Sunday, January 16, 2011
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
It’s hard to believe 2011 is already upon us. Two and a half months have flown by here in Kemantian. We thank God for good health and continued learning. We apologize for the long delay in updating our blog. We haven’t had internet for the last 1.5 months. We hope you enjoy the update! Here are some of our experiences since our last writing:
Each day we learn a little more about the Palawano culture. As days pass in the clinic our medical language skills are steadily improving, though our knowledge of daily conversation is not at the same level. We are well able to talk to the locals about their illnesses, but our daily conversation skills are still in need of improvement. The more we learn the language the more we understand the Palawanos.
Attire is quite different here. The many layers of clothing on the women are evidence of this. Most of the women wear ankle-length skirts with one or two baggy t-shirts. Sometimes they will even wear pants under their skirts despite the humid conditions. Though modest, nursing babies in public is readily accepted. In contrast to the women, the men often run around shirtless, wear shorts, and some sport loin-cloths. Few of the men or women have footwear, but those who are wealthy have Duralites (rubber sandals). One would think with all the barefooted travelers that there would be a lot of foot injuries, however, I’ve only seen one minor foot injury so far. The locals’ agility on the trails is remarkable. Many of the men can haul up to 100 lbs of food or supplies on their head for hours through steep, slick, muddy trails. And what’s even more amazing is that the women can do almost the same (the average size of the Palawanos is about 5 ft and 100lbs)!
The interaction between genders here is also quite different from America. At church, all the men sit on one side and all the women on the other. Married couples don’t really talk to each other and for that reason you have no idea who is married. To become married, a man typically sees a girl he wants to marry and goes to the father of the girl to ask to marry her. If the father agrees, he will set a price the young man must pay to get the girl (usually paid in pesos along with rice, and/or maybe pigs and goats). Many of the girls are married-off by age 12 to 20-year-old men and start having children as soon as physiologically capable. This explains why one of the locals has 14 children (all single births from one man) and is maybe only forty years old (Adults here don’t know their age). With the advent of birth control provided by the clinic, many of the women are getting relief from the burden of bearing so many children.
Though burdensome, the result of all the childbearing is a bunch of really cute kids running around. By the time the children are done nursing (2-3 years old), they typically fend for themselves. Sometimes the parents will send them to fetch water or pick food, etc. Unfortunately their cuteness does not prevent them from frequent misbehavior. Punishment from parents is seldom, perpetuating the problem. This is another cultural thing that makes church an interesting weekly experience.
Though the culture has differences from what we are accustomed, the presence of the missionaries over the last fifteen years has made a significant impact. The school children are noticeably more polite and diligent in work than the uneducated ones. The fact that there is no “Please” or “Sorry” in Palawano language is something the missionaries have tried to address, further heightening the level of politeness. The integrity and mannerisms learned in school and church trickles into families and is making a big difference. They are obviously cleaner, healthier, and more honest than those who have no education or belief in God. The burden of educating and spreading the gospel by the missionaries has been lightened as more natives become old enough to start teaching and preaching themselves. Training natives has enabled the mission project to expand beyond the one local school. So far there are three churches and five schools in the region that reach out to the native Palawano people.
One might think this culture sounds primitive, however, some of the wealthy locals have cell phones and one family even has solar electricity. Hiking a day or two further into the jungle will reveal a more primitive living. One of the educated natives, Niksun by name, moved a day’s hike away and has started a church and school. There, it is common for men to run around in loin-cloths and women are often shirtless. Niksun tells us stories of people who live even further in the jungle (several more days of hiking), many of whom are rebels and have a remote history of cannibalism. So, we feel blessed to live in a place that has somewhat modernized.
The above is a taste of what we have learned of the culture so far. Here are some more stories:
We bought our first tukew (machete)! We paid 180 pesos for it (approx. 4 USD). Locals make tukews out of whatever scrap-metal they can find. For example, a shock spring from a car can be melted down and molded into a tukew. It will then be tempered through heating in a fire and rapid cooling with water. Our particular tukew is about two feet long and quite sturdy. So far we have used it for cutting the grass and banana trees around our hut and opening niyug (coconut). In addition to the tukew, we also bought a large basket (big enough for Becca to fit in). We paid 250 pesos for it (approx. 6 USD). These items are considered high-price items. Smaller baskets can be bought for 50 pesos (a little over 1 USD). The smaller baskets usually take the local women about a week to make.
Over the last few weeks I have had several firsts at the clinic. I placed my first stitches and performed my first prostate exam! These were great learning experiences. Being here also gives me a feel for what it is like to be on call 24/7. Having 3 inpatients during the last two weeks has been enlightening. Thankfully, Becca, Joha (another nurse here), and myself are able to share the load of checking on the patients at night.
Several Sabbaths ago I was called to a village 30 minutes away for an older man who had stroke-like symptoms. Once at the village I assessed the man and instructed the natives to carry him down to the clinic. It was pretty amazing watching the eight of them carry their father in a stretcher down the steep slippery trail at a running pace. Over the next week we took care of him. The stroke caused total right-sided paralysis. Amazingly, he could still sit himself up, eat, and talk (a little). We even had him carried to the Christmas school play that occurred during his inpatient stay.
Overlapping the stay of the stroke patient, another inpatient, the son of a local witch doctor, was also here for a week. He came in with severe typhoid and malaria. His neuro status was markedly impaired and he would have died in a short time had he not come to the clinic. During this time, the father became a big help around the clinic. He kept the grass mowed, the front concrete slab clean, and even came to church on Sabbath. When we sent them home after the child improved we prayed that the experience would help the father and his family to have a better perspective for the Christians.
A month ago some of the missionaries went to the lowlands to get food and supplies. During that time Becca and I were given the responsibility of watching one of the other missionary’s kittens. Innocent though it seems, the experience tested my patience more than anything else so far. The kitten’s name is Gebi (pronounced “Gubby” which means ‘night’ in Palawano). He is a black, two month-old cat. It’s a cute kitty, but it meows so much that it starts to sound like a giant, annoying mosquito. We tried everything; feeding it, holding it, sleeping with it, bathing it, brushing it, playing with it, etc. It would only briefly be quiet while eating and playing. I would lie in bed at night thinking of ways to take out its vocal cords, or create a sound-proof box to keep it in. Needless-to-say, I was very relieved when the other missionaries returned a week later. Also, fortunately, over the last several weeks it has seemed to have matured out of its incessant-meowing stage and we have become friends. It’s fun watching him chase the chickens and even occasionally attacking one of the local dogs ten times his size!
For Christmas we all got together at the George’s house and had delicious food, watched “It’s A Wonderful Life”, and read Christmas stories. Even though we are far from our families and home, it was a special time. Being with the George’s and other missionaries has helped us have a greater understanding of what it means to be a foreign missionary. It means integrating into the culture God places you, using your talents to the best of your ability, being flexible, pouring your heart into the people, juggling many responsibilities, and trusting in God (important attributes anywhere).
We think of everyone at home during this holiday season and pray for your health, safety, and spiritual strength. Again, we thank you for your prayers and support. Successful mission projects like this would not be possible without you. Have a great new year, and may your resolution be to know God better this year than ever before.
Jon & Becca