Here in the Philippines I am more conscience of my race and sex than any previous time in my life. I have been living here for a few months now and although I knew things would be different, nothing in my social work education could have prepared me for this.
In the Philippines being white is considered gwapa or beautiful and there are endless skin whitening products available to further this cause. Complete strangers will approach me and tell me how beautiful I am, often seeming to be mesmerized by my blue eyes. I am also constantly stared at, which after a while leaves me feeling more objectified than flattered. The fact that I am in a big city doesn't help either. Unless I am at my agency with the people who work with me every day, I will always be regarded as a complete outsider by the rest of my community, which happens to be about 798,634 people.
My status as a single woman is also of great interest here. The other day a jeepney driver actually asked me at what age I plan to become a housewife, as if that was my inevitable fate. To be a woman who drinks beer, travels alone, and doesn't cook is concerning enough, but the fact that I am not dating anyone or actively seeking a husband is equally disturbing. No need to mention my lack of a religious background or my support for reproductive health care.
Although dealing with these trials and reconciling my identity on a daily basis grows tiresome, I would never trade the experience for anything, because it provides a platform for a conversation and a genuine exchange of cultural norms. It also gives me the opportunity to understand what battles are worth fighting for, decide who I really am, and figure out what I truly feel passionate about. And isn't that the whole point of joining the Peace Corps?