Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Shake up.

Life is interesting right now.  It may well have to do with this little pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel that has appeared now that the 9-months-to-go mark is nearly upon us.  That single digit adds a certain vigor and urgency to the way I'm viewing my experience, and a welcome one at that.  But there's something more to it.  In big ways and small, things have been getting shaken up lately here in Clarin.  And here is a smattering:

     There was a shake up in my job description for a few days when I temporarily took on the role of dental assistant during Faces of Tomorrow's second annual surgical mission to Bohol last month.  Instead of the usual meetings with fisherfolk and compulsive list-making my job usually entails, I spent a few days running an Autoclave, acting as translator, snipping sutures, and suctioning blood out of people's mouths for the Dr. Daniel as he did extraction after extraction.

     Another shake up came, this time in my living situation, when I used my MIND to get some serious home improvements under way.  Really.  Okay not really, but I do almost want to take credit for this.  I have several visitors passing through this spring (yay!) and I've been a little paranoid about how to house them in my concrete hovel/unintentional critter menagerie. For some reason, I got it into my head that the best possible thing I could do would be obtain a new floor.  Forget the dearth of running water, the constant insect and gecko invasion (who am I kidding, the geckos are the best thing ever), the aggressive ten-inch tuko lizard who lives in my bedroom and hunts in my kitchen (I love her the most), or the fact that I live next to a rooster farm full of birds who think 3am is as good a time as any to wake the world. No, I was convinced that it was my rough, raw, uneven and un-cleanable concrete floor was the thing keeping my home from being guest-friendly.  I got this idea that tile was the answer.
     Now, I had no idea where to get any, how much it would cost, or how I would get the required amount home with me from the city by bus. Nevertheless, I was sure it had to happen.  Even if I had to put it all in myself, using crushed up crackers and mashed roaches as mortar.  Upon further contemplation, and remembering where I live and what my monthly allowance is, my dream dwindled to something more like Maybe I can get a big roll of linoleum and just do the bedroom. Then, unbelievably, I came home from work one day to find several boxes of pure white flooring tiles on my front porch. What the what?  I had told a couple people about my tile dreams, neither of whom have anything to do with the complex where I live.  It was straight up coincidence.  Despite construction materials for my neighbors having been stored on my porch before, I dared to dream that somehow, these were for me.  The dream faded a bit when the boxes started disappearing, but I figured that if I found out whose they were and where that person had got them, I could at least really start looking into my own flooring project.
     A couple weeks after the tile first showed up, I ran into my landlord behind the house.  Behind her, past some chickens and an old bed frame, I could see a new white floor gleaming through her front door.  "My new floor!" she said. "Very nice," I said covetously, and before I could get another word out, "We will do yours next, maybe this week!"  No. Way.  It's been a week and a half since they started.  My living room and dining area are finished, my bedroom underway.

     Shake up number three came just before noon yesterday, February 7th.  This was the literal kind, as literal as it gets.  The 6.8 magnitude earthquake killed at least 15 people on Negros, and left several homes buried under the aftermath of a landslide.  In yet another coincidence, I had just the day before been reading up on earthquake preparedness, and the notion that anyone in an old or unstable building ought to get out as quickly as possible was fresh in my mind. Well, that's every building here, I had thought, and remembered the almost graceful, if unnerving, way the brand new Hotel Indigo tower had slid back and forth along its tracks in a perfect display of earthquake-ready engineering back in San Diego the summer before PC.  From the 11th floor, Leah and I watched East Village undulate below our floor-to-ceiling-windows.  That had been my only earthquake, and I was in quite possibly the safest place one could be other than an open field.
     So yesterday, when my vision started pulsing and desk rattling, I was up and out the door before my mind had formed a single cohesive thought.  Well, that's not entirely true. The image of my camera did pop into my mind, but I didn't have time to find it.  I waited out the rest of the quake barefoot in the front yard, checking overhead for power lines and listening to human shouts and inhuman creaks from all around.  It seemed to last a long time, and I gripped the grass with my toes and imagined the great plates vibrating themselves into a more comfortable position far below.  When it was over, I walked back into the house and away from the howls, bellows, and calls of countless animals flooding the air.  I straightened up, then packed a little emergency bag.  Just in case.

     After all that, I have a confession to make.  The entire reason I sat down to write a post tonight was because of another shake-up entirely.  It was because I revamped my Nalgene, and got so excited with its new look that I felt like I had to share.  Now, is it really important for you to know that I stripped all the old duct tape off my trusty bottle and finally replaced its well worn blue lid with the spare black one I packed a year and a half ago?  Probably not.  But it was a big deal to me.  I did contemplate writing a whole post about it.  But that's because it's exactly the kind of thing I get excited about these days.  And in these parts, it's noteworthy.  I guarantee you the next time I see Abby or Jessica or Kate or Todd, they'll say "What happened to your duct tape? And is a new lid?"  And I will launch into the whole story about how I found an article online about non edible uses for coconut oil, one of which was removing adhesives, and it got me thinking about how the reserve of duct tape I usually keep wound about my Nalgene had become a useless lump of fiber and goo.  How as long as I was getting rid of the tape, I might as well go all the way and switch out the old lid too!  I did a little dance when I had finished.  I did a little Nalgene dance on my white tile floor.

Shake-ups matter here.  The big ones, it's easy to see why. The little ones, they're a bit more of a mystery.

Assisting Dr. Daniel

I have no earthquake photos. Please accept this picture of me holding a pineapple instead.

...and this picture of me and Abby hanging out (har har) in her house.

Here I am at Abby's school, giving a presentation on terrestrial and marine biomes, the three main Philippine coastal environments, and how to be "Ocean Friendly".  Please note the Nalgene, pre-op.  Ironically, the slide says "Use a Reusable Water Bottle"

Post-op Nalgene.  Fancy!
Also, is that a new white tile floor I see down in the right-hand corner?? Oh my! That bamboo thing is my bed - currently in the living room.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Save and Protect

I certainly wouldn't mind having a print of this to hang in my home someday!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dan Rather anyone?

Howdy friends, loved ones, random others who stumbled here from "Peace Corps Journals"...

The world is a crazy place, and in this line of work, things seem even less predictable than usual.  This week I had the good fortune to mix things up a bit and work on my second annual (wow - how long have we been here again?) Faces of Tomorrow Medical mission.  The adjectives of praise and superlatives abound. Inspiring, life changing, life-affirming, etc. I will do a full post on that later, after I get over the emotional hangover of seeing them leave again.

Where all this is going, is that you just never know what's going to be thrown your way.  One day you're sitting around drinking tuba with a bunch of crusty old fishermen, trying to slip in a good word about the local marine protected area, the next you're helping a US-based dentist suction the blood out of someone's mouth who has just had eleven teeth extracted (true story). Peace Corps just throws you curve balls like that, and really, most of the time it's great.  But whatever it is that draws me away for a while, CRM work always, infallibly, pulls me back.  The thing that's got me really hooked this time (excuse the pun) it this issue of shark finning.  Apparently, most people out there actually have no idea we have a crisis on our hands.  This I learned this past week while talking to a man who was singing the praises of shark fin soup, and who had no idea that sharks were in any kind of peril whatsoever. "It's not like we have a shortage of sharks, right?" he said. My eyes widened.  I guess I assumed that everyone knew that sharks are in major trouble, but that's probably because everyone I interact with on a daily basis is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Southeast Asia who has had to put up with my ranting about it for the last 17 months.  It's like how I assume that everyone knows that Bluefin tuna are careening towards extinction as well.  But these animals are not the best advocates for their own survival. Tigers are majestic, pandas are adorable, sea turtles endearingly wise - and that's great for them. Sharks and tuna on the other hand? A little harder to sell as creatures deserving of our love and protection.

But here it is: We are fishing them to extinction. And they are very, very important animals. Apex predators like sharks and tuna regulate the entire rest of the food chain - they keep everything in balance. Additionally, because they are so good at what they do, they are intentionally slow to reproduce.  This self-regulating mechanism keeps their own populations in check and is why they will not recover from being over-fished.

I beg you, friends, family, and strangers, take a stand.  You don't have to actually do anything, you just have to alter your habits to not do the damage. Don't eat Bluefin, and don't eat shark fin soup.

And click the link below to watch this awesome Dan Rather special shot by the incredible and dedicated Shawn Heinrichs, whom Mom, Ryan and I met and dove with over their visit last November.


You're the best.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Christmas in the Cordillera

I woke up just before 6am yesterday to Abby tapping my on the shoulder. "We're here, I'm going home" she said. I pulled myself up onto my elbows, looking around at the men sleeping on vinyl-cushioned iron bunks around me.  "Wait for me".  We got off the overnight ferry and took a long silent walk down the Tubigon pier.  It was still early enough and wet enough to be cool outside, but there were already signs another hot Visayan day was approaching.  Bohol, in all its low green familiarity lay before us, a vague yet undeniable home.  By the time I had said goodbye to Abby, found a trike for the final twenty minute ride to Clarin, and unlocked my front door, I had been traveling for twenty-five hours and the mountainous interior of north Luzon was far behind.  Inside, I found signs that it had rained, and rained hard, while I was away - standing water in my bedroom and kitchen that had started to grow an organic slick, and mold covering any exposed textile or paper product.  I pulled off my damp pillowcase and covered the pillow with a clean towel, lie down, and slept until 4pm.

The Cordillera region - the rugged backbone of northern Luzon - turned over almost every generalization I have made about the Philippines thus far.  The Philippines I have been talking about turns out to really only be the Visayas, the fragmented island region in the middle of the country, to which Bohol belongs.  The Visayas are were people come to lie on white sand and drink coconut water, to dive coral reefs and visit Spanish churches.  If you dig very deep, you may find remnants of tribal culture here, but that isn't likely.  Catholicism is the mainstay of life in the Visayas, and Bohol considers itself a very Catholic island in an already very Catholic region in a very, very Catholic country.  It is what it is.

Perhaps because Banaue, Sagada, and Baguio - the three towns where nine of my friends and I chose to spend our final holiday season in the Philippines - are just so damned hard to get to, both physically and financially, they are shockingly untouched by Philippine (read: Colonial) standards.  From Bohol, getting to Banaue meant a ferry to Cebu, and flight to Manila, and a very long and expensive overnight van to Banaue. That was the easy way, but that amount of time could have easily put me back in the States as well.  Around  6am on December 24, our van was winding through misty mountain roads and closing in on the Green View Inn.  We had all changed into fleece and wool, and were staring out at ragged land that could not possibly belong to the Philippines.  Thankfully our inn was ready for us when we arrived well before check in, and we were able to go up to rooms lined with pine trim and beds with heavy blankets.  Outside the restaurant downstairs, the famous ancient rice terraces filled the view.  We were all cold.  After breakfast and generous amounts of brewed coffee, we set out to a small museum of Ifugao tribal life, were we all had our first taste of honest to God pre-colonial Philippine culture.  Mind-blowing.  Here were stilt houses and toothed necklaces, monkey skull headdresses and portraits of head-hunting men and terrace-climbing women bedecked in tattoos and crocodile teeth.  Later we inadvertently hiked 8 kilometers (so much for our mellow day) up and then back down the road to look out at the spectacular views of the ancient terraces.  The next day, we had a very merry Christmas, complete with gift exchange and mulled wine.  Our last day in Banaue, we rented a jeepney and hired a guide, and spent 7 hours trekking through the more-impressive-still terraces  and mountainsides of the tiny village of Batad.  It was here that I realized just how much I've missed the mountains, how sluggish I've let my mind and body become down in the sweaty Visayas, and felt again how these awkwardly long limbs of mine were meant to scramble around through pine trees and boulders and scree.

Sagada came next, with its own particular brand of artsy-outdoorsy cool.  We ended up renting the four-bedroom upstairs of a little house, which meant that in addition to enjoying Sagada's much-touted cafes and restaurants, we were able to cook for ourselves.  Here, there were caves to explore, valleys to hike, and hanging coffins to find.  Throughout the town is this sense that people are doing things, be it baking or throwing pots or leading tourists into the surrounding wilds.  You don't see so many people sitting around with their shirts pulled up to expose their beer bellies, drinking and relaxing midday.  Highlights were celebrating Mindy's 26th birthday, helping Sabrina stealthily feed the enormous hog in the middle of the night, finding a pair of Prana climbing pants at the local ukay-ukay for 200 pesos, eating fresh, amazing yogurt at Yogurt House, and actually seeing the word "vegan" in print on a menu for the first time since leaving Southern California back in August of 2010.

Baguio came next.  It is itself a large, chaotic city with bad traffic and ample noise pollution (helped in large part by the seemingly millions of hawkers out selling New Years Eve noisemakers on the street), but what Baguio lacks in immediate charm, it more than makes up for in an abundance of creative hideaways in the form or bars, coffee shops, funky restaurants, art spaces, and parks.  On the last day of 2011, Sabrina and I woke early and walked to Starbucks (!!!) to finish off the year by ordering one of each of their holiday drinks and too many pastries, then splitting them all.  The barista brought us out extra silverware, clearly thinking we were waiting for more people to arrive.  After that, we climbed up the road to Baguio Buddha Temple and were waiting outside its tall gate when it opened.  Inside, we quietly took pictures then made our prayers for the new year.

Back in Clarin, it's already as though Banaue, Sagada, and Baguio are a cool, distant dream.  But that's not to say that they haven't affected me in some lasting way.  "The Philippines" suddenly means so much more to me.  In addition to hot, wet, crowded, Justin Bieber-obsessed, Catholic, slow, and "where the hell are all the vegetables?", it also means cold, dry, green, pine trees, country music, artistic, progressive, and tribal.  But that's the thing about traveling isn't it?  It opens up your mind and unsticks you from the places you didn't even realize you had been stuck.  And it all just goes to show that even travelers need to remember to travel once in a while.  

The view from our inn in Banaue


Goofy Mindy on the road

More terraces - some 4,000 years old

The view from the Heritage restaurant 4k up the road in Banaue

Making mulled wine on Christmas day

From a wood carving shop in Banaue

Window sill

Doing what I do best - at a restaurant for Christmas dinner
The landslide that blocked our way until our guide and driver hacked through it with a machete
Mist - long time no see

Before hiking down to the village of Batad


Soaking in the view and fresh air in the surrounding mountains

Testing out the kitchen in a replica Ifugao hut at the Bontoc museum

Happy hikers getting ready to go out in Sagada

Listening for echos, looking for coffins, and testing out my barefoot Merrells in Echo Valley, Sagada

Hanging coffins.  They are placed out of and away from the ground so that the spirits of the bodies within are closer to God. 
Creek crossing
One of many caves around the town
A license plate surprise up on the road

Wild coffee


A Yogurt House specialty 

Birthday bonfire

Impromptu drum lesson

Native tsokolate at Baguio's Camp John Hay

Sabrina's and my farewell 2011 breakfast

Sharing all three holiday specials - Peppermint Mocha, Cranberry White Chocolate Mocha, and Toffee Nut Latte
Sabrina, waiting for the temple to open
Buddha over Baguio

Me, with the temple's giant Buddha
Fish friends 

Prayers for a new year

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Week in Pictures

Staving off jet lag at the pool

Clouds over Clarin

Boat picnic

On the mangrove islet

Ryan on the bow

Paddle ready

Mama feet

Coca Cola break in Dauis



Teasing the giant clams

Itty bitty jelly and its tinier pet goldfish 

Mama into the light





Island break

The Victoria


Pawikan friend


The deadly but docile banded sea krait


A final trike ride