Final thoughts . . .
Today is the very last day of my service. June 1, 2007. My official Close of Service date. And in a few hours I will be boarding a plane and flying off into the wild blue. But before I go, I feel a need to post one final reflection.
This experience really has lived up to the old Peace Corps motto of "the toughest job you'll ever love". The toughest part wasn't the work, however, it was learning how to live and work in a completely unknown culture. One major difficulty for me here was that on the surface, it doesn't look so different. People dress in western styles, often speak English, go to McDonalds and Starbucks, and sport snazzy cell phones. Appearances, however, can deceive.
Just beneath the western veneer is a unique blend of distinct cultural differences. These show up in the expectations, values, time management, languages, worldviews, behaviors, and general attitudes of the people here. Sometimes the differences are overt . . sometimes covert. The covert ones are the toughest. It's tough to discern what the truth is sometimes, because people never want to "offend". What sometimes goes unrealized here, though, is that agreeing to do something simply not to "offend" . . . and then not following through . . . can even feel MORE offensive. Alas, just an example of a cultural difference that can generate frustration.
On the other hand, some of the cultural differences here have been a true source of comfort. Like the willingness to help someone with whatever - whenever they possibly can. For example, last year when I was going home to visit the U.S. I left my site in the afternoon and went to Baguio for the afternoon. I planned to take the midnite bus to Manila and then board my flight the next morning. At around 8pm in the evening my host sister texted. She had gone in my room to shut the windows and noticed my passport on my table. Fortunately, she realized I would need it and texted me.
At that time of day there are no rides going to my site, which is two hours away from Baguio. I was visiting with a teacher friend when I got the text. She didn't have a car either, but she automatically took it upon herself to help. She went next door and got her neighbor to get his jeep out of the garage and take me to get my passport. I texted my host sister and asked if my host brother, who has a vehicle, could meet us halfway. She didn't tell me at the time, but he was at a party, so she went to the party and pulled him away and told him he needed to do this thing for me. In the end, with the help of my friends along with someone who didn't know me at all . . I got my passport just in time to make it to Manila in time for my flight. This is just one example of the way the people here are always willing to accomodate and help.
Many times throughout my service, I had heavy loads to carry (books, bags, boxes, etc.) Never did I have to carry a load if there was a man or boy or girlfriend (who would find a boy) to help me. I have to say, here in the Philippines, chivalry is definitely not dead. . . and neither is good, old fashioned assistance. It's been nice.
So there were good times and tough times . . . highs and lows. But never have I regretted this choice. It has been a two-year lesson in life, death, love, indifference, togetherness, solitude, friendship, loneliness, and oh-so-much more.
In fact, I suspect I will be recognizing and realizing lessons I learned here for the rest of my life. I'm so glad I came. I'm so glad stayed. And I'm very glad that I will be home soon.
I have one last thing to do while I'm on this side of the world. I need to see more of Southeast Asia and some of China. So, I will be back in the states in five short weeks . . . and I look forward to seeing all of my family and friends.
And for all of you who have kept me in your thoughts, prayers, and emails . . . THANK YOU. I have felt and appreciated all your love. Thanks for supporting me as I discovered "how far I would go" to do "the toughest job I ever loved".
Okay . . love you all and see you soon!