So can I just say one more time that I LOVE LOVE LOVE Diffun? We're back at home base for the night, just in time to miss the excitement of the current typhoon. We're not getting hit too bad here in Pangasinan, but we're supposed to be headed to Manila tomorrow afternoon-- parts of which are currently underwater. We'll see how that goes.
Leaving Diffun this morning was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do. In the short 6 days that we had been in the community, I felt like I had truly become a part of their family. The people did not only welcome us into their homes, they had fed us, laughed with us, cried with us-- allowed us to crash their wakes and their weddings, and were honored to have us share in such important parts of their lives-- they had shared their ALL with us. And as we piled into the car after worship this morning, they all followed us and stood in the rain waving and sending us good wishes as we drove away... one girl even yelled "ALEESA! Leave your shoe for us remember you!" I'm not sure why, of all things, they would want my dirty blue sandal from old navy to remember me by, but it was heart-warming nonetheless. As I promised them that I would return, some day, I truly meant it. I fear that it will be the same sad story everytime we have to leave somewhere new-- and I haven't found a way to console my aching heart and assure it that it won't be the last time that I ever see these people, my friends, my brothers and sisters.
We had TONS of adventures in our short week living in the middle of the mountains! Almost every day we chose
a new side of them to climb, discovering so many incredible places and people along the way. There are tons of corn fields that field workers have to climb to reach before even starting work-- I can't imagine having to haul all kinds of tools and fertilizer UP a frickin' mountain EVERYDAY before even starting the days work. Apparently, though, the corn fields even at the very tops of the mountains bear successful crops every season...
We even got to learn from the best of the best how to plant and manage rice fields! Everybody was making bets
on how long we would last out there-- I think the top bet was 20 minutes. I'll have you all know that we trekked out through the narrow paths of slimy doom through the fields, arrived at the empty one designated for us, hopped into the muddy pool of water, and planted rice for a SOLID 45 minutes, thank you, and only stopped because we'd finished our portion of it. Our lines weren't too straight, and it was hard to tell how far down we were supposed to root the ends of the rice in the mudpit-- we just hoped and prayed that somebody didn't have to go back through and replant after we left. We then went to the adjacent field where we had to pick the semi-matured rice, use our feet to smash out the dirt from the roots so that it could be replanted in another field to fully mature. This was the really dirty part and our fumbled attempts definitely were sources of entertainment for the rest of the workers. After all was said and done, the owner of the fields came and greeted us, letting us know how lucky he felt to have the work of Americans in his fields. OBVIOUSLY, he had not seen the direct result of our "works" and we quickly left before he could.
We also took a morning and visited the Outreach (Philippines) International project in Gabriela (a barangay of
Diffun). Twenty years ago, many parts of the mountains in the area had become barren because all of the trees had been cut down to use for furniture, burning, or building without any effort to replant more trees. One of the many OPI projects was to empower the community to help reforest their naked mountains and manage the amount of trees used for furniture versus how many were being planted and nurtured.
Then we hiked up one of the mountains and planted a dozen more trees. A small, yet satisfying project... best part is, they're planting paper trees that can fully mature in just 5 years. Maybe that can be my goal as a date to return-- come back in five years to see my trees. While we were up there, we were just a short hike from Pastor Amado's Nipa hut and his wife cooked us lunch up the mountains... straight up tilapia that had been caught just that morning in one of the ponds up there and thrown into a pot of hot oil, and rice-- both cooking over a baby campfire that had been built inside the hut. It was a super sweet hut-- like a huge mountain fort with walls made from piled rocks from around the mountain side and a thatched roof of dry grass.
One of the highlights of our visit, for sure was crashing a wedding party. It was held the night BEFORE the wedding and mainly consisted of dancing. All of the young, unwed girls would sit on the inside of the dance tent and when a song would start all of the guys would come in and select the girl they wanted to dance with-- it was all so awkward though! Just by means of culture, there was NO eye contact and about three feet of space between the couples dancing. It was almost as if the fun of dancing had been sucked out-- UNTIL the traditional dancing started, and then all of the closeted energy and enjoyment burst out. No music, just the beat of a gong being played while it precariously hangs over the most prized part of the men who are playing it. The "Gansa", or dance of love, was the predominant dance throughout the night and at one point we
were invited out to join in the dance-- we looked like fools I'm sure but as soon as we stepped out into the middle there were screams of excitement and howls of laughter as we clumsily tried to follow the movements of the leader. And then of course, before we could exit at the end of the dance, "Low" by Flo Rida started blaring and they expected us to show them some of our American moves. Great. How do you NOT dance inappropriately during that song? The 16-year-old girls loved it though. Glad I could leave my mark by teaching them how to "get low". The next morning we also crashed the wedding itself and the reception-- delicious food minus the boiled pork skins that made me gag. The FIRST time I've gagged here from the food and I was disappointed at my body's selection... I could handle the bhalut (which I've since discovered isn't chicken fetus, it's DUCK fetus... even worse) but it was pig skin that made me gag? Needless to say I didn't finish my food.
On the flipside, we also attended a wake... actually next door to the house with the huge wedding party. It was almost as big of an ordeal, with masses gathered for the traditional 9 days of commemorating the life of the deceased... many were playing cards and just socializing to stay awake outside of the chapel, while those inside the small, sweltering chapel were singing hymns and paying their respects. We ventured in, just to take a look around... and got stuck listening to the pastor read scripture in Ilocano AND sing the loudest, slowest version of the Old Rugged Cross... EVER. I love this song, don't get me wrong--- but I would venture so far as to say it was even louder, and slower than the old woman Erica version of this song. yes, that good.
I spent most of my down time just walking through the community, exploring every corner of the fields and forests and one day got caught in the rush of kids walking home from school. I soon had an entourage of second and third graders... at first they followed about twenty feet behind me but it took only minutes before they were all grabbing my arms and feeling my fine bleached-blonde arm hair. Everywhere I go, the kids are fascinated by my arm hair. lol. Some of the boys had sling shots that they would pick up stones and shoot
the trees as we passed, and for the rest of us, we started out own little silent game of pretending to shoot each other with our imaginary sling shots. AND they LOVED to practice their English... which hadn't advanced too much farther than "What is your name" and "where are you going" but for 45 minutes we walked and they announced for every noun they could think of as we walked "This is my ______". Some of my favorites were "This is my nose" and they would cross their eyes and look at their own nose, "this is my monkey" and a kid would climb a tree and pull down a mango, and my all-time fav as we passed a rice field, "this is my dirty water". Every time I see them around town though, I would wink at them and they would pretend to shoot me with their slingshot. Kids.
LASTLY-- a ton of them gathered at the church yesterday just to hang out with us and sing songs and play games. I couldn't believe how sharp they were picking up on the more complex games, especially in our miserable attempts to communicate in a language other than their native Ilocano. AND they LOVE to sing. I taught them "My God is so BEEG" and the ridiculous motions to go with it--- they mastered it in less then ten minutes so Pastor Amado had them sing it in church this morning. I was proud as a peach as the five that were brave enough got up and sang. Check out the video I uploaded-- friggin adorable. They were the hardest to say goodbye to this morning-- as we waved goodbye I got shot by dozens of imaginary stones.
I can't believe that I've only been here for 17 days. It seems like months, yet I already have this anxious need to grasp onto every moment that I have left. I have high expectations for the rest of our travels, and I know without a doubt that we will discover even more incredible people and places and hopefully be able to bless them as richly as we have already been blessed.