Philippines - Day 2 (San Fernando)

This is entry #4.
Link to entry #3.
Jolayne is also chronicling our trip here.

I'm writing at 330am Monday as I was only able to sleep about 4 hours and then promptly woke up wide awake.  So much for the 8 hours I'd planned.  Hopefully I'll get a nap in later.  Not sure how many 4-hr-sleep days I'll get before my body stops the mess.  Perhaps it's a blessing, though, as I otherwise wouldn't have had any time to write my thoughts before they left me.  I find that as I've gone back and re-read my first journal in 1995 that I longed for details which my mind no longer remembers and which I never seemed to write down.

Our first full day in country started much earlier than we'd anticipated.  Sunday morning (Easter) I'd planned to sleep in a bit and get over the jet lag.  Nope.  Around 6am trucks started rolling by with thunderous (really) tracks playing from mounted speakers.  I thought it was perhaps due to the holiday (and the timing may have been), but it's all actually related to election season.  Lucky us.  There's a senetorial election coming in May.  We got up and showered and arranged our things and headed to breakfast at the hotel.  

Breakfast was available with both Pinoy and Western dishes, and we each ordered either pancakes or a waffle.  Kristen was the first one brave enough to try out any words in Tagalog.  What a brave little girl she is.  It makes a papa-bear happy to see his youngest leading the way.  The server was first shocked to hear me speaking Tagalog, and we joked readily at it (as we do with people about 10 times each day).  But watching the girls each labor through  "gusto ko ang mga pancakes" was pretty charming, and they certainly stole the show.  Great job, girls!  The kids weren't interested in my mango juice, but I thought it was delicious.  mango juice is popular here the way that orange juice is popular at home; and it rocks.  Jolayne had a juice-box style milk, which she said tasted sort of like powdered milk.  Breakfast was yummy, though it was served up with our first brownout of the trip; I guess not everything has changed after all.

As we didn't get a full 8 hours rest, Amy had awoken not feeling well.  She wasn't super forthcoming with details at breakfast, but obviously felt groggy, nauseous, and even dizzy.  It took us a while to piece it together, but the poor kid hadn't eaten much on the trip over and was then awoken early from a sleep induced by a pill she likely never should have taken.  Ouch, bad dad.  Poor thing was not herself all day long.  On top of that, Jolayne didn't know I'd given her anything and also gave her some Claritin.  Talk about stoned...

We went back to the room and finished getting ready for church since we were going to head from the De Ocera's directly there.  We also made sure we had our big bags of pasalubongs (gifts) ready.  For this segment, we got to lug them (30+ lbs) with us for our first jeepney ride.  About jeepneys, in case you're not familiar.  They are a staple of Filipino life.  In nearly all parts of the country, there's always a jeepney (jeep) going your way.  They have established routes, but are privately owned.  They started life as leftover US army jeeps from WWII, but quickly matured into a travel offering all their own.  They now often come very pimped out with all sorts of colorful decorations and lights, and usually seat between 10-20 people using lengthwise benches, with an open door in the back.  When on duty, they drive slowly down the street honking their horn (near continually) to let you know they're seeking a fare.
Back to our story...

We then left the hotel around 1030am and walked up to our first jeep ride about 1/4 mile away on the corner of the Macarthur Highway.  This highway is the main thoroughfare.  Local jeep rides were something like 2-3 pesos during my mission; now they're 8 (20 cents each, about the same with inflation).  But I also learned (a little late) that you don't need to pay for kids as young as Kristen if they sit on your lap.  I didn't get too many hard stares on the ride, though I'm sure people wondered who we were.  While there were several American men on the plane into Clark last night, my girls were the only light-skinned young women that I recalled seeing.  Same thing certainly prevails as we go around town.  It's fair to say we stick out.  I was a little nervous about hopping a jeep again after such a long time away,  But after asking at the hotel what the current fare was, the rest came back to me like muscle memory.  When you get on a jeep, you pass your payment forward (hand to hand) to the driver and pronouce "bayad po", which means "payment, sir."  He then passes any change back to you the same way.  When you want to get off the jeep, you say "para, po," which means "park, sir".  Easy as that.  The only thing you don't get is door-to-door service; that only comes with trikes, which we'll get to later.

Despite my prepping them, I'm sure the kids were a little surprised by the way jeeps operate.  By the time we'd taken 10-20 of them, they were old pros, though.  Within minutes of leaving the hotel, I think it set in upon all of us just how hot it was going to get.  We weren't really prepared for the heat we were about to experience.

As we rode the jeep, a few things jumped out at me about the area and how it's changed.  By and large, it's cleaner than it used to be.  That's not to be confused with it being clean, as there's still tons of trash strewn all over alleys and gutters.  But the roadways and sidewalks are now quite well maintained.  Another surprise for me was how many traffic lights they now have in the area.  We must have gone through 20+ on the way from the airport.  That's nothing special except that there was only a single one (manually operated) at the busy Olongapo-Gapan intersection back in 1995.

After a mile or so, we got off the jeep at just the right spot (amazing, considering I hadn't done that in so long, to a place I only lived for 3 short months), and found our way right to the De Ocera home without any issue at all.  Another seemingly small blessing from above.
In Tagalog, the word for delicious (masarap) is often used to describe any event that's good for the spirit.  In this case, it describes very well the warm reunion with had with Normita, Arcadio, Armida, and her children.  We embraced, made introductions, allowed for a little shyness amongst the kids.  It was absolutely surreal to me to be sitting with people I hadn't seen in 18 years and whom I honestly thought I'd not see again in this lifetime.  And yet, here we were.  Absolutely amazing.

We started sharing gifts promptly (I was excited to stop carrying large bags with me everywhere I went, even on jeeps!)  Normita had prepared gifts for us as well.  Among other things, Normita had gotten Jolayne a beautiful woven purse.  Very thoughful.  Our gifts were also all very warmly received.  The tradition of Pasalubong (gift giving after a trip away) is an important part of culture and custom here.  

We arrived around 11am and had a couple hours to visit before heading to church, which started at 130p.  Though we'd just barely finished breakfast, we were promptly fed egg and coconut pies, chico fruits, and soda.  They were yummy.  We turned down the full meal that was coming next as we just weren't ready to eat yet.  I felt bad for it, and realized later that I probably didn't communicate our reason for not eating more.  Sorry, Normita!

It was great catching up with people who'd meant so much to me.  Normita looks just great.  She was my first baptism after arriving in the Philippines.  She's beautiful and healthy and says it's because of her faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which may not mean much except that she has all the markers of poor health: a couple of mini strokes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.  Tatay Arcadio looks nearly the same as well, except that his hair is now grey.  Not bad for a guy in his 70's.  My kids were probably more than a little off balance due to the long journey and also the abundance of Tagalog, which despite their preparation, they likely understood practically none of.  They mostly just sat there and watched the site before them.

We sat out under the shade of a large mango tree and chatted in their courtyard.  In the Philippines, nearly all homes have fences and gates, even on the front side.  The De Ocera's was freshly painted a beautiful yellow and red.

The trees in the De Ocera's courtyard were especially nice, as they provided heavy shade; the temps were already creeping back into the 90's, and so was the humidity.  The nipa hut (not there before) provided a nice place to sprawl out and lay down for the kids as well.  Nipas are raised bamboo platforms with grass roofs which provide good air flow and a place to rest in the heat.  That'd be a nice addition to any home with a hot summer, and they're cool to look at as well.

Tatay took me a couple doors down to see our old missionary apartment.  It's being renovated now after the flood (in August), and there's a tall apartment building that's new(ish) between our old place and his.  On that side of their home (it's on a corner) and next to my old apartment, I saw the old tindahan (small family-run store) where I originally met the De Oceras and really learned how to speak the language and love the people.  They don't use it anymore (it got flooded last year and they chose not to reopen it), but it was neat for me to behold a site that connected me so much to my time here before as a missionary.

Quickly it was time for us to head to church.  Poor Amy had not gotten any better and had spent most of the time just laying down.  We roused her to make our way to church, but took time for a family picture before we moved on.

Normita arranged for the girls to take a kalesa (horse-drawn carriage) to church, which was surely a first (at least as a form of church-going transportation).  The church is about 3/4 of a mile south.

Kristen rode with Tatay on his motor scooter, which she thought was most excellent.

Amy's illness kept us from getting there with much time to spare; they were surprisingly punctual and we barely had time to shake hands and take our seats.  The half-dozen large ceilng fans, along with another 8 or so mounted on the walls, made for some welcome air flow.

Sacrament meeting commenced with a warm greeting from the pulpit to our whole family: what a warm and welcoming people.  We then listened to 3 speakers.  I wasn't even the only one in the chapel to read the hymns off an iPad.  My how things have changed.  The chapel was flooded (again) pretty badly last August, to the plan is to close it later this year and essentially reconstruct the thing to raise it up.

Not sure how they can do that without basically starting from scratch, but I guess they can't find different land nearby and the streets have already been raised up due to constant flooding, making the church the low point on the street.

We attended a very well conducted Sunday School class and then a joint meeting 3rd hour.  This is so much better than it was 15-20 years ago.  I recall many times (even on Easter) teaching the lessons because no one else was prepared to do it.  How wonderful.  During that time I met with the Bishop (in his air-conditioned office) and gave Amy a blessing to get better before working with him on our plans to distribute the funds that were so kindly donated by my friends and family.  I think we have a pretty good plan in place now, both for immediate aid and longer-term help.  Time will tell, and it won't be easy to get all that going once I return home.  But Bishop Lazatin is a good man, and I'm happy to have his help.

A short aside for those who are LDS: I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that they have wifi at this chapel, with the same SSID (LDSAccess) that we have at home.  If that's not a mark of serious progress, I don't know what else is.

After church, the primary kids were more than ready to go egg hunting!  They had regular eggs already, and we supplemented with some candy-filled plastic eggs.  We also had a bag of goodies we pulled out and immediately got stormed by kids, youth, and adults alike.  We shared foam airplanes, whirligig helicopters (my favorite) and yes, even whoopie cushions.  They were a hit.  About 10+ of us sat around kidding in both English and Tagalog about farts.  An entirely entertaining and cross-culture-busting move, if I do say so myself.  The girls were mostly shy about trying it out, but the boys had no problems, of course.  We kidded that some obviously had more experience with such things than others.  At one point, one of the boys blew out the side of one of them, which was even funnier.  Church ended at 430 and we wound up leaving an hour later.

Poor Amy just wanted to rest and sleep all day.  It was a huge chore getting her to eat anything, and she was obviously in some discomfort all day long.  Made me feel terrible for giving her that pill.  Never again.  After church we brought her and Misha back to the hotel to rest, and Amy's basically slept straight through to now.

Jo and I then decided to go get some bottled water (we were nearly out) and I needed to get a local cell phone, so we made the trip over to SM Pampanga, a huge shopping mall nearby.  Wow!  Holy hugeness, Batman!  This place is said to be one of the largest acreages of mall in the world (though not tons of levels).  Imagine your (not so) favorite Wal-mart experience, then increase the size by 10-20x and add about 1000x more people.  Since it's summer vacation here, and since it's so hot, and since there's not much else to do, the whole dang province must have been at this mall; perhaps 25-50000 people.  It was true kaguluhanan (chaos).  We first went to the Samsung store where I bought a cheap little cell phone for about $15.  Then off to buy a SIM card and prepaid minutes (you can do it by the minute/peso, which is kind of nice).  I bought only enough for 10-12 minutes, but that's likely all I'll need for now (wound up spending perhaps $10 on minutes during the trip).  It's a good safety net to now be able to call around in country (how good, we'll see later in the story!) Then we went to the supermarket in the mall.  The place was enormous (and in the seafood section was an olfactory assault!)  We bought about 4-5 gallons of water and Gatorade, which we stuffed as best we could into our backpacks.  I'm sure we looked a little out of place.

Then we made our final stop at Pizza Hut to get some food for the kids.  We waited 15 min for a pizza to be cooked and then went back to the jeep terminal to head back to pick up Kristen, who had volunteered to accompany her new friends (Armida's girls) back to De Oceras to play after church.  Brave kid!  We were a little worried that she'd feel abandoned in a strange place but that wasn't to be the case at all.  Finally, we made it back to DeOcera's around 8pm, two hours after leaving on our little sojourn.  Long trip to get some water.  We were heavily ladened, and really wanted to get back to the room to finally relax.  Kristen was still happily playing, and Normita shared that Kristen ate 3 hot dogs!  Bishop Lazatin had shown up as I'd previously discussed with him and was ready to go make some visits to families who were to receive aid, but I was too exhausted.  I told him we'd need to do it another time, though he kindly offered to bring one of our bags on his motor bike for us, so we didn't have to drag the entire allotment with us.  One last jeep ride with a very happy Kristen in tow, and we arrived back at the hotel.

When we finally got back to the hotel at the end of the day, opening the door and feeling the cool air of our rooms was one of the best feelings I've had in a long time.  Literally a wave of fresh air, like walking into heaven itself.  It was perhaps the hottest day we've experienced in many years.  A quick check of the forecast last night, though, showed that it's supposed to be even hotter over the next couple days.  The "feels like" section of the forecast said 116.  Yikes.  Serious inferno we're talking.  It's so hard to keep from getting dehydrated.  We quickly downed some pizza and gatorade and limped to bed after a very full day.  Kristen ate her piece of pizza, closed her eyes, and was out in a matter of seconds, but with a very content look on her face.  Amy and Misha had crashed right after we left them a few hours before, and only Misha was able to be roused long enough to get some food in her.  Everyone was completely, thoroughly exhausted.  

I fell asleep immediately, but sadly awoke after only 4 hours.  Dang jet lag!  Today's start is a 6:00am pickup (in a jeep, of course) to head to the orphanage.  Good thing I've been awake for 4 hours already.

Next: Philippines - Day 3 (San Fernando, Orphanage)


kevandcan said…
I LOVED this post. I can definitely relate to the jet lag feeling. The Thais told me you know it's time to return home once you start sleeping normal again. :-)

I can also relate to the tender feelings of seeing mission field friends again. It's a wonderful feeling...yet emotionally exhausting.

Glad the trip is already off to a great start!
Jenn said…
I'm so glad you're chronicling this so well, I love to live vicariously through you! Sounds like it is going great so far (except for poor Amy, hope she feels better tomorrow).
Also, you started your mission 18 years ago? That's insane.
Unknown said…
Jo and Chris~ we need to get together as a family after you get back and get settled in again!!! Lexi and I have been wanting to do missionary work as I'm sure Mike and Morgan would join in too; however, Lexi and I feel the calling. We would love to hear all about it with pictures, since I am the only one that has read your blog thus far, although Mike has been real interested to follow too...good job doing it as a family I pray that our family can do some sort of missionary work too!! Kathy
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