if anything has been clear in my life, it has been that so long as i don’t get too comfortable with any one set of circumstances, i get by just fine. my career, where i live, which loved ones are near – virtually every aspect of my life is eternally in flux (with the pleasant exception of chris)…it is, of course, possible – even probable – that this has more to do with me and my nature, and that subconscious way we all have of indirectly influencing the direction of our lives. i know i’m not comfortable in the same set of circumstances for too long, so i roll with the punches (bob and weave) and am generally thankful for the menagerie of life lessons and profound experiences to which i’ve been exposed.
to say that life here, in the philippines, is a sort of magnified version of that, however, would be to tremendously understate the facts. now before you get poised with your comments about ‘the nature of living in a new place,’ and all that – i promise you that it’s even bigger than that. a couple of scenarios:
a colleague of mine decided to go with her family, inclusive of three children, to visit the family of her husband for the holidays. coming from iligan city, they would be passing through cagayan de oro (for those of you not up to date on this blog, that’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive). their ultimate destination actually about 6 hours from here (a total of 8 1/2 hours). she asked if i wanted her to ‘pop by’ (adding at least an hour and a half to their travels) to drop off a couple of my things – namely a pair of sunglasses and a usb key. i said that, as they had gotten off to a late start, why didn’t they just come round on their way back through? a few days later, as i’d not yet heard from her, i texted to find out when she expected they’d be by. they keys, she informed, had been locked in the car, and they were awaiting a locksmith to come sort that out. this took THREE DAYS in the end. her response? a little more unexpected time with her family.
on the way to come by here, she texted at about 1:00pm to let us know that she should be here about 7:00, and would meet us at the local shopping center. we arrived at 6, knowing it was unlikely that she would actually make it at the exact time she expected (arriving on time is punishable by law in this country), and planned to buy our groceries while we were there. i also needed her to sign a document, so we needed to get that printed. at 7:00 she texted to update us – they weren’t making such good time – they should be there around 8:00. no worries, we thought – we’ll just get a coffee and be patient. so we finished our shopping and planted ourselves outside to have a cuppa and waited. at about 8:15 she texted to say that they were lost, but they would be there soon. at 8:55 she texted that they had arrived and would see us in 5 minutes. out of breath, my colleague arrived at our side – looking so apologetic i could have cried! imagine – this woman and her family have now been traveling for eight hours, and she looks sorry for being late? then her family comes strolling sleepily behind her…first her kids…then her niece – wait…then her sister-in-law…then her other sister-in-law and their respective husbands, and their kids…yes, ladies and gentlemen, not only have we tacked about 2 1/2 hours onto my colleague and her family’s journey, we have successfully made this trip hell for THREE WHOLE FAMILIES! while they all shuffled off to find a meal, her husband approaches in the distance. i give my colleague the document to sign and joke that it would just be so funny if i forgot to get the usb key from her before she left. THE LOOK OF SHOCK. she left it in the car. parked far away. her husband, who has only just arrived (about 15 minutes behind the rest of the family), is then informed that he must return to the car to retrieve these things (bear in mind, gentle reader, that he is also the driver in our story!). does he shout? does he throw his keys on the floor and threaten divorce? nope. sucks his teeth, sighs heavily, and, dignity intact, returns into the night.
i mean this truly – every day here one must expect that things will not turn out the way they imagined they would. one must be very certain that one will spend thrice the time executing a task as it would take elsewhere on the planet. this has naught to with culture – it is as if there is something in the very air that ensures a sense of alice’s wonderland at every turn. at times this is daunting and exhausting – at other times profoundly amusing. take for instance an event put together by organization B (see previous post) in the first couple of weeks i was working with them. the island on which we live has had a history of conflict, and so each year they allocate a week at the end of november to celebrate peace. organization B has been a part of this for some time, and this year was no different. We planned to hold a film festival in the name of peace, which featured 11 films from 7 or 8 different peace-building organizations in the area, all of whom would be attending, along with about 1500 students, several politicians, and various other VIPs over the two-day period. i was asked to come out the day before to help get things ready. i arrived at 3:00 pm and we began working almost immediately. at 6:15 pm, as we sat around the table preparing at the last minute how we would deliver the launch of a children’s book that had been published by the organization, one of our colleagues made a sound. i can’t really remember what the sound was – suffice it to say that it was not loud, but communicated dread to the half-dozen of us still working. all eyes fell on her as she spoke this fateful word: ‘brownout.’ now. being from california, until my last experience in the philippines i did not know what a brownout was. so for those of you who may be equally ignorant to this phenomenon, a brief(ish) explanation: a brownout is literally when the electricity goes off for a while in a particular area. not a blackout as such, because these are often planned by the government to ‘save electricity’ (but screw the food in your freezer you’ll have to replace, and the lost electricity on wasted food!), or to carry out routine repairs. the hosts of our event, which was due to commence at 9:30 am the following day, and for which we expected not less than 1000 attendees, somehow thought it would be appropriate to inform us AFTER BUSINESS HOURS that the event we would host the next morning no longer had an appropriate venue. did voices or tempers rise? NO! because this is de rigeur in this country! now, don’t get me wrong – there was stress in the air thick enough to cut with a machete, but this is what happened: the founder walked over to the outlet into which her cell phone was charging, curled up on the floor behind the desk and started making calls, sometimes staring at her phone as though willing it to produce ideas for her. the colleague who had originally received the text went out into the city to start looking for and haggling for generators to rent. while neither of them were successful, they were active, and i think that kept them sane through it all. then another colleague came in. we had to eat, so dinner was laid out. the founder came to sit at the table and began speaking in bisayan with the colleague who had just arrived. during the course of this conversation he informed that he might have a solution, and the founder left to make another phone call. while we were finishing up our meals, she sat down to begin hers – problem solved. a new venue had been sourced. a jeepney would be hired to transport attendees from the original venue to the new one, and a staff member would be placed at the site to instruct attendees and explain the situation. was there a great celebration? a whooping for joy? nope. but the show went on.
what does all this have to do with the purpose for posting this blog? decidedly nothing, except the sentiment it raises. at the time i posted my last blog i was resolute – which is not the thing to be in the philippines. my bad. i had written a strongly-worded letter. i had put my foot down. i would no longer work for organization B – i was now committing full time to organization C. i must have known my own folly as i never informed organization C that this was the case…i am now working for both of them…and i do realize that i owe everyone (particularly my mom) an explanation of just what exactly organization C does…i pinkie-swear that i will go into detail about this in my next blog, but rest assured in the knowledge that this organization supports children it rescues from the streets of cagayan de oro…and the name translates to ‘love of children.’ i know that i have all sorts of things to learn about their functions and dysfunctions, and i’m sure that will come with time. but, true to my nature i am keeping it interesting…although i’m not sure i’ve got anything to do with the bizarre turns my life takes anymore.