I'm in a better mood now than I was when I wrote the following yesterday afternoon. However, in the interest of historical accuracy, here it is:
I’m typing this right now instead of working, because I can’t get anything else done right now. The battery for my computer ran out while I was working in the Filipiniana section of the library, at which point I discovered that the outlets in the library are all non-polarized, and won’t accept the 2-prong adaptor I have for my battery charger. There is a place in the library that has 3-prong plugs, but, naturally – hmm... I hesitate to call it logic, but some distant relative perhaps – dictates that it is forbidden to bring in laptops. And besides, the books I need can’t be taken out of the Filipiniana section. I was able to borrow an adapter that works for my computer, but I had to leave my id. Now, without my id, I can’t get back into the Filipiniana room. So here I am, wasting my extremely limited time, waiting for my battery to charge so I can get some work done.
I have a 15-page research paper that I have to write, in Tagalog. Thinking about it makes me want to cry. I basically have the vocabulary of a kindergartener, but I’m expected to write a college level paper. This, mind you, on top of 9 hours a day at school, 2 hours commuting, and at least an hour or two of other homework every day. I actually am beginning to feel like this program is hampering my learning Tagalog. My weakest area, by far, is conversational speech. But I have almost no time to actually just sit and talk with anyone, because I always have some assignment I should be doing. Not to mention the toll it’s having on my body. I can see bones in my back and chest that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen before. I have no control over my own diet, and no matter how many times I try to explain otherwise, the administrators of this program seem to think that being vegetarian means I can survive on iceberg lettuce and white rice. Needless to say, I’m tired all the time, my head constantly aches and my stomach is a mess. The two weeks I spent with a host family that actually asked what I eat and made an effort to keep me well fed have slowed down my physical deterioration, but tonight is the last night I’ll stay with them. I am honestly terrified about what’s going to happen once I return to the dorm-hotel.
I suppose at least this can be considered part of the cultural exposure this program is supposed to provide, as I’m getting just the tiniest little dose of the malnutrition that so many people here suffer, and increasing my understanding of how deeply this can impact someone’s ability to succeed in school or at work....
The best moments of my day are the ones that I manage to steal for myself. Just the smallest bits of freedom. Figuring out how to get around by jeepney. Asking for directions from strangers. Even just chatting with the people at the bag-check at the library. Imperfect command of the language is always a bit infantilizing, but it can make what would otherwise be routine interactions an adventure.
It’s difficult at times to be so obviously different in a fairly homogenous society, but it does have its advantages. My Filipino-American classmates, physically indisinguishable for everyone else, say people are often very disapproving of, or at least confused by, their problems with the language. Because I’m white, people are so genuinely delighted that I can speak Tagalog at all that they forgive my trespasses against the language, and usually go way out of their way to be helpful and friendly. I’ve gotten pretty used to having a crowd gather around me whenever I start speaking Tagalog. You could get around this country fairly easily with just English, but it definitely wouldn’t be the same experience.Well, looks like my battery’s about where it needs to be to get me throught the afternoon. I should be able to post this tomorrow (let’s not even get me started on the problem of internet access at this school.)