Back when I was a timid middle school student, my PE teacher (the terrific Mr. Canzanese) encouraged me to take risks by saying, “You’re only really learning when you’re out of your comfort zone.” I’m learning a lot in the Philippines as I test my comfort zone daily.
Our daily commute to school involves two Jeepneys and a tricikab, a motorized bike with an attached passenger compartment. There seems to be no limit to how many passengers can be squeezed into these contraptions. Roma and I have navigated the process of paying, transferring, and asking for a stop, all in the local Ilongo dialect.
Personal questions and comments are the norm. It’s not considered rude to ask someone age, income, or marital status, or to comment frankly on a person’s physical appearance. “You’re so white!” and “You don’t eat much, but you’re chubby” are no different from mentioning that someone is tall or has blue eyes. One woman introduced her daughter to me by saying, “She’s chubby,” and another greeted her friend with, “Wow, you are much fatter since I last saw you!”
In the spotlight
We have needed to adjust to a constantly shining spotlight. We stand out as foreigners and people are eager to converse, take our picture, and see us perform. Every day we are asked to speak publicly to large groups at the schools we visit. Our audience often insists that we follow our speech with a dance, to an accompaniment of uproarious laughter and copious photographing and videotaping as we muddle our way through. I cringe to think what evidence might have crept onto YouTube! Our hip-hop performance was atrocious, while our Tinikling (traditional Filipino dance of hopping quickly between moving bamboo sticks) continues to improve.
As guests, we are offered multiple meals each day, prepared by our wonderful and generous hosts. While unfamiliar, nearly everything I’ve tried has been quite tasty, and sometimes downright delicious.
Learning, growing, testing and expanding my comfort zone; Mr. Canzanese would be proud.