A fresh pair of eyes in the swamp

I have recently adopted an intern at the Grameen Bank of Catarman and taken him under my wing.

He literally got of the plane from Sweden and I plunged him head first into life in a developing country. Rust-bucket ferries that leave 3 hours late, pedicabs with children hanging off the roof, torrential downpours and a bunch of drunken Aussie volunteers on a deserted island. Mabuhay to the Philippines Sir Mam Po.

Seeing Joel gasp with amazement at more than 4 people on a motorbike and the marvellously pimped-up jeepneys made me realised how indoctrinated I have become to life in the provs. Having a child/chicken/bag of dried fish in my lap, crammed into some form of uncomfortable type of public transport has become such a day-to-day occurrence for me it has become ‘normal’.

It’s been over 3 months since I arrived in Catarman, and if you told me when I arrived that I could live without a fridge, flushing toilet, real coffee and lovely shoes I would have thought you were insane. And that my home could be walang (without) power and water for either minutes or several days sounds like an impossible existence.

But the longer I am here, the more I realise how much I have. In Sydney in my uncle’s garage is a fabulous array of handbags*, treasured books and curios from around the world. And the voyages I’ve had to collect those trinkets are even more precious. Most of my colleagues have not seen as much of the Philippines as I have already, let alone the world.

Although my colleagues will never have the material wealth or the international adventures I’ve had, there are aspects of Pilipino rural life I am envious of. The tightness of the family unit, the understanding of needing a true life/work balance and an innocence.

Seeing that word on the screen sounds patronising, but my English vocabulary appears to be shrinking here and I can’t think of a better word so I will elaborate with a situation. Joel and I witnessed some spectacularly bad karaoke while having dinner. Rather than snide comments that you would expect in either of our home countries, there is a type of respect in the crowd. Everyone is entitled to their moment of glory.

Many business meetings I’ve had here have involved singing, games, dancing or giggling about ‘gwapo’ (attractive men). There is a lack of inhibition which is really beautiful.

I’ve had many frustrations and stressful situations lately but having a fresh perspective through different eyes has reminded me to truly value and embrace my time in the swamp. 

* Of course I value my family and friends more than stuff, but you are not kept in my uncle’s garage and that would have broken the flow of that lovely mental picture. Miss you xx

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