Back in New York, I saw a therapist once a week. She was smart, respectful, and understanding, and I truly felt like she “got” me. Here in the Philippines, the stigma associated with psychology/psychiatry is right up there with cannibalism and incest: Sure people do it, and when they do it, Filipinos raise an eyebrow or two (and pout their lips to point), but it’s just not something that they do (even when they do do it).
That fact, along with the facts that I don’t have medical insurance, and that I live too far from the offices of any respected psychiatrists, keeps me from seeking out someone to talk to- Oh, and also the fact that I don’t trust that Filipinos are able to “get” me. Ya see, this culture? Well, it’s not my culture.
When I first got here, I told myself that I would take on as much of the Filipino culture as possible. I wanted to soak in the mindset of my parents’ homeland. I wanted to be Filipino. But the more that I’m here, the more my liberal beliefs are thrown into relief, and the more I realize that I am most certainly not like anyone I’ve encountered in the Philippines.
It’s not just that I’m brazen and bold and willing to talk about my abortion in public. It’s not just that I’m pro-sex and a natural flirt, and yet demanding of respect. It’s not just that I’m owning my school, with high grades, a couple of medals, and honors recognition. It’s that I’m doing all of these things, and I don’t fit neatly into a category. So most people? They write me off as “bad” and call it a day. If it weren’t for my friends and supporters, who take the time to listen to me and even attempt to make others suspend their negative opinions of me, I’d probably be very lonely.
What I’m feeling on a day to day basis isn’t just culture shock, it’s extreme culture shock. It’s the kind of culture shock that wears me out and makes me want to sleep in. It’s the kind of culture shock that makes me feel like the last unicorn. It’s the kind of culture shock that makes me bawl to Rob on Skype about how much I need him here.
And the thing about this culture shock, it doesn’t just end when I close my front door. It lives in my house. It has a name. Two names, actually: Cecil and Joy, Riley’s nanny and our maid. I get that Riley will pick up on things about the Filipino culture that I don’t like, and I get that these facets of Filipino-ness are embedded in Cecil and Joy, but that doesn’t mean that Cecil and Joy have to espouse these ideas. Not in my house, aka their place of employment.
Wow. That last sentence makes me shudder, because who the hell am I? What right do I have to tell someone how to act?
But, yeah: There are “little” things that Joy and Cecil do that bother me. Like, for instance, Joy talks to Riley about how she and Cecil are on his side, and implies that I’m not on his side. She’s said it a number of times; most notably when I’d spent the weekend taking care of Riley while Cecil was on vacation, and Cecil returned, she said, “Riley, you should be happy that Nanay Cecil is here, so now you have someone on your side.” And when she’s holding Riley, and Riley fusses, sometimes Joy will threaten him by saying, “Riley, stop moving so much, or I’ll give you to Mommy.” To be fair, Cecil doesn’t really do any of these things, and I assume that the reason that Joy does so many of them is because she’s young and still immature. But still. Since when is it okay to imply that a mom isn’t on her child’s side? And what makes her think of me as a punishment? Surely Riley doesn’t feel that way, but maybe he could be made to feel that way if she keeps on implying it?
I’ve taken Joy and Cecil aside and explained to them the changes I want to see in their behavior, and they easily comply. But for every talk I have with them, there is growth in the gray cloud that hangs over them when they see me. Is it resentment? Embarrassment? Antipathy? Do they think that I’m some spoiled American girl who doesn’t know how to do anything on her own? Are they telling Riley that I’m the devil incarnate? And what will happen when Rob’s here? Do we really need them both? Why is this even bothering me so much?
I spend as much time as possible with Riley. I forgo my sleep so that I’ll be the one rocking him at night, even though I could very well ask Cecil to do it. I quit smoking so that I have the energy to bounce around with him after 12-hours at school. I spend time looking up games to play with him, bathing him, and feeding him. But still, the majority of Riley’s time awake is spent with Joy and Cecil. And even though I’m okay with that, this is only the case because I feel like we’re on the same team. Having to constantly exert my authority doesn’t make me feel like we’re on the same team. It feels like they’re on the other team, the team that wants Riley to defect from my team.