Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I am NOT Mchina!!!

Yesterday on my way to the supermarket, two Tanzanian youngsters walking a few steps behind me tried get my attention by talking "Chinese" or what they think passes off or sounds Chinese. I paid them no heed, then one said "must be Japanese" and went on to say "Sista, sista, are you Japanesi?" For a while I considered telling them that I am Filipino but decided against it because it would surely lengthen the discussion. This is true even in Malawi where kids in the village would run after me saying "Mchina, Mchina!" To the knowing eye, I would be the last Filipino to be mistaken a Chinese. I am not fair-skinned (actually more brown than the typical Filipina) and though my eyes are quite small, I would not describe them as slanted. But in Africa, the face of Asia are the Chinese. For them since I don't look Indian but have Asian features then I must be Chinese. 

It is funny how friends asking for directions to my house would use the question "Where does the Mchina live?" and get correct directions each time. But it sometimes become annoying especially when you are not in the best of moods and the dala-dala (a public transport used here, usually a dilapidated van)  conductor make Kung-Fu moves to get your attention, complete with the invented Chinese words, thinking it is cute. It happened once and I  glared at the conductor and said in a stern voice: "I am not Chinese." In Malawi, one even asked me if I know Bruce Lee! On days when I have the time and energy to correct people about my origins, I explain that I am Filipino, and that I am from the Philippines. More often than not when they hear Philippines, the women mostly, their eyes would gleam and say "Oh, Philippine! You have nice movies!" of course they refer to the telenovelas exported to African households by ABS-CBN or GMA, i.e. "The Promise/Pangako Sa Iyo" or "Marimar." One even found it crazy that I have not watched these movies! A side note about Marimar, North's nanny suggested that I use banana leaves as plates for a luncheon I was hosting for friends because she saw it in Marimar! 

With the tension between China and the Philippines over the Spratlys Island I tell my workmates I would be greatly offended to be called Mchina. But my workmate said, no, let people believe you are Chinese for security purposes. Chinese means Kung-Fu with most of the locals here so they would think twice about bothering me because they think I know Kung-Fu. I said I still don't relish being tagged Mchina, and I am sure the Chinese would also frown on that. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Son, the Budding Artist

I discovered that something could rival chocolates for my son’s attention—pencil and paper. North, who is now 2 years and 7 months, has recently discovered the joys of drawing and this is evident on my walls, my off-white couch, and even our mirrors. Once, out of frustration, I hid all of the writing materials at home. But nothing can stop this boy… he discovered candle drippings could do the job and so now my bed’s side tables sport wax drawings of squares, circles, and triangles. This morning he wowed me with his first clear drawing of a car. Much more than drawing, North has a deep, abiding interest in vehicles. I was amazed that he now has a clear concept of a car and he can put this on paper, wheels, windows, and all. I wonder if the indentation on his car’s bumper is his interpretation of the dent our car suffered from my poor driving skills?

* Both drawings are by my son, Kahlil North, 2.7 years old. 
* The second one, my son insists, is a cat. But it does look like a tarsier!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Malawi Vignettes

If there is something in my life that I am proud of it would be my experience as a volunteer in Malawi, Africa under the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). It was one heck of an experience. I gained a lot from it--the most colourful memories, friends that I intend to keep until the end, insights about myself, my beloved (and of course, the result of our union--North) . I would gladly do it again in a heartbeat, maybe someday, with North in tow. I have to sit down sometime and write about working and living in Malawi. Soon... but for now, this will do... a letter to a friend, salvaged from my tattered notes.

Dear Jarrah,

Monile! (That’s ‘hello’ in Chitumbuka) I hope everything is great at your end.

It seemed ages ago since I last wrote you. Time flies. I remember writing you about my decision to accept the volunteer placement in Malawi, and here I am, already on my eighth month here. So much has happened, and I don’t know where to start really. Maybe it is best to start by saying that I am enjoying leading a volunteer’s life in this place that could very well be 50 kms off the ends of the earth.

The people of Chitipa are lovely. Not a day goes by without me being accosted by people I barely know, asking me how I’m coping, how I am finding the place. They are very appreciative of the fact that foreigners would choose to stay here. The place is not that bad really. I live in the middle of a cornfield, a 10-minute walk from the District Education Office where I work. The only thing that I dislike about it is the road. Chitipa is separated from the rest of the country by 110 km of bad road. One hundred and ten km of bad, winding mountain road, dusty in the dry season; muddy, slippery, and deadly in the rains. It doesn’t help that the only means of transportation is a lorry that is always overloaded with people and luggage and some chickens, cement, fuel, and what have you. The first time I took the lorry I thought I would not make it back to Chitipa alive. But hey, I’ve taken the lorry several times more after that and I am still alive so it is slowly gaining my trust. I don’t know if I should chalk it up to the Filipinos’ ability to cope in the most trying of situations, but I have adjusted fairly well to the place. I am steadily progressing in my attempts to learn the languages they speak. Chitipa has 17 languages and I could now greet people, bargain in the market, and functionally state how I feel in at least two of the local languages. Although sometimes I end up confusing the two wherefore I start greeting them in Chitumbuka and end up saying goodbye in Lambia. They would laugh but laud my efforts to learn. The people in the office love it that I am gregarious and easygoing. Once an officemate told me that sometimes they forget that I am not one of them.

Life here is so simple. There are no cinemas, no coffee shops, no malls, no restaurants. I go to work, go home, cook, read. In the beginning, I thought I would give up after three months. Then I got myself three cats and life became more bearable. With the help of my boyfriend, Kennedy (also a VSO volunteer, a Kenyan), I started a vegetable garden. So now, aside from getting playful scratches from my cats, I now have a garden to take care of. It helped a lot to keep boredom at bay, and thinking of people and things I miss from home. I have also taken to going to a local bar. No, it doesn’t look like a bar at all—just a bottle store—which has a pool table. Now, I am learning to play pool/billiards and I think I’m getting quite good at it. It’s funny though because most nights the bar would be full of men and maybe three or four women—me, and two or three commercial sex workers. The commercial sex workers are now my friends and they tried teaching me how to dance. Dance. The Africans’ dancing skills is incomparable! Their sense of rhythm is very good.

I miss my family but we talk on the phone very often. What I pine for most is the company of my friends back home. Blue, Marge, Ma’am Vicky, Rea. When Blue phoned me last week—the first time we’ve talked since I left the Philippines—I cried. I think he missed me, too. I am going through a lot of things—new experiences, new insights—which I feel are best shared with a friend.

I am trying to convince Blue to give volunteering a go, to go to Malawi and do the same work as I am doing now. The work that I am doing is basically the same things that we used to do at ACPC—building capacity of teachers to improve quality of learning in community schools. He said maybe in three years’ time. I am imagining it would be great to work with him. He was trying to convince me to go home for a vacation, maybe next year because Sally is coming for a visit too. I asked him about you and he said you are going to Europe to trace your roots. How are you? I hope you are ok and happy with work, your personal life, and that your family is ok as well.

I talked about you with Kennedy one time when he quizzed me about my past relationships. I showed him our pictures, too. The best person I had a relationship with, I said. It was good no matter how short and how trying it was for me in the end. I am happy with Kennedy. He is very intelligent, loves fun, puts up with my snoring and other idiosyncrasies, does my laundry at times, and very loving. I don’t think I would be as happy and as adjusted I am now in Malawi without him.

It would be good to hear from you, so if you have time, please write me. Internet is not available where I am (I can only access my email when I am in the city as I am now—and I don’t go to the city often).

Till here, Jarrah.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

a rattle in a baby's hand... is worth 2 bumps in a mummy's head

So there I was showing my 7-month old son, North, the rattle I brought him from my brief sojourn to the city--a cheap bribe for leaving him to the care of his grandmother for three days. Excitement was dancing in his eyes when he reached for his new toy. He was squealing with delight as he perused with his chubby fingers its pastel-colored flower rings, cylinders and the googly eyes--and then he discovered it makes a sound, too! I buried my face in his neck, trying to drown myself with the smell only babies exude as he makes the connection between shaking the rattle and the sound it makes, then WHACK! North hit my head with the rattle. I have barely recovered with the surprise and pain when he hit my head a second time! Wait, this isn't cute anymore. I shrieked in pain (okay, must be a little overacting there), my hand in my right temple. The grandmother, sensing danger to her favorite grandson, took him in haste saving him from the wrath of the Wicked Witch (my mum thinks I am the WW). My father was laughing the whole time, said North must be telling me something (like, "you were gone for too long", or "you should have bought me a better toy!").

Learned my lesson the hard way--i should not buy him a toy that resembles a club and maybe better if the rattle is made of rubber. Well, North kissed the bumps hours later (ok, ok, I made him). The new rattle? Kept in the closet--to be taken out when he turns 5. Haha!