain subsided. The next morning there was no evidence that the street had been flooded more than 2 feet the night before. The rain finally stopped on Saturday and the sun felt oh so glorious. I will never, ever, ever again be upset because of hot weather.
The weekend as a whole was pretty relaxing. My world debut on the drums on Saturday was great fun and very refreshing. I forgot how much I loved playing with other musicians. I had another little brief cultural experience on Sunday afternoon. After going a catching a movie after church, I wandered past Rizal Park to see if anything was happening. Much to my surprise, around 40,000 people (I kid you not) were gathered at the park with music blaring and a huge stage was set up right in front of the statue of Lapu Lapu. It turns out that this enormous gathering was the 30th anniversary celebration of a Catholic organization called Couples for Christ. Different CFC groups from around the country all came together for a big celebration.
They were basically having this enormous parade that never ended! I literally went out of my way through the crowd and tried to find the end of the line/march/parade thingy and I could not find it. Crazy. But anyway, it was fun to be around that many people and to just sit and watch and listen. Love experiencing little Filipino events like that. And don't worry, I have pictures of the never ending line in all its glory.
Hope all is well back in the states. Everyone eat an extra hamburger for me on July 4th!!! (still haven't found a good one here) Me and my American friend are trying to find a grill so we can show the Filipinos some true America culture... Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, fireworks, and s'mores!!!
"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" -Psalm 8:3-4
Monday, June 20, 2011
Not much has happened the past week or so here in the Philippines. I've begun work on the two savings groups I will be starting and hope to introduce them later this week and officially begin the saving early next week. The past couple days have been filled with rain, so there haven't been any crazy adventures, but I thought I'd share with all of you a few more cultural nuggets I've discovered this past week.
Filipino Culture difference number: (you can find the other's in previous blogs fyi)
10. When Filipinos refer to "slippers" they mean flip flops. This really confused me the first time a guy at the office who I went to play basketball with asked me if I could borrow some slippers. So if you are ever in the Philippines, remember slippers=flip flops.
11. The drink sizes here continue to frustrate me! The average size of a Filipino drink at a typical food joint I would say is around kiddie size in America. The "larges" here correlate to around a typical small in America. This is rather annoying when all I want is a huge glass of water and it is around 100 degrees outside with 90 percent humidity. I miss America drink sizes :(
12. At the Filipino fast food places, you do not throw away your own trash. I actually love this feature of the Philippines, but I don't think I will ever ever ever ever ever get used to it!! It is the strangest feeling in the world to just get up and leave a McDonald's tray at the table. I feel like I'm committing a crime or something! Seriously, next time you eat at Chick-fil-a try standing up and just leaving you trash there. Even if you know a paid employee will pick it up behind you, it still just feels wrong, like its un-America or something...
13. Me and Charlie (the other American here) have decided that the American haircut industry is the biggest ripped off product in the World!!! Two days ago I got the best haircut of my life (yes, I am aware that I don't have much hair to cut, nevertheless!) for only $1!!! Like seriously!!! It would have cost at least $15 in America. I think we should launch an investigation into the legitimacy of America haircut places. Something smells fishy.
14. They show the previews at movie theaters before the advertised movie time here!!! I am completely convinced that this needs to be implemented in America today. Because if you're like me, you enjoy previews, but I also enjoy the movie starting on time. Obama should make this happen.
I hope everyone enjoys Jose Rizal day!!!