What It’s Like
To paint a picture for you of what life is like here in the mountains of Palawan, I will share a few things I do here that I didn’t do before I came to the Philippines. Some of these things may seem extreme to you, but please remember how much more extreme it was for Jesus to come down from Heaven and be born our incarnate Savior.
Mud When the mud is deep, I walk through it barefoot, knowing there are all sorts of unmentionables hiding beneath the surface. I take off my flip-flops so they don’t get sucked off my feet and disappear forever.
Sitting on the ground
I sit on the ground to visit with people outside their houses, knowing there are “things” on the ground I’d rather avoid. For sitting indoors, I prefer floors to benches.
Eating with my hands
I eat with my hands, (though I try to always have alcohol on hand for sanitation).
And others’ hands
I accept and eat food lovingly handed to me by grubby little fingers. The children watch me eagerly to see how I enjoy their expression of love.
Sleeping on bamboo When I unexpectedly need to stay overnight in a patient’s home, I can sleep (sporadically) on an uneven bamboo floor, wrapped only in a thin cloth that covers my shoulders or my feet (not both), as the chilly night wind blows through the gaps between floorboards. I sleep in one position until my aches wake me up, then I switch positions and repeat.
When patients in our clinic need care through the night, I sleep on the floor there, too.
Dirty feet When I’m out of the house, my feet are almost always dirty and stained. I won’t even mention what my nails look like.
Well-used clothes Almost all my clothes have stains from the sap of bananas and banana blossoms. Many of my clothes are old and faded and have many mended holes made by nails in bamboo floors or by rats that got into our clothes. Some have mildew stains because it is difficult to get clothes thoroughly dry during the nearly nine-month rainy season.
Bland food Often the food I eat ends up being something other than I would prefer.
Unpredictable mealtimes Taking care of patients, I’ve learned to survive on an irregular eating schedule or simply to fast.
I am still exploring ways to cook local foods to make palatable to Westerners, yet still maintain the ability to enjoy jungle root vegetables that have been thrown into the fire and served without garnish. When I’m eating with my people, I’m usually satisfied. But when I eat at my own home, I often wish for more flavor.
Bathroom facilities are mostly lacking in places I visit. I’ve learned creative ways of managing, even with my aging knees.
Thin mattress I’ve learned to get a good night’s sleep on a two-inch-thick cushion in my home.
Efficient bathing I’ve learned to bathe with a gallon of water when that is all that is available.
Mosquito net I’ve learned to sleep under a mosquito net, even though it restricts the airflow.
Used to the dark The electricity supply is unpredictable, so I memorize where things are so I can find them in the dark. I’ve also learned to take my headlamp with me everywhere I go, even to the city, because the electricity goes off so often. Some people scream in terror when the lights go off and they’re inside a building.
Unwelcome houseguests Every day in my house I battle spiders, ants, cockroaches, geckos, large tokay lizards and even the occasional snake. I especially detest the cockroaches. Even the cute little geckos become too much when there’s more than a dozen in our house. Rats gnaw holes in my cabinets, and they’re smart enough to avoid poison and traps.
Interruptions I’m learning to adjust to frequent and sometimes constant interruptions of my daily plans. I’m learning that personal time is a luxury, not a right.
Sometimes lost I’ve been alone and lost in the jungle with night coming on, and I chose not to be terrified at the thought of spending the night there.
Wary I’ve learned that it is not safe to walk alone through the neighborhood in the lowlands.
Focus on others I’ve come to accept that local Palawano people are mostly interested in talking about their own needs and desires. They generally lack curiosity about me and my former life in the States.
Am I looking forward to furlough? You bet!
Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to:
Sleep I will sleep on a regular mattress (and wish it was firmer). I will sleep without a mosquito net and wonder if there are spiders that will bite me in the night.
Walks I will go out for long walks alone in the country, feeling safe and at home, but very cold.
Time I will perhaps have some control over my time and choice of activities.
Food On a regular schedule, I will be able to eat foods that are nutritious and appeal to me.
Chairs I will have an abundance of comfortable chairs to sit on and couches to stretch out on, luxuriating in comfort.
Conversation I will enjoy long conversations in English with people who are interested in me and easily understand me, though I may have a challenge finding all the right English words to express myself. However, I will most likely feel out of place and awkward when trying to make small talk. All I’m used to talking about are culture, language and how to use them to express theology and scripture in understandable ways, the scriptures and how they impact me on a daily basis, church planting methods and effectiveness, health status and medical needs, the value of true education and how to make it practical in our schools, teaching methods, opening young minds to their futures, teaching to expand students’ worldviews, training and encouraging teachers and deans in their valuable work, opening young minds to the truths of God’s word and creation.
Family and friends I will relish being with my children and grandchildren, joyfully welcoming two more into the George clan before the end of 2017. I will enjoy the quiet times with family and friends, just sitting together, catching up and encouraging one another in this journey we are all on.