Those who know me well know that I am never too far from one embarrassing moment or another. My time in the Philippines, naturally, has proved no exception (“Dammit, Flanny!” has affectionately become sort of a catch phrase among my fellow YAVs). Here’s three stories from my time here that remind me it’s the awkward moments that make life so exciting (with maybe a little bit of exaggeration for dramatic effect):
The meowing had finally gotten to a point where I could no longer pretend it was nothing. With everyone else having vacated the office to go a meeting, the responsibility of determining what was happening behind the office lay on me. Several stray animals, principally a formerly pregnant cat, wander the grounds surrounding the office I work, so the occasional bark or meow or baaah or taco was not unheard of. This day, though, the meowing was far more persistent and incessant than usual. An initial peak into the backroom revealed only one of the kittens, presumably from the aforementioned pregnant cat, running out the back door away from me. “Solved that problem, all by myself!” I proudly told myself. My pride quickly diminished, however, at the return of the meowing, this time even louder. I returned to the backroom for a more thorough investigation, and quickly found the real culprit. The backroom provided storage for a whole assortment of items, with plenty of spaces for a kitten to go on lots of adventures. That day, evidently, they had opted to play in some netting. The net proved too much for one kitten, however, who was now staring at me with big eyes that said “it wasn’t me” while dangling upside down, hopelessly caught in the net.
I immediately thought “I should take a picture! It may come in handy for a blog later on down the road.” Instead, I selflessly put the needs of the kitten before mine and set about the job of freeing the poor thing. I quickly realized I would need reinforcements, so I retreated back to the office. Never one to be caught unprepared (ok, that’s a lie), I grabbed the pair of nail clippers from my purse and returned to the kitten. I made the executive decision that the wellbeing of the kitten was worth potential damage to the net, and set about strategically cutting the net to free the kitten as quickly and easily as possible. The kitten had other thoughts evidently, and opted to view my valiant efforts to save it as an attack on its well being. The little thing set about biting and clawing me as much as possible.
Even as my blood stained the cat’s fur, I remained dedicated to the notion that every cat, no matter how rude, deserves a shot at freedom. No thanks to the kitten, I eventually freed it from its prison and allowed it to return to its fellow demons. Maybe the kitten saw its actions as a last line of attack against an unknown being during its time of weakness. Or maybe it, like all cats, was demon possessed and intent on causing harm wherever it may wander. I may never know, but whatever the case, I was able to return to work without interruption by worried kittens, albeit now with a slight fear of potential rabies infection.*
The Ginger Incident
One of my first Sundays living in Dumaguete, my host family invited me to attend worship and meet their family in the mother’s home town. Every Sunday, they all venture out to Bais City, about an hour up the coast from Dumaguete, for church and then spend the day at their ancestral home with extended family. Though the church service was predominantly in Visaya (the local language), I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to hear my host brother preach. My host family is exceedingly musical and comprise a good bit of the choir, so at one point I found myself inadvertently included in choir practice. After the service, I joined my host family first for some halo halo (a delightful local treat, topped with a scoop of the exuberantly purple ube-flavored ice cream) then for lunch at their cousin’s home. Philippine culture places large emphasis on familial relations, and that fact became abundantly clear that afternoon. I met more cousins and nieces and nephews and lolos and lolas and aunties and uncles than I could count, each friendlier than the last. Their house was nestled at the base of a fairly sizable mountain and went right up to the sea. They served lunch on the back patio, affording views of the bay, neighboring islands, and, if the conditions are just right, dolphins.
Countless variations of beef, pork, and chicken greeted our hungry stomachs. When I first arrived in the Philippines, I learned that often one benefits from not knowing what the food is, lest you find yourself staring down at something you’d rather like to avoid. Therefore, when I heard one dish contained intestines, I didn’t care to question which one it was and opted to just eat in blissful ignorance. I scooped a little bit from each bowl onto my plate and dived in. As fate would have it, one piece happened to be a very sizable portion of what was undeniably to me an intestine. My poor foreigner mind could fathom no other explanation for what it could be. With great effort, I cut off a chunk of the thing (cooked intestines, I figured, must be very tough), added some rice to my spoon, and took a bite. My mouth instantly erupted into a fire with the vigor of a thousand suns that only increased with each passing second. “Not to fear,” I thought, “I’ll just power through it.” Yet, the more I chewed, the more painful it became. I reluctantly faced the bitter realization that there was no way I’d be able to finish the bite in my mouth, let alone what was still on my plate. To the best of my ability, I struggled to subtly spit out the intestine (my host family later assured me that there was nothing subtle about how I did that and that everyone noticed, but I still contend that I was subtle for the sole reason that I did not run out into the tidewater screaming bloody murder to, as every instinct was telling me to do). I covered up the masticated portion of food now on my plate and strived to move on from that moment of culinary weakness.
Once everyone was finished and carrying their plates to the sink, the grandmother spotted my plate and loudly exclaimed “You ate the ginger!?! That was just for cooking!!” For the first time, though undoubtedly not the last, my inability to distinguish organs from seasoning was my downfall. Needless to say, I still give the ginger booths at the market a wide berth when I pass them.
For the record, chicken intestines are my undisputed favorite food I’ve tried here.
A Story of Hope
During our in-country orientation, our site coordinators arranged for us to travel around several parts of the country to more fully engage Filipino culture. Our third week consisted of a rural immersion experience on the neighboring island of Bohol. After a quick lesson in using a bucket for everything from bathing to flushing, we were taken to the ferry terminal to catch the next boat for this next adventure. By this point, we had long since become accustomed to not expecting descriptions or explanations about what we would be doing, and that week proved no exception. My time in Bohol challenged and inspired me in countless ways, beginning with our first day, a Sunday. Our host for the week pastors several churches in the area, so we joined her for worship at one of them.
Right before the service began, she mentioned to us in an afterthought that it would be in Visaya (the local language) with no translator. ‘No worries,’ we assured her, ‘we’ll find a way to follow along.’
At the beginning of the sermon, the pastor and our host announced that the anthem would be provided by the American Volunteers before turning to us to ask what we’d be singing. We told her it’d be a surprise, since it was a surprise to us. Of the three of us, only one has any musical talent to share, while my musical capabilities more closely resemble those of a dying raccoon.
Nevertheless, we spent the sermon time quietly whispering between each other trying to find a song easy enough for all three of us, that we all knew, and would still be even slightly relevant to a worship service. We quickly scrapped Beyonce as a possibility and went through all the worship songs we learned at our orientation in the U.S; even “Amazing Grace” would prove too much for us. We frantically landed on one that miraculously only has two words: “Sana Sananina.” The song comes from South Africa and is a shortened version of “Hosanna.” Short, simple, and easy to move to–just what we needed.
Our annointed time came and we stepped up to meet our destiny. Under the right direction, the song is a beautiful celebration of the joy that can come from faith. From us, however, it was less than stellar. We received some pretty confused stares from just about everyone in attendance (including myself, tbh). Nevertheless, we pressed on, determined to make the most of our time in the spotlight.
Afterwards, our host preacher explained part of why we received such confused stares: “sana” means “hope so” in Tagalog (a Filipino language). So I guess Americans should be more careful about using South African songs in the Philippines. At the time, our unexpected, forced inclusion in worship filled me a good bit of anxiety and unsurety at what I had gotten myself into with the YAV program. Now, looking back, that worship service is just one of so many experiences that defines why I love this country so much.
*I didn’t get rabies.