(Disclaimer: This is the continuation of ‘See Heaven’s Got a Plan for You’. Sorry, so confusing.)
‘I don’t know what I’m doing here.’ My voice crackled into my old dependable Nokia.
‘Maybe it’s a character-building season.’ On the other end of the line was my twin sister, her voice mingling with the cheerful sounds of my family. It was a Sunday night, I think, and someone’s birthday. I heard my little nephew Iago shriek gleefully in the background. They felt so far away.
‘Yes. Maybe.’ I said, standing up from the ground and almost forgetting to zip up as I squared my shoulders. In the village of Pak-ak, Kalinga, from where I stood, there were only two public ‘restrooms.’ If you had business to do, you kept it in your backyard. Literally.
I stepped back into the home of my gracious host, Linda. She was the head teacher of the village elementary school where I volunteered to teach art to the grade 1 kids. Hers was the only hut in the village that had a television set and so half (or maybe all) of the village kids were piled in there, along with a few teenage boys (and a guitar). The kids were there to watch TV, the boys hoped to have a chat with me. (At least that’s what Linda and her beautiful, traditionally tattooed mother insists).
As it turns out, the ‘chatting’ consisted of a lot of shy looks and laughter from the boys and a lot of drawings and sign languages from me. The only one in the room who could speak Tagalog was Linda and I think she was grading some papers. I knew but one Butbut (the dialect spoken in Kalinga) phrase—“Ngacha-ngacha nu?”—“What is your name?”), so our after dinner conversation didn’t exactly touch on the meaning of life and so forth.
In the mornings, I would get up from my little corner in the room and get ready for my class. Because the room had other members of Linda’s family slumbering on the floor, I had to be careful making my way around lest I stepped on a sleeping uncle or an aunt.
Then Linda and I would embark on our merry walk to the school, only a few kilometers away from the village. It stood proudly atop a hill, with the Philippine flag hoisted tall on a pole, proudly waving in the wind. In that school, we had a spectacular view of lush green mountains and little brooks that surrounded the building.
The kids would see us walking to the school and would join us, shrieking with laughter as they engaged in rough play, carrying their books, running or riding on some homemade contraption with wheels….The more studious ones inquired about the day’s lesson.
There were no janitors in that school. Rather, everyday, before classes started, the older kids would fetch pails with water and rinse the bathroom, sweep the floors and empty the trash cans. The younger ones would straighten out the chairs and collect chalk from the floor. The naughty ones would be outside, playing.
Linda gave me much leeway on how to handle my class. I think I amused her with my off-key attempt to lead the kiddies with a rousing version of “Shine, Jesus, Shine” so I stuck to art and exercise after that.
On the weekends, I would go “home” to the midwifery clinic, the “Abundant Grace of God”, to touch base with Georgia, Chel and the rest of the midwives. After a stint in Pak-ak, the running water and real beds were a real treat and I always dove in both joyfully.
If you ever get the chance to make friends with a midwife, please do. They are some of the most beautiful and selfless souls in the world. And we had fun. Right smack in the middle of the mountains, we did.
We would pile up in the war van, off to the market to buy fresh fruit and food to cook for the evening. What else could you expect from a house full of ladies but a kitchen perpetually wafting with the smell of something delicious cooking? We played games, did laundry, played with Harry the dog (who is in doggie heaven now), and on the occasional birthday that popped up, had a few bottles of San Miguel Pale Pilsen together.
These ladies are imprinted in my heart. Georgia, who ran the clinic, who was wise, kind and blessed with two of the cutest boys in the planet, Emmaus and Lucas. (Three now, actually, with the arrival of baby Zion)…Crystal, gentle, funny and had the prettiest eyes hiding behind her glasses. (And to whom I still have to return ‘The Shack’ to. Oops.)
Willow, slim, with long dark hair and moved as if she was always on tiptoes, like a ballerina….Mary, statuesque and elegant, who had the most charming Southern belle drawl….Sarah, blonde, blue-eyed and the tallest of all, who cooked Indian food probably better than some Indians do….And Kayla, whom I was scared of at first, who turned out to be the sweetest of all. Up until this day she sends me handwritten letters from Sierra Leone where she is now based as a midwife.
It was only a month that I stayed in the beautiful, lush green mountains of Kalinga. In the 13 hour bus ride back to Manila, I knew that my friends and family would ask me, bewildered. “But what did you do there?” and “What for?” I had the same questions, on the way there, while at the clinic, and even on my way back.
Little by little, these questions are being answered.
A year later, I would go back to Kalinga with my friends to help repaint and repair the old school building.
Three years later, I would birth naturally, through the hands of midwives, as I had promised myself.
I have a feeling that the journey far from over yet.
But I’ve already learned to stop asking “Why?”
I think I’m just going to enjoy the ride.