When It’s All Said and Done

Young boy wearing a helmet.

What was the best thing about the year?

Okay, what!? How am I supposed to answer that? There were so many incredible things about this year that I will always remember with happy feelings.

Like riding the motorcycle. Gosh, I loved that little thing. The traffic was horrendous, and I’m confident that my lungs are absolutely coated in exhaust from a year of sitting in traffic behind those diesel-pumping Jeepneys. But oh, what a JOY to just buzz around on that little thing. Bjork didn’t love it because he actually had to swerve around the stray dogs, weave in and out between cars, and generally focus on keeping us both alive. But I just got to sit back and enjoy the views and the hot wind in my wet hair. It was a highlight, for sure.

Another highlight: mango papaya smoothies. All of our kitchen appliances were pretty cheap being that we bought them to use for just a year, but holy blender. Somehow I bought the best blender I’ve ever owned in all my life, which perfectly complimented the world’s largest and sweetest papayas and mangoes sold by the fruit lady on our street. I’m confident that the mangoes and the papayas in the Philippines come straight from heaven. There’s no other way to explain the juicy sweetness that becomes some kind of magical creaminess when you blend it. Ughhh.

And then, the kids. Knowing and loving them, and being known and loved by them in return, and seeing miracles worked in their lives. What a privilege. And if I talk too much about that I will cry.

I have a kid highlight video that I’ll show you sometime soon, because that needs its own post.

Collage of images of children.

Would you have done anything differently?

Yes. Most importantly, I would choose a quieter, more private place to live. Both Bjork and I loved the apartment we lived in and we were so grateful to everyone who helped us out by searching out different places to live, borrowing us furniture, arranging our lease all before we even arrived in Cebu. It just makes my heart mushy to think of all the people who went to all that work just to find us a home. Thank you, thank you, thank you! And to trade our experience living there would mean that we would have never met our sweet neighbors and their cute kiddos. There were truly so many joys of living in that little sauna.

But even with those things, being the semi-introverted, quiet-loving Minnesotans that we are, sometimes it was plain old stressful to live in and amongst the neighborhood chaos of the Philippines. Karaoke, dogs, roosters, parades (?), and babies crying right outside our windows were the soundtrack of the year. If I could do it again, I would choose to live farther out of the city in a community that was more private and protected from the vibrant and always-going street life.

Collage of children.

What was the worst part of the year?

Sleep. Er, lack of sleep. From about September to March, I just didn’t sleep well. I’m sort of an anxious person to begin with, so constant dog barking and other night noises just made me crazy-jumpy and not relaxed. And when I didn’t sleep more than a few hours, everything became super dramatic, emotional, and generally unmanageable. Know what I mean? I seriously have a whole new appreciation for all you new moms and a whole new dread of ever having a baby. Mehhh.

Besides having nice raccoon eyes all the time from the lack of sleep, it was really hard not having many friends. While we made some really incredible friends in our last few months in Cebu who did fun things with us like motorcycle trips and Filipino karaoke, the first few months were sort of lonely.

Also, leaving the orphanage. I briefly considered staying just so we could avoid the tears and the goodbye with the kids.

Collage of children.

Would you do it again?

Yes. And No. If you asked me in February to go back and do it again I don’t think I would have made it. This was a really, really hard year. Living away from your family and friends, from your familiar, is just a challenging thing. I wasn’t at my best in a lot of ways this year – physically, emotionally, socially, sleep-ially, and all that affected our year. So in that way, no. If I truly knew how hard it would be, I’m not sure I would do it again.

But on the other hand, YES! Duh. I would do it again. Knowing what I know now, the year could have been a lot more sustainable. I would have sought out friends right away. I would have forced myself to exercise more, even though it was annoying as all get out to drive for 30 minutes to get the gym. I would have been easier on myself about the blog. I went to Target this week and saw the lovely variety of ready-to-use produce and thought, how did I have a food blog in the Philippines? Good grief. It was harder than I even realized when I was doing it.

And honestly, when it’s all said and done, this year was about the 80 kids living at the orphanage who were and still are waiting for families. To think about missing all those important moments, the Christmas Eves, the birthdays, the graduations, the joy, love, and laughter? It makes it pretty easy to say yes, I would do it all over again. In a heartbeat.

Collage of children.

What’s it like to be back at home?

It’s amazing. I sleep like a baby in our big fluffy bed, which I simply cannot get over. I love that thing. I can drink coffee again without feeling sick since it’s actually a tiny bit chilly in the morning. We can get groceries and put them in the trunk. No more balancing grocery bags on my legs while riding motorcycle through Cebu City! It’s so convenient. You can buy lettuce, TRIPLE WASHED, and eat it straight from the bag. !!! And I am so proud to say that in our stranger interactions, everyone has been so helpful and friendly. The systems, the efficiency, the resources we have… thank you, America! And our friends and family? We have laughed more in three days than we did in a month in Cebu. Hahahahahahaha! <— see? Yep.

Along with that, though, I’m continually trying to work out my love for these basic luxuries with the realities of poverty that we saw this year. That one’s going to take a while. Or the rest of my life, maybe. Our house, which I have always seen as a medium-cute fixer upper, now feels like a fancy hotel. And I don’t want that to fade because when looking at our big world, that’s reality. We have so much.

The one thought that I keep having is: nothing has changed. I mean, my friends have all had precious babies, my little brother is almost as tall as me, and there’s a new line of frozen burritos at the grocery store. But honestly, it’s shocking to me how much is still the same. We have experienced something so different and changed in a lot of ways that we probably don’t even realize, so to come back to the same house, with the same furniture in the same places, and the same broken doorknob, the same lady walking the same dog in the same park, just feels a little bit off. It feels like we should put the garbage can in a new place or rearrange the kitchen just to represent that we are not the same people who lived here before we left.

Collage of children.

If you are curious about anything else, just because, or because you have had or will have an experience living abroad, feel free to leave your Qs in the comments! I love hearing from you all about your experiences, too!

I say it all the time, but really. Thanks for following along this year, and even now as I continue to kinda come down slowly from the experience and process everything from the other side of the ocean. U R cool.

On a food note, my sister gave me the scone recipe! Weee! Tomorrow, maybe?

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