Thursday, August 20, 2015

He Said, She Said (A Conversation Between an Indian Man and a Filipino Woman)

I met this man from India who has been living in the Philippines for the past 15 years.  I felt an instant affinity with him soon as I learned that he is from Tamil Nadu, a state down south, which was my first home when I lived in India for two years.  He probably felt the same having met someone in the Philippines who could respond to "Vannakum" (Tamilian greeting) and also after he learned that I go to the same college in UP where I am taking my masters in Women and Development and where he got his master's degree in Community Development  more than 10 years ago.  What was a chance encounter in an Indian restaurant extended to an hour and a half-long conversation as he reminisced his student days in UP; we exchanged observations and perspectives about culture of the two countries, his and mine.

Everything was going well until he commented that cases of rapes in New Delhi increased since Western influence started coming in and many Indian women pushed their saris and salwar kameez to the back of their wardrobes in favor of Western clothes.  Of course, I wouldn't let that insensitive comment just pass.  I am after all a student of Women and Development. It was definitely an example of victim-blaming.  I asked him, "are you saying it's their fault that women get raped in India?"  He ignored my question and went on to talk about other stuff, one was about how Filipinos gave up  our beautiful culture to Spaniards, Japanese and Americans (all colonized my beloved coutnry) and that now we don't have our own identity. Unlike India who was under British rule for a long time but never allowed the colonizers to change the Indian culture.   Then he talked about rampant pre-marital sex and teen pregnancy, blaming it on Filipino mothers who left the country to become overseas Filipino workers.  And then back again to us being heavily influenced by Western culture, losing Filipino morality, etc..  I need not tell you that I countered all his wrong impressions and/or conclusions about Filipinos.  But almost everytime that I did he would say, "you have your views, I am telling you what I observe and what I learn from my interactions with Filipinos, there is no end to this discussion, let's move on."
I can no longer remember how the conversation drifted back to India...oh wait, I think I can.  It was when he emphatically said "we never surrendered our culture to the British people" (and that was after repeatedly saying we should move on to discussing stuff other than culture and telling me to enrol in Anthropology class).  Somewhere in the conversation I said that culture is dynamic and changes over time though I agreed that they (Indians) definitely have retained many of their ancient beliefs and practices.  But then again, he cannot deny the fact that Western culture is already impinging on the daily lives of many of them.  "True," he said  "women have started joining the work force and that is bad because women should be at home taking care of their children."  "What is wrong with women wanting to earn income?" I asked.  He explained, "you see, in our culture men are the breadwinners, women also have their responsibility to stay at home to take care of the children."
"Yes, but then India has opened opprotunities for women to work outside of their homes. I spoke to many women who said they want to work and wish they could be relieved of some of the household chores," me said.

"That is wrong, when women work they cannot attend to their children anymore.  They lose the love for their children," said he.

"Who told you love is lost just because women want to be economically productive?  I know for a fact that that is not true.  I am a solo parent, I have to work so I and my child can live, my work didn't diminish the love I have for my child.  You are a solo parent yourself and you have to work, I'm sure you don't love your child less."

"You are a liberal woman, but that is not the culture of India, we have to protect our morality, our honor.  Staying at home is a protection for women"

"What morality? What honor? What exactly are you protecting?"

"When a woman works and there is sexual harassment in the office, what will happen to the family? What will the children feel? What will people say about the husband, the family? We have to protect our culture and women"

"So, to protect your culture it is okay if women cannot do what they want to do? If they are harassed or raped it is their fault because they defile your culture?"

 "We are protecting them."

"If you want to protect women, make the work environment safe for women, not prevent them from doing what is meaningful to them."

"Yes, yes, you are talking about equality.  You see, men and women in India they cannot be equal... men can go out in public not wearing a shirt. Women cannot go out wihtout shirts, or even the tank top that you said you wanted to wear in India."

"That is not what being equal means."

"No, no, if women go out without shirt what will happen to them?"  
"Being equal doesn't mean we should be able to do exactly the same thing.  It doesn't mean if you can lift this chair (tapping a heayy chair between us) I can do it too.  Maybe you are just physically stronger than I.  Being equal means......"

"Listen, women cannot go out in public without shirts on, men can do that in India"
"Can you go out in public without shorts or briefs? (or lungi)"
"That's because you are hiding your private part, right?"
"Of course."
"So it's the same thing with women, but they have two private parts to hide. They have to wear clothes to hide their private parts, long enough so they can also hide  their" I bent to touch my ankle for emphasis, and we said at the same time "ankles."    Erogenous zones for women in India include shoulders and ankles so they must be covered, but it's okay to show belly.
"This is becoming interesting, you obviously know our culture.  You are getting emotional."
"What? How is that emotional?"

Then he stood up, shook my hand, thanked me for the conversation and walked away.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Act of Random Kindness

My 19-year old son, Kahlil, sat beside me in our sofa the other night.  He asked what should he write in the SMS/text message he would  send to an elderly man he met earlier that day.  
Kahlil was  having lunch in a cafeteria near his university in Manila.  From where he sat, he could see the passersby outside. An elderly man who was walking laboriously, occasionally stopping, and pressing his hand against his midsection, caught my son's attention.  Kahlil thought the man was painfully hungry so he got up from his chair and approached the man.  
The elderly man is one of the survivors of Supertyphoon Haiyan.  He and his family  were flown in to Manila on board C-130 during the exodus from Tacloban after the city was almost wiped out by the super typhoon.   He was looking for a decent way to produce Php1200 (US$27) so he could purchase a boat ticket to  Tacloban for ohe of his family members.  The elderly man was not asking for help, and if ever he was, my son did not have have that much money to give.  
My son could have just walked away  but hunger pangs was written all over the old man's creased face.  Kahlil offered the elderly man Php200 (US$4.50), that's four-fifths of his daily school allowance.  He pleaded the man to get something to eat.  Before Kahlil went back to his table in the cafeteria, he asked for the man's contact details, he promised to find a way to help him raise the money he needed for the boat fare.  Thus, his question at the beginning of this article.  
We decided that I would ask one of my friends from the  Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to locate the man and his family so that the agency could assist not just one but all members of the elderly man's family.
There were two things I'm proud of.  One is his sensitivity to the needs of others. He spootted the elderly man from among the throngs of people and did not hesitate to offer any help that he could give.  Plus a promise to do even the littlest thing that he could to reduce the anguish of the elderly man..  Two is the goodness in his heart when he offered almost his entire allowance for that day so that man could eat.   I could sense when he told me about his encounter with the old man, that he would have done more  if he had the means.
Later that night, curiously he asked, "Mommy, would you reimburse me for my allowance that I gave to the elderly man?"
I looked at him, smiled, and said, "No, I won't.  because the meaning and value of what you did would be lost.  It breaks you a little when you give a part of yourself, and it will be most meaningfuland valuable to you when you feel the pain of giving."
He looked back at me, grinned, and said,  "I know.  I was only joking."  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Lessons learned by a first-time fundraiser

The strongest typhoon in the planet's known history struck Central Philippines on November 8, 2013.  By now, probably everyone around the world who had the interest to hear about the super typhoon have heard about it.  And by now, 3 months later many have forgotten it.

We haven't recovered yet from the natural disasters that struck different parts of our country in the past 2 years since I came back home from 2-year volunteer service in India in 2011, and then there was Typhoon Haiyan.  No one alive now, nor those who lost their lives, experienced a storm with such strength before.  The outcome was a massive devastation and thousands of fatalities.

At times like these, the Filipinos are quick to act, there would be organizations and individuals reaching out to donate cash or relief goods, engage in rescue or retrieval operations, etc.  Because it has become a new normal in my country, I always kept a pack of clothes for when the need arose to donate I would be ready.  It was all I could do because many of the disasters took place in areas far from where I reside, except in 2012 when a torrential rain that seemed to have enjoyed its stay inundated many parts of Manila; with colleagues and friends we organized a soup kitchen.

This time I didn't touch the clothes.  Instead, I went to join a relief operation and then later, volunteered to provide psychological first aid to typhoon survivors who were flown in to Villamor Air Base in Manila by C-130's from the affected areas.I did it out of compassion and empathy, and perhaps solidarity with my fellow Filipinos.

 I could not imagine the amount of sufferings of those who died and survived, I wanted to do more to help ease their pains.  But I didn't know what and how.  There was already an outpouring of aid and support from in and outside the country, governments, organizations, peoples from around the world.  The measly cash I could donate would be a drop in the ocean.  Still there was a huge need for support.  There are areas that haven't been reached, and at times like this, any kind of support is welcome.

When my former boss and friend came up with the idea to raise funds so we could provide some comfort to women and girl survivors - sanitary napkins and diapers for babies - I didn't think twice.  I've never done fundraising like this before, I didn't know how to ask for money at all.  And I didn't know how to receive them, if they came at all.   For the first time I was going to approach friends and acquaintances, and ask, I did. Wrote a personal letter and sent to people in my contact list   To my surprise and delight, I received favorable responses, pledges came one by one, and the funny thing even was that I got the quickest response from men.  Fancy that, men understanding the discomfort monthly period bring to women.  There's hope for gender-sensitivity, after all. - but that's just an aside.  Just one week after we solicited for support we raised an amount enough for 500 women.  More funds came in and we reached a total of 1000.

Lesson 1. I thought I must have written a poignant letter. I later realized that it wasn't my personal letter that moved them.  Us human beings have capacity for compassion and empathy.   We feel the anguish of  our fellow wherever they may be in the planet, even when we are ensconced safely at our homes, away from life-threatening natural or human-made events. That when the need and opportunity arise we try do something, anything, to alleviate human suffering.

Lesson 2. At the same time, trust is important.  People who helped us know their support would not go to waste, or be lumped with random donations.  And that trust we have to keep.  As funds continue to come in, we feel more obligated to ensure that we use them properly and righteously.  And happily we will do it.

Lesson 3.  Fundraising is a bonding activity.  We are a small group of women who informally banded together - some of us raised funds, others did the work at the ground.  Every time we meet to plan our next moves we bring food to share among us.  And this is just among us.  We also got to reconnect with friends and acquaintances from other parts of the world.

 Like all of those who helped us all we wanted was to do what we can in the smallest way that we know.   As we see the smiles of the people and hear the faint "thank you's" we know that somehow we've chipped some discomfort that Super Tyhphoon Haiyan brought to them.  

Of course, no one wished for the disaster to happen to my fellow Filipinos, or to anyone in the future.  Yet, when it did, human kindness set in.  

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Trip to Mt. Pinatubo

Today, my sister told me that Mt. Pinatubo was supposed to be closed to tourists that day we were there on May 1 because two British nationals died of heatstroke while or after visiting the volcano.  And that, on the same date  there reportedly  was an unusual activity observed in the crater lake.  My sister swore she saw small waves in an otherwise still and silent water that runs deep,  unfathomably deep.
This greets the visitors to prevent anyone from bathing in the lake.

But don't quote me, I just heard it from my sister who heard it from a friend who heard it from someone else. Unsure I may be of the veracity of the news they gave me the necessary push to blog about our Labor Day escape to Mt. Pinatubo.

Mt. Pinatubo is a volcano in  Zambales Province in the island of Luzon, Philippines.  Not many people knew about the volcano until its major eruption in July 1991.  It was dormant for eons; its eruption gave off massive volume of lava and sulfur dioxide that buried vast areas of agricultural lands and thousands of homes in Central Luzon.  Ash fall were so thick and heavy it covered surrounding areas in total darkness including Metro Manila -87 kms. or 54 mi. away from the volcano. Lahar continue to flow every year during rainy season and had killed lives years after the volcano's major explosion.  It also caused dramatic economic displacement for many communities.  After the eruption a crater lake was formed which about 10 years later,  (if my memory serves me right) was turned into a tourist attraction.  

Summit caldera as seen on Aug. 1, 1991, photo from Wikipedia

From the photo above, this one below is what now awaits the tourists.  The lake was magical, the place serene.  The undetermined depth of the crater and the mountains that locked the lake rendered the water sea green.   When you're there you would wonder how such beautiful piece of nature had once wreaked havoc to thousands of lives some 20 years ago.
Pinatubo Crater Lake, May 1, 2013
To get here, there's a short trek uphill

and then downhill.

You stay near the lake for one hour max and then you climb back up those steps you see in the photo.  I'm not telling why, but good luck on that.

The place was quiet despite the steady flow of tourists coming and going.  You could hear happy voices but no boisterous laughters, no screaming nor shrilling.

 I could tell that all the people were too careful to trigger soil erosion just because they got too excited being there.  Especially when you know that should you be trapped help could take a while to get there, as it takes at least an hour and a half drive from civilization before reaching the crater lake.
4x4s take tourists close to the crater lake up to the area where
it  is already totally impassable to any type of vehicle. Photo by  Patita.
The more breathtaking part of the trip to Mt. Pinatubo wasn't seeing the crater lake but the rugged ride on a 4x4 jeep as it snaked through imaginary road from Capas, Tarlac where the adventure began, and entered the 7-kilometer gorge.  From this point (Lipit Station) visitors can choose to begin their trek that would take 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours, or at the rest station  which 1 kilometer from the crater. which would take less than half an hour.
Entrance to the gorge, Lipit Station, 7 kms. to the crater.
No shouting or loud noises from this point onward.

End of the imaginary road for the 4x4's.
Rest Station, 1 km. to the crater .  
 The gorge was formed from the lahars that flowed from the volcano and  rise to as tall as  5 to 10-storey buildings high.

Photo by Patita

The closer we got to the crater the bigger the boulders that we encountered.

Photo by Patita

As it was middle of summer, the rivers were quite dry except for several streams that we crossed.
Photo by Patita
According to Jimmy, our guide, the gorge is filled with water during the rainy season and would wash away lahar deposits thus changing the landscape every year.  It's a vast land but nobody lives there, Jimmy told me.  Only grass grows in the gorge, no trees, fruit-bearing or otherwise.

Photo by Patita

The trip to Mt. Pinatubo was worth the  wait, we had planned it one summer ago but because of a scheduled US-Philippine joint military exercises under the Visiting Forces Agreement it was closed to tourists. This year, I wasn't part of the plan, on the last minute someone backed out, my sister asked me if I wanted to go. I didn't even have to think, I just said yes.
After going to the crater.  I actually made it
back to rest  station in just 10 minutes. Photo by  Dillan

Monday, February 18, 2013

Filipino Style Baingan Bartha

One of my favorite dishes while in India is baingan bartha, but it was kinda difficult for me to make, not having the appropriate spices and even if i did, i didn't know how to make baingan bartha in the first place.  but baingan bartha i discovered is the complicated version of our inihaw na talong (grilled eggplant with tomato and onion) so while still in my placement i concocted my own version.

sliced tomatoes
sliced onion
ground black pepper
some salt
olive oil
chili (if you want it hot)

it's easy to make, not much cooking required really.  all you need to do is wash the eggplant and grill.  remove the charred skin and mash the eggplant.  put it in a bowl, add the sliced tomatoes and onions, plus the chili (again, if you want it hot), pour in a reasonable amount of olive oil,  add a dash of salt and pepper, squeeze in some lemon and just stir it in.  wallah, Filipino-style baingan bartha.  It's good with rice or chapati.

Baingan bartha is best served hot, with my version, you can chill it for about five minutes and would still taste good.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Thoughts on the Delhi Gang Rape

The gang rape that killed Jyoti Singh, a 23-year old student in India hogged the news and shocked the world the past weeks.  It happened during my busiest days when I hardly had the time to read beyond the headlines.   It was not disinterest or callousness on my part that I didn't bother to find out the details of the crime.

That a woman was raped in India is not new to me. An article in Rupee News said one woman is raped every twenty minutes in India but it is a "notoriously under-reported crime because of social stigma and that the culprits in most cases were known to the victims."  I lived there for two years and it isn't just once that case of rape was reported by the media.  Except that such cases were hardly discussed at length or addressed a as crime.  At best, the governments would respond by beefing up security for women, like ensuring that female BPO employees have shuttle service from work to home or by making arrangement for Ladies' Special buses in high-risk areas for women.  The issue would always boil down to security and safety rather than combating violence against women  

I also didn't religiously follow the news that Indians were angered and came out in throngs to protest the crime and demand action from the government.  Paradoxical it may seem but it was good news, it's about time this was talked about in public.

What finally got me to read about it was when the the Jyoti's friend, Awindra Pandey, came out to talk about their ordeal.  What jarred me was the fact that hardly anyone stopped to help them for almost 20 or 25 minutes when  Jyoti was bleeding profusely. Those precious minutes could have made a difference in her  chance of survival.  Awindra said it could have been fear that prevailed among the passersby that if they helped they would be made witness to the crime.  Equally appalling was sluggishness of the police who finally arrived,  their reluctance to take immediate action; didn't even bother to help him carry Jyoti to the van that took them to a distant hospital, because "they were probably worried about their clothes."  

Rape is rape, whether the rapist or rapists, in this case, used just his junk or more. It is violence.  It is not just wrong, it is unforgivable.  But I'm afraid to say that in my view, it was not just the rape that eventually killed Jyoti but the fear and apathy that prevailed, when courage and concern were required.  I do not blame those passersby but the reality is Jyoti is dead, it just makes me ask, what if someone helped the first minute Awindra cried for help?  What if the police acted promptly and responsibly?  Sometimes, what takes the life of a human being isn't just the action committed but the action that is omitted.  As Awindra had said,  "If you can help someone, help them.  If a single person had helped me that night, things would have been different."

Jyoti who could still smile when she saw her friend in the hospital would have survived the social stigma had she lived because what happened to her raised the social consciousness of Indian society.  It made them fearless to demand justice and action for Jyoti's rape and other women who are still victims of gender-based violence. As of date, the suspects have already been arrested, a commission has been set up to recommend measures to combat sexual violence.

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee called Jyoti a 'true hero".  I hope that her death would not be in vain, but instead would lead to reforms both in the system and the attitude  towards sufferings of other people.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

When Onions Made People Cry

(I wrote this last year but completely forgot to publish in my blog til now. Photos are by Mike Rosenkrantz, fellow volunteer and room-mate)

There's been a dramatic increase in food prices here in India in the last month. It started with price of onion soaring to Rs60 or Rs70 in New Delhi (and much higher in other states, reportedly up to Rs100/kg) from Rs30-40, apparently a shortage in supply. According to reports, it was due to damage to crops in states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, the largest onion producers. Some reports said it was due to hoarding and speculation. To arrest the price increase which was making the poor and the middle class cry, the Indian government suspended exportation of onion till mid-January this year. But not long after did the other prices of basic food commodities, such as fish, egg, tomatoes, went up that hurt my purse.

In pursuit of lower price Mike and I headed to a different market which he discovered during one of his strolls around our neighborhood. To get there we passed a creek with much of the water dried up while what remained of it has turned black with filth and all kinds of wastes imaginable or not. Near the bank of the creek is trashville which i thought was where all our garbage go, and where some people find a living...

or where cows bask in the sunshine.

The market, although not the most pleasant site you could find in Dabri, West Delhi, is fascinating. There are no stalls in this market, just rows of fruits and vegetables strewn on the mucky grounds, separated only by sacks or tarps laid out to protect them from getting soiled. The vendors seemed to recognize Mike from his previous visit when he didn't buy anything but took a lot of pictures of them. They looked affable and amused as two foreigners gasped with glee at the sight of a heap of broccoli. I was supposed to purchase a week's supply of veggies but with the atrociously cheap prices in this market I ended up buying two or three times more than the volume I needed.

Imagine this: ( at exchange rate of 1.00 INR=0.963946 PHP/0.0219198 USD)

broccoli - Rs30/kilo
papaya - Rs20/kilo
grapes - Rs60/kilo

carrot - Rs20/kilo. (and that's me checking twice that i heard the man say "bis ek kg" - 20 one kilo, notice the man's hand)

pepper -Rs20/kilo

green peas Rs.20/kilo

potato - Rs30/kilo

eggplant -Rs20/kilo

cauliflower Rs5/kilo. now this was tricky. the vendor (not the child in the picture) kept saying, "das doh kg" (10 for 2 kilos). I couldn't blame him if he tried to lure me into buying two kilos of cauliflower. he's got over a hundred kilos of only cauliflowers at his disposal. Mike wondered how much a farmer got if the market price (in New Delhi were nothing is grown) which bothered me for one second then i continued in my shopping binge. Bad, eh?

garlic and tomatoes were still a bit pricey at Rs240+ and Rs60 a kilo respectively.

I didn't dare buy or even ask about the price of onion, afraid it would make me cry. But had i noticed the sacks of onion behind this man in the picture perhaps I changed my mind. Maybe supply has gone back to normal after all.

P.S. I'm not entirely sure if these prices are low by Indian standard. I've read that people here do not complain if prices of non-essential or created needs are high, but will grumble if the prices of vegetables and fruits go up, thus the government really makes effort to keep the prices low, so low that the farm gate prices minimum(est), remember the cauliflower.