Thursday, September 27, 2007

One Month in the Philippines

It's been too long since I updated -- my apologies to those of you who have been checking in regularly! I'm a bit limited right now in my ability to incorporate my own photos on this blog, but that no reason for me not to write up an update. Here goes . . .

Hard to believe that I've been in the Philippines for one month already. I arrived here exactly one month ago today. Six more months will fly by, I have a feeling! The rainy season has been just that -- rainy! It rains every day and every night -- downpours usually in the afternoon and late at night. The afternoon precip does a lot to cool the temps after the tropical sun heats things up in the mornings. Tropical vegetation seems to thrive on neglect here! Lots of sun, lots of rain -- what more does a tropical plant need?

The tertianship program continues to go very well. We've spent the last two weeks presenting our personal life histories. Each of us has given two presentations -- the first on our life from birth to the beginnings of our Jesuit vocation, and the second on our life in the Society of Jesus. It's been a profound experience to prayerfully reflect upon my life and to hear the reflections of my fellow tertians on their own life experiences. Our experiences of life before and since we entered the Jesuits are as varied as the countries we come from. Many have done doctoral work in fields such as communications, pastoral ministry, economics, and Islamic studies. Many of us shared experiences of living with and serving the poor and marginalized of our respective countries. One has done extensive work with refugees in East Africa. Another has done worked with the Jesuits in China, which is largely an "underground" operation in that country. Still another has worked with tribal peoples in southern India. Needless to say, we have a lot to share with each other about how God has led us in our lives as Jesuits, and to do so in a prayeful way is indeed a gift.

Fortunately, I'm able to keep in close contact with my cousins Aurora and Tina and their families, as well as my Uncle Bob and Aunt Tonette, as they all live close by in Quezon City. Au (Aurora's knickname) has been particularly gracious in taking me out to sample Philippine cuisine around town. For those of you who know what "balut" is, don't you worry. I'm keeping clear of that! Inculturation does have its limits, even for this hardy Jesuit!

This coming week, we tertians enter into an immersion experience with poor families in the town of Navotas, just north of Manila. We will be placed with two separate families, living for four days with each family in their home, in an effort to get to know the joys and struggles of Filipino families in this economically depressed community. While we don't know completely what to expect, we enter into this experience with opennenss. I'll fill you in on my own experiences in Navotas in my next update.

Thanks, as always, for your continued thoughts and prayers. Be assured of mine for you!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Moving in to the Loyola House of Studies

After ten wonderful days with my relatives, it was time to move into the Jesuit community in which I will be starting my Jesuit tertianship program (see explanation of Jesuit tertianship on the right). My Uncle Bob and Aunt Tonette, along with two of my cousins and their children, delivered me to the Loyola House of Studies (LHS), a large Jesuit Community at the Ateneo de Manila University campus. Those who live at LHS are largely young Jesuits who are doing studies at various levels -- finishing undergraduate work, studying philosophy, or studying theology. There are between 30 and 40 young Jesuits in studies here at LHS. Other older Jesuits who live at LHS include Jesuits who serve on the philosophy and theology faculty at the adjoining Loyola School of Theology, as well as the neighboring San Jose Seminary (diocesan). Needless to say, this is one very vibrant place, energized by young Jesuits engaged in the long process of study and formation.

As I explain on the right, tertianship is the final phase of Jesuit formation. We tertians are situated on the 5th floor (top floor) of the mid-century style building. Open-air corridors look out onto courtyards filled with gorgeous tropical vegetation of palms, birds of paradise, and calachuchi trees. We each have our own rooms which feature have two sets of large louvre blinds on opposing walls to allow for much needed cross breeze in the rooms. Floor-to-ceiling screens keep out the pesky mosquitoes. There is no airconditioning in the bedrooms, but we each have a fan to keep the air moving. Each room is also outfitted with a sink and medicine cabinet, small closet, desk, and bookshelf. The bed is a 4" thick foam rubber pad on a raised wooden pallette -- not fancy, but surprisingly comfortable! Common bathroom and showers are right down the hall. Already carving out a rut in the hallway as I make my way to the showers frequently through the day!

It's been unusually hot for this time of year (rainy season), so temps have gotten up well into the 90s. The only thing that cools things off, though, are the heavy rains, which fall almost daily / nightly. I'm told that temps will continue to fall through the months of November and December, and will stay relatively low (low 80's) through February.

I'll take pictures of my digs soon and post them on this blog. It's good to be in my new Jesuit home away from home, and to start the tertianship program. More on that in the next blog . . .

Monday, September 3, 2007

Villa Escudero: A Piece of Filipino Heaven

I can honestly say that Villa Escudero is one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. Situated in the stately coconut groves of the province of Laguna in southern Luzon, Villa Escudero is a resort that not only revives the body and spirit, but also preserves and prospers the richness of Filipino culture.

The Escudero family developed their extensive estate as a refuge for tourists and Balikbayans (i.e., Filipinos returning to visit their homeland) alike. The grounds are meticulously landscaped to feature the lush, exotic plantlife of the Philippine countryside. Uniformed landscape artists and gardeners are out early every morning maintaining the gardens around the guest cottages, chapel, and conference center. The architecture features the exquisite work of Filipino craftsmen, utilizing native materials, such as bamboo, ebony and nara, and various grass weaving techniques to decorate interior walls and ceilings.

Room amenities in our cottage included full bath, a loft sleeping area, and a lovely front porch, close to the swimming pool. No airconditioning, but ample screened windows and fans kept tropical breezes moving into and out of our room. No TV, which allowed us to fully engage the beauty all around us.

A long driveway through a thick coconut grove brings guests to the Escudero hacienda. Hospitality staff, donning bright native garb uniforms, are there to greet guests with cups of native fruit juices. After checking in, a passenger tram, pulled by a water buffalo, brings guests from the front desk area to their cottages. A guitarist and singer sit in the back of each flower-bedecked tram to serendate guests with Filipino folk songs. A museum, curated by the Escudero family, features an extensive and eclectic collection of objects on Philippine history and culture. Each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, a special dance and music show is presented. The performance, in travelogue form, traces the rich history of the Philippines through various dances and songs. The show is mounted in the beautiful open-air dining room, adjacent to the river which is fed by a volcanic spring. The large volcano Mount Banahaw presides over the scenic river landscape.

Needless to say, our two days and one night were a feast for the senses. Our stay included not only the show and overnight accommodations, but also a delicious supper of roast fish, pork, and native vegetables, and traditional Filipino breakfast, all wonderfully prepared and presented.

I left Villa Escudero (reluctlantly), feeling revived, inspired, and proud of my Filipino heritage I am only now coming to learn and appreciate.

Thanks for reading all of this. Just a few more days with my good relatives, then I move to the Ateneo de Manila to start my Jesuit tertianship program. More on that in future posts!