Toilet Seats

When I told my parents about the strange lack of toilet seats in this country, they both (at separate times) looked horrified. “Why wouldn’t they have toilet seats? They aren’t very expensive.” was the rational response I receive. Who knows, I said, but there just aren’t seats in most places. Nice restaurants and hotels will almost certainly have them, but in homes and average places you will only see the bowl, and not normally a clean looking one. This may sound like a strange thing to write a blog about, but bear with me a moment. A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a fellow American friend that went like this:

Friend: “They’ve got a really nice bathroom here, they have a toilet seat AND a sink!” Me: “Wow! That’s awesome!”

It didn’t phase me at the time but I later realize that to someone where I come from, it would probably sound like a strange thing to get excited about. But friends, toilet seats and restrooms with a sink (and at fancy places even soap!) are something to be grateful for. If I had never moved here I wouldn’t think that way but I am so glad for the perspective shift.

There have been multiple things that have changed my perspective and I honestly hope it never goes away. I want to always be grateful for running water in my home. In the rural communities we always had to go fetch water from somewhere in order to shower, cook, do laundry, clean dishes, etc. Sometimes it was down at a local stream, and other times it was from a well out in the middle of a field, but it was never readily available at the home. It was the same with CRs (Comfort Room=Bathroom). Sometimes they had them and sometimes they didn’t so we would go to a neighbors house. Even when they had a CR at their house it was generally a small cement room in which to take a bucket bath, and connected to that would be a small cement room with a hole in the ground and often a ‘toilet bowl’ that you would flush by pouring water down.

Now flash forward to moving into my apartment in Manila and the first thing I checked was the bathroom. Boom! Toilet (not hooked up to anything and seat-less), sink (I brought my own soap), AND a shower head (obviously it would be a cold water shower, but when it’s so hot everyday a cold shower is all you want). Hallelujah I was in heaven! It was the bathroom that my Filipino dreams were made of. I am still grateful for my apartment and everything that goes along with it, except the mice and bugs but that is a story for another day, and I hope I always am. I know once I get back to the US I will be overwhelmed by a lot of things, especially the things that make our lives more comfortable, but I sincerely hope and pray that I will always be thankful for toilet seats. And water. And soap. And all of the things I took for granted before.

Following in My Footsteps

Sometimes bonds take awhile to form between people. Sometimes they don’t. I feel that children are generally quicker to be vulnerable with new people because their souls are usually a lot more innocent and trusting than their older counterparts. The kids we’ve met the last few weeks have normally been hesitant to talk to us or play with us at first-a big part of that being that we look so different than they do-but they warm up after a little bit and treat us like their own.

One morning spent on Kinatarkan I had coffee waiting for me when I rolled out of my hammock to greet the day. It was glorious. I then went to clean up and make an even bigger cup of coffee to take to the beach. I spoke with one of the older men who lives on the island to help coordinate typhoon relief efforts and enjoyed the ocean breeze on my face.

I stood their in my malong thinking about how glorious of a place I woke up in. I took a big sip of my instant coffee and thanked The Lord for that island and everyone on it, and giving me the opportunity to share life with them for awhile. Once my coffee was gone I put my mug away and took a stroll on the beach. Within 10 seconds I was joined by some of the kids I had spent the most time with. They walked with me for awhile then hung back a bit so I kept going, thinking they were just being shy or silly. After awhile I turned around because I heard a giggle, and I saw that they were in a single file line walking in my footsteps. Literally walking only in the places I had already stepped. It soon became a game of me taking long strides then little steps then jumping, etc. until we were all a little winded.

We laughed together and walked back to where we had started and on the way back I reflected for a couple of minutes. They liked me. They trusted me. They went wherever I went. Obviously it was just walking on the beach, but through interactions during my time there I know they looked up to me and respected me even though they barely knew me. They could understand 30% of what I said but they looked at me like my words were all that mattered in that moment.

People over here give me all sorts of credit I don’t deserve simply because of how I look. They tell me I’m smart without knowing my merit. They trust me without knowing my heart. They respect me because I’m white. They say how friendly I am before I ever get a chance to be friendly. I could seriously just coast on what people assume about me and have a great time, but I’m not about that. I do my very best to earn the respect of those around me even if I don’t need to. I’m also very conscious of what I say and how I say it, because someone is always listening. Most folks here can understand a good bit of English even if they can’t speak it- though most do both. The same applies to the kids. I could be an awful person and teach them terrible things, yet I’m pretty sure they would still follow in my footsteps. Therefore, I’m treading lightly and carefully these days being sure about the places and the ways I choose to step.

I Don’t Like Children

Something I’ve generally always thought and said, but I now have clarification. I don’t like spoiled or bratty children. I guess that’s generally the ones I’m around so it has skewed my perspective. Granted, I’m not one of those people who could be around kids all the time or wants to have 7 babies and stay at home forever-but I do like kids. It has surprised me how attached I’ve gotten to the children in the places we’ve been the last month.

In Kinatarkan, the first of the small islands we spent a few days on recently, we got off the boat met by 20 beautiful little faces with gaping mouths. We said greetings in the local dialect and were met with a few giggles and more stares. Once we put our bags up I went back to the beach to take in the view, and was once again met by the group of ragamuffins. This time, a few answered when I asked for names and helped tell me who everyone was. The names here have been hard to understand and long for the most part, so I didn’t really take them in at the moment. Thankfully after we finished pleasantries a perfectly timed hermit crab walked across my foot. Of course it startled me so I screamed and naturally they all laughed at me. Once I saw what it was I picked the little guy up and let him walk in my hand, inviting others to do the same. Mateo was the first to take the crab and probably the only other one who could stand it for more than a second. It surprised me that island kiddos didn’t want to play with a little crab since I did it all the time as a child, but it was still a solid ice breaker.

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They were still shy during pictures and some conversations, but they liked me. I was in. A term used in the Philippines for older sister type people is ‘Ate’ (ah-te). I was soon Ate Kelsey and they helped each other learn to pronounce my name-it’s hard for folks over here.

The first full day spent there was a rainy one (a small typhoon was passing through) so Emily and I spent a good portion of it in our hammocks under a shelter on the beach. Not a bad set up if I say so myself. It was peaceful and relaxing for awhile, then the kids showed up. Normally I would whine and moan (internally) about children ruining my safe space, but the 3 hours that followed were so fun and life-giving that I left grateful for their presence.

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The next day held a similar chunk of time full of giggles, games, and grace. Play time started when I heard running feet and ‘Ate Kelsey! Ate Kelsey!’ coming at me as I snuggled in my hammock cocoon. Initially my mind went straight to ‘ughhhh I’m so cozy…I don’t want to play yet…’ But when I emerged from my shelter I was greeted with the biggest smiles and kids with freshly picked flowers in their hands. Some handed them to me with pride, and some threw them at me and ran away embarrassed, but they were so beautiful-the kids and the flowers. I sat back down and started arranging my new bouquet and soon enough there were more and more flowers brought to me by the sweetest of humans.

Other islands we visited held similar situations and a gaggle of rugrats. The last baranguay (similar to a suburb) we stayed in held my favorite children of all. On the first day we put our things away and were invited to go play volleyball while we waited for dinner. Obviously I was in. My German travel companion and I were both experienced in volleyball and at least a foot taller than everyone on the other team. It definitely wasn’t a fair match up, but we went easy and just had fun. The other YAVs joined us and the games got intense (and hilarious). I noticed some adorable kids playing off to the side so I had someone take my place so I could go make friends. Reflecting about this after the fact, I realized that at any other time in my life I would’ve been the one to play volleyball until dinner was ready to avoid interacting with children. Even if I didn’t want to play volleyball, I would have done anything to keep the little ones away. That is not the case anymore and I’m still adjusting to it.

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The kids I ended up meeting and playing with now occupy a special corner of my heart. Two in particular. Angela and I stayed in their home the first night (we moved every day) so we got some extra time to bond. Less than 24 hours after meeting them, their mother told me they both cried when I left for another house the next day. They kept asking where Ate Kelsey was and when they would see me again. Charity (their mother) became my friend. We talked a lot and she let me into her life, including her parents house, meeting her extended family, serious talks in broken English, and bringing the kids to see me before I left the island. The little one, Diboi, played and hugged me and I know he didn’t get that I was leaving for good, but still looked sad I was leaving for the night. Stephanie is 6 and understood what was happening. She gave me a big hug, turned to leave, then came back and hugged my legs so tightly. She looked up at me with her beautiful and teary eyes and said, “I love you Ate.” Of course I said I loved her too, then turned around as she left so she wouldn’t see me cry.

I met those kids just a couple days before, and they made me cry! What is going on? I’m not that person. I don’t like kids. I don’t cry.

But I love these kids. I feel like I’ve grown as a person somehow that I can’t quite figure out yet, but I know those dirty little angels changed me. Coming back into the city and seeing crazy kids running around in a restaurant I was quickly back into the not-liking-kids thing so I guess it depends on the situation, but I’ve deeply enjoyed getting to spend time with all the mini humans the last month.

Forever Changed

It has been quite a wild ride since landing in the Philippines 10 days ago. It feels like I’ve been here a month or two already because we’ve had so much packed into our time thus far. I won’t go over everything right now, but I know there will be more reflections and thoughts coming about these experiences because I already feel like my life has been changed-it’s just a lot to take in right now.

After the first week of being here, I told a fellow YAV Emily that if I went home right now, this would have already been worth it. I would already be different and look at the world in new ways. Obviously, coming home from trips and intense experiences can feel like that for awhile before slipping back into normal routines and ways of thinking, but I know in my heart that this will be different. I am extremely thankful that I will be here for a year so all of these feelings and experiences will be intensified and more personal before I leave. Since I haven’t settled in to where I’ll be living (which is still up in the air I’m told) I don’t have routines yet, but I already feel like I LIVE in the Philippines and I seriously love it. These past 10 days have been far from easy or a ‘honeymoon phase’ so I know it’s not that kind of feeling. I just seriously love it here already and I am so blessed to be living the life I’m living.

I didn’t know what to expect coming in to our orientation period, but I am grateful for it in many ways. We flew into Manila and stayed there one night before flying down to Davao City the next morning. We stayed in Davao for 3 days to adjust to jet-lag, learn about the Philippines through seminars and discussions, get closer to each other, and prepare for our immersions. From Davao we went into the Compostela Valley and subsequently into the mountains of that region (on crazy motorcycles that I loved-sorry Mom) for 3 days to stay in an indigenous community. We then came out of the mountains and went to Tagum City for one day to get some supplies, rest, shower (kind of), and go to a karaoke bar. From Tagum we went back to the Compostela region into a banana plantation community to stay with workers for a few days and tour some packing plants and discuss what life looks like for the folks living and working there. That brings us to now-back in Davao at what feels like home base for us at the moment. Every time we talked about Davao we all got sentimental and wished we were back at a place with beds, toilets, clean clothes and wifi. I know that I will forever be grateful for those things, and many others, from now on.

Since I can’t break down all of the impactful experiences right now, I will describe one of them to you to hopefully paint a small picture of what my life looks like right now.

In the indigenous community there is a school where children from the region live because it’s too far to travel home often/at all. There are very few schools in IP (indigenous people) communities, and this is one of the good ones. The teachers are volunteers with great educations who want to spread the joy of knowledge to kiddos who wouldn’t normally be receiving it. When we got to the end of our motorcycle ride and saw where we would be, we stood there speechless. It was the most beautiful place full of the most beautiful people. It was one of the most welcoming environments I’ve ever been in. One evening at supper we ate in the common house (20‘x10’ room) that includes the kitchen. There were about 40 of us in the room eating and socializing by candlelight-there is no electricity or running water. Some people were singing, some were playing games, some enjoying their food in silence, some giggling about our attempts at speaking their language, and then there was me. I sat in the midst of all of the various noises trying to take them all in and remember that moment. There were two little kids counting my toes out loud over and over to practice their numbers, and about every other time they would stop at my toe rings and play with them. They would stare at me with amazement when I spoke and get the biggest smiles when I would play with their hair or count with them.

As they continued to touch my toes I went back to sitting and taking it all in. I kept saying “Remember this moment. Remember these feelings.” in my head as I sat there. My heart was full to the brim with love and gratitude. I cannot express how privileged I feel to have been there with those people and to have lived along side them for a brief moment in time. They are living in such a different world than I am used to, but I have to tell you friends that it is a glorious world. It doesn’t have the same comforts we’re used to, but the community and love present in that place is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. I will take the mental images and videos of that place with me where ever I go from here on out. My heart is still full of gratitude each and every day-even the days with motion sickness, exhaustion, and a dirty body-because I am forever changed.

Ready

This past week I was riding my bike home from sending off my last group of the summer. It was about 9:30pm and I was ready to get home and relax, so I started my journey. Shortly after getting to the crowded section of my commute, my headlight went out. About a minute after that, my chain started making weird noises so I had to stop and tinker with it in the dark. By the time I got to the bike trail, I was frustrated but cautious because I couldn’t see much. I decided to pull over, drink some water, and clear my head. I then remembered that I had a spare mini bike light that I got on Bike to Work Day, so I quickly strapped it on and was feeling refreshed and ready to go home. Once I wasn’t as stressed about not being able to see, I found myself completely at peace and filled with joy. What a privilege it is to enjoy a night bike ride in a city I love. Going home to a house that is safe and full of people I adore.

I decided to go off the path and ride around Mile High Stadium since I bike next to it everyday. It was empty and quiet. I rode around the side and began staring at the Denver skyline on a clear night while I pedaled my trusty Sasha. Breath-taking. I then began speaking out loud to the night, as only crazy people do, saying “Oh Denver, you’ve been so good to me. I’m going to miss you and hold you in my heart.” And it was at that moment that I rode into a mini pothole and almost ate pavement. I’m so graceful sometimes.

But on the reals. I’m really going to miss this place. My last post described not being ready to leave, and while I still haven’t packed (yikes!), I’m feeling at peace about ending this chapter of life and beginning my next one. I have been blessed and honored to be here this year and I have certainly learned a lot about nonprofits, myself, communal living, outdoor-sy activities, social injustices, and everything in between.

I’m really ready to be home for a hot minute. I haven’t seen my people in a long time and I’m ready for the comfort of home and family. I’ll be able to share my experiences from this past year with my home congregation and I’m very much looking forward to seeing the people who have supported and loved me from an early age until now. Going home to me is just as much about seeing my family, sleeping in my bed, and driving my car as it is about going to my church and feeling the warmth and comfort uniquely CLPC.

I am certainly not ready to unpack, clean, organize, and repack. Moving is the worst. I keep asking myself why I keep doing it, but I know why. At this point in my life I need to go, do, learn, struggle, and explore elsewhere. I feel called to these places and I’m not ready to be somewhere for a long time, but I feel that on the horizon. Maybe law school will slow me down, but who knows.

Prayers for transition are needed and appreciated. Saying goodbye to my Denver family has been hard so far, and will continue to be hard, but I know they aren’t goodbyes forever. I’ll be back. Maybe just to visit and pick up my kitty, but Colorado has certainly become one of my favorite places in the world, and I can see myself living here again in the future.

Not Ready

I’ve always been one to move around a lot. I love the nomadic lifestyle and I have a feeling it will continue to be characteristic of my life for the next few years, but I don’t necessarily love leaving. Of course, leaving one place means starting life in a new, exciting, and wonderful place full of possibilities, but it also means leaving the place you’ve grown to love.

I love Denver. It is a fun, energetic city with lovely people and exciting things to do. I’ve made a home here (it’s in a rough neighborhood in a small, old home-but it’s home) and I’m very happy. It doesn’t seem like it should be time to start thinking about moving and saying goodbyes, but I only have a little over a month left here. Boy, this year has flown by! They say each year of your life goes by faster and faster, which I can agree with, but I also think that the more exciting and passionately you’ve lived that year affects how quickly it seems to pass.

I am very excited about the Philippines, don’t get me wrong. And I know that once I’m there it will be so new and fascinating that it will take my mind off of moving, but for now-I’m not ready to leave Denver. I plan to use this last month to pour myself even more into my community, my job, my friends, and this city.

My typical M.O. when getting ready to leave somewhere I love, is to get distant and slightly irritable (probably not always slightly) as if that would make it easier to go. I’ve done my best the last two times I’ve moved to be more conscious of my behavior and it worked for the most part. This time, I’m definitely acknowledging this early so I can be present and aware of myself in my final weeks with the ones I love here. We’ll see how it goes. Prayers for transition would be appreciated!

Discerning and Learning

Well if you haven’t heard already, I’M MOVING TO THE PHILIPPINES! I could not be more excited to do another year of service through the PCUSA in Manila next year.

The whole discernment process was actually a fairly easy one for me this year. I knew I wanted to do another YAV year. I knew I wanted to go international. I knew I wanted to work in human rights and advocacy. And most importantly (not really), I knew I wanted to be warm. All the dots aligned themselves and I got my offer to work with human rights lawyers in the Philippines. Pretty perfect, right? Pretty much.

I know that it won’t be all rainbows and sunshine, though I’m sure the sunshine part will be mostly constant (thank you Jesus), but I’m ready for the challenges. New challenges especially. This year in Denver has had it’s ups and downs, but I feel very comfortable here and am ready to be uncomfortable.

I have certainly learned a lot this year and grown in many ways, but I feel good at it. Sure of myself and my abilities. Confident that I can do the best job at what I do. This may sound strange, but I would like to experience the opposite of that feeling. Not knowing if I can do it. Not being prepared for the task at hand. Not knowing what language people are speaking. Not feeling safe. I know that those will be very difficult times for me, but I welcome them. Full disclosure: if/when these moments happen, I probably won’t be very happy about it, but that’s okay with me.  I might sound naïve or foolish, and that’s alright, but I don’t think I am being either of those things. I’ve generally wanted and sought out different things than most other people so this doesn’t surprise me.

I was talking to a friend recently about how you “know” when you’re supposed to be with one person for the rest of your life. I said that I want to be with someone who pushes me to grow in ways I’m not necessarily comfortable with. Someone who makes me want to be the best version of myself. Someone who loves all of me completely, not just the nice and pretty parts. I then reflected on that and realized that I need to be those things for myself before I can expect or want someone else to. I need to push myself to grow, encourage myself to be better, and love myself no matter what. I think this next year will be one full of beautiful moments, growth, sweat, and challenges – and I couldn’t be happier about it. But for now, dear friends, I’m going to continue to be present in Denver and love every moment of it!