It’s been about 10 days in the Philippines now and I can’t believe how much I have learned and experienced so far. On Saturday, I said goodbye to the three British women and the previous intern, Emma, that were here (picture below). They are all wonderful women that were fun to get to know and have the ability to experience the Philippines with. Being the only intern here now has been a change and has left me with more time to myself to think and process, both a good and bad thing at times. I have been able to get to know the midwives better which has been wonderful. They are all incredibly kind, compassionate, welcoming, and knowledgable women. I have enjoyed learning from them and I think they have gotten a good laugh out of me attempting to speak Tagalog at times. One of my favorite quotes from this week was when midwife Ate Emy said, “You are like Goliath and we are like David,” referring to the noticeable height difference as evidenced in the photo below.
The week started with the opportunity to spend Sunday with Dr. Becky and her family. I had a nice time visiting their church in Manila, a very large church that offers both Tagalog and English services. After church, we stopped for lunch and got burritos (surprisingly) and walked around some shops with their two daughters, Lily (4) and Abby (2), both very amusing and adorable. It’s amazing how busy it seems to be all the time. The mall was crowded as if it were Black Friday even though it was only a regular Sunday afternoon. Traffic is also horrendous. It seems to take forever to get anywhere and it always feels like a gamble with your life with the way people drive here. It feels like a game of chicken with other drivers where you have to assert yourself into ongoing traffic and pray other cars will stop for you. It’s also a lot of bumper-to-bumper driving because any amount of space given is license to allow another driver to cut in. It’s a constant swerve around pedestrians, tricycles, and motorbikes, often dashing into opposing lanes or squeezing 3 cars where barely 2 should fit on a road.
I had my first tricycle experience with Emma going to the market. It’s quite the experience to squeeze into the cramped side cart of a Kowasaki motorbike, ducking down and hunching over as someone taller than the average Filipino. Along the way, it’s not uncommon for two more people to casually hop onto the back of the motorbike behind the driver and 1 to stand on the back of the side car. The whole way you are just praying you don’t get hit because you know you don’t stand a chance in a tricycle. It was quite fun though and a way to experience a typical mode of transportation for Filipinos.
Monday I had the chance to go on outreach to do prenatal checkups in two different areas with Ante Emy, a Shalom midwife. I wasn’t expecting the journey in order to reach the first makeshift clinic in lower, more rural Antipolo. 1.5 hours, 3 tricycle rides and 2 jeepney rides later we arrived to a building that seemed to be in the middle of a rainforest. We walked down a dirt path, casually passing a few goats, some chickens, some women washing clothes in a plastic bucket, and small, dilapidated houses. Women were already lined up outside the door of a small cement building where the clinic is held once a week. Ante Emy led a short devotional and taught about nutrition before we performed prenatal checks on about 15 women. We then commuted to City Gates, a school where the midwives offer another prenatal and well baby clinic once a week.
It was quite the experience to ride the local transportation and go out into the local communities where these women live. It’s hard to describe all of the sites and smells. Walking by side-street vendors of dead fish, hanging chicken and pig parts, and a 2-year old waving a stick with feathers on the end to keep the flies off. I couldn’t get over the constant chaos on the streets of people crowded on the side streets, pedestrians crossing the street in front of oncoming traffic, bumper-t0-bumper jeepneys, trucks, and tricycles all crammed together and weaving into whichever lane in an attempt to get places faster. The air was hot and hard to breathe between the exhaust fumes, stirred up dirt/dust, and the smells of garbage and dead fish. I got back feeling overwhelmed by the number of people and the chaos of it all which surprisingly appeared normal to so many.
The experienced chaos continued today as a sick baby born at Shalom was being transferred to the hospital via Shalom’s ambulance per family request. It took over an hour to get to the first public hospital. Upon taking the baby into the emergency room, it was shocking to see how small and ill-equipped it was. I only saw one worker to over 10 patients lying in beds wherever they would fit in close proximity to each other. There were flies buzzing around and the air was hot and stuffy. Outside, there were about 20 people lined up sitting on the curb waiting to be seen. After a few minutes, we were told that the hospital would not accept the baby because they did not feel equipped for her case. We all climbed back into the ambulance for another hour ride to a different hospital. After a very bumpy and whip-lash ride, we arrived to the hospital and brought the baby into another very crowded emergency room. This ER was larger but packed with people lying on cots along the wall, in beds only about 2 feet apart, or sitting in wheelchairs wherever space allowed. It smelled strongly of body odor and urine and I could see uncovered and used syringe needles sitting on a side cart of supplies. It looked like a scene from a mass-casualty disaster, but it was just a normal day. The baby was accepted and admitted, even without a free bed. A girl sitting behind a folding table wearing a t-shirt, plaid mini-skirt and lab coat took the baby’s vitals and then placed baby Princess in the other half of a bed with another sick infant and made to share the space. I couldn’t believe how calm the baby’s mother appeared through all of this. The midwives and I left without any idea of how things would turn out but praying for baby Princess Natalia to somehow heal in this chaotic environment and be able to go home.
I couldn’t imagine being placed in a hospital environment like that where I would feel there would be a higher chance of acquiring a new disease than healing from what you came in with. It made me realize how fortunate I am back home to have access to such nice facilities with private rooms and well-equipped staff. I came back from the hospital feeling shocked and overwhelmed. To think that for so many people, this is what they have for health care. I am just here as a privileged American who can observe it and leave again, as if it were just a bad dream to put behind me. This is thousands of people’s every day realities though, and it isn’t their choice. It brought me to tears as I witnessed this young, new mom and her newborn baby fighting for life and made to go through this. It made me silently question, “Why God? It doesn’t seem fair. This precious baby hasn’t even had a week of life and is already struggling. All of these people are living in such poverty and without quality health care simply because of where they were born. Why does it have to be this way?”
My experience seeing such poverty and struggle lead me to think of the verse below:
“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”- 2 Corinthians 5:1-5
It brought me to think, just as Paul knew, that we are simply not meant for here. Our earthly home will leave us groaning, burdened, and longing for our heavenly home. What is mortal becomes swallowed up by this earthly life, but our hope is in heaven and our spirits, rather than our earthly bodies. It’s easy to lose sight of that while in the midst of life on earth. Sometimes it feels like this is all there is and we need to perfect this life. In reality, it’s not possible because there will always be sin, disease, and death which corrupt this life. It leaves me wondering what my place in this life is then? In a world where need is overwhelming, it can leave me wanting to just curl up in bed to try to forget the world’s horrors. It’s comforting to know that we ultimately aren’t in control, and rather than becoming overwhelmed with trying to help everyone, it starts with one person at a time of those placed in our lives.
I know this was a lot of thoughts. If you made it to the end, thank you for listening to my rambling as I process my experiences. I am praying that God continues to work through my time in the Philippines. Thank you for continued support and prayers.