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?
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.