The American holiday for gratefulness coincided with my first few moments out of Tacloban City. Coupled with time to reflect gifted to me by the gridlock of Manila traffic, several THANK YOUS have grown up so strongly inside me that I’ve got to publicly free them.
Five months ago I moved to the Philippines alone, without much of a landing pad. Most strongly, I’m grateful for the people who colored my life in Tacloban. I was extraordinarily blessed with local friends who shared cultural know-how and fellow foreigners who shared stories of their own bumbling attempts to get all the Pinoy nuances. Marie, Sarah, Shine, Steph, and Yvonne, thank you for sharing so many laughs and cold-ish Pilsens with me.
Apparently, and so wonderfully, I also happen to have a Dutch twin. My last month in the city I was practically attached at the hip to Roos, a Master’s student from the University of Amsterdam who has similar research questions, a complementary disposition, and (the locals were convinced) looks just like me. Thank you Roos for showing me collaboration where there could have been competition, exemplifying patience and generous intelligence, and for making hours stuck in the waiting rooms of government offices fun.
The eclectic Yellow Doors Hostel group of locals graciously welcomes whatever internationals stumble into town, and I was no different. Dear Tacloban YDH friends, we (the expats) are fleeting and likely blend together but you (Jacques, Trixie, Panx, etc.) are so memorable and meaningful to us. Hopefully you know how grateful I am for Saturday nights on the rooftop, deep conversations about love gone wrong and right (still stoked for you Trixie), and a little bit of funky grooving.
If I’m talking about friendships with locals though, it goes without saying that everything would be different without Phoebe. Amy and I hired Phoebe to join me as a research assistant. She was experienced at community work, having previously worked for a few NGOs, but more importantly was genuinely interested in the perspectives of our respondents. In might have otherwise been awkward conversations, her compassion prevailed in making others feel valued and knowledgable. I’m also thankful for all those times she wasn’t angelic; Pheebs can flip over to sassy and hilarious contrarian in an instant. She’s also got a passion for keeping priviledge in check, doling out reality gut-punches.
I’m grateful for the friendships forged and nurtured from thousands of miles away. In my most difficult moments in the Philippines, I reached out to a network of the women I admire most and was humbled at the immense intimacy, bravery, and empathy of their responses. My friends truly shine. From afar I grieved with friends through death and disappointment, but I know it wasn’t enough. I also celebrate engagements, births, and new careers… again without as much palable enthusism as deserved. For everyone who tolerate the distance, I’m grateful for your forgiveness.
It’s astonishing to me how many of my friendships have deepened. A Colorado traveler country-hopping the summer away in Europe talked me down off a ledge of doubt in my engineering capacity. One of my closest friends was living in Vietnam and allowed me to egregiously take advantage of our similar time zones, and his paper editing skills. With another friend living in India, we went from sticking our pinky toes into conversations about love and research terrors to unabashed and deep openness. Much more than I expected, I relied on my MCEDC cohort for sanity and technical support. Letters, emails, blog posts, and skype calls from Alaska, China, Zambia, and India were truly comforting. Community can sprout without the convenience of shared soil.
I am thankful for each Taclobanon who open their lives and one of their most painful experiences up to me. I remain astounded at the eagerness of leaders and relocated community members alike to participate in the research. Please know the recovery strategies and stories you shared are each uniquely important to me. One of the most important tasks of my life will be to carefully reflect on your constellation of experiences, and translate what I’ve learned from each of you into impactful contributions to future relocation projects.
I recognize how special the opportunity to live and learn in the Philippines is, one made possible by unparrallel professional and family support. I work with an incredible research team, the Global Projects and Organizations group. I’m challenged by Amy and each fellow student to search for purpose, find clarity in my thoughts, and, quite honestly, work my ass off. Next, I’ll return this weekend to the Air Force flight that let me devote such concentrated time to my graduate degree. I’m grateful to be a part of an organization that encourages me to develop as an officer and a researcher. I am SO excited to put my uniform on again.
Finally, I am grateful for a family that finds pride in my path and joy in my oddball adventures. You all kill it with the Skype call sessions and make me feel so gigantically loved. Thank you.