Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hey peoples

Hi peoples. Its been awhile

Hi, I wanna tell all of you that I have a new blog. I dunno if the title fits me or not but its called i'm not ironic. Read it if you want, you don't have to I'm just saying. So the url is 


Lizzie XD

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Business as Usual

Lizzie and I have been back in the US, up to our old tricks here in Green Bay, for over a week now. In fact, we're coming up on two weeks.

And it seems to me as if our time in Manila is becoming a fast fading dream, something I cooked up in my brain to pass a lazy Sunday afternoon (instead of vacuuming or raking leaves).

But I do run into people daily who do a double take when they see me, and say, "Hey, you're back. How WAS it?"

I need to come up with a one word answer--because that's all they're looking for, in the midst of their everyday busyness. "Good" might suffice, or even the ubiquitous "Great."

Of course the truth is much more complicated, and unraveling. "Good, over all," I end up saying. "There were challenges, of course. It was frustrating and elevating and terrifying and--" I launch into an extended disquisition, covering our technological frustrations, the horrifying weather, the language barrier, the feeling of disconnection from the department at UP, the deep relationship that Lizzie and I forged (and banked against the whittling and withering energies of her adolescence), our abiding joy now that we're home.

By now, whoever was stupid enough to ask me how it went is sitting behind his desk, glazed, vaguely unhappy, like a man caught in the wrong conversation at the cocktail party, his glass nearly empty and the bar oh so far across the crowded room. And yet I can barely wrench myself away from the topic, even as part of me hovers over my head and bemoans my inability to stop the tidal wave.

The short answer is that our trip was, overall, productive and positive. Lizzie and I learned what's important in life: love, human relationships, the connectedness of life on this planet. To learn that lesson, we had to suffer fear and boredom and disconnection. We made wonderful friends. We enjoyed radical hospitality--our friends who had less than us shared everything with us. We tuned into and out of what was going on here in the U. S. Sometimes our forced radio silence--the downed internet, the dearth of cable TV, the thirteen hour time gap--allowed us to take deep breaths, to calm down, not to get snarled up in the usual (and mostly invented) white noise of day to day living here.

And now we're back, and I find myself knit up into the often ridiculous chatter of a first world country, where we worry about prime time line ups and bonus checks and Christmas vacations and job search duties and who dissed whom at the last faculty meeting rather than about those clouds massing out over the ocean and threatening our shorelines or a corrosive bout of cancer caught too late or the return of martial law or losing our houses and our children in a sudden flood.

In short, I feel safe. And safety leads to a kind of mental or emotional dissolution that I suspect is as toxic, at times, as its opposite.

How was my trip? It was awesome, in every sense of the word.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Welcome Home! You Are Underwater.

We came home to Green Bay last night after a 1.5 hour delay in the Chicago airport (our plane was late to arrive and so late to leave, and when we finally did leave, was queued up behind dozens of other planes), weary, lagged, awake--more or less--for over 36 hours, but happy to be home.

Happy, that is, until we found a puddle of water waiting for us in the middle of the kitchen floor. That leak in the stucco on between the kitchen addition and the rest of the house? Well,
it's gone nova. And what else? Oh yeah. The sump pump quit working.

It's been raining for the last few days, the woman in the supermarket told me this morning, as I bought donuts at 5:30 AM and stocked us up on coffee, fresh fruit, milk and cereal.
Wonderful! Dave's been up since 3:30 AM (maybe he never really went to sleep), sucking water out of the defunct and filling sump pump well with the wet-dry vac.

I'm making myself the Angel of the Hearth, but I seem to have forgotten how to make coffee. Yeah. I forgot to put a filter in... (Oh. And just now, while I was trying to heat a little milk to put into my groundy-coffee, I managed to spill it over in the microwave. All cylinders are NOT operating to full capacity.)

Lizzie's upstairs, though, happily sleeping her way back to a normal home life.

The only other consolation, and it's a cold one, is that the dog and cats are still at their kennel, so they're not wandering around getting in the way of water removal. But I do confess to missing their noise and busyness. Home just isn't the same without their low level of chaos.

All in all, however, it's great to be back. When I hopped into the car at 4:30 AM and headed out to the supermarket, under my own steam, the heater on and toasting me as I navigated the silent, mostly quiet early morning streets under the spitting rain, I thought about how lucky we all are to be back here, puddles and all.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

While I Was Away

Here are some of the things that have happened here since I last wrote:

--Pepeng, another typhoon, has entered, left, and reentered the country. In the process, it has managed to nearly submerge an entire Northern island, Pangasinan. It has sparked more floods and mudslides, killing 130.

--Some of the 300 pairs of shoes in the Marcos museum, the one that we were supposed to visit with Beng but never got around to, have been waterlogged. Most, however, were saved by a quick-thinking guard, who trucked them upstairs as flood waters rose.

--I found 16 Trojan infestations on my laptop and over 300 viruses on my flash drive. As I wondered how they managed to worm their way into my life, I confessed that I'd taken my flash drive to an internet "cafe" at the UP Coop to get a few copies. "Ma'am, that's the source," my students told me. There's dirty ice cream, and dirty computers, over in the Coop. And dirty food, they say.

--I've run my anti-virus software twice. I've added two Malware-killing programs (and they found at least 100 instances of Malware). I'm supposed to be clean now. But Firefox just froze and crashed. And though I'm typing this note into Notepad, it's going very slow, and hanging up, letters and phrases behind my fingers. None of this can be good.

--I taught my last classes. Now all that's left is to meet with students for individual conferences on Tuesday, October 13, and to read their final essays and portfolios. Oh, and to assign grades.

--Lizzie's classes were canceled after she got to school on Thursday because of rotating power outages in the city. (A substation was damaged in a fire on Wednesday.) She spent over an hour on the bus, trying to get back here. Around 8 pm that night, I got a text from her school: classes canceled on Friday, too.

--I bought tickets for all three of us to travel to Philadelphia for Christmas. I've got to train in to Center City for December 28 and 29, when we will be interviewing candidates for a position during the dreaded MLA conference (that's Modern Languages Association, for those of you lucky enough not to know that ackronym).

--My hair has been falling out at a faster rate. I think (hope) it's just my regular shedding season, autumn for my head. Alarmingly enough, many of the strands that wrap themselves around my fingers and drift onto my chest are silver.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

This Connection is Freakishly Slow

First, let me just say that I'm annoyed. I can't sleep. Someone in the shanty town underneath my bedroom window ("Oh, the UP slum," said the driver who brought us home from the airport on Monday) has been having a raucous birthday party for hours now. They started with firecrackers, which I have decided are ridiculous, adolescent, and unnecessarily male. Then they progressed to singing "Happy birthday to you" over and over again, at random intervals. They're also burning things that are smoking up the atmosphere in my bedroom and making it hard for me to breathe, even though I've taken an allergy pill.

Now it's raining. And even that natural impediment is not sending the revelers inside. If anything, it has incited them to set off another barrage of firecrackers.

Ironic, then, that I wrote the following earlier this evening, thinking mostly about the costs of modern(ism) and big cities on the psyche...


Looking for Dave on Tuesday morning, I called the house via Skype and listened to the phone ring and ring, until finally my voice answered: "We're not home right now. Leave a message."

Was he walking the dog? I imagined him striding briskly down Reed Street, then Oregon, then Oneida, then back up Reed, the mile-long block, the air already turning October brisk, his ears reddening a bit, the leaves overhead rustling and drying, getting ready to burst into color and then fall.

I left a message, something like "Hello, it's me. Just wanted to tell you that we love you, that we got home safe, hope you're out enjoying the evening, maybe walking the dog. I'll be online for another 45 minutes or so, checking email, if you get this message."

After messing around on Facebook for far too long, and learning that everyone in Green Bay and the surrounding area suddenly hates Brett Favre (what has he done now?), I tried calling home again. Got the same message.

Where is he? Then it hit me--everyone hates Brett Favre because he's no longer the Packer quarterback. Now he's the Vikings' quarterback, a turncoat traitor throwing for the enemy. Monday night football back home, everyone huddled around the electronic hearth, screaming, drinking beer, pounding each other on the back. Dave must be over at Brad and Diane's.

I called Brad's cell. He'd pick up--Dave was iffy with the cell. Who knew if he'd even taken it with him? But Brad can be counted on to take his cell with him wherever he goes, and, if it's humanly possible, to answer it.

"Hello?" Brad said. The sounds of revelry crowded around his voice.

I'd hit the motherlode. Everyone was at KC and JP's house, watching the game: Dave, Brad and Diane. I got to talk to everyone nearly all at once, as if I were already home.

"Are you going to be sad to come back to boring, white middle class America?" KC wanted to know.

"Let me tell you a little secret," I said. "I will be very glad to be home. Give me boring, predictable, white middle class small town life," I said, "where all the crises are small." A man throwing his cigarette butt out of the car window: jerk! A long line at the Target register. The small red *bing* of the engine light coming on in the Toyota. The pilot light going out on the hot water heater. A trickle of water snaking in over the basement floor after a particularly long fall rain. The dog chewing on a favorite pair of shoes, eating the expensive wool socks.

I've learned a lot about myself over the past going on 5 months. One of the things that I've learned is that I'm old and set in my ways. What's more, my adventure gene flickers--there are moments when I'm awed by the scope of the world, by its sheer variety, the sizes and shapes and sounds and tastes of it, and there are moments (usually coming right after) when I'm terrified by its overwhelming particularity. Perhaps I miss my white, middle class, midwestern American tribe, the vast herds of us grazing in supermarkets and shopping malls in our brand name jeans and unmarked T-shirts, our hair predictably coiffed, highlighted in haloes around our innocent blank faces. Maybe I want to be surrounded by the similarly guilty, our food divided into large portions, hermetically sealed, poverty hidden behind concrete walls and polite facades.

Our visit to Bohol showed me that I'm not a big city girl. I like the slower pace of the countryside, the province, the "povertyesque" of the small, neat hut with its scratching chickens and single white pig rooting under a gnarled tree. Life moves a little more slowly. The faces that come at me smile, the skin around the eyes wrinkles, and the grin doesn't slide into a grimace. People are poor there, certainly, but their poverty doesn't cut into me like a knife, doesn't slice down to my quivering, silly core.

It occurs to me that my mythical homeland may not exist. I turn on the TV and am bombarded with apocalyptic imagery. It seems that the earth no longer wants us, at least as we are. It's chewing us up with earthquakes, burning us clean with wildfires, vomiting us out with tsunamis, spitting floods on us. I might want a land that only exists in memory, the imagination, a kind of nostalgia that's sickeningly sweet.

Or maybe Manila is, in some ways, more real, more alive--and thus more threatening--than Green Bay or De Pere, Wisconsin. Here the costs of the slow, middle class float of home are more apparent, our semi-ignorance, our dazed complacence, our small bubbles of self reality like astronaut's suits to protect us from an airless moon. Haven't we somehow contributed to this city with our consumerism, our restless shopping? Manila is the city gone supernova, like the Mexico City of my childhood. People crowded on people in the worst conditions, squalor, mounds of trash, decay and death jumbled together with screaming children, babies, men and women sleeping on slips of cardboard under dirty overpasses, traffic snarled into itself like matted hair. Desire and despair, hunger and greed, are the hum, whistle and honk, the odd music, like a mechanical sea, that fills our ears. The modern city builds and builds until it implodes.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


The clouds just gathered, clotted, and rained down on us, hard, for about 5 minutes.

I can imagine that there are people in the city who are cowering on top of their roofs right about now, expecting the worst.

Pundits here have compared the flooding to Katrina, and the analogy fits, at least as far as disaster preparedness and clean up is concerned. Bluntly, no one expected floods of this magnitude in the city. The city didn't have any rubber boats for rescue operations, nor did it have (as far as I can tell) a disaster readiness plan in place. The media leaped into the breach, taking cell phone calls from stranded victims, broadcasting their locations, but their sheer numbers mitigated against any effective response.

Citizens have mobilized to volunteer in rescue and relief operations, collecting food, water, and clothing to distribute to the victims, but there doesn't seem to be any central or official command post to coordinate all of these efforts. I collected two bags of clothing that Lizzie and I could donate and asked the guard downstairs where I might turn it in. "The Protestant church, ma'am," she said, indicating the church around the corner that we tried one Sunday morning. There, organization reigned. Three women at a sign in desk took our bags and asked us to sign a sheet, leaving our name, contact number and address, and type of donation.

Now thousands of survivors, homeless and penniless, are crammed together in school gyms. I read that 3000 people in one such shelter had to share one working toilet. That's bound to pump up anxiety, anger and despair. The president just opened up the Palace for 300 survivors and they are readying a carpeted ballroom for another 50. But 350 survivors in a modicum of comfort are not even a drop in the bucket filled with millions of displaced people. The threat of disease lurks over these crowded relief camps, of course--dysentery the most mild of these. Dengue fever is a problem, of course. I can also imagine that typhoid might also loom its ugly head.

This morning, the headline in the newspaper read "Flood Crisis Deepens"--angry flood survivors are rioting with each other as they fight to get rescue supplies. They won't let the trucks through to the official drop off sites, too afraid that they won't get their share of the food and water. Residents in Marikina, a neighborhood hard hit by the floods, complain that city trucks are dumping loads of garbage on a city-owned vacant lot, loads of soggy household goods, dead animals, and rotting refuse that stinks over the whole neighborhood.

On TV, a reporter with a grim visage chatters over a banner in Filipino about Pagasa, the national weather report, and something about the current storm due to hit land in the next hours, Pegeng. SUPERTYPHOON? jumps out. Scientists, politicians, and journalists blame the crisis on climate change; the number of commercials devoted to saving the environment have increased noticably since Saturday. Writers suggest that this is God's warning that the country needs to learn from its mistakes, make crucial changes, and pull together to save what's left of the its natural resources.

Meanwhile, the TV is filled again with Law and Order, 24, the Tyra Banks show, telenovelas and local variety shows, mixed in with the sober 24-hour news feeds. Life begins to return to normal, at least for those of us who weren't soaked by the floods. It goes on; the crowd outside of the Protestant church shrinks just a little.

It begins to pour again as I write this. Everyone must be cringing in his or her skin, waiting for the final, obliterating lightening bolt. The city and country can figure out, given time and money and patience, how to recover--physically--from this unexpected disaster. But what will be the lingering emotional costs? (As I type this, the news show on in the background posts a piece on PTSD--the symptoms and the treatment.) How will the country measure these very real wounds, and heal?


Lizzie and I get on a plane for Bohol tomorrow morning at 5:30. We should be at the beach by 7:00. We'll be off the internet grid until Monday afternoon, when--God and weather willing--we'll be back in the city to begin our last three weeks here. Lizzie's last day of school will be October 16, and now with some of the schedule changes at the University, it looks as if it'll be my last day to collect portfolios and final papers from my students (who I hope are all okay. I wonder if any of them lost their computers and thus all of their work for the semester? Speaking of uncalculated damages...)

Dave arrives on October 18 and we give him a whirlwind tour of Manila before hopping on a plane on October 24, and saying goodbye to this adventure. A 4 day stop in Tokyo and then we'll be home in Green Bay by October 30. Again--God, weather and human activity willing.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Now metro Manila struggles to get back to "normal," to rescue the residents still stuck in their houses or on their rooftops, residents who have run out of food and water. And to find those who are still lost, missing, perhaps stashed in an evacuation center somewhere, perhaps dead.

Lots of residents are pitching in to help those in need, putting together bags of necessities--food, clean water, blankets, clothing. There are still those who are swamped with water. Another storm is expected later in the week, a chilling thought for those who are still digging themselves out of the mud that's covered them.

Meanwhile, schools are closed "until Tuesday," which Cynch assures me means, here, through Tuesday. I can't figure it out for sure. The TV broadcasts messages from the director of the NDCC (National Disaster Coordination Committee) that begin in English and change, quickly, to Filipino. I can only read facial expressions, watch the pictures as they flash across the screen--houses halfway submerged, tumbled cars, a line of open coffins, waiting for victims.

The camera films crying fathers, husbands. Tears well in me. Just their facial expressions twist me into sympathetic knots. I feel hot, flushed, embarrassed at my helplessness. I am dry, safe, healthy, and I can't really understand what's being asked of us, how I can help. I can't even figure out if Lizzie has school tomorrow, or if I'll be asked to teach my classes as usual. Cynch says no--I should trust her.

Then there's the matter of our trip to Bohol. What should I do? Go through the week blithely waiting for Friday, to see if it will go as planned? Should I haunt the Philippines Airlines website, check to see whether planes are departing the airport as regularly scheduled? Trust the weather to hold off enough for us to go? Or should I call the travel agency and see if I can push the trip back, cancel it, use the money I would have spent, what's left of it after all the cancellation fees, as a donation to local shelters for disaster relief?

It feels shallow of me to be thinking of such mercenary matters--a voice in my head tells me to just let it go until Friday. If the plane is cancelled, then deal with the next step. If the trip is cancelled and I don't get any of the money back, chalk it up to the cost of the disaster. After all, there are people here who have lost everything--computers, cars, houses, loved ones. Another voice tells me to call the travel agency tomorrow and ask them what they think I should do, if anything.

If I could understand what the director of the NDCC is saying when he comes on the TV, perhaps I'd have a better idea of what to do. As it is, I feel like a confused kid, who only understands a fraction of the grown ups as they scurry here and there, obviously agitated, obviously on the edge of reason.


I'm downstairs now, and the internet's working. Also, while I was down here earlier, trying to get a fix on the school situation, some official verification, I ran into our neighbors from California via Australia, Nathan and Vanessa and their two boys (Liam and Jonas). They're flying out tomorrow to tour the Visayas, and don't seem concerned with the weather and potential travels alarms. So I won't be.

In the meantime, I've gone on the UP Diliman website and discovered that if I want to contribute relief money, I can take it to a pick up place in the College of Arts and Letters. Think I'll do that tomorrow.

Now that I have a small handle on life, I feel a whole lot better.