Yesterday was one of those days that did not turn out the way I planed, like everyday here really. My neighbour invited me to a guest lecture of Jun Lozada, the man who caused a minor riot at the airport the other morning. He is the star witness of the ZTE deal, a complex maze of corruption involving more money that is fathomable in such a poor country.
He shared the personal side of being a whistle blower and the impact on his wife and five children. Jun said he was offered 100 Mil Pesos and would retain his position in the cabinet if he kept quiet, “came back to the fold” and apologised to GMA.
Instead he is a man on the run, protected by nuns (seriously, only in the Philippines) and can face up to 11 charges when he returns to Manila.
When asked how he could walk away from so much money, Jun told the story of a greyhound that ran away from its owner. The dog was well looked after, winning all of his races but discovers that “the rabbit I was chasing was not real at all,” he then asked “what are the ‘real rabbits’ in your life?”
A simple metaphor, but made me ponder my own ‘rabbits’. The fake rabbit was certainly my no longer satisfying job in Sydney, but how real is my current ‘rabbit’? Why am I volunteering? What am I doing here? The desire is borne from my altruistic nature but it is not a selfless act by any means, I was in search of a challenge. The assignment and remote location gives me time and space to reflect upon the rabbits I am yet to seek.
Jun was unsettling jovial and relaxed for a man on the run
Needless to say in a religious country like the Philippines, Easter is a big deal. In Pampanga and surrounding towns in Luzon this manifests in self flagellation and real crucifixions.
Personally I had a very rough start to the day; I was paying penance for eating from a baymaree the night before and was having internal self flagellation. But praise the Lord for Gastrostop, I was on my way in the back of a truck with the rest of the volunteers to one of the strangest events I have ever seen.
The scale of the religious devotees carrying crosses in the searing heat and flagellants was well beyond what I expected. Hundreds of people scattered across roads from town to town to endure suffering, becoming “little Christs” by following the teachings of the Saints to achieve a higher degree of holiness.
So was I moved by their devotion, disgusted by the gore, gripped with voyeuristic anticipation as the nail was driven deep into human flesh? Not really, the whole atmosphere was more like the Royal Easter Show; simply replace the carnival rides with crucifixions.
Kids were on their dad’s shoulders with ice creams, locals posing for photos, eating corn or fish on a stick – a nice family day out. No nannas in shawls wailing, revered silence, rosaries gripped between blistered fingers. Perhaps long ago that was the case, I wouldn’t say it has been overly commercialised either, no souvenir t-shirts that say “I went to self flagellation and all I got was this bloody t-shirts” (bad pun intended). Give it time.
You can have your ice cream after the self flagellation
Up north to Luzon for some self flagellation and cocktails by the beach – ingat x
No sooner am I beginning to settle into the country life, I got to taste of urban hustle and bustle by attending the Volunteer Sharing Session in Cebu City. And taste I did – Starbucks, salad and red wine, oh my!
After sitting around for couple of days sharing our feelings on butcher’s paper ‘Let’s talk about communication…’ I was concerned that I was going to gain nothing from the epic 14hr land/sea voyage there. But as I discovered many years ago, I learn best when it involves alcohol and a thumping bass.
A fellow AYAD and I met up with her host family’s daughter who is studying nursing in Cebu. Hitting the club scene with her girlfriends we talked about our failed relationships, dating, their experiences being a single parent and checking out the local talent.
But what struck me as really sad is that the all intend to find work overseas when they graduate. Only 38% of births in the Philippines are attended by skilled health professionals. There is no simple answer to the brain drain that the Philippines are in the grip of, education and health care professionals are ridiculously underpaid.
The future nurses also talked about the need for safe sex education, particularly in the regional areas, 10% of mothers in this country are under 18 years old (population is around 90 million … you do the maths). They were very passionate about change, but if they leave – the whole cycle begins again.*
Despite their struggles and the country’s woes, the girls laughed, drank and danced the night away. Looking for love and happiness in a big city is universal.
*Get the Pinoy perspective with an interesting blog on House Bill 5043, the Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2008.