A day in the life of Shedz of da Swamp

3.06am: Contrary to popular belief, roosters have no concept of time and crow at any point during a 24 hour time period, like 3.06am.

5.55am: Get out of bed and start saluting the sun and various other postures. Focus on the outlook of the mangroves (swamp) from my lounge room and my breathing, trying to drown out the *shhfftt sshhfft shhft* of neighbours sweeping the dirt road outside.

7.30am: Create my new staple breakfast of apple, cinnamon and black rice, a good substitute for cereal when you live without a refrigerator (walang ref). Have coffee (3in1 powder) in hammock and contemplate life then indulge in the strangely therapeutic chore of hand washing.

8.30am: Open front door to have a snake enter my kitchen, txt my landlord who comes over with her machete but I managed to sweep the bastard away *shhfftttt*.

9.15am: Arrive at work where the girls gave my hair a hot wax treatment (leave-in conditioner) and discuss my hair loss in hushed tones so no one will hear (handfuls are coming out – I””m a little worried too! It’s probably a reaction to stress/extreme heat).

10.15am: Still have power (small miracles!) and writing report on recent branding and vision workshops in Guiuan and Catarman. Skype Tim, a fellow AYAD,  and bemoan the general state of my NGO’s financial situation, the government here and lack of tall men.

12.09am: “Miss Jenny, let’s eat.” is said by the house-boy for the third time (he is the cook, cleaner, and odd jobs kid). I seem to mystify the staff by not dropping everything, stop typing mid-sentence to eat. Fried little fishes, white rice and pancit (noodles): in a place where people often go without food, I eat everything that’s put in front of me (except the dried fish – the smell alone turns my stomach).

4.14pm: A little spooked that I’ve had power all day – no brown-outs! I’ve had an almost Australian level of productivity at the office today. Staff comment I’ve been working too hard and need to relax more.

6.15pm: Leave the office; the girls next door say what they say every day “Where are you going? I think you are beautiful,” and then I do the rounds of the shops around the campus, my banana-lady, my vegetable peeps. And lastly the local sari sari store (corner store) where I’m served by a girl no older than 8 (feels so wrong to buy beer from a child).

6.45pm: Open the door gingerly, walang snake and meron power still so the neighbourhood gets a blast of Parliament while I cook and Radiohead while I have my cold bucket shower and facemask.

9.30pm: In bed (yes, you read right – 9.30pm in bed!) with Catch 22.

Pocket road of rage

This blog has very humble beginnings with pen, paper and deep-seeded rage. The type of anger that sits down in your belly; cancerous, festering, raw.

I’m in our Eastern Samar office in Guiuan, visiting various barangays meeting smiling farmers who proudly display their simple yet incredibly effective organic farming methods. From San Jose farm in Mercedes we walk to Cabunga-an along a ‘pocket road’, a potholed dirt track registered as a completed bitumen road by corrupt officials. Since the funds have been ‘pocketed’, this road will only ever exist on paper and will never be seen by the community of Cabunga-an.

I am shown the house of a poorest of the poor (POP) that cannot repay their credit scheme with us. A dilapidated bamboo hut with no appliances and Lord only knows how many children. The community development workers (CDWs) can’t say no to this family in desperate poverty and extend their loan.

However, how can we justify that some families who can’t pay the loan are cut from the program while others can stay on?

Our NGO is based on compassion and committed to alleviating poverty but we must be sustainable too. It’s all very well for me to recommend cutting off all barangays that do not meet our 50% + 1 repayment benchmark, but what happens to those we leave behind? Certainly no level of government is willing and/or able to help them.

Development work is similar to the medical profession in a way, compassion draws you to this line of work, but cool rationalism maintains your sanity. You have to focus on the task at hand so you are not overwhelmed by anger, sadness and impotence. I try to listen to the little activist revolutionary inside me (a hybrid of Che Guevara and Anita Roddick), alas today she is drowned out by the enormity of the problem.

The hunger aches, the directionless existence that the people of the bamboo shack must endure would make life a constant misery. I can’t get the listless look in their eyes out of my mind.

I have to listen closer for my little optimistic activist because her voice is lost in an ocean of despair, and I’m going down with her.

 (written 19th May)

City mouse, country mouse

Once again I have a totally unsustainable way of dealing with the swamp, I ran away to Manila for a night of clubbing.

I see my hometown of Newcastle as a bit of a backwater, so why I thought a ‘remote’ assignment was for me I still can’t quite fathom. However the pollution, the traffic and the expenses associated with living in a teaming mass of a city is also not ideal.

I do plunge into a sort of consumerist frenzy when I get out of the provs, eating salads, going to the movies, window shopping. Even rather pedestrian Australian wines taste like manna from heaven.

And so to the club – which was more like a mini-entertainment centre with a rather impressive rig and mirror ball. Between 9-11pm there was free beer, and a terrible cliché, for what seemed like hours three Aussie drained the beer tap in a massive empty hall.

Reminiscent of the more trendy clubs in Sydney the main purpose of the evening seemed to be seen there. Of course there were some local die-hard fans of James Zabiela, and a smattering of expats but it’s a sad indictment that a world-class DJ set ends with only half the crowd remaining. True he pumped out 3 ½ hour set of delicious and unrelenting electronica but Manila – harden the f’k up!

If I can be in the front for 5 hours straight, walang any artificial assistance meron giardia, anyone can. Pay respect to an artist when it is due.

As an aside, despite the rather high cover fee and classy looking clientele my friend had her bag snatched from the dance floor. That could happen in any city in the world, but it sort of hit home that we are not in Kansas anymore. Crime is more prevalent and dangerous here, even the ‘safety’ of an expensive nightclub you have to keep half an eye out and look out for your friends.

Once again typing this blog on laptop during a brown-out, hope we have power at some stage today *sigh – mini pity party*

Additional: posted this blog one week after it was written due to chronic brown-outs.  Damn swamp 😉

Tourism and Typhoons

I have survived my first typhoon in Donsol with a steady supply of fresh seafood, mangos and Tanduay rum, it was tough (biro lang – just kidding).

It was a concern that our collective funds were dwindling, the power and phone reception was sketchy and we had walang idea when we could leave. Later on we heard 27 people had lost their lives so our inconvenience was measured by local tragedy.

Donsol, home of the butanding (whale sharks) is one of the Philippine’s most famous tourist destinations. But I believe that there is a far greater threat to tourism in the Philippines than ‘states of calamity’.

It’s clear from the Wow Philippines to the revamped Awesome Philippines tourism campaigns that The Philippines is seeking the still elusive foreign tourism dollar. Apart from some intrepid divers, surfers and the ever-present sex tourists, Philippines is not on your average traveller’s radar.

From an Australian perspective, there are no ridiculously cheap flights here like there is to other Asian destinations like Thailand or the cliché Aussie destination of Bali.

Once you are here the public transport system although extensive is a minefield of non-connecting trips, scamming tricycle drivers and conflicting information. For example, travelling from the business hub of Bicol, Naga City to a major port of Matnog took 3 buses, 1 jeepney and me instinctively not listening to a tricycle driver who said there was no jeepney (but he could give me a ‘special trip’…). Getting to Donsol from Matnog was a similar adventure of mitigating how much I was being overcharged and personal safety concerns.

If the transport infrastructure improves, some of the needs for a viable tourism industry are here – white sand beaches, incredibly friendly and English-speaking locals, stunning natural beauty. But part of the charm of Philz is that you know you are off the beaten path, walang white people clutching their Lonely Planets wearing Birkenstocks with socks, you just have to be prepared for a variety of calamities along the way.

The only way in and out of Donsol

The only way in and out of Donsol