John Gabriel

Emails about my trip to the Philippines.

Sonia Billadeau March 25, 2014
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Barb recently returned from the Philippines with her six-year-old, newly adopted son Gary. While in the Philippines, she sent home emails to tell her friends and family how the trip was going. Below are some excerpts from her emails. 

Day 1 – I Arrived!
I am happy to report that I made it to Manila without a hitch. It was almost 24 hours of travel from leaving Philly to getting through immigration here in Manila. The worst part was the 12 ½ hour flight from Detroit to Tokyo.

There was a bit of a hitch at the airport and the fellow that was to meet me . . . we somehow missed each other. I think most of the confusion came by way of the exceedingly helpful Philippine people. I tried looking for Rolly holding a sign with my name . . . but each time I paused to look . . . I was surrounded by extremely helpful well wishers. I honestly do not remember being called “Ma’am” so many time since I student taught. It all worked out okay.

Day 2 – Recovering from the Flight
The itinerary has shifted a bit. The giving/receiving ceremony will be on Wednesday. There will be the ceremony and mass with all the children. I’ll bet this will be really cute. They anticipated that I would want to cater a children’s farewell party . . . with, of all things, spaghetti, snacks, and ice cream. I smiled and said, “No problem.” I will get to meet him tomorrow.

The most interesting things to note so far . . . I saw a three-story KFC, McDonald’s apparently sells spaghetti on their menu, and I had the most frightful experience with a child orphan throwing himself onto a cab coming from the airport (I really think this will recur in a few dreams later). The food is delightful. I am anxious to have pancit later today; I see there is a pancit store across from the motel.

Day 3 – Meeting John Gabriel
John and I got to meet yesterday and he came back to the hotel to stay with me. The meeting was very nice at the orphanage. He was extremely bashful at first, then he started to plow through my bag to see all of the goodies I brought for him. I got a tour of the orphanage. It is a very lovely place and they take extremely good care of the children. You can tell immediately that they are surrounded with love. The cutest thing that made everyone laugh was when John told the orphanage nurse that his new dialect was going to be English. They had been giving him some tutoring since the match was made.

His favorite thing out of my bag immediately was the PEZ dispenser. He immediately liked the PEZ candy, exclaiming “chocolate.” He shared the candies with his friends and gave the dispenser to a friend when the candies ran out. I showed him how they could be refilled and he went to retrieve his gift promptly. He loved to fill the dispenser . . . then enjoy the treats. I quickly put a limit on how many times we would fill it a day.

His favorite phrase was, ” Yes, Mamma.” It was rather comical to me. It sounds like many husband’s, “Yes, Dear.”

He did the most adorable thing last night, after I butchered an attempt to read a bedtime story in Tagalog (which I am sure I messed up royally by the pathetic looks that I got). He looked up to me with his hands folded and said, “Prayers, Mamma.” He then proceeded to recite the “Our Father, Hail Mary,” and numerous invocations of blessings to everyone he must have encountered in his life thus far. Several times he thanked his guardian angel for looking out for him. He then blessed himself and gave me a kiss goodnight. This of course wasn’t real night-night, since he had to potty several more times yet, and we couldn’t decide if it was better to have the light on or off.

We called my Mom yesterday … and John said, “I love you MOM-MOM.” He has been quite a blast at meals. We had a buffet dinner last night, and there is a complimentary breakfast at the hotel. He definitely likes chicken and cereal. He races to eat meals with the other kids because when he completes eating, he throws one arm into the air and yells, “Finished!”

He likes the elevator too. Every time it moves he throws both hands into the air and tells everyone on board that he is “SUPERMAN!” I guess you can tell by now he is 100% pure boy!—filled with fun and energy. I have to go now, so we can get shopping. I promised Gary that we will look for a snorkel and mask so that he will have his own. (The boy loves the water). We had a two-hour bath this morning and he was bummed when it was over.

As soon as I can get pictures sent, they will follow. I bought Gary a “Barong Tagalog,” which is formal attire for men in Philippines. He needs proper black pants to wear with it. The orphanage was really glad that I had bought this for him. It showed that I intend to have him keep his cultural heritage part of his life.

Day 4 – The Manila Tour
It was an interesting journey around the city that took us from the past and present Manila to the future Manila.

The first part took us to the financial district, millionaire’s row, and the US WWII National cemetery. Along the way we passed areas of little shanty-like dwellings built along the railroads or under bridges. The tour guide told us the government built them as low-cost housing in areas outside of Manila. Apparently many of these people have sold the low-cost housing that they were provided and moved back to Manila, convinced that it’s the place to be.

The “Future” Manila is a reference to an area that was a pet project of Imelda Marcos (of the shoe fetish fame). This area is characterized by several buildings designed to bring tourism to the area. Each project has turned out to be mostly a failure, with the buildings hardly ever used for anything other than rented for corporate gatherings or weddings. It was a really odd place.

The last was a tour through what they describe as the “Intramuros.” It is the last remains of the original Spanish Fort. It is partly collapsed in places. We also got to see their minor Basilica. The last part was to visit tourist gift shop, which featured local crafts.

Day 5 – The Giving/Receiving Ceremony and Skin Diving 101
Today was the day for the big ceremony in which the orphanage officially gives Gary over to my custody for adoption. I had sent him a golden crucifix at Christmas, which they waited until today to give him. We had an absolutely lovely mass. There were prepared readings in which my part was scripted out. Then, after communion, they told me that they wanted me to speak extemporaneously and handed me the microphone. I told the audience a few one-liners to warm up the crowd (just kidding). It was really quite an emotional ceremony, which I really hadn’t anticipated. All of Gary’s classmates were there to join in the mass, along with teachers, social workers, and administrators. We took loads of pictures.

They gave me an “Adoption Book” that they had prepared for Gary and me to share. It was amazing that they had prepared a scrapbook with pictures of him since his arrival at the orphanage, including captions with test references. There are also a few pictures of his birth mother.

After the ceremony and pictures, Gary and I went to the administrator’s office where they had sandwiches and pancit prepared with some Coke. We then went back to Gary’s classmates, and he shared the chocolates I had sent for Christmas. His classmates sang a big graduation song that they had been working on, since they graduate from the “Preparatory Grade” on March 15th. It occurred to me to ‘Beware of the Ides of March,’ because their school work will be much more difficult next year in first grade. They prepared a graduation certificate, which is witnessed by three people that to whom it may concern they attest to John Gabriel being a person of fine moral character and didn’t violate the rules of the school while there (now I ask you . . . how cute is that?).

We then came home to the hotel and went swimming. We had gone to the mall yesterday to get a swimsuit, sandals, mask, snorkel, fins, and a matching Hawaiian-type shirt. He wasn’t frightened of the water, but he was rather insecure about being in the big pool with me. A part of being in the institution is that they teach the children very early to be independent. He didn’t trust that I could save him if he couldn’t handle swimming. He stayed in the baby pool and played with his mask, snorkel, and fins. He had a blast. He tried to use his mask last night during his bath, but the bubble bath made it not very fun. I wonder which he will want tonight . . . a bubble bath or mask and snorkel.

Day 6 – More Swimming
We went swimming today again, and started pretty much the same as yesterday. The most I taught him yesterday was to scoot along holding onto the wall. Well, today our swimmer eventually blossomed. He decided to trust me . . . first we learned how to cross the pool holding onto the rope. Then we finally discovered that the life jacket he was wearing kept him from sinking. From there he was cruising, he crossed the pool from side to side without the rope. He started to do the breast stroke with his hands and kicked feverishly with the feet. He quickly discovered that the more he practiced the strokes, the quicker he crossed the pool. It wasn’t long until he challenged me to a race. I must say, the boy doesn’t lack confidence in his abilities.

We then progressed on to bigger and better things. Mommy tossed him a few feet, and he learned that this was a blast. Obviously this was a great opportunity to learn the English phrase “AGAIN, MAMMA!” From this point it was only trivial to migrate to actually jumping from the side of the pool into cannon ball-type hops. He isn’t in Mark Spitz’s league yet, but we are well on our way.

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Sonia Billadeau


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