So every time I thought about writing about life thus far in the Philippines, I got a very blasé feeling, and just thought… maybe later. And then it got to the point where it had been over two months since I got here, so here we are.
I’m living in Goa. Unfortunately, other than the name, it bears negative resemblance to the Goa in India, so let’s call it Not-That-Goa to avoid confusion. There are no beaches, no dance parties, no views. The closest place to buy coffee is a 1.5 hour van ride away. I’ve been trying to think of a comparable place in Canada – at first I thought maybe I could compare it to Nakina, where I spent part of my first season as a tree planter, but then I realised Nakina had an air service centre, a train station, a provincial park, and (at least, in 2008) a pizza parlour. Goa has… one pool where you can buy beer, one fast food restaurant, and a town square. My current hobbies include working out, watching The Voice, MasterChef Junior, or Asia’s Next Top Model (Filipino television is heavy into reality competitions, and repeat the same episodes every night for a week until the new ones are released), and trying to find the most effective ways to kill the fire ants that are the real owners of our town house. So far, I’ve gotten really into drawing ant chalk on our walls (and then I just googled ant chalk to see if this was something most people would know about, only to discover that it’s illegal in the United States because the packaging often contains excessive lead, so… happy Monday to me).
Not-That-Goa is a 12 hour bus ride from Manila, or a roughly 200 dollar flight, so Manila for the weekend is not exactly an option. There is a city about an hour and a half away – its main draw is that it has a wakeboarding park. There was a brief period of time where I flirted with the idea of getting into wakeboarding on the weekends, but I kept slipping up and calling it waterboarding, so I decided that probably was not something I wanted to advertise as an interest. So the weekend routine in Naga City is to arrive at roughly 10am, go to Starbucks and use the 2 hours of free wifi they provide, leave Starbucks, hope one of the coffee shops that advertise opening at noon does in fact open at noon (generally they don’t, which means wandering around in 30+ degree weather trying to waste time for about an hour), eat lunch and use their wifi, buy groceries (since we can’t buy cheese, wine, bread, coffee, avocados, or greens where we live) and return to Not-That-Goa before the transport service stops running. There is another larger city 2 vans and 5 hours away, and its major attraction is a volcano that you can ride 4x4s around. It’s not an activity I have enough of an interest in to justify travelling that much on a weekend for. I almost feel bad, because I have a couple people who have asked me about visiting the Philippines, and I have no advice to provide.
So it’s a very …simple life, I guess. I’ve never been a small town person, and I really am ready to move to a city. I was on vacation in early April (which I will do a separate post on) and having access to craft beer, bread, coffee, and a yoga studio were major game changers. Life without good bread is one of the saddest lives.
I do have a roommate – there is another Canadian working on the same project as me, but as a communications consultant. Our apartment/town house is decorated in what I refer to as a ‘squatter chic motif.’
It’s nice having a roommate in these situations – particularly one who is also obsessed with The Bachelor, coffee, and the lack of avocados in Not-That-Goa (SERIOUSLY WHERE ARE THEY). I honestly would have lost my mind living here alone. It can be tough, as a city-loving 20-something year old, finding people with similar interests in a rural village anywhere in the world, but especially when you’re in a foreign country that is so strongly influenced by religion (and when you spend your days consulting a religious organisation on top of that). I personally find religion, and a lack of religious diversity, to be one of the strongest isolating factors in moving to a new country, particularly when religion dictates certain restrictions on an individual’s choices.* Further, I have trouble wrapping my head around religions, and religious individuals, who place high value on conversion. I can appreciate people who have made a conscious choice to have a higher power in their lives, and have no interest in trying to change their mind and bring them into the dark folds of atheism – but I will never not be irritated when I feel as though someone is trying to ‘save’ me.
Work is, in a word, challenging. I honestly wasn’t expecting to still feel like I’m a contestant on an episode of Takeshi’s Castle.
There are a lot of different things that are making this tougher than I had anticipated. That’s not to say that it being tough or challenging makes it an overall negative experience – I’m learning a lot about some lesser known problems in the Philippines, and I feel like it’s worth it for me to see the way different human rights issues present themselves in another context. It’s also been a good experience in figuring out what I want (and what I don’t want), be it from future employers, in living situations, availability of community services, etc. I’m having to figure out how to navigate office issues more tactfully than I ever thought I would be able to… seriously, when did I become such a patient and reasonable person?
It is, admittedly, a lot easier to be patient here when I know I’m moving to New York City in three months. I know this makes me the biggest small-town cliché, but I’ve wanted to move to New York since I developed a conscious understanding of what a city is. I’m insanely excited to be pursuing my LL.M. (masters of law, because I’ve come to realise no nonlawyers know what those letters stand for) in International Legal Studies at NYU. Not only is it the same program Amal Clooney graduated from, so, star power, but more importantly, it’s an incredible school with leaders in the field and students from all over the world. It’s going to be a really grounding opportunity for me after having spent several years doing a wide range of international human rights law – I’m excited to have the chance to focus everything I’ve learned abroad and come up with a plan for how I’m going to help change the things I care about in this world more effectively.
It’s also crazy how quickly the time has gone by – which is both good and bad. I really am excited to get started in New York, but I know that, come February, I’m going to be missing life without winter. So I’m planning to make the most of the time I have here in the Philippines, both in and out of the office!
*The obvious example that comes to mind when we talk about religion and choice is abortion; despite being extremely pro-choice, the majority of my conversations are not focused on abortion, and there is a lot more to the religious restriction of choices/actions that can result in alienating feelings from both sides. For example, I’ve become a lot more self-conscious regarding the degree to which I ‘use the Lord’s name in vain,’ as it were. Religion can also add onto cultural norms regarding dress, often in what I view as a means of policing the modesty of women. Some women are more than happy to dress according to their religion, and I respect that choice, but no woman should be judged as immodest, impure, or otherwise based on her clothing. These differences in choices or restrictions may be more integrated into societies with greater religious and cultural diversity, and thus, differences in levels of restriction may be tolerated to a higher degree and become less isolating in a society with greater diversity – though I am by no means saying that differences are not also targeted in diverse societies.