Well, I’ve returned safe and sound from the Philippines. I obviously didn’t get around to writing while I was there, but I didn’t have access to a computer like I thought I would. It’s been very difficult to start writing about my trip because it’s been difficult to know where to start. It’s like when you run into someone who you haven’t seen for a year or so and they ask you what’s happened since you last met. Where do you even begin?
I’m going to begin with pictures. I know I can’t share everything, so I’ll try to whittle it down to the important parts.
This is where we stayed. You can see our building in the background. It was dorm style, complete with awesome mosquito nets (so as to protect us from dengue and other nasty things). We were staying with the Sisters of the Company of Mary, an order dedicated to worldwide education, especially for women and children. I lived in one of their houses before I found a place of my own in Orange County. It was wonderful to see the work they did in other places, since all I’d really known while I lived there was how well they cooked for me. The same was true in Cagayan de Oro, the city we were staying, but I admit I did get sick of rice and soup by day three.
The workers you see are part of a Catholic Relief Services program, Cash for Work. They receive a stipend, water and food for their work cleaning up from the typhoon. We saw them working all over the city and it was amazing what they accomplished in the week between our arrival and departure.
This was the remains of one house near the sisters. The sisters were lucky because while their first floor flooded and the concrete wall surrounding their facility was knocked down, their actual home was structurally unharmed. Sr. Lillian told us that near the house you see here a girl worked as a caretaker to an older woman. When the area flooded, the old woman made it to the roof, but the girl was swept away. As she floated off, holding a large water dispenser bottle, she called “See you at the evacuation center!” A few days later, when the water had receded, the older woman saw her walking back down the path to her home, waving happily. After Sr. Lillian told the story, we walked past the house only to see the girl cleaning something in the side yard.
This is a group of boys outside the largest evacuation center. The kids (and sometimes parents) loved being photographed. We would take a picture, turn the camera around to show them, and they would crack up and ask for another one. I have three pictures of these boys making faces and teasing each other. Inside the evacuation center, they were playing “Cash Cab Asia” on a big screen tv, which seemed so otherworldly to me. A woman wanted one of my travel companions to email her the picture she took there. Many of the kids wore Angry Birds t-shirts or shoes. The mixture of poverty and technology threw me for a loop.
This was one of five babies (at the time) that had been born at the evacuation center. She was only about two weeks old. The space you see her, her sister and her mother sitting on was only slightly larger than it appears. Each family had an area about that big to live in. When we left a week later the evacuation center was still open. People had been living there for over a month already.
Here we are all smiling on our way to the pre-school to help however we could. Our mode of transportation wasn’t the most luxurious, but the neighbors seemed to enjoy watching us trundle through the town. Once we got to the pre-school we divided up into groups. My group had the joy of shoveling wet mud into a wheelbarrow (which broke) and then just trying to shovel it to other places to even out the ground. It was one of the most frustrating tasks I’ve taken on in my life, but also one of the most memorable.
The kids at the pre-school were a riot. They’d lost their main classroom for the time being and were in the process of moving to a temporary space while their old one got cleaned up. The kids love posing, as I mentioned. You can see some of them with their fingers in an L shape under their chins. That was their favorite pose. It was a bit like holding up a peace sign or making kissy lips in other cultures… as soon as a camera came up, so did their “L.” The little boy in the blue tank was excited that we brought them books, but made sure to let us know that he’d rather have Legos.
While this may look like a beautiful landscape, it’s really ground zero for the flooding. The sisters lived less than half a mile away from this location. Before the flood, it was filled with “informal settlers,” more commonly called squatters. The houses they built were not very strong and the river is just out of view in this picture. We were told the whole area was filled with people’s homes. Today, it’s nothing but a field. Some people were already setting up new shelters on the property even though the government has declared living in the area illegal.
We spent the last four days of our trip in Manila. It was culture shock to leave the small city and surrounding country of Cagayan de Oro to see things like the SM Mall of Asia, the 4th largest shopping mall in the world. We did pretty normal things in Manila; we visited museums, went out for drinks, went shopping… I had a difficult time adjusting to the differing ways of life. I found myself missing Cagayan de Oro, despite the destruction we saw. It seemed like people had more of a community in CDO. In Manila there was still a lot of poverty and it just seemed so easy for someone to get lost in the city with no one to miss them.
My feelings when I left were very confused and still are. I saw people who were just like the people here, living in a beautiful country that had experienced hardship, natural, political and economic, that I will never understand. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with the experience yet, but I hope it will become clearer in time. I’m sure this isn’t the last time you’ll hear me mention this trip. There are many things that challenged and inspired me and I hope to share that with you when the time comes.
For now, Salaamat. Thank you.