My New Normal

Tuesday. The day begins like any other, with me trying to catch a pedicab to begin my commute to work. Pedicabs and motorbikes dominate the streets of Dumaguete, the city I’m living in, with the former being the main form of public transport. Despite the name, pedicabs consist of a motorbike with a sidecar.

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The highway going through town filled with pedicabs.

I’m not sure how many people they’d be able to carry in the U.S., but they can hold up to 8 people, not including the driver, with four on the bike, four in the sidecar, and a couple chickens here and there. They can get quite crowded rather quickly, but personal space is something I gave up long ago. Although I’ve come across the occasional driver who’ll try to overcharge me, they’re usually rather friendly and helpful. Once, on my way home from work, the driver took me to not one but two hotels that he personally assured me were much nicer and cheaper than where I was staying. They have become my new sense of normal and, like so much of life in the Philippines, have a way of always ensuring life remains an adventure.

My pedicab zooms across the city, along the main thoroughfare, around the cathedral, and towards the public market. Once I’m there I meander through the assortment of stalls to catch my next pedicab. Once again, I’m tempted to finally spring for a pair of totally real Ray-BansTM on sale in several of the booths, but I opt to save the $1.50, thinking “maybe tomorrow.” The office I work at is a little ways out of town, so I have to catch a catch a pedicab headed that general direction from a terminal across the street from the market. Although I initially dreaded walking across the street, or rather, highway, I do so today with a fearless and unrelenting stride. I’ve learned that you don’t wait for someone to let you cross, but rather just start walking and stare any driver that might hit you. It’s a flawless system that I am eager to try out in the U.S.

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View looking west from the office.

At this point, most of the drivers and attendants at the terminal recognize me and know where I’m going As soon as I get there, they all point to the vehicle I should get in. Once it’s filled (which can take anywhere from a couple seconds to twenty minutes), the driver kickstarts the engine and we’re off.
I get off at the main entrance for the Consuelo Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides space for various groups, including Youth Advocates through Theater Arts (YATTA), where I work. The compound is located a ways outside the city, offering a solace that can be find in the city. Only palm trees block the view of the massive mountains that rise far above the city and pierce the clouds.

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Pretty much the most tranquil place to have a meeting or eat lunch.

YATTA is a ten year organization founded, in part, by my site coordinator. Its membership consists of high school and college aged artist who strive to use their talents as a voice for various social issues, addressing everything from gender violence to environmental protection to culture preservation. My role there includes various tasks such as working on the website, preparing devotionals for their monthly meetings, and attending workshops they organize around the community. Throughout the day, various members of the organization come through working on the numerous projects that YATTA supports.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my time at the office ends early so I can go to language class. I join Akilah, the other Presbyterian volunteer in Dumaguete, at a nearby church where our tutor works to learn the local dialect. As my high school Latin teacher and college French professor can both attest to, foreign languages are not exactly my strong suit, but our twice weekly classes have been a huge help in integrating ourselves into Filipino life. In addition to becoming more familiar with various cultural norms, I am also gradually fulfilling my dream of becoming a multi-lingual pun master.

After language class, Akilah and I head out into the city for any errands we may want to run together. Budget allowing, Tuesdays are our sushi day at the local Japanese buffet. Otherwise, I head to the seafront for zumba at sunset.

Looking back on my time here, I can point to several big moments that have been hugely impactful in shaping my experience here. Ultimately, though, all that comprises my daily routine is what I will inevitably taking back with me to the U.S.

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Akilah and I recently moved into our own place

Everything that contributes to my new normal here–from the goats that greet me as I show up to work to delicious chicken intestines to the people I talk to everyday that make sense of everything–have been what have shaped me the most since I left the United States.

Every new day in the Philippines is always an adventure and has new ways of keeping me on my toes. After completing half of my time here, though, I think I can say I’ve found my way through life here.

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