“Little America,” Heaven said as we sped through the streets, the driver effortlessly navigating the large black van through heavy Manila traffic. I passed large condominiums, 7-11’s, and good ol’ McDonald’s on my way from the airport back to my new home. In many ways the Philippines appears to look like the country which occupied its soil following Spanish rule. Major brands for clothing and shoes are the same as in America and the newest generation of Filipino children speak English as their first language.
But there seems to be many ways in which this island nation is also quite different.. On my first day, a sudden downpour erupted from the skies and the rain came in torrents, beating against the metal roof. I was amazed with the sudden weather shift and ran outside. The children continued to play inside, largely unfazed by the wind and the noise. Heaven’s wife, Eileen, and I went downtown to Marikina City in the afternoon and on our way downtown we past the slums, colorful windows glued next to one another in makeshift apartments. Children played in the recently created puddles and splashed the cars driving along the road. They jeered at each other and ran together as a mass of colorful shorts and brown bodies. “When there are many days of heavy rain, the water escapes the river and floods the slums,” Eileen said and told me of 5 days of heavy rain that occurred two years ago in Manila. It seems that those in poverty suffer the most in more ways than one. The gap in wealth was there, right beyond my window and I wondered how long it would take for the shock of witnessing such poverty to become an accepted occurrence.
I spent the rest of my day at the gym, Fitness First, working out with Eileen and her personal trainer Alvin. As the fit 21-year-old I imagined myself to be, I have never sweat so much in my life. I was overweight by 15 pounds and had too much body fat, according to the scale in the training room. My host mom bounded up and down effortlessly as I trudged through the exercises, panting and wiping my face in-between squats, arm exercises and stomach curls. Alvin and I joked about my weak arm strength and I created my new Filipino name, Katrina Torres. Thankful I did not throw-up or otherwise pass out in front of other jogging stretching Filipinos, we took a shower and Eileen signed me up for a 1 month pass to Fitness First. We ate a delicious dinner at a Greek restaurant and when we returned home, I went upstairs for a quick nap at 8pm…and woke up 4 hours later dazed and confused. I had brushed off jet-lagged and it returned with a vengeance. Bed time, part two.