Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Beautiful Smile

PS - Thanks for all the encouraging emails we've been receiving since Danielle's accident. Who knew so many of our friends have children who did the same thing when they were the same age?! This is a picture of the water park where she and Simon were playing when she fell face first on the slide and broke her front two teeth. We were able to see a dentist within hours of her accident and the next day the teeth were restored to look like new. She still has the most beautiful smile!

Yesterday we had another minor medical emergency. John was cut with a piece of glass on the bridge of his nose. He was trying to put a piece glass up on top of our closet and it fell on his nose, making a nice deep cut. Lots of blood. A friend took him to the hospital (because we all know how Pam reacts when there is lots of blood) but they decided it didn't need a stitch.

That's enough excitement for us.

We're looking forward to a relaxing and "uneventful" holiday next week!

Christmas in our home away from home

A week ago we moved into a small apartment in Los Banos, about 70km south of Manila. It has been a treat to be able to celebrate the Christmas season with some of our familiar traditions.

Los Banos is a small university town. We’re glad to be out of the big, big city of Manila for awhile. A few people from the local community helped to furnish our two bedroom place with beds and linens, a small fridge, dishes and kitchen utensils, tables and chairs, and even curtains for the windows. Our favourite is a curtain made from strings of little shells. Their generosity is an amazing blessing! Once we started to pile our books and magazines around, and unpack things that we’ve been carrying in our packs for almost six months, it really started to feel like home. There are a few other kids living in the building, and it has been a treat for our kids to hang out with people other than adults for a change.

In our home, over Christmas, we have numerous traditions, such as: a real Christmas tree; advent calendars (annually supplied by Pam`s dad), an advent wreath; and, a gift-giving party. We’ve been able to do some creative improvising. John bought some beautiful, large red Bird of Paradise – type flowers. Simon insisted we add lights and tiny gold balls. We made an advent calander since the one from Poppa only just made it to Australia. Fortunately 24 days divides evenly between 4 people. Pam put together a wreath from bits of plastic pine, and Filipino woven plate, some shells from Australia and the Philippines, and some candles. We’ve also hung some paper snowflakes.

At home we typically open presents on December 5 as a way of keeping some of John’s Dutch heritage; to celebrate gift-giving early in the season and not be forced to wait until the 24th; and, to allow our celebration on December 24 and 25 to be about the best gift we have received! We were not ready for December 5 this year, so we had our Christmas party on Dec 16 in our new place. We all ran around for a few days on a scavenger hunt of sorts trying to try find presents that were “suitable”, that is pack-able or consumable Simon’s socks were large enough (and clean enough) to serve as stockings. We had a lovely dinner of chicken, potatoes, carrots and salad. We love opening presents! And then playing with all our new toys! Soon we will have a party for our new neighbours where we will play some of the games that we would normally play at home.

We are still looking forward to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We’re heading north. Not to the North Pole, but to a special part of the country that we’re sure will hold many delights and happy surprises!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Culture Shock

Near the Recto transit station in Manila

We've read about reverse culture shock, that is when you are overwhelmed with the affluence of your own country, but I never thought this would occur while in a developing country. While in Manila we have spent more time in malls, fast food outlets and traffic than we ever have at home. In this city of 13 million people they have every luxury store you can imagine. There are more Starbucks than in Vancouver. Four of the world’s 20 largest malls are located here in Manila. At least two of them have skating rinks! Being Canadians and missing some of our favourite winter sports, we went ice skating at the Mall of Asia.

Pretty groovy boots and sports socks, eh?
John had a bit of trouble adjusting to figure skates. (Think "flying camel")

We've certainly seen poverty alongside affluence before but the differences here seem so much more extreme. In the Philippines over 30 million people (a third of the population) live on less two dollars a day. It seems like Disney World gone bad when we sit in a well -run, spotless, Light Rail Transit and see pockets of crowded, make-shift houses and apartment buildings. Our CRWRC hosts have shared with us the multiple economic and political factors that contribute to this disparity. One that really stood out for us is the fact that 60% of the country`s GDP is money sent back from overseas workers. That is, you may be a ``have`` or ``have not`` depending on whether someone from your family has a job overseas. A thriving (and spending) middle class can be an effective method of economic growth for a country to develop over time but the associated commercialism is hard to swallow.

We are just about to settle into a smaller community and begin volunteering with Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC). They are working with various local non-governmental agencies to address issues of justice, food security and education. CRWRC is working to address the disparity here and hopefully working alongside them will help us deal with our culture shock.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Who is Your Hero?

Discovering Manila with our friend Rachel

It was recently Bonifacio Day in the Philippines. This national holiday coincided with our orientation to this beautiful and welcoming country. We have visited several museums and historic sites that highlighted Bonifacio’s role in the Philippines’ efforts to gain independence. Another significant figure in their national history is Dr. Jose Rizal, another of the country’s national heroes.

Dr. Jose Rizal Monument in Manila

We attended a gathering of international students and guests at the University of the Philippines in Los BaƱos. In recognition of the national holiday, a representative from each country was asked to share one of their country’s national heroes. There were people from Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, France, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia. It was fascinating to hear the recurring theme of heroes who fought for the independence of their countries. There were also some poets and political leaders mentioned by the group.

As a family we`ve been thinking about `what makes a hero` and some of our personal heroes.

A hero is a person who saves someone or does something very good. They have to be brave, strong and smart. Some heroes are Jose Rizal, Mats Sundin, a parent, and some people with a hard job. Jose Rizal wrote a book in Tagalong so that the Spanish could not read it. He sent it to all the Filipino people. Mats Sudin plays hockey for the Maple Leafs. Parents love their kids. People with hard jobs can help other people, for example giving money to the poor or saying, “don’t drink this water.” I think Mom’s hero is Stephen Lewis because he helps Grandmas in Canada help Grandmas in Africa. I don’t have a hero that I can think of.
By Danielle

A hero is someone who acts to make things better for others. They make significant sacrifices in their lives, and sometimes what they are doing for others is not understood or appreciated by those around them. Terry Fox is a hero. So are Lt. General Romeo Dallaire and Stephen Lewis. I am proud of the fact that these men represented Canada in their international roles. I also think my husband is a hero. He worked so hard to make it possible for us to take this trip around the world; and now that we are almost half way done our journey he continues to encourage and surprise us – and tries to make sure we are having fun!
By Pam

To be a hero you may need to be brave, or smart, or maybe strong both mentally and physically. We are talking about heroes because when we went to an international university meeting, we each had to tell who our hero was from each country and what they did to help the country. These are some of other people’s heroes: Wayne Gretzky because he broke many hockey records; Spiderman because kids think he is strong and also smart; Terry Fox because he tried to run across Canada to raise awareness for cancer because he had cancer in his left leg. He stopped running in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Some of my heroes are Wayne Gretzky; Garfield because he is very, very funny; and, Percy Jackson. Percy Jackson is a fictional character in a series called “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” who saved the world and his camp many times.
By Simon

I made a list of heroes that included authors, politicians, scientists, explorers and family. More recently though I have been thinking about some of the people we have met who are so committed to improving the world in small and big ways. I think of the families and staff at Tesoros de Dios who give up so much to work with their kids. I think of numerous families who are adopting, and have adopted, needy children from Nicaragua and the Philippines. I met a family that works with children next to a dump in Managua. I met a couple who are doctors and gave up a lucrative career to do health-based community development. And there are many other stories of people who have sacrificed greatly to improve the lives of others. To me these are heroes.
By John

Three Cities, Three States, One Unique Country

While traveling in Australia the past few weeks, we’ve caught ourselves saying, “Melbourne reminds me of Vancouver” or “Phillip Island reminds me of Texel, Holland” or “We saw flowers like that in Nicaragua.” There were lots of familiar things, and yet Australia remains something so very special and unique.

We spent two weeks with our friends Maree and Andrew in and around Melbourne. Pam and Maree first met 25 years ago when they were exchange students in the Philippines. Maree and Andrew came to our wedding, and we’ve seen them a couple times since then when they’ve visited North America, but there was a lot of catching up to do.

We had a few emails from friends at home asking if we were okay because we hadn’t posted anything after leaving Nicaragua. It was a different pace and many more late nights than we’d been used to in the previous two months.

Maree prepared a quiz/competition for the kids to work on during our stay with her, and this was a great incentive to pay attention during our travels and learn about Australia. Who discovered Australia? (there are in fact several different answers to this question!); 10 points for seeing a kangaroo in the wild; What are two Aussie slang words? And 2 points if you see someone picking their nose (which we never saw)!

Pam was feeling a little under the weather and the weather itself was a bit grey for the few days that we were in Sydney. Visiting The Rocks and cruising around the harbour to Manly and the Olympic Park were some of the highlights.

In Brisbane we stayed with new friends David and Jennifer. This was arranged through SERVAS, a peace-building organization that connects travelers with local hosts. They were extremely hospitable. They are involved with orienteering and brought us out one evening to experience Street O (urban orienteering).

Swimming at the “city” beach (in November when the snow started to fly back in Canada) and having the opportunity to cuddle a koala will be parting memories of Brisbane and Australia that will stay with us into our next adventure.