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The community garden that stood behind Centenary Church before construction of the Lofts flourished from the time and effort dedicated by Macon residents. Erica O'Neal / Cluster Staff

The community garden that stood behind Centenary Church before construction of the Lofts flourished from the time and effort dedicated by Macon residents.
Erica O’Neal / Cluster Staff

Water dribbling down your face, the craved crunch of the first bite and the sweet satisfaction of accomplishment are all details that pinpoint the positives of growing your very own green pepper in your community garden. Although a fresh pepper is nothing like a giant warm piece of apple pie, it sure does come close.

In order to engage the communities of Macon and the students of Mercer University, a community garden should be built and operated by these two groups in hopes of integrating students and the community in order to construct unity.

At Mercer today, the student body is unattached from the Macon community around them. The only way we would go out of our way is if it was for extra credit or required for a class. Last semester, my Integrative Program class volunteered at Centenary Church to help make breakfast that they serve every Sunday morning to hungry locals. If volunteering in the community garden was added to more class schedules, then more students would get involved.

Currently, both the student body population and the Macon citizen population are two completely separate communities. Something must be done to change that to involve everyone, starting with the face-to-face interaction of students and “Maconites” in the community garden.

When the people of Macon and the students of Mercer work together with the common objective of growing and producing healthy foods, the communities will naturally become linked and engaged.

Dedicating time willingly, becoming involved in the surrounding community and learning about the surrounding citizens and environment will only cause for a more unified population.

A study was done recently in New Zealand and Samoa where community gardens  sprouted in the middle of low-class communities. It brought the different towns together, and all the people felt united. They learned new skills and acquired a sense of responsibility and accomplishment.

If a garden was placed in the Mercer community, such as the one in Samoa and New Zealand, it is projected that the people would unify and want to better themselves and their city.

A possible flaw in this case would be the issue of summer, when students aren’t here. The go-to solution would be to count solely on the Maconites to upkeep the garden, but this answer would probably not work due to the high level of responsibility required for the garden’s upkeep. Without help from the student body, it would be problematic for the locals to tend to the garden entirely on their own. Each summer, Mercer University gives the opportunity to its students to work jobs around campus under Bear Force such as managing equipment checkout, the main desk or the fitness center. If tending to this community garden was added to that list, the problem of student absence         would be solved, and the garden would still flourish in the dormant summer months.

Establishing a successfully operated community garden near Mercer University would create a unified society among students and locals, promote volunteerism and engagement and provide for healthy foods and produce with the right kinds of nutrients. Mercer students and the Macon community are very disengaged with each other, and a community garden could be a successful way to change that.

Wouter De Coster RockAndRoll Agency / Flickr

Wouter De Coster RockAndRoll Agency / Flickr

For those of you who watched the Super Bowl, you know that some people watch it for the sports, and some people watch it for the advertisements. I myself didn’t watch it all, for either reason, but I did watch one of the ads later when it was put on Youtube. The ad I’m talking about is the Coca-Cola ad, which features the song “America the Beautiful” sung by people of different cultures and different languages. When I first saw this on the “Trending” part of my Facebook, I was skeptical. The tag on the link was “Come see what makes America beautiful.” Though I’m jaded to the idea of “America” and its supposed beauty, I clicked on the link anyway, and watched the ad. And I was happy. Because it seemed like finally, the big named companies were getting the hint that the world isn’t white-washed, like we’re led to believe. And Coke was finally playing on the “Great American Melting Pot” idea that made this country what it is today.

However, then I had the misfortune of scrolling down to the comments, I knew I shouldn’t, but I did anyway. And then all faith in humanity was once again lost. “I’m just saying, a song written in English should be sung in English,” commented one user, who clearly doesn’t understand that English is pretty much the illegitimate child of several languages.

Another user posted, “Yeah, immigrants settled America, but if you look, 90% of them were Europeans and white, and the rest were black. My family served in two wars, your family didn’t do [crap]. Immigrants today get the red carpet treatment.” This was my queue to get off Youtube before I read even uglier comments.

To me, these comments are not only rude and uncalled for, but also extremely ignorant. Regardless of what the race of the first American settlers were, it doesn’t change the ideal of America. America is not a one-race nation, nor should it ever be considered to be. So what there was a same-sex couple? There are many same-sex couples living all over America. I think Coke hit the nail on the head in this ad, and much like the Cheerios ad that featured an interracial couple that got a lot of flack when it first aired, Coke stuck to their guns. They’ve even aired an extended version of the ad, which I saw playing during the Olympics. What some people need to understand is that America may be featured as a white-washed society where people of different races are called “thugs” or “terrorists” simply because of a racist fear, but that is not what America truly is.

America has become more than the land that our founding fathers could have ever dreamed of. Though it is far from being perfect, it has the potential to be a wonderful place of welcome and personal freedom. But since there are people like the ones I quoted above, there is currently no way that can happen. There are still people who would deny others the rights and privileges they themselves enjoy, all because they were born in a different country or to a different race. To those people, and the people who are considering boycotting Coke because of the ad, I say that though they have a right to their beliefs, those beliefs don’t entitle them to be right. Coke gets a huge shout-out from this reporter.

College is the time to discover who you are and to express yourself. Expression can be shown in many different forms; one of those forms being through body art, tattoos and piercings. Tattoos and piercings can vary from extreme gauges to a tiny flower tattoo behind your ear.

We have all practically grown up hearing that no one wants the punk with spiked green hair, giant gauges or neck and arms completely covered in tattoos to work for their company. It can be understandable as to how green hair and skin darkened with ink do not look professional, but many college students express themselves in a less radical manner.

In any college classroom, there will be students with small tattoos behind their ears, a tattoo on their foot or ankle, a cartilage piercing, an eyebrow piercing or a nose piercing. Some students will even have multiple body modifications; to college students they seem like a more reasonable and sensible version of the body art we have been warned all of our lives not to get.

The acceptability of tattoos, piercings or other body art depend on the employer and the position you are seeking. If you are trying to land a new job that involves a good bit of customer interface, body art will more than likely be seen negatively by future employers in the hiring process. Corporations want their employees to reflect their values because, after all, the employees make the company.

Even if your body art is as simple as an extra ear piercing or a small tattoo on your wrist the person interviewing you may not understand it. Often times, the person who is conducting the interview will be a generation or two older than you and will not appreciate or understand why you tattooed an infinity sign on you wrist, possibly assuming that your favorite number is eight.

Piercings and tattoos are a way for many of today’s youth to express themselves, but expression is not always wanted in the workforce. Some companies want, sometimes even require, all of their employees to be uniform in the way they present themselves while working, including teachers and wait staff at restaurants.

At places of employment such as schools and restaurants, individuals with body art will be required to cover their tattoos or remove their piercings while at work.

One test to see whether your potential place of employment will accept your ink, gauges and multiple piercings is to look through their website and advertisements. Are employees featured with body modifications like yours? If not, then it is likely that your image and the image of that company do not match and your job search should continue elsewhere.

No matter how nice of a person you are or what your personality is like, some people will always view body art with a negative connotation. This connotation could have stemmed from the idea that you are ruining your body. Tattoos are permanent and even though piercings can be taken out your appearance has been forever altered.

Students need to understand that when you apply for a job, the employer is not only looking for reasons to hire you, but also reasons not to hire you. Having tattoos or piercings does not make you any less qualified for a job, but the business may not want you looking anything less than professional.

Since opening in 2001, the Rosemary McCorkle Music building has become home to an excellent group of student musicians. The Townsend School of Music has been the cause of thousands of performances made in its halls, and it’s because of this that there is no questioning the excellent presence it brings to Mercer University’s campus.

Regardless of this, there seems to be some sort of separation between the music school and the rest of the University. While Mercer students are given free access to nearly all shows put on by the school, there is still very little integration between the two parties. Music students live in the music building, and non-music students have nothing to do with it.

This is a shame, especially in a society where the fine arts seems to be dying out. Any small amount of research made on Google will turn up results pointing toward that. A survey made by the National Endowment for the Arts showed that the percentage of American adults visiting some sort of fine arts event has gone down from 39.4 percent in 2002 to 34.6 percent in 2008. That’s just one survey, but there are many other reports like that.

Mercer students seem to be just as much a reflection of that drop as the rest of the nation is.

But what might the cause of that be? It could be the lack of promotion on Townsend’s part. While there is a good amount of advertising off-campus for larger events, I have never heard about an event on campus, since starting my college career. Of course the (rather happening) schedule of events is posted on Townsend’s easy-to-access website. Really, though, it isn’t a great business strategy to make your customers come looking for you, unless of course your business is a funeral home.

The School of Music really needs to put more effort toward getting students interested in the events. This could be done with fliers posted in the Connell Student Center, Tarver Library and the Breezeway. The school always posts a large amount of fliers within the music school, but branching out is the name of the game here. The Fresh Food Company has the trifolds on each of the tables. Those provide a great way to get events known and talked about amongst the students.

All of these ways are great ways to get the students to come to Townsend, but why not have Townsend come to the students? It’s not uncommon for certain groups to start flash mobs in the cafe, or to simply start performing songs or even poetry on a whim. It’s exciting, and generates a lot of interest. One could only imagine the conversations that would be made if a string quintet simply walked in and started playing Vivaldi.

A great example of the Music School coming out of its shell was during QuadWorks’ Battle of the Bands, last October. Although they weren’t officially representing Townsend, it was obvious that FTM – the winners of the competition – was composed at least partly of music majors. The crowd loved them. It was a unique performance, and one that really stood out from the rest.

It would be easy to have an outside performance. Whether it be on the North Quad, or the newly-renovated Cruz Plaza, the natural acoustics of the buildings and the trees would carry the melodies of a musical performance greatly.

Things like that generate interest. Interest generates conversation. Conversation generates more interest. If Townsend were to do something along these lines, it would leave the Mercer students yearning for more. Really, why not? Even if nothing comes of it, a performance in the Caf, or on the quad could be a lot of fun for the performers themselves.

The main point of this is to rally both sides to action. Mercer students need to get more involved in the happenings over at McCorkle. McCorkle also needs to get more involved in the happenings outside of the music building. Only good can come of it. Music is powerful, and it’s important that it be shared.

Patrick Hobbs / Cluster Staff

Patrick Hobbs / Cluster Staff

Two weeks ago I sat in Willingham Auditorium, proud of my university and proud of our student paper, as Bob Hurt, former editor of The Cluster, delivered his Founders’ Day speech.

Hurt and The Cluster played an important role in Mercer’s integration along with the professors, administration and community members who paved the way for Sam Oni’s admittance to Mercer.

It was inspiring to hear him talk about such an important change on campus, and it was inspiring for me to know that The Cluster was part of that change.

I had the opportunity to meet Hurt last semester and talk to him about The Cluster and about Mercer as they both are today. This semester, SGA was kind enough to invite me to the luncheon with Hurt and Mercer administrators after Hurt’s speech.

Both times I spoke with Hurt, he was just as intentional, intelligent and kind in person as he appeared in his speech.

Hurt and his speech underlined why I want to be a journalist and why I believe The Cluster is important.

As a journalist, I want to serve my community, and as an editor, I want to make sure The Cluster serves the Mercer community.

The Cluster of Hurt’s time was an important voice for integration on campus. What will The Cluster of today champion? When students of the future go to Tarver Library and look at old copies of The Cluster, what will they think of campus? Will they be proud of the job we did?

I hope they will be. I hope that stories like the one I wrote about SGA President Raymond Partolan play a role in changing the conversation about immigration at Mercer.

But sometimes I’m not sure whether The Cluster can accomplish that kind of conversation change. We have been hard-pressed to find students willing to write for us this semester. Although we have a new, experimental journalism program through the Center for Collaborative Journalism, The Cluster has a shockingly small staff, few of whom are journalism majors.

All year I have asked myself, “Why don’t more journalism students want to write for The Cluster?” All day after Hurt’s speech, I asked myself this same question. We have the opportunity to do what Hurt did. We have the opportunity to tell stories that will change Mercer, but few students are willing to do that.

My challenge to the students on campus is this: If you want to be a journalist, be a journalist. The best way for you to do that right now is by writing for your campus newspaper.

It’s a journalist’s job to serve the community, and Mercer is your community. Why aren’t you serving it?

Write for The Cluster not because you want a resume booster or clips to show a future employer. Write for The Cluster because it is the job of journalists to care about the community they are in, and if journalists care for their community, they will want to tell that community’s stories.

We at The Cluster need more students to help us tell Mercer’s stories. Journalism major or not, if you care about the Mercer community, help us tell its stories.

Patrick Hobbs / Cluster Staff

Patrick Hobbs / Cluster Staff

Before I came to Mercer, I heard of the university because of an event conducted by Mercer’s Indian Cultural Exchange (Mercer ICE) in 2006 known as Rangoli. Rangoli was a South Asian dance competition that included other universities from Georgia and the neighboring states. Many of my friends and a family member were a part of the dance team that performed at Rangoli. Mercer’s Chamatkaar dance team has participated and won in this competition in the previous years. It was an event that brought together students and faculty members from campus, along with people from Macon. Hosting an event like Rangoli or one with a different organization brings together the people from around the world into our world of Mercer.

Not only do these events bring people together, but they help greatly with the learning experience at Mercer. If students are exposed to other lifestyles, they will take part in programs such as Mercer Abroad and Mercer on Mission. Traveling to other countries to learn has been a highlight of many students’ experience at the university.

Out of the 161 organizations that offer a variety of learning opportunities, Mercer has a total of eight multicultural organizations. Most of the organizations are active and running. They include: African Student Association, Caribbean Students Association, Common Ground, Mercer Asian Society and Interest Association, Mercer University Korean Student Association, MViet and Organization of Black Students. These organizations are on campus for students to obtain a better understanding of their background and what their culture is about.

I have always been eager to learn about the different traditions of people all around the world. We have a great opportunity here at Mercer to host more events and increase the number of our multicultural student organizations. We have students on campus that have come here from countries such as India, Spain, Brazil, Sweden, Finland, Scotland and Saudi Arabia among others. Throughout the year, many of the countries have their own festivals that can be celebrated around the campus. However, most of these countries do not represent a club or organization at Mercer.

We can bring the students and faculty members together to create different organizations that can represent their respective countries. These organizations can conduct more events pertaining to other cultures because of how many international students attend this university. This will help make the campus more interesting to students that are away from their country and others to learn about a different culture.

Organizations like these are beneficial to Mercer students as well as the people in Macon. Families can come out to some events and make it an educational experience for both their children and themselves. This will help Mercer reach out and expand to the people of Macon by educating them about other cultures. By increasing the number of multicultural organizations, Mercer will expand as a campus and help the people of this town.

With the collaborative effort by the students and faculty adviser, Mercer can make this campus an international student’s home away from home.

2014 is sure to be an exciting year for many reasons and the upcoming midterm elections ensure that this year will be filled with many fascinating twists and turns! This coming November, all 435 members of the United States House of Representatives will be up for re-election, as well as 33 United States Senators (plus three “special” Senate seats) and 38 Governors. Six years into Barack Obama’s presidency, Democrats are hoping to maintain control of the United States Senate, despite the politically turbulent rollout of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). Republicans hope that Obamacare will be an issue they can wield against the handful of Democrat incumbents up for re-election in red & purple states. As the 2014 midterm map currently stands, Republicans will need a net gain of 6 Senate seats in order to claim a majority in the upper house of Congress.

There are, however, two red states – in the South – in which Democrats are playing offense – Kentucky and our own state of Georgia. In Kentucky, Democrats hope that secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes, D-Ky, will unseat five-term senator and incumbent senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R, while in Georgia, Democrats hope to pick up the seat vacated by senator Saxby Chambliss, R, who is retiring in January 2015. Michelle Nunn, D, daughter of former senator Sam Nunn, D-Ga., is the clear frontrunner in the Democratic primary, while the GOP primary is currently a divided contest between eight candidates. In addition to the hotly contested Senate race, which has the potential to decide the balance of power in Washington, Georgia will also receive attention for the gubernatorial election. Incumbent governor Nathan Deal, R, is seeking re-election, and is opposed by state senator Jason Carter, D, grandson of former president Jimmy Carter. Governor Deal also faces opposition from within his own party, in the form of primary challenges from state schools superintendent John Barge, and from David Pennington, the mayor of Dalton. The Democrat side is much less competitive: currently, Jason Carter faces no opposition in the Democrat primary from within his own party. We’ll be keeping a close eye on both of these races.

The cold bitter weather of December surrounds Mercer’s campus. Dark clouds cover the sky to set a gloomy week for many students. Grade point averages and future careers can be decided in the upcoming days. Students can be found in Tarver Library where they prepare for the rigorous exams scheduled later in the week. It is crunch time. Students run to professors for help, coffee pots are brewing and eyes grow weary from reading. Scared and worried, I venture into Tarver’s library to find a place to study, yet I find no vacancies. At night, the same can be said for the supposed 24-hour room. The room in Tarver’s 24-hour room is scarce and it worries me that students won’t be able to study efficiently. To ensure everyone can study, the 24-hour room should be extended to the entire ground floor during finals week.

The 24-hour room consists of six study rooms, five tables, two couches and a mini lounge, which accommodates only about 30 students. The undergraduate population at Mercer as of Fall 2013 is about 4,400 and is growing rapidly. In fact, the class of 2017 is the largest class to enroll in Mercer’s history. The university is recognizing this problem as a whole with new Lofts under construction on College Street, but the lack of study space is alarming. The 24-hour rooms won’t be able to support everyone, especially during the busiest week of the semester, at its current state.  An expansion will be needed in the upcoming years, but several issues confine the university from this extension.

After talking to the library’s faculty, their main concern of a 24-hour floor would be book security. After closing, the library is locked besides the 24-hour room and no one can enter the library. This ensures no one can steal books overnight and limits students to the 24-hour room. Book security is a main priority of the library but during finals week the door could be unlocked. A front desk could be installed downstairs, where a worker monitors the floor, the elevator can be turned off, a gate installed at the staircase and scanners placed at the exit of the 24-hour room to improve security. With these changes in place, security won’t be a stumbling block. However, funding such a proposal is a problem.

Tarver Library is an integral part of the university but isn’t given the budget of other schools on campus. The lack of funding confines the ground floor from expanding. The library spends majority of its money purchasing new books to add to its staggering collection. Without a major reconstruction of Tarver’s budget, an expansion is out of the question. However, the future looks rather bright for Tarver’s ground floor.

In an interview with the dean of libraries, Beth Hammond spoke about an eventual expansion of the 24-hour room and issues surrounding the proposal. Hammond voiced her concern over collection security of books and the financial struggle of expansion. The proposal included a 40 percent increase in space for the 24-hour room with the study rooms unscathed and intact. The back wall of the study rooms will be extended to the microfilm columns located on the ground floor for $50,000.

The conversation ended with Hammond and I discussing a potential coffee shop being constructed in Tarver. The coffee shop would be constructed near the lounge, where a series of broken desks and shelves waste away. No one can confirm nor deny that a coffee shop is being installed, but Hammond did say there were preliminary discussions with the company Aramark. Aramark would help fund the expansion and appease the $50,000 price tag. Students could easily drink good coffee late at night and study comfortably as well. The expansion of the 24-hour room seems to be heavily discussed among the library faculty and on the minds of the administration.

If the proposal goes through, students can worry about other things, such as the dispersion forces of octane and butane rather than asking where I am going to study tonight?

Valentine’s Day is an exclusive Christmas for those of us that aren’t single and lonely. The main problem with it though is that – unlike Christmas – this holiday isn’t all about that whole “It’s the thought that counts” stuff. If you mess this one up, you could very well end up in the “single and lonely” group from before.

While that does put a lot of vulnerable, freshly-single, college-aged ladies out there, I’ve decided that I should make it my job to help my fellow man out, this year. Gentlemen, here are five things to not get your significant other for Valentine’s Day.

1)Wrong Flowers 

You’re probably wondering what “wrong” flowers are. That’s because you’re a dude, and there’s a good chance that you wouldn’t know a Hydrangea flower if it slapped you around with its petals. Of course, maybe some of you know how in the Victorian Era, flowers were commonly given as gifts to people as a representation of their character.

It’s common knowledge that a red rose means “love,” but if you give your beloved a bouquet containing white tulips and red roses, you’re also offering forgiveness. Saying “I’m sorry that I love you,” doesn’t exactly scream “romance.”

Check online for different flower meanings, and call a local florist to arrange something personal and special.

2) Hershey’s Kisses

Hershey’s Kisses have long been a staple of Valentine’s day, being shared around grade schools for decades. You’re probably wondering why I’ve included it on the list, and why one of the most iconic products of February 14th is something I’m saying you can’t get for your special person.

That’s because they’re too good for them.

While Hershey’s makes some excellent sweet treats, it would really mean a lot more to simply pay a little extra for Ghirardelli, or maybe some Lindor truffles. You don’t have to be a connoisseur to be able to distinguish some really good chocolate from more economical products.

3) Expensive Jewelry

If you’re a lady and you’re reading this, you probably just frowned.

Seriously, though – Valentine’s Day isn’t about the price-tag on the piece. Your gift should be special and unique. Don’t just go to any fancy jeweler and pick the shiniest bracelet you can. While the recipient probably wouldn’t have any complaints, you should try to rely on your heart, rather than your wallet.

It should be noted that you should take this with a grain of salt. Jewelry isn’t completely off the list for ideas. Just make sure it’s something special. Birthstones always go over well, and if you can get some sort of story behind the gift, then it really can be something priceless.

4) Cheap Jewelry

While the idea isn’t to just buy the biggest diamond you can, keep in mind that you might not want to just pick the cheapest thing you can find. If your Dollar Tree earrings turn her ears blue, you’re not going to hear the end of it.

5) Nothing

You have to realize that no matter how many times your partner says “Oh, don’t get me anything,” it will hurt if you don’t get them anything. This is a day devoted to your lover. This is a time for even the coldest of people to show their soft sides. Don’t mess it up.

A close friend of mine told her boyfriend many times last year that all she wanted was flowers. He didn’t get her any. It really was a shame, because she deserved so much better than that. Don’t be that guy. Even something small can mean a lot. Take a little time, and think about what makes them smile. That’s really all there is to it.

This Christmas, I traveled to a place far from America in distance and culture—a place where the streets come alive with people visiting their friends and neighbors in open shops and restaurants, where the karaoke and San Miguel beer run long into the night, and where the most “masarap” (delicious) seafood can be found at the “palengkes” (wet markets) lining the crowded roadways. For my first trip outside of the U.S., I visited one of my closest high school friends, Vian, in her home country of the Philippines, where her “tatang” (father) is a prominent Regional Trial Court Judge.

While there, I ate various fried pork and beef dishes with rice. My favorite dish, beef kaldereta, was a tomato-based stew with beef, carrots, potatoes, green peas, garlic, bay leaves and other spices. I also had the pleasure of eating freshly caught prawns from a palengke at a nearby seafood restaurant. The waitress brought us soy sauce and vinegar in small red bowls. Next to this, she placed two miniature green lemons and a small plate of finely diced red peppers—all typical Filipino condiments. Along with these, she served a sharp-tasting soup consisting of vinegar broth with greens and onions and a piece of fish. Soon, the prawns arrived—heads and shells still attached. Breaking apart the shells proved fairly easy, but in my ignorance I asked if the heads were edible.

On my second day there, Até Paté drove me and Vian to the Mall of Asia. Complete with an Olympic-sized ice skating rink, an IMAX theatre and a convention center, as well as European, Asian and Australian stores, the mall resembled a self-contained globe. On the way home that night, we stopped at a rare traffic light. As we waited for the light to turn green, a little girl carrying a baby came up to our car and knocked on my window. I immediately turned away from her because I couldn’t look at her and shake my head “no.” When I didn’t respond, she walked around and knocked on Vian and Até Paté’s windows. When none of us responded, she sat back down on the curb—two feet from where the cars were swerving around each other.

In Georgia, strict divisions exist between the poor side of town and the rich side of town. Coming to the Philippines, I assumed I would find these same divisions. One day there shattered that assumption as I noticed the slums everywhere. Two barbed wire fences and a road separates the airport in Manila from one inner city squatter community. From the road, I could glimpse the roofs made out of metal from shipping containers and the tangled electrical wires used to tap into the electricity of nearby buildings. As with a lot of Filipino housing, a huge wall surrounded this community. I thought that the more ornate walls were left over from long abandoned buildings. However, Vian told me that the walls simply act as barriers: “Just walls. It’s part of the culture.” In the slums, one wall is often made out of concrete while the other walls consist of metal; sheets separate rooms, and most houses do not have doors or a front wall. Unlike government housing in America, the Filipino people build these themselves, just as they build jeepneys (extra-long jeeps with a row of seats spanning long-ways on either side) out of the spare parts of old cars.

Although I felt sad seeing people living in such poverty, the Filipinos seemed to have something much more important than material wealth that I think Americans often lose sight of in our pursuit of “happiness”—community. Open shops selling everything from food to auto parts to pet supplies lined every narrow, curving inner-city road. Brightly colored ads and banners hung from every available used and abandoned building. No divisions existed between businesses, small sections of the slums, middle-class housing, schools, police stations and churches. Often, the bottom floor of a building served as an open store while the top half provided housing. Watching the entire scene unfold, images of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child gazed at me from the inner walls of every house, restaurant, school, subdivision entrance and vehicle window. Brightly colored lights, Chinese lanterns and cut-paper decorations added extra festivity to the lively backdrop. Adding to the visual excitement, a steady stream of cars, bicycles and motorcycles converged onto the main road from all directions; pedestrians walked along non-existent sidewalks on their way to open stores, crossing the street between the tiniest gaps in the steadily moving traffic. Public transportation in the form of jeepneys, taxis, buses and tricycles (motorcycles with passenger sidecars attached to them) swerved around each other in the mad, lawless rush to get to their final destinations. Vian, her older sister Até Paté, and I laughed at a sign on the side of a busy thoroughfare which read, “Safety First! Report Any Un- safe Conditions Immediately.” Ironically, I had so much confidence in Filipino driving skills that I rarely wore my seat belt.

Recklessness aside, the life and laughter to be found in the Philippines is more than enough to make a visit worthwhile. Upon leaving the U.S., one of my friends advised me to “have an adventure.” I certainly did.