I am an epiphyte

This is a long, rambly post about what’s been going on in our lives the last month or so.  You should know before you invest your time in reading that there is one heartbreaking event, and also that I have no  earth shattering conclusion to share, no deep and poignant moment of reflection, no tidy moral of the story, no neat little lesson to be learned, or major point to consider.

We are back in the U.S. with tentative (very tentative) thoughts of returning to the Philippines in about two years. My husband has a job offer there which doesn’t involve me having to participate in drumming up support which is fantastic because I have never felt remotely comfortable with that.  How does working to gather support make me feel? Like a snail without a shell crawling over a trail of salt with no end in sight.  It’s not my gift, my strength, my comfort zone, my wheelhouse, and I really do not believe it is my calling. I can do it for others, for myself it is painful and unpleasant and naked. I have done it and I have done it *mostly* without complaining- but I cannot keep it up indefinitely. But that’s for the future. Meanwhile, we need to find work and income to sustain us for the next two years, at least, here, and enough extra to help others out as well.  We have enough set aside for about two more months, maybe three, so we are not too worried about that.  So here’s what we’ve done the last month or so:

We arrived home in the U.S. on the 11th of December after about 32 hours of traveling. We spent maybe two days in a row at home in the last month, and I am not sure that happened more than once. In between visiting the kids and grandkids (and a fun afternoon with my nephew who spent two years in Honduras, so he gets it), I unpacked and put away the contents of five of our six suitcases and five of our six carry on bags.  The carry on bags were really suitcases themselves because I packed them so full (we are fortunate nobody weighed them on the flights home).
At every airport any porters who came to help would snicker when they discovered these were carry on bags, and would sometimes gesture to other porters on our way to the ticket line and giggle, “Carry on!” We provided much mirth and no small number of tips, and there’s something to be said for that. There were three small wheeled suitcases which fit in the overhead, and then two backpacks and the largest purse I could find- it was like a mini duffle-bag, really, but it was a realio, trulio, purse, just also a realio, trulio, humongous speciman of a purse.  One of the wheeled suitcases and one of the backpacks was for the Cherub (her wheeled suitcase had a Hello Kitty on the front, proving it is hers, unless you know my own fondness for Hello, Kitty, and then you would be suspicious), and then one each for the two adults.  One of us would take on one suitcase and bag and hold the Cherub’s hand, and the other would take two suitcases and two bags.    It should have been possible to strap a backpack or my purse onto the top of the wheeled carry on and then wheel them along instead of carrying the backpacks, and, in fact, it was possible when I did it.  But another member of our party of three had decided ahead of time that I overpacked (well, no argument there), and this would never, ever work, and thus had a point to make, so when the other member of the party had the two suitcases the backpacks were carried, or attached badly so the suitcases kept tipping and there was much moaning and groaning about how heavy they were.  When I had the suitcases I made a point of ostentatiously wheeling one of them with only one finger on the handle because it was just that good of a suitcase and that easy to do with the backpack attached, and I could still manage the second one with its bag attached by pulling it behind me without whacking people in the shins along the way.  On the plane when it was time to unstrap the bags from the suitcases one of us would put them in the aisle, blocking traffic and getting frustrated at how tangled the straps were, and when the bag situation was reversed, the other one of us would put them on to our seats and stand in front of them, out of the way, leisurely but somewhat ostentatiously unwrapping the straps with a bit of a flair and waiting for the aisle to clear before stepping into the aisle and smugly putting the suitcase in the overhead.   
It was that kind of trip.
There were also two travel pillows and a very long map in a tube that got left behind before we left and had to be backtracked and retrieved, and in the end got left behind at the Honk Kong airport anyway.
I also had cans of food for the Cherub in her backpack because she cannot always eat what is served.  It turns out canned food isn’t allowed on airplanes. At the first airport they reprimanded me and took what I thought were all the cans, since they let me go.  At the second airport we made it through security again so I again assumed her cans were gone and fed her with odds and ends scavenged from our own meals.  At the third airport they found another can I didn’t know I still had and confiscated it.  At the fourth airport they found yet another can, but then looked at the Cherub in her wheelchair and asked “For the baby?” and I said yes, and they let me take it through.  That airport was Beijing, btw, which subjected us to the most thorough and painstaking search of everything else and in the end, unbeknownst to us, kept back one of our suitcases altogether and it arrived much later, delivered by FedEx two or three days after we came home.  There was a member of the party who was less ostentatiously smug about the confiscated cans than I would have been.  There’s probably a lesson in there but I am sure I don’t know what it is.
Meanwhile, back to our arrival and time at home… our pattern, insofar as there was one, was to spend a night at home and then end up spending two nights at our daughter’s house in town, usually with the second night unplanned.  Also, our first daughter and her husband and five kids have been sort of living in our house while renovating theirs and their kitchen isn’t finished yet along with a couple other things, so a lot of their things are still here.  Some had to be moved or cleared to make room for our things, and then there were Christmas celebrations and we got sick, and what with one thing and another, I never got to unpacking the sixth suitcase when it was time to pack again for a week long trip to Missouri the day after Christmas.  My husband had committed some time ago to working a booth for a week at a conference there and we have especially dear friends there who had moved there from WAshington just a couple months before we’d moved to the Philippines.  They were instrumental in our being able to go to the Phlippines, in fact.  And this is the hardest part of this post to write, so you have been warned.
That visit was more sorrow and parting and less joyful reunion and our hearts are still heavy and sad for our friends left behind too soon.  I tell this badly and out of order.  We had asked for prayers for them a few months ago- he was struggling with breathing and he went to the doctor (he had asthma) and after wasting too much time on other things they finally did a deeper check and he was in stage four lung cancer (non-smoker).  He also had a calcified heart valve that they would not replace because of his tumour- not that he couldn’t handle the surgery but they would not do it for somebody with a life expectancy as short as his. They were told just before Christmas that the tumour had shrunk, so they were excited.   After Christmas, on the day we arrived to visit, he had a previously scheduled doctor appointment. They hospitalized him because he had fluid in his lungs. They drained it but kept him for observation overnight.  Then they decided to try to jiggle that calcified heart valve (not fix it, just give it a jiggle), and that didn’t work and he passed away without coming home from the hospital, leaving behind a grieving family- his youngest two children are just 19 and 15.  They might have been 16 and 20 if the valve replacement had been done and his tumour had continued to grow. Or replacing the valve might have given them time for treatments to take hold and the tumour would have shrunk and they could have had their daddy longer. Might have beens and could have beens- and then there is what is, which is grief.   I offered to take the Cherub to a hotel of course, but they insisted it would be helpful if I stayed, so I did, preparing a few meals, not that they were eating much, and doing dishes as needed.  Ordinarily I would end this post here because it would be too heartbreaking to continue, and in fact, that is essentially what I did because I have written this post in four or five parts and while you are reading for the first time, I put this on pause for more tears and grieving and came back to finish it much later.
We came home from Missouri and stayed the night with our second daughter’s family again. In the morning we took the Cherub over to spend the day with her two younger sisters and nieces and a nephew, and then borrowed our fifth daughter’s car and drove 2 hours (well, 2 1/2 because we got lost) to visit our son in college for the first time. We saw his apartment, visited the local campus, took him and a friend to see Aquaman (choked on the price difference between here and the Philippines). While there we bought him groceries and a laundry basket, just like other American college parents, and I also visited my television, which was not supposed to be there, and several other odds and ends and I discovered why it was I hadn’t been able to find my vacuum cleaner at home! 
After a full day’s visit we drove back home (two hours this time!), picked up the Cherub and went to spend the night with our second girl and her fam again- we’d left our Christmas luggage and accoutrements there before we went to Missouri and now we’d added the Missouri luggage to the mix. We didn’t feel up to loading the car again and then driving the 45 minutes home and unloading it again.  We have displaced our poor oldest grandson for most of December and a fourth of January, I think, as his is the room we stayed in.

The next morning I told a few billion stories, got a few trillion hugs and kisses.  Their baby that was born after we left for the Philippines is a toddler now and an adorable cuddle-bomb.  Though I have yet to experience it personally, I am told she also bites, sometimes using a deeply affectionate hug as preface to an equally deep bite. In fact, her older male cousin, who dotes on her, warned me, “Be careful.  She is sooooooo cute, but it is kind of like a trap!”

I made a real grocery list  for the very first time since coming home,  and went shopping- the first real grocery trip since we’ve been back. My second girl came with me.  It was fun, exhausting, overwhelming. I nearly wept for joy at the snowy white cauliflower, like the broccoli, as big as my head and the equivilant of barely 50 pesos for a kilogram (at home, I mean in the Philippines, it is not regularly available and when it is , it’s small as my fist and the cauliflower is dingy and greyish brown looking and expensive). and the abundant and affordable grape and cherry tomatoes. I nearly cried for other reasons at the plastic bananas and the pineapple without fragrance. The beef was cause for rejoicing. The shrimp was cause for holding my nose. Helllloooo, Dr Pepper, you sweet, sweet thing.  The nuts were large and not rancid. But there was no mango at all, and no rambutan, pomelo, kang-kong, longinissa, etc, etc.  The green onions looked lifeless, but there were grapes in affordable abundance and there was almond butter!  Previously in the U.S almond butter was a special treat because it is so expensive but just now if I squint and don’t look hard at the peanut butter, I can justify it because it’s less than peanut butter in the Philippines.  I know this is twisted logic, but some things are not matters of logic but of the heart.

We finally got back to our own house last night. We put away groceries for the week, picked up a few things around the house, bundled up and I went to bed. Grocery shopping always exhausts me, but this first round at home was even more exhausting than usual.
The last four weeks, I have told the folk story of the teeny-tiny woman a hundred times or more, and also the story of the little Dutch boy, the Toads and Diamonds and read a couple of chapters of Caudill’s Fairchild children stories to the grands, plus a few songs and colouring and snuggling. I have cried a thousand times. I have laughed about as much. I have eaten pumpkin pie. I have bought clothes my size at the thrift shop. I have kissed all four of the babies born since we left the country two years ago. I have hugged my friend and cried with her.  
Reverse culture shock: I still sometimes look for a trash can for the toilet paper in the bathroom. Traffic patterns are sane and sensible and people stay in their lanes and it surprises me. I hate the way our businesses tack taxes on after the fact instead of incorporating it into the price so you don’t know exactly what you are paying until they’ve rung it up. I miss the Philippine style brooms (which is funny because when we got there I was desperate to find an American style). A cardinal in the yard is as exciting as it was when I was six again. I also still am surprised by toilet paper in public bathroom stalls, shocked by cold toilet seats, cold floors, cold air, feel oddly startled at walking into a public space and not being the minority, am startled at being called sweetie by a waitress instead of ma’am/sir. I accidentally ordered friend shrimp at a restaurant and I won’t do that again. It was disgusting. I am so tired already of all the corn syrup and corn products in everything (the Cherub is allergic), including foods that definitely do not need corn additives at all.  I miss banana catsup and the easy of finding foods without corn additives. I have sometimes felt chafed and irked by the busy-ness & brusqueness, but I sometimes chafed and was irked by inefficiency and the slower pace of life there- it just depends on the situation.  I flinch at the food waste, and wanted to pick up a discussion of poverty in Bible class and run with it, but didn’t know where to begin with putting people straight (and that’s not my place anyway), and I feel utterly delighted and decadant over taking a pair of sweat pants out of the dryer and putting them on while they are still warm- it almost makes up for the icey shock of cold toilet seats. It is very good to be home and know my mom is just next door if she needs us or we need her oven- I decided against repairing our big double ovens which quit working while we were gone, and we are using a small toaster oven again. ;-D It was a choice of anywhere between 700 and 1000 for the oven repair or 32 dollars for a toaster oven that is still twice as large as the one I used the last two years in the Philippines.  I do like having hot water in my kitchen, but I haven’t used the dishwasher yet. I washed dishes by hand at every house where I’ve stayed.
 A sweet little old lady at church told me she bet I was just so delighted to be back after the way I’d been living the last two years and I had to blink back tears because I don’t really feel like we’ve sacrificed or suffered much beyond missing our family. The heat was sometimes unbearable there, but the cold is that way here.  I missed some foods I can’t get there, but I miss some foods I can’t get here.  I missed some conveniences there, but I miss other conveniences I don’t have here (I have got to figure out a way to get a sprayer hose that reaches our toilet).  I miss my Korean friends. I miss hearing Visaya. I miss being able to comfortably sit on the floor (it’s far too cold for that here).  And I couldn’t explain that to her, or to anybody, not really, and that’s just after a two year visit. If you know any missionaries returning after five years, or a lifetime, be extra kind and sensitive and be extra open to just listening and learning. They are fish out of water and it’s a bizarre feeling.
We listened to parts of Livermore’s Cultural Intelligence lectures on the drive to Missouri and it made us homesick for the Philippines. But we haven’t had both feet in Amercan culture since our five years in Japan (for my husband, all my life for me) so that’s not really new.  I’ve lived in over a dozen states, visited 47, and lived in four countries. I don’t feel completely at home anywhere and I never have- and I am okay with that.  I don’t know what it means to feel any different.  But I also don’t know what to say to people who are at home in the place where they have lived all their lives and assume I miss that.  “Doesn’t this mean you lack rootedness?” asks a psychology major in the Philippines, who has that rootedness herself in spades, and I admire the beauty of her life and her roots.  Of course, it does.  But what if I am not a plant that needs roots? There are air plants. There is nothing wrong with being rooted.  But there is nothing wrong with being an air plant, either.  Air plants are epiphytes, meaning plants that grow without dirt. Air plants attach themselves to rocks, trees, shrubs, or the ground with their roots.  You can hang them in glass baubles and they grow in the air. I think I am an epiphyte.
So our little reverse culture shock episodes are nothing really major, just small but perhaps cumulative things.  There are things that make us glad to be back, things that make us sad to be away from the Philippines.
There are heartaches.  There are people we lost when we were in the Philippines that we feel the loss anew now that we are home and they aren’t here.  We are both heartbroken over the loss of our friend in Missouri, but we are grateful God let us be there for our friends in Missouri when they needed us.  We know our friend has gone to a better place and he is breathing easier than he has ever in all his life, but we are not there, we are here, and it hurts and we multiply that by a thousand for his precious family.  We are grateful that though we grieve, we do not grieve as those who have no hope- not a smug gratitude, but a thankful, grateful sense of the relief that hope offers, tinged with sadness for those who cannot ameliorate their grief with that hope.
We are glad and thankful for every moment spent with the kids (which includes the in-laws) and grandkids.  I’m glad to be able to see my mom whenever we feel like it again.  I miss the Philippines. I miss people there.  I miss teaching English conversation with Korean friends who go on to use those skills to work with their multi-national team to create audio-bibles in other languages.  I miss tutoring the Korean school kids I worked with.  I miss walking everywhere- except for when I don’t miss it. I miss being warm. I revel in my kitchen counters here, their expanse and their design. I love my maple cupboards and I don’t miss the strange shade of pink laid on so thick they didn’t shut properly of the cupboards at- I almost said at home.  I love having Bible classes in English. I miss Bible classes in Visaya so much I listen to my own little audible Bible in Visaya just to soothe the ache. 
I have missed blogging and am ready not to travel for a while, although part of trying to settle in and make life work here includes figuring out how soon after we buy a car we can make plans to go to Alabama to visit our Godsons, the Little Boys who are no longer all that little.
We have to find a car to buy.
We have to to buy cell phones and a cell phone plan that works here (we are using trak phones at the moment and I can’t figure mine out).
We have to figure out a new routine all over again and find the balance between a working routine and living in the moment while being aware we might move again in two years or we might not.
If you have read this far, thank-you and hello again.  I’m back. Thank-you for your time, it honors me that you spend some of it here.  I am grateful.  I am thankful for readers who share our joys and sorrows and pray for us and care about us no matter where we live. 

I have no  earth shattering conclusion to share, no deep and poignant moment of reflection, no tidy moral of the story, no neat little lesson to be learned, or point to consider, unless, I suppose, it is this:

 Affiliate links to things mentioned in this post:
Customs of the World by David Livermore
Vietnamese straw broom (similar to Philippine style)
banana catsup (mix with soy and have as dipping sauce for fried chicken pieces, lumpia, egg rolls, noodle fritters and more)
This is the model toaster oven I bought, but I bought mind at Walmart for 32 dollars.  I paid 3 dollars for an additional 2 year extended warranty.
 If anybody is in the market for a toaster, I strongly recommend you get a toaster oven instead. They simply don’t make toasters like they used to.
This entry was posted in Davao Diary, stream of consciousness, Who We Are and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.