No Can Opener, No Problem. What My Step Mom Taught Me About The Philippines.

For 120 pesos, I can get a Starbucks venti iced coffee. A little half and half and we’re in business. For a little more than that, I can hit up the local super market and buy milk, instant coffee, and a can of sweetened condensed milk. After I boil a little water in my apartment (there’s this neat little contraption like an electric kettle but with a reservoir designed to boil water AND make things in the kettle-pot) and I can set up a left over water jug with the condensed milk poured inside and then the instant coffee mixture with a little milk to refrigerate over night so I have a cold beverage to start my morning without hitting up the green mermaid for a little get up and go.

My first questionable decision was not looking up the ratios for instant coffee and water. It was not on the label of the container like I thought and when the standard unit here is liters and grams, it didn’t even dawn on me convert between liters and cups and again for grams and teaspoons. Enter the moment where high school and college math come back to laugh at me and say, “You done goofed kid.” I’m guessing now it will either 1) weaker than I want or 2) more bitter than I anticipated since my familiarity with instant coffee extends to the occasional baking recipe.

My second questionable decision was not even thinking to see if there was a can opener in my apartment. I thought about it while at the store looking at cans of sweetened condensed milk. This was not the first time the presence of a can opener was a variable in the success or failure for the cooking task at hand. In college, a frequently asked question was, “Who do you know has a can opener?” And someone near by was smart enough to actually own one.

Thus we come to the moment where I realize there is no can opener, but there is in fact a very nice kitchen knife in the cupboard and I thought back to a morning at home where the can opener had broken and there seemed to be an impasse for my coffee (I think the condensed milk and lack of can opener may be a recurring gag in my life, TBD).

Enter my step mom. Filipino born and raised and accustomed to Americans having gadgets for every thing imaginable, takes out her orange kitchen knife, it’s a designated knife that is not used for anything else, whacks later and working the knife back and forth, the lid is off and everything is as it should be. My morning at home, 7,000 miles from where I am now carried on and everything was peachy keene.

I take the knife and the can and think, Oh my gosh. This is how I’m going to end up in a foreign hospital needing stitches at 8:30 in the evening. A feeble couple of thuds later, the can is punctured and I can start working the knife back and forth like I’m shucking an oyster.

Much like how the versatility of a kitchen knife to open aluminum cans, from what I can guess so far, versatility is part of the bedrock of the way of life here. My step mom doesn’t talk much about her life and growing up, just a couple islands from where I am now. And when she did, it was often the funny stories and the interesting parts.

You can’t walk down the street without seeing a homeless cat or dog, often underfed, roaming the street, bones showing through skin that’s seems too big for the creature. Everything and everyone here adapts and endures. Despite typhoons, despite hardship, despite a lot of things I am just beginning to understand, you make do with what you’re fortune enough to have here to the point MacGyver would be out shined.

My first year of college taught me about minimalism and ingenuity in a shared space- with a roommate, and with friends and neighbors at your fingertips. In just the three days I’ve been here, quietly observing the world around me, utilizing what I’ve observed from my step mom is making the day to day a little easier. Slowly but surely I’m adapting too.

What was trendy back home- thrifting, upcycling, many of the things that were ‘hipstery’ are part of survival here. If I could I would have paid more attention to what I could have learned from my step mom before coming here. But instead I’m watching the world around me and talking it all in. I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks’ yields.

After all,

It’s just the beginning

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