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Thanksgiving and Solidarity

December 1, 2007

A fair amount of time has passed since I last wrote. I wish I could say I’ve been so busy I just haven’t had time, but quite frankly, for all my years of formal education, I have merely been unable to formulate sentences that could be at all relevant in my experiences here. It’s been little things, trips to the market, countless meals of rice and fish, words learned and lessons lost. When I look at the calendar I can scarcely believe that it’s already December; the unbearable weather here seems to leave my understanding of time in a perpetual month of August. And yet, I bear it. Everyone else here just deals with it- there are very few of us who flourish in it. So often when I tell American friends of the constant eating of rice and dried fish, of the endless sweating in the humidity they’ll say, “Wow, that’s not for me.” It begs the question, are we actually ignorant enough to think that Filipinos love living without air conditioning, that they enjoy eating the same food every day? Just because people are accustomed to a lifestyle doesn’t mean they would have chosen it for themselves.

Right now I’m listening to old European Christmas carols as I sit writing next to our office’s Christmas tree. It’s meager and under-decorated, but I rejoice in seeing it anyway. There are reminders of home everywhere, at no time more obvious than during the Thanksgiving celebration our office held last week. There was no turkey (we would have to shoot it ourselves, and there was no way I was condoning such an action, in my heart I am still a vegetarian) but there was stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and pie. Pineapple pie is still pie. Fifteen people in all joined in the celebration- coworkers and their spouses and a few children. We all said what we were thankful for- all for family and loved ones and most tellingly, many for solidarity in the cause of peace and justice in this country. I was most thankful that even in my isolation on the other side of the world, I had learned that I was not alone. Not alone in being, but mostly not alone in my desire for love and peace. If good-hearted Americans think it is our job to “save” the world, we are sorely mistaken. The most we can hope for is to be in solidarity, to struggle along side the masses and to open our hearts to justice, no matter what that will mean for our comfortable way of life.

I have found myself more comfortable being back in Davao City. I spent the end of October through the middle of November in Polomolok, a Dole pineapple plantation a half hour from General Santos City on the southeastern side of Mindanao. It was an enlightening and bizarre experience. Enlightening that I learned so much about the workers’ struggle against massive multinationals like Dole and bizarre in that I was just thrust into their lives for the briefest period of time and for those few days I was there felt consumed by the apparent hopelessness of their fight against greed-driven capitalism. And yet, is there not always hope? Filipino national ballads project such an idea, as do liberal priests and activist nuns. Those who are true to the faith do not put all hope in end-of-the-world eschatology that declares the people should wait for God to do right. The faithful most in touch know that there is a call for the church to do something, to be an aid and a comfort to her people in their endless conflict with the powers that be.

I was not an aid or a comfort in Polomolok- in the most obvious sense I imagine I was a burden. Oh, the American can’t eat this or that, the American wonders where she can buy toilet paper, the American needs extra water to do her laundry. Certainly no one was short with me, in fact it was their over-accommodation, their severe hospitality that made me the most uncomfortable. The guilt and shame I felt in my inability to survive was not personal, but societal. For my own experience, I was quite proud of how I adapted. Compared to those around me, I was unnaturally weak.
Weakness is perhaps the greatest burden here. I carry it around in the form of a water bottle and closed-toe shoes, both connected by climbing hooks to my water proof backpack that is twice the size of anything else my colleagues are carrying. But I need, x y and z, I need this medication for this affliction and this one to prevent malaria. And bug spray and a misquito net and a dictionary and a phone charger… It just goes on. I’m weak when I carry so much extra. Then I’m vulnerable when I go without. Humility is not an option, it’s an assigned task.

On December 3 I’ll be going on my second immersion to a peasant community an hour and a half out from Davao City Proper. I’ve already met the nuns and priest I’ll be spending most of my time with at a forum at their parish, St. Isidro. The local farmers had come to the church leaders requesting a forum on new government legislation that threatens to turn the land, their very livelihoods, over to large multi-national mining companies. They’ve entrusted their fate to these clergy, who in turn have returned it to the people. At the forum the leaders recommended the peasants start their own labor organization in an effort to unite in a seemingly hopeless struggle for their way of life.

I look forward to spending the beginning of Advent, the season of active waiting, with these peasants. I hope to learn enough about their situation to be of some use- I hope to be wise enough to find my place and that, that place may be in solidarity.

I hope I don’t have to eat very much pork, but of this, I am skeptical.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Emily permalink
    December 1, 2007 3:55 pm

    I find your posts incredibly moving. I wonder something as I read:

    I do not believe in God. I usually think that makes little difference in how I behave — I try to honor the planet that gives me a home and the people (and others) who share it with me. That seems to be what most Christians I respect do, as well.

    But, I know I could not *voluntarily* do what you are doing. So, is this something you must have a belief in a higher power to do? Is this something God helps you to do?

    Just wondering…

  2. Kerr permalink
    December 5, 2007 9:58 am

    Friend of Liz,
    Ahoy, thanks for reading. I cannot comment on whether or not your not believing in God affects your actions. I imagine it might in some capacity, but that’s not necessarily positive or negative. For insatnce, do you act more humanely because you feel we must all be our own moral authority? Anyway, I find a belief in a god seems to make little difference in one’s actual actions. Hell, Satan believes in god. (Says so in the Bible- on a whim, that may be a funny verse for you, a professed atheist to know.) 🙂

    To answer your actual question- God does not help me do this more than God helps anyone else. I’m not someone who particularly believes in divine intervention on a regular basis, but I do believe that God is a source of my strength in the dark times I face here or anywhere else on the planet. Am I always certain? No. Do I have lots of answers? No. But I do this because God through Christ is not a force that calls me to be self-righteous (though I oft am), self-serving (sometimes that too), and blissfully ignorant of the world around me. I believe God calls me to solidarity and to be Christ-like in humility, faithfulness, and sacrifice to those around me. So that means I need to love people halfway around the world like I love my own family. It’s hard- when I see the poverty and desperation here (like anywhere else) sometimes I don’t want to believe in God. Because why would God leave it like this? But then I remember that there is enough food on this planet, wealth in this world. God hasn’t failed us, we’ve failed each other. So as I Christian I’m called to testify to God’s love by struggling for social justice. Believing in God is difficult and being a Christian (at least the kind of Christian I’m called to be) is not popular or easy. Phrases like ‘shared wealth’ and ‘land redistribution’ make the have’s in this world a little nervous.

    Ugh, that’s long, but actual faith cannot fit on a bumper sticker.

    So I’m curious. Why do you try to honor the planet and the people who share it? I mean, I’m sure I get the idea, I’m just always curious how others articulate that. Oh, and how do you know Liz? Isn’t she cool?!

    Here’s my email-

  3. Liz permalink
    December 8, 2007 3:24 am

    wow – i love the dialoge going on here – sorry i’m a little behind. kerr – i think you have put so well something that is so hard to express. when people ask why i’m in hong kong – sometimes its hard to express without sounding either a) evangelical or b) pluralistic. if you two are having conversation via email, i’d love to tag along if thats ok. 🙂 emily – i love your honest questions – thanks for asking!

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