Philippines

Sledgehammer: An Introduction

I find myself sitting in my living room, stuff piled up everywhere, drawers and cupboards emptied, pictures taken off the wall, wondering: How did we decide so quickly, and move at such breakneck speed, to uproot our entire life here? No, to say “uproot” hardly does this act justice. We’ve got tight grips on a sledgehammer and we’re going to town on everything we’ve built. The house we’ve lived in for almost five years, with everything we’ve put into the garden and fixing the place up? Moving out. The corporation we founded shortly after moving in and the long-term working permits and visas we’ve secured for ourselves? Shutting it down. The money we’ve invested in this country? Pulling it out.

Why?

Wow, that’s a complicated question.

We’d have to go back to the beginning of this year, but to understand that we’d have to go back to September of last year, and to understand that we’d have to go back to the start of our company long before it was a company, and to understand that we’d have to retrace our steps all the way back to the first time we set foot in the Philippines. Now, truthfully, in order to understand that decision I’d have to tell most of my life story, but let’s not do that now.

We’ll start in 2009. Late in August I arrived in Manila from Amsterdam, early in September my then-stranger-now-husband arrived from Maryland, and that’s when we met. We had both come to volunteer with local charities, myself fresh out of high school, and ended up doing so for a number of years. Two years later, we started a teamwork with the goal of developing sustainable projects with long-term impact while continuing to support a number of local foundations, particularly in Manila, with whom we had become involved. Another two years later we were engaged and shortly thereafter we were expecting a baby. Naturally, that’s when things changed. We started thinking about our–and her–long-term future and decided to take a pretty big step by opening a domestic nonprofit corporation.

Although we had always wanted to move out of the city and set up a sustainable community somewhere in or near the mountains with beautiful nature and a perfect growing climate, our work was in the city. We opted, then, to focus on urban agriculture. We’re not the only ones stuck in the city for work, after all. Metro Manila is grossly overpopulated and terribly undernourished; what better place to develop sustainable solutions for healthy livelihood?

Living in the city has been a challenge, though. At a certain point, we realized that the eight years we have spent in the Philippines–while they had been hugely formative–had also taken a toll on us. But we’re still young and, at the end of the day, we owe this country nothing. Must we stubbornly live out our lives here, fighting against everything and everyone to make our dream for this place a reality, or should we instead choose personal growth and happiness and the wellbeing of our family?

I’m not a fan of martyrdom. Sacrifice, yes: sacrifice is a beautiful thing, but you don’t put the oxygen mask on the child until you’ve secured your own first. It would be a beautiful thing to one day return to the Philippines, more experienced and more qualified, and revisit what we’ve always wanted to do here. Right now, though, at this point in our lives, it’s time to leave.

This choice is about much more than just the Philippines, though. It’s a lifestyle choice, as well. At a certain point, young and full of passion, we realized how routine and domestic our life had become. Working, taking care of a baby, running a company, going to bed ridiculously early, drinking at home on weekends to unwind and still going to bed way too early, and hardly ever getting out of the city: that was us for about three years. It wasn’t doing us any favors as individuals, much less as a couple.

Turning all of that inside out and throwing our life into upheaval, then, seemed like a great solution. No more Saturday’s in our little garden thinking, “Is this ever how I imagined spending my weekends at 25?” No, ma’am. We made the decision to move out of our house and sell all of our stuff, a process we completed entirely in the month of June. This month, we’ve been doing an MMA fighter’s training and soon we’ll be spending a few weeks in the mountains; we’re planning trips around the Philippines in August, September, and October, and flying to Australia on a one-way ticket in November to start a whole new adventure.

Ah, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of holding a one-way ticket.

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