Urine, dog sex, and lemonade
I was peed on recently. Then I saw two dogs stuck together and realized that things weren’t quite so bad.
I also spent the last few weeks traveling around Luzon facilitating and organizing several enjoyable trainings, experienced the beautiful old-Spanish styles of Vigan, partied with the newly official Peace Corps Volunteers (congrats, y’all), and returned to site just in time for two (count ‘em!) Thanksgiving dinners this upcoming week, before I head off to work in Calauan again next Monday.
Also, while staying in a dorm I strange man fell beside and partially on my bed. I instinctively bashed him with my cell phone, which I keep beside my pillow. I woke up the next morning to find my cell phone gone. This was an unfortunate series of events.
But first, the urine.
I was on the bus from Manila to Vigan. I was drifting into sleep peacefully, lulled by the sounds of The National drifting in and out, as my iPod struggled to decide whether it wanted to work or not, and I noticed my leg getting wet. Funny, I thought, it must be raining. In hindsight, I realize that makes no sense. What the hell, I was tired. Then I thought it was probably a spilled water bottle. But the stream kept on coming and it was kind of, well, warm. So I opened my eyes. Sitting across the aisle from me were a mother and a baby. The baby had alternated between crying and breast feeding most of the ride. Then, for some unknown reason, the mother took his pants off and pointed him in my direction. Which led us to our current situation. Baby and I made eye contact. We admired the trajectory of his flow. Mother and I made eye contact. She kinda-sorta smiled at me. I kinda-sorta smiled back. I looked to my left, where the sixteen-year-old boy sitting beside me had fallen asleep with his head on my shoulder. I saw the dogs. I closed my eyes and went back to sleep. Because, honestly, what else can you do?
I don’t know what, if anything, this says about me as a person and as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Is this cultural integration? Would I have acquiesced so easily to being peed on by strange babies in America? My train-of-thought often moves in weird ways, and this experience led me down a path of self-reflection, where I really tried to figure out how I’ve changed (grown, maybe, possibly?) since being here. I probably spent a couple hours dwelling on the topic. Then I realized that my parents will be here in a month and will probably act as good mirrors. So, after finding an excuse to drop that dangerous path toward self-realization, I began thinking about thinking.
As I mentioned, all this began because I’ve been on the road a lot lately. Too much, actually. I miss just working at my school and interacting with my kids, developing relationships with them and seeing how they develop. Teacher trainings and system development are important, and they’re how I spend much of my energies, but they’re transient and the results are abstract. And transience can be fucking exhausting. Anyway:
All that travel means a lot of long bus rides, and a lot of long bus rides, and a lot of long bus rides mean a hell of a lot of time to do nothing but think and absorb the body odor of the other 40 people on the bus. So what do I think about all that time? Food, mostly. Then: What’s happening outside my window; then: Sheer randomness.
Let us explore a standard train of thought through some pseudo-stream-of-consciousness.
First, the food: I recently had a talk with a friend about how smells trigger memories – i.e. fresh cut grass sooo reminds me of that one time that one summer . . .only smells don’t trigger memories for me. Food does. I had lemonade last week, which naturally got me thinking of the fresh lemonade cart at the souk near by grandma’s apartment in Israel, which led down a whole other path of memories. Two hours, gone. Thanks, Minute Maid.
What’s happened outside my window recently: Dogs, copulating. Woman, crying. Child, falling. Houses, crumbling. Rain, falling.
Riding the highway into Manila at night I often experience a feeling of complete disconnect. I could be on any number of roads in any number of countries. Semis and buses for companions, generic billboards and Golden Arches for roadside company. There is no sense of place.
But early morning rides from Manila into the provinces are the precise reverse. You are intimately, maybe uncomfortably, connected to the rhythms and place of life in the Philippines. At sunrise, you have to acknowledge the shacks sprawling around the billboards, the drunks stumbling under the arches, the men who have already been working in their fields for an hour, the women who were up before them to prepare breakfast. And as you speed, skid and stutter by them, if you pay the right kind of attention, the country opens up. There’s Araneta Coliseum, there’s a group of shirtless men huddled around a glowing TV on the fringe of a rice field, watching the game, and there’s a bottling plant for the beer they’re drinking in both places. City, fields, town and fields again. They all have their own rhythms, but they blend into one another sometimes imperceptibly, creating the dissonant melody that is the Philippines.
Spend a year in a place and it becomes easy to take its idiosyncrasies for granted. To generalize and make grandiose statements beginning with “Well, see, the problem with the Philippines is. .”
Sometimes it takes getting peed on by a baby to make you look out the window and remember that countries and their attendant issues are not abstractions and that individual moments, individual lives, are where the truth and beauty’s hiding.
I warned you that my thought process is convoluted.