Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reflecting on Place and Family

Working abroad has its trade-offs.  Living halfway around the world from family can be difficult especially at a time of loss. During the short break over Christmas and New Year's, I was able to visit my grandma for the last time.  Sitting beside her for over an hour, I knew it to be my last.  She had been frail for several months.  Her eyes were closed shut due to cataracts and failing vision.  I had to speak loudly into her hearing aids just to say 'hello'.  After arriving back in the Philippines and within a week of my visit, grandma was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia.  We all knew she wouldn't live much longer.

How to begin and close a casual conversation during a brief, holiday visit, knowing that those may be the last words exchanged between grandmother and granddaughter?  How to end a conversation about the weather and other mundane updates, when a rolodex of unexpressed feelings conjure up inside?  How do you say, 'see you later' or 'good-bye grandma'?

I decided not to say much at all.  I chose not to fill the air with words that she can't hear anyway. I decided not to entertain her with daily updates.  Instead, I sat beside her, hugged her, and allowed my tears to well-up in her arms.  I let her fill me with unconditional love and support she offers without judgement, strain, or reservation.  I received the gifts from my grandmother as she embraced her granddaughter.

Reflecting on the gifts she has shared to me in my life; Grandma Koosie gave love without reservation, never expecting anything in return.  I drove her home one time after a doctor's visit for her failing eyes. We stopped for lunch at the A&W before taking the back roads to her house in Glenwood.  Grandma liked getting off the interstate and driving through Wisconsin's farmland.  Sitting in the passenger seat and riding along through rolling pastures was where she could share stories about the places and people she knew on those familiar roads.  Grandma was a car talker.  We sat in the A&W parking lot for nearly twenty minutes before heading into have lunch.  As I was about to pay the cashier for our grilled cheese sandwiches, grandma motioned me to put my money away and insisted on paying.  I could see that it was important to her that she was taking care of me, by paying for my lunch.  Humbled by this, it was her lesson that grandparents should take care of their grandchildren,  just as parents should take care of their children - not the other way around.

During my last visit in the nursing home, I made a comment about how often my father visited her.  My dad has generously taken care of his mother over many years. I expected to hear grandma's response of gratitude for my dad's responsible and caring nature.  But to my surprise, her response was, 'He's so busy, isn't he?'  Grandma had a matter-of-fact way of switching the perspective in conversation to highlight simple, yet important matters in life.

Last week, Grandma Koosie died mid-morning on January 23, on my father's 70th birthday.  She was 92 years old.  I am grateful to have sat beside her and chat about life in the Philippines.  But more importantly, I am grateful that I could be with her and to hear her say that she loves me.  I am grateful to know that she passed away peacefully on my dad's birthday.  This is her gift to my dad, and to all of us; we can stop being so 'busy' and reflect on what matters.  My grandma lived a long life.  A mother of eight in the small town of Glenwood City, Wisconsin and blessed with many grandchildren.  None of us were overlooked, as we were all equally loved by her in varying and personalized ways.

It is uncanny that in the same week of grandma's passing, reflecting on her life and all the thoughts surrounding one's 'meaning and purpose' in life and death, I was able to find closure by attending a funeral in my neighborhood, for a woman who died in childbirth, in the Philippines.  It is never easy to lose a loved one, nor is it easy to live so far away during these important life events.  But I was able to connect with the collective feelings shared by others in time of loss, and listen to uplifting messages while attending a funeral on the opposite side of the globe.  I think of grandma now, dancing barefoot and whistling in heaven.  Congratulations Grandma! - on living a long life and touching countless lives of loved ones who share in many, remarkable memories of you!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tropical Depression Doesn't Hinder Progress

Returning to the Philippines from the holiday's in the States, I reemerge into what is known as a "tropical depression".  I am embracing the cooler weather, given I just came from the much talked about "polar vortex" and bitter cold temperatures in the Midwest.  The "tropical depression" is much like spring (or July 4th for that matter) in Seattle which is helping to make a kinder transition from a dry, arctic winter to a humid, tropical summer.

It's been over two months since my last entry and there aren't enough fingers to count all that has occurred on the Estudio Damgo construction site, in the Philippines, in life, and in the community.  First and foremost, we have completed 18 weeks of construction, marking 2/3 completion with 9 weeks remaining until graduation in March.  Students feel the pressure on getting the building constructed in time for graduation.  I'm confident the building will be completed in a timely manner, even though we are a month behind our preliminary schedule due to setbacks from weather, limited workforce, and getting materials delivered on time.

A handful of selected photos over the past two months highlight important milestones to date.

 Week 12 - Slab on Grade Concrete Pour

A boy brings home a sack of food.  Behind, cement bags are piled along the fence staged for mixing.

 Two workers haul bags of cement to the mixer.

 Loading the concrete mixer.

Passing buckets between the crew, Sir Marlon Tanilon from the Office of Student Life at Foundation University, actively volunteers for the day.  Estudio Damgo students, FU skilled labor, and volunteers make up the workforce needed to pour 70% of the concrete slab on grade foundation.

Week 14 - Laying up the brick wall. 

Progress on the Comfort Room and Storage exterior brick wall, interlocking clay bricks were donated by the Teves family.

Contextualism, two Core Shelter children return home from mid-day play.

Week 18 - Sky High Bamboo

 Core Shelter children manage to find a place to play amidst the daily construction.

With the bamboo columns in place, one can get a sense of the scale of the building.

A detail of the column pedestal.  Four bamboo columns are held in place by four GI pipes that are caste into a concrete pedestal.  The reason for the GI pipe is for future removal of the bamboo if ever it needs to be replaced.