Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I am writing this with a feeling of a new lease on life. Today is the first day I have woken up without any feelings of affliction. I am still generally without energy, I have sweat rashes all over my body and I'm skinnier than you could probably imagine, but I'm well. I am off the meds and eating pastas, breads, soups and rice.
There was never a formal diagnosis from either of the doctors but my treatment mirrored that of my host-brother's for typhoid, so I'm just going to go ahead and say I had typhoid. It was the absolute sickest I have ever been but I managed to pull through. My favorite reaction to the news was from my friend Andrea, "didn't people die from that on Oregon Trail?" Yeah, but they also didn't have paracetamol, ofloxacin and acetaminophen. I did tragically, however, happen to lose an ox while fording the river.
I want to sincerely thank all those friends and family that showed their support through phone calls, texts, emails, facebook posts, skype messages, posts to my blog (both from anonymous and otherwise), prayers, well-wishing, courier pigeon and any other form of communication encouraging my better health. It was easy to feel alone, sitting in my bed for 7 days straight with no one to talk to, but your reminders have proved to me that I am never alone and I have a massive web of caring people around this earth rooting for me and nothing, I mean nothing, is more touching than to feel cradled in that.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I got the sickness

It's now day five into this fever. I have seen the doctor three times, 2 different doctors. There has been no clear diagnosis but they're treating it like typhoid. My host brother had typhoid when I came back from Thailand so there is clearly possible exposure. I'm on a colorful cocktail of pills and capsules and each dosage helps pass the days.
Speaking of passing the days, there has been little to do inside my room. The first 4 days my eyes hurt too much to read or use the computer. The alternative for passing the time? I listened to the audiobooks of Fight Club and Fantastic Mr. Fox. I'm grateful for a lengthy audio-only option.
Being away from home when one is ill is just as difficult as coping with the illness itself. The two things I wish I could have changed was the food situation (it's still very difficult for me to get down any food) and the language barrier.
I was really hoping today would be better, but that was before my morning actually started. At 6:00, I woke up, desperately thirsty. I began to walk out of my room when there was a sudden rush of blood to my head and I lost my vision and hearing for about 20 seconds, just enough time for me to run into a wall, turn, run into another and then fall backwards landing on my tailbone and head. That pretty much set the tone for the mood of the day.
It's a bit of a badge of honor to have had a tropical disease in the tropics and survived.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

About nothing in particular

I am bed ridden today. This is the first I have been sick since I have arrived in the Philippines, aside from the occasional cold. I woke up this morning at 6:15 and my body ached and I was freezing. I put on a blanket for the second time since I have been in-country and tried to warm up. I couldn't fall back asleep so I read.
I am reading Island by Aldous Huxley; it was really slow to start but it's quite good. It's about a Westerner-journalist who "accidental"crashes onto an island paradise off in the Pacific in the interest of a fictionalized oil company. It is a paradise of pleasure-seeking, happiness and contentment. The main character, Will Farnaby, introduces greed and corruption to the islands and it's all a little allegorical for imperialism and is very critical of Christianity in particular.
I'm drinking lots of fluids and am craving fruits and veggies. Since Mommy Esper left for Manila, it's been fried chicken and rice everyday. I love fried chicken but I needs me some vitamins. I'm going to ask my host brother to run out and get me some mangoes. That sounds perfect right about now. My bones, my aching bones!

Thursday, May 7, 2009


After my two week Peace Corps conference in Cebu City, 7 friends and I left for the land of the free, Thailand (Thailand was the only country in SE Asia that was never colonized).
Visiting Thailand was a really interesting experience, my second country in Asia, my 24th country to ever visit, the second country I have been to that has its own alphabet (after Greece), my second non-Christian country (after Turkey) and the sixth country I have been to wherein they drive on the left-hand side of the street.
It's difficult to imagine what Thailand would be like. Bangkok...the far-east city I have imagined hundreds of times or a modern, urban sprawl? Thailand, and more specifically Bangkok, is half fantasy, half reaffirmation of preconceived notions, half Disneyland, half lucid. The most overwhelming thing to remember is that this culture has existed for thousands of years and nothing about the places we visited were fabricated to fit the expectations of Westerners.
We landed in Bangkok at about 10:00 at night to a sweltering and humid 32 C (90 F) evening. We immediately hit the town, heading straight to the infamous Khaosan Road.
Khaosan is like any touristic landing pad, like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Laang Street in Cape Town, the Champs Elysees in Paris and Times Square in New York. It has all of the amenities of Western creature-comforts in a very modernized far-east city. We stayed one street over at the Greenhouse Hostel. The rooms were very comfortable (aside form the one night I had a single room - a concrete box with no windows - with only a ceiling fan) and had adequate air conditioning. Khaosan had bars, clubs, McDonald's, Burger King, 7-11's (there are 3,800 7-11's throughout Thailand and seemingly half of them are on Khaosan) and many restaurants offering a smattering of Western and Thai style foods.
The most authentic foods came from the street vendors, naturally. While it is certainly advisable to be weary of street foods for reasons related to cleanliness, refrigeration, parasites, etc., the invincibility of youth got the better of us and we dove right in. The most popular street food among members of our group was the pad thai, only 25 baht or 71 cents USD. Most Thais cannot speak English (from my experience) but can understand a fair amount, especially in the touristy areas. When you go up to a vendor, indicate if you want egg or no egg, point to the kind of noodle you want (typically there are four options) and indicate if you want a spring roll. After stir-frying your choice, made-to-order, the vendor will slop the dish into a half of a Styrofoam box. Now this is your time to shine: on the side of the cart is an assortment of toppings including crushed, dried red peppers, wet, green peppers, dried, salty shrimp, chopped peanuts, MSG, salt (don't get the two confused!) and assorted pepper sauces. Mixing and matching is a more precise science than alchemy - the perfect combination is only attainable after 3 or more Singha beers, the national beer of Thailand. It is advisable to mix equal amounts of all of it in, though this should not be attempted unless you are carrying around your own roll toilet paper.
After waking up with lips still burning, we walked the city, though Bangkok in general is not a very walkable city. We first went to the Grand Palace, home of the king of Thailand.
(Jason, me and Dan)

The Grand Palace was certainly marvelous, right out of the movies. Within the palace is the house of the king and Wat Phra Kaeo, one of the holiest Buddhist temples in the country. This picture shows a gaggle of monks heading into said wat. This is my only picture of monks. I felt uncomfortable taking their picture; this picture was taken candidly. There were a few time when taking their picture would have been very rewarding: two different times include a monk coming out of a 7-11 and another with a bluetooth headset, talking on a cell phone. I'm digressing.
Anyway, we went inside Wat Phra Kaeo; we were not inside for more than 30 seconds before we got in trouble from the guard. In Thai culture, pointing one's feet at someone/something is like flipping the bird. Upon entering the wat, one is expected to sit in quiet contemplation immediately. My friends came in and sat with their feet outstretched in front of them, aimed directly at one of the most holy Buddha statues in the country. Abuse another culture with American-branded ignorance? Check. But Thais are very forgiving of trespasses and welcomed us to stay longer as long as we kept our feet tucked behind us.
This is from inside the wat:
The food was by far my favorite part of the trip. If you check out my Picasa Web Album, you will find a glorious collection of foods in which I indulged.

As I'm sitting here typing this, a gecko just pooped on my pillow. It's good to be home.

Every evening was pretty much spent the same way, wandering the touristy areas, drinking beers on the street and trying to outdo each other with quantities and qualities of chilies.
After visiting wats, the famous reclining Buddha and walking around, seeing what we could of Bangkok, we left for Chiang Mai, a city far to the north in the mountainous areas, known as the adventure capital of Thailand.
We boarded a 17 hour train at about 2:00 in the afternoon, foolishly having forgotten some libations for Fortunately, the train abides. The train was a whole lot of fun though and an excellent way to see the country in a short amount of time. Once we got out of the city, the countryside of Thailand sure began to look a whole lot like the Philippines, but with much less water.
There were numerous points on the trip where I got homesick for the Philippines; it wasn't until later that that struck me as odd. But I certainly do consider the Philippines my home now. I guess it only took a trip away from my family and my site to realize that. Although is doesn't sound too Romantic, home is where things are predictable and Thailand, as far as I was concerned, was not predictable.
Chiang Mai had a much more agreeable pace, slower and far more "chill", as the kids say. The two activities we had that really stick out in my mind were visiting Wat Doi Suthep and riding elephants.
This is Chiang Mai from Wat Doi Suthep, about 1,000 km above the city (there were so many stairs up to the top, it felt like we had to climb all 1,000 km by foot, though we did take a car). Wat Doi Suthep was a giant compound containing many wats within its walls.
This was my favorite of the inner wats; I had a good 10-15 minutes in here by myself. It was so peaceful. Intricacy and symmetry are obviously paramount within holy spaces in Thailand (at least as far as I had seen).
The day after, we paid our elephantine friends a visit. I don't think it prudent to go into details of an elephant ride because it's all pretty self explanatory. Here are pictures:
The whole riding elephants thing was pretty gimmicky and the animals are treated pretty poorly, but animals rights as a concept is something I have never seen in the Philippines and I'm assuming Thailand as well. To illustrate my point, the elephants are treated as tourist machines and the drivers use hooked apparatus to club and hook the ears of the elephant to guide them. It seemed harsh. I sometimes would see the driver clean blood off the tip. I can't necessarily recommend doing an elephant ride but it was fun in its own way.
We saw some other wats in Chiang Mai, including Wat Chedi Lupang (which was awesome!), and then caught the train back to Bangkok for one last night.
Our last night is Bangkok was pretty uneventful.
Being back at site is somewhat of a challenge; after two weeks in Cebu City (the L.A. of the Philippines) and then Bangkok, getting back to my little coconut republic is taking a lot of readjustment. The pace of my life has come to a screeching halt but it's not all bad. I'm reminding myself that I am here to work. I do have a job after all.
Please be sure to check out the rest of my photos on my Picasa Web Albums page. There are tons of supplemental pics there.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Easter Mass - The Savior Has Landed

I went with another Peace Corps friend of mine to Easter Mass; I really wanted to get a feel for the Filipino style (or any style for that matter) Easter mass. I have read that Filipinos practice a medieval-style Catholicism and I thought this could be a really good experience to see it. My friend was raised Catholic and she did a really good job of describing the motions of the service, telling me what American Catholics practice and what seemed unique to the Philippines.
As she was describing communion to me, I looked over to my right and saw a girl standing in line next to me, waiting for communion, staring. I wasn't alarmed or anything because being stared at by Filipinos in rural areas is entirely commonplace. But as the line proceeded on towards the altar, she didn't budge for a good 20 seconds.
"You see that?" I asked my friend.
I tried to put it out of my mind, shake it off as another weird experience. I had almost forgotten about it by the time the service ended. As my friend and I left the church, we noticed that same girl was following us, but from a distance.
We hurriedly picked up the pace home and she kept the same distance behind us the entire time, meeting our pace quite obviously. She had her hand hidden from view inside her raincoat and that made me really nervous. She was staring me down the entire way.
We began to run, as did she, all the way home. We got inside the door and, as my friend and I closed it together, we felt resistance from the other side. She was trying to get through the door! The girl started to yell, "he is the Lord, he is the Lord! Father, I must embrace him!" That's what I got out of it anyway, it was all in Visayan.
We finally heaved on the door and pushed her out, locked it and called the police. Before the police arrived, she stood staring into the window.
The police escorted her away and she has not been seen since. Crazy mixed-up kid.

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