Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sagada, Luzon, Philippines

To get from Banaue to Sagada, you must cross a perilous mountain round for about two hours to Bontoc, and then switch to a Jeepney for another hour over unpaved mountain roads to Segada. But Sagada itself is definitely worth the hassle it takes to get there.

After spending a morning trekking across Rice Terraces (which was spectacular, by the way!) Joven dropped me at the bus stop for the one Bontoc-bound bus of the day. Now I thought that the bus from Manila to Banaue was rickety, but it didn't hold a candle to this one. This was a true Filipino villiage bus, complete with chickens and goats on the top! Inside it resembled the old schoolbuses I used to ride in elementary school (and looked to be as old too!) The bus was packed to the gills with people and luggage: inside and on the roof. We wove our way up the sides of cliffs up to the top of Mt. Polis, at whose peak the road was literally at cloud level. The bus would teeter and sway as we went around corners, oftentimes in places where mudslides had eroded the road. I just had to close my eyes and keep in mind that the bus driver does this every day and that he cares about his life as much as I care about mine.

On the bus I met a wonderful young woman named Elly and her very outgoing seven year old daughter, Reynely. Reynely doesn't have a shy bone in her entire body! She introduced herself to me in perfect English and told me most of her life story during the first hour of the bus ride. Then during the second hour, she started belting out Celine Dion songs at the top of her lungs for all the bus to hear. She has obviously done her fair-share of Kareoke, because her voice is amazing. Oh, and she also speaks 5 languages. They were also going to Sagada and helped me to negotiate the bus to Jeepney change in Bontoc, and Elly even told me about her sister's guesthouse in Sagada, where I ended up staying. Elly and Reynaly used to live in Manila with Elly's husband, but she recognized that Manila is not a healthy place to raise a child, so she moved back to Sagada (her hometown in the mountains) and has a little place next to her father's house in the village. We stopped by their charming little house, met Reynely's adopted little sister (who was absolutely adorable!), and then Reynely showed me to her Auntie's place, the George Guesthouse. It was a great little family-run place on the main road in Segada, which is tucked high up in the hills North of Bagueo.

In Sagada, I made several new friends, including one man who I met at the yummy yogurt shop in town who also graduated from u of Michigan around the year I was born, and has lived all over Southeast Asia. He had great travel advice to give me, which I was grateful for. I met Graham, a funny Scottish man who is married to a Filipina. She's in Glasgow and he is in the Philippines overseeing renovations to a house that they just bought there. But when school holidays started, 14 of her nieces and nephews arrived at their house and drove Graham crazy, so he got on the first bus he could find to escape from them. He was staying next door to me at the guest house, so we went hiking up to some waterfalls, and also to see hanging coffins and burial caves. The Igorot tribespeople who live in Sagada believe that if you bury a dead person underground, their spirit will get stuck under the ground too, so they have to find creative burial places where the coffins will not be disturbed. This includes secret caves, hanging them on the sides of cliffs, etc... When visiting one cave, we met an Igorot man who I asked about cultural traditions. He explained that they still continue to bury their dead in secret caves, and asked if I'd like to make a reservation. No thanks!! In 50 years, my coffin might be discovered and turned into a tourist attraction!

When coming down from one of the waterfalls, Graham and I were looking for a lookout point from Sagada to lowland villages below. We were getting lost, so we asked a cute little girl for help with directions. She told us that she would go with us. She was the cutest little thing Ive ever met. Of course her English was beautiful, just like Reynely's. Every time we asked her a question, she would start her reponse with a little giggle. It was too cute. We learned that she is the youngest of 10 children, she's 9 years old, her father is a pepper farmer and her mother is overseas working in Dubai. We hiked with her for nearly an hour until we found the magnificent viewpoint. We never would have found it by ourselves! Together we walked back to town and bought Julianne a coke and a little snack as a thankyou for the 2 hours she spent walking with us. Can you image anyone in the western world allowing their 9 year old daughter to take of for 2 hours with complete strangers without telling the parents? Well, parenting is just a bit different in this part of the world, but the kids seem a lot healtheir and their environment is wholesome and healthy. There is no crime in the area and everyone keeps an eye on each other. It's really pretty great!

Well, Sagada is a wonderful place...charming little villiage, breathtaking natural environment, much cooler than the rest of the Philippines, and just overall a friendly, wonderful place to spend time. But I didn't have long before I had to get back to Manila to catch my flight to Davao, Mindinao, the Southernmost part of the Philippines. I'm so lucky to have seen so many cross-sections of Filipino life. It has such a variety of interesting climates, cultures, and natural wonders!

The ride back toward Manila was another winding, high mountain journey across cliff-sides on the Halsema Highway. But this one took 6 hours. The bus was packed to the gills and the cold air seeped right in. It's amazing the vast variations on climate between neighboring towns when one is below the cloud level and the other is above it! I was completely unprepared for cold weather, bringing only one small backpack with 2 pairs of sandals, t-shirts, and capri pants. I was freezing for most of the trip to Baguio. An overly-friendly Igorot man in his 40's took the seat next to me, and seemed to want my seat too, since he kept invading my personal space. I had to keep pushing him away and asking him for space to which he would smile, and then start doing it again 30 seconds later. I was pretty darn happy to reach Baguio after 6 hours of this. Baguio has a reputation for its second-hand shops, and I'm a sucker for a bargain, so I set off to find something long-sleeved. I found the perfect light knit zippered jacket which fits easily into my backpack and has been a lifesaver on many an overly-air-condtioned bus or train trip since, for only 150 pesos (that's about $3.50). It was raining in Baguio and I was cold and miserable, so I decided to get back to Manila that night. I took a bus out and in the morning I was back to Manila for one day before flying to Mindinao.

From the bus station in Manila I recognized the name of a landmark very close to my guesthouse on the side of a Jeepney, so I decided to venture onto the Jeepney by myself (a little intimidating because they all have paths that they follow but that are not published or posted, so you just have to know your way around...which I barely do). I took my chances and jumped in and found out it went all the way across town to my place for only 20 pesos (50 cents)! Wow, I was feeling so smart about myself when I realized all the other passengers were getting off except for me....that's strange! Then I noticed that we were backtracking because I started seeing landmarks I we had already driven past. I started to get a little ticked off at the driver...was he swindling me? He didn't speak much English and I wasn't really following his hand gestures, but finally I figured it out: Right Jeepney, Wrong direction! I had reached the end of the line in the other direction and now I had to go all the way to the opposite end of the line. It took 1.5 hours and I got a pretty good tour of Manila for my 50 cents (and a good dose of humility!)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Imelda's shoes and other adventures

I set off on Monday morning toward Robinson’s department store in hopes to find the office to buy a ticket to get to the Clark Airport for when Ray and I go to Malaysia. The Lonely Planet has been a heaven-send, though only somewhat reliable (thing change quickly) and I soon got lost. I got adopted by an old guy who decided to be my tour guide (though he had no qualifications and had less of an idea where he was going than I did!). I reluctantly followed him off course for about 5 blocks from where the ticket office should have been, trying to ditch him several times, but he was pretty persistent. Finally he just asked for money, I gave him 20 pesos, and tried to find my way back to the correct street again. I was on my way back, feeling somewhat perturbed, when the “Schwarma Snack Center” sign caught my eye. I stopped in there for a falafel and hummus pita sandwich and a mango/banana shake (yum, what a lunch!) . I had found my way to “Middle East Street” in Manila and I couldn’t have been happier! A young couple about my age walked in and sat down at the table next to me. The husband said, “hey this is our table (pointing at the one I was sitting at) and asked if they could join me.” I was delighted to meet them. The husband, Zaid, is from Oman and the wife, Maricris is from Cebu (Philippines). She had been working in Oman at a shop that made fancy chocolates. Zaid kept coming back and back to the shop, buying chocolates for everyone and anyone he knew. Maricris thought he really liked chocolates, but the truth was that he really liked her. Well that was 5 years ago, and now they have a cute little son and another baby on the way. They were in transit to Cebu and didn’t have much on their schedule until the next day. When they heard I was going to the Imelda Marcos shoe museum, they said they would like to come along. I was glad for the company.

We caught the LRT (light rail train) in the wrong direction accidentally. None of us knows our way around Manila very well. We ended up at the crazy-busy Pasay rail station on the South Side of town. Then we took the MRT train around to the Northeast side of town. It was so tightly packed I was touching about 10 people at once. Let’s just say that it was an intimate Filipino experience! I thank my lucky stars that I’m tall, otherwise it would have been hard to breathe. Then we got off the MRT train one stop too far, so we had to backtrack a ways. We got a taxi and rode over to Marikina, hoping that the museum would still be open. We were exhausted, hot, and sweaty after a 3 hour trip to Marikina which should have only taken 30 minutes had we known what we were doing! But thankfully the museum was open, and we visited 750 pairs of Imelda Marcos’ 3000 pairs of shoes. It was quite a sight! After that we went to the local fruit market and indulged in mangos, grapes, papaya, tangerines, you name it! Maricris taught me the best way to eat a mango (I've been making a mess all these years when I really didn't need just slice off the two sides and then make a criss-cross pattern in the fruit. When you flip it from concave to convex, you get lots of little squares of mango that you can eat right off the peel, thus getting the mango juice in your mouth rather than on your face like I usually do). We caught a jeepney back to the LRT and took the LRT back to Ermita (where we had met) and said goodbye. I grabbed my backpack, took a shower, and went back to the LRT station again to try to find the bus to Banaue in Northern Luzon. From the LRT station, I got in a taxi which got stuck in traffic and it turned out that the bus station had been relocated to different place than the Lonely Planet said. We finally found it, with only 5 minutes to spare (thank goodness I made a prior reservation!) and I hopped on. By that point I had lost my voice and I was completely exhausted, but so happy to be on board. The bus looked to be on it’s last leg, and I was a bit nervous about spending an all-nighter (9 hour) ride through the mountains on it, but I was just glad to be on board and resting. The air conditioner was freezing (I had nothing long sleeved) and the vents would not close, so I stuffed a plastic bag in them, put my towel over me and fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up in Banaue, a small town surrounded by beautiful rice terraces which have been there for 2000 years. The Ifugao people developed an brilliant way of irrigating all these terraces from the top down to the bottom by diverting mountain streams from terrace to terrace all the way down the mountain. Of course because machinery cannot make it up the hill, all the work is still done by hand. I hired a guide, Joven, to show me a traditional Ifugao village. He explained that his people were once fierce head-hunters, but not anymore. Another interesting thing is the level of English fluency among Ifugao and other hill tribe people! Because it’s a world heritage site, there is a huge tourism draw, so after their traditional tribal language, they learn English as their second language instead of Tagalog. It’s amazing how multi-lingual they have become. Tourism is a blessing and a curse…it disrupts their traditional way of life, but there are many positive things about it too. It provides jobs to young Ifugao men and women who would otherwise move to Manila and leave behind their home. It provides markets for older Ifugao men and women to sell their carved rice guards and beautiful woven fabrics. It also gives the tourguides a reason to understand the traditions and history of their people so that they can share it with others. The next day Joven and I hiked up and across the terraces for 3 hours. It was a magnificent scene, and truly gives a better idea of the immense scale and amount of labor involved in cultivating rice on a steep hillside. That afternoon I caught a bus heading toward Bontoc for my next desitation: Sagada.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Funky Manila

The CNN weather report on TV said that it was going to rain all weekend in Manila. Fortunately the weather man got it all wrong. Since I arrived on Saturday night it has been warm and clear. Yesterday it was sunny and downright hot!
I really, really like Manila. I am not a city person, but this one is really great. I think what I like most about it, is that even though it’s a huge city and it has its fair share of poverty and problems, the people are incredibly friendly, down-to-earth, and warm. I felt the same way in Chicago…big city, yet people still act like Midwesterners. Well Manila has a similar feel. The city moves fast (holy cow, what a shock after living for 3 years in Majuro where the pace is less than ½ speed that Manila moves at). Filipinos are industrious, hard working, quick moving people, but they don’t get self-centered in all this hustle and bustle. They still treat others with kindness and respect. I love that!

I am also amazed at the level of English fluency among Filipinos, even those who have never left their country. This is a people who really value education and learning. Aside from these reasons I love the Philippines (after only 24 hours in the country) is that it’s a cheapskate’s dream vacation! The exchange rate is very favorable for those earning dollars, euros, or pounds. For example: 3 Mangoes, peeled and prepared = 20pesos (40cents). A decent room at a guesthouse is 500 pesos ($10), and an hour-long massage at a professional place is only 300 pesos ($7). There is so much natural beauty on these islands, from Ancient Rice Terraces on hillsides in Northern Luzon (I’m heading there tomorrow), white sand beaches and coral snorkeling with whale sharks in the Visayas, and plenty of jungles and volcanoes (some still active) to trek. Combine wonderful people with the great prices and a beautiful environment, and I’m really wondering why I didn’t come here a long time ago!

Yesterday afternoon (after attending church and meeting lots of great people), I decided to walk toward Rizal park. It’s a beautiful green space in the middle of Ermita district of Manila and a place where all the cute Filipino families spend time together on Sunday afternoons.  On my way there, I met a nice Filipino guy named Miko who asked if he could accompany me.  I was cautious at first, but soon realized that he was harmless.  His job contract on an American Military base in Mindenao (Southern part of Philippines) just ended and he's home to Manila to regroup and look for work again. Underemployment has always been a problem here (there are so many highly skilled people with not enough positions for them), but more so now that the economy has taken a downturn.  Miko is about my age (though he looks like he's 25 like all Filipinos do...they are such beautiful people!)  His funny friend Raul came along with us. They are an unlikely pair...Miko is a well dressed young Filipino and Raul is a somewhat disheveled man in his 50s? with crooked teeth and a big grin.  It was fun to walk around with them.  I had them pose for my pictures in the park (which made all the families watching us laugh!) and then we walked back down the boardwalk by Manila Bay and took a Jeepney ride to town for dinner.  I'm so glad they were around, because I really wanted to ride in a Jeepney but it's so confusing to figure out which one goes where and how much.  They are so fun and funky. Filipinos got the idea for this form of public transport from the US military who occupied their islands during and after WW2. Jeepneys are elongated Jeeps with two benches in the back facing each other. But they’re not camoflouge colored! They are all pimped-out with bright colors, flashy signs, and sometimes pictures of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. can't beat the Jeepney price! (7 pesos/15cents) for a ride across town!  We went to dinner at a nice authentic Filipino restaurant where I discovered that it’s difficult to find vegetarian Filipino dishes. Even the dishes under the “vegetarian” section have a few pig snouts/tripe/worse thrown in for good measure! I like adobo sauce, but not the meat so much. But I have to say that the Pancit was my favorite!
Niko gave me his cell phone and perhaps we'll hang out again when I get back from Northern Luzon next weekend.  His story is so sad, though he doesn’t seem to wallow in self pity (I probably would).  He was married and had two kids here in Phl.  Then his wife joined the Overseas Filipino Worker program and moved to California, leaving their children with her parents here.  That was four years ago.  I asked him if he had plans to join her, he must miss her.  His reply was that he can't because in the intervening years she met and married an American and got US citizenship, now with no intention of continuing her life with Miko or the children.  It's such a heartbreaking story, and unfortunately it's not uncommon.  1/10 of the Filipinos live overseas in order to remit money home to their families here because the exchange rate is so favorable and they are such industrious, well qualified employees (I have met many in the Marshall Islands). OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers inject so much capital into the Philippines economy (over $12 billion per year) that the government provides incentives to the families of OFWs (my Filipina friend in Majuro's kids got free welding lessons during their summer break from University...isn't that hilarious? Her delicate little 20 year old daughter spent her break from Nursing school taking welding lessons with her brother!)  But moving far from home often has really devastating consequences if you leave a spouse behind. I wish that the American government would make it easier for families to be together. One of the reasons I voted for Barrack Obama was his promise to make American Immigration more family friendly.

I went for a massage yesterday which was fantastic.  Sweet girl, 20 years old, from Pangasinan province (3 hours north of Manila).  Most Filipinas look about 10 years younger than their age, so she looked like she was 15.  She kept calling me ma'am, which feels akward. I experienced that first with my Filipino colleagues at is very strange to be called "Maam Britt" by colleagues who are my age (or my parents' age!)  But it's 10 times worse here!  Another funny thing is that as soon as you meet a friendly Filipino/a, they always inquire lots of details: Where are you from? how old are you? Are you married, single, divorced?  I think I need to figure out more efficient ways to answer these questions.

Next destination on my trip is Banaue and Batad and Baguio. It’s a 9 hour bus ride to Banaue (starting at 10pm tonight!). Supposed to be very scenic, but I won't see much until we're almost there. Today’s agenda includes getting a haircut, arranging bus tickets, and a visit the Imelda Marcos shoe museum.  Isn't that a hilarious?!? I love the Philippines!

On Friday (the day before I left Majuro) I was talking to my Dean of Academics, Joe.  He and his wife are lovely people from Mindenao province.  He said, "Britt, my wife and I will fly from Manila to Davao and visit my brother (president of a very progressive SDA University in the mountains there).  Would you like to come with us? Of course!! I am so delighted!  It only costs about $50 to fly down there (to Davao) and they can get me on a bus/ferry heading to the places I wanted to visit in the Visayas just after that.  Prior to our conversation, I had wanted to see Mindenao (it has a reputation for being extremely beautiful), but it's not safe to go alone, due to terrorist activities in some parts of the island. But to go with Joe and Becky will be really wonderful.  From there I think I will catch a bus to Surigao City (northern tip of Mindenao) and take a ferry to Leyte Island.  There are lots of natural caves, snorkeling with harmless whale sharks, a natural bridge and thick jungles to trek in Leyte and Samar islands.  Then I'll fly back to Manila to meet Ray and get ready to leave for Borneo. Two weeks is definitely not long enough, but I’m going to see as much as I can. I’ll write about the Rice Terraces and post pictures with this entry when I return next weekend.

Friday, May 22, 2009

End of a Semester, Beginning of New Adventures

The semester has finally ended! Yahoo! For some reason, while the fall semester flies by, the Spring Semester (which was actually shorter than it was supposed to be) has dragged on and on. I’m so thankful to be finished and have prospect of a change of pace ahead. Graduation was wonderful. Now that I’ve been here for almost 3 years, I have good relationships with more and more of the students. I would guess that about 40% of the students in the graduating class of 2009 are former students of mine. It was such a happy occasion that by the end of the night, my cheek muscles hurt from smiling so much.

Part of what makes life here interesting is that one can never count on technology to work the way it should. One day a couple of weeks ago, the technology in my life all ganged up on me on the same day. I woke up in the morning to discover that my phone line was dead. So when I got to work, I called NTA to request service. Next I arrived at my office to find that my computer froze when I tried to start it (now this is worrying me…my colleague Dean’s hard-drive melted down taking everything with it, and I’m worried that this may be an omen). I powered it down and then turned it on again, only to discover that the internet in our building needed to be reset in order for it to work. Frequent power outages here take their toll on electronics. As there had been a power-outage the night prior, the air conditioner in my office was no longer working and neither was the internet. So I spent 15 minutes running around campus looking for someone from IT and someone from Physical plant to reset the switches in our building to enable things to work again. I went to use the copier (which is a complete lemon anyway), and of course in addition to jamming during every use, it now has an electronic malfunction and also freezes during startup. After running here, there and everywhere trying to resolve all these problems, I vented to my students, who were studying at the conference table outside my office. “The technology is ganging up on me today!” I exclaimed. They all smiled a bit sheepishly (as is typical of Marshallese), and Malachi suggested, “Perhaps you need to pray more!” which is also a very unique and typical Marshallese response to problems. Yes, perhaps I need intervention from a higher source than IT and the physical plant!! Ha ha ha!

Speaking of technology failures in the Marshall Islands….I would like to share with you an excerpt from an email which I received this week. I am not making this up:

This is to inform you that the CMI Basketball Court is temporarily closed for urgent and critical repair works to its “rusted” lighting arms. One of the lighting arms fell off last night luckily no one was hurt or injured. Therefore if you are walking by the basketball court area, we advise you to be “CAUTIOUS” at all times and avoid walking too close to the basketball court area.
Komool tata for your understanding and cooperation,
Safety and Security Office”

What the!?! At first I though perhaps this was a joke, but no, sure enough, when I walked home that day, there was yellow police tape around the ENTIRE front of CMI where the basketball court is. This is where we will held graduation last night! Luckily they took all the lights off the top of the other poles before they fell on someone during graduation.

Last month we had a Young Women’s activity at church. The purpose was to teach the girls how to make some traditional Marshallese Local food (and to teach me how too). Most people here eat rice and fried chicken, which is not local and not very healthy. So I was excited to learn some authentic meals. Well, what we cooked was called “Millenium” and it’s a new recipe concocted by the daughter of one of the young women leaders. We cooked for about 4 hours! It was a mixture of boiled, mashed breadfruit (the consistency of mashed potatoes), grated coconut & coconut milk, lots of sugar (not exactly a local ingredient), and tapioca starch. It tasted good. I don’t think I’ll ever have the patience to cook it again (after all, it takes at least 3 hours to make). But the very exciting thing is that I got to try grating coconut all by myself. Every Marshallese family has a little stool with a metal coconut scraper on the end of it. You grate the coconut by sitting on the stool and scrapping the coconut with both hands and a rocking motion. It looked like fun until I tried to fit myself on the stool and realized that coconut scraping stools are made for people who are about 5 feet tall, not 6 feet tall like me. I sat down and my legs were so long they completely obstructed the scraper. That did NOT work. So I scooted back to try to find the scraper and fell off the back side of the stool. Definitely NOT! I tried kneeling on the stool, but then I couldn’t get the right amount of torque on the coconut to scrape it correctly plus I was completely unbalanced and unwieldy. I was about to give up on the whole idea when one of the other leaders suggested I sit side-saddle. Well, finally I found something workable and managed to scrape a bit. But it takes talent to scrape all the white coconut meat evenly and I ended up scraping little bits of brown shell into the beautiful white pile of coconut shavings below. Well, it was a good learning experience.

This will likely be my last blog for a little while. Tomorrow I’ll embark on a 10 week trip to Southeast Asia. Ray finally got her tickets and we bought ourselves tickets to Borneo and over to Singapore. After that we’ll use ground transportation for most of the rest of the journey. The itinerary is definitely not set in stone, which is a great way to go, because you never know what great stuff you’ll find along the way that you want to stop and do. I’ve posted my tentative route map. I’ll explore the Philippines for 2 weeks on my own while Ray finishes school. Around June 5th she’ll fly to Manila and we’ll take off for Borneo, Singapore, Peninsular Malaysia, (possibly Sumatra for a few days), and train from the South to the North of Thailand stopping along the way. After that, she’ll have to fly back home because she’s starting a new job in Mexico shortly thereafter. After she leaves, I’ll have 3 weeks on my own again, during which I hope to cross from Northern Thailand into Laos, take a boat down the Mekong River into Luang Prabang, bus across into Vietnam near the de-milatarized zone, train/bus down from central to Southern Vietnam to Ho Chi Mihn City, and loop back through Cambodia. If time permits, I really, really, really would like to spend a week in Myanmar, but we’ll see how things go. The military generals are acting up at the moment and have transferred Aung San Su Kyi from house arrest to prison. She is an amazing woman of courage and grace!! She epitomizes the courage and grace of many Burmese people, who I would very much like to meet. Hopefully things will calm down a bit before then. It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime! I can’t wait!!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Acts of Kindness

In the past several weeks, I have learned once a again, that I should never judge another human being in whose shoes I have not walked. This point was driven home by an experience I had the other day. I'll get to it later, but first there's alot of background detail: The Douglas family lives in Illinois. They adopted a Marshallese toddler girl about 10 years ago. Unfortunately (unbeknownst to them) she had already contracted tuburculosis prior to the adoption, and struggled with significant health problems for the rest of her life. Despite challenges, she was the light of their lives, and her death two years ago was devastating. I met the Douglases when they were trying locate their daughter's birth family to share the sad news. Over the last 2 years, Kathy, Bruce and Lydia have helped to care for their daughter's siblings here in the Marshall Islands by sending money for school, packages with food and clothing and toys, and otherwise checking in from time to time to make sure things are ok. The father of the family has issues with alcoholism and abuse and it has tragic consequences for these kids. My friend Annie (a neighbor and "Auntie" to the kids) helps out as much as she can and every so often I check in as well.

Also living in my neighborhood (at the catholic church) is Lino, who suffers from schizophrenia. His story is also devastating. He was also adopted by an American family as a baby and grew up abroad. He served in the US Military and had a wife and child of his own. I'm not sure at what point his schizophrenia became an issue, but it caused alot of problems in their domestic life. It caused him to be violent at times. After one such domestic incident, he was arrested and deported to the Marshall Islands (since he never obtained US citizenship). Now at approximately age 30, he lives here on Majuro without family (I believe his birth mom is from Ebeye...not Majuro), without medical care, and without an ability to speak Marshallese. The parishoners at the catholic church give him food and he does some landscaping work (beautiful work actually) around the Assumption church and school. But our hospital and our community are not yet ready to cope with such extreme cases of mental illness. Most of the neighborhood believes that his bizarre and sometimes aggressive behavior is due to a "Black Magic" spell that his ex-wife cast on him. They do not acknowledge that this is a medical illness that can be treated.

I have had several experiences with Lino on my morning and evening walks to work at the college. Most of them are harmless, non-sensical conversational exchanges. He is obviously very intelligent because he talks about all kind of world events and people who are obscure to me, but he's in a different world entirely. One time while I was riding my bike he even chased me down the street yelling lyrics to an old Duran Duran song. His unpredictability makes him somewhat unapproachable, yet I'm sure he needs to feel acknowledged. So I've decided lately that when I see him, instead of avoiding what could be an aggressive confrontation, I will be the first to say hello and call him by name. Sometimes he ignores me, other times he acknowledges my hello. But the greatest thing is that he has not been confrontational since I started greeting him by name. Then yesterday, the coolest thing happened. I was making the trip home from CMI with two gigantic boxes that the Douglases had sent for their daughter's siblings. I was struggling under the weight of them, but I couldn't exactly leave one on the side of the road. As I began to cross by assumption, I put them down for a minute to take a rest. Lino approached me and offered to help. "Here," he said, "let me help you with that." I was so appreciative and impressed by his thoughtfulness. I asked how he was doing and he told me he was fine and that I really ought to introduce myself to (some guy whose name I didn't recognize). I asked him who that was and he said, "you know, the Texas cattle barron." "Oh, ok, I'll try." When we got to my house I thanked him and offered him a drink of water. He declined and went his way pretty quickly. This simple exchange reminded me of an important lesson. First, that I should not judge others, and second that there is goodness and kindness in all people, regardless of their situation, their past behavior, and regardless of appearance. I believe that if we allow others the opportunity, they will show it to us. I was grateful for Lino's simple act of charity toward me. Sometimes I get so caught up in serving other people that I forget to slow down and allow them to help me. It is through acts of service that I most poignantly give and recieve love, so this small act meant very much to me. I am grateful. And I hope that Lino's family out there knows that he's doing alright. That despite the complicated state of his life right now, he's doing ok, and he made a difference in my life this week. I also want to say that I am really grateful for the Douglas' example of generosity. During these tough economic times, there are many reasons not to be generous. But they have chosen to give of themselves, and it brightens the day of those children who do not get treats very often (just look at their faces in the pictures!). What a good experience to witness these things and be inspired by them!