Saturday, July 08, 2006

Philippines – April 10-24 - Reconnection with Family

Dearest friends and family: Thank you for taking time to write to us. It is wonderful to hear from each one of you. Your e-mails have further inspired us to write our thoughts and insights of the places we visit and the people we meet along this amazing journey. Love, Icasiana & Gabriel

We have posted recent pictures and stories on our web site at:

Philippines – Reconnection with Family and Making New Friends

Thirty years ago I stepped off the plane with my brother James and my sister Pat with great anticipation and unease to meet my relatives for the very first time; I was 15 years old. Today I step off the plane with my own family with great anticipation and joy to introduce my family to my relatives; I’m much older now. It’s been way too long, no calls, no letters, no visits, no contact whatsoever with some of my relatives in those 30 years. But I know once reunited there will be no loss in the connection, nor any remark of time passed.

My Family Reconnection

My cousin Lulu and her husband Cesar just amazed us with their generosity and care. They took care of us in such a way that we were in awe at feeling so loved and special, and they made this trip very special for us. They opened doors for us wherever we traveled, helped us plan our trip and set things up for us. It was such a joy to reconnect with them as an adult and share our life with them. We all feel such a kinship and bond of our deep connection. And it was true, there was no loss in the original connection, it was further enhanced with spending time with them and their family.

In addition to Lulu and Cesar, I have some relatives who never came to live in the United States and they are the ones we wanted to visit with as part of our journey. My Aunt Mila, who is the oldest sister of my mom, has never lived outside of the Philippines. She’s an amazing woman, who raised her family, was married to my Uncle Sire long past their golden wedding anniversary, held a prestigious career as the Dean of Education at the University of Santo Tomas, and is an accomplished artist and a published author. It was fun talking with her and visiting her in her home in Quezon City, just outside of Manila. I learned that she makes “pyramid-powered” coconut oil that has absolutely amazing healing properties. She gave us a bottle that we have been using for massage, or for minor skin irritations, and it works so well. The properties of coconut oil are quite powerful in their own right, and having been further “charged” by the energy of the pyramid, makes it even that more powerful.

I was also able to reunite with my Aunt Carmen and Uncle Danny who just a year ago left the US and decided to live in the Philippines upon retirement. I hadn’t seen them since the late 80’s when they lived in Oklahoma City. I also have several cousins who I haven’t seen in many years, and cousins, nieces and “grandchildren” that I met for the very first time. We were told that Gabriel and I are “Lolo” and “Lola” (grandfather and grandmother) to several of my nieces and nephews. They don’t use “second-cousin once-removed” or any of the other more distant relative names, so it is kept quite simple to the generation of the relatives. Therefore, Gabriel and I are grandparents to my first cousin’s grandchildren. Confused? Well it seemed so simple when it was explained to us the first time. As part of the ritual of being grandparents, the children come up to us and give us “mano” which is they take our hand in theirs and raise it to their forehead (or spiritual eye) as a sign of respect to their elders – we found this custom very touching. I remember doing this to my Lola (my mom’s mother) when we were small, however, we would kiss her hand instead; which is just a variation to the same custom.

Lulu and her husband Cesar fast became our host, tour guides and wonderful ambassadors for the Philippines and the Filipino culture. They are probably the most connected people in the Philippines as they were able to introduce us to some wonderful and powerful teachers and healers. As a matter of fact, Gabriel conducted a workshop on Trauma Release Exercises for a group of counselors (psychiatric and psychological) who volunteer their time and their skills through the University of Santo Thomas. The feedback we have received from those who participated was quite encouraging and we are looking forward to furthering this teaching and sharing in the future. These participants are amazing people, wanting to learn more to share their gifts to help heal the effects of trauma and abuse.

Psychic healing, Pranic Healing and “Slaying” by Doctor Edwin
One of the healers I wanted to see while in the Philippines was a Psychic Healer. These are the healers who allegedly heighten their vibration and that of their patient and are able to literally pull toxins and diseased parts of organs out of the body without any incision. I asked Lulu to connect us with one of these doctors and when we traveled to Baguio (the Summer Capital of the Philippines), we looked up the world-famous Doctor Labo. Unfortunately, or possibly, fortunately, he had since retired and does not perform any more healings. I felt a bit relieved as I wasn’t sure what toxins or other yucky things he may have pulled out of my body! We did have a wonderful healing session with my cousin Lulu and she taught us the nuances of Pranic healing. I was able to receive this powerful healing form as well as learn to work with the energy on my niece Christina.

Probably the strangest healing experience we had was when we visited the town of Bulacan about 45 minutes outside of Manila. We went to a small Catholic Church where we met Dr. Edwin, a friend of Lulu. He used to practice as a medical doctor and now he works exclusively as a spiritual healer. This special healing gift came to him after a near death experience while undergoing an operation; and it is truly a calling for him because he does not take any money for the miracles he facilitates. And he is a genuinely sincere and humble man.

Dr. Edwin began by placing people in a line in front of him. He would scan their body and raise his hand while he closed his eyes and soon they would drop to the floor. Thankfully, one of Dr. Edwin’s helpers would catch the person before they hit the cement floor. Most would lie on the floor for a few moments in a daze, then get back up and have an additional “slaying” or go back to their seat. After the first group finished, Gabriel and I got up and stood in front of the doctor. At first I didn’t feel anything, just a deep relaxation, and then I felt I was being “pushed” to the floor. I’m not clear if Dr. Edwin actually touched me with his hand to push me, or it was totally the energetic push that had me falling to the floor. As I lay on the ground, I could smell the dust and feel the coldness of the concrete floor. My awareness was heightened to sounds around me and the sensations in my body. I didn’t want to get back up. I did though and started to walk to my chair when Dr. Edwin told me to get back in line for the next slaying. After 5 times of being “slain” I finally sat down to watch others participate in this strange but amazing work. Certain things happened to me that was very profound; I will leave that silent here. Dr. Edwin realized that Gabriel could feel the energy work so he enlisted him to assist him, so Gabriel became a “catcher” for those people receiving the healings.

We greatly appreciated meeting Dr. Edwin and experiencing his work. We have asked him to come to the US in the fall of 2007 to share his work with others.

The Darker Side of the Capital City
Metro Manila is a hustling bustling city with nearly 15 million people and seemingly 20 million automobiles. It is like many modern cities with skyscrapers, plush hotels, taxis galore, smog, trash, and people everywhere. But what strikes me most are the slums and poverty as we drive through Manila just outside the airport. It is estimated that 23 percent of the population in Manila are “squatters,” that is one-quarter of the city's population lives in slums and squatter housing. These squatters are extremely poor people who have moved to the city, from the provinces, looking for a better life. They live in dire poverty, in their filth and waste while dumping their trash into the rivers and streams, hardly a better life than the farms or countryside they have left in their province. But nevertheless, they continue to move to the city in droves.

I do want to say, however, this is just a glimpse of the largest city in the Philippines. It is not indicative of the entire island of Luzon, nor the 7106 other islands that constitute the Philippine Islands. There are amazing beaches, forests, lakes, rice fields, rivers and mountains that create such a beautiful country in its entirety. Not to mention the amazing spirit and love of the Filipino people. I believe they are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.

Poverty Forces Exodus and Sex
I feel darkness around the city as I see children and mothers on the streets begging for a few pesos. My heart breaks when I see children covered in filth, running up to the cars as they come to a red traffic light selling their wares. Or when a group of children flock around us as we walk down the street begging for us to look at the cheap knock-off item they are selling saying “Madame, will you please buy this?” as they thrust the item in our faces and beg in such a pitiful way. I also observe so many women, mostly young, forced into prostitution as a means to live and support themselves and possibly their families back home, or marrying old and ugly men from other countries who “promise to take care of them.” I feel compelled to help these women empower themselves so they can create a better life for themselves. I am having conversations with my cousin Lulu on ways we can work together to help them by training them in new skills that will keep them off the street while bringing money home to their families. More on that when these conversations take shape into plans.

We were told there is also a trend that women leave their families at home and seek work in other countries, especially the United States, as nurses, or domestic help and then they send the more coveted US dollars back to their families. We spoke to one Filipina woman living and working in Dubai for Emirates Airlines who told us she visits her husband and 12 year old daughter in the Philippines only two times per year. As a mother, this seems so heartbreaking, but these women, with clear resolve, believe this is the best way for their family to survive. On the brighter side, we are told that you can hire a nanny, a young girl who will live with you, clean your home, cook and care for the young children all for the monthly salary of $50 US dollars. This is considered a good job since the help has a place to live and they have the ability to send money home to their province.

The Shadows on the Street
In addition to the poverty we are acutely aware of the traffic. It is nothing like we have seen throughout our sojourn through South-east Asia. Basically, it is a free-for-all of jeepneys, buses, motorcycles, tricycles (three-wheeled taxi-motorbikes), cars, trucks and infrequently a horse-drawn carriage braving the street mayhem. Kate and Matt laugh when they see the message “How’s my driving?” printed on all the public vehicles. They said let’s text message and tell them “your driving sucks!” as it surely does. Nearly all drivers totally disregard lanes causing total chaos and bottlenecks. The painted lanes are a joke as no one dares to stay in their own lane for fear of not getting ahead when there’s a miniscule space to pass the person in front of them from either side. It’s such a dichotomy to me as I know the Filipino people to be so kind and loving and quite generous. However, once on the street, they turn into demons, without any consideration of others, or courtesy given to other drivers and pedestrians. They do not give an inch, and no turn signals are used to warn the vehicles around them what move they will make. They just lay heavy on their horn and let you know to get out of their way. It was so stressful just to be on the road because of these conditions. It would take us 45 minutes to drive 5 kilometers which is only about 3 miles. This was at any time, all the time.

We’ve coined it “the shadows’ on the street.” Gabriel came up with his own theory that maybe since the Philippines has been invaded and conquered so many times throughout their history, the culture has lost its sense of boundaries and push and push while in their car. I’m not sure if that’s true, but when my husband says this, it rings true for me… (Ah yes, the first year is always the sweetest).

Baluts, Fish Heads and Tails
One of the most delightful times the Filipino people have is sharing their exotic foods with unsuspecting visitors, especially Americans, and especially my beloved Cesar. I remember as a child when my cousins tried to give me baluts when I didn’t know what they were. Now as an adult I know fully what they are and I emphatically said no to their “gift”. Baluts are partially developed chicks that are hard-boiled. They are considered a delicacy. I find it really gross. However, this trip, Gabriel and Kate were the guinea pigs for trying baluts; they took a bite of the egg until they came to the black feathers of the little chicks. That’s when they stopped and gave it back to a smiling Cesar. Cesar then proudly showed us how his grandson of 6 was eating it and enjoying it.

One of the other things I never got used to as a kid was seeing cooked fish that still had the head and tail intact. I found it so eerie to be looking into the clouded eyes of the fish. It seemed too personal; I really didn’t want to “meet” the fish I ate. Anyway, fish is typically served whole everywhere we went. Gabriel liked it just fine. I think my relatives felt he blended in so well, you’d think he was Filipino. At times it was difficult discerning the “Flip” from the White-man! I was grateful for the delicious selection of tropical fruit, pancit, lumpia, adobo chicken and the ever abundant white rice. I was proud of Kate and Matt for trying different foods, especially the amazing and sometimes strange fruits that is grown in the Philippines.

Ifugao and the Igorot People
One of the most stunning sites we saw in the Philippines was the Banaue Rice terraces in the Ifugao province, about 7 hours north east of Manila. These ancient terraces, still in use today, took over 2000 years to build. They were created by hand with primitive tools of stones and hand with an elaborate irrigation system that remains in place today. 5000 feet above sea level down to the valley floor, these amazing rows and terraces line the mountainside from all sides. The native people who created these terraces so long ago are still present today. They are called Ifugaos or Igorots. They reminded me of the native people I’ve seen pictured in the National Geographic magazines from the Andes Mountains in South America. Small in build, dark and weathered faces, brightly colored thick woven cotton clothes in bright reds, yellows, blues set on a base of black. The women I met wore beautiful headdresses with the band around the head made from the same woven cloth as their clothes with groups of feathers sticking out of the top. The Igorot people were warm and kind, yet when they opened their mouth to smile they were missing most of their teeth and what was left were stained black and rotting from the beetle nut juice they chew. They claim that this concoction is their secret to long life; but I would say it’s no secret it that it’s a short life for their teeth.

My Mother’s Story - Japanese Invasion and Occupation
As we travel through provinces outside of Manila, I start to visualize and remember the stories my mother told us when we were small kids about her experiences with the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and then the subsequent US invasion during WWII. I cringe when I remember the stories of how my mom and three of her sisters were running and hiding from the enemy in the rice fields and cornfields. As we pass these rice fields, I feel the fear and the panic of my mother who was probably 8 years old as she hid in the fields, hoping not to be discovered by the soldiers who were capturing Filipino females and raping them. The males they found were killed or taken as prisoners. My Aunt Mila told me that there were times that they heard the screams of young Filipino women on the other side of the cornfields that they were hiding in. They were being violently raped by Japanese soldiers. It is hard for me to fathom that my mom’s family were all kept safe, all 14 of them, throughout the years of Japanese invasion and occupation. It further astounds me that their mother, my Lola Conception, decided that the family should split up to be safer. She felt traveling in such a large group would be more dangerous, more conspicuous. Her brilliance and selflessness, kept her entire family safe. I believe it was through their prayer though, that kept them safe and protected them over those years they were in hiding.

Americano Love
It most likely occurred, as a result of the US victory of removing the Japanese from the occupation of their homes, and further supported by General Macarthur’s famous promise to the Filipino people of, “I shall return,” but the Filipino people have such love and infatuation with the American people. We are told that any “white” person whether from France or Germany or the US, are believed to be Americans and are treated in such a special way. The Filipinos fondly refer to all “Americans” as “Canos” for short. One of the very audible and visible signs of their love for the Americans is that everyone we spoke to also spoke English, very well I might add, and nearly all signs and placards are in English from the menus to the billboards to the shows on television.

My Heart is so Full
I was so touched to be able to share my heritage with my family. Kate and Matt had such a wonderful time hearing stories and spending time with my family – they love their Filipino relatives. Gabriel was so thoroughly integrated and supportive with my family that it continued to fill my heart as he befriended and shared his love and his gifts with my family. Being with my relatives was such a blessing for all of us. We promised before we left that we won’t wait 30 years to come back and visit.

Salamat po to all my relatives and our new friends in the Philippines.

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