Life Goes On: Remembering My Time In Nepal After the Earthquake of 2015

When you’re away from your normal environment your tendency is to adapt to that new context – to the people, the weather, the food, and the culture.

That is often the case when I go to a mission. I call it a mission because I have a particular purpose why I accepted to live away from the comforts of my home and live with in another place even if I know there will be challenges.

I’ve been doing development work for over a decade until I decided to try working in a more insecure environment – emergency. The context is different, depending on the kind of emergency, but the end goal is the same as in development – to try to restore a semblance of life people had before the emergency happened except it is done at a faster pace and in a less organized but in a way efficient kind of way.

How can you be disorganized and efficient at the same time?

I realized that when working in emergency, goals are set short because new goals will have to be set more frequently than when I am working in development. Situations change quickly either for good which is always the ultimate goal or worst, which is something anticipated as a risk when in this kind of mission. That makes it efficient – to be able to achieve them and make new ones leading towards the main reason you’re there in the first place.

When goals are short, there’s always a good rate of success of achievement therefore satisfaction is also high. It keeps me motivated to continue and look forward to the time when we are ready to transition to development, and more sustainable solutions are put in place and eventually better prepare the community to be more self-reliant in the event of another emergency.

While short goals means quick achievements of it, there’s also a big chance that because of time allocated it also makes the organization a bit tight which on the other hand offered dissatisfaction. But in this line of work, I have to learn to accept that I cannot do everything the way I want it to be – I learned to adapt and adjust and celebrate the small wins I achieve.

At least I can say that when I joined the second wave of responders during the 2015 Nepal earthquakes.

I’ve lived and seen progress being made on a day-to-day basis. I’ve met people that are more willing to be part of the change without accepting defeat because nature decided to shake them up from their stupor. I’ve witnessed people’s faith in their gods amidst the destruction. I’ve gained friends and respect towards them and their lives before, during and after the catastrophe.

Since two years ago, I know that I have more to live for than just now.

Realizing that life, like a wheel, turns and when you’re up you see the world differently than when you’re down but as it rolls you learn to adapt to it and continue to live. And look forward to the destination when finally the wheel stops rolling and can say “it has been a good ride.”

Images of what happened two years ago.

Why is it hard to take R&R during a mission?

Everybody who knows the kind of work I do knows the value of “holidays.” It is the much-awaited time-off, planned at the beginning of the mission to fit within the whole year calendar of the post assigned.

According to me, the supposed rest and recreation (or recuperation) or simply R&R is not really that restful when planning for it.  Don’t get me wrong I am one of those who looks forward to it but very lazy to plan ahead because unlike some people traveling, it takes more effort for me to plan than it should be.

Because …

  1. I always have to plan ahead (which I don’t like) to get a visa if places I want to visit requires one for my nationality. And to do that I will need requirements that are sometimes complicated to gather when you’re out of the country to even be granted a 15-day pass.article-0-0B3FB5B800000578-178_468x315
  2. I try to be thrifty, but with advancing age and the kind of adventures I like nowadays, I will need to shelve a little more than what I used to do. Now, I prefer to enjoy a little luxury and comfort when traveling. Top-10-Luxury-Travel-Trends-and-Predictions-for-2013
  3. Related to number 1 and 2, I always try to go to places where I don’t need a visa to visit, and I visited most of those countries. I had my shares of backpacking and sleeping in shabby places. Now those places that remain to be visa free are in other continents that will require some serious savings both for the airfare, board, and lodging and of course shopping, so they are not for R&R kind of holidays! rlytdimje6ozs66xsnpcj5ssh9vnqlyk-xlarge
  4. The work gets in the way. Always felt that as it nears my break work seems to pile up. Because I don’t manage people I have no one to endorse work and leave without being tempted to check on things, worst to cancel holidays. 
  5. To avoid all those problems, the last option is to visit “in-country” where I am assigned. But that defeats the purpose of R&R right? Although I did it more that I could count depending on the context and security situation of the country it is always best to do R&R in another place – preferably another country!

But then again there is the last option that defeats all the points I mentioned above … go home and truly rest. Be in touch with people, places in your hometown. Or simply enjoy time with family and be grounded until it’s time to go back to work and start over again!

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In the end I am alone

Alone with my thoughts.

Thinking how life had evolved.

In the short time I am embraced.

By your cold heart.

Now,

I am here.

Wanting to be love again.

Nurtured.

Caressed.

By the warmth of your summer breeze.

Next to the sea.

Teeming with life.

That I feel I belong.

An Appeal for Help

There is this little girl in my neighborhood that was born without an esophagus. She’s fed via a PEG directly to her stomach by a diet meant to let her gain weight and be healthier. Her neck has a hole to help with breathing and speaking.

She’s seven years old and in grade one. She’s always teased and felt deprived of the food she sees in people’s table and the stores. But in spite of she’s a lovely and lively little girl.

I sought help from friends on how to help her until I landed support from a local television to showcase her story and let people know about her condition and eventually appeal for help. The local charity office funded by lottery gains acknowledged her situation and offered to foot the bill for the initial hospitalization and surgery to reverse her condition (called Esophageal Atresia). But the family will have to raise funds to support costs for medicines and other needs during hospitalization and recovery.

The surgery was successful, but she’s still in ICU and battling complications of bacterial infections and fluid in her lungs. The doctors are doing their best, and now she’s stable and hopefully recover fully.

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I appeal for two things, first to think of this girl Sharie and include her in your prayers or utter a short prayer of healing and second, for your money. I am not asking a lot, though; any amount will help but we are raising close to $900 per set of medicine, and I don’t know how much more sets she needs to recover fully. 

I hope I can count on you …

To find out more about her story and update on her conditions and on how to donate, please visit Sharie’s Operation Fund page.

You can also watch the video of her appeal (in Tagalog) here 

“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” 2 Cor 9:7

Stuck

I wanted so bad to live up to your expectations, but it seems like a force is pulling me back from making sure I get to the end of it.

I am trying to find ways to juggle life – work balance but the pressure, the stress seems too much that I find myself sometimes stuck, unable to move forward.

The mind is willing, but my body does not budge to get me moving and doing what I should.

That is me living here in Gaza.

When I thought I am tough enough to endure living in a foreign land and meet new people for almost two decades now, I met my match being here. It’s hard to explain because, on the outside, I look fine, sometimes I feel fine, and recently felt at home in Gaza I wish to stay longer. (Read here)

Strange how that may sound but that is how I feel, and I am trying to figure out where my problem lies  – is it the place? The people? The work? I don’t know!  I don’t want to blame where I am for my feelings in the last six months, nor the people and especially the work for the love of what I do.

I have seen good things here in spite of the history of the country and the recent crisis they endured, and somehow I empathize with their being unable to move freely out of Gaza. Not that I can’t move out from here, being an expat working for an international organization gave me some freedom to shuffle in an out at least every three weeks and be like everybody else. Unlike most people I know and work with they will need permission from Israel to go out for a limited time only, which is not given readily and benefits only very few.  In my case, it may not be the same as for most people, but my being closed off from where I live somehow gives me a little understanding of the people’s lives in occupation.  Not being able to go out and enjoy the sun, sand, and sea across my room can be frustrating. Not being able to walk around town and catch a glimpse of life or experience it does not allow me to live my time here actually.  Creativity in my case is boxed online – I see the world like most people here via the social media.

So little out of the ordinary activity is very much appreciated, like yesterday, being the last day of the work week, I was able to enjoy the morning with some of the people we support in the community outside, in the sun, harvesting olives in one of our beneficiaries farm — that was incredible! When asked by some people how I felt (being the only foreign in the group who obviously had not done olive harvest before) all I said was great. To be out in the sun and not see patients for the most of it for a change, and my colleagues with me are so much fun even if most of the time they speak Arabic.

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Now I am back in my apartment, being a Friday nothing much happens here so I am stuck to my computer and live out the day watching movies, catching up with friends online and talking on Skype to my family. That scenario made me somehow understand what most felt day in day out. The frustrations of the young people to be out and enjoying liberties other young people in other parts of the world enjoy. The dreams of parents to give the best to their children – good education, freedom to travel and to choose the life they want to live. Not the current life where everything has to be dependent on what the other person behind the counter say so — it can be too much.

I think that fuels the hatred, the fear and the tension in an already tensed situation since the 40’s basing on their history. The history is written for the Palestinian people by outsiders thinking that lives would be better if foreign people write it for them. And here I am years later, foreign, trying to understand what is incomprehensible because of the kind of work I do. Humanity comes first before politics, and often I am in no liberty to talk about politics (even religion), and I wouldn’t dare even if I want to.  Instead, I will continue bridging the gap of what the world failed to do for these people and support the best I can when I can until it’s time to say hati waqt lahiq (until later).


Being stuck may seem bad for the most of it, but that also gives one perspective of the life we have. To understand that life is not equal in many regions of the world and to experience it in a short time somehow allows me to speak about it. To live it out with these people gives me the profound respect for the resilience of the Palestinians I meet every day be it for work or the little leisure I have here.

My spirits lift when I can pen these feelings and hope those that reads this understands my whim and not take this as drama. Life as an expat may seem appealing for the most of it, but the emotional investment we have is sometimes more than what we can give if we don’t have ways to vent it out.

Now I have to get going … I have pending paper works to accomplish if I want to reach my destination.

It Starts to Feel Like Home

Its 2am, the power is out, feeling the breeze coming from the sea

Very dark outside, you hear nothing except the waves lapping at the shore,The weather is changing I can feel it, it will be cold soonNot sure if I am ready for it

Now, I enjoy the quiet of the night

I can see light from the horizon, from fishing boats waiting for the fishes to bite

And I am still awake, talking to myself, willing myself to write about

How I feel right now … how I feel at home in Gaza.

Of all places, I am here living a life of a hermit after 4pm

Not allowed to be me, to be at places I freely wish to be

Because of the danger – true or imagined

So I am confused why am I feeling at home?

Is it the place? Maybe I tell my dreamy self.

Gaza does not bother me, even though I know of its history

Even though I know of the rift that they have with Israel

Or the fact that in most people’s mind I live in a god-forsaken place

Governed by terrorist, mostly said by people who had never stepped foot

In the holy land, or in Palestine.

I am at peace here believe me, it is not what outsiders say it is

I should know, I am living here for a while

And when I am up at two, I am overwhelmed by the feeling of belonging at where I am

Forgetting I am far away from home and yet I am really sure this place

Has not the allure to make me feel this way

But will not be here for long, will have to go soon

Which is starting to sink in the more I think about it

I would stay if I could but that all depends on my welcome here

Until the time to go comes, I will enjoy the peace,

The solitude, and the overwhelming emotions

That I can call Gaza home even for a short time.

Trip of a Lifetime: The Plan and the First Day

Mentioning to a friend I am going to work in Gaza, a plan was set. W is working and living in Europe making it easy for him to plan the trip, it has a direct flight from his place to Tel Aviv and being Filipino, a visa was not going to be a problem.

Days passed, we agreed on a month – the best time according to the guidebook to visiting Israel and the Holy Land, September! Wanting the trip to be more fun we invited two other friends from home. Unsure whether they will accept or not, W  and I proceeded with our plan.

As early as May the dates were set for the first week of September, in time for the Eid Al-Adha celebration. Not long after, the two other friends from the Philippines agreed to join us and started to look for cheap flights to here. Now we are four!

As the day of the “trip of a lifetime” approaches, more plans are set in motion – where to stay? How much is acceptable rent? Airbnb or hostel? And what will be the itinerary considering the time would be very short – 5 days! Until almost a week before the scheduled trip we haven’t made up our minds, but in the end, we settled for a hostel and tried to arrange our trip a la DIY.

The holiday begins for me … 

I left Gaza via Erez on a Wednesday, before the weekend and will wait for my friends to arrive on Thursday from Philippines and Europe.

Since I am officially on holiday, I felt like I needed a little pampering, so I went to have my nails done and in a relaxed mode, received news that the two friends who started traveling from the Philippines the same day was stuck in Hongkong and was not being allowed to proceed to Beijing because of the airport traffic that could delay their flight to Tel Aviv to at least four days. Even if they can proceed they don’t have the transit visa for China to let them stay for more than 2 hours (and ridiculously if they do get to land in Beijing our planned holidays would be over by the time they arrive in Tel Aviv).

Disheartened, the trip must go on even if it was to go back to the original two-person trip. Luckily they managed to get another booking via Ethiopian air, but it means they lost 1 day of their holidays by arriving after midnight of Thursday (Friday) and spending unplanned cost just to get to see the Holy Land.

From 2 to 4 to 2 and back to 4

W arrived according to plan and prep the coming days while waiting for the other two to arrive later that night. We managed to see a little of the area where we live – walking down Jaffa street from Ha Davidka station to the Jaffa Gate and not to pre-empt the tour, we exited immediately to the New Gate and spent the rest of the afternoon over Middle Eastern cheese platter and beer at the Notre Dame restaurant overlooking the old city and all of Jerusalem city (and neighboring town if you know where to look).

Returning late, we continue waiting over wine and more cheese (European) in our room. A little past midnight the crews complete, and after a little chatter with stories of adventures from Hongkong to Ethiopia Adis Ababa to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport and lots of laughter we were all happily settled in our bunk beds getting ready for the day trip around the old city – Jerusalem at sunrise.

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(Photo courtesy of W) View from the Notre Dame restaurant, Jerualem (2016)

We are all looking forward to the trips from Friday till Tuesday to near and far, even though for me, this is my third time to be going to the holy sites in the Terra Sancta. I don’t mind because every time I am with a different company and with every visit, I discover new places, new things, new information and maybe new friends.

The holidays begins … finally!

For the meantime enjoy the photos.

And if you want to know more about Notre Dame click here!

My Habibi

First encountered the word when I was in Sierra Leone, a call of endearment thrown my way by my then love of my life. It sounded very exotic, me having no understanding of Arabic word whatsoever, and I felt so much loved.

Habibi is an Arabic word directly translating as “my baby” or “my darling”; Habibti is feminine form of habibi, which means “my love”

Arriving in Palestine early this year, the first recognizable word I heard was Habibi, and I was culture shocked to hear it spoken between men — whoa! Only to be told I interpreted the exchanges wrongly (and maybe with malice) and should let it pass. I did, or so I thought, but I am not over it.

The word means my beloved, and in normal conversation, it is normally used between close friends of the same or opposite gender or between couples romantically involved.

For us non-Arabs, it can be (in English)  “my friend / bro / sis” when used among friends, or “my love / baby” when used romantically. In Tagalog, it can be “pare” for men and no idea what can it be for women 🙂

After being here for a while, I can let it rest and accept it as part of the normal conversations in taxi, offices, and meetings but I will keep the first impression and feelings I had when I first heard it nine years ago.


I discovered too that there are books of the same title that tells stories about love … from the looks of it, maybe I should get then and start reading about my love …

 

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Habibi bt Naomi Shihab Nye

The day after Liyana got her first real kiss, her life changed forever. Not because of the kiss, but because it was the day her father announced that the family was moving from St. Louis all the way to Palestine. 

 

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Habibi by Craig Thompson

Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling.

My dear habibti … hope you enjoy reading!

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