Sunday, September 19, 2010

Worldwide Wienerdog

Hello, this is Grace, one of Mobile Home's superstars. I have short legs, but in my (almost) four years, I've really gotten around.

I was born in Tennessee and first joined a pack that wasn't the best fit for me. Apparently my first pack leader found me a little difficult to live with ... who knows why. Then, when I was nine months old, I moved to Florida and joined a different pack. My new pack had another red dachshund, and she was awesome. She let me sleep in her bed and taught me to eat my food fast. After a while she went away, and although I missed her, for a few months I got all the attention from my pack leaders. Life was good.

Then the interloper ... I mean, Julie ... arrived. She has really long legs and no respect for my stature, but I guess she's ok. She climbs in my chair with me, and when I'm cold I let her stay. I especially like it when she lays down so I can make sure she knows I'm in charge.

In the last eight months my pack has moved from Florida to Virgina to Manila. I think some of my friends were worried about my trip overseas, but it was ok. I didn't have a great time at the kennel in Virginia because a mean dog bit my ear, but my stay in Amsterdam was ok, and I was happy when Julie and I were reunited with our pack leaders in Manila. When we were waiting in the Manila airport's cargo arrival area I could hear my pack leaders' voices behind the big wall, so I barked a lot to make sure they knew I was there.

I like my new house in Manila. We have a great aso ya-ya who takes good care of us when our pack leaders are away. I used to give her the stink eye, but now I like her a lot.

The best part about living here is the opportunity to chase stray cats. I stand watch at my window to make sure no cats try to sneak in.

When we go outside I patrol the stairs, the park, and everywhere else in our neighborhood. A couple of times I managed to tackle a lounging cat, but my pack leader pulled me back. I have no idea why--I totally could have taken it.

Julie doesn't understand that the cats are invaders who must be eliminated. Sometimes our pack leaders let her off the leash and she just walks by cats that are invading our territory! But she does sit at the window and make sure the tree trimmers stay in line.

If anyone wants to know more about my experience as a Foreign Service dog, feel free to ask. In the meantime, if you see any cats trying to sneak past my perimeter, let me know.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I want to eat your brains ...

Today I had a cultural experience.

I subscribe to an organic produce delivery service called My Personal Farmer. For 3200 pesos/month we receive a box of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables once a week, delivered directly to our neighborhood. The produce is grown in Mindanao, harvested the morning of the delivery, and flown up to Manila the same day. I am enjoying this service for three reasons 1) I've never tasted such delicious vegetables 2) The (almost) doorstep delivery is fantastic and 3) I have the opportunity to experience new fruits and vegetables.

For example, this is a marang:

I think I just had a zombie experience.

When it arrived our helper told me how to open it once it had ripened. She was very excited when we received it and said that we would be able to smell when it ripened. She did not, however, warm us that I would wander around the house for a half hour looking for the horrible smell before finally tracking it down. You could smell it outside our front door!

However, the fruit inside is actually pretty good. Smells can be deceiving.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More Beautiful Places (and a bit of humanity)

In the six weeks we've been living here we've taken every opportunity to explore. Life in Manila can be difficult, but outside the city--and even some places inside it--it's beautiful.

A few weeks ago we joined a CLO trip to Coco Beach in Puerto Galera, Mindorno.

The water was gorgeous, and the air clean.

After the sunset we enjoyed the stars--the clearest sky I've seen in a long time.

Last weekend we explored the La Mesa Ecopark in Quezon City, which is in metro Manila. The Ecopark is a breath of fresh air in the city, although with traffic it may take as long to get to the Ecopark as it does to get to Tagaytay. 

We passed block after block of typical Manila sights

And miraculously found ourselves in a beautiful park.

It was wonderful to see what Manila must have looked like before being developed. Manila has many of these gems, but it takes effort to battle the traffic and get to them. Outside the city the country is gorgeous, although evidence of poverty is everywhere.

And on the way home, comic relief:

The Breath of Life

You'd think that writing would be easier after our move overseas, but I've found it to be more difficult. Our first month in the Philippines has offered plenty of potential writing topics, but the idea of organizing any of them in to an essay is exhausting.

There's so much information to process in the first weeks at a new post it's difficult to think, much less write. I didn't recognize that I was feeling overwhelmed until I tried to organize my thoughts into a blog. Being a former hospice social worker, I find myself comparing the new post adjustment process to Therese Rando's six Rs of grief:
  • Recognize the loss/change: People must experience the loss/change and understand that it has happened. 
    • "I'm where?! Who are you people? And what is that smell?"
  • React: People react emotionally to their loss/change. 
    • "!@#$$%% palm oil!"
  • Recollect and Re-Experience: People may review memories of their lost relationship (events that occurred, places visited together, or day to day moments that were experienced together).
    • "Remember when I could breathe inside a supermarket? Those were good times."
  • Relinquish: People begin to put their loss behind them, realizing and accepting that the world has truly changed and that there is no turning back. 
    • "I accept that the smell of frying palm oil is a part of my new world, and am grateful for the places where that smell is absent."
  • Readjust: People begin the process of returning to daily life and the loss/change starts to feel less acute and sharp. 
    • "Oh look, I can buy Wesson canola oil in the grocery store!"
  • Reinvest: Ultimately, people re-enter the world, forming new relationships and commitments. They accept the changes that have occurred and move past them. 
    • "I am fortunate that the use of palm oil in the Philippines has significantly reduced my french fry consumption."
In addition to my palm oil adjustment, there are many other aspects of change that require their own set of Rs. No wonder we call it culture shock. We are enjoying our life here and working hard on adapting our expectations. You don't realize what you take for granted until you are confronted with it's absence. Such as fresh, clean, palm-oil-free air.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Beyond Barbed Wire

Living and working abroad as a private citizen can be difficult, but living and working abroad as a Foreign Service family can be weird. As a Foreign Service employee your compensation includes shipping your household effects and vehicle, most work related travel expenses incurred by you and your dependents, and, of course, diplomatic legal protection, but you spend much of your daily life surrounded by other Americans. In many ways this familiarity is comforting, but it takes extra effort to immerse yourself in the foreign country's culture.

Many Foreign Service families do fully experience living in another culture, but it requires one to venture beyond one's normal routine, and in our case, the barbed wired walls and armed guards protecting our housing community. By our third week here my body was adapting to the environment and time change and we were starting to feel settled, but every night before bed I felt a little anxious, and it wasn't because I had just moved to a foreign country. It was because I had moved to a foreign country but was spending most of my time within the walls of a place that looked a lot like South Florida.

As a post Manila is unique in that it would be easy to try to insulate oneself from the city's culture. You can't avoid the traffic, the pollution, or seeing evidence of extreme poverty as you drive to work, but you can eat at Chili's, shop for groceries at S&R (Costco), and watch Scrubs and Everybody Loves Raymond on local cable in your air-conditioned housing. You'd find yourself inconvenienced by not finding everything you want, but life would be familiar. In many ways, having access to American products is one of the benefits of this post, but it can also feel surreal.

Fortunately for me, the weekend after I began to feel agitated we went to Tagaytay, which, being without transportation, we wouldn't have been able to do without our wonderful friends.  In Tagaytay I finally felt like I was living in a foreign country, and the bedtime anxiety disappeared. I find it interesting that in order to feel comfortable I had to pushed out of my comfort zone.

The Foreign Service community is one of the best things about life in the foreign service, but experiencing the exotic aspects of life abroad is equally important to enjoying this lifestyle. I look forward to exploring the Philippines further, and, in case I haven't mentioned it, the arrival of our car.