Letters: An Inevitable Conversation

Japayuki: A Novel

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Word (or two) About Our Lives...

I had initially intended to post this as a Facebook (FB) status update. Note below, I even open offering these words as a “short” expository. I actually uploaded for a short time, but soon enough realized, FB is not the place to post expository statements; FB it is an exchange forum where anyone who reads your words can and probably will chime in via the “comment” box; if not that, respond with a “Like,” or worse, totally snub you in any of the many ways FB makes available. (I know, I've snubbed people!)

Simply, if anyone did any of those things, this work wouldn't be expository; it would be a conversation. For as everyone knows, an expository piece is rhetorical. It is a statement of position, a declaration of fact, and those are not debatable or open for discussion. So here then, is my “short” expository post.

As many of you know, we are vacationing in the Philippines; The Pearl of the Orient. We left the United States in late February, and don’t plan to return until September. While technically we are “tourist,” and as such, take as many pictures as we can and share them via FB (now those you can comment on!), that is not all we doing here. For we are also home in that we hold many properties here, including the family homestead here in Pistola, Oas, Albay.

To all who view our pics and videos, it would appear that we are having the time of our lives and enjoying our lavish life to the hilt. But the truth is, had I fulfilled my pre-travel preparations, everyone would be better aware of some important aspects of our visit. Nearing the half-way point of our trip, I will now share what I intended to share in February, before leaving Texas.

This statement is for everyone that calls us family and friends, no matter where in the world they may be. While we are officially on vacation; it is in actuality a working vacation for us. Yes, we are enjoying the house in Pistola, but we are also working daily on its ongoing construction. Each and every day we spend some time tiling, installing electrical connections, and doing plumbing work (just to name a few). A couple of times a month, we jump in the van and head to the hardware store in Legaspi City, and it is costly.

Next, I’m going to offer some terms for your independent research and personal edification: Alzheimer’s, COPD, PTSD, Panic Disorder, GI Disorder, and Osteoarthritis (not the complete list). Look them up and understand them (Wikipedia works for me); read closely how these disease and disorders affect a person, and what the treatments and home care considerations are. Go ahead; I’ll wait…

Done? Good. Because that’s also part of the working part of our vacation. This family deals with each and every one of those medical conditions, some of them advanced and acute, each and every day. So, while we do have our fun; we are also providing appropriate care and treatment for all those conditions. Guess what? It is costly.

Fortunately, we are blessed with sufficient monthly income to allow us to provide everything that is needed by everyone afflicted. To many people, however, we are simply the Americans with money! What they don’t realize is with getting some work done on the house and making sure everyone stays breathing, we do run short sometimes. But everyone gets their meds and we put nourishing food on the table and we pay the bills. And yes, it is costly.

Those of you blessed with good healthy families probably can’t imagine what I’m saying, or probably think I’m exaggerating the list of ailments; but believe me, we wake up every morning watching each other for signs of deterioration, or some acute symptom, some odd change in behavior. We have spent a few days getting chest x-rays, lab test for this and that, and at the pharmacy for medications, and more. Basically, what I’m saying is, our lives are not all the fun and games and road trips we proudly post. We like our fun, that’s true, and we love visiting family, and will travel to do so, but we cherish our health more, and that will always be priority one.

Now, for the sticky and sensitive part of this the piece.

Due to health considerations, an important rule, for every one under this roof, is that the house will be clean. Check that; the house will be very clean, damn near hospital level. As you can imagine, with work ongoing, drilling and painting, concrete and tile work the house gets very dusty daily. So, our house requires a lot of daily cleaning, and in that it is a good size two story house, the rule is if you stay here you are expected to do your part. Our house isn't a Bed and Breakfast; it isn’t a hotel/motel with room service; it is a house filled with people who need a clean house.

I’ll take that a one step further, because of the medical conditions we care for, especially the respiratory cases, and that’s just about all of us, our house has to be almost sanitized. In considering those with borderline dementia, who can wander disoriented (and do at 2 and 3 a.m.), if the house isn’t tidy and clear of cluttered, the person can be injured or worse. As for the PTSD and Panic Disorder, if they feel there is no concern or support by others for the cleanliness of their house, they will (quickly) escalate verbally and emotionally (we try to avoid this one at all cost, but damn if it doesn't catch us off guard!).

Sounds like fun living with us, doesn’t it? You want to come visit us today, don’t you? Well, first read on, because here is my point of this post.

Our house is open to all visitors, and we have enjoyed many to date. (No, we’re not infectious!) Family, friends, neighbors, “born again” church people, Catholic priest, neighborhood kids have been in and out, most come to eat and run, some have stayed for days, others for weeks; most fall quickly into our daily work routines with no problems, cooking delicious meals for those working, or cleaning this or that without complaint; hell, everyone likes a clean house, right? But then, others? Uh. Not so much; which is fine too. We don’t post cleaning assignments on a bulletin board; we don’t hand people mops and buckets, hammers and mortar. But we do ask and expect that people simply respect and understand what we must do on a daily basis. We have had some walk away, unable to deal with our (demanding?) routine and house expectations/rules, and that’s okay too; to the outsider, we probably do actually resemble a boot camp for troubled kids (just kidding). Believe me, we all wish life could be spent on the duyan, texting and drinking ice tea and gossiping, but that is not our lives at all. We live the lives we do out of necessity; one could even say, for the sake of living at all.

Only on one occasion have we had to ask a person to leave; not to be mean or rude, or even disrespectful, rather out of fairness. We simply cannot allow a young, healthy, and able person (not family) lounge around texting, waiting for the next meal, while the rest of the household (mostly family) toils and labors around them. That would be disrespectful to our family. And while there are no direct monetary rewards, people who stay with us do eat well! And often get to go on our little trips here and there.

Again, if I’m preaching, I’m preaching to the choir. I know that. And I’ll use our present visitors as an excellent example of what we need people to understand about this family. Two young ladies on break from college have been staying with us; one is family, the other, one of her classmates. We expected the family member; we did not expect the classmate. But we have plenty of room, and so it was no problem for her to stay. Now here’s the best part. Since their arrival, we have never had to ask them to do a single task; we have never had to ask because they have taken the initiative to look around, see what needs to be done, and simply do it.  They have cooked outstanding meals, then scrubbed and sanitized the kitchen floor. I know this only because once I was ready to walk on that sanitized floor and got one of those, “I dare you to step one step further!” looks. I went around. They have also acted as attendant to the elder in the house (not an easy task), feeding him, scrubbing down his room, washing his bed sheets. When we planned our recent beach trip, they were there helping organized and prepare all, going and coming. And when it was birthday party time, they decorated and prepared the table. What was impressive was the unexpected guest was cleaning, cooking, and scrubbing right along with the family. What was even more impressive was, with all they did to help us, their smiles never once faded. They could have been enjoying a school break in Manila, but opted to stick it out with us. When the PTSD/Panic Disorder launched into high gear over whatever, they didn’t retreat to safety and seclusion or take offense; they just continued with their work and just seemed to understand. All this and they didn’t know a word of what I am posting now. Kids, just when you think you've got them figured out. Anecdote: In preparing to leave, the student expressed her appreciation of our hospitality and kindness; she thanked us for accepting her as one of the family. We almost screamed, dear girl, consider yourself adopted!

All our visitors come and leave, as our two young guests now prepare to return to their college studies in Manila, but we of course will remain here in this big house. Life doesn't change for us; this life will never change for us. We have to stay and work things out as best we can, we have to continue to support each other as best we can, deal with the good and the bad days and make sure everyone is safe and fed, as best as can, with or without anyone’s help. People have whispered rumors that some do not plan to visit us because of the expectations of contributing, the laborious demands and worse, the personalities living here. If that is true, then such is life. It’s true, here in the Philippines, if you have a little money (or think you do), maids and cooks and drivers are common (and expected); but sadly, we do not fall into that category. At our house, you wash your own clothes, and you take your turn in the kitchen (if you want dinner), and if the bathroom smells funky, don’t go asking where the bathroom boy is, ask where the cleanser and scrubbing pad are.

We dread leaving in September, only because the elder is not faring well and will soon enough (if not now) require a full time attendant. Some form of live in, home care attendant will have to be arranged for (oh, I could so go off on this issue alone!). Factor in that person’s salary, all the health care supplies, doctor’s visits and meds, transportation costs and the dollar signs loom like the proverbial approaching storm. But, we’ll do it; we’ll pull it off somehow, at least until we get back, and then, we’ll pick up right where we leave off.

So that’s it. Yes, we’ll post more fun pictures of family and friends and splashing in the water, and climbing picturesque mountains and hills. We need that to keep us sane. And we’ll post pictures of our work on the house, because that also keeps us grounded. And if despite reading this, anyone thinks they are brave enough to walk through our door, well, now they know exactly what awaits you beyond that door. Torture and torment! Okay, maybe not that, but we will keep them busy.

Working vacations are fun! This one is wearing us out; but, God we love this place! We love this house! And more importantly, we love our family and friends, whether they understand us or not.

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