It’s raining again. Through last weekend and throughout last night, the weather has been a continuous cycle of drizzle, downpour, and brief pauses of run-off. Gutters swell periodically and the drainage canal next to our apartment rises threateningly, and I wonder where all the water goes. Pedi-cab drivers in the street below struggle to pedal their cabs while holding umbrellas, dodging puddles and other street spills. Some simply give up—drenched to the bone, they will their way to the corner to drop off their umbrella-clad fares, then turn and head up the street, looking for their next passenger.
In the distance, beyond the sound of Jeepneys beeping and whistles blowing, I can hear the sound of the Philippine National Anthem being played. The day has begun at the nearby private Catholic school. The morning sky is a blanket of dirty white. I try to picture the Mayon volcano in the distance, but I cannot. The drum roll of raindrops on corrugated rooftops, like white noise on the radio, crescendos and decrescendos, momentarily drawing me away from my thoughts.
And my thoughts now are of home. I think about what it must be like in El Dorado Hills, California, right at this moment. Blue skies, moderate temperatures, wall-to-wall carpeting and hot water coming out of the faucets. Debbie is probably thinking about starting dinner—maybe something Mexican like fajitas or taco salad—with all the conveniences of a modern kitchen and a well-stocked refrigerator at her disposal. I think about the girls probably having a post-school snack, doing their homework, texting their friends about the day.
I muse now about how different this world is than the one I call home. Ironically, the more I am with these beautiful people—people that I look like and look like me, people who love Jesus like me, people who live and breathe just like me—the more I am reminded that I am not like them. I grew up in a fundamentally different culture, with a fundamentally different set of social and cultural and economic values, and as a result, I think fundamentally differently than they do.
They have a humorous saying here: “Nosebleed.” It’s the lighthearted word they use to describe the struggle they have when speaking English to Americans, Canadians, Australians, and other travelers. I am giving the people I have met—especially the enrollees in the class I am teaching—nosebleeds.
Several times each session, I will say something that they will not understand, or tell them something that might be misconstrued in an unintended way. I will share an example that in our context is quite normal, but for them, may be inappropriate. Or I will tell a joke that will simply bomb big-time. I feel a little embarrassed because I am so woefully mono-lingual, but they have been very gracious and kind and forgiving in our communication and interaction.
These are all typical issues in any cultural interchange. But I realize it is more than language. And so I am trying to learn, not just their culture and their ways, but trying to grasp how they think as well. Now I believe I have a leg up on most of the Americans who come to this part of the Philippines, because some of their ethnocultural values were passed on to me by my parents. But as I said, the more I am here, the more my “California-ness” pokes out.
The rain has paused briefly now. What remains is a cool damp air that sticks to the skin. The morning rush of traffic has slowed a bit, and I suddenly recognize the sound of clucking chickens somewhere in the neighborhood.
And then I suddenly think, maybe Debbie is making chicken for dinner.
• The class that I have taken on is a relatively new batch of BCCL students, so it is early in their two year cycle. (Students take a series of intensive classes over a two-year period resulting in a Graduate Certificate in Urban Ministries, or GCUM.) As a result, the students are not just getting to know me, some are still in the process of getting to know one another.
• This fact is for all my builder friends. There’s very little building lumber here. Unlike California, where most homes are built with doug fir stud frames overlayed with drywall and siding, almost all the buildings here are cinderblock with plaster over the top. Houses are sturdy, but they don’t wear well in this climate. Most of the forests in the Philippines have been stripped, so there’s a moratorium on hardwoods.
• Our last trip to the grocery store, I bought some ensaymada ube, which is a sweet pastry flavored with ube, a sweet purple paste made from a root of some kind. This was one of my Mom’s favorites, and she would buy it regularly at the Filipino Store in Salinas. It’s a pretty good substitute for apple fritters.
• Speaking of breakfast, Gregg made French toast yesterday, and purchased some “maple-flavored hotcake syrup” to go with it. Among the nutritional facts on the label, instead of the word “calories,” they use the word, “energy.” The first three main ingredients: glucose corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar. Yum.
[A collection of miscellaneous photos today. Top photo: A view of the Embarcadero in Legaspi City—Beautiful and upscale, but also empty. Second photo: Rufus Genovea and Gregg Evans at the church in Ligao City. Third photo: Part of the Worship Team at Jesus First Christian Ministries at their Sunday morning service. “Purihin ang Diyos!” Bottom photo: The nutritional label of our hotcake syrup.]