My water runs for a few minutes a day if I’m lucky. My clothes are covered in ant chewed holes. Footwear “fashion” is limited to worn down tsinelas (flip flops). We commonly find ourselves eating with our hands from a banana leaf. Make-up is non-existent if not extremely minimal. Hair hasn’t been cut since I arrived. Dirt under the finger nails. “Manila feet”.
This is not a superfluous, extravagant or even common style of living. I typically find myself with more of a street kid lifestyle than a normal Filipino lifestyle. I have more than once thought about joining the kids bathing under the rain gutters during a storm (when your water only allows for a few seconds of water, you are forced to make unfortunate decisions). A few days ago I was served a plate of food covered in ants. Did I eat it? You don’t want to hear the answer.
Being superficial, picky and high-strung does not work here. Minimalism and non-materialism has become my mantra. I’m not saying I don’t have my fair share of splurge days, but my frame of mind concerning needs and wants have radically changed. That’s why my mind exploded when I entered what felt like was…the twilight zone.
Back when I lived in the states, this was a special magical place. The holy grail of cheap, modern and inexpensive clothing. Girls spend copious amounts of time scanning the website. Hours are spent diving into racks of clothing. United Nations like discussions are centered on which boots match their outfit best. Screams are heard across the room as friends find _______ for $________. It is it’s own world.
I wouldn’t consider myself a “shopaholic” or “fashionista” by any vague meaning of the word, but I enjoyed shopping there. It was fun. I had fun.
I believe I first heard through a mass text sent by a fellow Peace Corps volunteer- Forever 21 had reached Manila. Excitement. So a few weeks ago when a group of volunteers suggested we check it out, I joined.
We walked up to the doors, the bright white lights blinding me as they reflected off the white lacquered walls. White. Seriously. Just…perfect, unstained white. In a country where it is impossible to keep anything white, I was already in awe. We took our first steps in.
Deep breath. One of us bravely broke off from the group into the miles of clothing jungle. Godspeed, my friend, Godspeed. I thought to myself. I didn’t even know how to get started. Perfectly organized clothes. By color. By size. By style. By your blood type. By your astrological sign. I felt like retreating to age 3 and hiding in the middle of the clothing racks. Get your act togetherrrr. You’re in a store. Just a store. A store that you’ve been in many, many times. Just…uh…look at things. “browse.”
I began to wander. At first just looking at things. Then slowly touching them. Then pulling them off the racks. Then looking at the…oh my god. Seriously?! Whoa. Wait. That’s like…food. For at least three weeks. Where would I EVER wear this here?
Back on to the rack. Let’s try accessories. They’re always cheap, right? Okay, this looks niceee. But wait…that livelihood project that makes bracelets practically like this. And the proceeds go to…WHAT?! I could pay for an entire month’s worth of jeepney fares with this! Step away. Just…walk. Away.
And that’s when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was wearing an oversized tie-dye t-shirt that had been given to me by a friend. The shirt was accompanied by a pair of faded shorts (apparently if you let your clothes “soak” for more than a week, that happens?). To pull the ensemble together I had full on Manila feet (really REALLY dirty feet) and tsinelas that were practically worn to the ground. I looked at my fellow volunteers. One was wiping sweat from her face with a bandana she had conveniently pulled from her back pocket. Another was wearing a daypack. We all had a look of shock and overwhelm on our faces. We were out of our element.
I burst out laughing. What were we doing here? I didn’t want to be there. This was no longer my idea of fun. I didn’t fit in there. I didn’t want to fit in. I wanted to leave.
I’ve adapted to a new life- and suddenly, I realized that I’ve adapted by choice, not by necessity.