Surprise Visit

IMG_0938It’s early morning in your sleepy, tropical village.  The sun rises and glints off the tops of the nearby mountains.  It will be a hot day, but it isn’t yet.

Smoke from your cook fire is winding its way up through the slats of the rough wood wall of your house, finding its way to the sky above.  All around the neighbors are all waking up, too, starting their fires, drinking sugary homegrown coffee, chatting with each other, making plans for the day.

Your family is planning to work in the corn field today.  Since the weather has been so dry this is the perfect time to get lots of work done.  The harvested, threshed, dried and sacked corn will be taken to town.  Hopefully there will be a profit this year.  Hopefully the rains don’t come before it’s done.

The weather is unpredictable.  This is the way it’s always been, as long as you remember.  You’ve lived in this town your whole life, and now that you’re getting older, the younger people are taking over the harder work of the fields.  You still go though, to  help watch the babies, do some of the lighter work, and cook for the rest of the workers.

Today is Saturday, a good day for working.  You gaze out over the road that runs through town.  A few people are getting their motorbikes ready.  Maybe they are going  out to the city.  It will take them a few hours to get there on these dusty roads, but at least it isn’t muddy.  Other gather supplies to go to the field.  The children are playing, the dogs are busily searching for scraps.

Suddenly the dogs start barking.  You know that bark; it means someone new is coming.  What is this?  Two foreign ladies, walking into your village!  They look hot, like they’ve been walking for awhile.

You’ve heard that there are a couple foreign families who have settled into a nearby village, 45 minutes away.  You’re not quite sure why.  You’ve even met the men of the families and caught glimpses of their wives and children at some weddings and funerals.  One of the wives helped you when you were sick but you don’t see her here, just the wife of the other family and a companion.   What can they be doing?  They are so far from home.  They’ve never done this before.

A neighbor calls out to them, “Where are you going?”  They reply, “Just there and now to our home.”  You’re confused.  Why are they going the wrong direction?

Everyone comes out to the road to watch these ladies.  They walk along, talking to each other and laughing.  Other neighbors ask them, “Where are you going?” and some say, “Come have coffee!” They keep answering that it’s ok, they are just going home, but it is obvious that they are going the wrong way.  Have they come to visit someone?  You wonder how long it will take before they figure out that their home is not that way.  They move out of sight.

A few minutes later the dogs start barking again.  You look up to see the two ladies coming back up the road.  Ah, they must have figured it out.  They are laughing but one of them has a bright pink face.  It is strange how pink their faces can get.

You go out to the road to intercept the strange ladies.  “Where are you going?” You greet them this way even though you already know what happened.  They are laughing as they greet you too.  You reach out your hand in greeting and air kiss the lady’s pink cheek.  You feel sorry for them that they got lost, but you still can’t figure out why they are all they way out here, so far from home!

They explain that they made a mistake, that they were walking and had thought this road would lead them home.  To you it is so obvious that this doesn’t go the right direction, but you suppose that for them it isn’t very clear.  You mention that your neighbor will be taking their motorbike through their village if they want to follow them.  They take off, heading in the right direction this time.  You chuckle to yourself.  Hopefully they make it home!  At your age you thought you’d seen it all, but life is full of surprises!


Visit to the Ga’dang, Part 2: the hike

Early on Monday morning we got up (early as in 4:30am), ate breakfast and loaded up into a couple of vehicles to make our way out to the “Waiting Shed.” The Waiting Shed is a little shelter with a roof and three rough wood benches that makes the trailhead for the trail to our friends’ village. It took an hour to get up there. I would have really enjoyed it had it not been for the nervous twisting of my stomach as I anticipated the long, arduous hike ahead of us. The mist was lifting off the mountains as the sun rose. We were praying for an overcast, cloudy day rather than a sunny one… but it sure was beautiful.

When we arrived at the waiting shed a bunch of the guys from the village were there to meet us. They had brought their carabao (water buffaloes) out earlier that morning and the guys loaded them up with all the supplies to be taken into the village.

The hike into our friends’ village generally takes them about 2.5 hours. It took us 4.5 to get in and 3.5 to get out. This was due to a number of things: lots of mud, lots of kids (we have 3 and our friends have 6) and some out-of-shape adults….

So, soon after loading the carabao we set off down the trail- double socks pulled high, rubber boots on and water bottles slung around our necks on straps. Squeaky was able to climb on a carabao right away. The other girls were a little scared at this point but soon warmed up to the idea after slogging through the mud. It only took them a few steps to be convinced but unfortunately it took a little longer to hail a carabao.

Button surprised me the most. As our most dramatic child I had anticipated a struggle with her on the trail. I thought that she wouldn’t handle the mud very well and would be terrified of the carabao. I failed to remember that her strong character could also serve her in a positive way. From the very beginning she was convinced that “It will be hard Mommy, but God will give us the strength to take each step.” She was my little motivational speaker and encouraged me by her good attitude and perseverance.

The first obstacle of the hike was the mud. After the typhoon and torrential rains of the proceeding weeks the hike was like trying to walk through a knee high chocolate cheesecake. Our boots kept slurping and slucking and getting stuck. Button and Winnie lost their boots many times. We were covered in mud after the first few minutes on the trail.

(An interesting sidenote: I was able to witness some of the locals walking this trail on our way out. They were not covered in mud and managed to emerge at the waiting shed looking nice and put together- ready for a day in town. I do not know how they do that.)

The second main event was the crossing of a river. It was about 15 minutes into the hike and the water was higher than usual. It actually felt good and refreshing as we waded across and carried our boots high above the water. The men from the village helped get the kids across so that none of the little ones had to wade. The water was up past our hips.

On the other side of the river we all put our socks and boots back on and prepared for the main challenge of the hike: the BIG HILL. I’d say the Hill is 1/3 of the hike. So if the whole hike is 3 hours, you’d spend an hour of it going up this hill. We spent 4.5 hours on the hike so you do the math. It was a killer mountain. We’re talking slippery mud, sharp incline and never-endingness.
This is where Button surprised me the most. By this time Winnie had hopped on a carabao and was riding up in style, but Button was determined to climb her mountain. She stayed by my side and climbed that thing. Finally, when we were about 5-10 minutes from the top a guy came by on a carabao and offered to give her a ride. We encouraged her to take it, but she said, “But I have to go to the top! Mommy said I had to climb the whole hill.” I released her from that commitment and she finally got on the carabao.
Here are some beautiful pictures from that hill.
Some of the rest of us: I can hardly believe I’m including this absolutely horrible picture on here. See my little trooper girl? She’s wearing her daddy’s socks pulled up to her knees because she was getting some blisters.
My poor little Squeaky. She had to walk up part of the hill. It was about at this point that she started getting sick to her stomach. She’d walk a little way, then throw up. Walk a little, throw up some more. When she finally was able to climb back onto a carabao she was so weak she could barely lift her foot over a rock on the trail.
She continued to get sick over and over while the carabao driver gently patted her back and helped her lean waaaaaaaaaay out away from his carabao. She told me later that she knew he wouldn’t understand her English. “I didn’t know what to say to him, Mommy, so I just kept saying “Para, po. when I needed to throw up.” Para, po means “Stop, sir” in Tagalog. She also felt bad for him because he had a lot of difficulty getting his carabao to stop each time. It always took a long time for the carabao to listen. So Squeaky said, “I just kept saying to him, ‘I’m so, so, so, so, so pasensya.'” Pasensya means ‘sorry’ in Tagalog.
Here we passed some people working in their rice fields.
After that hill we just kept plugging along the rest of the way, stopping when we needed a rest. That’s probably why it took us a million years to get there.
I don’t have a picture of the funniest thing that happened. Right as we were entering the village we crossed a section of the road that was horribly muddy. It was always a guessing game to know which side of the road to walk down. Which side would lead to getting stuck and which side had a way through? So at this particular section I definitely picked the wrong spot to go. I got stuck. Mud up to the top of my boots- stuck, stuck, stuck.
I tried to pull my foot out but was unsuccessful. Not only that, but I lost my balance and fell down in it. It is pretty hard to get up out of mud like that. Dennis stood beside me, partially stuck himself and yanked on my arm. At this point several girls from the village trotted by in their bare feet and didn’t seem to have one single problem with the mud. They were laughing. And it was funny. I can’t remember how I finally managed to get up but I know it included walking in the mud in my socks.
Stay tuned for the final installment of our adventure.

Visit to the Ga’dang, Part 1

Last week we embarked on a Philippine adventure. For months we’ve been planning to visit our friends who are living in a tribal village in Northern Luzon. At first our visit was up in the air due to my various illnesses that kept me out of commission for over a month. Eventually we went ahead and booked our plane tickets but a huge typhoon interrupted our plans once again. Finally we rebooked our tickets for November 5 and prayed that things would work out.

Funny, it wasn’t exactly the smooth sailing trip we had in mind. For one thing it started pouring rain, we’re talking monsoon rains, up north in the area where we were planning to go during the few days before our flight. Our friends who live there had been in Manila for a month and were planning to fly up the day before us. They’d be there to help show us around since we’d never really been outside Manila. Sadly their Thursday flight was cancelled due to flooding on the Tuguegarao runway. By the next day the runway was fine and our flight went off without a hitch, leaving us to manage the new territory on our own, sort-of. The people at the NTM flight base took us under their wing and helped us out.

It was amazing to fly over the area on our way in. The place looked like a bowl of muddy soup. I thought maybe I could see where a river wound around the city, but mostly it just looked like some houses floating around in a sea of mud. As we came in closer for the landing I could see neighborhoods full of water and people wading in waist-high water.

Most of the hotels in the city were flooded and the ones that weren’t flooded were completely full. Happily, there was the home of a furloughing missionary family that hadn’t been flooded and we were able to stay there. Our kids enjoyed the books and toys at the house!

The next day our friends were supposed to fly in early in the morning. Their flight was delayed and they ended up arriving in the afternoon. They picked us up and we all climbed into two vans with all our stuff and set off on the hour drive up the windy mountain roads to Tabuk. We were all very happy that the contents of our childrens’ stomachs stayed within them.

We arrived at a very nice hotel in Tabuk in time for a delicious supper and a little romp (for the kids) around the pool area.

We stayed at the hotel for an extra day to ensure drier roads and trails into the village. Our girls enjoyed playing with their friends and swimming in the pool at the hotel. It was relaxing. We also paid a visit to the local palengke (market) to buy some fruits and vegetables and a pair of bright blue rubber boots for me.

There had been reports of the river on the trail being too high to cross on Saturday, so we waited until early Monday morning to make the long hike into the village.

Church Picnic!

Last Saturday our family enjoyed our first trip outside the city. We went with our church to a retreat center in a little town about 1.5 hours outside of Manila called Los Banos. I thought the name was funny the first time I heard it too. It is called Los Banos because of an abundance of hot springs there.

It is a beautiful area surrounded by green, rolling hills and mountains. From a distance the mountains reminded me of the Smoky Mountains in the States, but as we got closer we could see that the trees were nothing like the Smokies- these mountains are covered in palm trees!

After living in the city for seven months our kids were definitely not used to riding in the car. I couldn’t believe it when I heard, “Are we there yet?” in a distinctively whiney tone after only 45 minutes or so.

The retreat center was hidden down at the end of a little dirt road but when we went inside it was beautiful! A huge pool beckoned to us to jump in. When we did we were startled to discover that it was a hot springs pool! What a wonderful idea for a cooler climate! One nice part was that when we got out the air felt cool. The girls love to swim and didn’t complain once about it being warm.

We hadn’t been swimming in about 2 months even though we have a pool at our apartment complex. I never thought I’d say this, but swimming isn’t too attractive during rainy season here! It isn’t that it is cold outside, it is just that it is coldER and it doesn’t seem fun to swim. Saturday was sunny and warm so the conditions were right for a swim.

In between dips in the pool we snacked on our picnic food. It was fun to see what Filipinos eat on picnics! I did see some sandwiches, but it was mostly bbq-ed meat and rice. Our church friends were so generous- they kept bringing over their food to share. At one point Button asked me, “Why do people keep bringing us food?!” And it really was fabulous to see how much they shared with each other. It definitely was different than North American culture.

A Valentine Adventure

Dennis and I have had a long standing tradition to trade planning responsiblities for Valentine’s Day each year. This year was my turn to plan.

I wasn’t feeling very creative- which is not unusual. When a friend asked me last Monday what we were doing for Valentine’s Day, I expressed my lament over not having a clue. She asked me if I’d ever considered renting a cottage.

No, I hadn’t. But it seemed like a good idea, so I considered it then. My friend even offered to watch our girls while we had some time away. Great! I started making some phone calls. Things came together rather quickly and soon I was secretly planning a getaway.

According to tradition we keep our Valentine’s Day plans secret from each other. So I was answering phone calls in the bedroom, running around town doing various errands and trying to keep it all from Dennis. I packed the car with our luggage and the girls luggage while he was busy doing other things so he wouldn’t see me.

On Wednesday around 3:30pm I started getting the girls up from their naps early. Dennis was working on some ministry expense reports at the computer and hadn’t a clue what was going on. Hearing little chirpy kid voices, he finally came over to the bedroom door to see what was going on. I told him to get his coat on.
You should have seen his face. He started running around like a crazy person. “What do you mean, ‘Get my coat on?’ Oh! Are we going somewhere? Do I need anything?” I just smirked and didn’t say much. It was fun seeing him totally confused.
We dropped the girls off at my friend’s house. I blindfolded Dennis with a dish towel (another tradition) and we took off. I was almost giddy with excitment for pulling off this big surprise. Usually I manage to surprise him at Valentine’s Day, but only with the activity and not the timing of it.

The cottage we were renting is about 1/2 hour from where we live. I had a map and directions from the cottage people. And having a map, I felt pretty confident.

I obeyed the directions and turned at the first right after the road I was supposed to be watching for. It was a snowy road. At the end of it I started realizing it wasn’t the right road. None of the numbers were matching up. I stopped. I couldn’t turn around without backing up- right into a big snowbank. A bit of poor driving if I ever saw some. Poor Dennis, he was still blind-folded. He was like, “Whaaa…?”

We got out and after scrounging around in the snow for awhile we decided that we were stuck beyond pushing out. We grabbed our suitcase and started walking down this snowy side road. The road had two tracks on it- one going in and one coming out. After walking for 15 minutes or so I realized we weren’t going the right way. This didn’t even look like civilization. We turned around and walked back to the van, pulling the suitcase behind us.

We walked out to the highway next. It was getting a little cold and the sun was setting. We went right up the highway with our suitcase in tow. Suddenly I saw the sign for our road! It wasn’t the ‘first right’ after all. Down the snowy side road we walked. Thump-a-thump came the suitcase behind. I stiffled giggles and Dennis seemed slightly amused as well. Finally we saw the cottage. What a beautiful sight to behold!

After we thawed our frozen hands and feet we called the tow truck to come get our van out of the snowbank. Dennis had to run back over to where we had left it to meet the tow truck driver, who happened to be his ex-uncle. He kindly informed him that his wife backed the van into the snow.

The cabin was beautiful.

The next day we took a hike on the frozen lake. This is fun for me, since I come from the land of no lakes and the ones we have never freeze over enough to walk on. We walked around a cute little island and made messages and pictures in the snow.

When we got back to the cabin I tried the door. It was locked. “Ummm….? Dennis? Do you have the key…?” You know what the answer was. The key was happily laying on the table inside the cottage, right next to our happy little van key.

Fortunately, someone who had been to the cottage previously had not obeyed the cottage rental rules which indicate that all doors and windows must be locked and secured before leaving. We found a tiny little basement window open and Dennis squeezed through. Yippee!

We completed a 500 piece puzzle while we were there. This is the third puzzle I’ve attempted and the first I’ve completed in 10 years. And we did it all in one day. And not one grubby little hand messed it up. 🙂

At 4:30pm I told Dennis it was time to go. We planned to go out to eat and one of our favorite local restaurants for supper. We loaded our van and took off. Well, kind of. We tried to get up the driveway to the entrance road and finally managed to umph ourselves outta there after 3 tries. The next step was to drive down the long and narrow road that turned up onto the highway. We couldn’t make it. 3 tries, no use. We were stuck. Again. (I mistakenly thought this sort of thing only happened once a year.)

We walked back to the cottage. I admired the tracks of our suitcase on the road from the night before. They almost made me smile again. Back at the cottage we were informed by our auto club insurance that they didn’t cover people who knowingly drive down snowy, un-publicly maintained sideroads. Oh.

So after much disgust and maybe just a couple I-told-you-so-s we swallowed what little pride we had left and called the cottage rental company for help. Our friend runs it, and her kind husband drove all the way out with his all-wheel drive car to pull us out. It didn’t take much, just a few yoinks with the rope.

Supper was left-over chips and salsa.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Making it real.

Oh, the Philippines. Our minds are becoming more absorbed with finding out all we can about this country we are moving to.

I think about it all the time:

1. Will today be the day we get the email we’ve been waiting for?!
2. I wonder if they have my brand of deodorant there?
3. Am I sooo incredibly cold this fall because God is already adjusting my body temperature for the heat?
4. Will my kids eat anything there?
5. What stuff should we take and what stuff should we leave?

So, you can understand that when we found ourselves in a large city this past weekend we had to check out all the things we could. First, Dennis and I went to the brand new asian supermarket that has been built only a few kms. from his sister’s house in Ottawa. We went up and down the long aisles looking at everything with big eyes and smelling everything with big nostrils. I mean, small nostrils. Ok, forget about the nostrils. We smelled stuff. Fish, wierd unidentifiable stuff, fish, cow tongue, fish- you get the idea.

Then we looked more specifically for what we came for in the first place: CANDY! Candy from the Philippines, to be exact.

What do we have there? Tamarind (which my friend Erin introduced me to), mango-tamarind (which looked safe), and sweet prunes (which Erin also introduced us to but I didn’t like. I got it anyway because it was cool and I want to try it again to make sure I don’t like it).

The next day we tried out the only Filipino restaurant we could find in the city.

As we’ve discovered, you can’t have Filipino food without karaoke. Yes, that’s right! For some reason karaoke is a well-loved pasttime for many Filipinos. So we would be remiss if we didn’t participate in this! Ok, I admit it. We were the only people in the restaurant that afternoon. But we loved it and spent about 2 hours doing this- right during the kids naptime. If you know us, it takes a lot to make us want to skip naptime! 🙂

The girls enjoyed singing things like, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, “Twinkle, Twinkle” (did you know there are several verses to that song?), and “The Right Stuff” by the New Kids on the Block. “What?!” I can hear you saying in disbelief. Well, Dennis likes weird music. And noone is better at weird music than Weird Al. And Weird Al has something he called his “Food Album”. And on his food album is a parody of “The Right Stuff” in which he sings, “The White Stuff”, about Oreo cookies. So Dennis likes that. And as is typically Dennis he has turned that song into a kid song. “A-ah-ri-uh, A-ah-ri-uh. What’s in the middle? The tummy!” The girls love this song so it was easy for Button to sing along with the karaoke machine. “A-ah-ri-uh, a-ah-ri-uh. What’s in the middle? The tummy!”


We bought four different meals and shared them amongst the seven of us. We had Dennis’ friend, Stephen and Dennis’ sister, Brenda along. Our food had very good flavor but was not made with the best cuts of meat. We adults liked it all but the girls filled up mostly on rice. Winnie is our most adventurous eater and enjoyed all the different dishes.

We decided to go all out and order dessert. Halo-halo. Hmm. Not sure this was my favorite, but at least now I can say that I’ve eaten a dessert that had beans in it!

On our way up north we were in the middle of what I felt was nowhere when we saw a sign, “Bookstore. Everything 75% off!” Well! Who could pass that up? We stopped. When we went in, it felt like we had entered somebody’s basement with meandering corridors and alternating low concrete ceilings and high raftered ceilings. There were millions of books. There were also two cats upon which our girls lavished much love and potato chips until the proprietor gave the girls cat food for the cats instead. Squeaky tried to keep two or three little tidbits of the cat food in her potato chip bag “for the cat we get someday.”

I searched through dark racks and dusty piles and scrounged up several books on the Philippines. We ended up buying three. Two of them are informational books on the country with lots of fun pictures. But the coolest find by far was this… passed over for years by hundreds of other customers who would never look at it twice.

Ta DA! This book is written by an anthropologist who provides some interesting insights into a tribal group of the Philippines. Dennis and I read parts of it together in the car and found it fascinating. Many of the tribal names and areas mentioned in the book are familiar to us. I’m sure much more of it will be familiar in a few years! It reminded us a lot of the cultural study we did in one of our practicums during training.

I wonder if the Kalinga have been reached with the gospel.

On the Road Again…

We just got back from a whirlwind trip up north. We were invited to present our ministry at six different venues, with eight speaking engagements in total. It was a wonderful opportunity and we are so grateful to all those involved. We also spent a lot of time catching up with friends we haven’t seen in awhile! It was a very encouraging time for us as we had a few very emotionally draining weeks last month.

For the first three days we stayed with the Kerrs. The girls really warmed up to them (so did we)! Winnie jumped right up into PK’s lap when he offered to read her a story. I wish I had gotten pictures of the girls playing. They had the largest amount of homemade playdough I have ever seen and had a lucrative bakery business going. “Anyone want a piece of bread?”

Farther up the road we stayed with our friend from KLBC days. It’s so funny to see both of us now, what was once just her and me has now turned into 8 of us with one more on the way! Dave and Amy are expecting their fourth little baby in December. The kids had a blast and played hard. We adults enjoyed lots of conversation and tea! 🙂 Thanks so much, Dave and Amy! It was so great to spend that time with you.

C, J and N: here are the pictures that we took of you! Hope you enjoy seeing yourselves on the blog! Thanks for playing with us and sharing your house with us!

As we made our way back down from the north we stopped back in to visit another friend from KLBC days. Christie has three little ones and the oldest is only 4 months older than Winnie. And I thought I was busy! She had made cupcakes for the kids to decorate while we took a break from our long drive. That was so sweet. Thanks Christie! I wish our camera batteries hadn’t died on us so that we could have had a few more pics. In this picture you can see Button with two of Christies kiddos. Button’s face is pretty descriptive of our crazy week. I’m not sure if she smiled even once on the way home, poor little girl.

The girls had to be extra patient as much time was spent riding in the van and sitting in pews. There were many late nights because of meetings and the girls didn’t get to bed before 10pm on any of the nights. Despite all this, they did very well and we are so grateful to the Lord for that.
There are many challenges in this phase of our journey while enroute to the mission field. One is that all the travelling is tiring. It is worth it, though. We find it extremely valuable to make connections with our spiritual family and know that it is important to include our kids in this. I will say that we are really looking forward to having this week “off” to recooperate. 🙂