Some random reflections:
In the US we often feel pity for people in the Philippines. But here, they also feel pity for us. They say masarap na buhay dito, life is sweet here. In the US, they say, talaga kanya kanyang lang, if you don’t do for yourself you have nothing.
It’s not that people are lazy here. Talagang masipag mga tao rito. People here are really very industrious. We argue over who is going to take care of who, we really care for each other. It’s not uncommon to see people arguing in the street – a young person will insist on carrying an older person’s bags and the older person will insist that they are able to do it. In my family’s houses we have had multiple arguments over who will wash the dishes.
I think people here have learned the secret of a stress free life. They take pleasure in the mundane aspects of life. They don’t have to spend money to have a good time – sitting in the street with friends drinking beer or soda and eating peanuts is an event to look forward to, and event to savor, and an event that never gets old. Cuento cuento is an art form that Filipinos are really good at. The way Filipinos tell stories – I wish I had that kind of ability – simple occurances can sound hysterical, glamourous, pitiful, beautiful. Maybe that’s why food, singing and dance are so important to our culture. You can be anywhere, with anyone, with little or no money, and still have the best in life.
Here, people make time for relaxation and recreation in their lives the way Americans make time for exercise. People here know it’s not healthy to be stressed all the time…that not having any time to enjoy constitutes a wasted life and that enjoyment alone is a valid purpose. Yet, people here still get A LOT of work done. I spedn a lot of time just chatting or watching tv with my Uncle and Aunt here, yet somehow everyday the washing, the sweeping and the cooking get done. The house is immacuate and we never eat take-out. They are up to date on everything in the newspaper and what is happening with our other relatives and every couple days there is a new crocheted tablecloth or a book that has been read. One can only wonder how all of that has been accomplished given the hours I spend with them during which I never witness that work.
Another secret that I think Filipinos have figured out is how to enjoy work. Something I have heard several times here is that it is nice to be busy, one is happy if there is work. When Mary Poppins sang about making any job into a game, she learned it from Filipinos. In the US we complain about work. If there is dirt on the floor maybe we look at it, assess whether it really needs to be cleaned, then grudgingly get up to do it, anguish in every moment. Here, people will just get up without thinking about it. There is no use for complaints or self-pity because they are emotions that do not accomplish anything. If something needs to be done it gets done without worry. Even the people with very hard or hectic jobs – tricycle drivers, water deliverers, people working in a store or passenger vans, construction workers, they are always smiling. They are never too busy to take one second to tell a joke.
This weekend I went to Bicol on a Medical Mission. We gave free medical, dental and optical screenings and free medicines to almost 2,000 people who other wise would never be able to afford it. These people are the poorest of the poor – many work as indentured servants (that’s right, FEUDALISM still exists here), they work someone else’s land but have no claim to it and their only pay is a portion of the harvest. Furthermore, at this particular mission,w e treated people evacuated from the region surrounding the Mayon volcano. Most do not even have regular access to potable water – they pump underground water which may or may not be fit for drinking. Buying bottled water on a regular basis is expensive. When my uncle was giving them their medicines and direction on how to take them, I asked if maybe he should write, it’s hard to ermember directions if you have a lot of medicines, especially when you’re collecting medicine for yourself, your son, your mother and your brother. He said it’s better to tell them because most can’t read. These people who endure such hardship, you would never know from the way they act. They are still happy. They have committed themselves to not feeling sorry for themselves, to enjoying whatever they have, how much or how little that may be. In America we always complain that one person has so much than another, rarely do we think about those that have less than us or commit ourselves to changing unjust situations. Self-pity is rampant. Here, self-pity is rarely manifested. Pity for others is rampant.