One Month in Manila
The other day, I was hanging out with a dear friend in another area of the city. She left to meet with family and I was waiting on my Uber to take me home. With a rapidly draining cellphone battery, a lost driver who only spoke Tagalog, and a sudden downpour absolutely drenching me, I was admittedly feeling frustrated….and very wet.
“Frustrated” is a word used liberally in times of transition, especially transitioning to life and work in a new culture. This first month has been filled with moments I’ve felt truly lost, useless, insecure, anxious, and exhausted. From getting sick over and over, getting exasperated by the trash and pollution and men randomly spitting on the streets, dealing with the constant knowledge that I am an oddity everywhere I go and can never “blend in”, my weird toilet in my apartment, not having my laptop work, the knowledge that poverty is only fifteen minutes away from my nice business area while I’m complaining that my laptop doesn’t work, fearing I’m not meeting unspoken expectations, and feeling like I’m feeling it all all the time, I can candidly admit that I’ve been … frustrated.
I was in that state of mind the other night when all of the sudden, the rain stopped falling on me. A kind stranger, who looked justifiably bewildered by this soaked, frantic white girl, offered to share her umbrella with me and help find my driver. She translated the Uber texts, called him to see where he was, and waited with me the few minutes it took him to arrive. Her name was Kathleen, which is my middle name, so we both agreed our fortuitous meeting was meant to be. She laughed so I didn’t feel embarrassed, gave me advice of what to do so I didn’t get sick, and right before I got into the car, she told me that she hopes I really love this city despite the rain.
Each and every time someone shows above and beyond kindness to me, I’m so astounded. But I hope it never feels normal to me, the overwhelming generosity anyone will tell you is commonplace here in the Philippines. I hope I don’t expect it ever so every time it’s always a gift and a beautiful surprise. I hope I am always able to be as giving, even if it’s just an umbrella and a kind word.
I now get the opportunity to live in the tension; I have to learn how to feel comfortable in a place where I will always be an outsider. I have to grapple with my privilege, the repercussions of my country’s history, and the color of my skin and everything that goes with it every day. But I rejoice in this! How lucky am I, knowing that I’m being shaped and molded for something I can’t even imagine yet?!
My first month in the Philippines has been full of small magical moments like this. I’ve been building meaningful relationships, having doors open for me in ways to serve both through work and through church, jumping into community, and learning all about the work IJM does to achieve justice here in the Philippines. My heart has been broken and I have seen God’s provision every single day in this work and I can tell you earnestly I’d stand out in any storm, through any frustration, to get to do it all over again tomorrow.
So that was the first full month; here’s to eleven more!