Tag Archives: Cultural conflict

Randy Ford Author-An American to a Philippine Principal “Phooey!”

      There we find my Susan.   All day teaching teachers consumed her while I taught across town in Diliman.

      Mr. Araya considered himself lucky to have a Peace Corps volunteer assigned to his school.   He really did and showed it, and he let everyone know.   But he didn’t know how to fully utilize Susan.   He wanted to overlook her when it came to painting the school.   She was willing to pitch in and help them get ready for Marcos.   She had to stop Mr. Araya from treating her as a trophy.

      Not too long afterwards he said, in a well-meaning way (it wasn’t easy for him to talk to her informally), “Susan, you have to think of the example you set.   You mustn’t be seen sitting on the floor.”

      Susan said, “Why does that matter?   I was reading a story in English to some students after school.”

      To Mr. Araya the provocation was not that.   He said, “I knew you were reading a story.   That I don’t object to.”

      “I’m sorry, but…no one else was around.”

      “I bring this up only because I am the principal here, and it is my duty to give instructions.   I know you’re new to the Philippines, and I’m not acting, as a Filipino should.   But I am the principal here, and it is my duty.   I am embarrassed for you.”

      Susan said in reply, “I won’t sit on the floor again.”

      Mr. Araya said, “To me it doesn’t matter whether you sit on the floor or not.   It comes down to the example we set in these classrooms.   We have to be examples of a moral life.   Children learn from what they see and live what they learn.   But I can’t tell you what to do.”

      “I said I wouldn’t sit on the floor.”

      “You have to know that we’re thankful to the United States Government for sending you to us.   Why would we not be thankful?”

      “I appreciate you bringing this to my attention.”

      “May you find here every reason to be happy with us and by your example may our children become more intelligent, more capable of wisdom and justice, and live lives more useful and noble.   You were brought to us to help us with this.”

      Susan said, “You think so.”   And Mr. Araya ended there, having said more than he intended.

      The next day Mr. Araya invited Susan to stay after school for a rehearsal of the Pupils Glee Club and Teachers Choral Group.   They were slated to sing for President Marcos.   They would sing the National Anthem and two or three songs each.   Then would come the dance troupe and the Rondalla.

      It was Susan’s way of getting more involved.   It was how she came to participate in the pigeon project and from there to going down on her hands and knees, to sowing some seeds for her own plant for life.   Yes, I said on her hands and knees, and I must add get her hands and knees dirty, and the students, with their smiles and clean uniforms, liked watching her, as they nurtured their own plants for life.

      The precedent was set, and Susan was all set to redefine her place in the school.   It began with the Pigeon Project and the poop involved in that.   Even Mr. Araya had to smile.   Here was an American woman whom, with her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, decided to invest her time in pigeon poop and went from there to digging in the dirt, and did it with dignity.   On the edge of what was and was not acceptable, she defined her project and decided to live or die by it.   She related to the culture as best she could and knew that she’d make mistakes.   She came to school in jeans.   The painting job was what motivated her to do that.   She pushed back to show that she was as capable as anyone else, once the painting of the school began in earnest.   It was a hard, painful job for her, humbling, and her principal, after he allowed himself, demonstrated his appreciation with formality.

Randy Ford

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Randy-Authors going to India with contrasting points of view

But I’m sure it was more than mystical experiences that brought my friend Ray Huebner to India.   Was it his aim to see the world, or was it to experience the world, a thorough exploration, which included living in various countries?

A little background.   Our running into each other in so many places wasn’t easily explained.   Mere co-incidences or something else: somehow, without planning it, we followed each other around the world.   Six years after saying goodbye at Baylor University in Waco, and without any contact, he suddenly appeared at our door in Manila.   He had been in the Peace Corps in Africa and came from Hong Kong, where I believe he worked for a short time as a reporter.   He was an editor of the Baylor college newspaper when we said goodbye, and after the president of that university closed our production of LONG DAY’S JOURNEY, an event that changed my life and sent me to Trinity University.   Ray, also a drama major, stayed at Baylor because of his job on the newspaper.

Somehow after both of us had lived and worked in the Philippines, we connected again in Bangkok, Bombay (Mumbia), Vengurla (India), and Prescott Arizona (and all of this before the invention of the Internet).   Whose fault was it?   Each time we said goodbye one of us would say, “I guess we’ll never see each again.”   It turned out to be something we could smile about.   Frankly, I would like to see it happen again.

Ray spoke of staying in an ashram and that interest me, but not as something that I would go out of my way to do.   Had it been I would’ve gone as an observer rather than a participant; during our travels Peg and I had been in and out of many churches, mosques and temples without having a mystical or religious experience.

Ray was in fact looking for a different experience than I was; as writers we had switched emphasis, which meant he had moved away from his journalism, away from being an analytical and objective observer to a more impassioned one.   An inaccurate observation perhaps (I’ll chance that), but with his use of hashes and his long hermitage (days-long) on the beach at Vengurla, he was indeed searching for something many people go to India looking for.   It may explain why he spent more than one day at the Taj (and remember we skipped it: by then we had been on the road without a break perhaps too long); and he also “experienced” it at different times both day and night.   It also shows a contrast between him and me.   It is unfortunate that we haven’t stayed in touched.

What interested me more than the mystical was the encounter between the American and the Indian, the latter represented by Hindus and Muslims.   No better example of that occurred on the beach at Vengurla between Ray and several boys who stared at him until he became upset.   It was an encounter that turned hostile.   For Ray the hostility wasn’t as strong as with other Westerners.   In a similar situation the hostility resulted in rock throwing and epeteths (the incident I’m thinking about occurred in Heart Afghanistan between an American expatriate exiled in Sweden and his girlfriend and again with some boys who this time started throwing pebbles.   The boys threw the pebbles out of curiosity; in return the American threw rocks at them out of anger.   As I remember, when Ray got up from his meditation to piss and unzipped his pants, the boys didn’t move.   They still stared at him and maybe even gawked.   So Ray said in response  “and circumcised too!”   As if to say, “I’m circumcised, damn it!   And you’re not.”   Or “I’m different, get it?”   Or “this may be your country, but this is my beach, so scram!   I’m here for the sunset and from that somehow trying to figure out the meaning of life, scram!”   Or “you can’t appreciate what I see.   You’re looking the wrong way and at the wrong thing.”

Pretty mild, considering.   I’m pretty sure the boys didn’t understand him.   To me the moment was precious and was obviously something I’ve held onto.

More later, Randy Ford

 

Vengurla is not Goa, the precise reason we chose to stay in Vengurla for a while and not Goa.   We didn’t want to get mixed up with other Westerners, though that’s what happened anyway.   When we traveled we tried to have as much contact with native people as possible.   We did so by avoiding hotels (bicycling also helped) and that was how we got invited to take a room in a hospital.   (Long ago it had been established by American Methodist missionaries but no longer had an affiliation.)

I fail to see why attempting suicide would be against the law anywhere, as it was in India then.   This attitude might be interpreted as unsympathetic, particularly when it could land you jail, which leads to a specific incident in Vengurla.

I was reluctant to get involved, after first hearing that “a western had jumped off the steamer to die” and was languishing in the local jail; my habit of extending myself hadn’t yet nudged me into action.   It was part of what I could call “playing it safe.”   I didn’t want to get involved with drugs.   I immediately assumed that this incident had something to do with drugs.   I knew as a world traveler getting caught with drugs in some countries carried stiff penalties.   That attitude and fear also had something to do with why we didn’t end up in Goa and never joined the drug culture.

(As an aside, a long time friend of ours visited us in Vengurla and brought with him a pouch full of hashes.   He spent a number of days on the local beach smoking while seeking mystical enlightenment.   I read the Bible and he smoked hashes.   And what a beach that was, miles long and perfect: any place else someone would’ve built a Hilton on it.)

For several weeks the Westerner (he turned out to be Austrian) who “jumped to die” sat in jail, on the floor, for they never gave him a chair.   He was dealing with not being allowed to contact anyone from the outside, and his fate seemed sealed, with no pleader or lawyer.   Without a pleader, he didn’t know how complex or political his situation was; and there was no telling how long he would have remained locked up if I hadn’t gone to see him.   “Jump to die?”   He told me he had been pushed off the steamer.

I hired a pleader for him, because I couldn’t believe his situation and didn’t care whether he had been pushed or jumped.   The pleader convinced the authorities to immediately bring him to trial and, in a language we couldn’t understand, won the Austrian’s freedom.   (Sorry, I’ve forgotten his name.)

In Vengurla his freedom, it seems, would’ve been of short duration.   When he got out, I brought him over to our hospital room and suggested that he spend the night.   At first, he agreed.   He had lost his clothing, needed clothing, so we rustled some up for him.   He seemed antsy and spent five minutes or so running up and down in front of our room.  (It opened onto the road).   “Freedom,” he shouted. “Freedom!”   Like a wild cat sprung from a trap, he ran.   We again tried to convince him to stay.   We really did.   He ate something before he left in a hurry.

It wasn’t easy to understand why he was in such a rush, and partly because I hadn’t been locked up.   Not until morning did the picture become clear.   We knew the head police officer, a Muslim, who had us over to his home for dinner.   “Your friend?” he asked, before asking where he was.

The actually words the officer used are long gone, but it was absolutely clear he wanted the Austrian for something.   Winning his freedom had clearly not been the end of it, a fact confirmed when we later traveled to Ratnagiri, the district seat of government, to renew our visas.   And when he found out we had been living in Vengurla, the immigration official asked us if we knew about the “trouble” there involving a Westerner, and added that they had been looking for him.

Hazards of traveling in a foreign country were, and remain, real; and language increases the risk.   So it seemed prudent for us not to let on that we had been involved with the Austrian.   When we lived in Vienna, I ran into him again; this time on the street.   “Good to see you,” and all that.   I invited him to our flat for supper.   The excuse the Austrian gave for not accepting my invitation was that in the morning he was on his way to prison and wanted to enjoy his last night of freedom.   He said he hoped I understood and told me to give my regards to my wife.   I consoled him, but he acted as if it weren’t a big deal.   Just a drug charge.   That was his attitude, or was it a front?

Randy Ford

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