Monday, March 28, 2011

Hardship = Hard on Your Patience

I have never been so patient--or rather, impatient--for so long, and for so many things. My seven months at post could also be called the great patience whirlpool of 2010-11, still ongoing. 

Manila is not unique in its ability to drive a mild-mannered American to insanity. Extraordinary amounts of patience are required at most countries with a State department hardship rating, and in general, Americans are not known for their patience.

Manila's unique demands on my patience usually turn up at the checkout counter. I used to love grocery shopping, and now avoid it because checking out is such an ordeal. Despite being exempt as part of my diplomatic status, I sometimes pay the 12% sales tax because my mental health is more important to me than the money. Even when I'm not using the VAT-exempt card, checking out is cumbersome, and usually involves signing multiple pieces of paper while several salesclerks crowd around you. I used to love browsing the aisles; now I love

This particular aspect of hardship may have a greater impact on the family member who manages the household. Grocery shopping, paying bills, running errands, and generally providing for the household's daily needs all require multiple weekly trips through a checkout line, not to mention navigating the crowds and roller derby-esqueness of Manila's traffic.

Some things to note: the barreling buses, the jeepneys stopping in the middle of the road, the disembarking jeepney riders strolling across five lanes of traffic, and the general din of the car horns. It is remarkable that there are few serious car accidents, and it is because every Manila driver is paying 110% attention to the road.

How to deal? Beats me. But I can imagine that the more humor you interject into your experience, the easier it is to not take it seriously. For example, "I've been standing here for 20 minutes trying to make you let me pay you and we still aren't done? Isn't that hilarious." "That guy just ran into my side mirror. Now that's entertainment."

If unavoidable daily frustrations can become lovable, or at least entertaining, quirks of the city, the less those frustrations will seep into every interaction you have. This is especially important when the daily stress of being constantly frustrated begins to impact your relationships with co-workers, friends and family members.

Most of this frustration is due to the system being different. If Manila natives were made as crazy as I am by their daily activities, we'd have a city full of adults throwing tantrums fit for a toddler. This is what makes a hardship post hard: the degree to how different it is from life in the US. When I'm having a good day--aka my reservoir of patience is especially full that day--I can see past my frustrations to the beauty of living in Manila. Perhaps by the end of our two year tour I too will consider 30 minutes at the checkout counter a fact of life, and can better appreciate that the clerk who is making me wait wears a genuine smile the entire time.

To read about a FS spouse who doing a fantastic job of making the most of her hardship post, visit A Moveable Kitchen.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

City of Contrast

For seven months I've been meaning to write a post about Manila being a city of contrasts, but I never knew quite how to say it. So I won't. I'll just share these videos with you.

The first video is of a typical "real" Manila neighborhood. This one happens to be close to my housing community, although my apartment is inside a wall with barbed wire and a serious guard gate.


This video is from a neighborhood called Rockwell, where wealthy people live, and where I can go grocery shopping without wanting to tear my hair out--most of the time.


In Manila, depending on where you live, your daily travels will take you in and out of neighborhoods just like these, and you get to see the extremes of the socioeconomic structure here. After seven months I am still struck by the differences.