The Mathematics of Life in the Philippines

Well friends, it’s been five weeks since I landed in the Philippines, and so much has happened.  I haven’t spoken up as much about my experiences here in a blog format because honestly, I’m just spending this time learning myself and how to function in this new world full of Filipino sounds, sights, tastes, and all the emotions that come from working here with Wipe Every Tear.  There has been so much joy, and a decent amount of trying experiences if I’m being honest, and all of it has been so good.

At this point in time, I can say a few solid statements about life here so far.

I am finally getting used to the noise.  Compared to the quiet suburbs of Meridian, Idaho, our neighborhood is filled with sounds at almost every hour of the day.  From the crow of roosters (morning and evening), to the regular disturbance of the neighborhood dogs causing them all to chime in with barking and howling, to the rumble and clamor of the engines of trikes hauling down the street, all work together to create this Filipino symphony.  And it doesn’t really wake me up anymore, either.  It mostly makes me laugh and marvel and how different life can be, one place to another.

The food is wonderful.  Rice is served at nearly every meal, and I’m amazed at how I actually enjoy the consumption of it more and more.  At breakfast, rice is mixed with eggs and savory meat.  At lunch and dinner, it’s the substantial side dish to chicken, fish, or roasted vegetables.  It’s even made into a pudding or paste for dessert.  Despite the mass amount of this white grain, I’m not tired of it—at least not just yet.

The people are incredibly friendly.  Whenever we travel to the two safe houses that reside in a separate neighborhood, we take a trike (a motorcycle and cart vehicle).  Upon approaching the trike station at the end of our street, a couple of the drivers will jump up and proudly announce our destination to the rest of the street corner.  I’m not sure if they do it as a guessing game or because we are quite the scene of two tall American women trying to fit ourselves into a trike cart, but whatever the reason, it makes me laugh every time.  Nearly every person I’ve encountered here is extremely kind, hospitable, and welcoming of us into their culture.  Strangers have helped us learn the language, our cab drivers have helped us navigate to our own neighborhood, and the staff here at Wipe Every Tear has made this transition to Filipino life here so easy that I almost feel I’ve lived here quite a bit longer—that is until I begin fumbling over my limited Tagolog.

I am learning a lot about myself.  Not just things like how I handle the extermination and disposal of the all-too-menacing cockroach or how to order my exercise regiment around the warmer and cooler parts of the day.  I’m also discovering that I really enjoy teaching, as I spend time helping tutor the ladies in our care.  I never knew how much I’d love zumba until I was dancing right along with my new friends here.  I’ve uncovered fears, anxieties, and insecurities that I’ve tried to bury for years, and I’m finally learning how to deal with them, because well, it’s awfully hard to hide those kinds of things here.  I’m learning that true humility doesn’t come from denying my talents or accomplishments, but from celebrating the achievements and qualities of others at the same magnitude as I would celebrate my own.  I’m admitting to myself that it’s okay to be very vulnerable sometimes, and that transparency is one of the best and quickest ways to experience healing.  I’m navigating the emotions of missing my friends and family at home, and the adventure of a long-distance relationship.  I’m defining elements of my personality that I didn’t know were there, and realizing the unique way that I build friendships.  I’m deepening my relationship with the Father God each day as he teaches me about life and about myself.  I’m so thankful for this personal expedition of mapping out myself because to be honest, I didn’t realize that there was so much about me that I didn’t know.

I’m also discovering God in a new dimension.  It’s really hard to let the scenes of filthy children sleeping at bus stops and starving bellies protruding from skeleton figures not hit my heart.  With the world pitched in this kind of light, and the harshness of sin and chaos flooding the setting, it’s hard not to wonder, where is God in all of this?  But I am realizing that God is not in the origin of all this pain.  He is a good Father, who I’ve personally witnessed rescuing young women out of the darkness of modern-day slavery.  I may not have all the answers to why tragedies happen to these remarkable people, but I do know the goodness of God in my own life, and in the lives of the people around me.  Despite the sadness, our lives stand together as a choir of souls that praise the Lord regardless of what we witness or experience.  And everyone is on that journey to being a part of that chorus.  And it’s okay that some people don’t believe in all of this.  I know that I do, and that’s something I cling to when times get hard—and they’ve barely even touched true difficulty yet.

Finally, I can say this one thing above all: the women, ladyboys, and children in Wipe Every Tear’s care are quite definitely some of the most incredible, brave, and inspiring people I have ever met and ever will meet in my entire life.  Whether we are doing something as lighthearted as zumba or eating ice cream, or something as nitty-gritty as opening the wounds of the past and beginning the process of true healing, all our activities and moments together are riddled with the love of Jesus.  I can’t get over the idea of what it must be like to have your life change so drastically on a dime.  One night, a girl may be fighting for her safety in a dark and slimy bar while trying to put food on the table.  The next night, she is experiencing the freedom of a safe house and the opportunity of an education with the rising of the sun.  She can learn guitar, paint, exercise, or pursue any other passion that once remained dormant in her as she simply survived each day.  Today, we read a chapter of a philosophy textbook together, and yet the magic of learning about human rights and heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. was almost tastable.  Watching these women, ladyboys, and children rise up out of the dust is one of my absolute favorite things in the world and I feel deeply honored to witness it.  This unique and divinely intentional assortment of human beings is going to change this planet with their kindness, intelligence, and courage.  How wonderful to be in this exact corner of the earth, during this specific time, participating in such an extraordinary story.

So yes, I would say that amounted to a few solid statements, and maybe a few more.  Life here isn’t exactly rainbows and fireworks in the sky—although Filipinos holiday celebrations very seriously here and will be lighting fireworks until a couple weeks after the New Year.  Instead, life here is the arithmetic of a lot of ordinary days full of sweat and simple joy added with a few sparkling moments of profound healing or meaningful conversations.  The sum equals this: in all my attempts to help build the futures of my friends, I realize that they are simultaneously and unknowingly changing my world.  Life here is absolutely beautiful, and I wouldn’t change a minute of it.