Thursday, December 4, 2014

An Honest-unedited-post: to serve or not to serve?

This post is just streaming as it comes. It's not written for an audience and no thought is given as to how it will come across. It's an attempt to voice a few worries to the universe and clear my head before bed.

Last time I embarked on a journey to provide all that I could in a humanitarian effort, I was met with a lot of miracles and a lot of opportunities to serve. I was blessed (if one can use those words) in the wake of a disaster, to be put in a place where I could make a difference.

I was also met with a lot hurt and had no way to grieve. I’m sure that I appeared very cold (which is not uncommon for me to come across as I’m told, and can understand the misinterpretation) and, unfortunately maybe it even feels like I’m a little annoyed or angry to those around me.

As I’m again considering donating a significant amount of time (and money in the form of lost income and a few recurring bills that will continue while I’m gone), I find myself most conflicted over not wanting to come across this way again-as I’m sure it is confusing and hurtful to my counterparts and those I’m hoping to aide.

When the storm hit The Philippines last November I got there as soon as I could and did everything I could, to help as much as I could while there. My first sight of the destruction made me numb. Moments later it became so painful it hurt to breathe. Without an appropriate outlet, and using all my emotional resources to maintain my composure my interpersonal skills were left lacking. In my attempt to not show how broken my heart was I simply went to work. Avoiding getting to close to the people because I couldn’t bare to hear another story of loss and heart break, I poured myself into the little clinic we had built working as many hours as I could, seeing as many people as I could, helping as many people as I could....without getting too attached.

I’m sure there was more than one person I could have confided in while there, but I’m not really a talker and at the time my ankle was still so messed up that I couldn’t run it out (actually I was in a decent amount of pain/discomfort while I was there the entire time...later diagnosed as the funky autoimmune disorder that was also attacking all the connective tissue in my body, specifically my ankle and foot; my entire body was swollen, sore and tight for weeks. I found out when I got home that I had three ligaments that were completely ruptured, something that was also aggravated while working there). I wanted to just be alone and have an ugly, shameless, therapeutic cry.  We were working quite a bit, and living in a chapel with several wonderful people who had lost their homes, and and friends. Plus is was not safe. There simply wasn’t a moment for solace, let alone space enough to be had in our close quarters, that would enable my release of emotions. I tried a few times to find some space and some quiet, only to be met by the smiling playfulness of children who wanted to make sure I had company :).

On top of that, it seems a little odd to be the one crying over a devastated country filled with millions of individual stories attached to millions of individual lives that were torn apart, when those who were devastated are smiling and doing all they can to ensure my comfort, happiness and inclusion.

It’s like at work, some times I start to get teary-eyed and more emotional than my incredibly strong, coping, dying patients. Or that time I felt awful for crying at a friend's father's funeral when my friend did not cry. It’s kind of rule, you can’t cry or be more than person who’s actual problem it is.  

I worry that by going, despite my good intentions, my coldness may be counterproductive to my desire to bring love, light, and blessings to the lives of these people. And it gets in my way of being able to be a witness to such beautiful moments as I spend my time oppositionally guarded and hurting.

I promise you that many of these people, even with heartache, deformity, and injury are genuinely happier than you and me (generally speaking as a population, concerning satisfaction with life).

It reminds me of a sudden, startling moment of intense jealousy I felt while visiting Cambodia. While looking out my air-conditioned bus window, I saw a man working peacefully, joyfully, late into the evening. I wanted to be out there working. I wanted to be doing something necessary and rewarding. His life mattered, what he spent his time doing mattered.

The people in these places have smiles that are big from the inside out. I know that I will find the same thing if I were to go on this next adventure.

If I’m honest, (hoping this doesn’t sound too self-deprecating or like a self-esteem crisis), I worry about subjecting others to my close-mouthed emotions that when they do spill over, come out all wrong.

And, I guiltily worry about what I had planned to accomplish before this opportunity came up. I was planning on going to school this whole year. Hmm, go to school or change someone's life?

I am more than happy and excited to help. This opportunity would be huge. But I tend to be more realistic about situations the most. And the reality is, I like my alone time. It’s how I cope. It’s how I release. And I like space, and autonomy.

This would be six months. On a boat. In close quarters. No alone time. Lots of rules. Hmm. Rules. Yeah.....I think we just found the biggest problem of all right there.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Update from Sikatuna Ward (Cebu City, Philippines)

I got this message not too long ago from one of my first friend’s in The Philippines.
When I arrived in The Philippines, a friend who served an LDS mission there arranged for a local LDS church member to pick me up from my hotel (as mentioned in my earlier post, her name was Doris). She took me to the Sikatuna Mormon chapel in Cebu City, where the refugees who were lucky enough to get off the island of Leyte (where typhoon Yolanda hit hardest), --some of which waited in line for 5 days without food after having walked several days to find any help and to eventually get in line--were being housed. This is where I spent my first few days in The Philippines. When I got to the chapel they had a Filipina nurse who had spent long, long days there caring for the refugees. She was nine months pregnant and happy to give me a quick run down of how things were going and headed home to take a nap. She later came back that night to sleep on the floor next to me so I wouldn’t be alone. (Although I am plenty used to being alone and may have been more comfortable that way because I can’t handle the sweetness of such gestures without getting teary.)

Her message is as follows:

We're good. All the survivors went back to their homes except for 2 families which we adopted. The one with the wheel chair's family and the one who lost his family is with us. They are our adopted families.

I would like to ask: Where can we find the organic rice that you brought because there is none here and we need it.

I remember the story of every single person she is talking about. I remember their kindness and strength in the midst of their greatest sorrow.

The “one with the wheelchair was a woman in her 70’s who had been paralyzed for (I think) 13 ish years. Somehow, out of all the people who survived this awful storm, she and her 7 year old grandson made it through. This is the woman whom I bought a camping sleeping pad to sleep on with the $15 my friend Jobetta Hedelman sent me (even the littlest bit changes/saves lives y’all), because she was getting bed sores from being wet for so many days and from sleeping on the hard tile floor of the chapel.

Their story of survival is not all glorious and is not over yet. They, of course, lost many friends and family in the storm. And after the frightful hours and hours of horrendous flooding and 300 mile an hour winds, they emerged only to witness horrible looting and violence. The seven year old boy, watched a gunman kill several people shortly after stepping out in the world after the storm. He hadn’t spoken since. And I never saw him smile. He was numb. I don’t think it was the storm that broke his heart, I think it was seeing how ugly people can be even after the miracle of living through a storm like that. I’m glad to hear they have been adopted. I hope and pray that now being “adopted” by the saints of Sikatuna he can feel hope and peace again. If anyone can heal someone with love it is the wonderful Filipino people, specifically the enormous love generously given by the people who cared for these refugees in Cebu.

The other man, the one “who lost his family”. Was a very new father. A sweet, sweet gentle, now very quiet man, who still managed to smile and thank us every time he saw us. He was running from the storm carrying his three month old baby when it was swept from his arms by the ugly forces of typhoon Yolanda. He also relates the story of watching his wife get carried off in a giant wave created by the torrential rains and combining winds while running next to him. I’m glad to hear that he to has found a family in Cebu with the kind souls there. And that everyone else was able to return home.

The “organic rice” she is asking about is the quinoa I brought from the states (with generous help from Janelle Bentz, her Costco card, and her family). I had enough food for me and probably 3 other people for two weeks and left some of it Sikatuna when I bought other food to take with me into the disaster zone. (I brought it thinking it was much more nutritional and substantial than the white rice they traditionally eat and that was being handed out...and even what was being handed out was pathetically and shamefully very little and to very, very few people.) Needless to say, they loved it :).

I’ll tell you more about the kids, and how looking back now, I can see how perhaps I meant more to them than I realized as a mother figure. It’s odd for me to say that because I don’t see myself as very motherly. A weirdo aunt, sure, but not so motherly. The only evidence against this is the monstrous pain I feel when thinking of how any of them could be hurting so much and how I want to take it all away.

The children you'll see in the pictures are mostly all siblings. Nine of them, being raised by a father in the rural parts of Leyte Province. Their mother works in the United Arab Emirates I believe as “house help,” earning money and sending it home to The Philippines. The children were very rambunctious.

Apparently they weren’t so playful before my arrival.  “The children are so much happier now that you are here,” one woman commented to me.                   
 The boy in black, of to the side, in the 7 year old that wouldn't speak

 Miko, the youngest, I think...had an awful ear infection from the storm water. We would clean out his ears three times a day with seemingly no end to the pus and brown water. He hated it at first, but eventually would ask to have them cleaned out even when he didn't need it. He would also follow me around and just hold on to my pocket. Just to be with me.

                                                            I still have that hat.

 Quality time with the chillrens...

Initially I thought it was because they were likely in shock from the storm-which I’m sure was part of it-and because they were bored living in a chapel and I had brought silliness and games. As I look at the pictures now and think back to their reactions and affections for me, I realize I may have been a somewhat of a short term mother. Hugs and play was always available to them from me. Open heart and a bit of discipline and we were instant besties. I think leaving them hurt me a bit too much, so as to prevent me from being so open the rest of the trip if I’m honest. How could I possibly love that like again and leave...yet again. I still hurt for my babies in Ecuador, who I can’t adopt, or change the direction of their lives or protect them from a world without a mother. And here it was happening again. How cruel love is some times.

It often leaves me to lament with the line from the movie Nacho Libre, “I hate all the orphans in the whole world!” Although, I clearly am using it out of context, it is what I try to tell myself to stop from hurting so much for all the children I’ve fallen in love with.

Regardless, and back to the story at hand. I am so grateful for people with bigger hearts than mine, who’s capacity to love and welcome with open arms those who are hurting and who’s stories can hurt them. I am thankful for Agnes and Doris and all the other wonderful people of Cebu City who are taking it upon themselves to love those whom I have loved and could not help more than the little I was able in those short few days I spent there.

I aspire to have that kind of depth and compassion, although as I rummage through this world on my own, I find that I often instead come across as cold and distant because I love too much and know I cannot stay and cannot take away their pains or alter their paths. Not at this time at least. I only hope I become more like these people, the survivors and the saints I worked along side. The are the salt of the earth.

Perhaps one day I’ll fulfill my dream of going around the world and collecting all the people I love so much and building a family of those of us stretched across the continents.

*the stories told here are as I remember them and as I was able to understand them through the language and emotional barriers. I hope to have gotten them as correct as possible.