Friday, May 22, 2015

The Garden

Hello from Baguio! I’ve now been here for 8 months, and frankly it feels strange. My Ilocano is still in what I would call the “talking dog” stage, which is to say that people are surprised and delighted by my attempts, but I can’t carry on a conversation. Still I’ve gotten used to Filipino english, and to Filipino mannerisms and that’s surely worth something. As an example, I used to feel hounded and offended by all the people asking “where are you going” whenever I walked around the school. I’ve since realized that that is just a common form of small talk. The whole phrase in Ilocano is a single word “Araramidem”, and on occasion I can get a ride to wherever I’m going if I answer. I’ve gotten used to the food too; I can’t say I like intestine very much, but liver, brain, and blood are all quite tasty if made the right way. And meals without rice don’t really seem like meals anymore. And I have friends here, a community which keeps me going and makes me feel at home.

'break the pot' like pinhata, but made of clay

What feels strange is that my comfort and love for the my community here in Baguio both conflicts with and increases my homesickness. Family, and place, are so important in the Philippines; indeed they are in some ways the same, because family extends to clan, and clans are inextricably bound to their region. It makes me more and more aware of how far away from my own family and place I am, in a word, I’m homesick. So I’m excited to go home, but when I do I’ll be leaving behind so many new friends (I might almost say new family), and so many wonderful uniquely Filipino things. But, c’est la vie, I had something else in mind when I started this blog post.

When the choir went to visit Uncle Cyril he told me a Filipino saying (please pardon a mild profanity) “Give a Filipino 4 wheels and 2 G. I shits and he’ll give you a jeepney” (if I haven’t mentioned this before, a jeepney is an extended military jeep used as public transportation, they are one of those wonderful uniquely Filipino things). Now this slightly vulgar, slightly nonsensical saying is a fine example of Pinoy humor, and as a thoroughly accurate encapsulation of Pinoy ingenuity. As Kayla, another YASCer here in the Philippines says, “Everything is everything”, which is to say, any piece of trash can be used to fulfill a necessary function. A tire can be cut into strips to make a rope, you can poke holes in a juice bottle to make a watering can, or a squirt gun, you can fill the same juice bottle with colored paper and pebbles to make a decoration or a weight. With enough bamboo and twine you can make anything, if you only have the Pinoy ingenuity.

jeepneys can also transport produce

I’ve got a little porch from my room which looks out over the back end of the Easter compound. A few dozen yards of greenery leading to a shear hill which nothing but dogs and small children can climb, and off to the side a staircase which leads to Pinsao Pilot Project, the neighborhood at the top of the hill. When I moved in the view from my porch was of brush, dead brush, and garbage. As the weeks went on I started waking up weekend mornings to the smell of smoke, and after a little bit of panic, saw that they were burning the brush outside. After all was cleared away there was a busy couple of weeks when students, teachers and staff all worked together to transform the now bare area into a garden. I loved watching this process (and occasionally helping). Everybody turns out, everybody helps, and when the job is done, everybody sits around and hangs out. And everything is made, nothing bought, except for the plants. I saw fences, arbors and walkways made with bits of scrap wood, decorations and dedications written with plastic bottles stuffed with rocks and paper, a pagoda made out of bamboo and thatch.
So here's a moral from my time so far in the Philippines. With hard work, bamboo, twine, and friends, you can make anything. 
I never did take a "before" picture, but this is past the garden area and gives a good idea

The view from the window, when the setting sun goes this crazy orange color

Almost done!