Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Days 31-36 of 90: One Month and One Eye

Today the 24th marks my fourth week in Tallahassee and my fifth back in the US. Back, because I spent the first eleven years of my life in the Pacific Northwest primarily. Portland, Oregon was where we last lived and where my father passed away when I was eight years old. So in case you may be wondering why I always say "back", this is why.

I've been job-searching this past week and despite not finding anything yet I am in faith that God is preparing the best job for me. It's been an interesting study, this revisiting my work history and hoping it will open doors for me. And while I find things that interest me, I am realizing that the person I was in Manila must start anew in so many ways. Wherein my once well- and widely-connected self had access to almost anything and anyone, here where I am a stranger and a nobody at that, I am learning more and more to trust in a God whose plans for me far exceed anything I can imagine. It's all good. I am "forgetting what is behind and pressing on to win the prize"!

I don't recognize myself at times. I step outside of me and see and hear how much this experience is changing me. My timid smile, my self-conscious questions, my soft voice. I am surprised at how different I've become! How polar opposite! Self-confident, independent, articulate and boisterous me, reduced to a meek, soft-voiced, shy shell. I guess it's a phase. A season. A dream that I hope to wake up from soon and find myself like I once was.

Or not. I don't know how to describe it. And for those who know me well, you're probably laughing at how different my description of self sounds from how you may remember me. I give myself until the end of the year, or sooner, to be my old self again.

Here's a poem I found that was written by my pastor, Lani Peck.

Better far to be alive

To choose and suffer and survive
To see the stars and dare new lands
With empty pockets, blistered hands

Than trudge, in step, the well-worn trail

Where wind and wave cannot assail

Where all is safe and all approve

Where the mountains never move

I sail this course
with him who said
He had nowhere to lay his head

I live! I live and am not dead!
Kyera and I are now waiting for her visa to be issued. She was told that it would take anywhere between one to three weeks should there be no more requirements requested. We're believing that she'll be here by the week of November 10 - 17. Please pray with us.

Here's me in my job search attire. Getting dressed up does wonders for ones self-confidence. Hopefully, it will do wonders for my job hunting.

Michael had surgery done on his left eye. A shunt was inserted in his eyeball to drain fluid that is a symptom of the early stage of glaucoma. What was only supposed to be a routine procedure turned out to have complications (very rare!) and resulted in such severe pain, he had to return the following day for a repeat of the surgery! He's on his way to recovery but still in pain. Please pray for him. Here's his eye, published with his permission. It's not visible in the photo, but the whites around his iris are actually red and raw. Ouch.

The recent news of the bombing of Glorietta came to me as soon as it happened because of the wonders of Twitter. (You have to sign up to understand...) I pray for the loved ones of those who died. Here's a letter from a husband of one of the victims.

Life is indeed short.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Day 30 of 90: Thelma Gets to Drive

I left the Philippines on September 19, which was actually September 18 here in the US. I arrived here on the 19th (which still boggles my mind to realize that I had two September 19s this year, although they were spent sitting on airplanes...)


Today is my 30th day back in the US. Or perhaps it's tomorrow? Either way, I am here and waiting for Kyera.

I sent her all the proof that I am now domiciled in Florida. Not only do I have a state ID, credit card, a store card, a bank account and payslips, but as of today, I am now a licensed driver in Florida!

I made an appointment... online, showed up and took the fully automated exams - rules and signs in thirty minutes, and then had to drive by following an examiner's instructions. At the end of the fifteen minute or so session, he turned to me and asked, "Have you driven before? Excellent job!"

I smiled. "Twenty-two years actually.... just not in the US."

"Let's go back inside so I can give you your license."

I'm not happy about my pic. Whoever is? But I'm pretty excited that I can now drive, drive, drive! I still have my valid Philippine license though. (I'm keeping it in my wallet for sentimental and Manila vacation purposes.) It didn't get me exempted from taking either exams but it did give me an exemption from the four-hour Drug and Alcohol Exam. Whew!

What exciting things have been happening in your life?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Days 27-29 of 90: Express America

It's been a slow past few days for me. I've been sending out my resume and filling out online applications so I thought I'd compile a shortlist of some of the things that I just can't get enough of from my almost 30 days here into my new life.

Drive-Thru Whatever

Janet and I had to deposit checks recently and as I computed our travel time and parking time and lining up at a teller time, I was shocked when she drove us through the side of our bank to a four-lane covered drive-thru. At the touch of her finger tips (on the driver's side of a vehicle), a vacuum tube spit out a plastic canister for us to place our deposit slips. The tube then shot back inside and returned to us in three minutes, received and stamped and ready to be credited the following day.

As we drove away, I couldn't help but be amazed at how efficient the whole thing was! My mind had been set on taking at least forty-five minutes.

Another day, we paid for the electricity the same way. One of my friends on Twitter sent me a message asking me if I had seen any drive-thru liquor stores! Apparently, you drive up, place your order, show your ID and voila, you drive home with your six-pack.

Self-Check Out Counters

You know how there are express lanes at the supermarket for baskets with twenty items or less? Here in the US, Americans have taken this express-ness even further with the Self-Check Out Counters for ten items or less.

After watching Janet do it at Wal-Mart one day, I was brave enough to try it out myself at our nearby Winn-Dixie. You simply swipe the bar code and the amount will appear on a touchscreen monitor while a voice will instruct you on what to do. You then place the item inside a bag. When you finish, you simply touch "Finished" on the monitor and the amount you owe will then be totaled. Payments can be in cash, credit or debit card.

Because I'm new at the whole thing, I tried removing a head of lettuce that I had just swiped on the bar code. The monitor said there was an error so naturally, I tried removing and re-doing what I had just done. As I reached inside the bag, the voice told me, "Do Not Remove Item". Whoa. How did it know?! It detected a shift in the bag's weight?! Or it saw me with its own eyes?!

A real person then came to my rescue and explained that it was just an error and to ignore it and then proceeded to swipe a card to correct the machine.

Bottom's Up

So the concept of fast food refillable drinks was something that I had missed at Burger King in the Philippines. I remember when the Galleria branch had just opened how one could go back as many times as they wanted for refills. That soon changed and the only place I remember getting refillable drinks was at a restaurant. Here though, almost every place I've been to so far has refillable drinks. It's almost been a month and yet I still find myself asking Janet if it's okay!

Have Internet, Will Do Almost Anything

It seems that almost everything here is or can be done online. I've walked into stores to ask about job openings only to be told to fill out an application on their websites. Borrowing books, magazines or videos from the public library? Do it online. Ordering a pizza? Do it online. Renting a car? Do it online. Paying for a magazine subscription? Do it online. I now understand the movie Die Hard 4.0 and why the US seemed doomed without John McClane's help. America does everything online!

Let Me Do the Dishes, Please

My favorite thing to do now in the US is anything that lets me play with the appliances. Dishwashers and washing machines and dryers are my new toys. I think it's because once upon a time, many, many years ago, I was a young wife who had to do chores with my hands every single day. But now that I have machines to do them for me, I love that all I need to do is throw stuff inside the said machines for them to do all the hard work!

Then again, the novelty could wear off.

Life in America for the most part has been mind-boggling, humbling. And I don't know if or when I'll get used to it. I can't wait to see how amazed Kyera will be.

I pray that it be soon. I miss her.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Days 23-26 of 90: Greek and Grace

Autumn is beautiful in this place I now call home. The weather is nice and cool and reminds me of a chilly Tagaytay evening. I'm told it will get colder and that I will need a coat! But there is no snowfall since Florida is after all the Sunshine State. There are trees everywhere! And because it's Fall, there are always leaves on the ground. Kyera and I will have to take a trip up to Nashville and New York for the snow.

Tallahassee is fondly referred to as a "little college town" because of the presence of FSU (Florida State University) and FAMU (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University). Florida's capital has a population of approximately 150,000. My adult dream of getting my college diploma before I turn 50 just might come true here!

I am diligently looking for a new job. My prayer is that God will place me where all of my skills and experience will be fully maximized. My eclectic resume covers an extensive background in communications but I'm learning that it is a challenge having come from a white-collar job (i.e. comfortable desk) in the Philippines. I am realizing that starting from scratch at my age and without a degree looks impossible for me to succeed. But I know that there is nothing impossible with God! So I wait.

Many things here are still Greek to me. Drive-thru bank transactions, overnight check clearing, bank debit cards and credit cards allowed at fast food chains, drive-thru utility paying, ten-minute oil changes. I'm getting used to living again in the US but I know it will take a month or so until it'll be part of my everyday reality. For now, I'm still in awe and pinching myself every time I discover something that to others is normal and commonplace.

We went to the annual Greek Food Festival held by the Holy Mother of God Greek Orthodox Church for an immersion in Greek culture.

The food was amazing! And though we didn't get to stay for much of the cultural show, I had a good time.

God is so good! I've started sleeping through the night and dreaming in full color again. And I'm falling in love with my new close-knit, family-oriented yet filled with college kids church that's starting to feel like Alabang did. Even if things seem Greek to me, God is more than able to make His Grace abound, that in all things and at all times, I have all I need.

All that remains is for Kyera to be here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Day 22 of 90: Sometimes I Feel Like Paris Hilton

I changed the format of my titles since I'm only doing this series for my first ninety days back in the US. After this, I'll be back to my usual, sporadic postings.

I have moments while I'm working wherein I feel like giving up because I'm so exhausted. My pampered life in Manila did not prepare me for housekeeping a mall that requires me to be on my feet and on the go for eight hours per shift!

Last night while I was on the night shift, I sang Hillsong's You Have Made Me Glad to pull me through the last couple hours. As I proudly swept and cleaned tables at the food court, happy to finally get the hang of this job, my supervisor came up to me and asked, "Did you mop?"

He hadn't told me to so I didn't think to. I threw myself into moving chairs and benches to sweep every inch that I didn't realize mopping was the priority.

"You better mop now coz you don't have that much time left... it's 11:15..." My shift was supposed to end at midnight. I wanted to ask him, "Like... would I have to like, stay beyond my shift...? That's not hot."

So off I went looking for said mop only to find it decided to not be where it's supposed to be.

My course of action? Hands and knees with rag in hand to wipe down sticky portions.

Then Lupita came to my rescue! "What you do? You need mop? I go get mop." She disappeared and as I heard the theme song of Wonder Woman in my head, she came into view with our trusty supply cart and proceeded to mop. "Here... you take other mop..."

We got the job done at exactly midnight. I don't know what I would have done without her!

The one thing I know I will have from this possibly soon to end job is a lifetime of skilled cleaning of my future homes and a deep affection for the people who clean malls.

And now you can say you know someone who did.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Days 18-21: The Little Things

It's the little things in my new life in Florida that are falling into comfortable places to make me feel like I'm home. I've been back in the US as an adult for... twenty-one days now. It's been an interesting journey so far and as I hit the 21st day habit-forming mark, I must say that I'm more comfortable in my surroundings. And though I know it will take a while before I can genuinely feel like I'm home (including Kyera's arrival), it is getting easier to be here.

Airplane ads flying in the sky reminded me of a long ago time as a child looking up at a noontime sky. I have yet to see the kinds that write messages in smoke though, if those are still around.

My second Pancake Saturday at our pastor's house is becoming something I look forward to on the weekend. It's a great way to just hang out with and meet new people, people not just from church, but people who are from nearby FSU (Florida State University).

Although I've been told that one can only have so many pancakes in a year, lots of people come just to have coffee and company. It's a fifteen year old tradition! I'm told that one Saturday, seventy people showed up! Pancake batter - both regular and my personal favorite whole wheat - is mixed and ready to be made, along with eggs that are ready to be scrambled or fried. (Everyone makes his or her own.)

One of my co-workers is a seventy year-old Filipino lolo (grandfather) whose grandchild celebrated a birthday. In true Filipino tradition, he brought food to work and shared it with all of us. I didn't realize how much I missed good old-fashioned menudo, palabok, lechon manok and plain white rice until I ate this for breakfast the following morning!

The music Sunday morning was comforting in the sense that we sang familiar songs - Chris Tomlin and Hillsong. It may be a far cry from the music I'm used to at my beloved Victory Christian Fellowship - Alabang, but it felt good to be with others who love God just as much.

I was told that different types of music - classical, full band, Indian drums - are used so I'm looking forward to experiencing this in the coming weeks.

In the midst of all this, as I find myself upside down and sideways at times, God always comes to my rescue and sets me upright and secure. I am experiencing Him in new ways that I otherwise would never have known. I don't know how to explain how it feels to have verses leap out to you everyday to bring strength, peace, joy and love. Words that though very familiar, now have new, deeper meanings!

I must admit though that I have had moments wherein I've wanted to board a plane and fly home but I know that this is not an option. For now. So I walk on the water with my Savior, and let Him rescue me whenever I start to sink. I am amazed how He could love me so!

I still miss Kyera so, so very much. But it's the little things like chatting with her, getting her and others' Twitter posts, reading peoples' Multiply posts, receiving Personal Messages and e-mail, that I look forward to the most everyday. I've found a Filipino-American association here and will be looking into introducing myself to them soon. I'm realizing more and more how Filipino I truly am. I'll save my third culture analogies for another blog.

Finally, I have batteries for my ancient CD player and I am now listening to Jose's album Glorious. Hearing it makes me feel like I'm back in Manila. But I know that from now on, I will make new memories to his songs.

song playing on my aiwa: jose villanueva's the lord reigns

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Days 14-17: Tallahassee Dreaming

Life here is starting to feel like it's home. All it took was several trips from the house to various destinations - the mall where I work, the library down the road, the other mall that has Barnes & Noble - all these can be summed in one word. Familiarity.

I've been living in Tallahassee since September 25th and I must say that the one thing that has made my transition so much more... soothing, is having my friends walk me through the littlest of things! Fiercely independent me has been reduced to an ignorant, naive, dim-witted shell of a human.

Dishwashers amaze me despite the fact that I lived with and used them as a child growing up in the Pacific Northwest; dryers are the best but must have lint removed after a load for fear of a fire hazard; ovens cannot have any cardboard or paper bags left in them for the same reason; wrinkle-free clothing is always the better choice; leftovers are self-boxed after meals at restaurants. My list of newnesses keeps growing.

And that's just the daily reality. We haven't gotten to the part wherein insurance is a must both for health and for driving. Apartments can be rented on a month to month basis and only require a minimal security deposit. And that cars can be bought from a Used Car dealer for as little as $ 100 per month. Credit is good. It allows you to have more credit so you can buy bigger things on credit.

Michael and Janet patiently explain and teach me like I'm their eight year old daughter. "You cannot leave a box inside the oven, especially when I have the gaslight on. It could start a fire," Janet said as she removed the Krispy Kreme box I placed inside before she made fudge brownies.

I am learning much not only about my surroundings, but about myself. And as I look in the mirror at the woman who knows practically nothing about the US she grew up in as a child, I am humbled by my new perspective. Language is another new thing to me.

What I thought was an America that spoke English has evolved into a nation that oftentimes feels like its official languages are both English and Spanish. It's almost everywhere! Signs, pamphlets, instructions, etc. I regret slacking off in my Spanish classes in college. It's a challenge communicating with my fellow housekeepers (aka janitors) at the mall.

Me: So what time are you going on break?
Colleague: (blank stare)
Me: Ummm. (motioning hands to mouth while chewing) Lunch?
Colleague: Ala dos y medya.

I'm learning that sign language, my rudimentary Spanish and my big smiles make it easier. They're hardworkers and easy to get along with. And with so many similarities with Pilipino, my Spanish is getting better!

But my biggest gauge for knowing I'm settling in, is the fact that I don't cry as often and that I don't feel as overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity as before. I still have moments wherein I'll suddenly miss my daughter but it's gotten much easier since I started working.

I do miss Manila though. Now, I fully understand Hotdog's song "Manila". You never really do know what you have until it's gone. Or you've left it.

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement! God has been so gracious and merciful to me. I have an interview on Monday for a desk job and an exam for a federal job at the airport later this week. I also handed in my application at clothing stores for the upcoming seasonal openings. There's no such thing as 13th month pay here or Christmas bonus, so people take on extra work for a little more cash for the holidays.

My Target Red Card and my checkbooks arrived in the mail! Yay. I promise to use both sparingly.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Day 13: Thelma Cleans the Mall

Do you have, or know of any stories, about people who take on any kind of job if they absolutely need to while they're in between jobs and looking for something better?

One of those "I'll do whatever it takes to do what needs to be done" kind of jobs? One of those humble blue collar beginnings on the way to... superstardom or senior management?

I have one now.

Today I started at my part-time temporary job with housekeeping at the mall. Yes, housekeeping. Not a big deal here in the US (if you don't have a huge credit card bill among other debts) because it's a decent way to make a living. And it's a great way to get a good workout without actually working out.

I have been on my feet since 7AM and I only sat down for thirty minutes for my lunch break. I stopped working at 430 this afternoon. My day was filled with floor sweeping, table cleaning, leaf picking, non-stop. Thank God, people in America pick up after themselves... mostly. There were a few tables that looked like the kinds in Manila where people just leave their mess.

The funny part is that people can't put their finger on where I'm from. They immediately assume I'm Hispanic like my colleagues but when they hear my English and my clear American accent, they ask where I'm from.

I didn't really have any qualms about the whole "housekeeping" thing. I meditated on Philippians 2 where Paul speaks about how Jesus "did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness..."

Not that I could consider what I did today anything like what Jesus did! But it was a humbling reminder that the King of heaven and earth stepped out of heaven to do what He needed to do so that we could be with Him.

I have said that I would gladly be a barista at Starbucks if I had to to get my daughter here. I almost got what I asked for! I have a great, kind, generous Christian boss who has been very, very nice to me. And he's even helping me look for something better!

Besides, part-time isn't so bad. And at least my daughter and my grandchildren and their grandchildren will have a story to tell someday about their Grandma T who left behind a successful life in the Philippines to start all over again so they could have a shot at a possibly better future IF they wanted a life in America. By then of course, the Philippines will be a developed country and they just might want to stay in Manila! Either way will be great.

As my feet started to yell at me for being so mean to them all day, I remembered a day when I was working as a Training Manager at a call center in Ortigas on a shift that lasted 22 hours and needed me back at the office after a two-hour nap. I remember saying to myself, "Management may seem fancy but sometimes I wonder what it would be like to do a job that just needed me to do something physical and leave after 8 hours." And another time while I was doing Zach and Joey in the Morning I wondered, "I wonder what it would be like to not have to have lightning quick wit at 6AM." I guess I got what I asked for!

October 12 I get to send Kyera my proofs. And the day I see her again, all of this will be truly worth it.

And someday, I'll have stories to share about the time I worked at the mall doing housekeeping...

Thank You, God, for making a way for me to have a job the soonest possible time. Because I'm so exhausted right now, I know I'll sleep soundly and missing my daughter won't hurt as much.

song playing in the living room: michael jamming on his guitar