Jumping Ship

As I countdown the days before my adventure of a lifetime (well, thus far, in my 30 years of existence, at least) comes to an end date calendarily (because I will forever cherish this chapter of my life for years beyond its terminal date of late March, 2015, so in that trippy “Cloud Atlas” sense, there is no true end), I find myself preparing for a transition between old and new.

Living, loving, struggling, growing, teaching, surviving, soaring, and falling flat on my face in Manila for the past two years has definitely changed me.

On a very deep level.

To my core.

Or, perhaps, it hasn’t changed me, necessarily, but just unearthed what was always within me but I kept hidden and dimmed for so long because, let’s face it, it’s scary to be authentically you.

Me.

Us.

It is petrifying to be 100% completely honest with ourselves and create, live, and lead the life we truly want for a multitude of reasons: Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of intimacy, fear of whatever.  Or, just plain laziness.  I know I get hella lazy, at times, so yeah, bro.  That happens.

Fear. Fear. Fear. with a hearty side of Complacency.

Well, fuck fear and complacency.

Fear is natural, but I’m ready to transcend it (and myself).

This experience has definitely been my “Wonderland”.

And, for that, I am thankful.  So eternally thankful.

It’s like I’m in-between the B.C. and A.D. chapters of my life.  (Don’t get it twisted, I’m not saying I’m Jesus, but in a sense, aren’t we all our own universe, and in that respect, aren’t we our own Savior and Creator and, also, Destruction?)  There’s a definite shift happening in my life and, for once, I’m allowing myself to embrace this uncertainty and vast openness with a smile and amusement rather than worry and dread.  I’m taking the reigns of the story of my life, giving myself permission to follow my bliss unapologetically, and leading the charge the fuck away from stagnancy and comfort to that of growth and expansion.

Folks who get it, cool.  Folks who don’t, that’s cool, too.

As I learn to listen to myself more, trust myself more, love myself more, I find that the world is just opening itself up to me and revealing more and more wonders and opportunities my way.

With each passing day, I realize more and more all the bullshit about not being enough in so many categories from my looks to my personality to my skills to my self-limiting and self-defeating notions of identity I believed that did nothing but stunt my growth, dim my shine, and subtly (and outright) taught me to hate myself on some level.

Essentially, killed my vibe, beeeeeeeeeeeyotch.

You know what's bananas? (B-A-N-A-N-A-S?) Shortchanging yourself.

You know what’s bananas? (B-A-N-A-N-A-S?) Shortchanging yourself. No one said you had to be perfect so get out there and do what you want..like me and painting! 🙂

Well, no more of that nonsense and poppycock.  I swear, turning 30 (and having Saturn leave or whatever) or just choosing to live a cat life and give less fucks, makes me feel empowered to go after what I want, do what I want, and cut out people I don’t want in my life.

It’s like I’m living a Cartman-type life aka “whateva, whateva, I do what I want”.  Only difference is I’m not an elementary school boy cartoon sociopath. Or…am I…?

I’m not only writing my life story, I’m also editing it to fit what I want.

I don’t know why, but it took me 30 years to realize I can like what I like, but more importantly, the converse, I’m allowed to NOT like things, as well.  And I don’t have to apologize for not liking certain things, or people, or treatment.

In the big picture, folks don’t die wishing they played it safer, do they?  People yearn, lust, ache to feel alive.  To feel and experience so deeply, so passionately, so fully that their life is nothing short of amazing.

Well, I’m awake now and, as I plan (“plan”?), my next career path, I’m not scared or feeling obligated to anything for the sake of being “polite” or “because it makes sense”, necessarily.

Happy to finally be more conscious and aware of me and what I want and simple, following my bliss.

After all, we’re never led astray if we truly heed what our spirit tells us.

Bon voyage, amiguitos.  I’m off!

Let’s Not Forget

With catchy slogans like #itsmorefuninthephilippines and the seemingly automatic default coping skill of the mass populace to rationalize, give it up to God (this one, in particular, being my most used strategy as of late), and/or find the silver lining in anything and everything, it can be easy to fall into the idea that life in Manila and the Philippines is a Cover Girl commercial. You know, easy, breezy, and beautiful.

Just like makeup, though, this mentality either enhances or conceals.

And, as for my experience, I’m having an R. Kelly reaction; my mind is basically telling my one thing, but my body…my body’s telling me another. My experience and understanding of the Philippines has been everything along the spectrum of dream-like to nightmare-inducing to a downright numbness possibly similar to sleepwalking.

Sure. With the power of the USD (or basically any other currency) within the reach of your hands, your wildest (and possibly, most illegal) dreams can come true. I mean, quite frankly, even your dog can have a yaya. Nevermind that the woman taking care of your dogs’ every beckon bark and call has her own kids she can barely even support or spend time with since she’s spending most of her day commuting to work and ensuring that Fido is taken care of.

Any thing you want, you got it, and I’m pretty sure the person serving it to you is smiling, nodding their head the entire time, being agreeable, avoiding conflict and confrontation at all costs. While some folks have found peace with the horrid imbalance of power in this society, I find myself riding the choppy waves of adjustment (and resistance) to the blatant, every day normalization of poverty.

While I have found many pockets of happiness in the land of my ancestors, I still find myself smacked in the face with so many conflicting ideals, feelings, emotions, thoughts, etc. that as many a suburban teenager says, “I can’t even.”

In my 1.5 years of living here, outside of your typical expat condo lifestyle, I’ll go ahead and identify myself as an expert on telling Fil-Am’s the realness. (That last comment was sarcastic, but only about 45% so. I really do think there are a lot of things that can’t even be verbalized with living this experience, but all I gotta say is I do not want to see anyone hashtag “the struggle”, “hustle”, or “grit” without stepping foot outside the comfort bubbles of Makati, the Fort, or Ortigas.)

My thoughts aren’t fully formed or coherent even to myself as my posts and blog are very much written straight off the cuff, but what I guess I’m trying to get at is trying to make sense of something like poverty is so nonsensical that it’s almost not worth our energy to try.

It’s like looking for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.

While on the topic of clueless, I feel there are so many people left in the dark (both intentionally and unintentionally by their own ignorance or willful negligence) about the varying shades of poverty the majority of this country identifies as every day life. Amongst the clueless are those who are impoverished themselves.

Further drawing out the clueless reference (because, honestly, it’s one of my favorite movies), sometimes I feel like the Philippines is like a clueless girl mixing with all the wrong dudes. She doesn’t know her worth partly because she doesn’t know who she is and what she stands for. She let’s folks use her, manipulate her, take her riches, usurp her strengths and use them for their own gain, in exchange for some assurance of the mere potential of her worth. A vote of confidence to supplant the lack of self-respect and self-love deep within her. Sure, she has her reasons for the lack of self-worth–a bad past, a tough childhood…you know, colonization, imperialism, militarism, capitalism–but in the end, she and only she alone, can break the cycle of disrespect and abuse.

I can’t wait for the day when the Philippines finally has that one Beyoncé or Keyshia Cole or Erykah Badu lyric hit–just hit her square in the heart–and she comes into the awakening of her immense beauty, wisdom, and power. I cannot wait for that day to come.

You know, maybe that day is upon us. Maybe I’m writing smack in the middle of said day, but I’m still waiting for a beacon call of sorts to regale the start of a renaissance.

The start of a revolution.

Basically, I’m waiting for the spirit of Gabriela Silang herself to come charging by full-speed, weaving in and out of jeepney and tryke traffic, of course, bolo-wielding, spearheading and symbolizing the rise of Filipino consciousness of self-worth and consequent actions that support this new internal paradigm shift.

Actually, even in my fantasy, I just see a flustered Gabby sitting atop her horse, stuck in traffic, scattered horns honking, jeepney smoke puttering in her horse’s whinnying face, and vendors and barkers weaving their way around her, her bolo, and her steed. One vendor even motions to her to buy a pack of rags and she just sends them off with a resigned wave of her bolo. Oh, Gabby. Next time, take the MRT. Even with the crowds, at least you don’t get stuck in the traffic of EDSA below.

I’m always torn when I write posts like this because I think of all the incredibly intelligent, passionate, and proud people I know personally and am fearful of possibly offending anyone. Then again, writing that last sentence brings up another deeply-ingrained point of sacrificing honesty and authenticity for the convenience of others. Unlearning the learned in so many ways. If these Filipinos (no hyphen or discussion whether or not a hyphen is necessary), my new-found friends and confidantes, born-and-bred in the Philippines, are supposedly part of the phenomenon of the colonial mentality that I so detest, what exactly does that mean in terms of our relationship? By virtue of my blue passport, what does that mean in terms of power relations and dynamics? Then, on second thought, I, too, am a constant work in decolonizing my own thoughts and frameworks despite my American citizenship.

In re-aligning and re-positioning my center and understandings of life and the world not to the periphery, necessarily, but rather to an amorphous and ambiguous space that’s ripe for definition and significance. It is from this space that agency and authority to my individual authenticity and voice is given. (Oh…gotta love the passive tense for a sentence that has so much potential for power in it.)

Since minorities have always been on the margins of any significant societal powerhold in the U.S. (or any context for that matter) since, oh, the Puritans laid their weary, soulless-yet-super-fearful-of-losing-their-soul-to-the-devil, Bible-laden buckled boots on that land, I’m gonna stick to the good, ole American notion of pretty much “eff yo’ couch, I’mma get mine” hence why it’s MY voice and not OUR voice. (Btw, this individualistic mentality totally and utterly conflicts with the Philippines’ community-minded way of thinking, breathing, being, doing, living, dying.)

I do, hope, though, as any good Canadian does (I’m Canadian, too, eh), our collective individual voices while still retaining their individualism, can create a space where both our unity and uniqueness thrives and is celebrated.

Coming back to my point and focus and purpose is that making sense of life here is just like this post has hopefully been–there’s some flow, but it’s pretty much here, there, and everywhere (and with being in all these places, it’s eventually in the middle of nowhere, as well). This post was spurred on by a seemingly normal commute home…and what makes it unfortunately is that it is considered “normal”.

As Mariah puts it, “it’s like that y’all”.

Well, maybe I’m tired of that answer, but in the interest of self-preservation, reducing cortisol levels in my aging (okay…rapidly approaching 30 years old) body, and just finding peace in my life, I go with that answer. Just like the majority of people in this country and the world who have any exposure and awareness of poverty or violation of human rights.

Poverty is a violation of human rights. There’s no other way to put it.

Maybe in the end all this mental winding and grinding leads to nothing but awareness with a slim chance of change. Or a fresh harvesting of anger. Or sadness. Or feelings of helplessness. Or pretty much some uncomfortable and unresolved feeling that usually sparks people to write an indignant Facebook update (or blog post like me).

Either that or just apathy and disconnect.

Whichever, bro. Bruh. Broday.

All the finnicking and panicking and impassioned pleas to save the (fill-in-the-blank-of-the-most-pressing-need) or support the fight against (fill-in-the-most-pressing-enemy) just get me in a headspin, then have me throw my hands up (literally, I just dropped my phone mid-sentence only to pick it up again to not leave this blog post unresolved), then finally give it up to God and the universe and have faith in the absurd and things that make absolutely no sense.

I mean, in the end, there is no resolution in anything so maybe it’s about time we get comfortable with discomfort as discomfort means change, growth, and progress. Even if it’s coming at an EDSA-like
pace.

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Marina

Today, I realized I have 6 months left teaching and living in the Philippines.

And, my heart feels torn.

Sad because after a year and a half, I FINALLY “get” life here.  I’ve adjusted. Not fully, but, quite frankly, I don’t want to fully adjust.  I feel like with full adjustment, I’ll lose my sense of judgment a bit and will stop being able to “see the water”.  You know, the whole “the fish doesn’t see the water” bit?  Yeah, I don’t wanna be a fish.  (I’m a person, damn it!).

While experiencing tinges of sadness and a ton of sentimentality, I’m also very happy.  And proud.  I mean, last year at this time, I was crying the hallway at school.  Literally.  My co-teacher reminded me of that as we were reminiscing about last year’s Teacher’s Day Ceremony.  She was like, “Oh yeah…weren’t you crying in the hallway?”  Haha.  Talk about imbalance.  But, in all fairness, I had a fever, body aches, basically the flu, and was still teaching wearing a freakin’ tracksuit jacket to keep warm (not that you’d think you’d need to keep warm in the Philippines).  On top of that, I was still in the throws of a turbulent bout of culture shock, personal healing from “life experiences in the love department” (side note: I’m over that shit so maybe that’s why I’m feeling so light and free!), and was having a HORRIBLE hair day.  Ugh.

Anyways, 6 months left so let’s do this.

I look back at where I’ve squandered the 1.5 years here and most of it was stressing about stuff that never came to pass or missing home and a sense of normalcy and familiarity.  Well, not most, but a good chunk.  Despite the social awkwardness and feelings of desolation, desperation, and downright depression, I do see how all that built me to be who I am today.  And I’m pretty hella down with who this person is now so, in simple terms, bitch don’t kill my vibe.  (Nah…it’s cool.  I know you wouldn’t.  I just like that saying even though I can imagine 17-year-olds wearing acid-wash cut-off jean shorts and mid-drift tank tops saying that ish…and I don’t quite know how I feel about using the same vernacular as that demographic.)

This evening I’m cooped up in a coffee shop post-Skype session because silly me forgot my umbrella and it’s raining outside.  While YouTubing songs, I happened upon an oldie, but a goodie.  The verifiable soundtrack of my summer abroad in Mexico, junior year: Rebelde (RBD).

Ahhh…gotta love Mexican pop music.  Or, not.  Whatever.

Anyways, listening to RBD again after so many years away from those memories of life abroad in Mexico and my first foray into the unknown waters of internationalism and “cultural immersion” (damn, this terms sound so…I don’t know…bookish?  Detached?  A neat way to categorize an experience that is often not very cleanly compartmentalized into consciousness?), I look back fondly, but I also look back with a bit of sadness.

Clearly, my heart is torn, but not in a way that’s jarring or disabling.  Moreso, in a reflective, thankful way that makes me realize how beautiful and blessed my life is…even though many times prior I was hella hating it and just angry at the world.  I let go of that anger and release it to the universe where it will be re-purposed into constructive energy. (And…affirmation out).

So, back to RBD.  The fall when I returned to Gainesville after Mexico, I was hella missing life abroad so would listen to the RBD album like it was my job.  Or, maybe a more precise description would be I listened to it like I spent time with my boyfriend because, let’s be honest, it was senior year in college, ain’t no work was getting done.  My sister, ever the angel on earth, was volunteering at the hospital during this time, spending her free time with cancer patients and the likes while I got drunk on cheap afternoon beers and played flag football in the evenings.  Man, college was sure like summer camp in some respects…minus the beer…unless you went to a cool summer camp, I guess?  Anyways, she kept telling me about one of her patients, a young girl names Marina, who spoke only Spanish.  Seeing that I would drop Rebelde lyrics like it was a normal thing, my sister kept insisting I go visit Marina with her.

Finally, on the afternoon of the Tennesee football game, before we would go tailgating and get obliterated as is the Gator Way on Game Day, my big sis and I rode our bikes down the hill to Shands to visit Marina.  I still remember being scared out of my wits zooming down the hill to Shands.  On a 10-speed bike when you have no idea how to shift gears or whatever the fancy bikers and hipsters do, I felt like I was going to fly off the handles and land in a pile of asphalt before I even got to the hospital.  Plus, I may have had one beer to warm-up for the day so the hill was even more of a feat.

Hills aside, we made it to Marina’s room.  I must’ve been 20? (Or 21 for legal drinking reasons).  Once we got to her hospital room, the cheers and chants of the Gator Nation faded in the background as the beeps and mechanical whirrings of her machines took the lead of the background music.  I don’t want to say that the atmosphere was insta-somber, but it was a bit sobering (literally and figuratively).  Seeing this girl, maybe 14-16 years old, laying in bed, in her hospital gown with a shaved head, was surreal then and is surreal now.  In my head, I was in my own world, coming off a summer of a lifetime, amped for game day again those silly Volunteers, and now, I’m finding myself volunteering a mere 20 minutes of my life to this girl.

We spoke in Spanish, exchanging pleasantries as if the fact that we were surrounded by these machines monitoring her vitals didn’t denote the impending death she would face.  I brought my RBD album with me as that was the connector; my sister said she loved their music and she told Marina of her younger sister who studied in Mexico and spoke Spanish fluently.  I gave her the album and have never seen it since. Nor do I want to.

I remember saying an “hasta luego” instead of “adios”.  A “see you later” felt more kind to say than a “good-bye”.  I nodded my respects to her parents and siblings and snapped back into the orange-and-blue craziness that is Gainesville during football season.   Haven’t really thought about Marina since then until now.

How is it that almost 10 years after this exchange with Marina that YouTubing songs can bring such strong memories back of this unfortunate yet very real facet of life?  Death. The end.

Maybe the finality, the “light at the end of the tunnel” of my 2 year stint in the Philippines has me thinking how everything really does meet its’ end eventually so the best thing we can do is just smile at the madness and enjoy the ride because once it’s over, it’s over?

Either way, I’m about to leave this coffee shop as I see a pocket in the rainfall.  Still thinking of Marina, but more so knowing that everything really is okay in the end.  And, lucky, blessed me.  I still have time before my end so I’m ready (finally) to not just make the most of my 6 months here, but the most of my days in my life.

Admittedly so, the past 2 years or so have been my valley.  They’ve been the hardest times I’ve had to face thus far.  And, now that I can say I made it over the hump, through the rain, past the tough part, I’m coasting now.  Muthaeffin’ coasting…with a bit of worry if things pop up again, but even if they do, I am armed with the confidence of experience knowing that I can handle this…and this time around, with a lot more grace and poise than previously done.

How beautifully ironic that the uplifting, saccharine sounds of pop music line my very morbid yet real memory of Marina.  I’m sad, but I’m also not, because that’s life.  And rather than “quedarme en silencio”, I’m choosing to sing my song rather than lead a life of quiet desperation, dying with my song in my heart.  I hope you willing to do so, too.

“No Dating Until College”

I wish I could share one solid piece of advice my father would give…you know, something that’s a life truth neatly packaged into one or two sentences. Kinda like Lieutenant Dan’s advice to Forrest (Forrest) Gump and Bubba of always keeping your feet dry. But, I can’t because I don’t have that one special saying from my dad.

Instead, I have a whole mess of memories of him, the most influential man in my life, and you can’t neatly place these experiences in a simple quotation.

Today is an emotional day for me. Remembering him and feeling so grateful for September 13 because today is his birthday so as far as I’m concerned everyone and their mama better recognize. What a special day today is because it’s the day the universe picked for him to come into the world.

He would’ve been 65 today.

I wish you were here to see how Eileen and I’ve grown. I wish you would’ve been here to see me graduate high school, be Prom Queen (wait, what? I know, right?), then college, then turn down law school to be a Kindergarten teacher (a great one, at that), then go back to school, graduate with my Master’s, direct a university office (the first of its kind at an institution of higher education in the entire southeastern region of the U.S., mind you), then eventually let all that go to return to the motherland, the country you left in your youth, to teach third graders in the public school system.

To converse with me in Tagalog, to hear how I navigate around Metro Manila in jeeps and trykes and buses, to listen to my stories of haggling at the palengke, my love for street food, and tales of sorrow with figuring out a way to make sense and peace with the daily injustices I see and experience from poverty to corruption to some people just straight-up being douches.

Not to sound too “resume-y” (though I already do), but yeah, Dad, I know you’d be so proud of my accomplishments. And even though in damned-near to being an adult (or maybe I’m just an adult in denial), I still want to hear your praise and approval…some sign of your vibing on my ish. I mean, after learning the hard way how to know my worth and recognize my own power and not let anyone ever take that away from me again, I celebrate these accomplishments even more, and not just for myself, but for the service I know they gave others. (Steps off soap box).

I wish we could still have our talks about nothing and everything. About life, Jeopardy, and Eileen’s sloth-like lifestyle (which, OMG, has totally changed. She’s super efficient now, Dad. Like, when did that happen?!) About dealing with tough people and basic bitches, basically. I’m fairly certain you would use that term, too.

I would like to think that if you were here, we would talk about the men in my life (though right now, we wouldn’t have many…or any…to talk about).

Come to think of it, maybe this is your parting words of advice–“NO DATING UNTIL COLLEGE.”

I’d like to think since I did make it to college and graduated not once but twice, you’d be okay with me dating, but who knows? I remember how you smoked not one, but two cigarettes when Eileen told you a boy asked her out.

I still remember the time a boy called for me at home and you answered the phone. I was so scared you’d get mad at me but instead you took me to get lo mein from Panda Express (again, you and the cheap Chinese food) and just asked me twice or three times why a boy would be calling me. I was in 8th or 9th grade and I knew you weren’t mad, but just horribly uncomfortable. And worried. You looked and sounded mad worried.

I guess you just hated the idea of your “little princesses” growing up.

Well, we’re grown up, Dad, and your little one is missing you terribly on your birthday. But, I’ve dried my tears that just flow from me now (I’m thinking there’s some magical spiritual effect being in the Philippines has on me or maybe all the tears I didn’t cry for the past 12 years are now just making their way to the surface) and I’m choosing to celebrate your birthday instead of mourn it.

The best way I can honor you is not by following your one quotable quote but rather, by doing what I learned from you: living life.

Cheers, Dad. Happy birthday.

My First Tattoo: That Time I Fell in Love in Seattle

In a moment of lucid foresight (a rare event in my mid-20’s), I decided to take a two week vacation to explore the rugged terrain of lands unknown to me: the majestic Southwest and the punk/hipster-fied Pacific Northwest. I was applying for a new job and figured if I got this job, I would likely not be able to take a vacation anytime soon. Ever the pragmatist, I also rationalized that if I didn’t get this job (eyes rolling back, mental “whatev, bro”), at least I could say I had a bomb end-of-summer, pre-return-to-the-marathon-of-grad-school vacay. With the blessings of maybe my coolest boss (definitely the most considerate) boss to-date, I found myself embarking on my very own “Fievel Goes West” adventure of a lifetimeeeeeee!!!! (Or, at least of my mid-20’s!!!!)

The southwest was uncomfortably too dry, brown, orange, rust, and short for my liking. Don’t get me wrong. It was beautiful. Absolutely stunningly beautiful. But between being fearful of rattlesnakes falling from cliffs above or being asked for my documents by white police below and bumping my head on nearly-every doorway because at 5’6″, I am an Amazonian ’round these parts, I enjoyed the southwest at a very-generous “7” on the scale of 1-10. “1” being as fun as a cavity-filling by a dentist with “crazy eyes” and a shaky hand and “10” being the embodiment of whatever Belinda Carlisle’s singing about in “Heaven is a Place on Earth”.

Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos, and somewhere in Arizona where Humphrey’s Peak is, you get a “7” because of my friends who lived there and graciously hosted me, the wit and deliciousness of the “Christmas tree salsa-ing” of all my food (which, let’s be real, was mostly tacos and burritos but you couldn’t tell the difference under all that salsa), my first foray into chocolate red wine (de-freakin’-liciousness), hiking the tallest (echo) peak (echo) in (echo) Arizona (echo) with some of my guy friends and inadvertently peeing on my hiking boot due to a steep mountain angle and what I’m convinced to be a crooked urethra, coincidentally meeting fellow Gators at the top of said peak and white water rafting with a precocious, extremely-cultured pair of 4th graders and their New York Times journalist mother. I mean, the kids said I looked like I could be famous (because EVERYONE knows big silver hoop earrings, black bitch shades, and a bandanna holding back my hair is appropriate rafting and hiking gear) so I’ll let my slight intimidation of their superior worldliness by the age of 10 slide and include them on the list. Jesus. They’ve probably already partied with Bey and J at St. Tropez.

Anyways, leaving the dry heat and arroyos of the Southwest behind, I took my flight and landed smack in the middle of Starbucks land and maybe, just maybe, one of the plaidest and whitest places I’ve ever been in my life: Seattle. I can just feel the crisp air now.

One of my favoritest cousins and her then-boyfriend, now-husband and their cutie-patootie puppy-son were living in Seattle at that time so we both figured, “Why not go visit?!”

Seeing that my story is already far longer than I intended, I’ll give the short story of my time in Seattle:

*Fun times with cousin and her boo. Lots of beer. Lots. Of. Beer.

*Quick solo day-trip via train to Portland to meet a kind-hearted and quirky photographer friend and explore the “place where 20-somethings go to retire”.

*In Portland, was able to score a free box of delicious Voodoo donuts. Didn’t have to wait in line or pay nada. Said friend had a friend who worked there and just gave me a big ole box as a present. The kindness of strangers and bad-ass folks who do the damn thing. I mean, this chick was punk by all means necessary–piercings, tattoos, shaved head, attitude–yet also a die-hard cheerleading fanatic. I appreciate the way she made me re-think certain stereotypes.

*Random encounter while walking off of train and arriving in Seattle with a handsome stranger predicated upon a comment about my big pink box (of Voodoo donuts). They are that big a deal, apparently.

*Random encounter coupled with my near-dead cell phone battery led to a flirtation of sorts that wasn’t even intentional (on my end, atleast).

*Said encounter and borrowing of cell phone to call my cousin led to a day-date which further led to a week-long hangouttage with said handsome stranger, having fun, laughing, and enjoying the sights of Seattle.

*One night post-druken hangouttage, our gang of merry revelers find ourselves at the tattoo parlor and the rest is history.

Not really, but you know.

So, yeah, I got my first tattoo in Seattle on a druken night with my ever-loyal cousin Chelsey holding my hand as I hear the buzzing and feel the needles pierce my flesh. My tattoo artist was some newbie from Utah or Idaho or some random state, but he was nice. Not too saccharine-nice where you fear for their safety because they’re just that nice and probably have no street-smarts whatsoever. He was nice in the way you’d want your first tattoo artist to be: someone who listens, draws well, tattoos even better, and doesn’t make lotuses look like artichokes (but that’s another story).

Anyways, first tattoo story and recollection aside and fast forward to today, as I fat-cattedly lay in bed, indulging myself in sour patch kids, listening to the pounding rain flooding my neighborhood and first-floor of our house. I got sick with the flu earlier this week and mistakenly thought I was better until I woke up this morning, all snot-filled and body-woozy.

I was a verifiable sipon monster.

Anyways, I’m the type of friend you want. Honestly, I know one of my strengths is being a good friend. I’m loyal, honest, and will tell off anyone who hurts you or so much as looks at you the wrong way. In the past, I might have even punched them for you, but now that I’m older, classier, and just don’t want to deal with the hassle of assault and battery, I’ll use my words and resting (and active) bitch face to defend your honor.

I’m the type of friend who sends you random “thinking of you” texts or Facebook messages, will fly across the world to eat chicken wings with you on your couch (okay…maybe this is more for me than you, but still…points for traveling), would pick out your earring from the toilet in the Bahamas one Spring Break when it fell in. Ugh.

I’m the friend who prays for happiness and peace and success and firmer waistlines and no stress wrinkles or blemishes for my friends. The friend who would give you the last of my eyeliner so you could look impeccably put-together as I somehow try to pull-off a rough-and-tumbling, free-spirited look that’s really just a nice way to package the fact that I’m nearly 30 and have no idea how to apply make-up or manage my fickle hair.

I’m the friend who, even if sick, will still try my best to commit to plans we made.

I am, by all extensive purposes, a good friend.

And for this reason, I am blessed with many good friends.

Keep this mentioning of my good friend-ness and loyalty in mind as I go back to the tattoo.

So, yeah, the tattoo.

My first tattoo was not something cool like a tribute to the Looney Tunes or a Mount Rushmore of rap legends gone too soon.

It is a simple script word on my left rib. Placed there during a time in my life where I could feel the weight of expectation and time invested gnawing at my insides. I felt trapped in a relationship that was both nurturing and nagging.

I was leading a life of quiet desperation but I knew deep down my spirit had to be free.

This man I was with during the time is by all standards, a good man. I mean, he hasn’t killed anyone (to my knowledge), pays his taxes on-time, is financially responsible, polite, and impeccably-dressed. And, he flosses daily. I should know. We lived together for 2-3 years, was it? Anyways, while I am thankful for the lessons learned during our relationship and our time together, I am more thankful for our time apart and our eventual parting of ways.

Sometimes, the decisions we make in life feel like the wrong ones because they’re tough and inevitably lead to pain, but usually, it’s those tough decisions that are, indeed, the right ones as they lead to a more authentically-led life. After all, the path to consciousness usually involves pain on some level.

I refuse to settle for a safer, comfortable, sham of a life, but I was one ring away from having just that.

(Focus, Leah, focus. The tattoo. Tell them about the tattoo.)

Well, in a way to commemorate my new-found independencisch (prior to this trip, I had “broken up/not broken up” with my former/not-former boyfriend), I chose to jump in and just do it and get a tattoo finally, after, you know, a good two minutes of debating.

My first tattoo is a shoutout to myself to remember to keep faith in life especially in terms of having a suitable partner (hence the biblical placement on my rib because ladies, we are nothing but ribs…absolutely nothing but a rib) and an homage to my mother, Fe Maria. Plus, saying I got a tattoo for my mom (“Fe” is “faith” is Spanish) was a good excuse in case she’d get pissed about it, but props, yo, because my mom’s rarely ever disapproved or gotten upset about any decision I’ve made in my life (except my lip piercing which she said was “classless” only to hang up on me then call me back within five minutes, apologizing, and saying it’s probably cute on me–which, it was). That, and she doesn’t know I have one nor does she read my blog because it’s too damn long. (True…and yeah, that’s what she said. God, you’re so funny.)

Anyways, FAITH (like my tattoo reads back to me).

And friendship.

And how I said I’m loyal.

And that awesome trip when I got my first tattoo, fell in love (or deep infatuation) over donuts which I took as the sign to break up and leave a relationship that was more safe than satisfying.

All this mumbo jumbo about donuts and tattoos connects to today because I had plans to hang with family and friends and attend an awards ceremony. But, when I woke up, the flu I was battling with came back. Even with feeling bad, I was still gonna tough through and commute across town to the awards ceremony for a good friend and co-worker. I canceled on the family party because as a teacher and a decent human being, I was not going to expose my little nephews to my flu germs. Hells no.

As fate would have it, though, I got a slight migraine at breakfast which forced me to nap. I napped and woke up to heavy heavy heavy rains. The hardest I’ve ever experienced in the Philippines yet. And all the while, with the rain and lightning and dogs barking because of the rain and lightning, I lay in bed, smiling to myself, thinking how life is a bitch with one hell-of-a-sense of humor.

Here I was bound and determined (as I usually am) to go through with my plans and all these “obstacles” that I thought were just ways to stop me from doing what I was supposed to–attend an awards ceremony–were probably all in my favor, anyway. The roads were flooded, traffic’s already horrible, etc. I probably would’ve been stranded somewhere, feeling sick and frustrated at the inclemate weather…maybe as riled up as all those Gators at the Swamp yesterday for the rainy weather against Idaho. (Go Gators)

Well, the point is, even in the throws of these tumultuous 20’s and my transition to turning 30, spotted with moments spent mourning a youth unacknowledged, unappreciated, and underutilized, I get funny little reminders that maybe, just maybe, I am on my right path and I am being guided, even if it’s through dead-ends and broken paths and wrong turns.

The way I see it, this “faith” tattoo (and even the artichoke-looking lotus one) are with me for good so it’s about time I start living by them and keep my faith in life, God, the universe, Ellie Goulding and all that is good, and most importantly, myself.

That, and never underestimate the power of a donut.

Rice Soldiers

10:30am-11:00am Saturday morning, Sikatuna Village, Quezon City, Philippines

Anonas Extension across from Savemore.

After grocery shopping this morning, I go to a local carinderia to eat lugaw (hot chicken rice porridge).  Because that’s the thing to do after you buy groceries…buy food to eat instantaneously.  

Anyways, as I’m ordering, a feel a slight tug on my bag and look to my side and see a boy, roughly around 8-13 years old.  Quite frankly, he’s malnourished so though his body looks like that of an 8 year old, he can very well be in his teens.  This is the case for some of my students.  Their bodies look small but their faces and eyes carry the weight and heaviness of experience.  He mumbles something to me and I assume it’s him asking for me to buy him food.  I ignore him and carry on with my ordering since living in Metro Manila, it’s an unspoken norm to have children beg you for food or money, them holding out their hand as you walk by, walking along side you, repeating over and over in a low, sing-song tone for you to give to them.  Sometimes, their words sound even chant-like.  However, I’ll stop myself there before I further wax poetic about poverty.

I figure this boy would just walk away, unabashed, as so many of these kids do, seemingly unscathed by the constant rejection of humanitarian assistance they encounter on the daily (Yet again, another irony.  Here I am wanting to work with an international humanitarian org yet I am unwilling to consistently give aid on the ground level?  Long story short.  If you choose to give to a child, the expectation may be that you always give.  Further, if you give to one child, why won’t you give to another, etc., so on and so forth.  Some days, I give.  Some days, I don’t.  And I never give money.  NEVER.  I guess I’m going to have to leave it at that rather than further defend my point of being an inconsistent giver because basically, if you knew where I’m coming from, you wouldn’t need an explanation because you, actually, (gasp) get it.)

I notice the Ate working the carinderia is dishing up a big plate of rice and sauce.  Since I’m the only customer, I figure she’s going to give it to the boy.  In a matter of 2 minutes, the boy who was previously begging (or, for those who prefer more flowerly language, “emphatically encouraging”) me to give him food, was now sitting as a customer would (albeit at the table closest to the exit–far away as possible from the disapproving eyes of the other carinderia workers), awaiting his feast of a mountain of hot steamed white rice drenched in adobo sauce.  His meal of simple carbs that many of my friends (myself, included) would cringe at the thought of eating because it would just, like totally, add to the fat around my stomach–white rice, white starch, white anything–(intentional, quick, superficial commentary on race relations in the U.S. because it’s not about white versus all people of color, it’s a perpetuated system of privilege and power in which those with positions of power and influence are blind to and/or unwilling to recognize certain advantages that are afforded them by virtue of their race, ethnicity, gender, class, religion, dominant language, etc.) are just a big no-no for my physical and spiritual nourishment.  I mean, isn’t there a brown or whole grain alternative? (head tilt)

As I sit alone at my table, the sounds of the electric fan whirring, car horns and trykes, and that oh-so-loveable and condoned woman beater Chris Brown’s (“I don’t judge the man.  I judge the music.” said maybe every person who’s never experienced abuse.) “Forever” cacophoning in the background, relishing my hot bowl of soup because no matter how hot it is, I will never turn down a bowl of hot soup, I do my best to not stare at the little boy as he thoroughly enjoys his meal with a new buddy that’s appeared by his side.  His companion is a bit healthier, but still malnourished.  He has smudges on his face that make the teacher in me want to lick my thumb and wipe them off only to follow-up with giving him and myself a healthy heaping of hand sanitzer (and a lesson in reading and hygiene)!  His hair is slightly bleached at the ends and he carries himself the way I imagine a young Jay-Z on the streets of Brooklyn (pre-hipster era of NYC, of course, you know, “the glory days” when you could do a line of coke then your partner at Studio 54 (or maybe both at the same time) and call it a good day…or so I’m told by my adventurous NYC-living parents in the 70’s.  Oh wait.  You can still do that just not at Studio 54 but at the local Shake Shack? Oh…got it.)  Anyways, as the first boy eats, I notice that the half of his face I saw previously while we were standing side-by-side is drastically different from the other half that I now see, as I sit facing him, and he perpendicular to me.

The side of his face I see explains why he has the fine motor skills of a 3 year old or eats as any red-blooded drunk-as-a-skunk frat bro would post-Beat-the-Clock…almost like a puppet whose strings controlling his arms are being yanked erratically by a mischievous puppet master.  Half his mouth looks like it’s pulled taut by an invisible fishing line, his right arm juts out as if he’s doing a permanent robot pose, elbow raised first.  He eats with his left hand, his hand holding the spoon as Beast did pre-Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”.  Not the most sensitive way to describe a boy eating, but his mangled fingers grasp the spoon and shovel rice-filled heap after rice-filled heap into his smiling, muttering mouth.  Now, I realize he was mumbling to me earlier because he can’t fully open his mouth what with his muscles pulling half of it upwards like he’s the Joker or just has perma-smirk.

He and his friend chat excitably about who knows what.  Toys? Girls? The latest crisis in Syria?  One minute they’re laughing and just like that, mid-conversation, his friend runs out into the street, beelines to a van stopped due to traffic, hand out, expectant, but not overly because he knows he’ll probably be ignored or minimized or rationalized away just like any problem in this country.  After the van shows no acknowledgement of his little self, he runs around it to the other side of the vehicle to help guide a different car out of the parking lot, again, right hand in the air, waving the “okay” to keep backing up, and left hand, lowered, straight out, palm up, awaiting the change from the driver.  After this quick hustle, his friend’s back just in time for the first boy to finish his meal of a mountain of rice.  They both walk out, with the first boy, doing a half-hail/half-wave back at the Ate who gave them food.

As the Ate cleaned up his plate, I stopped her as she walked by my table.  I asked her if she knew those boys (knowing full well she didn’t, but then again, I don’t want to assume).  As our conversation wholly in Tagalog goes (Why, yes, what do you know?  Living here and being thrust into quotidian life here has equipped me with some language skills, after all.  The pedagogy basically akin to teaching a kid to swim by throwing them head-first into the ocean.  While effective in its approach of acquiring a skill, this sink-or-swim technique is both terrifying and insensitive to the recipient of said knowledge, but I suppose that’s life. Wipes hand clean of any personal responsibility.), she basically says she gives them food (particularly those two boys who are regulars on our block) because they don’t have food.  She doesn’t give all the time, but sometimes.  She then asks if I’m from another country.  I say yes.  She says, “You may not be Filipino, but you have the heart of one.”.  I then tell her that my parents are Filipino, but I was born elsewhere, but irregardless, my being born in Canada and being raised in the States has given me a different understanding of life…a certain understanding that is constantly being questioned and challenged and having to be resorted and re-centered with every passing day here.  We leave our girl talk at that and carry on with our days, both giving a knowing smile of a connection made though it was through mutual pity/resignation to how life is for these young boys. 

I named this entry “Rice Soldiers” both as an allusion to this one nameless boy who made an impression on my spirit today and to the movie “Sundalong Kanin” that I saw last week as part of the Cinemalaya Movie Festival.  Long story short, the movie is disturbing, but sometimes, we need to be shaken up to come face-to-face to the many harsh, complex realities of life.  Sometimes, the most inhumane actions actually reveal more about humanity than any half-life spent in comfortable, ignorant bliss could ever afford a person.  Not condoning violence as a means to an end, but just saying, it’s about time this world wakes up from this slumber we’re in.

Summertime in Barcelona

Once upon a time, I went for a jog in Barcelona.

I was amped on my superb natural directional skills, love for a good cardio workout with a view, and fluency in Spanish (okay, fine, they speak Catalán in Barcelona…whatev). After being in Germany, though, then making it to a more familiar climate and culture that Spain offered, I felt invincible and unstoppable. This is pretty much how Beyoncé must feel on the daily, I suppose.

Well, as it turned out, I must’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere because my hour jog turned into an uphill two-hour escapade around the streets of Barcelona. Whenever I asked people for directions, they’d laugh and say a rough equivalent of “Girl, you are so damn far from where you wanna be.”

After lots of hills and turns and stops for directions along the way, I eventually made it back to the loft to my travel companion, all snug and comfy in bed still while I had already gotten in more than both her and my daily exercise allotment.

Fast forward 8 years, and I feel like I’m going for a similar type of run; the type of run with one intent at the onset just to find myself amidst a different journey while in the process of running. Just replace Barcelona and a summer European vacation with Metro Manila and a willful two-year commitment and it’s basically the same thing, right?

Sometimes I just get so tired and drained but just like that fateful run so many summers ago, I know I will look back at this stint in the motherland with appreciation because, as the wise and rhythmic Daddy Yankee says, “Lo que pasó, pasó.” (Side note: Whatever happened to Daddy Yankee?)

Well, frankly, sometimes a run is just a run and a day is just a day. Maybe so. Or maybe all the mind.body.green. I read is right and my chakras and spirit are being impounded and confounded by blockages in my chi and life force and we all need to collectively meditate for peace for this world to be lifted up out of the trenches it’s dug itself into.

Pwede rin.

Well, despite the chakra blockages and need for chi realignment, I somehow manage (not always gracefully but always authentically) to keep faith that every step I take is leading me eventually to where I’m supposed to be…wherever that may be. If you have any insight or recommendations, feel free to holler because I’m definitely open to directions just like I was that sunny day in Barcelona a seemingly lifetime ago.

Until my life’s purpose becomes clear as day to me and until I magically hit that moment of adulthood when I a) realize I am, indeed, an adult and b) decide and then take actions to own my adulthood and c) experience the instantaneous “got-it-togetherness” that of course comes with one reaching “adulthood”, I’ll just keep my pace and keep running.

Sitchoassdown

If you don’t know your context, SITCHOASSDOWN.

First of all, I will start with the understanding that though I have lived and worked amongst the masa in Metro Manila for the past year and some change, I am still and will always be disconnected due in part to my natural aloof personality and my Filipina-Canadian-Americanness.

I am no longer apologizing or making excuses for my Western upbringing and mentality.

However, I must say that context matters and for those who insert themselves into situations and environments hoping to change them for the better, having a true understanding of the workings and flow and values of the place matters instrumentally. Also, recognition of the role that your identity or mere presence plays on power dynamics matters. There may be an artificial, superficial, or temporary manifestation of change due to your presence, but at the end of the day, the showcase of progress retreats back to the comforts of the daily, dysfunctional grind.

After all, it is more dys(fun)ctional in the Philippines.

In other words, the Philippines ain’t changing for anybody anytime soon so sitchoassdown if you think your presence and aspirational words would spark some systemic social change. 

Sitchoassdown if you think, somewhere deep down, that the reason this country is still submerged in poverty and corruption and backwardness is easily boiled down to a reason of “crab mentality” or lack of knowledge of the importance of education.

I mean, WHO WOULDN’T WANT THEIR KID TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO FINISH SCHOOL?

You telling them to not drop-out isn’t going to stop that from happening when they have to quit in order to work to feed themselves and their siblings.

Sitchoassdown if you think one week will have you feel, REALLY FEEL, the experience of living, lingering, growing, loving, hating, fighting, finding peace, making sense, and negotiating your Americanness here.

Because like it or not, being American here has its perks, but it also brings its disadvantages. A double-edged and nuanced sword for those conscientious enough to recognize them.

The longer I stay here and work and toil and hope and dream and be shattered by reality, I grow angry. And, maybe that’s what this country needs. More people who are angry yet able to be VOCAL about their frustrations and not be VIOLENT nor be met with violence for speaking out for a better life, for criticizing, for being critical of government officials, the way things are run, etc.

I detest the lies and corruption I see at a school level. I hate the laziness and excuses and complacency I see. I hate the fact that I feel that ALL OF MY STUDENTS’ POTENTIAL IS HACKED AWAY WITH EVERY PASSING DAY IN THIS SYSTEM.

I also hate how all of these things are becoming part of me.

I’m not about to do mental manipulations and justify anything or anyone, myself, included.  I’m not about to re-write a story or history to make it easier to make sense of or digest because, quite honestly, nothing here makes sense, sometimes.

I’ve lied on forms. I’ve manipulated grades. I’ve made excuses for late work.

And, guess what, despite all this, there will be a one-dimensional narrative written of this experience here: that of the sinner or saint.  A brave hero going up to bat against the big, decrepit education system.  Telling off those cheaters and enablers–that’ll show them.  Yeah, right.  

Another one-dimensional narrative painted of the Philippines, a desolate developing nation of people amazingly always content and happy despite their circumstances though desperate and more than happy to be dragged out of its own mess and filth since by others since, clearly, they can’t do it on their own. (Please tell me you know that last statement is drenched in sarcasm. Please. Do.)

Either way, life goes on and except for 2 other people who understand first-hand the daily challenge of having to negotiate our very own identity of being American, of having to mute our being in order to maintain smooth relations with others one minute to having to flex our native English-speaking self in order to get better treatment or access to certain resources the next, no one else will understand the daily uphill struggle of teaching in these circumstances where our Americanness is both a liability and an asset (though mostly a liability).

Shit, dude. This country deserves better. It’s easy to put the kids in front and say, “Do it for the kids!”, but bottom line is EVERYBODY in this country who lives in poverty deserves better.

There is no romanticization of poverty.  Nor should there be any excuse for its existence in this day and age where so many have so much.  Excessiveness, in fact.

There is no heroic feat that should be extracted from those countrymen who idle their days away living in squalor and left-overs. Homes thrown together from scrap tarps, metals, branches, anything that can be found and patched together to only have to be rebuilt the minute it rains or the wind blows.

There is no inspiration to be found for happy, yet ignorant, children running along side the road who’s only idea of the world is the block on which they live.

The spirit is resilient and the attitude is grateful, but when you’re left with no other choice, what else can you do? Lament? Bitch? Moan? Write an online blog about poverty like me?

Nope.

You can’t.

And even though there may be computer shops galore in the Metro area, that doesn’t serve as a sign that poverty is on the decline and technology and progress is on the rise.

You gotta survive so if saying “bahala na” (which is essentially “fuck it” in my book) gets you through another day being an eye-sore to the rich, an embarrassment to the government, and an afterthought to many of your fellow countrymen who are so accustomed to children working in the street or begging in the stores and restaurants for spare change, they’re not even moved anymore, I guess that’s what you gotta do.

When you teach students one year, then find out they’re not returning to school this year so that their younger sibling can go to school, what do you do as a teacher? Tell them to stay in school so they can escape the cycle of poverty they were born into?

Yeah. That helps.

THEY KNOW THAT ALREADY.

Maybe what YOU don’t know is that most people here don’t have a choice.

Many of these students work because that is the only way they will have food or fare to get to school. And these students aren’t just random, faceless kids. These students are my colleagues’ students. These students are my students. They are the Reza’s, the Rizaldy’s, the Mark’s, the Ashley’s. 

These are the reasons that despite my extreme frustration, fear, and fuck-it-all-ness I am still here.

My point is, the one year plus change of living, LIVING TALAGA, like a “common” Filipino with spikes of American privilege thrown in there every now and then, has given me an insight (not full, but definitely way more than, say, a week stay) into life here, and all I gotta say is, most Fil-Am’s really don’t get it nor will they ever.

And that sucks.

The struggle to actually survive is real here. Lack of money, livelihood (and, no, I’m not talking about yet another NGO bag-weaving project), food, sanitary conditions, housing, health care, sound education, etc. is present every day.

I mean, clean air, and a government that creates ways to ensure air quality?  What’s that?

What can Fil-Am’s do to help? Host boughie get-togethers and coming-of-the-minds to talk about the injustices that transpire here on a day-to-day basis? Send balikbayan boxes of old and unwanted clothes and bars of Ivory soap and bottles of Jergens lotion and cans of Spam? Send money?  Apply for prestigious programs and gain yet another contact for a growing network of do-gooders and social omnipotents who are on the verge of great social change?

I don’t know. 

I don’t know what can be done to change things here. And, by things, I mean poverty and the complicity that seems to surround it.

I may not know, but I do know that doling out free advice and inspirational words from people who just don’t get the real happenings of the day-in, day-out here is garbage and an unintentional undercutting of my experience here.  

And I take it as a big slap in the face to the work I try to do here every day.

Just as I’m sure the other public school teachers who I work with see my presence as.  They’ve been teaching for 20 plus years than I have in a joke of a system and here I am, full of piss and fire, staying subversive and anything but submissive.  Just another headache in the journey to progress for the nation.  For the nation, I say! 

And don’t get it twisted, I may be admonishing others to sitchoassdown, but I’ve been sitting down this entire time, too. 

I can’t even begin to wrap my head around all of this bullshit, but all I know is that I got a class of kids to try to teach tomorrow, so for one more day, I’ll put this away, unresolved, lingering, and maybe that’s just how it has to be for us all to go on with our days.

 

Destiny’s Children

Today, after school, I chose to work in the library. As fate would have it, three of the retiring teachers at the school were also in the library enjoying the air-conditioning and electric fannage, no doubt. Seeing that we’re sitting within a foot of each other and I want to reach out more to the teachers at school without fear of my “Americanness” and “nosebleed” overwhelming the general atmosphere (aka I finally have more balls to unapologetically be me), I figure why not ask them about their career path. I mean, after teaching for 25+ years, you’re bound to have some perspective. Besides, this is a prime opportunity to gain wisdom from these women.

I asked each of them independently why they chose to become a teacher. Somewhat surprising to my manifest-destiny self, each of them said they didn’t want to be a teacher, but reconciled their path in life as it is “their fate”.

One wanted to work in an office job, but due to her parents wanting a teacher in the family then later on, for practical reasons that come with having a family, she became a teacher.

Another also wanted to work in an office job, but with the twists and turns of life, she ended up in the classroom.

The third said she originally did not want to teach, but she did it and dedicated her life to it. For this reason, she said, she’s still single (she’s aged gracefully and is probably closer to 70 years old now).

Fate. Fate. Fate.

While there is empowerment in choice, there is also empowerment in acceptance. The path towards acceptance doesn’t just come about passively, though. So, while I can see it be easy to judge these women for their “acquiescence” to a profession they originally did not want, I also see a lot to be admired and commended for these women (who always look AMAZING, btw. Fresh-faced, neatly-coiffed, not showing the frustration of the day and the kids. Insta-role modelage just from that because, lemme tell you, I look a HOT EFFIN’ mess come 10 am).

They essentially learned to make peace with the life they have. Maybe this peace (and Oil of Olay) is what has their faces looking so smooth and young.

Maybe it’s the foolishness of youth that has us kicking and screaming for the world to change. For reform. For revolution. For a bloody head on the cutting board to take accountability for all the injustices in the world. Poverty. (shudder). Sexism. (shudder). Racism. (shudder…but, oh wait. Since the World Cup has established that it is appropriate for us to #saynotoracism, I guess we can scratch that one off the list of things to fight).

All the systemic bullshit that irks my nerves, adds fire to my words, and keeps universities funded and the world go ’round. Ay naku talaga. Seriously, though, if we had no problems whatsoever, how would the world be? That’s something to consider. Maybe, as humans, we always need something to strive towards–some kind of dynamic tension–to keep us moving forward. Or, just plain, moving.

True balance in the world. There is no peace without conflict. No love without hate. No Britney without Christina. You know what I mean.

With my second year teaching one-month in, I keep asking myself what do I want at the end of the day? What do I want at the end of this experience? To leave feeling heavy and tired and over-worked and robotic? Or do I want to leave feeling a sense of satisfaction knowing that I gave my all and the kids learned, were affirmed, and grew in their confidence and love for self, others, and country? Because, honestly, that’s what I want.

Curriculum and grades be (semi-) damned. At the end of the day, I want to know that I contributed to the development of a human spirit. And no wacked-out test can measure that…and I’m okay with it. And I’m pretty sure others are, too.

While these three women didn’t quite have their own personal choice in becoming a teacher and I did and every day am learning to make the conscious choice to own my role as a teacher, they still serve as symbols of life being just that–LIFE.

Buhay.

Sure. They could be bitter, they could be angry that they didn’t get to do what they wanted so many years ago, but maybe, just maybe, we have to remember, that there’s always a rhyme and reason to things working out the way they do…even if we don’t quite know why at the moment. And, that’s where the peace (and impeccable skin) comes in.

Peace through faith.

With this pleasant conversation with these ladies about 30-40 years my senior, I leave with my faith renewed in some way. And, for that simple interaction, I am thankful and feeling more empowered knowing that I can still fight the good fight, not just through critique and judgement, but rather through peace and love.

Learning a lot out here every damn day and as tiring as all this Oprah, personal-growth ish is, I know that it, actually, is my fate. And I accept it. Maybe not graciously nor gracefully, at first, but I’m getting there.

Learning how to find peace in a world of chaos, mishaps, and misfortunes. These three women, whether they know it or not, taught me that.

Learning to be more thankful for the juxtaposition in my days and learning to be like water.

Dear Ellie Goulding

Dear Ellie Goulding,

Hello, Ms. Goulding!  Greetings from Metro Manila!  My name is Leah Marie T. Villanueva and let me just say how much your music and artistry has helped me through some uncomfortable moments in the past few months.  “Uncomfortable” meaning just down right soul-jerking moments where I could proverbially smack a bee and not “uncomfortable” in the sense of those actresses on Tampax commercials who have “back leak” or whatever they call it here in the Philippines.  I mean, seriously, ladies, WHO WEARS WHITE SHORT SHORTS WHEN YOU SURFING THE CRIMSON WAVE.  Like, duh.

Anyways, I’m writing you this letter of sorts while sitting in an overly frigid tea house wearing a cut off t-shirt that shows my leopard print bra (scandalous, I know) and shorts with my hair tied back a la Chiquita Banana lady with a bandana that symbolizes resistance (solidarity fist gesture made) sipping on an oversized Mason jar full of grapefruit-flavored green tea just wishing that ice cubes would fall from the sky, Olaf the Creepy Snowman would saunter down the block consequently causing the street right outside the window to turn into a big, plastic yellow slip-n-slide (free of rocks underneath because those little pebbles you neglected to pick up ALWAYS hurt so so so bad) and we could all just cool the fuck down.

I mean, the first thing I do now anytime I get any drink that is cold is I put the bottle, glass, plastic disposable cup, whatever container it’s in to my forehead then neck, then finally drink it.  After the first few gulps (because it’s that hot out here), I repeat the sequence and try to cool my head, neck, then drink. Head, neck, drink. And repeat.

Dear God, I am so thankful for that one other HOT AS EFF (to which I voluntarily and gleefully subjected myself) weekend in the desert in California where I first saw your music in a whole new light.  I mean, I totes gots a deep farmer’s tan from the hangoutage.  Tan lines on your biceps are sexy, right?  Anyways, ’twas a weekend of gallavant around the Californian desert in a house whose original intent was to serve as an acid-tripping pad for the first (and quite possibly only) Playboy bunny of Native American descent with a few cousins and their legion of artistic, totes Los Angeleno friends.  The weekend was a time to chill, enjoy the scene, each other’s company, the stars above, and the coyotes amidst (ugh…if only I can unhear some of the gnarly noises them coyotes make while getting dinner aka ripping some poor animal to shreds).  

While vibing out in the desert, we streamed Coachella and, as fate would have it, while chilling on the couch, reflecting on life, fried turkey, and whiskey (I’m sure), you come on the tv and kill it.  Kill it, as in those coyotes can’t even compete.  Girl, I never really had that much love for you and just considered you another pop star with “Lights”, but you pretty much won me over with your total giving it over to the artistic spirits in your rendition of “Anything Can Happen”.  ROCKED OUT, mama.  Fo’ sho.  Props, yo.

Well, anyways.  Since that day, anytime I needed a pick-me-up or just something to jam out to, I’d blast your music…those damn-catchy tunes that got my head bobbin’ along and my body swaying as I sit.  I mean, that’s what I’m doing right now.  (Pero, like, really, are you dating homeboy Calvin Harris?  I could google that ish, but you know, don’t wanna be a pseudo-stalker or whatev.).  And, yeah, so this exceptionally hot day where I SWEAR I could feel my sweat evaporating off my skin, particularly in the area behind my bra (I swear, it’s like steam was coming off my body when I changed out of my non-breatheable teacher’s uniform today), and anything I was doing from inhaling ice-cold buko juice to placing my face directly in front of one of my fans (I have nay NEED multiple fans in my room) on full-blast to drinking ice cold water to showering in screamably-frigid water didn’t seem to ease the literal pain of the heat, I automatically jumped to the coping mechanism of “I NEED SOME MOTHEREFFIN’ ELLIE GOULDING IN MY LIFE.”  Truth be told, though, I’m unsure of how to pronounce your last name.  The “u” throws me off.  Ethic names.  Meh.

Anyways, as if the heat wasn’t enough, because I mean, it’s just the tropics in summer time, you know, whatev?, the interwebs was slowwwwwww assssssss (preferred word of choice…) fuh.  Ferk?  Fok? F–ughhh—ckkk.  I mean, the topic of conversation amongst some friends today via Facebook chat was traveling.  And not just traveling to get out of Metro Manila, but going to some of the coldest places on earth.  I will always cheer for any Florida or Toronto-based team, then it extends to the U.S. or Canada, in general, so if I am contemplating going to a country that very well TRIED the Mighty Ducks in any of the movies (1, 2, or 3), you know I’m serious about finding relief from this weather.  Maybe for them it was just a cool, new place to go to.  For me, it was that and a legit mental escape to cooler weather.  I mean, when you’re ready to go to Norway, Sweden, Findland, and that devilish Iceland and them Vikings steppin’ up to Bombay and his boys (psha) and the warmest piece of clothing you have is a college hoodie, I think you trynna cool down in some way, shape, or form.

So, take the extreme heat that gets you falling asleep with two fans intentionally positioned directly in your face, saturated with dew drops of sweat around your head, pooling along the back of your neck, back, and the creases in your elbows and knees, then has you waking up and peeling your sheets off of you because the sweat made them stick to you like the way an ice-cream wrapper from the ice cream truck sticks to your hand when you open the wrapper to eat the ice cream, but it’s so hot that it’s insta-melting the second the ice cream man hands it over and you have no source of water or hand sanitizer to de-stick it, feeling like you want to shower, yet again, but realizing as soon as you get out of the shower, you’re just gonna sweat again, I was sweltering in my own-created masungitness (aka bitch mode).  

My head was pounding.

My breath was short.

I just. could. not.

In the words of many a teenager, I can’t even.  

Well, couldn’t even.

Now, being the independent woman I am (hairflip…hairflip), I decided that since I can’t, you know, install air conditioning in our house or control global warming or do a damn thing about the weather except make comments about it and wish it away, I picked my tired, borderline dehydrated, borderline raging bitch ass up, walked across the street, and settled down in one of the about 29308538624 per square foot tea shops Metro Manila has.  And praise Jesus(ah).  Air conditioning, coupled with an ice cold grapefruit-flavored tea, and suitable internet speed, and here we are.

So, Ellie Goulding, I have you to thank for getting me out of this damn heat and helping me re-focus my energy to (somewhat) loving life again.  (Girl, trust me, I totally did a “new-age”, “re-shifting your attention” bullshit to being all like, “Living without air-conditioning and being super uncomfortable in this heat and having all my electrolytes leaking out of my body is good for me because it teachers me how the majority of the world live or it helps moisturize my skin or it shows me just how far my comfort zone stretches, etc.”.  But, now, let’s call a spade, a spade; THIS HEAT CAN DRIVE YOU CRAZY…and is just unhealthy for you, roight?!

So, again, Ellie Goulding, I thank you for keeping this chick in check so that she doesn’t talk outta her neck making her fingers snap to a bunch of Grade 3 students and elementary school staff tomorrow.  The motivation to hear your music and good vibes that come from it coupled with the promise of an ice cold drink and even more ice cold air-conditioned environment was enough to convince me to spend money on a (non-alcoholic) drink and get out of the house in search of cooler lands.  What I’m saying is, I’m pretty much an adventurer foraying into territories unknown.  A quintessential Magellan or Lewis & Clark, essentially.  Or, more precisely, exactly like Dora.  Precisely.

Her’es to living the dream (whatever that may mean), manifesting destiny, and to you, Ellie Goulding.  Keep rockin’ out and know that you will always be on my Soundcloud account.   You and all the 290538927432 remixes of your songs.

Peace, love, and lots of ice coldness.

Leah