Sunday, December 21, 2008

Last Month, last post?

Hi friends, or whoever looks at this! I've been home over a week, and remembered it's been a really long time since I thought to update this blog. I focused more on responding to personal emails and letters, since those are what I like best. Maybe there's something to be said for the blog thing too, though, so sorry (to who?) that I've been lax in keeping it up.
The last month in Imugan was kind of a whirlwind of last visits, trips, and surprises. I finally felt completely adjusted, able to go out visiting friends without hesitation or self-doubt. My language learning kind of evened out after 3 or 4 months in, but I was still learning a lot even up until the end. Because I probably was at some sort of conversational level, I felt confident to invite myself to lunch with a friend, or drop by a granny's house in the afternoon, or stop and chat on the street. So there was a lot of chatting going on the last two months. My friend, the high school librarian, offered to show me her birthplace up north in a place called Kabayan, so we went up there the first week of December. Suddenly, there were a lot more friends interested in seeing the place, so all 8 or 9 of us rented a jeepney (the KEF vehicle) and drove the 4 hours to her home. Auntie Aida and Mona, who work in Imugan Food Processing, Manang Enita, who is Mona and my Scrabble buddy, her young son Joshua, Uncle Doroteo, my host dad, and Agosto, our driver joined the excursion. We didn't stop at a single restaurant for those 2 days - different relatives of hers hosted us and provided all our needs. Near the area are huge caves where the ancient Filipinos stored hanging coffins of their dead. We saw a museum that housed one of these old mummies, preserved over a thousand years ago. It was great fun. Below, you can see me, my friend Mona, and Joshua trying to look like mummies in one of the rock caves open to tourists... "Ooooooo! Mummmmmiiess!" we said to scare Joshua.

One of the best surprises of December was the news that my dad found time in his schedule to come out and visit before taking me home! It was good to have him there, since words aren't enough to communicate the hospitality and love of my family in Imugan. He got to experience it himself, and ate at the tables of some of my best friends, an honor for them and him. Below is a picture of us during a big family get-together dinner and singing time with my host mom's family.

The day before I left, the school where I taught put on a "Bon Voyage" program in which the students made fun of me in hilarious ways - spoofs of my teaching style (all the boys wore long skirts like I always do) and skits acting out my future (wouldn't you know it - I return in 5 years to get married to an Ikalahan man :). It was totally unexpected, and I was glad to see that they were as fond of me as I was of them. I did feel guilty for those times I lost my temper with them though... Being a teacher really made me respect the profession, and convinced me I don't want to do it again! In the evening, my dad and I helped here and there with the good-bye service preparations - pansit - stir-fry noodles - and tambotambong of course, a must-have dessert treat. I was really exhausted that last day because of all the good-byes, packing, and getting ready to leave, but the service was a wonderful coming-together of my friends from all different areas of the town. Pastors Albert and Norma wanted another pastor to conduct the service in English for my dad, but I insisted that Ikalahan was what I wanted. So they had me translate, and I think it was better that everyone understood rather than just two Americans.
I didn't really know how to convey what those people and that place had meant to me. My host dad gave me some good words - to carry on what I learned here in the U.S., so that the memories don't become stale but live on in who I am.

It's been strange slipping back into home and home-self, and I'm praying that the changes will be manifest here too. I'm trying to remember and live out the community that made me a part of them, that took ownership over my life. Last year, I used to write "the Lord's" on my palm so as to know that I'm not my own, but I think this year it was written on my heart. Learning in a strong Christian community in the Philippines helped me to know better that our lives are hidden in Christ, but I know it doesn't take time abroad for someone to realize that we don't belong to ourselves.

Okay. That's all for now. Maybe this blog needs to shut down for a while, because I feel weird communicating this way. Write me, or call sometime. Otherwise I'll see you soon, especially if you're a part of the Wheaton bunch.

Love, Kat(y)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A prayer for adjusted eyes

Upon reading other interns’ assessments and reflecting on HNGR readings and the purposes of HNGR, I often feel that my experience in Imugan is almost too good to be true. One of my assumptions before HNGR was that joy is not complete or true without suffering. Yet in Imugan, I found myself caught in a joy that seemed incomplete – I had not yet experienced much injustice here or perhaps the vulnerability in relationships that would allow me to identify with a person’s suffering. My prayers for the place felt shallow. I found myself questioning my willingness to see pain: Have I remained at an easy surface level in my relationships, fearful of truly entering into the heavier side of Imugan’s life? Am I blinding myself in the brightness of joy instead of training my eyes also to the dark? I had a vision of myself sitting on a sparkling white beach, facing the sea’s shiny waves. My back was purposefully turned to the dark unknown jungle bordering the sand behind me. So I prayed last week that God would adjust my eyes to hardship, that I would not only see joy but that I would understand Imugan more compassionately by allowing my face to be turned to see the darker forest. Then last week, Manang D, a young mother whom I often sit next to at Bible Study, sought me out as a confidante. Though I have usually been the initiator in friendships since people here are generally shy, she sought me out and told me about her alcoholic husband, who tears her apart by becoming verbally abusive when drunk. Along with the sadness that I feel at her revelation, I thank God for this direct answer to prayer, an opportunity to help hold a friend’s frustration and pain in my heart and prayers.

In many ways, I understand myself better through getting to know Imugan. We’re a lot alike. God has gifted her with insuppressible joy and has written hope all over her face. It’s a true joy that can’t help but rise and overflow to all around. There’s something deeper, though, pains buried in dark corners that require much prayerful determination and intentional vulnerability before she trusts others to see these things. Yet these darker corners are nearer to the source of welling joy than some would think. I think the closer I get to the darker pains of Imugan, the closer I’ll get to truer joy and life.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Beauty Queen Sister

My little host sister starred in the "Little Miss Santa Fe" beauty pageant for young girls. I could hardly recognize her beneath all that makeup that the baklas (wikipedia "bakla", it's a Filipino thang) put on! We were proud of her for being brave on stage, though, and she even won "Most Photogenic." Behind us is one of the motorbike tricycles that they decorated for the contestants to ride in. It was quite an affair. Aunti Noemi lent me her tapis, the indigenous skirt, for the occasion.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Aunti Noemi and I pound rice at her cousin's house. Notice - she only uses one hand to lift that ~5 lb. pestle of wood. She's one of the strongest women I know. I told her I could chuck a softball pretty far, so I was considered a strong girl in the U.S., but her muscles top mine, hands down (literally, we had an arm-wrestling contest to prove it! haha).

Hanging bridge

One of several beautiful swinging bridges along our hike to the mountain rice farm.


This week, I had the opportunity to travel with my host mom to her cousin's mountain rice field. We harvested the rice that we'll use to cook for my despidida (farewell party). It was a sweet and full time. We talked over our work, moving from stalk to stalk breaking the hard stems in our hands, one by one. It is harder for me to romanticize farm work now after experiencing the tiredness in my body after working in the fields all day. As is to be expected, I feel a deeper appreciation for people who cultivate their own food, and hope I can be one of them someday soon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fresh Ears

One of the coolest things happened last Sunday. I hiked to Pahaw, a neighboring village, with my host mom. There, we attended a small church meeting in a government building. The church is being tended by a pastor couple from Imugan, and they are teaching foundational Bible stories to the 15 or so poor rural farmers who attend. After telling the story of the Transfiguration through stick-figure drawings on the chalkboard, Pastor Albert asked if there were any questions. One old lady was particularly inquisitive, and her question stuck with me, moving me spiritually all week. In its simplicity it may be the most beautiful question that I’ve ever heard. “Where was Jesus from?” she asked. As Pastor drew out a little map of Israel in chalk, I reveled in her thoughts and fresh ears. It was as if I heard the gospel anew. Since then, I’ve allowed her question to crumble some of the timeless gilded arches of Christian religion, a religion that likes to de-humanize Jesus, pinning him to little crosses around our necks, or plastering his face like some timeless superhero on paintings or t-shirts. But he came from a place, a time, and parents. “Where was Jesus from?” Oh, let’s hear the story again for the first time! “While they were there (in Bethlehem), the time came for the baby to be born…”

Teach Us How To Weep.

No wonder the prophet weeps yet--
We begin again, but not innocent…
As we begin, the powers of globalization surge;
There are victims, but we are mostly beneficiaries
There are wars and rumors of war
There are victims, but we are likely perpetrators
There is violence, among women, toward the poor,
Violence that refuses to forgive
And we are a mix
Of victim and perpetrator
The democratic process continue
But it is mostly devoid of gravitas
And our alarm is modest.
No wonder there is fear, reams of despair, and acres of weeping!
And we feebly watch for you and wait
Teach us how to weep while we wait
And how to hope while we weep
And how to care while we hope
Teach us through this strange, ancient, immediate text.

Walter Brueggemann

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Early this month, I had the chance to meet Maggie Campers and a '96 HNGR alumnus, Sarah Johnson, south of Manila. This picture is near the South China Sea, if my geography is correct. We got to do some hiking and saw a lake within a semi-active volcano within a lake within a volcano crater. Like a Russian doll. It was beautiful.

Prayer by Bishop Romero

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,

it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction

of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying

that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the church's mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted,

knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation

in realizing that. This enables us to do something,

and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,

but it is a beginning, a step along the way,

an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference

between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.


March 14, 1977 Bishop Oscar Romero

From The Violence of Love

Delighting in place

The other day, I got a text from a friend (Holly), asking me what I loved about where I am. The little question stuck with me, and that day I took note of some of the things that I especially delight in where I am. Usually, it's the hard things that stick with me and that I tend to communicate most with people back home. But it was a rewarding challenge that Holly gave, and I challenge you all as well to open your senses just a little wider than usual today to notice the joys of your place.

Here are mine:

- How juliet lifts her eyebrow in short jumps when she agrees with me
-How the old ladies titter with excitement whenever i sit with them and start speaking their dialect. "amtato!" "she understands!" I love speaking a powerless language. There is no use for it in the city, or even 30 minutes away in the lowlands, but here and now i speak the language of the old folks, the language that communicates more than I say - I care about their lives and their culture.
- I love my host family. they care for me and teach me compassion in little ways, like leaving hot water in the shower for me, or waking at 3 in the morning to cook sweet potato for my trip to Manila. They bid me to share about my family at home, to tell my stories and vulnerabilities at the same time that I listen to theirs.
-How in Imugan, there is no such thing as passing by someone you know with a simple greeting. You must sit down and talk for a little while, long enough to forget that you had somewhere important to go, before moving on with your feeling of being known and connected to community.
-I am learning to like throwing myself to the unknown - walking up a hill near our house after breakfast somedays and praying to encounter a new friend. Last time, I saw three ladies hiking to their swidden farm far in the forest. So I joined them and helped them weed. They told me they would find me a Kalahan husband soon, because the sooner I have children, the better. So if i don't return... jk
-I love fresh air and clouds. Mountains and vegetables from the mountains. Wild forest fruits before and after they are processed at the local processing plant. Life is buzzing, it is bursting at the seams (like my growing rice belly haha). I am feeling full here, now, with these people, in this place.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

My host family

These are my host sisters, Naomi (9, back), and Elna (12, front). They're practicing their beauty-pageant walks in high heels in this picture.
These are my host parents: Aunti Noemi and Uncle Doroteo. She took off his usual hat right before the picture, so he looks a little sheepish here because of his receding hair. They're wonderful people.

An overdo update letter

Dear family and friends,
Greetings from the Philippines! Please accept my apologies for not updating you all on my internship here until now. As you know, I am participating in Wheaton College's Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program for 6 months as a student of culture and the church in the Northern Philippines. HNGR emphasizes relationship-based learning from our brothers and sisters in the developing world. I am delighting in the friends and teachers I have found among the Ikalahan people in Imugan, where I am assigned. After an initial three month period of cultural adjustment and learning the local dialect, my "real" work has just recently begun in Northern Luzon! (Since Kalahan is a minority dialect, continuing to learn the language will be integral to my stay and relationships for my entire time here.)
If we had time, I'd like to share a story and a cup of tea with you. How I wish I could convey in one short letter the vast range of sights, experiences, and lessons I've had in just under 3 months! The memorable things are of course the simplest and the most human: how my neighbor, Aunti Esther, always comfortably rests her hand at my elbow as we walk to Bible Study, moon guiding our path; Pastor Rice wiping his glasses again and leaning back before starting, "Did I ever tell you…"; soft dirt rising up between my toes as I help my host mom harvest ginger; the swell of children's laughter as they bathe in a clear mountain waterfall… But I will instead give you necessary details, and we can save that cup of tea for when I return if you're willing!
In addition to teaching four classes of conversational English at the local high school each Monday morning, I am helping Pastor Rice, a retired missionary and anthropologist, with some cultural research projects that he supervises for the Kalahan Educational Foundation (KEF). The KEF is an indigenous people's organization that founded the local high school where I teach, about 30 years ago. The Academy provides culturally appropriate Christian education for indigenous students from all over the Philippines. During the 1970s, the KEF was able to fight off some land-grabbing cronies of Dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who wanted to convert the Ikalahan Peoples' ancestral forest homelands into huge dams. Since this court case, the Ikalahan have been able to secure land tenure for approximately 123,000 acres of ancestral lands. Now that the Ikalahan know that their land cannot be taken from them, they have a reason to protect and develop the tropical forests that are home to many endangered species of flora and fauna. The forests even provide livelihood to the people through a wild fruit processing plant, which turns out some delicious guava jam for sale in the big cities of the Philippines.
In addition to ecological preservation, a secondary function of the KEF is to strengthen and preserve the indigenous culture. The KEF's cultural preservation projects (with which I am involved) center around the indigenous justice system and indigenous rituals documentation. I'm loving travels to surrounding areas with Pastor Rice's research partner and tribal elder, Sario. We tape-record and document cases that go through the tribal justice system as well as traditional rituals performed for occasions such as sickness or blessing a home. Many of the old ways are in danger of being lost when the old people pass on, so it is important to record these practices for the later generations. I'm particularly interested in the ways that some of these old rituals, hailing from an animistic past, are currently undergoing a locally-led Christian conversion process. Instead of addressing the spirits that often cause the illness, the ritual's prayers are now being directed to God. I'm staying with a lovely Ikalahan host family. Aside from being rural farmers, my host father is an evangelical pastor and my host mother works as a teacher at Kalahan Academy where I teach. She is also a liason for KEF, organizing ecology seminars at other schools in the area. They have three children. I feel especially grateful for the ways that they draw me into the pulse of community life through the local church. The one church in the area meets not just in a building on Sundays, but in the homes of local people during a moving Bible-study group during the week. I've been learning of the power of prayer through being a part of a community rooted in Christ and confident in a God that hears, sees, and knows their troubles and joys. The community draws together for all occasions in prayer and song, whether it be for someone who is sick or for a family reunited after a parent's adultery.
My glowing report must now be dimmed a bit -– I'd like to share some of the challenges I've faced and some prayer requests. The first concerns some petty theft issues. The young boy who boards with his mother next door to my house has broken into my room and taken a few small things of mine. We've confronted both him and his mother about the issue, and have prayed about it. Yet he has repeated his theft multiple times, and so my host mother and I recently decided to talk with the community elders about the problem. Please pray that they will have wisdom in disciplining the boy so that he will be led toward change. Also, pray for my relationship with the boy's family, that love and forgiveness rather than shameand resentment will be the defining values.
Related to this request, please pray that the friendships I develop here would somehow breach the gaps that my relative wealth and status as an American automatically create. Most residents in this small mountain town are farmers and earn well below the poverty threshold of $1 per day. As I study the Bible with these rural poor, from their perspective, certain sections are dear to them that I previously did not pay much attention to. So many Old Testament passages show how God's favor is shown to His people on the basis of their relationship with the poor. Yet I find that my material "blessings" often block my own relationships with the poorest. This leads me to wonder if we as affluent westerners can honestly call those resources a "blessing".... when a blessing is defined as something that brings life and signifies God's favor. These same "blessings" often frustratingly stand in the way of the deeper friendships that I desire to develop here.
If I may be so bold as to suggest this, join my prayer that we as American Christians may also confess that we are unjustly rich in comparison with the majority of the world. Pray that I too would fearfully and carefully eye the needle that Jesus refers to in Mark 10. In this place, my skin color, round-trip plane ticket, and educational status all testify that I am exceedingly wealthy and this only seems to distance me from my neighbors. May the Lord give us eyes to truly see this obstacle of affluence. May we all have ears to hear Jesus' words "... How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." According to Christ's own words, we as wealthy ones are clearly disadvantaged in the economy of God's Kingdom! What do I do with this verse and many others in which God clearly favors the poor? How can the rich enter the kingdom of heaven? Lately, I've decided to ask these questions of the people around me here, since they are the poor that Jesus called the "blessed ones" in Matthew 5. Peoples' responses to my questions here are often surprising. I feel that God is calling me to live with these tensions and questions right now, to learn from the poor and release my claim to know the answers.
Many of you are my role models and teachers back home. Please feel free to send me your thoughts on this subject since many of you have no doubt wrestled with these things before. Thank you for truly "bearing with me" in the hard spots and encouraging me as God patiently teaches me to think by a different logic here, hopefully a Kingdom logic! I am also grateful for those of you who support me both financially and through prayer. I am confident that He is answering your prayers, for I constantly sense God's active sustenance of my life in this community of believers.
Joy and peace,

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sario, a ba-liw


Sario is one of the old ones who still remember the “deep” language, as they call it. He helps Pastor Rice transcribe rituals in Kalahan while I enter and edit the info on the computer. Sario’s father and grandfather were mabaki – ritual leaders. He is widely known and respected, the kind of man who travels alone to the far places and who the children whisper about when he passes slowly through town. Like many of the Kalahan men, he carries the ak-bote, a goat-hide backpack bound to his back with rattan straps. Somehow his forehead wrinkles formed a permanent fold that makes him look constantly surprised; the fold raises his eyebrows up above glasses that obscure his squinty eyes. He sometimes lets two patches of his mustache on either side of his lips grow out into a straggly gray strands. I think they look like the tail feathers of some tropical bird.
When I gather my courage to try out my Kalahan with him, I sense amusement in his eyes. He doesn’t take me seriously. I love this about him because this is a town that turns all of its attention to the amputi (white). But Sario is at the most slightly amused by me, and brushes off my comments with a grunt.
I recently discovered that Sario is a poet. He wrote many of the Kalahan hymns for their own hymnal. Also, I saw some of his poetic verse, called ba-liw in Kalahan, in some old files that Pastor gave me to transcribe into the computer. The ba-liw are beautiful verses composed creatively (not memorized – made up on the spot). Elders mostly chant ba-liw as forms of advice to a couple during their wedding, but the chants can be used at other celebrations or in debates as well.

Here is an example of a ba-liw recorded in 1970 in English. Though translating it from Kalahan loses the rhyme and syllable pattern, I think the beauty of the words is retained.

“Chant of the Gambler’s Wife”

I – To her Child

Pull the scarecrow strings
To scatter the rice birds
Perhaps they will leave some
White rice
Because that will be my lunch
They say my companion is there
They say he is in Lonsod
And he lost his Lonsod horse
He lost his horse in gambling.

II – To her Husband

Come and return
Never mind what you lost
The hundreds that you lost
There are piglets there
There are our pigs there
Even the striped sow
Hanging their heads
Because of your debts of hundreds.

Note: The animals know that they will be sacrificed to pay the debts, but the wife forgives.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Prayer

Spirit of the Living GOD,

be the Gardener of my

soul. For so long I have been waiting, silent and still –

experiencing a winter of the soul. But now, in the strong

name of Jesus Christ, I dare to ask:

Clear away the dead growth of the past,

Break up the hard clods of custom and routine,

Stir in the rich compost of vision and challenge,

Bury deep in my soul the implanted Word,

Cultivate and water and tend my heart,

Until new life buds and opens and flowers.


Auntie Mining

Auntie Mining remembers when the Japanese came into the mountains and the Kalahan fled to the hills. She tells me some folk stories and 'superstitions', some true. If you dream about relatives who are eating but do not invite you to eat, she says, you must go to them quickly. You must go and eat with them so that you will be reconciled.
She offers me some of her betel nut chew, a slight stimulant, saying it's good for the teeth (which I'm not too sure of, since she has only 3 or 4 now). I pass up the chew, but enjoy our conversation and her hospitality.

Here's a picture of the main part of Imugan. The house where I live is the second to last building in the upper left corner, with two broad windows on the front side.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A picture is worth a thousand words

Hello from Imugan! I've been here for almost a month already, so I suppose I should do some sort of blog by now.

Actually, I'm not posting a picture yet, but here is an image of some thousand words. Or a little less. I chose something not too interesting, because most days are not extreme highs. Life is mostly the enjoyable mundane.

Last weekend, I returned from a 2-day wedding in the lowlands. The distinction between lowlands and highlands is defined by the line where green mountains meet the flat muddy rice paddies. The mountains slope sharply, like the center cone of a straw hat rising from its wide brim.

To get back to Imugan from the main road, I climbed on the roof of a Jeepney, a type of modified U.S. army jeep extended in length for exciting Filipino travel. Some kids were on top also, gripping a few horizontal metal poles to hold on for the ride. I prefer the top for the thrill of swaying around the curves, singing with the children, and laughing as we duck for tree branches.

After 20 minutes, the jeepney deposits its passengers in the center (centro) of Imugan. I hop down to greet my friends, the ladies of the centro, who cluster at the 5 or so store stands to talk away the afternoon. They play scrabble some days, a town favorite (and mine). I want to join sometime.

On both sides of the centro, paths criss-cross through stands of tropical trees and plants, leading to some 70 homes in this main part of town. I follow the paved path to the right of a big 2-story cement house (unlike the other houses of wood and tin) owned by a community elder with relatives in Canada. Up some stairs, hushing the fierce little hunting dogs that still don't recognize me, I'm finally home.
Next stop: bucket shower. Yes.