Solitary Sundays

Sundays are my favorite day at site. I’m currently sitting at mykitchen table, parked in front of the fan and snacking on a bag of instant noodles. Since waking up at 8:00am, I’ve hand-washed a basin of dirty laundry, swept my concrete floors, and listened to about four podcasts. Later this afternoon, my sitemate and I will walk ten minutes into town to search for the magnets, string, and paperclips we need for an upcoming activity. The weather has gotten ungodly hot lately, so any form of physical movement feels like a big accomplishment for the day. For now, I’ll continue switching between podcasts and music for ambient noise as I finish up a few PowerPoints and session plans to get a head start on next week.

After ten days away from the Philippines while on vacation, I found myself pining for the peace and quiet of my cozy basement apartment in Lagawe. Don’t get me wrong—I also missed my work and the various families and community members who have adopted me too. But following the sweet reunions with the people I have missed and the handing out of pasalubong (gifts from abroad), my solitary Sunday seemed like it couldn’t come soon enough.

When I first started service, finding time to be alone was oriented towards escape. It’s tiring to adapt oneself to a foreign culture and at the end of a long day, sometimes nothing feels better than turning on an American sitcom and tuning out the world. However, with only a handful of months left in my service, I no longer find myself wanting to tune out. Instead, I’m tuning in—reflecting on what it means to live on the other side of the planet for two years, trying to write down the smell of someone chewing betelnut and snippets of conversation for posterity, and—most importantly—directing my energy towards finishing up my last few projects.

The process of wrapping up Peace Corps service looks different for every volunteer. For me, it involves carving out one day a week for quiet reflection. It seems counterintuitive when the goal of Peace Corps service is to engage with the community, but I’ve written about this before: you can only give when you take care of yourself first. Also, as a weird hybrid introvert/ inherently chatty and sociable person, if I didn’t set these kinds of boundaries, I would run myself dry. When I told a friend recently about my goal of initiating less conversations with strangers (seriously, sometimes it feels like I have a sign over my head that says ‘TALK TO ME!!” even when I’m not really interested in the conversation), she doubted my ability to do so and said: “Your ‘not talking to anyone’ looks like talking to ten people.” Hence, solitary Sundays—a necessary excuse to shut up, light some candles, and wallow in my feelings.

With its emphasis on close family ties and companionship, the Philippines can be a hard place for those of us who like to be alone. However, there IS a precedent in this highly Catholic country for Sundays to be a day of Sabbath and introspection; I am often asked by community members if I will be attending mass at our local Roman Catholic Church. To the chagrin of my Irish ancestors, the answer is always “No”, but in my heart, it feels deeply satisfying to have created my own Sunday ritual. Like many American customs that have been imported to Philippines, my day of relaxation resembles neither the local culture of group bonding nor perfectly imitates the U.S. tradition of ~treat yourself~ (glass of champagne, pedicure, fur coat, et cetera). But it works, in its own way. At the very least, it is quiet and cool here in my subterranean temple.

Thanks as always for tuning into my ramblings and wishing you all a day of peace and solitude!

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