The jeepney is empty.  But Lina motions me not to climb in and we board a much fuller one instead.  “Why?” I ask her.

            She cautions me not to get in an empty jeepney.  If robbers have marked us, they may follow and jump in behind us, tell the driver to leave (or else) and rob us at their convenience.

            A friend of mine told me that when she lived in New York, she learned to dress “like a nun”: dark raincoat, no makeup, no jewelry.  She walked quickly, with purpose, and did not make eye contact.  This was her way, as a single woman, to be safe in a dangerous neighborhood.

            These street smarts are foreign to me.  What are my street smarts?  I can identify most of the trees and birds along my stretch of dirt road in New Hampshire.  This is my particular way of being aware of what is around me.

            Yet I am at sea even with the natural environment here in the Philippines.   The profusion of plants here is bewildering.  Most of the trees have evergreen, oval or lance-shaped leaves.  Think of a magnolia.  The lobes of maple and oak leaves, the teeth of a beech or elm leaf, these identifying characteristics are absent for the most part.  I am lost in a sea of green.

            I remember the same feeling when I first walked in the woods of eastern Kentucky with older men who harvested ginseng on the mountain slopes.  They saw the ginseng plant at a distance on the forest floor, all I saw was a mass of green leaves.  Over time, my eyes and other senses came to make distinctions and I could identify many of the plants. 

            Perhaps I will learn to make those distinctions here.  At least with the plants!

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