I recently moved for work. This time I find my self waking up to the vast sky of Arua in northern Uganda. It’s my first time here, but not in Uganda. I was here over… More
This years Christmas is low key.
Four weeks ago I went back to work and landed myself in East Africa, Uganda to be exact. My work even took me to the north of the country, in Arua. When I arrived I knew that I will be spending the holidays away from home, that’s why I made connections to the only Ugandan friend I have … Silvester.
Sil and I worked for a year in Palestine. Living in Gaza for the whole of two thousand and sixteen, and I got to know his family. From the many stories we shared hanging around the house, for the lack of places to go that is not banned and the lack of other expats who does not have the same security restrictions as us, I got to know them as if we’ve met.
So when I arrived in Uganda, the second day, I met Martha, his beautiful wife and the latest addition to his brood of three boys – Michael. The little tot is special to me … he’s the namesake of my dad and both were born on the feast day of St. Michael September 29, eighty-three years apart.
It has been decided much later that I will be spending the whole Christmas break in their house and with his family in Kampala.
In the outskirts of Kampala is where the Kasozi is raising their family. The house is exactly how he described it and from the photos he had shown when he broke ground.
Coming over though was a bit of a challenge, having driven long hours from Arua that day, I was eager to just get to their home. We set off quite late than normal be cause of some last minute paper works before office is officially closed for the holidays. We lost three hours from the usual six morning rendezvous, we set off at nine and there were near mishaps along the way plus the mandatory lunch and shopping. We reached the city center at the peak of the traffic of Kampala and being the last to be dropped off I reached Martha’s home at ten that night.
I’ve been on the road for over thirteen hours. Felt like I travelled from Manila to Doha all over again 😳.
The house is over the hills, overlooking south Kampala and across other hills. Rough road and uphill I was just happy our driver was game despite the late hours.
The morning after
Martha welcomed me despite the time and showed me where I will be sleeping in the next two weeks – I am roomies with the boys VJ and Mattie, three and two years old sleepyheads. When they woke up they wondered who is there sleeping in what used to be empty bed across their room.
Sweet boys, I woke up with being addressed as Aunty followed by “how are you?” Two sets of eyes wondering who this muzungo is … the white skinned aunty (although I am more brown than white 👩🏻🦱).
The boys born a year apart are like twins. They worn similar clothes when we go out and copy each other all the time. But more than that they are frenemies. Always someone is crying and calling for mommy but when they are in good terms they are the image of bliss. A sweetheart if you ask me until one bites the other 🤭.
Good thing mom has the patience of a saint. Never saw her angry, stern yes but not angry nor frustrated. Wondering how some parents react when one and worst three are acting up together making a riot. Waiting to see what Michael is like when he turn two … it would be a noisy house over Seguku hills.
I am thankful for this experience, an immersion I didn’t plan. In the Philippines, to experience 101 hospitality one needs to be invited to live in a Filipino house, rich or poor the experience will be profound. Same as I have here although I imposed my visit I am experiencing a holiday like no other.
Happy to meet Silvester and Martha’s family including their immediate extended family. It is truly wonderful to live a life like a local even though I am musungu.
It will be hard to leave but will soon do before I overstay my welcome, but actually to return to work up north.
Ironically today is also the #InternationalDayofPeace and apt occasion for us to go back to the history of the #Philippines at the time we were ruled by Marcos, his family and his cronies.
I was still in cloth diapers when Martial Law was declared, I was in my ruffled knickers running around when all the atrocities were happening around me, and I was in grade school when #EdsaRevolution happened. The events that happened in those times did not impact my childhood because life then was normal. You can say, I enjoyed the perks of being under the rule because as a child I am impressionable — I will agree to anything you tell me and eat whatever was on the table.
But as I grew up I realized, life was not easy, we are not rich, many more are poorer than the poor us. While those in the government are rich, and so are their friends. I soon realized there’s wealth inequality in our country and there are insurgencies in the mountains fighting for the greater good of who is still something that baffles me up to now.
I never like politics, we never talk about it, but I am not naive. Mind you my mom was a loyalist to Marcos, and we never ate galunggong and just to oppose we say we are pro Aquino but it was not true because for me they are all cut from the same cloth only some are more greedy than the others.
Now fast forward to 2018, the early part of the video – a review of how it – the Martial Law all begun seems to be repeating itself in the personality of the self-proclaimed “good” leader – the good mayor who is deluding himself as the president of the Republic. He emulates someone who had divided the country into their own pieces of Legoland and does not care if the legos are trampled upon. We’re going back in the dark times and worst, the young and the poor are being led to believe that this is the way forward, to progress.
But do you see the parallelism of then and now?
The same is happening again and maybe worst … the prices of food are soaring while our lives continue to derail. Plummeting down like we didn’t know any better. Security even inside your own home is becoming insecure and an illusion of a good life seems to be getting blurry and the dreams becoming more unreachable.
You will hear, those loyal to the Marcoses and to the current government that no martial law happened. Conditioning the minds as if all of us are demented. I suggest you watch the video.
If you can maintain an open mind or remove bias in your system, you will see the parallelism of THEN and NOW and you ask again — did it or did it not happen?
If I can answer for you … it happened, and I will tell you it should not happen #NEVERAGAIN again because we should never let it happen for us now and for the future generations (again).
I asked Dr. Ferdz … which weekend are you free to give out the chairs? The only date that matched in our calendar was 12th of August, Sunday.
I accepted because she’s very hard to catch and she’s an essential member of the team in my plan to finally give away most of the Wheelchairs-for-Kids that has been sitting in our storage for a little over 3 years now. She’s the wheelchair expert while I, handle the rehabilitation part of the process.
At the same time, I was selecting the kids that can use the wheelchairs. I only have on criteria – that they can sit with minimal support. I tried to be strict because there are very few chairs to give to the number of children that needs them. These are wheelchairs that are fitted and modified to the individual needs of the user.
All that preparation was done remotely. It was easy, I had years of training working in Palestine and Turkey!
The coordinator Miss Holly gave me the information about the kids she recommended. I selected them based on the photos and passed on to my colleague to confirm. Once we had the list, we were all set to roll the coming Sunday.
A little sacrifice for a slice of heaven
Thanks to a friend, I was able to link and communicate with a group of advocates who will do anything and everything for their children with cerebral palsy. The seven kids we chose are of the mixed type of cerebral palsy, the youngest is a 3-year old, and the oldest was a 7-year old, all non-verbal and comes with their unique temperament.
The group is called CPCARES.Ph, a newly minted NGO composed of mostly mothers who met each other in hospitals and rehabilitation centers where they get treatments. They decided to bond together and exchange information on how to support their children and each other and eventually get support like the wheelchair-for-kids I was offering.
The chair has to go, it’s long overdue
The wheelchair-for-kids was given to me by a colleague from Rotary (WFK, Inc) in Australia. I collected them in Pampanga in 2014 to give to ten children in San Pedro. But life happens to my colleagues and to me (that’s for another story) that we didn’t get the chance to complete the donation of the chairs. I only gave one, and 9 other was stored between my house and another friends’ backroom until I find the time to give them out.
Then my accident happened this year, and suddenly I found myself with nothing worthwhile to do, I started reconnecting with my disability network. During one of my doctor’s visit, I dropped by one of the social department run orphanages (Elsie’s Gatches) in Alabang and tried to find kids that can benefit the chair, we were able to find only one. The residents are either too old, too big or the disability is severe they cannot control their movements let alone sit without restraints.
After some time, through the mother of Gab, our very first recipient, she got me in touch with CPCARES.Ph and the rest as we say “is history.”! (Read Gabs’ latest story here)
Rain rain go away come again another day … please!
As the day of the activity approaches, a severe weather situation started happening in the metro including our province. The typhoon #Karding, though far from land was sucking the monsoon bringing in non-stop rain, and it’s putting my plans at risk of getting delayed again. I thought if I cannot give the wheelchairs away this time, I will not be able to do it ever!
I became friendly with the disaster alert, and the worst is yet to happen.
The day before the event, on a Saturday, I attended a creative writing course that puts me in the heart of EDSA, our infamous parking lot. And the day prior, I was with friends, and there was no problem with rain, but anything can change typical for this period, so I was confident the weekend will be good.
When I arrived at the workshop venue, the rain had started. I was not worried it doesn’t seem to be strong, I was wrong. At around 2 in the afternoon of Saturday all the mobile phones in the room gave out a unison fog horn sound announcing that the whole of Metro Manila and nearby provinces are on RED Typhoon Warning – it was not good. There is more rain dropped than what can be handled by the cities and provinces – the worst flooding was imminent.
I managed to go home later that afternoon, risking walking in the rain and puddles and running after buses because I will have to get ahead of the situation. Had I delayed even for 10 minutes I would have slept in one of the hotels nearby and not go home for the event.
(Photos above are from the internet – it was what I escaped when I decided to hop in the bus to go home).
I was also on high alert. Continually checking the weather report and updating the coordinators.
My colleagues whose coming from the metro contacted me asking if the event is pushing through because people are being evacuated as the night progressed and there was a risk of the dam breaking or one of the big river overflowing if the rain continues overnight threatening more flooding.
All through the night, I was glued to the news telling people that if the situation doesn’t change I will advise postponing no later than 5.30 in the morning of Sunday. I was praying hard before sleeping, praying that when I check the news, I will have good news.
Good news indeed, the sun had shown its face … finally!
I knew it, the moment I woke up, I know it’s a go. The RED warning was lifted, but it left significant devastation in the whole of the metro, where half of the kids and my colleague was coming from.
With God’s providence, all came, and nobody was affected by the massive flooding even if they lived in the area that was underwater. God really want these kids to get rolling in their new chairs, rain or shine.
One by one they arrived at the venue, and one by one the chairs were assembled. All hands were on deck, anticipating 3-hours each chair including fitting and adjustments, we needed to hustle.
After assembly, each kid was fitted in the chair while adjustments were made by mostly their dads. The moms were busy taking care of their kids until they are needed to sit and fit in the chairs.
Since the venue that was lent to us, thanks to another friend, was indoor we were not affected by the afternoon rain that continued to pour. It was less troublesome than it was the day before, and each one of them brought their own transport I was not worried they cannot go home with their chairs or get the chairs wet.
We finished in good time and was able to give out all the seven chairs without a hitch and immediately they were a hit to the kids and especially to the parents who witnessed the transformation of their child the moment they sat in their new and appropriate Wheelchair-For-Kids.
I think God was happy with what we had accomplished that day that the rain stopped altogether after.
I can’t wait to be August. Soon it will be August, and my future will be bright.
Do you know how many drafts I have in my box? I think i have at least 7 that I never finished writing, either I lost the thought or I got distracted that I cannot go back to it unless I get the inspiration again.
So for this, I intend to finish this one.
You ask … why August?
Well, that would be the time I will finally get my final reading glasses grade so I can read properly. Right now I am struggling to concentrate on looking at the computer screen or my phone, even reading magazines and newspaper becoming tiresome. And today I am starting to feel dizzy when doing those wearing my old glasses because I have nothing else to wear. And if I don’t use it, I will end up watching a lot of TVs.
In August, I will stop using a progressive type of eyeglasses. My new lenses made that possible, but I will still need to use reading glasses.
I had the option to do that – I mean to not use either distance or reading glasses but my insurance didn’t cover that type of surgery so I opted for the one that I can afford. At least I can still wear stylish and colorful eyewear as a consolation.
A lot of us take things for granted until it’s too late, I know because that’s how it was for me. Read this Do Not Wait Too Long
Although it was not too late, I still took my eye problem in stride only to realize that I could have had it corrected in 15 minutes (yeah true read this Windows to the Soul) over the weekend and return to work after a week. But I didn’t do that then, and if I say I regret it, I would say yes.
When my vision started to falter, I guess subconsciously I decided to stop going out at night alone. I would rather stay in on a Friday night and binge on music videos or my favorite series because I was afraid I would get an accident. Turkish driver is barbaric when it comes to driving, and they will not make it easy for you to feel safe even on the sidewalk.
But consciously I was in denial, I pretended I am just lazy, or I am saving my money, telling my bf that it’s cheaper to stay in and buy the wine we like. He bought it, never complained and then I moved out to Tunisia.
In Tunisia, walking around was never a problem. During the day I was glued to my computer, I work from home, and the house itself has good lighting, so I was not bothered that only one eye was actually doing the work for me. My stairs are well lighted, and when I venture outside, I was not afraid because the area where I lived has low traffic and sometimes I can even walk in the middle of the streets plus streets are almost well lit.
Then the inevitable happened and further delayed my surgery until late June, and now I have to endure using my old reading glasses until the lens finally reached its maximum adjustment and will not affect when I finally get prescribed my new spectacles.
That is why I am so looking forward to early August to finally get that final grade and start reading without eye strain and headache.
When I took the job for Gaza in the occupied Palestinian Territories, I didn’t know I will have the grandest pilgrimage I will have in my life.
Although I lived in Gaza most of the time, I had at least 2 weekends in a month to enjoy the old city and visit all nooks and cranny inside it. Reliving the stories I read in the bible at the same time understand the plight of my Palestinian friends against the oppression they were dealt with in this modern times.
I arrived in Israel in early February of 2016 and settled-in first in Jerusalem while waiting for my papers allowing me to enter into Gaza. The Christian world was preparing for the Lenten season. It took a while before I was able to appreciate where I was until I get to visit around town and inside the old city. I was happy to have made acquaintances with other Catholics from Spain and Mexico who’s been living in Jerusalem for over a year and are well versed with the happenings in and around town and of course the Passion of Jesus Christ.
The feeling while in the old city at this time – at Lent was overwhelming. Like all other Christians, being in the place where Jesus lived, walking in the path he walked on meeting his disciples, and while carrying the crossed for our sins humbled me.
For a while I forget why I was in Palestine, all I can think of at that time was the Passion of Christ Jesus, relieving in my head his stories, the stories of his apostles and of Mary and the persecution they received in the hands of those who claim to be high and mighty. It’s hard not to remember your catechism and you can only do that when you are faced with it in real-time.
I was so happy, no words can explain my feelings when I was there and all the time I was there until I have to leave Israel.
To appreciate the Old City, the Holy Land, one has to be in the moment and feel the spirit of the city speaks to you and bring you back to the time when you become part of the bible history.
Until the celebration of Easter, of His resurrection. Giving hope to the people that all our sins are forgiven and were given opportunities to become a better person for others year after year.
It was a fitting introduction to the challenges I am set to tackle accepting the job in Gaza. It was an opportunity for me to know the places and the people according to history and to the experience, I had with them daily. The chance to work with my now Palestinian friends, to help them overcome the consequences of their situation and of the people they helped make me realize that religion knows no boundaries.
It is not enough to just say been there-done that without bringing with you the spiritual high that you experience while in the holiest of the land, the land that is full of history that had been told for centruries on.
In Palestine, my being Catholic is no issue. Between my coordinator, also a Catholic and me, all our staffs and the people I met in the community to help and to mingle are all Muslim but it was never an issue. The Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank are the most progressive thinkers I met, but unfortunately, their situation is one of the world’s greatest irony – the oppressed become the oppressor.
Their experience since 1948 up to now is a product of hatred and self-entitlement of those that persecute them. And I continuously pray that the history written in the holy book, the Bible, in the new testament and that of the Quoran will eventually come to reality in the present time and we can achieve the peace we all dream of.
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. — Matthew 22:35-40
I wouldn’t trade this experience with anything. This may not be the best mission for me (work wise), but I can say this is the best experience I had working and living in the Middle East.
Let us continue to pray for peace and freedom to the Holy Land!