Sunday, November 20, 2016

Arcadia University Talk

The first week back from the Philippines as rough. I had a constant headache and my insides were in disorder. I went to bed with my son at 8 pm every night. My husband had to travel for work so I didn’t have help.

I got a text that week from my neighbor across the street. She was in Italy with a class she was co-leading. She asked if I would come speak to the class.

This all came about when we were having wine one night. We got into talking about our backgrounds. I surmised she had always been in contact in one way or another with undocumented immigrants. Me ending up as her neighbor was no exception. She showed me the book she was reading and I talked about Lives in Limbo, reviewed earlier in this blog. I don’t know how it even came up but I got brave with my wine. I told her I would be happy to talk to her class. The class was called “This Sea is Not My Home: Immigration, Migration and Social Justice in the Sicilian Context".  The instructor’s goal in inviting me was to help students realize that “even those who came willingly experience a sea of change in their lives". 

The class went to Sicily. They were visited by Gambian refugees from the camp. My friend was there the week I returned from the Philippines. She must have connected with Michelle while on the trip.

I agreed to come on Good Friday to speak at their last class. I mention the day since everything fell into place for me to be able to talk to this class, including work being closed and having childcare despite my son's school being closed. 

I prepared for it like I would host a meeting at work. I threw my agenda on a Power Point with my discussion points. I didn’t expect Michelle would throw it up on a projector but I didn’t want to lose my train of thought. I used them as cue cards. 

The class was at Arcadia’s library. After a brief introduction I was up. I never got deodorant commercials that talk about responding to your body chemistry. I broke out into a cold sweat while waiting. I finally got the deodorant commercial. 

First I talked about my educational background, my job, my hobbies and finally told them I had been undocumented for 20 years. I talked about the history of the Philippines and the economic factors that drove my family's migration.

I talked about what being undocumented allowed and didn't allow in my youth. I talked about my transition into illegality and what it had meant. There were educational, career and emotional costs. I finally talked about a writing hobby that materialized into me talking to them that day.

Looking that effaces of those students (freshman) the tension was all mine. There was a Q&A session after my discussion points. Some students were curious. Other students were probably happy to get on with the end of their semester. They probably looked like that because I had discussion points.

It was the most public I had come to discussing my former status and my writing.  The instructor was a knowledgeable and compassionate moderator.   I couldn't have asked for a better situation for such a disclosure.

selfie with the castle

Earlier this summer I wrote a post about my experience at Highland Presbyterian Church. It felt like another situation of things falling into place having talked with this class earlier this year. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Home



I have been literally running around writing this particular post about my trip to the Philippines. I did the tourist thing with my Gemini twin. I did the history thing since my other relatives were kind enough to take me. I ran my first 25k trail race last weekend. This has also been a crazy ass election season. I have been addicted to political news. So danced around this post, my trigger point.  

I knew I would not come back the same person. It was a culmination of my work as a writer and immigrant rights advocate. After the years of self-loathing, self-doubt, and finally self-repair, I made the connection with my family. At first it felt transactional. Then it became something I did not think I could make after 30 years.

The first time I wanted to go my son was too little. I thought it was him that needed me but it was the other way around. It was the longest I had ever been away from him.   

So the morning after my sightseeing adventures I slept in. Later in the morning, my cousin whom I had never met beyond social media picked me up. I went to lunch with him and his girlfriend. Despite never having met before, we didn’t act like it.  We had churros (like I needed to be introduced to donuts in stick form) dipped in chocolate with coffee afterwards.
The they took me to visit the interment sites of my uncle at Libingan ng manga Bayani, translation Heroe’s Cemetery. In my youth, I didn’t understand why my uncle had a gun. I learned that he was a policeman in the narcotics division. Filipino soldiers from WWII were also laid to rest there. My cousin walked around a bit before we found my uncle. His grave was a simple white cross with his name etched in black. The black was fading. We left him flowers.


Our next stop were the graves of my grandmother and my aunt. Their graves were better maintained. I knelt down and touched their names.

One of the hardships of an undocumented life is the inability to return home when your relatives pass. Upon leaving the country, we would not have been able to return. Actually, we would be banned for 10 years. Those moments at their graves were decades late. Me being me, I didn’t have an emotional response. Instead I observed a mangy cat meowing at us.  I enjoyed the overcast sky and the mild weather. My uncle met us there with his daughter.



After seeing their graves, my cousin to me to our Alma Mater, Colegio San Augustin. He finished high school there, I finished 1st grade. It was surreal to be back there, to see the chapel. A VW bus drove through Das Marinas village, every day to take me there.  At the time, I was just a little older than my son. It seemed so large back then. I had no idea I wouldn’t go back. I thought I would grow to be like the cool high school girls that played volleyball. I didn’t know how differently my path would diverge. It was wonderful to come back.




Later that night we had dinner at a Chinese place (much lighter than lunch). Then we went out for drinks. I saw another cousin I hadn’t seen in 30 years. We didn’t stay in touch when we left. When social media re-connected us, she felt like a stranger. When I saw her again, it was a visceral shift. I wasn’t going through the motions anymore.  It felt like I had come home. She filled in the holes in my memories. Like the agreeing to live out our futures with my Gemini Twin, seeing her again was feeling the presence of an older sister. I felt protected.


I never let myself cry being there until that night. It was a delicious state of  drunk with my cousins. We talked about everything. 

My undocumented brothers and sisters should be afforded what I had experienced. People shouldn’t have to wait so long to come home.  


I spent the rest of the week in the city with the family. I ran a little bit and tried to maintain some semblance of my old routine. I had some me time.

I was severely jet lagged when I returned. It took me more than a week to get back to normal. I probably ate something I shouldn't have. Actually, I ate a lot of things out of the norm. I certainly didn't take heed of the water because my rationale was I use to live there. Well, I hadn't lived there in 30 years. Time makes a difference. My insides eventually forgave me. 






Monday, November 14, 2016

Rough Trail 25K - Race Report

As I write this post I am hobbling up and down stairs, aged about 20 years. I completed my first 25K “race” this past Saturday. I say “race” because there were many times there was nobody in front or behind me, which is the nature of trail racing. The longest “race” I had ever done before yesterday was 10 miles at Evansburg State Park in Pennsylvania about 10 years ago. I got back into trail running to heal the pain in my right arch. I also found a great group of women with whom to run. Lastly, I also learned trail running didn’t have to be so messy (I often fell).

I signed up for the Rough Trail in hopes I would find a similar group as we moved ourselves from the Northeast to the Bluegrass (and I did).

My partner Nancy was down with a migraine and stomach flu. I drove to Red River Gorge with another woman from the group. I met her at her hotel in Lexington and we were on the road at 6:30 am.

I learned Kelsey was recruited to do crew for the University of Louisville. She signed up for the race last minute never having run trails before. She signed up for a marathon in the spring and aspires to do cyclocross competitively. K stands a head taller than me. I think she could have been dropped in a military hot zone and would have been fine.

On the way we saw a wildfire smoldering. It looked like a barbecue grill right before you throw the meat on. It was the forest mid colon cleanse. It was both eerie and spectacular.

This year was the second time the RT was held. The event was small. Parking was a premium since it was a campground. We were encouraged to carpool. We warmed ourselves over a campfire next to a tent where they handed out the race packets.

Trail Runner's bff

K’s hydration pack was missing a buckle for the chest strap. She did a lap to see what it felt like, while I shed layers begrudgingly. I ran back to my car a couple of times while we were waiting for the morning meeting to start. First to get my trail map and the second time to make sure the car was locked (neurosis).

Pre Race
The morning meeting was the race director telling us the first stretch of the course was marked with caution tape and the rest was with pink and black checkered ribbons.  Then we found ourselves at the start and counting down our own start. My Garmin never found a satellite signal. We did a lap around the camp ground and we were off into the trails. I lost K early on since my feet were cold. I took it easy until I warmed up. I am glad I went back for my map. I focused on getting to the first aid station. It looked like 5 miles away. It seemed like a really long 5 miles. I stopped an hour and a half into the race to take my cold pill. At some point I asked what mile we were on and someone told me around 6. 

My favorite pic


2nd favorite pic



I ate Kirkland kettle cooked potato chips and shot blocks at the first aid station. I was checked in by someone from the race. I also refilled one of my water bottles before going on.

I stubbed my toe on a root shortly after. One of three ladies in pink behind fell hard over the same root. The trail was covered in leaves.

The course itself was beautiful. We were running over plateaus, up steep inclines, beside rock walls, up and down stairs, skipping over streams and inside ravines. The paths were 2.5 feet wide (just like JMF). Other times I walked up and down that was not runnable. I did not laugh out loud at the lack of runnability of the terrain (I have done that before).  My only incident was sliding down a rock face at hip height while trying to get down. I might have been on my bottom briefly.

All this being said, I felt shitty going into this race. I OD-ed on water, sleep, Benadryl and Alka Seltzer. The only reason why I bought Tylenol cold pills was to be able to take it during the run. I also pulled over a few times to blow my nose. One woman commented she was in the midst of drowning in her own snot. Gross but true for me as well.

The miles to the second aid station were long. I walked up a lot of hills and even on flats at the top because my thighs hurt so much. I craved those potato chips. I think I ate a Lara Bar at some point.

I definitely wondered what I had done signing up for this thing. My right knee and ankle hurt. K said she probably favored that leg since the same things hurt for her afterwards. I didn’t see her until the end. I was alone for most of it. I had hoped to run into Dannielle doing the 50K. The backwards part is that I got annoyed when people came up behind me or I saw someone up ahead. Must be the kind of things cats go through.

The most interesting part was the creek crossing to the second aid station. People skipped rocks but I choose to walk over a log. I didn't want to get wet. The upwards climb afterwards was slow. I walked most of it. I wondered how and why the organizers made a race course out of such terrain. It was probably the miles talking.

When I arrived at the aid station, I ate ½ a peanut butter and jelly on white, which would normally not choose, and those glorious kettle cooked potato chips.  I hung out for a while. The race directors required us to check in at each aid station.

The downhill back to the creek crossing was much better. The path after the crossing toward the finish was also much more runnable. I had my map handy and would match up the trail signs with my location on the course.

I was heartened when I started to recognize the way we entered. I had no idea how many miles I had left, which was a total mind fuck.

I was talking to my legs to pick up the feet and keep moving. I told myself even if my run was at a walking pace, the race would end sooner.

I passed a few people that told me I was almost done. I passed some guys that were fighting cramps in their calves. I passed another guy that was upright and advancing but seemed to be in some kind of all systems failing mode.

I was aware I was no longer making eye contact with hikers passing by. I did not wear a smile for being on such beautiful terrain. I was sort of aware that the continued slow churn of my legs decreased the overall pain. I was happy (in a grumpy sort of way) to make the last right and see the finish.

I guess it was a good thing I wanted to eat rather than not. I found K and we commiserated over the pain. Her prize growler confirmed for me this woman was a badass. We hugged each other and agreed it was hell. We didn’t see any other MRTT members. I did see some guy cross the finish with his arm in a sling. 

After I ate my bean soup, cookie, brownie and drank my Sword, we left. We were eager to change into dry clothes, get warm and sit. This was when we talked and got to know each other a bit. We talked about the limitations of the older Garmin watches, cycling, and the election. It was a blessed four hours that did not think about this past week while in my pain quagmire. K and I laughed that she was in a mom’s running group. I came away thinking she a powerful athlete and that she really had her shit together.

I never thought these hard races were about pushing your limits, although it was that. It was about seeing terrain I might not see otherwise, making new friends and throwing myself into something so fully that I forgot the rug had been pulled from under me.  Despite my pain, my feet were still on the ground and would always carry me forward.

Note: Later on that night when I was back in Louisville, I woke up from fetal position feeling my legs moving back and forth like I was still running. 

I had this in my head most of the time, which seemed appropriate.



Lessons Learned:

In terms of running while sick, I did everything right. I hydrated, slept, took my decongestant and cough medicine every 4 hours in the days leading up to the race, during the race and afterwards. I also ensured proper hydration during the race. That being said, I am still feeling rundown a week later. Running for 4 hours doesn't help being sick. The best way to avoid sickness was not to have run. I chose my poison.

I learned never to write a race report post a heartbreak of a Presidential election. I should be good for another 4 years. 

I learned I need to get strong. I need to focus on strength in my quads, glutes, ankles and calves to be able to withstand the rigorous climbs. 

Also, I would do this race again. I told my MRTT crew that I would probably call it "fun" after a week or so. It was fun and I did recover.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

15 Mile Thriller at Jefferson Memorial Forrest

Every time I get to talking with the MRTT ladies about marathon war stories, at some point I always say something like, “I wish I had had a voice during the hardest part of the run, telling me, ‘you got this’”, so I don’t break down and start weeping like a child (which has happened). Last Saturday morning, I had that voice, albeit in my head, her name is Marian.

It was two weeks away from my Rough Trail 25K . I had planned on the longest run 2 weeks before my race, so I could spend the weekend before on a less long run and have a chance to recover. My training plan has become a hybrid of marathon, a 25k trail, UpLift, triathlon and cycling.  (Note to self: Read a book on endurance trail running because this reads like I can’t decide).  Fellow MRTT-er Marian, the one outside my head,  would have led us but has been down with pneumonia for a few weeks.  I became the default front woman having run it before.


Motivates ME to run big miles in the woods!

Nancy and I met at the donut shop so we could drive down to Jefferson Memorial Forest together. We were thrilled that the restroom at the welcome center was open before 6:30 am. Once we strapped on our headlamps and hydration packs, we were off.  Marian, in my head, reminded me to take it slow, which we did. We averaged about 20 mm for the first 3 miles. Much of the trail in the beginning were switch backs and up hills. In the times I had run before with my partner, who is much faster than me on the road, we hadn’t spoken much. On the trail, she was at my heels as we made our ascent together. I watched for the white markers on trees since the path was covered in leaves.



At one point on the way up we heard what could have been a small cow, small bear, large dog or zombie (as my 4 year old offered up). We opted not to talk about what it might have been or look in that direction. I remembered Marian reminding me not to think of scary things. Instead she said we were a couple of badasses for being out there in the pitch black. So my partner became an extension of my senses as we made it through the dark into a spectacular sunrise.






Maybe it was around mile 4 that my partner and I started talking about what happens to runners during long runs, the crying at marathons, breakfast, the GI tract situation, our hardships, did I overdress for this run and why compression socks were wonderful.

At mile 5 we met up with a beagle who ran with us for a few miles. We gave him our boiled salted potatoes. Nancy tried calling the number on his collar but we had was no cell service. The pup followed us out of Siltstone and into Scott’s Gap, where we did get a signal.

We waited for a few minutes until a red truck came by to pick up the pup. We ate our protein bars. The beagle’s owner explained that the dog had gotten out in the middle of the night since they had altered the wood surrounding his pen. It was great to rescue a dog from his home. We saw them pull into their driveway about 100 feet away.


We ran about another ¾ miles through Scott’s gap before we headed back at the 7.5 mile mark. This path was marked in red. It was even more littered in leaves.  This trail was marked by red spots.

The first uphill back on Siltstone were the hardest for me. My partner said maybe we had lost our groove having stopped for the dog. I even knew there was a plateau at the top of the hill. They still felt like lonely miles. Maybe it was knowing my boys had gone to Glasgow for the night. It made me think 25k was my limit and what the heck had I gotten myself into? Runner’s bipolar at its best.

I didn’t feel better until the uphill was over and I recognized the trail again. One of the trees dropped a nut on my head. It was probably the size of a golf ball but felt like an apple. My GPS died at this point, which I found hard not knowing how far we had gone and how much we had left. Nancy said it may have been working hard to find a signal, which was scarce in those woods.

Scott's Gap
Those last few miles were the longest. I definitely overdressed wanting a thin layer on my skin in case I fell. It unseasonably hot so I drank my water sooner than planned.

We were amazed at the terrain we climbed in the dark, seeing it in the light on our way back. JMF is not easy due to the ruggedness and elevation. Running towards those donuts took forever. We passed a woman with a big dog. She smelled fresh and perfumed, unlike us.

We were so thirsty when we got back that we had water with our donuts instead of coffee.  We laughed about a random guy that shared our donuts. We laughed about the silly Krispy Kreme hats we had on. We laughed about the dog that snubbed my cliff shot block and preferred the potatoes. It was the best state of exhaustion, dehydration and post-15-miles-of-hard-terrain delirium, just like Marian said it would be. 






Note: All kidding aside, there was a lot of preparation that went into this run. 

I went into it with a partner. My pack contained a small first aid kit, tissues, hand sanitizer, wipes, albuterol and a whistle. 

We had ample water and nutrition (Cliff Shot blocks, Rx Bar, Mocha Cliff shot, boiled salted potatoes) since we were out there for about 4 hours. 

Lastly, as runners in 2016, our new fangled tech was charged: headlamps, phones and GPS watches (which I have found fully charged doesn't always hold up when its always searching for a signal). 

All Trails rates Siltstone as hard. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Urban Bourbon Half Marathon - Race Report

I ran the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon yesterday. I ran my butt off. I did a personal best and broke 2 hours. I felt so beat at the end. At mile 10, I was trying to figure out what could be my slowest speed and still come in under 2 hours. I have never run so hard. For the first 5 miles, I kept up with the crowd. My watch beeped an 8:45 minute mile, which is an unsustainable pace for me. My pace slowed between a 9 minute and 9:30 minute mile.

I usually don’t carry water with me during half marathons. This time, I carried a 300 ml bottle with me. I found this to be more efficient to ensure I am taking sips more often but not stopping. I did stop to fill up the bottle and also to finish an energy gel. My fingers were numb in the cold and it was hard to get it all. I was spreading chocolate gel all over my fingers and the mouth of the bottle.

I found myself having some breathing difficulty. It was a combination of being run down after a couple of 5:30 am runs during the week, baked goods and the crazy temps going from summer to fall in one week.  

My training regimen of strength, hills and improved nutrition have all helped. I got to see how uncomfortable I needed to be to achieve that time. I was aware I was “racing” rather than trying to “get through” the distance, which I have done often.


The MRTT crew was wonderful to be with post event. I got huge hugs when I told them I did a PR. We ate, recovered and enjoyed each other’s company.  

Bourbon Rangers!



Monday, October 17, 2016

Running Safety


This past weekend while running with my group, we discussed the topic of safety. As running miles increase during training, I have found myself running during the dark in order to add more hours into the day. These are early morning hours so I am not missed by my family or in the evenings after bed time. I wanted to make a list of products/services that I have come to use to ensure my safety. 


Road ID – When I first learned how to ride my bike with the clip in pedals, I sometimes found myself at dusk riding home. I had fears of falling. I wanted to be identifiable if I was unconscious. Road ID took my 10 year old canvas band back and replaced it with a silicone band and name tag. This way my skin wasn’t irritated with the increased perspiration in the Bluegrass state. I love that this company stood by their product, a 10 year old product, even when the “defect” was my sensitive skin rather than their wrist band. 


Tracer 360 by Nox Gear – I just purchased this product after friends, training for an ultra-marathon, organized a long run at 8pm. I ran the first 5 miles out of 22 with them.  My friend had it on, and others in the group had their headlamps, I had my Nathan Light Bender LED armband on and other reflective gear. There were 4 of us running so even though there were no street lights, I felt pretty safe in our MRTT cocoon. 

There is also an ICE function on the iPhone that allows for your emergency contact to be visible even when it is locked.


On trails I carry a whistle and a small first aid kit (race freebie) in my hydration pack. I have fallen before on the trails and it’s nice to be able to brush off and go on.


Lastly, I have run alone in the dark and also on trails before but the best safety is to run with company. 

Love the sunrise view.

Note: In the winter I will accessorize all these items over a bright pink jacket and hat by Brooks. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Intramuros - Binondo

My day at Corregidor and Luneta ended with my cousin running us around Manila. As tired as I was, it was amazing. My cousin called over to the shop in Binondo (Manila's Chinatown) to see if my aunt and uncle were there. They were. I got to meet them again. (I have seen photos of myself as a toddler with them but I have no memory of the contact.) The shop sold eastern remedies. It was started by my grandparents when they left the province for the big city.  My grandfather's photo is still on the wall like a shrine. 


Pic from my cousin's tablet

On our way back to our dinner reservation, we stopped by the Manila Cathedral. This structure was wrecked during the battle of Manila. It was wonderful to see it lit up at night. 


Google pic
Another pic from my cousin's tablet
 I even got to light a candle at the Binondo Catherdal.


Google Pic (I have to improvise due to my dead electronics)
Lastly, we stopped by a bakery for my favorite Chinese/Filipino pastries!


Borrowing from Google. Neat to walk through Chinatown!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Light Weight Hydration Vest/BackPack with 2 Bottles by SL3S - Product Review


I consider myself a novice trail runner. This fall coming up might be year since I have started.

This fall I signed up to do the 25K at the Rough Trail Ultra Marathon. It prompted me to look into a hydration pack given the distance. I wanted to carry water but have my hands free in case there is some climbing involved. The race director also told me that each participant is required to carry water despite the water stops given the terrain.

In my Google search, I found the SL3S Hydration Vest/Backpack. I chose a pack because I did not want to clean and maintain a bladder and a tube. (I'm a lazy off trail.) I also did not want to break the bank.

The water bottles are about 300ml each. Each bottle is good for me for about 5 miles. At longer distances I am hoping to be able to refill the bottles.

The chest straps are long so it would suit men and women. I have done 3 long runs with it so far and don't notice the weight. I like the pack since it allows for me to carry all my neurotic stuff like hand sanitizer, inhaler and id.

On the left side is a zippered pocket which was designed to fit an iPhone 6. I keep mine wrapped in plastic. There's also a pocket on the right side that was meant for a key fob. My key and fob are the same so it doesn't fit.

Overall its been a great product. I love the colors, which accidentally matches my Road ID (you can never be too careful ladies) and headphones.

The only downside is that since I wear it on my person, it gets as sweaty as I do. 






  

  




Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Youth Refugee Adventure – Highland Presbyterian Church Louisville

I don’t often do off script posts since this space belongs to my writing mind.  She is very much on her own pace despite what is going on around her. 2016 has been a whirlwind! My family and I have moved out of the Philadelphia area to Louisville, Kentucky. It was a combination of my departed friend, a mid-life crisis and some lifestyle choices that favored family. It’s almost the end of a 5 month journey. As much as I love my 9.5 lb. Sir Kitty Poop-a-lot, we can no longer share a bathroom.

We are two and a half months into our life in Kentucky. It’s been wonderful. I have found mom’s with whom to run, more time to devote to writing and a network of close friends and family. This past weekend, I was invited to my friend’s church for a workshop called Youth Refugee Adventure. I attended given my own “adventures”.

The program started at 3pm in the Highland Presbyterian Fellowship hall. We were instructed to write our names on a slip of paper. Children and teens were instructed to write their names on different colored slips of paper.  Afterwards, we went to a different station write down on index one precious item we would take with us if we were forced to flee our homelands.

The program commenced with a poem written by a ten year old refugee. The hostess explained that when refugees flee, it is usually preceded by an act of violence. The poem spoke of bombs in their midst. The child also questioned when she would feel safe again. The hostess then drew our names and we were grouped into families of 5 and instructed not to speak. In my mind, I thought of the qualities that made me and my husband different. I am a writer that often connects things that don’t really seem to be connected. I am sometimes impulsive and need to learn things as I experience them. My husband is careful, calculating and processes situations as they arise.  The qualities that make my husband different from me, I thought, were what might save me in such a situation. At some point, I assumed hyper vigilance as our names were drawn. We were grouped into families, ensuring there were children and adults.

We were lead down into a room where we were given a poster.  On this poster we were to write the identities we assumed as a refugee. My name was Aug Wah. I was the oldest son from a Burmese family. I had some schooling and my skill was farming. There were workshop participants all around us given the same instruction.  Actually, the only instruction we were given was “name” and it was given to us by a woman who’s head was wrapped in a scarf and eyes covered with dark glasses. She was also pointing at us with a blunt object.  As we proceeded into the corridors of the church, there was a man with a cigar that instructed us to walk over a string with bells attached. We were instructed not to let our bodies touch the string. This was a simulation of the border. Upon reaching the other side, we were told to go down the elevator where the camp was simulated.  One of my “family members” informed me as we walked down the corridor that our poster was taken by the “guard”.

Prior to this all, our hostess reminded us that as refugees we were grateful to be in a country with borders. Despite its difficulty, it was better than the violence in the homelands we departed.   

When we arrived at the first checkpoint, it was a problem that our poster was gone. One of the moms had brought her phone and had taken a photo of the symbols that represented letters. Being a youth workshop, she assigned the kids to work on decoding the instructions written in gibberish. It was a form that asked for our names, ages and country of origin. We were given a paper that identified us and assigned “primary applicant alien numbers”. There were blanks next to Health Clinic, Food and Water Distribution, School and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) Office. We were shuffled to the first stop, which had a sign for W.H.O., World Health Organization. We waited with other families for our “health screening”. It was a brief medical history of our illnesses, our appearance and any recommendations. We were screened for the lice, obvious health concerns and given a vaccine. The health screening form and our identification forms had to be signed by the doctor. In real time the mother and daughter in our group had an emergency and had to leave. I am normally a person that steps back when a stronger personality emerges. When the mother and her daughter left, I assumed the senior role. 

It was a mistake for us not to sit and be screened together since one of our group members did not get a signature on the health screening form. I had to tell the doctor that he was my brother and offer him my item on the index card, which was a passport. Having been undocumented, I had never had a valid travel document until the year 2009 and a US passport until 2012. When I wrote “passport” on my index card, I thought I would obtain food and water on the trail. I also think the documents that have legalized me are among my most valuable possessions. 

When we finally did get this signature, we moved on to the tent labeled “school”. There was a blond blue eyed boy speaking to us in an unintelligible language. The boy that was supposed to be my younger brother said he was teaching Mandarin. He would go through the numbers 1 through 10. We would repeat him and then he would point to a symbol. If we knew it as a family, we passed. If not we were jailed. The jail was between stations managed by a woman that wielded a water bottle as if it were gun. Our paper for “school” required a signature. After it was signed, the teacher shooed us out of his presence.  

There were bathrooms were on a balcony on the floor above us. Every time the doors opened and shut, the way it echoed sounded a little bit like a boom. It was probably not intentional but gave me the feeling of being in a bomb shelter.

The path forward was a food distribution tent where they handed out water in little cups and Cheerios. Our paper was signed as we were given such items.

The last top was the UNHCR office. We were asked our names, our educations levels and how we might support ourselves if relocated. We all said farming. The official noted that my little brother’s identification form was not signed by the WHO physician. We had to return to the back of the line with the other families waiting.

At some point in our journey, I switched the papers of my “little brother” so it would appear as if he had collected the correct documentation. Despite that, it was frustrating to find out we weren’t done. We waited in line with the other families waiting to get screened. While on line, we witnessed one of the guards take away a baby. That doll was given to someone ahead of us in line. Also, one of the boys/actors with a physician’s mask was requesting a donut from the food distribution center. One of the words that was intelligible to us was “security!” The food worker screamed at the boy who tried to get a donut and the guards appeared to search for him in our ranks. 

When we arrived at the front of the line with the “doctor” who had seen us, he signed the paper. It looked like he was searching for something more. I offered him my index card with “passport” written on it. He didn’t seem that interested. Other participants had written money, food, water, jewelry, photos and cell phones. This seemed to be items of interest for the guards or doctors in such scenarios. Such items were pocketed by the camp facilitators.  My friend commented if that were indeed a prized possession by a refugee, they were gone. 

We waited until the woman that had seen us first was available again. She checked over our documents once more. Finally, she said that given our level of education that she felt we did not have enough to leave the camp. She wrote denied on our paperwork. 

At that point we were escorted up the stairs and asked to fill out a questionnaire or journal. Questions included:

·         What is pushing you to leave your country?
·         What are you hoping to find on the other side of the border?
·         What are you afraid of finding across the border?
·         What was it like trying to communicate to border guards and camp officials?
·         How did you feel about the process?
·         What was the most frustrating part of your refugee experience?
·         What would you do if you lived in a camp for several years?
·         How does this experience change the way you understand “refugees?”
·         What similarities do you share with “refugees”?
·         What import qualities do refugees bring to our communities?

As we made our way back to the fellowship hall, we were debriefed by the facilitators. In order to stay true to the refugee statistic of 1% acceptance, only one of the families was approved entry into a free country. At this point I asked what the refugees did that were not approved to leave the camp.  I was told the tenure at the camp was undefined, that some were born and died there.

We were shown a video from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or UN Refugee Agency. We were also shown a photo of the Yum center at its fullest during a University of Louisville basketball game, which holds about 20,000 people.



From regions like Syria, Africa, Asia there were 16.1 million refugees. We were also shown different borders and refugee camps in these areas. Our facilitator felt that these were the kinds of photos that could be shown at our venue.

Some images courtesy of Google




After the debriefing, we were invited to have dinner. We were served rice (with tomato, vegetables or sausage), sweet potatoes, fruit, humus and vegetables. The runner in me thought it was a clean meal. Others commented its modesty seemed intentional given the workshop. We said grace prior to our meal and then we were introduced to Sevraine, a refugee from Burundi. The Pastor told Sevraine that we were lucky to be a part of the journey. Sevraine told us the story of his family. He fled his country because he did not want to be involved with the political party that sought his alliance. Defiance meant death. He was a chemistry teacher that became a member of parliament. Upon leaving, he had to go through the process of bringing his family here. When he was reunited with his daughters, the youngest of them had no memory of him. Despite his family’s forced migration, he did not wear the scars of violence in his demeanor. He told us he was starting to teach in the public school system and he was grateful to be supported by the community.  The dinner was concluded by two of Sevraine’s daughters performing a traditional dance. It was hard to imagine those vibrant beautiful girls not in the setting of a free country that I have come to take for granted.

It is hard to admit how much of it all I have taken for granted railing against an imperfect system. Yes I have been undocumented and yes we “lose time” aging out of processes. As I have aged out of such benefits, I had experiences; I started a family, earned 2 degrees and was lucky enough to be able to adjust my status. I have no concept of “losing time” at a refugee camp. I have no concept of not having food, shelter, healthcare and my family. Privilege has many shades. I have lived in its shadows, imperfections and even in this workshop, privilege showed me the world beyond my own.  

I honestly don’t even know how to conclude this essay. I write about my undocumented brothers and sisters who fight for systematic change to legalize. There are specific things our government can do to affect change with the 11 million without legal status. 

In the case of refugees, there are so many governing bodies that need to come together to affect change. The size of this crisis is incomprehensible to me in bodies, borders and the vastness of such lands that contain refugee camps. What I hope for now is the ability to comprehend a solution and if the opportunity presents itself, be a part of it. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Rizal Park - Luneta

Earlier in this blog, I reviewed the works of Dr. Jose Rizal.  I also wrote a piece for Ballon-Juice. So you can imagine my joy when our Corregidor tour ended early and we had some time before dinner to see Luneta. Again, mushroom clouds of joy in my little brain.

Here lies our national hero. His remains are guarded at all times. There is a huge scandal that the building in the back is being erected. It photobombs the whole scene. Construction has stopped and I am not sure where things stand at the moment. 

At this point in the day my camera and phone had died. I had taken many photos of Corregidor and didn't have the foresight to bring my charge cords. I didn't think I would need them. These photos came from my cousin. 

I am also seeing the limitations of Blogger since I can't put up too many photos in one post. 




Anyway, not far from Dr. Rizal's remains is the site of his execution. I felt weird about this scene. The only time I have seen an execution depicted in statues is church. Mr. Karnow has mentioned in his works that Filipinos have martyred their national heroes. I knew this in my mind but felt different seeing it. Dr. Rizal was murdered yet there were school children taking photos next to the statues as if this weren't the case. In their defense, they probably hadn't gotten to his novels yet in their curriculum. Nor had they been digging and digging into Philippine history like yours truly. Don't believe the ominous overcast sky. It was a truly lovely day.





Thursday, September 1, 2016

Corregidor Island

If there was a time at all when I might have lost my mind during this trip, it was maybe this visit to Corridor Island off of Manila. I reviewed a book called Edge of Terror early on in this blog. It talked about Americans that were held captive in the Island of Panay during the Japanese occupation in the Philippines. It also talked about the final battle between the US and Japan before we fell to the Japanese. The battle of Corregidor was was like the Alamo of the Pacific before things just got terrible. After a few years of being completely immersed in Philippine history, it was so gratifying to see the things i had studied. 

Corregidor was about an hour ferry ride to the Island. My cousin purchased our tickets through Sun Cruises. It was a guided tour of the Island with a catered lunch. I recommend tipping your guide. Note: There is a tour for the Japanese and everybody else. 

Here are the barracks. The American and Filipino soldiers were in separate buildings.

















This was called a "disappearing gun" because it was in use in WWI before planes were involved. There was one gun that fired first before the big gun fired next. With a system of counterweights, the guns went up and then went back into the ground so the enemy never knew where the shot was fired.

Counterweights to disappearing big gun

Malinta means lots of leaches as the American soldiers called it since they helped build it.

This was part of the light show and tour of how it all went down. 


Not all of the tunnel was finished for the tour. Some parts of it did look like it got bombed and maybe slightly unstable. Haha..pay no attention to the ruble on the ground. This where history nerds shine!

Very happy selfie as we concluded the tour. It was so incredible to see this all.


General MacArthur's Departure Point to Australia





Our tour bus.



Boat ride home to the mainland.