Binalonan has stolen my heart...

Trip Start May 27, 2008
Trip End Jul 31, 2008

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Flag of Philippines  ,
Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Magandang Hapon! (yeah, I'm pretty much fluent in Tagalog already)

I'm not sure how else to start this entry other than I LOVE BINALONAN.  I feel bad for having the Manila entry be the last one left up for so long because AS SOON AS we got out of there it kept getting better and better!  And now I have so much to tell and I'm about to fall over from exhaustion but I HAVE to do this before I have novels to write and before I forget everything!

First of all, Naiinitan ako, palagi.  Translation: I feel hot (sweaty), always.  Which means I shower atleast twice a day.  Sometimes three times a day.  And by shower I mean stand in the shower stall, fill up a big bucket with cold water, and then use a little bucket to pour it over my head.  Honestly, other than making it REALLY difficult to get all of the shampoo out of my hair, it really is a super water saver strategy.  I've got it down to a half bucket for an entire shower.

Secondly, I don't think I could have any better of a host family.  Josie and Chito are seriously the most gracious people I've ever met and LOVE LOVE LOVE to joke. I laugh constantly.  One of the first things Chito told us when we arrived at their home was " You have to know someting--- I am king of the house! *pause* and Josie is the ace".  And it's so true!  They live in a family compound so Josie's parents live next door and, per usual, I fell in love with Lolo Max (grandpa Max) instantly.  Three of her four siblings also live in the compound with their families and all kinds of extraneous relatives that I haven't figured out do as well but Josie and Chito's house is always full of people and their yard is the place to hang out in the afternoon as it has the most trees for shade since it's 900 degrees all of the time.  They have three children-- Camille, Aura, and Maxell who are all too afraid to try and speak English to us but they're slowly warming up.  They'll probably start talking just about the time we leave for Isabela. Oh, and let me not forget Camille's daughter MJ.  Oh let me count the ways to describe MJ: 8 mos, smiling ALL the time, and probably 400 lbs.  Constantly the center of attention and she's such the little performer.  Chito is the master chef but Josie definitely still has the last word, even in the meals she doesn't even cook.  And don't worry mom-- you would thoroughly impressed: she buys sugarfree jam, wheat noodles, AND washes the tops of tin cans before opening them!! Granted, the tap water she uses to wash the tops is teeming with all kinds of Giardia, E Coli, and other fun parasites just ready to burrow into the depths of my GI tract-- but I never think about those kinds of things... ever.

The past few days have been very laid back and alot of orientation-y kinds of things getting to know the area and the staff here.  It's extremely difficult for me and my personality type to not be jumping straight into a project and it'll probably be something that I have to fight the whole time I'm here.  Much of the goal is to build a bridge across cultural gaps and emphasize the riches we find on both sides.  And in that, find ways in which we can help the locals as they will be the ones still here when we leave in two months.  Just exactly how we're supposed to do that... I'm not sure yet. 

Yesterday we spent the day with the kids of the congregation and neighborhood as it would be the only day we would have the chance since they started back to school today.  The Binalonan congregation has an incredible praise band and check this out... like half of them aren't even teenagers yet.  So in the morning we had a jam session with them and Zach gave some guitar lessons.  One of the biggest problems they have is that they just learn music by ear--- and they just got money to buy hymn books but none of them can read music!  So I taught a basic session on how to read music and what all of the symbols meant.  One of the assignments that I gave them for next Sunday is to come up with E-G-B-D-F and F-A-C-E phrases in Tagalog to help remember the lines of the staff for the treble cleft.  We'll see what they come up with!  Myles, my other partner, doesn't have any musical background beyond illegally downloading mp3's (which was of no use to us, great Myles)... SO the two resident violinists Carlo and Sarah Jane took it upon themselves to teach him how to play the violin.  Excellent selection for a beginning musician I must say BUT after 3 hours worth of patient training he could play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! Hot!
The afternoon and into the evening consisted of every game you could think of to play.  The boys play basketball every day, and I mean every day.  Sometimes twice a day.  Even when it's 105 degrees.  Zach and Myles come home looking like they just came out of a lake.  The kids don't realize we're not used to this. At all.  So while some of them played basketball, the rest of us played badminton which eventually turned into volleyball... and I mean we played for hours.  These people don't tire easily.  Needless to say I went to bed at like 7:30 last night.

Today has been a whole lot more intense, not physically, but emotionally.   This morning we met with Maricor who is employed by the church as the local translator-- mostly responsible for getting WC publications and worship helps translated into Tagalog (huge job)... all while serving as the guidance counselor for the primary school that is next door to the church. Yeah, woman of many trades. I'll write more about the school in a later entry-- I haven't got it all figured out yet myself. 

This afternoon and evening though were spent visiting families of the congregation in a section of town known as Canarvacanan-- notably the poorest part of town.  Some of the makeshift houses were made of scrap metal, broken cinder blocks, and whatever sturdy plant stalks could be tied together.  Other houses were just remnants of whatever was left after the last typhoon hit with life continuing despite entire walls and roofs missing.  I was surprisingly calm, cool, and collected as I walked down the main road into the neighborhood having mentally prepared myself for just this very scene.  That is, until the first kid we ran into was Mike, the drummer of the praise band from the group of kids we'd played with all day yesterday.  Instantly I thought "surely Mike can't live over here!"  Picking up just a few words I know in Tagalog, I realized that he told Maricor that he will show us where he lives.  And this is where pieces of my soul start to slowly crumble. And where the entire story starts to become completely real.  Mike showed us to where he lived with his grandma, aunts, and several siblings and cousins.  And several of the other kids from yesterday living in the surrounding houses.  It was beyond my comprehension that thekids that had so freely shared and laughed and GAVE to us yesterday were the ones who would be eating rice cooked over a fire that their mother had built in the back yard and mixed in leaves from their lone shade tree as the vegetable for the meal.  They were the ones who were now romping through their backyard "fort" made from cement blocks and old cereal boxes.  Through every single moment of visiting with these families though, not a single one let their own situation stand in the way of being hospitable to us, graciously offering whatever they had, and constantly thanking us for coming to their home to share.  It made me nauseous to accept their gifts.  Partly for the obvious reasons... partly because one of them had brought out isaw for us to eat.  Isaw = chicken intestine... on a stick.  I took one bite and playfully exclaimed "no more! mataba Amerikana!" which basically meant I don't want to eat anymore, I'm already a fat American.  And then tried to hide the fact that I wanted to vomit.

Honestly though, the hardest part for me to process is that this exact scene is in every country of the world... and is the norm for a much higher percentage of the population than any one of us wants to admit.  And the solution?  Nobody knows.  And what is my own role in this?  I have yet to figure out.  These people have already given ME so much and the ones in the community that do live comfortably are surrounded by so many that they fall victim to the same problem as the rest of us.  My one oasis of calm resides in the joy and love that they still hold and share so freely with me.  And my prayer is that I can find that same genuine joy and love because it is something that I fear I haven't seen in such a pure form before.

Thankfully tonight I got to unwind watching Myles and Maricor's husband play chess while Josie's niece Arianna and I played who-can-make-the-weirdest-face.  For a 4 year old she was darn good (P.S. check out the grill on this girl...).  I'm not sure what the rest of the week entails but I definitely hope I can spend some more time just visiting with families, hearing their stories, and hopefully getting closer to figuring out my role in truly embracing the concept of a "global family".
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johnsen on

nice story, actually i live in binalonan and i know manong chito and auntie josie. i miss binalonan too- john, dallas tx

elena khan on

i liver n mardid spain 25yrs ago but i miss so much binalonan cos my dauther s ther liveng alone

Gloria Ramos-Palisoc on

Great to be back to my hometown In Jan 2011 . I was born in Anoyao,Binalonan, Pangasinan to my most admired late parents-Teofilo & Gaudencia Ramos-both public school teachers. They gave us the best inheritance-that is the best education they could afford by working extremely hard--all 6 of the Ramos children are University of Santo Tomas grads, all graduated with honors in the Harvard of Asia.We all went home to celebrate the 400th year founding of UST.Binalonan will always be my home!!!!

C. Bautista, Guam on

I come from a town next to Binalonan. I read your beautiful but sad story. Thanks for spending time to bring joy into the hearts of this not so fortunate ones.

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