Friday, August 15, 2008

Debbie's last days in the Philippines

Greetings to all,

Time is going past very quickly here. Only a few more days left before I have to go back to Manila.

I am back in (Barangay) Sugod after the weekend on a neighboring island — a very interesting place with a handful of expats firmly ensconced with Filipino wives and children. (Not the other way round.) I went there with another volunteer, a young woman from Switzerland (Corina Stiffler) who is working in town, about 10 kms from here. Everyone thought we were mother and daughter, until she opened her mouth to speak.

The first evening we met David (terribly English, reminded me of David Horseman). He owns a Deli / restaurant and they have an international menu so we were able to order a feed of spaghetti and meat balls with as much parmesan cheese as I wanted! David proved very helpful and generous with his time and knowledge of the island.

He told us about the typhoon that came through here two months ago — the biggest and most devastating locals can remember. Originally it was tracking across the land to the south of here in an east- west direction (which is unusual in itself because they usually follow the coast lines). So when it hit Visayan waters it swung round to the north, heading directly for the Romblon Islands where I'm living. All these islands experienced about 40 mins of calm as the eye passed over and then it came back with more ferocity. It was the size of the waves that most people talk about, absolutely huge, like mini tsunamis sweeping whole villages away on the southeastern sides of the islands, especially those homes made of nipa or natural fibers. [I guess this is what seduces people to corrugated iron and concrete blokes.]

The greatest tragedy of this typhoon was of course the passenger ship that capsized trapping nearly all of its 800 passengers inside. This was a big ship so it must have been an almighty wave that overturned it. It failed to heed the weather warnings and take shelter, seduced by the eye of the storm. When the engines failed it was curtains for this boat as it obviously went broadside against the waves. It sank shortly afterwards. That it was loaded with an undeclared cargo of pesticides and there has been a hands-off policy ever since with no one prepared to take responsibility for what happened or its salvage. One end is anchored to the ocean floor so it will be no mean task to get it floating again. And who would want to deal with all the corpses inside?

The large island not far from here, near where this boat is languishing, is under constant threat of the lethal cargo escaping. It is being monitored daily and there is a fishing ban in place for the entire coastline. If as much as a small amount of this pesticide should leak into the ocean it could render the entire waters of this area lifeless for years to come. So as you can imagine there is much anxiety among the locals here

 Romblon Island, where we were, is famous for its marble carving and David asked someone to show us around. [He also has a small export business.] There are many workshops lining the roads above the town with angle grinders going flat out. Of course I had to get a closer look at these tools and discovered some ingenious improvisation off the shafts of their grinders. There was some quite interesting works of art...skilled reproductions of greco-roman statues and busts....loads of animals including a life-size lion and a baby elephant.... very groovy little pigs. And of course heaps of kitchenware and furniture. Took lots of photos.

The second night there we stayed at the only beach resort still open on the island. [This is the low season so not much happening on the tourist front. In fact we didn't see any apart from a couple of yacht-ies, if you could call them tourists. People do sail through these waters despite all the unrest down south.}

Anyway, this beach was idyllic. We rented a nipa hut and I spent most of the next day dozing in there with no sound but the surf and the fan going to cool things down. I should say that my living situation in Sugod is very noisy and busy. There are two households living on this compound and much of what goes on happens outside, right below my window. It all starts around 5.00 a.m. when every rooster in the village fires up and not long after people start moving around. By the time we get back from school there's people, animals and activity everywhere. The house is home to many stray cats, dogs, young friends of Tess' teenage children and an old auntie who has had a stroke so is partially immobile. She moves from points A to B very slowly with the help of a walker but spends most of the time sitting somewhere and standing up periodically to pee into a bucket that is permanently below her. She can't speak properly but is often in tears. I feel so sorry for her. There is also a litter of puppies that charge around the place. But to top it off the bitch next door was on heat last week so every dog in the village came visiting and fighting—also under my window—at all hours of the night. A good reason to escape to Romblon Island last weekend.

Life at school continues to be an interesting experience. I have converted half the library to an art room and am working on getting every class in at least once before I leave. This is a big district school with some children walking many miles to get there and back each day. Classes average around 50 in size so I am splitting them in half because I can't cope with those numbers, not when most of the kids can't understand a word I say. As you may have gathered there is virtually no government funding to these schools so there is no equipment or materials unless the teachers or children provide them themselves. Art, music and sport do not feature at all so if I had not bought these art materials there would be no art classes. The sight of paint is a first for most of these children and they are very excited about it. The teachers are only too happy for me to steal them away for an hour or so. They are as fascinated themselves.

So between the books and the art classes I am kept very busy. Just not sure what will happen to it all when I leave next week. Hopefully the teachers will keep it going.

There is one teacher here who has achieved the most amazing landscaping effort along side the children. Every class in the school is responsible for an area of the grounds that they tend as a garden. It’s really amazing. First thing in the morning they are all out there weeding, watering and breaking in new ground. This is the time of year to plant so I will miss out on the full effect come January and February. There is one section of the school that has been converted into a living garden, i.e. a fishpond, a butterfly atrium, all kinds of interesting things growing and on going science experiments amongst it all. It is beautiful with little paths, a bridge and nipa hut that doubles as a shade house. Under the direction of this one teacher the children have done it all themselves. A few years ago apparently there was nothing there.

So I think that's just about enough from me. One other thing. The other morning I woke up to the most fantastic thunderstorm. Thunder and lightening directly over head. It was so loud every thing was shaking and of course the rain was just about making holes in the roof it was coming down with so much force......Very exciting. It certainly silenced everything else.

Love to all.

Debs Hall

(Debs finished her program last August 30, 2008)

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