just keep swimming, just keep swimming

by rachel

Over the course of GPS, one of the key things I took away was the importance of perseverance and how much of a difference taking time to enjoy the process as we persevere through it makes. I think the first time this struck me over the course of our trip would be our second day in the Philippines and first day out of Manila.

After a long day trekking to the top of Mount Pinatubo so as to see the lands that the Aeta used to occupy before the eruption, we were all weary and somewhat nauseous. I can still remember the feeling of lurching around at the back of the ATV, possibly one of the worst places for someone with motion sickness to be. Upon getting off the ATV, it was time for us to hike to the our camping ground on foot. However… it began to rain, first as a drizzle but quickly progressing to a huge downpour. Thankfully I had my windbreaker with me so I just put it on and continued on our trek. As we progressed uphill however, the showers just kept getting heavier and heavier and at the same time, we all still had to side step the numerous piles of actual bullshit that was all around us on the path. For awhile, I think spirits were quite low, especially since none of us had expected to face such weather on our second day. However, I think to some extent the rain was a blessing in disguise. As water droplets pelted the earth, soil and dung gave way to each other and eventually it was all just one big mess. While that might not sound like a blessing at all, I really truly believe it is. Because at that point, we all began to forget about our city-trained mentality that caused us to see dung as this huge unsanitary pile but instead as a part of nature. We began to realise that there was no point trying to avoid it because truly, there was not much we could do about it.

Understanding this, we began to have a lot more fun on our way up, no longer having to glue our eyes to the ground seeking out dung everywhere we walked but learning to embrace it all – dung, soil, nature. I think the presence of the rain at this point of our trip really pushed us as a team to band together and persevere through it all. Anyone who felt like they could carry a bit more would lessen the load of others, if anyone had extra protection against the rain (like an unused poncho) they would take it out to share it with the team and those who needed it. Trudging through the mud path, we all began to cheer each other on or sing happy little jingles (cue high school musical) to motivate each other. I still remember Mr. Fared telling us how amazed he was at how we managed to pull together and get each other to our destination. He mentioned that the conditions we went through were practically NS conditions and that he was really glad that we managed to sing through it all, finding joy in the experience as we persevered on instead of simply dragging our feet through it.

After awhile, I wasn’t really with the rest of the team because I stayed back to walk with my buddy as she was finding the trek up a little harder. Initially it was tough to do so because all I wanted was to get to the camping grounds as quickly as possible so that we would be able to get some rest or shelter. Staying back to walk with her meant more time spent in the rain instead. However, I think because I chose to stay back and walk with her, I might have enjoyed my trek up a little more as well! Walking alongside her at a slower pace not only reminded me that we were all really all in this together but also opened my eyes to how beautiful the place we were trekking in was. At this point, we stopped to take a little break and as the rain had also died down a bit, we were able to look out to the mountains that surrounded us and the view was incredible. I took a photo with my Diana Mini that I’ll try adding to this post a bit later but for now let me attempt to describe it.

On a slightly lower section of the mountain we were climbing up, there was a clearing that seemed to be for agriculture, with its neatly tilled land stretching from edge to edge. Beyond our mountain, a whole other cluster of mountains lay beneath the clouds, their green plains creating the backdrop for our trek, with slight sunlight that was beginning to trickle through the rain highlighting its edges. All this was accentuated by the bushes of flower that lay on the edge of our path, forming a natural barrier between us and the rest of the mountains.

I probably haven’t done it justice but it really was beautiful and I honestly think I might not have stopped to see that had we not been taking this trek up more slowly. While my partner looked really tired on the trek I’m really glad she persevered through it because at points she just kept asking us to keep walking on without her. Throughout the course of the trek, it was really the people and opening my eyes up to the incredible creations of the world around me that kept me going. It made the tough route we had to persevere through seem more like a obstacle course and more like an exciting journey. (I admit that was a weak analogy haha)

By the time everyone was at the top, we all looked really tired but I’m just glad we did it altogether and in a manner that made it much more enjoyable than it would have without the help of the team. When it comes to doing anything, perseverance is honestly so important and what’s most important is that we don’t just employ blind perseverance but do our best to enjoy the process as we push ourselves through it.

Unfortunately, I had to be reminded of this again through a counter-example on the trip. The team that I was a part of was the social enquiry team during the course of the trip and our main job was going to all the various houses and interviewing them, documenting the process. Some days when the sun was particularly hot, it was so difficult to try and get through interviewing our 20 odd households when walking from place to place was such a draining activity in itself. I regret to say that at some point, on one of the days with my teammate Hwee Chee I might have fallen into blind perseverance and that’s possibly one of my largest regrets and the thing I feel the most guilty about. In the struggle to reach our quota of the families, the process of interviewing became simply that – a process of collecting data, collecting statistics. That is not at all what it’s supposed to be – the whole point was to also get to know the community personally. And when Hwee Chee mentioned to me afterwards (thanks Hwee Chee) that I looked really tired and like I really just wanted to get through it, I think that was the point I felt the most … guilty in the course of the entire trip because if she could sense it then that means the people we were interviewing would likely be able to sense it as well. And they were being so nice in offering information to us, laughing through it, getting more family members in on the process and everything! The last thing I wanted to do was make them feel like we were doing this not because we wanted to but because we had to. I would never want them to feel like the process was a burden for us when they were doing everything in their power to aid us through it. After that, I constantly tried to remind myself why we were doing this and to do it for the right reasons, allowing that to show as we acted.

The thing about blind perseverance is that sometimes, it makes the experience not just a battle against the elements (which is bad enough as we really shouldn’t be trying to fight the elements) but as I mentioned in the above passage, sometimes we unknowingly convey the message that it’s a battle against the very people you’re working with, making it seem like a chore even if you don’t mean it. As cliched as it seems, actions really do speak louder than words so while we might have the right mentality, in any occasion I believe we must not only be in the right mental stage to persevere on but show it through our actions that we are also persevering for the right reasons, finding our personal joys in the process as we embark on our own journeys.