Sunday, January 27, 2008

Welcome to the Islands

Finally, I have my own blog! I'm really excited to be writing again. I recently resigned from my job in Manila so that Raine & I can join Rynor in Marshall Islands where he was offered a position as a (Quality Control) QC Manager. It's been one crazy, topsy-turvy, rollercoaster ride since we stepped into these shores a little over a month ago. From the concrete jungle of Makati City to the quaint paradise of the islands, it's been totally different. I hope that thru this blog I'll be able to share our family's new life together in the Pacific.

One way to Marshall Islands
As soon as my Dad & I said our goodbyes at the door to the immigration at NAIA, I realized I would be on my own with Raine for the next 12 hours. Absolutely no problem, I’d been alone with her before, but this was to be her first international flight. Her first time on the plane was on a trip to Bacolod, she cried loudly as we landed then, probably from the air pressure on her ears. We had brought milk for her to drink to keep her ears from hurting but she finished it all as we took off. Since the flight was only about an hour, she was still full by the time we landed. This time I tried to prolong her milk-drinking as long as I could. But when we got to the airport she got thirsty for milk.

We stood in line at the immigration for almost an hour. Thank goodness we had a stroller or else my arms would’ve gotten numb from carrying 23-lb. Raine. The immigration officer looked stern. He asked me where my departure slips were. Shoot! I forgot to fill them up at the entrance. I thought I‘d have to line up all over again. Good thing the immigration guy saw me as I went to the back of the line again, this time w/ the filled-up slips. He called me to the front, got the slips and let me go.

I hurriedly went to the bathroom to change Raine’s diapers. I was hoping to be able to get a bite to eat because I just had a very quick dinner. But as I was looking at the food choices, I heard the PA system announce that Continental passengers should head to the Gate as soon as passing thru immigration, so off we went. Our gate was at the ground floor & just my luck there was no elevator or escalator. An airport employee was nice enough to carry the stroller for me as I carried Raine down the flight of stairs.

As we were about to board the plane I checked in the stroller at the plane’s door. The flight attendant couldn’t fold the stroller properly so I had to hand over Raine to another airport guy as I did it myself. Of course Raine cried as she was held by a stranger. We had an aisle seat & luckily the 2 other seats beside us were vacant so Raine could lie down & stretch out beside me. She also drank milk as we took off. She dozed thru the 4 hour flight to Guam & as we were landing suddenly cried. Yikes! She didn’t want any milk so I just held her until she calmed down.

Guam has a very nice airport. Big & modern, not as sleek as the Centennial airport but impressive just the same. As we passed through the long halls & rode the walkalator I could see some high-rise buildings on the horizon. It was 3am Manila time & about 5am Guam time.

At this point Raine had finished up the 4 bottles of milk I’d earlier prepared & I was in a bind. I decided to buy her fresh milk which she could drink on the plane to Marshall Islands. Thankfully, she drank the milk from Seattle’s Best w/o any qualms.

Just like the plane ride to Guam, she slept thru most of the 3-hour flight to Marshall Islands, the 2 other seats beside us were also vacant. This time though she only cried a little as we landed.

Remember Daddy
When we got to Majuro, Marshall Islands it was sunny but very windy. As I looked out our plane’s window all I could see was the ocean, it was as if we were going to land on the water. Their little airport, similar to the airports in small provinces like Aklan & Bacolod was right near the water.

The airport personnel gave me Raine’s stroller & as I wheeled her in to the airport I saw Rynor waving at us from the wire fence.

We took a few minutes in line at the immigration & that’s when Raine started to really cry loudly, almost screaming. Rynor, who was friends w/ the airport chief, requested if he could get Raine while I waited for my turn at the immigration. But as she was wheeled out, Raine cried even harder. She didn’t seem to remember her Daddy.

She only calmed down when Rynor’s officemate, Tintin, who had accompanied him to pick us up, carried her.

Life in Majuro
It’s about a 15 minute ride from the airport to our apartment. It would probably not take so long though, if not for the 25-mile “speed” limit. As expected, Majuro is quite provincial. It reminds me of the roads going to less developed areas of Batangas, Cavite and such. The locals, called Marshallese, are dressed casually. Women wear muumuus, floral housedresses or dusters, almost everyone wears flipflops. You can tell if someone is a foreigner because they are dressed much better than the Marshallese. Although at the Christmas Eve mass I saw some local women wearing sequined & beaded muumuus.

The Marshallese are on the hefty side, especially the women. They look similar to the native Hawaiians, Chamorros & people in the Pacific Islands. They’re polite but not very smiley people like Filipinos. At first meeting they almost seem aloof or masungit. But almost everyone smiles at the sight of our baby Raine.

There are a lot of foreigners here, Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese, Americans, Australians, Kiwis (New Zealanders) and Pacific Islanders from Kiribati, Pohnapei, Nauru and Micronesia.

There are no fast food chains here, no malls or big department stores. There are several supermarkets that also sell houseware, electronics & clothes much like Shopwise but smaller in size. The merchandize are all imported from the U.S. or China. Surprisingly, I’ve even seen Chippy, Boy Bawang & Mang Tomas sarsa in the supermarket. There are about 500 Filipinos here after all. In fairness, the stores’ cash registries are all computerized & they make use of flat LCD screens.

Our apartment is twice as big as our condo unit in Taguig. It’s a small apartment building of only about 10-12 units. It’s not much to look at from the outside but is pretty nice on the inside. We’re on the second floor; 2 bedrooms, 1 bath & a balcony porch w/ a view of the ocean. The bigger space is good for Raine as she has a lot of room to walk around & make a mess.

Suddenly SAHM (stay-at-home-mom)
Ever since I gave birth I’ve fantasized about what it would be like to be a stay-at-home-mom, a homemaker, a housewife & full time mommy. But in my fantasy I had at least one person to help around w/ the household chores. Goodness! I completely salute all women who don’t have any help whatsoever. It’s not as easy as it seems. Cooking, cleaning, everything in between, plus taking care of a very boisterous & inquisitive toddler who’s just learned the joys of walking is indeed a big juggling act. It’s a totally different ballgame compared to going to the office & staring at the computer all day.

Rynor leaves for work at about 7 a.m. from Mondays to Saturdays. I’ve never been a morning person so I’m quite thankful that my hubby doesn’t mind making his own breakfast. Besides, Raine sleeps between 11pm to 1a.m. most nights, so you can just imagine what time I go to sleep. After Rynor leaves, I prepare Raine’s breakfast and start cooking lunch. Rynor comes home for lunch everyday. When he leaves I wash the dishes and thaw the food I’ll be cooking for dinner. At this point Raine is walking all over the house, opening the cabinets & drawers she can reach, picking up what’s on the floor & putting them in her mouth! The only time she stays still is if I put in one of her Baby Einstein videos. I’m tempted to let her watch all day. During this time I try to clean the apartment as fast as I can while Raine is distracted. I have to keep the floor clean because Raine has this bad habit of removing her slippers & walking around barefoot or sometimes sitting on the floor. There are days when she just wants to make lambing & be held. She shows this by wobbling to the kitchen sink & squeezing herself between me & the sink. I’m lucky if she naps for 2-3 hours. Lately, she naps for 1-1.5 hours only & that’s when I prepare dinner. Several times, I have to stop what I’m doing & go to her. Because of this, there have been times that lunch or dinner is not quite ready by the time Rynor gets home. Raine has become very demanding & clingy lately. Always wants her mommy beside her. I call her my shadow.

Oh, did I tell you I’m a beginner in the kitchen? I brought along some cookbooks w/ me. I cannot cook very well, so every meal is a feat. I follow the recipe as best as I can, so far the food has been edible. Haha! I’ve had some hits, a few misses. I’m pretty bad at estimating. Once I cooked too much rice, another time too much pasta. It’s a work-in-progress for me. Most of my life we’ve had helpers that I’ve come to rely on. We were never spoiled as kids, I know how to do housework (except cook) but there are days when I wish I didn’t have to wash the dishes or take out the garbage or do the laundry.

Despite Marshall Islands’ provincial and laidback lifestyle, there are some perks that I’m thankful for. There’s the in-sink-erator garbage disposal system. I don’t have to remove small leftover food from the plates. I can just throw them in the sink & turn on the in-sink-erator which grinds the food & sends them to a garbage disposal system. There’s the heavy duty washer & dryer. The centralized air-conditioning is not so bad too.

Family time
Now that I’ve seen both sides of the coin: being a working mom & a stay-at-home mom I can see how tricky it can be to strike a balance as the latter; housework, quality time w/ Raine & my hubby & “me time”. Sure I spend all day w/ my baby daughter but for the past 2 weeks since we arrived in Marshall Islands I’m guilty of plunking her in front of the TV to watch baby videos so I can get things done around the house.

I guess it’s just a matter of scheduling my day & knowing which things to prioritize.

Despite the challenges of this drastic lifestyle change, I’m most thankful for the chance for us to be a whole family again. When Rynor first worked overseas in Diego Garcia for 1.5 years when we were going steady we made a deal never to be apart again, it would just be too hard & not healthy especially for a growing family like ours. We feel blessed to have this opportunity for Rynor to pursue his career & be allowed to bring in his family.

The next few months will definitely be an adventure as we make our mark in Marshall Islands, then by middle of the year, in the more-progressive Guam.

As a friend of mine put it, “the best is yet to come.”