28 January 2013

Thoughts from the Philippines

....On the ferry to Mindoro from Batangas (just south of Manila), and we are passing by islands so small no one lives on them it seems.  Listening to my music, I’m just grateful to be on the road again after a week with family in the “big city.”   Manila’s crazy traffic and pollution had little appeal to me; thank goddess my Lola Julietta’s family shuttled us around and took us into the “Switzerland” of the region, Tagaytay.  She and her family also fed us a plethora of tasty local food from Lechon to Bicol Express.  Oh, and yes, I was able to make it to see the Black Madonna in Manila Center, Our Lady of Guidance.  Still, Manila met my low expectations.  Batangas too, our plan B when the ferry was cancelled due to a passing Typhoon, was a disappointment.   Expensive and, a frankly, ugly concrete jungle if I’ve ever seen one.   

I’m struck just now at my dismal attitude.  Indeed, it’s been now a month since I’ve been in the Philippines, and this month has been, overall, a challenging one.  My emotions range from probably simple homesickness to intense rage at the obvious sexism, racism, and classism I’ve both observed and experienced.  I’ll admit, I’m especially sensitive to the racism bit. 

As my skin tans, and locals comment about it, I can’t but help to think of their whitening soaps and creams.  It is perhaps especially tricky given that most white folk here are men (I’ve only met one white woman!) and old and dating a young Filipina.   Of course, the scene of white old geezer and beautiful youthful Filipina makes me sick.  How do I then turn to my partner, yes white and a man, but far younger than me, and see around the huge obstacles of multiple oppressions all around me?  I wonder at how they view me and my relationship.  And, then, I think of my Lolas—Concepcion and Julietta—married to my selfish, privileged, and abusive white grandfather.  All said, it seems hecka complicated.

Certainly, all these issues are merely obstacles to true intimacy and trust, the visions I’ve set for my thirties in particular.    Racism and sexism are not my focus; I must remember that.  In the same way that I experienced these oppressions in church growing up, they kept me from God/dess and my spirituality for a long time.  Both in first years of my life, when I fell in step with white patriarchy and in the second phase of my life, when I spent countless energy on fighting the white man.  I chose then and I choose now to engage on close, personal, small community relationships.

The other challenging aspect of the Philippines journey has been the scuba diving.  I admitted to my partner that I could think of no greater fear of mine than breathing underwater.  I’ve dived now seven times I believe, and every time, it’s a process of embracing my fear.  Terrifying, I tell you, and it takes a lot out of me. I begin to think I drowned in a past life even! Nevertheless, the rewards are very worthy: gorgeous coral fans, fascinating fish of all kind, and giant sea turtles too.  

...In El Nido, Palawan, and living here for the better part of the month.  Getting to know the place. 

Our landlady, Lizbet, owns the market below us and the bar next store (the grasshopper).  Edgar, her partner, works at the dive shop with my partner.  Lizbet’s folks stay here too, and they sit often together in front of their stories and talk and watch everyone.  There’s a lot of laughter, and Lizbet is the woman in charge. I often hear someone (her parents, daughter, neighbors) yelling, “Bet”!  when someone wants to buy something.  Lizbet brings us her homemade dishes and tells us when the guys selling fresh shrimps, water, and more are passing by with their wares.  

To our right, there’s also a salon/massage parlor with a “lady boy” as the main hairdresser.  Then, further down the street, are a variety of small markets and travel tour shops.   

This town is quite special with the archipelago of islands made of jagged limestone out on the Bay.  Gorgeous.   The town itself too is a tourist destination, yes, but it’s also just a local town.  It takes a 5 hour van drive to get here, and this remoteness has made it possible for El Nido to be what it is a – a mixture of Westerners (mostly German, I don’t know why!) and families who grew up here for generations.  It’s nice that way, but also harsh with unreliable electricity, dogs, kids, and cats all trying to survive, and large quantities of various pollutions.  Sometimes I feel the Earth and Sea falling apart as I watch, but, really, it’s all so still stunning.  I wonder if this is what Califas once was, and I’m thankful to be here to bear witness to El Nido before it’s….gone.   
North Pandan Island, Mindoro