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.

 

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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

Organic Juice

Well, it finally happened.

Today, while in the street with the rain pouring down on me and the rest of Metro Manila (not to sound too much like an Enrique Iglesias music video…pre-mole removal, of course) , it happened for the first time in what seems like forever.

I.

Fell.

In…

A puddle!

(Okay, okay.  Not a puddle.)

I fell in…

LOVE.

Love?

Yes.

LOVE.

L-O-V-E.

I can finally, honestly, whole-heartedly say I finally had a moment in which I was in love with the Philippines.

You see, it’s been a bit over one year since voluntarily yet, quite frankly, impetuosly uprooted myself from my comfortable North American existence to go work for a brand new non-profit organization and live in the Philippines, the birthplace of both my parents with no language fluency, no clue about living and thriving in a non-North American nation for more than a season (I still count my summer in Mexico as a nice cultural immersion), and no context for the public school system.  A winning combination of sorts, ‘di ba?

Anyway, this past year has been an uphill climb to put it mildly.  Lots of frustration with cultural and language differences, lots of feelings of alienation and displacement, lots of discomfort and negative feelings yet no outlet for them because, well, there really wasn’t any space, time, nor skill, necessarily, to process and make peace with extreme culture shock and other personal issues including but not limited to complexities with cultural identity and the politics associated with such, feelings of guilt and shame for being a “neo-colonizer” of sorts (a label that was self-imposed), and, plus, it’s kinda…sorta…well, yeah, frowned upon to be anything other than Mary Effing Sunshine 24/7.  So, take all these things into account and you have a cocktail for a good ole’ struggle bus.

Well, today, I jumped off said struggle bus.

FINALLY.

Amidst walking around our new ‘hood and realizing how many amazing places are within a quick 5 minute walk, including an affordable organic restaurant, my heart just jumped and did it’s little happy dance.  But, it wasn’t just the proximity to cool, cute, chic places that made me happy.  It was the fact that I now KNOW what, who, and where makes my happy.  I finally know how to cultivate a deep, self-sustaining sense of happiness and purpose for myself that I know can weather and will carry me through any storm.

It’s like my spirit finally felt at peace and safe and not constantly bombarded by all the stimuli and straight up poverty that’s constantly in your face.  I mean, how do you deal when a kid no older than 10 years old comes up right next to you and asks in both a monotone, yet sing-song tone, for change?  Really, though.  How do you?  (And, my little brother, if I could give you change, I would, but I’m trying to give you social change so that might take a little longer, but I hope we both keep faith in the universe in the meanwhile.  Easy to say when you’re not starving and your basic needs are met, but I do pray we all keep faith in something greater than us and what we see.)

This past year was full of grapplings and negotiations of self, but now, finally, upon finding an organic juice depot, I finally let go.

I let go of the doubt. The fear. The insecurity. The negative self-talk.

And with that (hairflip), I’m, like, totally perfect so we can call it a night and shut down this rambling, over-analyzy blog and move on to more pressing issues such as the next episode of Keeping up With the Kardashians.  Oh wait.  Is that show even still on and when the hell did the two little girls get so grown and hot?  Srsly, though…

(Unplugs laptop).

No, but really, when did Kendall and Kylie get so hot?  Haha.  Anyways, as everything in life is a process, I recognize now, that I needed to feel lost.  I needed to feel isolated.  I needed to feel incompetent.

I needed to experience these strong emotions to learn how to handle them.  I needed to learn how to problem solve in an environment where the only constant is inconsistency.  I needed to learn how to find beauty in everything–parang, EVERYTHING.  I needed to learn how to be patient with others and myself.  I needed to learn how to be humble.  I needed to learn how to be grateful.  I needed to learn how to be vulnerable.  I needed to learn how to be open.  I needed to learn how to listen to others and myself and long-time silenced and dampened spirit.  I needed to learn how to be open to the possibilities.

I needed

to learn

how to love.

Through the tumult of last year and the year prior, I gained perspective, grit, and yeah, a few pounds, maybe (ha), but ain’t no biggie, because the body part that gained the most weight was my HEART. (Ohhhhhhhhhhh snap!)

But, seriously, through the struggle and anger and frustration, I learned to make peace with my culture, peace with my circumstance, and peace with my life.  I learned that I truly do have the ability and POWER to create the life I want.  And so do you.

And, if all it took to get to this point was one year of sacrifice and wading around sometimes aimlessly, sometimes feeling like a cat thrown in water, flailing around for some semblance of grounding, then I say it was definitely worth it because the next 40, 50, maybe 60? years of mine have been forever altered because I’ve learned how to shift my personal paradigm (“para-dig-em’s”) .  I’ve learned how to change, how to embrace change, and how to allow myself to be changed.

Looking forward to more self-awareness, more spiritual growth, and a school year in which I teach like the pro I know I am so these kids can have the next 40, 50, maybe 60? years of their young lives changed for the better, too.

Language and culture barrier be damned.  Systemic shenanigans be pushed aside.  I’ve learned to focus on the good that’s going on, and, despite the very many obstacles, there is a lot of good.  There always is a lot of good.

I’m ready to do the damn thing…and enjoy some freshly pressed organic juice!

When I Grow Up…

This past weekend, my former flag football teammates and I had a mini-reunion of sorts in the fabulousness that is NYC.  Well, Brooklyn to be exact.  Every bit just as fabulous as Manhattan (even MORE) but without as much hustle and bustle and public urination (or, so I hope).

Seeing these girls again after about eight years since last lacing up our cleats and fun-and-gunning it on that sweet, humid Florida turf had me reminiscing about college and our journey since those “glory days” of yesteryear.  One particular memory was that of a house party my roommates and I threw that was themed “Pussies and Ninjas”.  All were welcomed, but the catch was you had to come dressed as a Pussy Cat Doll or a Ninja.  No exceptions.  Some extra-ambitious folks even came dressed up as a Pussy Cat Ninja which was totally appreciated.  The best costume won a prize; a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pen for the best ninja and a weave for the best PCD.  Needless to say, the party was a hit and even sparked a legacy of the party theme.  To this day, I hear some variation of the party is still thrown, be it Pirates and Ninjas, Zombies and Ninjas, or just anything with Ninjas, really I suppose.

And, come to think of it, those parties may have had no relation to the first party, but whatev.  It’s a party, it’s a party, it’s a party, heyyyyyyy!

Irregardless, fun was had.  Folks got drunk.  Breakdancing sporadically ensued.  Vomit was vomited. And memories were made as they do in any true college town fashion.

What most folks outside of my roommates and closest friends didn’t know, though, was that the reason for the party was to celebrate me not being pregnant.  Before you envision me doing the Maury Povich dance usually reserved for men who have the paternity test on their side, I have to emphasize how deeply scared I was.  I mean, shiiiiit, bro.  Kids?  Me?  Hells-to-the-no.

Having peed on numerous sticks and waited, in earnest, and still not getting satisfaction in the answer given (or lack of answer, given) had me sweating like R.Kelly at a middle school dance.  (Alright, let’s leave R. Kelly out of this.)  Essentially, I was a ball of anxiety and stress.  I brought myself to the school infirmary to have a blood test done when my other bodily fluids wouldn’t give me the answer I was looking for and felt like an elephant was lifted off my shoulders when the extremely polite, perky, and supportive Southern-accented nurse called me and sassily said, “Leah, girl, you are NOT pregnant.”  It was like we high-fived over the phone.  I felt it in the tone of her voice.

So, parties and football and bullshit aside, what does all lead to today?

Well, I’m still not pregnant.  And I still celebrate that every day.  Kids are great and all, but honey, I ain’t there yet.  And don’t plan on being for another few years.

However, reflecting, again, on my journey since finishing undergrad in 2006, I would have thought, by now, about 6 months from turning 30, I would have been living with my boyfriend in a respectable apartment or single-family house, rocking a rock that would break my arm or been on the verge of “sealing the deal”, and been in a career that provided me my own office, name plate, and business cards.  And, ahem, a 401K.  (Can a girl get some financial planning up in here?!)

As my current state would turn out, though, the truth is I am intermittently shoving Publix chocolate chip cookies in my face and typing this piece while my tablet spews out Nicki Minaj incessantly spitting Busta’s “Rwar, rear, like a dungeon dragon” line in my homegirl’s sizable-as-all-hell apartment in Brooklyn Heights, wearing my floral-printed duster at the dining room table, figuring out what I want to do today (and for the rest of my life, for that matter).  And, officially, my day started around 12:30pm.  A respectable time for any exhausted traveler to wake-up and roll-out of bed to go straight to munching on peanut brittle while playing Candy Crush.

Totally respectable.

I am single (and, honestly, loving it except for the part when you have to navigate skeezy dudes and their pick-up lines which include but are not limited to, “Hey girl.  If you’re ovulating, he’ll impregnate you.” Sigh.  Gotta love St. Petersburg and all the classiness that ensures there.).  Interestingly enough, however, my psychic today (a lady named “Kitty”…I know.  I kid you not.), was semi-hassling me to get out there and get married, get pregnant, and have the 2-3 children I am “destined to be a mother to”.  Like. WHOA.  She was all New York on me saying, “What’s the matter?  Get out there.  You’re young.  You’re beautiful.”  (Reacting to my slightly hesitant face.)  “I’m not saying sleep with every Tom, Dick, or Harry, but get out there.  Date.  Be friends with benefits.”  (Again, reacting to my slightly hesitant face.)  “What?  Did I say anything wrong?”

Ummm…I guess not, Miss Kitty.  I guess not.

Anyway, the 401K I started when I first became employed full-time at 21 years of age is somewhere in this intangible cloud I created of “grown up stuff I’ll check on later…or, ideally, that my future husband can take care of as I tend to more ethereal matters”.  The business cards and name plate from my former position are in storage boxes at my sister’s house in Pasadena since I don’t really have a permanent address.

You see, I lead a somewhat nomadic existence which I, quite frankly, LOVE.

I love being free, able to go, and able to do what I wanna, when I wanna, where I wanna, with whomeva I wanna.  (Snappity-snap).

Sin embargo, if you told my over-achieving, Type A, go-getter, and unbeknownst-at-the-time, somewhat socially-conforming 21 year-old-self (you know, the assembly line of life–graduate, marry, kids) that in 8 years you will still be searching for what exactly you want to do in life, you won’t have a car, house, or person with whom to build this future, I would have laughed and felt that my life was so sad.  So. Tragically. Sad. But, as with time and life experience builds insight and inner wisdom, I am chilling and so happy for my life-unexpected rather than mindlessly going through the “should’s” of what my life is supposed to be.

My point in writing this entry is that I know a lot of folks just graduated college and have all these hopes and dreams and promises for their future.  Their amazing, exciting, whirlwind of a future.  For graduating, congratulations.  That is quite an accomplishment that the majority of the world doesn’t even get to imagine because they can’t even fathom the experience (since they don’t have access to education).

Now, with this excitement and very real fear of the upcoming future, I know a lot of folks are going to be hit so hard in the face by “reality” and the “real world” that it may throw them for a tale spin.  Because, let’s face it, COLLEGE IS IN NO WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM, THE “REAL WORLD”.  Ninja, please.  Get out of here with that shit.

Anyway, may my winding, receding, progressing, and all around, topsy-turvy, here-there-everywhere-yet-nowhere life thus far be an example that it’s okay to be a bit unsure of what you want to do.  It’s okay to feel a bit lost, or totally and utterly lost and underwhelmed at your life post-graduation.  Ummm…on the reals, life is amazing and all, but every day is not an effin’ fiesta.  Meaning, your life may very well become a routine of wake up, work, work out (if you’re so disciplined to keep this habit up), eat, sleep, repeat.  Work life (as many of us have it unless we’re women and men of leisure) is very routine, mundane, and mind-numbing, at times.

But, guess what, that’s part of growing up.

Or…is it?

I’m rambling and this post is getting uncomfortably long (even for me), but my point is yes, most likely you will be faced with realities of your life that make you feel stagnant, bored, uninspired.  But, guess what?  That’s you, me, and about everyone else.  If no one has ever felt that way, then they are lying to themselves or have mastered this game of life and I’d really love to learn everything I can from them.

Don’t sweat the technique, though.  Eventually, this fear, anxiety, and routine that makes you feel like your glory days of drunken college binge drinking and greasy pizza soak-up sessions afterwards were the “time of you life” will hopefully kick your complacent, sleepy butt into gear to wake up and really shape the life you want.  The glorious, awe-inspiring, hella-dopalicious, Barney Stinson-like (wait…really? Yeah…let’s not use that as a descriptor because meh…) existence that you want, crave, and ultimately, deserve.

Pulling a Rihanna and T.I. and saying, “Live you life.”

Be messy, be crazy, be spontaneous.

Say “YES” to the random comedian who makes one (just one) funny joke about Drake and agree to meet up with him.

Go on that date with the gentleman who said you look nice in your newly-bought hoop earrings and further continues to just say straight up that you’re pretty.

Laugh out loud at that dumb kid who’s running in front of you at the grocery store and ends up tripping on his own feet, face-planting himself into the linoleum of Trader Joe’s.  (I mean, really, where is this kid’s mother?!)

Do it.

Love it.

Relish it.

And, if you don’t like it or anything, change it.

After all, whatever it is when you “grow up”, it will be of your own creation.  May as well make it what you want.

The Weekend Update

Sigh.

Sweet laziness and fat cat life.

Today, was my first day off in a long, long time (weekends included).

This much needed free-day paired with the extreme heat and poor air circulation with a mild serving of hangover on top all accumulated into an all-out veg fest all day for me today. 

A marvelous day spent accomplishing nothing but relaxation.

During my reprieve, I watched a ton of YouTube SNL clips just because who doesn’t love a good, well-crafted and delivered laugh?  Plus, I adore all that is Prince and Maya Rudolph so this skit had my heart dancing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNJv6DffcFg.

Anyway, watching Prince and “Mayonce” aside, I watched a few clips of “the Weekend Update”, my fave part of SNL.  A nice staple that I knew would always get a smirk from my face.

Seeing that we just concluded one year of teaching here, I figured I’d give a quick “Weekend Update” of my reflections and thoughts on this year.  While most of my time here has been spent adjusting to overall life and culture here, I cannot deny the academic roots that are part of me.  I mean, I spent about 7-8 years studying and/or working in a university-setting so of course, this is part of me.  While this may not be as entertaining as Jimmy and Tina or Seth and Amy’s recap, here it goes, my “Weekend Update” on the entirety of this first year of teaching.

1.  Mean Girls.  There is a definite Mean Girl culture in my classroom and in the school, for that matter.  Not to blanket statement it and say it’s because girls are jealous of each other, I’m going to go a bit deeper and just say that the passive-aggressiveness I witness and experience first-hand be it with my students or with other co-workers and colleagues, relays to me a complex system of power dynamics and the skewed distribution of such.  While politics makes for interesting bed partners, I understand the situation influences who your buddies are and to what extent, but I’m just overall disappointed at the two-facedness I see amongst other adults in my purview and am fearful of the fruit blossoming in my little kids.  Confrontation and communication is uncomfortable and awkward, but, honey, if you don’t like being bullied, don’t let them bully you.  Easier said than done, though, of course.

2.   Pop culture trash.  Can we PLEASE have other options on TV other than hyper-dramatized soap operas and gimmicky game/talent/variety shows?  Our kids are perfect mirrors of their world and all I can say is when you have a lot of little girls able to body roll and shimmy their way perfectly to a routine they see on TV yet not be able to recite their 4’s times tables, there’s a problem.

Lil’ mama, your worth is not dependent upon how “sexy” or pretty you are.  Neither is it determined by how “cool” you are so that’s why you gotta write notes to your barkada telling so-and-so not to hang out with so-and-so.  Save the drama for your mama.  But, then again, based on SEVERAL interactions and events I’ve had with parents, particularly your mothers (since, let’s face it, there weren’t many fathers around), I can see that the drama was, in fact, saved for them and is coming back two-fold.

My boys, who will one day be men, your worth is not based on how “macho” or “tough” you are.  I pray you learn this and soon.  I don’t even wanna go further into the seeming inflexibility of gender roles and mimicry of gay culture, but just know, it’s there.

3.  Individuals versus Systems.  Yup. Any system has its flaws and the education system of the United States of America is not exempt.  Perhaps because my eyes are more attuned to the inner working of that system overseas seeing that my past professions were in both the K-12 public education system and the higher ed system of Florida, I could still see the inefficiencies and injustices yet not be egregiously disturbed by them.  Here, however, everything was a shell shock to my senses.  Since the process of cultural adaptation and adjustment can be very unnerving and simply a roller coaster of confusion, frustration, awe, acceptance, all jumbled together and tossed back and forth back and forth like Aaliyah (R.I.P.), heck, even traumatizing to some point, I realize that the ways that things are run here bother me more deeply than they would in other places.

From what I understand and please correct me if I’m wrong, if the Filipino public education system was modeled after the U.S.’s, it’s of merit to highlight that the entire structure of the American public education system was based on Protestant values and ideals.  Essentially, when these WASP’s (literally) shipped over from Europe to the States so many years ago (like, I mean, dinosaurs were still around, right?), they built this system of schools as a means to preserve their culture.  Being in a new, potentially dangerous environment of the unknown in what would become the U.S.of A. had folks really wiggin’ out about a loss of their way of life so as a means to preserve their values, morals, and to save souls from going to hell, essentially, they set up these schools to be vessels through which traditional ideals were transferred from one generation to the next.  While the family was deemed the main source of this transfer of knowledge, with the move to the new land, many were fearful that there would be a breakdown in the family structure and integrity which would then trickle into a weathering of morals.

So, in a nutshell, the original purpose in American public schools wasn’t to fill students with knowledge and to ensure that a nation’s future soar and fulfill their promise and potential–it was to ensure that all of society had similar values and morals and upheld them.  Schools’ original purpose was to uphold WASP values in society to make sure things didn’t run awry and shit wasn’t cray, essentially.  This pattern is also reflected in the original function of Central Park in New York.  (Google that ish, homie).

So, what’s that all mean for the Philippines?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing, because history and the past have no influence whatsoever on how individuals within a society view themselves and go about their lives.  Individually, the situation may seem meaningless and simply-localized, but zooming out to the big picture, the individual actions and “ripples”, so to say, matter.  They matter so much.  The power to change this country and the world really lies in the individual.  Systems don’t change on their own and won’t change over night so although a major overhaul and coming to consciousness and action is needed, it’s the day-to-day chipping away of inappropriate practices and inefficient tendencies that will (hopefully) create a chain of change for the benefit of future generations.

Let’s talk concrete, shall we?  Intentional lying and manipulation of class scores, cheating on standardized tests by teachers and school personnel, and downright abrasive and abusive practices by teachers to both their students and other teachers have to stop.  But, when you’re in that culture and community, are you going to be the one who protests and stands out with the potential risk being ostracized from the clan?  Probably not because in a weird, twisted way, you are entwined in that community and need them just as much as they need you (to some extent).  You can do more change from within even if that means getting your hands a little dirty.

Too bad.  I thought I came here to teach not to compromise my morals.

4. Image is Everything. One of my biggest take-away’s of this year is this:

The quest (intentional choice of Quixotic term) for educational equity in the Philippines doesn’t need a feel-good, “PR’d” version that makes people feel inspired and uplifted by the promise of progress and saves face for those who are in positions to actually enact change and uphold proper educational practices.  These kids and this nation (because that’s what the education system is about, after all, REAL people and their lives and the way in which their lives affect this nation’s livelihood) need a dose of reality and truth and not some easy-to-please and easy-to-digest over-romanticized version of the tales of the classroom.

May those who deliver this message of over-idealism and positive thinking to a point of self-delusion reach a point of realization and see past their myopic viewpoints and reach this point FAST because the more time we spend lying to ourselves and rationalizing and avoiding responsibility-taking and making our dreams and visions replace the realities of our days, the longer we waste in waiting for this country to change for the better.

Life is what you make of it.  Despite the ugly sides I like to grapple with, dissect and analyze, and eventually share via this blog and in-person conversations and dialogues (which I think we need more of), I still have hope in my students.  Do I have hope in this system?  No.  Not really.  And that’s okay.  I choose an authentic view of my situation with all its greyness and ambiguity and complexities rather than one of a flattened, overly simplified version of the die-hard hero who’s own overly-inflated self-importance to this movement, where mind you, there have been legions of dedicated Filipinos (my Grandmother, included) who for many-a-year sweat and toil and drown in the brokenness of the same system in which I had the opportunity to dip my toe into for one year, has taken the reigns over the actual day-to-day grind of it all.

Bottom line and I will speak for myself: This year has been an incredible, even magical, at times, journey, but even though there have been moments of glory, I am not, nor will I ever be, a hero.  Please don’t regard myself (or others, even) in this light.  Because we are human and as humans, we stumble, we fall, we cry, we breakdown, we don’t give a eff, we shut down, we care too much.  We are hot, complicated, beautiful messes…just like you are, I’m sure.  

This idea of nation building is lofty and aspirational, but speak of this to those scraping by on the day-to-day just to survive…to actually just survive and find enough to eat to sustain them physically, to find shelter or the side of a curb on which to lay, to find a place to bathe and eliminate wastes with as much dignity as a human should be afforded, and I’m not sure what answer you’ll get.  You see, while I sit and ponder and write, I know that a vast majority of the people who this “nation building” and this “progress” is for, are out there, picking their way through garbage to find a bit of food or something of value to re-sell or build their home with.  So, even though I’m working on changing a system, I do give Skyflakes or a few pesos to those who are begging.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Don’t support them.  They are backed by syndicates and the only way to break the dependence is to not support it.  I get it, but you tell that to the 5 year old who’s sitting with their sister, barefoot, dirt-smeared, begging for change at the MRT.  My 7 pesos purchase of Skyflakes might be in vain sometimes, but that’s a 7 peso risk I’m willing to take.

All in all, I am grateful for the year, the people in my life, and my students and I pray, pray, pray that they have a better future than the realities of their present lives, but I can’t let this year go by without addressing the realities of the situation from my perspective.  As a spiritual and academic-minded free spirit with a good head on her shoulders (I suppose a walking contradictions of sorts), I’ve had my fill of shading and skirting the issue at hand for the sake of image.  Flat out, I’m not feeling those who manipulate this reality of the public school system into some sort of PR campaign and somehow glorify or romanticize the very real viles of poverty for their own benefit which in some twisted way is justified to serve out the benefit of the children.

As a teacher, my first and foremost responsibility is the well-being and welfare of my students.  I am hard on myself, but also, as a person with previous classroom teaching experience (and out-of-classroom teaching experience as a former dance teacher), I am very honest with myself as to where my strengths are in the classroom and where my areas for growth lie.  And, quite frankly, despite my intentions and my efforts, I feel that I was grossly underprepared for this first year of teaching in the classroom.  And, this is coming from someone with actual college degrees in education and a few years experience teaching.  I’m not looking for perfection in others or myself; just honesty and genuineness.  But, I suppose for some, that’s hard to come by.

Life always goes on and even though there are flaws and some, if not, all, of our kids come from “disadvantaged” backgrounds, they don’t pity themselves.  So, we shouldn’t either.   And, again, speaking for myself, I am not a hero nor an inspiration nor anything beyond a person trying to do her best in her job.  Let’s not get carried away.