I am surprised at how comfortable I feel in the Philippines. I thought I would get more homesick, or that the cultural shock would hit me a lot stronger, but so far, mostly everything has been a breeze. I am thrilled to be working in the urban and suburban clinics around the city, because it allows me to see the myriad of health issues that locals face- tuberculosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, parasites within the intestinal cavities, bodily sores due to a lack of sanitation, and more. In addition, the strong sense of community here helps me forget that I am halfway across the world. However, there have been a few obstacles that I have encountered that have allowed me to deeply think about what I can do better to help others.
The most obvious obstacle is the language barrier. Although English is the second language of the Philippines and it is relatively easy to get around the city with it, working with the locals in Tondo is difficult when some residents have a limited vocabulary in English. I have been trying to learn Tagalog in order to hold richer conversations with them, but my phrasebook is still really short. However, I try my best to communicate using my words, hand movements, and facial expressions. Especially at the preschool where the children are only starting to learn English, this problem is exemplified. Thus, I communicate through smiles, playing puzzles with them, drawing pictures on their papers when they finish an assignment, giving them piggy back rides around the room, and more. While they were hesitant to talk to me in the beginning since I was a complete stranger, they opened up to me quickly and is the most rambunctious group of children I have interacted with in a while.
The second obstacle that I have faced so far is when I was faced with a death in the community. During a home visit in Tondo when the physician was planning to give an NG-tube to an elderly woman to help with her feeding, by the time we arrived at the home, she had already passed away. The frail woman had died only a few hours earlier to our arrival, and she lay in the bed with her eyes and mouth open. The daughter began sobbing as she grasped the woman’s hands as the realization hit her. The doctor stood in silence for a bit, and then went to close the eyes of the woman before reciting a prayer for her. I had gone into the situation, excited to see the procedure to implement an NG-tube, but what I got instead was the unexpected. Surprisingly though, I was a lot calmer than expected. While I was initially stunned with the situation and wanted to cry alongside the daughter, I focused on the scenario around me. I saw how the neighbors flooded into the house after hearing the news to comfort the family, and realized the extent of the sense of community that can be felt in this society. Thus, while this event was one of the more somber ones of the trip, it was also the most uplifting in a way.
One month and a half into my fellowship, I feel like I have finally gotten into the groove of things. When I arrive at the clinic I go off to find tasks to do, and once they are finished, I go and seek more without hesitation. It is crazy to think that I am approaching my final weeks- although I have garnered so much thus far, there is still a lot more to learn.