My adventures and mis-adventures as I travel here and there

Transitioning i.e. reverse culture shock ahead of time

Words can’t describe how I feel right now (but they can try). I’m sitting on a bed in a room that I’m not sharing with anyone. I’m in a real house. With nothing but a ceiling fan blowing, my environment is at a comfortable temperature and humidity. I’m eating coconut pie. It’s only 9:30PM and I don’t have to be anywhere until 10am tomorrow. There’s everything I need in the fridge to make pancakes. There are a bunch of mangos on the kitchen counter. I can’t really hear any sounds except for crickets and stuff outside. And, probably best of all, I just had a SHOWER, a WARM shower!

This morning, after a night that wasn’t really worthy of being called one, we got on a plane and left General Santos City to come to Manila. We immediately went to a humongous mall, ate Subway (and I didn’t feel like throwing up after I ate for the first time in a couple days. I think I have some bug.), and then wandered lost around the mall doing some shopping (somehow I’ve earned a rep with the group of being an obsessive shopper, but hey, the people I bought stuff for will be happy). After the mall we drove to an Adventist college, I guess. It’s dark out so we haven’t actually seen our surroundings yet. They put us up in guest houses that, especially compared to what we were in before, are extremely nice. There are only three of us in this whole house and I’m absolutely savoring the privacy! And the shower… I would be embarrassed to tell you just how thankful I got over the shower and the hot water. I’ve always taken that for granted. Two weeks without it seems like so much longer, and I found myself wondering how a person who lived in Mindanao for a year or so and then came back would feel. I guess I’m already experiencing some of my reverse culture shock. They say that this is the way to do it, though; take it in stages; do some sightseeing and shopping before returning. Manila is already so different from Gensan and the place we’re at now is even more different yet because it’s cooler here. No mosquitos!

Let me back up a little. The church service, baptism, and closing meeting last night were absolutely amazing and overwhelming. The gymnasium was so packed for church that I began to feel really claustrophobic. I ended up skipping Sabbath lunch, partly because of my eager gag reflex and partly because I just needed some space from people. I had about 40 glorious minutes lying on my bed with no one around, and I’m sure that was what kept me going to rest of the day. That and God’s mercy. And some seaweed stuff that Jane gave me. The baptism was like nothing I have ever experienced before. Eight hundred and sixty-two people were baptized yesterday. Sixty couldn’t make it and were baptized today, for a total of nine hundred and twenty-two. MANY of them were children. I loved that because I know that they have the rest of their lives that they’re deciding to give to Jesus. Sheila, one of my favorite girls, was baptized and I was so happy to see it! Twenty-something pastors were all in the pool at once and people waiting in front of them in lines. I don’t even know how to explain how I felt, but even though I was dying to escape people and stares and a spotlight feeling, I loved being at the baptism. There are a ton of pictures on Pedrito’s site, I’m guessing, because I took many many many. The baptism was right after church, then we had an hour for lunch, then we went back for a program that was supposed to go from 1:30 to 5. That whole afternoon was so exhausting. For one thing, our whole VBS group ending up on stage for pretty much forever. The whole time I’m chanting my mantra: “Don’t throw up on stage, don’t throw up on stage”. Besides that, everything laasted aaa loooooong tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime. By the time Pedrito got up to speak, it was already 5:45. Then he did something that shocked us all. After doing the quiz and the children’s portion, he simply summarized his sermon, showed us his slides, and was done. By then almost everyone had left anyway, in comparison to the numbers at the start. Left were a whole crowd of people crazy with grief that we were leaving. Several of us pretty much got mobbed for gifts, pictures, e-mails, hugs, handshake, rememberances. Security finally pulled us outa there and put us on the van. It was harder to leave than I thought it would be.

Saturday night was not hard at all compared to this morning. The love the people had for us was overwhelming. I couldn’t even comprehend it. Their send-off was just as heartfelt and grand as their welcome, and it made such a huge impression on me. I surely did not feel worthy of it. Some of them cried and lots of them drove with us to the airport to see us off.

It was harder still to say goodbye to Jane. She was the only student who didn’t come from Walla Walla. She goes to Hong Kong Adventist College. I haven’t mentioned her in my blogs yet, but she was completely wonderful. I had a really fun time with her. She is one of the most patient and good-natured people I have ever met. I started teasing her within a couple days, making fun of her pronunciation of English words, but she always just laughed with me. This week the guys started teasing her. They were so unmerciful, but she just took it in stride and they thought she was amazingly cool for it. She taught me a couple of words in Chinese, told me about her childhood in rural China, and gave me one of the most amazing back massages I’ve ever had. I’ll definitely miss Jane.

September 2, 2007 Posted by | Philippines | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anonymity, I’ll never take you for granted again!

Today I became a part of the first graduates of Walla Walla University as I joined fifty others completing our field school of evangelist and church growth. It was a long graduation, but delightfully punctuated by performances from a really wonderfully talented group called the Asidors. Their music is beautiful and I believe they are true Christians in their hearts. I bought their CD.

Today while out and about we found some baby goats in a field. I picked one up and it licked my nose! That kid was so cute I wanted to take it home as my souvenir. Alas, I doubt I could successfully pull it off. Maybe I’ll just get a baby goat instead of a kitten.

Bugs have discovered me. I run but I can’t hide, and I scratch but I still itch. Argh!

I’m totally ready to be anonymous. We went to an absolutely beautiful garden today with rambutan, bananas, coconuts, and mangos growing. I tried to sneak away down a little path without anyone following me, but still it was only a couple seconds before I heard “Lydia, Lydia! Where are you, Lydia!” And when I came down to join the others, there were people there waiting, “Oh, Lydia, please let us take a picture with you!” Soon and very soon people whom I’ve never laid eyes on before will not know my name. I was very happy to see the Asidors signing autographs too, and when we had them sign our CD covers, I reminded myself how important it is to be kind and courteous to your fans.

August 31, 2007 Posted by | Philippines | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oh, so tuna are huge and pineapple doesn’t grow in trees…

We had a really full day today. It started at 7:45 am when we left for the international fish market here in Gensan (General Santos City) to attend the annual Tuna Festival. There were paddling races and swimming races. That part was really hot even though we were sitting under shade. I took some video of the racing, but most of the time I wasn’t sure what was going on. Then we moved to another location for the other contests. That part smelled strongly of fish and was much cooler. Our celebrity status got us front-row seats of course. First they had a contest to see who had the biggest tuna for the day. Those fish were so huge! I think of tuna squeezed into little cans, but those suckers are some big fish! The winner was 69 kilograms, about 152 pounds. (That’s only 1/3 of the size of the biggest one they’ve ever had at the port) Then they had a contest to see which man could hold up a 35 kilo tuna the longest. Very entertaining. Lots of men with big muscles. At the last of the contestants, two of our guys jumped in and joined the contest, and they didn’t do half bad! Of course, it got them onto international Philippine news for the second time. Sheesh!

Lunch was at a church school, where we received a spectacular welcome by a live band. They continued to serenade us throughout our meal. While eating, I was excited to discover beans that tasted almost familiar. I had a lot of them, while also appreciating the mangosteen some woman plopped onto my plate (that was for you, Keri).

Lunch reminds me of yesterday when we went to visit an elementary school. We received that most amazing welcome and treatment I’ve ever experienced. A band and baton team formed from students put on the most incredible performance for us. It must have lasted 20 minutes. They were SO good! Then they had us sit on the stage during their assembly. Nearly 500 elementary-school kids singing songs at the top of their lungs is not an experience I will soon forget. It’s not talent we lack in the States, just enthusiasm. There’s wasn’t a single child who didn’t sing his or her heart out and I was completely inspired. Then, when a very young boy got up and revealed his absolutely incredible voice, my mouth dropped open. The only time I’ve heard a kid sing like that was on TV on some kind of contest. I got some video of that too, but I doubt it will do it justice. The excitement and welcome we got from the students and teachers was almost overwhelming. My jaw actually started to hurt very badly from smiling, but I couldn’t really stop- OUCH!

Next we toured Dole Philippines. I found out how pineapples grow- yes, I am ashamed to say that I really hadn’t known before. Now I do and I have pictures in case I forget. At the place where the, I guess, owners live, it almost felt like the US.

Me- Why does it almost feel like we’re back in the States?

Ken- because it’s nice, it’s clean, and there’s a golf course.

Me- Oh, yeah, you’re right.

It was also less humid, which felt veeeery strange. And the bathroom had soap in it, and hadn’t dryers. Still no toilet seats, but…

Immediately after returning to the compound, a few of us set out again for a little rushed shopping. I’ve officially bought all the souvenirs now that I need. Oh, and Andi, you got the really cool gift. I hope you like it as much as I do! I was pretty worried at first that I wouldn’t get enough time to shop because of our tight security. The bodyguards have been totally cool, though, about arranging times for us to get to the mall and other places. Once I got to know those guys, I feel more amiable about their constant presence.

I think I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that it’s not that safe here. A personal search on the internet went a long way in convincing me that we’re right to be so careful. Sometimes I still hate it though, like when Zach and I couldn’t go SCUBA diving because the location wasn’t secure enough. I really wanted to go! Tonight we got two police escorts home from the meetings because of the Tuna Festival.

The meetings are going so well. Sabbath we’ll have a huge baptism. I have no idea how many there will be, but judging from the crowd that responds every night at just the site I attend, there will be hundreds. I love seeing people’s enthusiasm for the meetings and for God. They’re also very enthusiastic about us, and sometimes I worry that my very presence is a distraction. That’s kind of frustrating. I’ve gotten some crazy letters from people, particularly young girls in their late teens, that make it sound like I’m the most significant person in their lives, have impacted them so strongly, have been such a wonderful friend to them… and we just met, like just that very minute. I appreciate the fervor, but often I just really don’t get it. They also seem to be unable to refrain from blurting out how beautiful they think I am (like everyone, everywhere, whether or not they know me, does it) and I just wonder how they can’t see how beautiful they are. They think their skin is inferior and their eyes and their hair and I’m just thinking, “Man, they are all so gorgeous!” The kids also are all so adorable and photogenic and I just can’t stop snapping their pictures. I got a couple of very cute kid pictures tonight that you can see on Pedrito’s site.

The most common questions you will be asked if you come to the Philippines, in conversation form:

– Excuse me, where is your place?

– United States.

– How old are you?

– 26.

– Do you have a husband?

– No.

– Oh…

Most of my pictures are now online. Go to my folder on Pedrito’s site and there they are!

There is so much more to say, but honestly, I’m super tired right now. This trip has been so good for me already. It’s almost over, I guess, but the next couple of days will be really full. More autographs, more gifts to give away and receive, more fruit to be offered, more durian to be tasted, more meetings to attend, more hands to shake, more questions to answer, more bug bites to get, and more bucket showers to take.

August 30, 2007 Posted by | Philippines | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are we in danger yet?

There’s so much I didn’t even say about yesterday!

You may be inquiring as to why we’re under such close scrutiny, such protective security. Evidently, or so I’ve been told, the people are rebelling against the government, and we know rebellions are generally not safe, even for locals. According to the government travel website, communist and terrorist groups here have made threats and acts of violence against westerners. They say it’s best for Americans to maintain a low profile (kind of difficult when we get treated like we did yesterday at the festival!). Yes, people are super happy to see us, but that’s because Americans are so rarely seen here. And why are they so rarely seen? Because it’s so particularly unsafe the United States government is recommending that its citizens do not travel to this country, especially this particular part. The average citizen absolutely loves westerners, particularly Americans, but it’s those pesky terrorists and political insurgents we’re concerned with.

I really don’t want any of you to worry about my safety, though. I have to say that I’ve felt particularly safe here, more so than I have in other countries. That’s probably due in part to the fact that our security detail is taking their job so seriously. It makes me want to rebel, in fact, but I probably need to simmer down and thank God that we have such good protection. One of the head honchos in city security is a head deacon here and he’s in charge. If anything happened to us on this trip, it would effectively cut off opportunities for evangelism from the United States to this country. As it was, we had a difficult time convincing the conference it was safe enough to come here.

Oh, and also, I plan to prepare I slide show of all the different fruits I’ve eaten here. I’ll show the inside and outside and tell you how to get into them. A website someone showed me after reading yesterday’s blog talked about cutting rhambutans or biting them to open them. Haha! I would never bite a rhambutan open. Not here. They’re usually covered in ants. You have to open it quick and pop out that fruit. Thankfully, the ants don’t bite. Like most fruits here, I’ve discovered that the easiest way to open a good rhambutan is by squeezing it. That produces a nice crack and you can just open the thing right up. You can squeeze mangosteens too after you pull off the stem. All of the fruits that are most common right now are “squeeze to open” affairs.

Yesterday as I was sitting there absolutely surrounded by kids, it came to me that it must have been how it was when children came to Jesus. Not that I want to put myself up there with Him by any means, but maybe we’re acting as representatives of Him in that way. My energy for the children has to be coming from outside myself anyway.

Today I had a devotional talk in our training seminar. It was only a 5-minute deal, but I still woke up pretty nervous about it this morning. I just talked about a topic that I really cared about, though, and was able to share a really great personal story. It was awesome. And over quickly, too.

August 24, 2007 Posted by | Philippines | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Finally in General Santos City

If you’ve ever heard stories of Philipino hospitality, it’s all true. If you’ve never heard of it, let me tell you. These people are so happy to see us that it’s… crazy! It’s like we’re celebrities. When we got off the plane in GeneralSantos, pretty much everyone in the church was there to see us. Someone said it was like Old Testament times when Paul came off the ship and every single Christian went down to meet him. They put beaded necklaces around our necks and shook our hands and told us a million times welcome and that they were so glad we were there. They had a huge banner and took our picture with it. They got all of our luggage for us and loaded it up.

I guess because of violence in some parts of the country, the United States government is currently recommending that Americans not travel to the Philippines. If you do, they say, just don’t go to Mindanao. And if you go to Mindanao, don’t go to General Santos City. The people here say it’s perfectly safe, but we were so unsure that the major wrote us a letter of person invitation. And when we arrived, we were given a personal police escort through town to the mission compound. It turned out to be more like a parade. Five motorcycles went ahead of us and a long line of cars of the people who came to greet us went behind. People along the road stood there watching us pass by. The cutest thing I saw was a very little boy jumping up and down because he was so excited!

What I saw shocked me. There were actually houses made of bamboo or sticks with grass roofs and dirt floors that people were living in! I guess I’d never ever seen that before in real life and I was extremely excited. The ride from the airport was long, and slow because of our “parade”, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It took a lot of driving to get to a part of the city with houses made of brick or wood. Shops that looked like shacks lined the road and people sat out in front waiting for business. We joked that all other Americans were dutifully following the government’s recommendations because we saw absolutely no other Caucasians. Eateries that looked like the kind where you might unwittingly be served dog had us fascinated. And THEN, we passed this one place and there it was. Two spits. On one was a very large pig and on the other was a big white dog! We weren’t sure we’d seen it right at first, but that’s what it was.

At the mission compound, a bunch more people were there to greet us. They sang to us and took a lot of pictures of the speakers with their individual banners for the meetings. The fact that I had to go to the bathroom really badly didn’t keep me from appreciating their joy over our arrival.

We had “breakfast” right away, but to me it felt like supper. There were dishes of stuff to go over rice that were super delicious, homemade breads, rice milk, and some of the most amazing fruits I’ve ever seen or tasted! I wish I could tell you what they were, but I can’t remember all the names. I can tell you that I had the most awesome mango of my life!

The highlight of the rest of this day was my nap and discovering that I have really great wireless internet access here. Our room is air conditioned, thankfully, because the weather is very hot! I must say, though, that it’s really no worse than Texas when I left. In fact, I think it’s a little less humid! The sun is really hot though because- dun, dun duh- we’re really close to the equator! Yay! I just realized today that I’ve never been this far south before and that the equator is, like, right there!

Before I end this account, let me talk about our living and bathing arrangements, especially the bathing ones. Three other ladies and I are sleeping in a dormitory room with bunk beds. It’s clean and comfortable and air-conditioned (thank you, God!). We have a toilet room, complete with a toilet with no seat and a bucket and spigot to wash our hands in. The shower room is quite reminiscent of the toilet room- we bathe using a bucket and ladle and some coooooool water! Bath time is one time when I’m glad it’s a very hot climate. It takes my breath away. We also have to use bottled water always, even for brushing our teeth. I’m afraid I’m going to forget one day because I’m so used to just using any old water for that.

August 18, 2007 Posted by | Philippines | , , , | 1 Comment

I’m in the… Where??

Map of the Philippines

Map of the Philippines

I think it’s August 17, anyway. This time travel thing is really messing with my head. I’m currently in the air between Manila and General Santos City. In the last 24 or so hours I’ve spent at least 17 hours in an airplane and gotten about 5 hours of sleep. Oh, and I’ve skipped half a day.

I left Dallas at 9am Wednesday morning and flew to Detroit. There, after a several-hour layover, I got on a lengthy flight to Nagoya, Japan. Wouldn’t you know it, the entertainment system experienced technical difficulties (meaning: no movies). Unable to sleep for nearly the entire flight, I was left to my own thoughts for 12 hours. Everyone got $150 in vouchers, but it was still the worst plane ride of my life. Time absolutely crawled. I was considering the fact that the time I got sick and threw up several times could be a worse flight, but then upon landing in Japan my stomach began to roll. I don’t know if it was the weird breakfast they fed me or the extreme lack of sleep, but I had trouble keeping my stomach calm long enough to de-board. So yeah. I left my breakfast in Japan. The fact that Japan is so freaking cool pretty much makes up for it, though! Ok, I know I only saw the airport, but that alone makes me sure I’ll have to go back. The Japanese are so fun! Their quirky little signs (that I got in trouble for taking pictures of), their interesting bathrooms, their high-pitched voices… what could be better!

Leaving Japan, I boarded a 3-hour flight to Manila, where I was supposed to meet up with the rest of the group. That flight was much better, especially since I actually got a little sleep. Maybe I’ll slowly get the hang of this sleeping while sitting upright thing. They kept interrupting my dreams though, once to give me a customs form and once to give me my “supper”. Ah, yes, the food. Someone let them know I should have vegetarian, so that was good. My first supper was actually an excellent little bit of some curry stuff, a rice thing, and some greens concoction. What was weird was having breakfast after zero sleep. Weirder still was being served a second supper on the way to Manila when I’d never had lunch and breakfast was still an unpleasant Japanese memory. I didn’t finish it, afraid it would follow “breakfast”. Finally, I arrived in Manila around 11:30 PM their time, which would have been 10:30am central time, 8:30am pacific. It was weird, but I was super glad it was bedtime. After wending my way through a massive immigration line, I found my bags and was just as quickly found by the rest of my group. Happily, there were no problems at customs (I retain bad memories from re-entering the United States). Unfortunately, after waiting forever for the mission’s minibus to pick us up, we had only 3 hours to shower and sleep at the mission compound before leaving for our next flight.

I woke up this morning feeling clean (good part), but really sick (bad part) from lack of sleep. Getting on this flight went without a hitch, but right now we’ve hit some pretty serious turbulence and I’m trying not to pay attention to the fact that one of our group just utilized the little bag in his seat pocket.

The Philippines is great so far! Very warm and humid, but not as bad as Texas! Everyone’s really friendly and polite. Driving through the city, it was easy to see that it’s a very poor country. I do love the jeepneys and those little carts powered by bicycle. The drivers here are amazing because they can squeeze into tight little spaces and never get a scratch.

August 17, 2007 Posted by | Philippines | , , , , | Leave a comment


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