Published: July 22nd 2008July 22nd 2008
So I'll just jump right in if it's all the same to you.
I spent most of this last week writing about the people I've been talking to or working on the workshop I had to teach on Wednesday to the staff. Apparently, someone made the monumental mistake of assuming that I knew something about anything and thought that I should teach the staff about it. As a result, I spent the Monday and Tuesday preparing for my teaching debut, an hour-long workshop on newsletter writing. I know, I know, my credentials in this area are both impressive and extensive as I ghostwrite for several corporate newsletters on the side, but I found the task daunting nonetheless. It took every ounce of courage in me not fashion a rudimentary parachute and defenestrate myself from the 14th floor in order to escape my public humiliation. On the bright side, nothing went horribly awry during my little spiel, but I know in my heart that my already low reputation amongst the staff, as I am a mere intern, has sunk even further after listening to an hour of my verbal diarrhea and incoherent yammering.
So Wednesday was a dark day, but Thursday made it all worth it. After taking an hour of everyone's time that they probably could have used feeding malnourished children or cleaning up after Typhoon Frank, Katie, Yvonne, and myself went to a little place called Glorieta in Manila to have lunch and catch the opening of The Dark Knight. Basically, Glorieta is where all the white people who aren't missionaries or relief workers hang out. And all those people are filthy rich. It really was weird going there. For one, there were a lot of white people, which was really strange to see after only seeing the occasional honky in Manila or something. Secondly, it was so nice, which is a far cry from the place I am staying and farther still from the places I've been visiting like Tondo where we toured homes of people who lived in tunnels and shanties under a bridge that made them seem more like troglodytes (look it up) than residents of Manila. And these two ridiculously different places are in the same city. I imagine you might be thinking something along the lines of some American cities being the same way, but believe me, they aren't. The differences between Tondo and Glorieta are the kind of differences that inspire revolutions. Or at least violent riots. Despite going to this strangely affluent place and realizing some of the hypocrisy of indulging in the affluence myself, lunch at Chili's was welcome and The Dark Knight was quite enjoyable. Seriously, Ledger's Joker vs. Olivier's Richard III- who's villain is the greatest of all time?
Friday was writing again, but on Saturday we went to Towerville where we met more children who are desperately in need of help. Reading that sentence, you probably do not detect the tone of weariness with which I wrote it, so let me explain. A few days ago, Yvonne (the other intern I work with all the time) said that she was worried that all the people we are talking to are starting to blend together in her mind. At first, talking to some of the kids was shocking (in the sense that it was shocking to hear from the child, not shocking in itself as I expected to talk to people with very hard lives); I think Yvonne said it made her angry that those children had to live like that. But after awhile, the shock and the anger wear off and weariness begins to set in. Each of these kids and each of their struggles are unique, but the degrees to which they need help are so similar that it is often difficult to distinguish in my mind between the kid who dives for crab from the kid who works in a junk shop from the like 5 kids who scavenge for recyclables on the side of the road. So we meet another kid and another kid and another kid and another kid and begin to group them all together into this overwhelming yet impersonal thing, this massive representation of a problem which seems impossible to do anything about. And as a result, it gets a little harder to care about the people we talk to. It's hard to see them as Chequi and Norvy and Regine and not just as more poor kids were supposed to help but really can't.
And for what Yvonne and I are doing, trying to put together stories and video presentations, it's really easy to see these kids as little more than materials for our projects. I talk about being able to use Regine, but not Norvy because he was too shy for a story, but don't really think about the kids themselves. In our defenses, we only get to talk to the kids for like a half an hour and then we leave to probably never see them again, but still, I have sort of been just seeing these kids as examples of poverty and little more. Even for me, who tends toward cynicism, this has been a little scary to realize.
But still, I'm doing my best. The other day a girl named Regine said something that really stuck with me. She was talking about how she wanted to graduate high school so she could get a job to support her family when either Yvonne or myself, it was probably Yvonne, asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said she wanted to be a doctor, but then immediately laughed it off, and said something in Tagalog to which our translator said back to her "With God, anything is possible." It struck me as particularly sad that Regine, who was a smart kid, said she only wanted to graduate high school and get a job at Jollibee or Chowking or some other fast food chain and considered her dream of becoming a doctor laughable. That was pretty rough.
On a lighter note, Sunday and Monday were pretty awesome. We spent Sunday in Los Banos, a scenic little town not far from San Pedro, and went to church there. The church is pastored by the FH country director's husband and a lot of short term teams go through there, so they are really friendly to outsiders and foreigners and it was really great to hang out with them. On Monday, we went with two of the youth to a place called Pagsanjan Falls not far from Los Banos. I cannot describe how awesomely beautiful this place is, so I won't try- and even if I thought I could, I don't know if I would. I wouldn't want to somehow take something away from the place by telling others about it. All you need to know is that we went under the falls on rafts, swam in this little cave behind it, and for a little while, I sat on the raft just getting hit in the side of the face by the splash from the falling water. It was most Zen-like, and I found the whole experience quite refreshing.
Now, I am back in San Pedro, but I leave again tonight to go to a place called Norzagaray and will not be back for a few days. After that, I'm back to stay for the remaining two weeks. Now for the moment you've all been waiting for...
So this thing is taking over. I look in the mirror and don't even recognize the face looking back at me. Yvonne said that I currently look nothing like I did when we first met almost two months ago. I am even less attractive than before and am growing weary of the constant temptation to stroke my chin and the constant irritation of the hairs rubbing up awkwardly on my pillow when I try to sleep. But there are only two weeks left. I see the light at the end of the tunnel and it grows brighter everyday. I think I'm going to make it all the way back to Phoenix for debriefing with the beard in tact (all though I plan on shaving everything except the Adam Morrison-esque mustache as soon as I get the shaving cream and razor out of my checked bag). Also, on a positive note, while I look less attractive by a factor of at least five, I look surlier by a factor of at least ten. And when I put on my Blublocker sunglasses, I become a registered bad ass. Attractive or not, a bad ass is a bad ass, and I can live with that.