Bits and pieces of existence in Samar

If you are looking for profound cultural insights and keen observations you’re at the wrong corner of cyberspace (why does no one use that term anymore?)

I think I’m running low on go-go juice and I ain’t talking about the always obtainable Tanduay Rum which is cheaper than water.

My family has come and gone and they gave me a much needed break from blackouts, work and flushing my ta-e away with buckets of water. And for those of wondering the fate of porky, she feed the neighbourhood and my father was incredibly impressed. What better way can a daughter show her love and gratitude to her Dad’s tolerance and understanding over all these years? Get the man a pig; a tasty, dead pig.

It’s funny the information that you absorb in your surroundings without even realising. Although Dad was well pleased, I was very unimpressed with my lechonerro. I thought to myself when he was cooking, “That is too hot and he is turning too quickly.”

Like when I watch sport during the Olympics and I’m suddenly an expert in synchronised diving or table tennis; I’m now an authority on cooking whole pigs.

Two months of trabaho left and I gripped by two diametrically opposed states of mind, “Oh crap” and “F’k yeah!” The latter is the side of me that is sick of the same conversations (“Where is your companion?”, “You’re a Mormon ma’am?”, “Where are you going?”); the multiple sets of eyes that are constantly on me where ever I go and whatever I do; and the shittiest music played on repeat for hours (My my my myyy Poker face … Umbrella ella ella eh eeh eh…).  And I miss the amazing bunch of freaks I call my friends and family back home, sometimes I’d kill for a Margaret River shiraz, perving on boys with scruffy hair at the Courtie and a crumpet dripping in butter.

But the “Oh crap!” is I still have so much to see and do here and the clock now has an audible tick. I doubt I’ll have time to see the stunning rock formations of Biri or go spelunking in Western Samar. More importantly I can see so many marketing opportunities for SPPI that I just don’t have time to get off the ground. Hopefully another AYAD can carry the torch.

My suggestion to the next intrepid volunteer that ventures here, bring the mother of all ipod docking stations to blast any tropical depressions away.

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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)

Pre-departure jitters: a mixture of jubilation and sheer terror

It is two more sleeps until I set off for the Philippines. Physically I am totally prepared, everything from Deet 80% insect repellent to that Kinky Friedman novel I always wanted to read.

There is still a slight sense of apprehension inside of me. Perhaps it is coming down from the high of the Pre Departure Training or trying to find answers for my family’s endless questions.

I think the greatest question mark comes from the fact that I can’t visualise what my life will be like on a day-to-day basis. What will I eat for breakfast; do they have coffee; where will I live? If I were based in Manila it would be different, but I am going to the complete unknown. And I have the interesting pioneering position of being the first AYAD to go to Northern Samar. 

This all sounds a bit woosy, I have plenty of social safety nets through my in-country manager, fellow volunteers, host organization, family and friends back home. 

As a paratrooper friend once told me, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”