Sunday, September 21, 2014

Immersing and Exposing

Over the course of the past four weeks, we have experienced six immersions in different communities around the Philippines. Here are short reflections on each community. The name of each community is linked to the Google Maps page for that place so that you have some sort of idea of where these places are. The pictures are lacking for the later immersions because I was more conscious of experiencing these things with my own eyes and body, rather than trying to preserve and document them behind a camera or phone. I hoped to make myself more present throughout the stay in the community.        

Indigenous People (IP) Community-This immersion taught me about living an abundant life within the context of simplicity. One of the main components of the YAV program is simple living. This can take many different forms based on your site placement. I am so thankful that our first immersion took place in this community. The village is 2 hours up into the mountains by habal habal (motorcycle). We were visiting a school in the community. We did not have access to electricity or running water, much less internet connection during this exposure. We went to bed early because it was dark outside. We woke up early because the roosters wouldn’t let us sleep. The beautiful children had so much joy and life in them despite their access to resources we consider basic necessities in the US. They live abundant lives, grateful for the land they live on and the opportunity to receive an education in their village while living quite simply.

Group picture with the teachers and students from the school in the IP community after our solidarity program, Photo Credit: Rachel Pomar

Banana Plantations-Visiting the banana plantation workers opened my eyes to the extent of the Empire’s power. When I went to Nicaragua for a month in 2012, I was studying the issues of banana plantation workers at the hands of huge multinational companies, particularly Dole. Even though Dole pulled out of Compostela about eight years ago, the plight of Filipin@ banana plantation workers is almost identical to the Nicaraguan banana plantation workers. Unfortunately for the Filipin@s, US attorneys haven’t swooped in to hold the companies accountable for the way they treat their workers. I was very angry as I learned and saw more of the situation for the workers in the fields and in the processing plants. I am still working on processing what to do with all of this information and how to act. More to come on that later.

A worker in the banana plantation pulling 6 50 kg bags of limestone through the fields

Moro (Muslim) Community-We only spent half a day with this community, but I was struck by my own perceptions of what it means, in my mind, to be Muslim. I am most familiar with Muslims of Arab descent and it was somewhat strange to me to see Filipina women wearing a hijab, the head covering. Despite the discrimination against their community and their gender, these women have organized to form Khadidja Cooperative. Through this organization, they fight for their rights as women and as Moros against discrimination within the community and outside of it.

Our group of volunteers with some of the women from Khadidja Cooperative in the Moro Community 
Kinatarcan Island-For this immersion, we split up our group of volunteers into three different barangays (villages) across the small island. Kendall and I stayed in Bitoon Barangay at the Barangay Captain’s house. It was high on a hill overlooking the barangay. Our comfort room (CR, bathroom) was at a neighbor’s house all the way down the steep hill. Kendall and I also experienced our first Philippine typhoon during this immersion. Typhoon Louise (category 1) came through the island on her way north to Luzon. Since we were at a higher elevation, the wind was much stronger. They arranged for Kendall and I to stay in what I guess could be described as a hut. It was a wooden structure with a tin roof, two tarp walls, a cardboard/plywood wall, and a roll-down canvas “wall.” Our first night in our humble abode was the scariest for me. I worried for the structural integrity of the hut. I felt the wind blow the tarp into my face over and over. I felt uncomfortable as we tried to sleep on a stack of plywood set on two wooden planks. In the middle of the night, I went to use the bathroom and saw that our hosts were sleeping on chairs under the small lip of roof outside of our room, covered with thin blankets. They slept in the wind and rain all night just in case we needed anything during the night. During the day, we were not allowed to come out of our space or help in any way. That didn’t stop Flora, our host mom, from cooking and cleaning almost constantly. Through the wind and rain, she kept an open fire going. Filipin@ hospitality means that the rice must go on, even in the middle of a typhoon. When I think back to how we like to react to storms and hurricanes in the US, it seems almost paranoid. This family and community are still recovering from Typhoon Yolanda that hit November 2013. That does not keep them from living life in the midst of new typhoons or storms. It is a beautiful example of resilience and amazing hospitality.
Our modest home on Kinatarcan Island

The beautiful view from our host family's house on the hill

The open fire used to boil water and cook our meals. It kept going throughout Typhoon Louise.

Kampingganon-Again, we were split among three different host families for this immersion on Bantayan Island. This community is a group of landless farmers who are tenants in a feudal system of agriculture. The farmers work the land but must give the landowners a share of the harvest. This sometimes leaves them unable to cover production costs, which means they must turn to the landowner for loans. Hopefully, they will be able to pay the loan back during the next growing season, but that may not happen. It is a cycle of dependence created and enforced by the system.
            The first night we stayed in this house, I watched Alfred, 4, pick up a packet of NesCafĂ© coffee that was for our breakfast the next day. He was throwing it up in the air and trying to catch it. I motioned to him to throw it to me, which began a game of catch that lasted without pause for almost thirty minutes. Alfred learned to hold his hands together in order to have a better chance of catching the packet. It was so much fun despite its simplicity. As we were playing catch, Alfred’s mom was holding his younger sister. She urged the 2-3 year old to come to me and “bless.” The “Bless thing” or “mano po” is a sign of respect in Filipin@ families where a younger member holds out his/her hand to an older member. The older member holds it and puts the hand of the younger one to the hand of the older one, demonstrating a blessing or sharing of wisdom from the older to the younger. I had heard of this practice and observed it only a few times. I was extremely honored to be on the receiving end of it, especially after only knowing the family for a matter of hours. It showed me how easy it really is to begin to build relationships with children and adults in a short amount of time. I am so grateful for this experience, and it gives me confidence as I am eager to start working at my placement in Kananga, Leyte.

Patao-For this immersion, we spent three days in three different sitios (neighborhoods) within Patao Barangay. During this time, we experienced our second round with a strong Tropical Storm Mario that was heading north for Luzon.
In Guinlakgan, our first sitio, we bonded almost immediately with the children of the community by playing volleyball with the older boys and different games with the younger children. As we walked back around sunset, we started singing pop songs, much like the riff-off in the movie Pitch Perfect, including some of those songs, since the children love that movie. Again, this was a way for us to lower our guard in order to be together in community quicker and more easily. The next day it rained, so we stayed inside and played more games with the children. It was a perfect time to “be” rather than “do” as we learned and lived with this community.
We moved to Upper, the second sitio, as the rain continued. It was still a pretty lazy day, but we learned to remove corn kernels from each ear. The process does not take too much time with many hands, but it does cause blisters on thumbs fairly quickly if you are not used to the work. Then, they taught us to poke holes in shells that they use to make necklaces that sell for about PhP1 (1 Philippine Peso, PhP44=US$1) per strand. They look like necklaces you can find at just about any shop on the beach in the US. However, this price is so cheap, given the enormous amount of labor involved in collecting the shells, poking the holes, and stringing the necklaces. It will definitely make me think twice before bargaining down for something I consider cheap.
We then traveled to our last sitio, San Juan, to learn about life on the sea. We visited a community of people who were displaced by Yolanda and now live in woven huts with thatched roofs near mangroves. This will not be of much protection when the next strong typhoon comes through. We watched them stretch fishing net over bamboo boxes to make bobo, traps, for crabs and fish. I’m still lost on how they maintain their livelihood through sporadic work and payments that depend so much on the weather, but I think it’s ok that I don’t understand everything.

These have been a challenging, yet eye-opening and growing time for me to learn more about this country and its people. I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far and look forward to the months ahead. Thank you so much for all of your support. I will continue to need positive thoughts, prayers, and well-wishes as I continue on this whirlwind of an adventure.

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