Things I took for granted in the USA

This is meant to be an amusing post about things that I personally have dealt with while living in the Philippines.

1. When is the last time you looked at the ceiling in your bathroom in the United States? Yeah, me neither. I, and most of the rest of the people in the USA, take for granted that we don’t need to. But the last time I looked at the bathroom ceiling in here in the Philippines? Just a few minutes ago, and every time before that when I walked into it. I have become quite conscious of the liklihood of something alive dropping down on my body from the ceiling, and the bathroom is where I’m usually in a most precarious and vulnerable state. And after seeing the size of the spiders here, and their propensity for hanging out upside down, I now very carefully look for them before entering. And when (that is WHEN, not IF) there is a spider on the bathroom ceiling, it needs to be shooed out the window before I make use of those facilities. I wonder how often I’ll check the ceiling when I get back to the USA before getting out of that habit?

2. I took for granted the fact that I knew what was in the food I ate. I could tell by looking, because there are certain foods that are prepared certain ways, and I am familiar with many of them. Here, I can point to a dish on a buffet and ask “what is it?” Sometimes I’ll be told the proper name in the local dialect (“pancit” is one example). Sometimes I’ll be told the main ingredient (“chicken” in the case of most pancit). Other times I’ll be told something they find interesting about the dish. (“It uses Chinese noodles” is what I hear about pancit.) Other times they think I want to know what creates the spice flavor (I can’t spell the names of the pancit spices, so I won’t even try). And sometimes I can get one person pinned down enough to hear a list of all the ingredients (“It’s called pancit, it’s a noodle dish, it has pork and chicken and sometimes fish boiled with the noodles and the spices.”) BUT the kicker here is that with the prevalence of maids who do the household cooking, and the popularity of simply buying a ready-made dish from a street vendor to serve with dinner, nobody really knows what is in that specific dish, since the cook makes whatever alterations to the standard recipie that seem best to her at the time. Which has resulted in my shellfish-allergic husband eating shrimp. Twice. I’m glad we brought plenty of Benedryl, so far that is all that has been needed.

3. And speaking of eating things that shouldn’t be – we in America take for granted that we can drink any water that is put in front of us. Sure, in some areas it might not taste good. And sure, sometimes it has contaminants that we choose to filter out. But in almost every home and restaurant in America you can fill a glass with tap water and drink it. You do not have to think ahead every day to ensure that there is enough drinking water in the house. People in the USA don’t run out of money and have to go without water until the next payday. But they do here. None of the homes we have visited had clean water piped in to them. Every single one of them has had to purchase drinking water, or drink from a community well that is known to have impure water. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. From the houses of the high-up city officials who have drinking water delivered in systems that look like an office water cooler, to the houses of the middle class where they buy water in huge square containers with spigots. To the houses of the poor who have one-liter bottles of purchased water lined up against a wall. To the houses of the completely destitute who drink from the community well – and suffer problems like parasites and typhoid as a result. (Isn’t it ironic that the class least able to pay for medical help is the class that must most often need it?) The Philippine government is aware of the problem, and is taking slow steps to rectify it. But in the meantime, always ask before drinking any water in the Philippines.

4. Back to the funny stuff. In the USA we take for granted that trees are safe. That the worst that typically happens from trees is that your car gets bird poop on it if you sit under one too long. But in the Philippines, trees have FRUIT on them! Often heavy fruit. Fruit that falls from the tree when it gets ripe. Ever had your car windshield get broken by a coconut? The roof or hood can get a pretty good dent in one from them, too. So in spite of the heat, Filipinos fortunate enough to have cars do NOT park them in the shade under trees. People don’t sit under trees much, either. The shade of a wall is much safer.

5. Mosquitoes. I really am starting to find them more than just annoying. In the USA, we take more precautions against our dogs getting heartworm from mosquitoes than we take against mosquitoes biting us. I take for granted that mosquitoes can’t really hurt me. And because of where we are in the Philippines, I took no more precautions against mosquitoes than the normal expedient of bringing mosquito repellant. After all, this island does not have malaria, and that’s all that the travel sites told me to take caution against. But then we get here, and I learned about Dengue fever. It’s mosquito-borne, but it does not show up on any travel preparation sites because there is no vaccine against it! It causes high fever, high amounts of pain, vomiting, dehydration. In a more serious case, internal bleeding. Less than one percent of cases end in death. But in a population of over 100 million people, even 1% is too high.  I think when I return to the USA, I will see future mosquito bites on my skin and take a moment to be grateful about where I live, and that I will have no symptoms from that bite other than itching.

We return to the USA fairly soon. While I will be relieved to experience things I expect again (and not be surprised by a spider or coconut dropping down on my head), I will sincerely miss many things I have experienced here in the Philippines.

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2 comments on “Things I took for granted in the USA

  1. Fascinating cultural details! I would be curious to hear what your Philippine hosts found most unusual about you two, in return.

    • It took me a while to think through the answers to this. They think it unusual that Americans move out of their parents’ home when they’re 18. They thought it strange that Craig and I wanted to get out on our own while we were there, instead of being escorted everywhere. They did not understand loving chocolate – it’s just another taste to them, nothing special. They wonder how a house can get cleaned and dinner can get cooked if both people work, when we don’t have house servants. They wonder what kind of jobs Americans get when they don’t have much education, since we told them we don’t have as many service jobs as they do there. Our hosts have visited the US quite a few times, so they were more used to US culture than we were to Philippines culture.

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