Simple Living for a Complex Person

I…am not a simple person. Simple living affects everyone differently and is defined by everyone differently. I’m the type of person who hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst. I have a lot of stuff. Even my stuff has stuff. When I travel, make sure I have options and emergency everything. I live in a constant state of “just in case” this happens, “just in case” I need that. I say all of this, to say – simple living has been a challenge for me.

My experience as a YAV in the Philippines has made simple living physically, emotionally, and culturally challenging. Physically, I have to deal with transporting all my stuff. Perhaps I’ve been a bit spoiled by my dad and brothers, but I’m not used to having to carry my stuff. To make it easier on myself and everyone around me, I have to pack simply. I have to travel light. I have to avoid taking over the entire apartment with my stuff. And it’s difficult, it’s really hard to not have stuff when I’m so used to it. I don’t have random movies to watch, or snacks to eat, or games to play. I don’t have dozens of combinations of clothes to wear. It’s not feasible and it’s not reasonable.

Emotionally, I struggle with not having the comforts of home. There’s a sense of security when you’re at home, around friends and family, going to the places you are familiar with. Personally, it’s hard to reconcile the fact that, as much as I like the people I’ve met, and the places I’ve been, they aren’t “home.” But home isn’t something I will have in the near future as I head to medical school. Simple living and forging new relationships aren’t going anywhere. This YAV year has been great preparation.

The cultural challenges are difficult, too. My example is not a “simple living” challenge, but related to living simply and immersing yourself in a culture different from your own. Just because the Filipino people know English, does not mean you’ll be able to blend in, culturally. Now, I didn’t come to the Philippines thinking that, but I really do thank God that I didn’t have that expectation. Between adjusting to “appropriate” conversations and topics, to understanding general body language and customs, I’ve been in a constant whirlwind of confusion and discomfort. Just when I think I’m starting to understand something about the culture, some new thing pops up and then I’m confused about something else. And there’s always a bit of discomfort when there are topics that aren’t talked about or may be considered rude at home that are discussed openly and freely, here. These topics mostly consist of extremely personal detail; including politics, religion, love lives, and bodily functions.

It’s hard for me to say that simple living is necessary in order to get in tune with your surrounding or understand the world, because I honestly find nothing wrong with enjoying material things or the comforts of home (obviously, not to the extent of “worshipping” them). But, I will say it’s necessary for other reasons. Simple living is necessary in order to understand yourself. It requires you to be creative and resourceful. You challenge yourself and learn about what you can and can’t work with. I think simple living is necessary because it’s one of the best ways to examine what’s important in your life and what’s excess.

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Growing Faith

After 7 months and various experiences in the Philippines, I can say I’ve really become more confident in my faith and how I see God in my daily life. I am surrounded by people who can see God in stunning sunsets, beautiful ocean waters and other things like that, but that’s not the primary way for me. Since being in the Philippines, I have had an opportunity to examine how I see God and gain more clarity of how God speaks to me. I’ve come to realize that God speaks to me through my interactions with other people.

There’s one experience from the beginning of my time here that I didn’t really see much value in until I later started examining how my faith experience is different from those who I interact with daily. I am here with two others from the USA, and we travelled together for a month in September. When we were in one of the mountainous regions, we had the opportunity to visit a village and sit down with some of the elders and talk. At some point during our conversation, they asked each of us how we knew we were coming to the Philippines. Naturally, the three of us thought, “well, we found out about the program applied, interviewed with the Philippines site, and chose to come here.” We thought that response answered their question, but then, they clarified that they were asking about some divine sign that God sent us, telling us to come to the Philippines. They pretty much implied that you had to have a divine sign or something in order to do something as big as going to the Philippines.

Honestly, I had no answer for them, at all. I love to travel and felt that my time in the Philippines was just another (extended) stop in my life’s journey. I didn’t have some profound dream or enlightening experience that told me I had to go to the Philippines. So far, that’s not how my relationship with God is, though I am open to any way God speaks. But, for the village we were visiting, that is exactly how God speaks to them; through dreams and signs, etc. Now that I think back on it, I believe that was God’s way of showing me that God doesn’t appear to everyone in the same capacity. I can’t base my own faith experience on others’ relationship with God. That revelation has strengthened my own faith and made me more confident of my own relationship with God.

I hope to continue this strengthening of my faith as I move forward into the rest of my time in the Philippines as well as when I return to the U.S. I’m going to rely heavily on that strength as I go through the ups and downs of medical school and life in general. I have a long road ahead of me, and I am so glad I took this YAV opportunity, because it has given me the chance to experience God’s grace and plans for my life.

Hair

I love my hair. I really, really, really do! At home, there are so many people with similar hair, but my hair is unique to me. I’d like to believe that I am not vain, but no one else has my coloring. No one else has my curl pattern. People tend to comment that I look like my mom in my normal hair-style and I do love those comments. I love my hair. But, my hair has brought up some unique experiences since I’ve been in the Philippines. By the way, did I mention that I love my hair?

To an outsider, the Philippines seems to be a pretty homogenous place compared to the United States, which means almost everyone has the same facial structure, general physique, and – you guessed it – hair type! So, when I come along, and visit places or meet people that don’t see many foreigners (especially African-Americans) I, honestly, tend to be slightly violated. Let me explain…

In America, we know that there are different types of hair textures. Not everyone realizes that, here in the Philippines. The mildest question I’ve gotten is “Is it a wig?” I can answer that, easily – No, it is not a wig. I guess that’s a fair question. I wonder if I said, “None of anyone’s business,” but really questions are ok and I am not that rude. Moving beyond the “asking questions” is where the problem lies.

In America, we (should) know that you need to ask before touching someone’s hair. It can be very rude to just walk up to someone and play with his or her hair. In some of the places I’ve been, that isn’t a well-known concept. In Bohol, during my third week in the Philippines, my fellow YAVs and I toured a local elementary school. The children spent the entire time trying to be sneaky and touch my hair, as if I wouldn’t notice it (they ran away when I actually offered to let them touch it…). But, they were children, they didn’t know better, so I didn’t think too much of it. But what really offended me, was that one Sunday, the pastor (and our host) started playing with my hair…in the middle of her sermon! The children, I can understand, but a grown woman, who is in the middle of a sermon, and did not ask permission, just decided she wanted play with my hair- really? I simply wasn’t fine with that, but I let it go, to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially since we were in a very rural area where they don’t see many foreigners. My dad told me about his similar experiences in China- well not his hair since he normally wears it bald, but how people grope, take pictures, and stare. However, now I truly understand.

And finally, in America, and hopefully everywhere else, we know that it is extremely rude to pull someone’s hair, even if you are a child. It hurts! If you’ve had your hair pulled, you know that it hurts. Apparently, that didn’t matter to these children. I was sitting with a friend eating dinner and a few of the street children walk past our table and I feel a tug at my hair. I turn around and there are at least 6 children behind me. One of them asked if it was a wig, so I give my usual answer, “No!” My real problem begins when they continue to pull my hair, not tug – pull. When I finally was able to get them to stop and leave, I thought it was over. Except, every time they walked past me that night, they pulled my hair and not my fellow YAV’s hair. That was probably one of the most infuriating things I’ve had to deal with since arriving in the Philippines.

Like I’ve said, I love, love, love my hair. Unfortunately, it has brought me many experiences that I could’ve done without. However, I’ve had the experiences, I’ve had multiple opportunities to practice patience, learn empathy, and extend forgiveness, and I’m (hopefully) a better person because of those experiences. But, I’m also TOTALLY fine with forgoing any future hair-violating experiences, regardless of one’s age.