Santa, September and Two Whole Months of Manila

So apparently Santa Claus is coming to town. No, actually, Santa Claus IS HERE. Already. Like clockwork, on the first of this month, the many malls of my country began to play Christmas music, preaching to me of Santa Claus’ impending arrival.

I wonder how Santa’s sled works here. Where does he land and does he have less fun here because we don’t have any chimneys? Where does he park when he visits the slums? Does he even visit the slums? Does he lose weight in the sauna-like heat of our tropical weather? Does he shave his beard and change his suit to better survive the weather?

Krisis = Crisis

Maybe he arrives in September because it takes him that long to maneuver through all the crazy Filipino traffic, cross all the many bodies of water that weave around our 7,107 islands, and deliver presents to all one hundred and three million, seven hundred and seventy five thousand and two of us (Philippine population as of July 2012, according to the CIA World Factbook: 103,775,002). Granted of course that all one hundred and three million, seven hundred and seventy five thousand and two of us evaded his naughty list for the year.

The Philippines’ Christmas season is just about in full swing, beginning September 1st. Never ever delayed! Once the “-ber” months hit (SeptemBER, OctoBER, NovemBER), every Filipino’s heart begins to whisper with Christmas carols, louder and louder until December finally comes around and the festivities land inescapable. Already, beautiful Christmas lanterns for sale, line many street corners. Hence, my crazy ramblings about Santa Claus.

Even our Philippine National Police eventually join the festivities very publicly!

I’ve definitely missed the early coming of Christmas, being away for school all these years. While the rest of the world is preoccupied with celebrating fall, the changing colors of the leaves, Halloween, Dia de los Santos, Thanksgiving and other holidays before Christmas day, the Philippines jumps ahead and declares Christmas for five months of the year, spreading into the beginning of the new year.

I’d always have to work so hard to pump up my Christmas cheer before heading home for the holidays. I’d blast Christmas music in my dorm room, watch movies with plots set around Christmas, and last year even insisted on decorating our suite with sparkly, shiny Christmas decorations from the dollar store. I bought a tiny wreath too, decorated it with funky, glittery pipe cleaners and the flowers that I put in my hair.

But here I am for the first time in six years, begin to warm up to Christmas in September. Today marks two months since I moved back to the Philippines. Friends have asked me how its been going, and I’m undoubtedly still in the process of completely moving my mind and my heart to where my body is. It’s odd to think it’s only been two months, for so much has happened. So many doors have already been opened without delay, right where I am.

Thankfully, just as I had hoped, there is not a lack for things to do. Rather, the challenge is to make time for everything I want to be involved in. (Story of my liiiiife…) And unlike my college routine, the dance studio is not a five-minute walk from my bedroom, and my personal painting/drawing studio space isn’t yet frequented by friends and fellow artists for friendly visits, critiques or snack time. Last week in particular, was a week I felt homesick for the company of the friends that I have recently become incredibly distanced from. I began to miss my Wheaties more than any other time yet!

However, just as there are moments of longing and reminiscing, so are there moments of encouragement and affirmation. Incidentally, this week of missing old friends, was one of writing to AND receiving letters from friends, reconnecting with friends from long before college and other little joys.

The bottom line is that I am right where I am supposed to be. This story of my homecoming is rich with opportunity, discovery, and new and renewed personal connections. I am also enjoying easy access to Filipino mangoes. I’m enjoying the full cream milk. I’m getting used to falling asleep to frogs grunting low and deep, after the heavy rains have fallen. I’m enjoying the bananas, yellow on the outside AND inside too, incredibly sweet like candy. I am enjoying the company of family, very very much. And I am enjoying being home. Come visit? 🙂

Some images in this post are not my own
(all the Santa related ones) and were taken from the following websites:

Waking Up, Watching Honey Drip

I tried out a different branch of my usual coffee shop this morning, where the barista who served me my extra cup of water asked if my name was Emily. She was inspired to ask because of my large earring, cut out of an old license plate, boasting the letter E. She later remembered my name when I returned to the counter to order my favorite mint tea, where the other barista asked if I wanted honey in my tea. I watched as he squeezed the packets into the cup, thankful for the thoughtfulness, but a little resentful that he took away one of my favorite pre-tea-drinking rituals. Pouring honey into the hot, colored beverage.

I love watching honey drip. Especially into a steaming cup of tea. The thick glazed rope, twisting heavily into a thinner thread, coiling and applying itself in the heated liquid, poured out of a larger glob of sweetness. With the wooden stirrer, I like to harvest all the stubborn honey that won’t freely drip at the end of the open packet.

Today is Friday, and I begin it much like I did my Monday. Sitting at coffee shop by the window, a steeping cup of mint tea before me. I got an early start to my morning, both on Monday and today. I guess you could think of it as an early start to my week. On Monday, my eyes didn’t fully open until the first sip hit my lips. Thanks to the heavy rain, I had missed my usual Sunday morning tea time at the nook I frequent – an important time that I set aside to reset, to journal, to catch up with my self between weeks. There and then I like to read poetry, passages from the Bible, and sit in peace.


Monday morning tea and planning.

On Monday morning, I think the universe was trying to console me, in some odd way repay me for rising so early. (Interestingly enough, it set the early tone for the week, since I’ve been awake before six am almost every day this week.) I sat at the corner of the shop, on a high chair looking out onto the street. First the sun woke me up with a brightness that it had failed to share in the previous days. My nose produced its usual beads of sweat in response. But the sun soon cooled off, as if it had just wanted a moment with me, obnoxiously trying to grab my attention. It was the sun’s version of a wave.

Minutes later, I watched a dog cross the street. It was the cutest thing, a caramel brown dog tottering across the city road. You would’ve thought he was just another citizen of the city, on its way to work, walking right on the crosswalk when the pedestrian light flashed green.

Later on, a large vehicle was paused at the curb, waiting for his signal to turn. On the lap of the front seat passenger sat an adorable little girl who waved at me and smiled without stopping. She had the most infectious smile and wouldn’t take her eyes off me or look away. I waved back. She continued to watch me, and I her from the brim of my paper cup, still steaming mint. Before they finally drove off, she gave one last shy wave goodbye. Or hello.

And just those little things, as I sat in a coffeshop, made my morning good. Today feels like another good morning, as I wait for the tea to steep. Dad and I just had breakfast and he’s already left for court. I am left here still giggling every time I look at this shot I stole of him telling stories of workers suing their bosses. Oh lawyerly humor!


So Thankful This September

Now whoever thought I would be writing up business plans in the shadow of my recent painting experiments, pinned up on the glass windows of our living room? Whoever thought I would be eagerly discussing supply, demand, finance plans and marketing plans by choice, on evening drives with my older brother? Or trying to convince community leaders, with decades and decades of experience over me, over coffee in teeny tiny mugs, sweetened with Bailey’s, in the shelter of a in a nipa hut, that they should engage in business with the social enterprise I represent? Or that a 62 year old priest named Father Boy would teach me how to shoot guns and nickname me Lady Bond after a long day of discussing livelihood initiatives for thousands of families?

Whoever thought?

Well I definitely did not see this coming, and I’m not just talking about this new experience with firearms. I will not write too much yet of specifics about my work, but it is hand down the best job I could’ve been offered straight out of graduation. And just in case your wondering or worrying, this new job does not involve any guns.

My actual Bachelors Degree as a Major in Studio Art (Surprise! Not many people at home have discovered that I love to draw and paint) and a Minor in Dance, does not yet directly connect to my work. But certainly all the experience I have had in the past six years of living, studying and leading away from home, has allowed me not to begin this new journey completely blind and unequipped. Even the experiences I took as on complementary to my education and experience have now become my primary to my performance and involvement today. There is so much room to learn and so much room to grow, and I look ahead with such anticipation! Not to mention, I am surrounded by people that are anxious to support me, cheer me on, mentor me and work alongside me.

(More about this photo here.)

Before I returned to the Philippines, all I had hoped for this soon after arriving (roughly seven weeks now)  was to be slowly plugging myself back into community and investing in new and renewed connections with others. But life is in full swing now and I can barely believe it. As usual, I have to work hard on slowing down. Just as some younger friends back at school begin a new school year, I’ve got a job I love, wonderful people to work with, a weekly Zumba class to teach and the non-profit organization I founded and continually direct is set to jump into a wonderful new phase of service and community engagement.

Whoever thought?