Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Home sweet home

It's been nearly two weeks since I arrived in the Philippines. Adjusting to life away from home, as I've found in my earlier travels, takes time and can be an emotional roller coaster. Allow me to explain.

The first days away from home are always tough. It's not the jet lag, the oppressive heat, new food or strange bed. It's nothing physical that I can control, although I experience the effects physically. It's a malaise, an unsettled feeling, a pit in the stomach, a loneliness that comes out at night - like the monsters living under your childhood bed. It usually stays around until I've found a "home", or at least a place where I'm not living out of a suitcase. It's not the same as a backpacking trip or a vacation where you're expecting uncertainty. Knowing that my Mastercard can bail me out at any time doesn't help. The hostel where you spend the first night or two just doesn't cut it. Although I've come to expect this malaise, it always hits me like a ton of bricks.

So the first order of business was finding a home.

Luckily, there are a number of students and professors at the University of Montreal, where I doing doctoral studies, who were/are doing work in the Philippines. One of my classmates was absolutely wonderful - meeting me at the airport, helping to navigate buses, jeepneys and tricycles (more about transport in a later post), sharing his extensive list of contacts, introducing me to great venues for food, and most importantly at the time, helping me house-hunt. Another prof from the political science department is here with his family for a year as a visiting fellow at the Third World Studies Centre at UP (University of the Philippines). They also sent a shout-out to their contacts, and have been very welcoming and helpful in getting me started.

Within two days, I had signed a lease as a "lady bedspacer" on Mayumi Street in Quezon City. The women's boarding house is pretty basic - shared rooms with bunk beds, tiny kitchen with a 2-burner gas stove, small fridge, shared toilets and showers. There's no air conditioning (or Air Con as it is called here), so the place gets very hot during the day. The eight other women who live here are young college students or recent graduates. The UP campus is nearby, which has several advantages (the top two being that there is a 2km shaded running loop - pretty much the only place to escape the pollution in the city, and that many of the people with whom I'll be working are based there). The street names in the neighbourhood are Tagalog (Filipino) adjectives. "Mayumi" means "modest". Other streets have racier names - "maalindog", for instance, means "sex appeal".
As my life here slips into a (somewhat irregular) routine, I'll continue to think about the malaise of not having a home and what it means. The subjects of my proposed research - environmental refugees - may live with such malaise, amplified many times over. Leaving their land, their livelihood and possibly family members. And they probably don't have a credit card to bail them out.

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