Autumn Blues

Last week I finally hit the fabled “wall” of homesickness.  It is a relief honestly – the first stint I did here back in ’11 I hit that wall right away, so spending almost 9 months here without it made me feel both gratified and a little on edge for if it would ever come.

Perhaps because it was my birthday month (29!) or perhaps because my home-latitude (home-lat) is entering my favorite season of autumn, whatever the cause, it was compounded by my feeling under the weather with a swollen throat and cough.   That mundane illness procured my homesickness.

Surprisingly, going to church helped fix that.  It had been about 4 Sundays since I was able to attend a Methodist church.  I was on vacation for 2 Sundays and then I was in Manila for work during the last 2 Sundays.  It was a steadfast reassurance to be back at church, to see friendly faces and share some conversations with people that I know albeit only from 1-3hrs on Sundays.

As far as communities go, it’s not that much yet at the same time it reminds me of similar church communities in my home-lat and that, dear readers, plus the messages of support on my FB and personal emails from family was just enough to lift me over the wall.

This week I head back to teaching.  Unfortunately my trusty macbookpro has been having many serious problems after updating to Sierra 10.12.  I’ve had that thing for 6 years now and it has quite the data I need on it.  Whatever happened to my laptop also corrupted my backup, but luckily for a fee the service center is backing up my files before they try to fix my laptop.  Their initial scans shows that all was well with the hardware (except for the battery but c’mon it’s 6 years old!) so here’s to hoping I do not have to buy a new laptop.  I really love my old macbookpro!

Back to teaching- all my lesson plans are on that computer.  I will just have to teach by the sweat of my brow and quite possibly we’ll be doing review because I haven’t taught for a month and am lost to where my students are.  I think I will also be switching to only teaching grades 10 & 11 physics and earth science.  We will see.

In the meantime, I am using this cool windows laptop that I have no idea how to get the most out of, and trying to remember all the things that I have stored on my macbook whilst maintaining a level of work that doesn’t get me fired during this data less jaunt.

Autumn is starting and I miss it dearly but I would appreciate any pictures you might take of your autumn-time!  If you feel generous please share them to me by emailing me at ashaw@umcmission.org.  I will only be looking at them, not posting or anything – It’s like sending me a homemade card that gets here right away.  I hope that I get to live autumn vicariously through you, dear readers.

Until next time!

 

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Sir High School Science Teacher

Hello to the readers of my sporadic blog.  I have a lot of news to share.  Well mainly many thoughts on my only news:  the start of my high school teaching career.

I began my teaching career at the Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao two weeks ago.  Previously I had formally taught zero classes and received no training in how to be a secondary or primary educator.

My first week of school consisted of:

  • Going to a faculty
  • Finding out my teaching schedule and classes (6th, 7th, 9th,10th and 11th)
  • Losing my appetite, stressing out and feeling anxious about how unprepared I am to teach
  • Asking God to take me home 🙂
  • Enjoying the company of the students
  • Sweating profusely
  • Getting rained on
  • Sweating more
  • Basically being soaked either from sweat or from rain.

I still feel rattled from my first week of teaching. I am only teaching Thursday and Friday but still getting a nice 10 hrs a week in.  I felt very unprepared, out of my element, worried my students wouldn’t learn anything, trying to learn the school system in the Philippines, trying to learn how to teach in English or Bisaya, learning how to do science labs in a zero resource classroom and adapting foreign  subject books to relevancy in my student’s lives and future.

I just finished my second week and am getting ready to go back on Wednesday, meanwhile while working the rest of the week applying for grants and aiding the InPeace Davao office.  I find I am having moments, like last night when I wondered if this is what my teachers were thinking/worried about when I was in high school?  Did they stay up at night worried I wasn’t going to learn anything.

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One of my 6th graders interviews me on Climate Change for her composition assignment.

I gave my 6th graders a straightforward  quiz on Friday, made even easier by a review we had on Thursday..which I know about 70% cheated on or failed outright…how do I proceed from here?  I have decided to give them a talk about how imperialists and corporations will be happy they have decided not to study at all and skip class, that education one of the best ways to upgrade their struggle for self determination.  Is it too much of a reality check? Perhaps.

 

I find myself constantly thinking to what depth do I go for subject matter, especially for 6th and 7th my general science classes.  For my 9th grade Chemistry, my 10th grade Physics and my 11th grade Earth science,

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My 9th grade chemistry class does an experiment using our only chemistry equipment…the vaunted graduated cylinder.

I wrack my brain and scour the internet looking for experiments & labs we can do in a zero resource classroom.

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Lying in my hammock and mosquito net under the wooden  ‘kubo’ shack outside.

I feel like I won’t ever get used to being called “Sir.”  I bivouac on the campus for 2 nights, in my hammock and mosquito net. God knows I prefer sleeping outside because in the dorms it is so HOT! No fans, breeze or A/C.  Dawn finds me waking up early to scrawl out thoughts and trying not to stress out too much about teaching, whilst still feeling responsible for giving them the best education I can while doing the best I can.

I admit…I  wish I wasn’t teaching, I still don’ feel cut out for it. However, God equips all of us.  I undeniably care about these students and the struggle of their people…so I am going to stick it out a week at a time, frantically planning lessons, splitting my time between working behind the scenes in Davao and being hands on in Maco, caring about the present and futures of my students and feeling blessed to have an opportunity to learn and teach these children of God.

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Students and teachers playing a pick up game of volleyball after the day’s classes finish.

Marawi City, Martial Law and Mindanao

I don’t know what to write about anymore. First the devastating news about Marawi city, and now martial law declared…and worse it is welcomed by many people who should remember the lessons learned under President Dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

I have found myself explaining to Filipinos, people who I think would know better – that martial law is not a solution, and will not be any different under President Duterte than it was under Marcos, as the former said.  In fact, Duterte has since said he thought Marcos’ martial law was great and plans his to be exactly the same and just as harsh.
 
At InPeace, we are used to observing suspicious vehicles watching our offices even before martial law, and we expect this to continue and become more brazen as martial law now legitimizes the surveillance we are under.  As missionaries, myself and the Global Mission Fellows serving here, are to take extra precautions in being observers and strengthening our visible public ties to the Church – and always using a buddy system when going out.  We also implemented our own curfew at the office, but we expect an official curfew to come in the following weeks.  (This means also won’t be teaching as we are not supposed to travel)
 

President Duterte has floated the idea of expanding martial law to the rest of the country, to deal with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. It worries me that martial  law will be used as a staging for operations against legitimate rebel groups, because surely it will be civilians who will be targeted. I just read today that Duterte will ignore Congress and the Supreme Court while carrying out martial law, even though the Philippine Constitution gives those two bodies oversight.  It is truly a troubling time in this nation.

 
Yet it is just as important for all of us to remain witness to what is happening in Mindanao.  We cannot allow the civil sector to be quieted or silenced by martial law. We must bear witness to the increased extra judicial killings, the forced disappearances, the trumped up charges, the illegal detentions and the violation of human rights that will inevitably happen to our colleagues and to peace activists under marshal law.  As long as we can bear witness without jeopardizing our physical safety, I believe it is our responsibility to do so.  We cannot let our Filipinos sisters and brothers bear this alone, and we cannot let our voices and our witness be silent, we cannot be apathetic or rationalize martial law.
 
Please keep all of Mindanao in your prayers, especially the people of Marawi city who are still caught between the extremists fighters and government troops.

Another time, a timeless place

One of the things that I value about music, or music that connects with me, is how it draws me out of myself, out of my location, time and place…either into a memory of another time or a timeless place.

My parents are both musicians, siblings all seem to be as well, aunts, uncles on both sides and cousins too – even ancestors.  For better or worse,  I am a musician as well.  For most other disciplines be they professional or otherwise: I would rather have a measure of decent skill in many and be exceptional in none…however for music, I would rather be exceptional in one instrument than many.

Having at one point in time or another undertaken piano, recorder, trumpet, voice and guitar; I have for the past 2.8 years been playing ‘ukulele.  This is the instrument that fits my lifestyle right now.  Compact to travel painlessly, suited for humid weather.  Easy to learn the basics, lifetime to master and yet, advanced techniques aren’t as far away as they were to me on other instruments.  I can combine it with my voice and sing songs…yet the ‘ukulele really calls me out into timelessness with its own voice.

I gravitate toward ukulele songwriters and instrumentalists more than singers, offering myself as audience, waiting to be drawn into a timeless cosmic recital of notes, chords, strings and singing wood.

The song that transported me today is this one, from the movie Amélie and adapted for two ‘ukeleles by Ka1a1aika two youtube duet brothers.  For me, it is cathartic.  I hope to play it one day with my own ‘ukulele and friend. (or brother *ahem John…🙂

Warm feelings

“Sweet corn, Maaaaiize”

Saying it out loud like a sweet corn peddler as I walk into the office at 1pm makes me chuckle, thinking of all the people I could surprise into thinking I am Filipino with my voice.

The office is a little dead, the usual suspects are in the kitchen, making their lunches, chopping up pineapple to serve.  I get asked about my morning trip to the Bureau of Immigration and we catch up on things that happened since we last saw each other…namely recounting the InPeace staff beach day with those who were unable to join us.

Eventually – inevitably, someone – Francis in this case – grumbles about how hot it is in Davao.  Though I today too am wearing long pants, socks and shoes from my visit to immigration and am sweating my skin off, this grumble makes me feel good.  In  a weird way it is satisfying to know that I am not the only person who is suffering in the heat…that my filipino coworkers are also suffering in the hot hot sun, and in someway that I am more adapted to the heat, because it is ok to complain about how hot the sun is right now – look even sun hardened Filipinos are doing it.

I share my bathing tale from this morning:  how I went for my usual glorious cold water bath, the one that gets me through every hot day, and how the water was so warm it didn’t even feel cold, or cool but body temperature.

Around the lunch table people nod their heads sagely, commiserating and wondering why the summers are getting hotter.  Are we still feeling the effects of El Niño?  Is it related to pollution or more people and less trees?  Is it related to Global warming? That unbelievable liberal rumor…

Regardless, this brief hot moment makes me smile, knowing that I am not the only one who feels the heat…I might just be the only one who burns in 10 minutes of sun exposure. UV 12!!

Feeling Sunny!

 

 

Day 53

Waking up at 6:00 am to sunlight and frantic mad church-bell ringing ushering in the sun as if the sun were waiting for the bells to come.

Turn off the a/c and lie back down to sleep until my wrist vibrated warning me it was 7  am.

Turn if off and lie awake until I wake again at 8:35 am. Late…but not too late. Walked from the hot room to the hot hallway and into the hot bathroom. 

Cold water. Cold bucket full of water using a tabo  to douse myself with cold water. Cold at first, then soap and shampoo and suddenly the water isn’t all that cold.  Refreshingly not-so-cold.

Get out, shave, walk out into the not-so-hot hallway, back into the not-so-hot bedroom and get dressed.  Walk out into the not-so-hot kitchen, cleaning up the dishes from the night before.

Open the fridge and pull out my cold brew, walk to the stove and grab the sieve and a pot.  Return to the sink, and start to pour the brew through the sieve and into the pot.  Where is the oil skimmer?  Grab it, then pour the brew out of the pot and back into the glass jug through the oil skimmer, fine sieving it.  Repeat again for second jug.

Walk to the freezer, retrieve the ice. Turn around to face the sink, extract the ice from the jealous guardian of the cubes. Retrieve pink cup. “Everyday is Coffee Day”  So true so true.  Pour the brew over the ice and stir. Add nothing, just the infusion of cold refreshment.

Pack up the work bag, wipe the counter and the sink. Grab sunglasses, wallet, coin purse, sun hat and keys. Lock the door and close it behind me – find the electric bill.

Put on the sandals. Wrist vibrates reminding me to step 124 times for my hourly goal. Smile. Descend the stairs, whistle. Open the gate. There’s a bird. “Heyyy birdie!”  I would rather see a bird than another rat.

Walk around the corner past the honks of Taxis trying to catch my ear and eye. Round the corner in the sun, feeling the hot heat test the resiliency of my cold bath – who will win? Approach the bakery, remember my growling stomach – step inside the shady indent.

The bakery lady seems more friendly than the previous 6 times…perhaps I have achieved local bakery status. She smiles at my local language skills of counting what I want, sale over. “Salamat” I say and whistle on my way.

Look before I cross the street and turn the corner.  The construction workers wave as they wave every morning. “Hey Joe!” they say. “Maayung Buntag” says I and they reply laughing, “Maayung Buntag sab”

I smile even in the heat of the sun cooking off my cold shower and walk on my way turning the last corner, avoiding the tricycles and the dogs walking until I see the office.  No van outside – I wonder if anyone is there.  I ring the doorbell. “Hmm, I should get a key sometime…” I crouch behind the door, feeling playful, so my head doesn’t peak over the gate.  “Taas kaayo ka Adam!” Ate Cecil says laughing.

Standing up, peak through the bars. “Yea – I was trying to hide” She chuckles and lets me in.

Walk to the office kitchen. Ugh that dead rat smell persists still. Place the bread on the table outside, take a roll.  Greet colleagues. Head toward the work room. “Maayung Buntag Adam, komusta?”  “Okay lang” I reply, ” Just running late today”  “Okay lang kaayo” The boss says. “I like your cup! Is there a new coffee shop around?”

“Yea…’ I say grinning: “Cafe Adam”

Sowing Love, not Fear.

The question I get asked the most is:  Does he understand Bisaya?

Okay so that question isn’t directed to me, nevertheless it is about me.  The question I then get asked is “How long will you be staying here?”

The third most asked question to me is:  “What do you think about the President?”

The President in this case is the new POTUS.  I answer this question with a shrug and reply that I do not like him.  People then ask me if I voted for him to which I answer “No, I did not.”

I then get a why not?  Why don’t I like the  new Potus and why didn’t I vote for him?

In Bisaya, while I can understand and speak, I am still limited so the answer I give the questions is simple.  I do not like him and did not vote for him because I am a Christian.

I believe in planting seeds of hope, faith,love and truth.  Living my life walking in the light, following the light.  The new Potus plants fear, deceit and hate.

Yes I understand Bisaya, and I can communicate through gestures and pointing that which I have no words for.  More importantly I can speak from my christian heart which says these things happening to our neighbors in the US, these Executive Orders are wrong, and are incompatible with my beliefs as a Christian: they are incompatible with the Old Testament and the New.

This is not theology or interpretation that can be understood differently.  Leviticus 19:33-34 says:

33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

First I am a Christian. Then I am an Earthling. A Neighbor, a brother, a son, a man, a millennial, a wanderer, an activist, a musician, a geologist. And way down the line somewhere I am a United States citizen.  My identity is in Christ first, followed by the community of Creation.  Identifying myself as part of organization and state of an exclusive nation is not high up on my list.

Yet if I stand by and am silent while these things are done in my name, I am still complicit.

I will not be silent. Even though I do not reside in my passportland.  Even though I may not be fluent in their language, I will not be idle.

Back in the Pilipinas

If you say it just right it almost sounds like a Beatles’ song.

Four flights or 5,698 miles later I arrived in Davao City after a grand total of just under 36hrs of transit time.  That’s 158 miles per hour which is pretty good considering had some nice 4 hr layovers on two occasions.

The past weekend was a lull in scheduled activities for InPeace, so I’ve had time to begin re-adjusting.

It has been as challenging as I recall.  Bugs everywhere – the office is old so there are tiny ants that invade all the spaces.  The heat – and it’s not even summer yet.  I have drunk so many liters of water! Thank goodness the tap water is potable here.

I had to go visit the doctor the other day – flying with a cold and having the different air pressures wreak havoc on my Eustachian tubes didn’t make my ears happy campers.  I am taking a huge antibiotic pill twice a day!  Luckily as my doctor happily pointed out to me:  I’m in Asia now and I could see a specialist right away.

And it was way cheaper.

Another adjustment for me has been the commitment to speaking no English.  Bisaya is my primary mode of communication.  Sure, I throw in connector words, but for the most part my english is reserved for my thoughts only.

I went to church on Sunday and immediately was greeted wth a hug by an old bible study mate and was promptly invited to rejoin the choir.  It’s true in the Philippines there is no meeting without eating!  I was very happy to reconnect with long lost friends.

I am still looking for a place to call my own.  It has been challenging as I don’t know exactly where to look – and not everyone posts classifieds online.  On Thursday, some folks from the office are going to drive around with me and see what we can find.  Until then I will continue to sit tight and see what I can see online, whilst recovering from my ear infection and drinking lots of Bisaya and learning many ways of water.

I mean, drinking lots of water and learning more Bisaya.

Looking back

Today I am sitting in a cafe once again, reading Global Mission Fellows applications and taking in the stories of the young people who are applying this year.  Then it hit me- and I had to write it down quick.   I am content.

It has been almost 6 months since I finished my assignment as Mission Advocate at Global Ministries.  In reading these applications I was reminded of what I wrote on my cover letter when I applied to be Mission Advocate.

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To speak Good news to the greater church…

My exit interview as Mission Advocate went pretty poorly. Perhaps it was that I had lost sight of my reasons for wanting to serve in that capacity, perhaps it was the knowledge that I had fallen short of  my superiors’ expectations – goals that exponentially changed as those of a thriving product tend to do.  Perhaps it is that I take failure hard, and am predisposed to gloss over small victories and judge my work as failed.  Whatever the reason it took me until now, in catching sight of my own personal goal as Mission Advocate, to remember who I am, and why I am so convinced in the vitalness of serving as a Mission Advocate, and serving as a missionary.

There are two new Mission Advocate positions that will be filled this year. I can only hope that the two people who fill them will not lose sight, as I did, of the real reason they want to serve in that capacity.

Spreading the Good News,

A.

 

Fall colors the Eye

fallThis past weekend I engaged in an activity I have not done on a regular bases since I was in my early 20s. I got to mow the lawn.

If you can picture it in your head – my parent’s front lawn is full and thick with grass. So thick in fact that when mowing every 10 days there are always leftover grass cuttings that do not evaporate into the wind like the our neighbors’ do. We must grass of the ‘devoted’ planted, the variety that sticks around even after it gets cut. The front lawn also has a nice flower and bush bed in the front of the house that helps hide the foundation. I can’t describe it for I have never seen the mythical foundation of our house but I know it’s there…Somewhere.

The rear lawn can be found by entering a leaning wooden gate set between the split rail fence and the wall. Unlike the front, the rear lawn is rather bumpy. Here we find the pine cones, the strange mushy fruit that seems perpetually rotten, the odd lack of grass around the two trees. In the backyard there is also a working garden- I say working because it is beautiful and a testament to the hard work of the gardener who cares for it. Garden utensils like hoses, hose guides and diggers are found scattered around. This garden is for beauty and for play.

The rear lawn despite not being of the same thickness nor fullness is more welcoming than the front. This is clear from the animal visitors that think of the lawn as their local cafe. The bird bath is open to birds and inclusive of squirrels. The neighborhood cat roamers also pay a visit and leave many ‘gifts’ that assail the nostrils.

So it was this lawn I was mowing, the front: an easy ride and the back more of a challenge. I finished the front in a breeze. A strong breeze that blew all the cuttings in my face. I rather prefer the scent of freshly cut grass in my face than the freshly pooped crap I got in the backyard, as I rolled right over the unavoidable hidden cat poop deposited liberally in the rear yard.

There is zen in mowing the lawn. To the uninitiated, the complex odors of pine, grass, poop, compost, flowers and gasoline might be a deterrent to engaging in this fall activity. Yet to me, there is zen in bumping around the lawn with the roar or the engine and the whirr of the blades as my companions.

Zen.  The way the grass looks different when still or windswept. The patterns of the blades cutting the grass. The colors of the leaves in the trees and on the ground. The different sizes and textures of the cuttings blowing back to mess in my hair and in my clothes – giving me a ‘wild mower man’ look.  Zen in the respite from offensive political rhetoric and gospels full of hate.

Zen mower moments breeze to mowing thoughts. Fall mowing thoughts that color my eye and assail my senses, heralding tomorrow’s tasks.