Five star raw

Originally published February 9th, 2012

Bahay Kalipay

I had a weekend ‘off’ 10 days ago; Simone had to leave to Malaysia. And so I contacted the person that she and Ramke had been raving about since I got here: Pi Villaraza at Bahay Kalipay. On the paradise island of Palawan.

Pi Villaraza says of himself that he found, not founded, ‘inner dance’.

Inner Dance is the dance we dance within, the dance of our thoughts, our feelings.

The dance of the higher being inside us, the dance we dance with the universe. And when we talk about the universe, we talk about mother earth. The part of ourselves that we call earth, because in effect, we are all an inseparable part of each other, the earth, the universe. It is quite spectacular and hard to put into words.

hammocks and breezes at Bahay Kalipay

Needless to say that going to Pi’s retreat called Bahay Kalipay (House of Happy), you are going to live with earth, connect with nature.

 

 

The place is paradise. Off a dust road outside Puerto Princesa you enter a lush garden of green. Banana trees, coconut trees, strings of ‘angel’s hair’, huts interspersed throughout and interconnected with each other, straw roofs, open sides, beads and dream catchers swaying in the breeze, mosaic of broken tiles arranged on the ground into harmonious shapes…

 

five star raw

At Bahay Kalipay one eats raw. Only raw. I had been on raw food for two weeks, so easy-peasy for me; I wouldn’t even call it a ‘detox’ anymore, like the other attendees of the course did. And the raw food served here is five-star compared to what Simone and I had been mixing up. It turns out there is a vast host of ingredients one can use to spice it up, like curries, mueslis, nuts… Smoothies were green, made of green leaves (the most nutritious vegetable, second to coconut on the whole) and herbs. I ate like a goddess! One of the days we even went on a buko fast. Only coconut juice and meat for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner. And it, too, was OK.

In this environment, I continued reading in my book, ‘nature’s first law’. I don’t feel I need to read anymore because it all makes sense, and yet it still provides snippets of information that reinforce the authors statements on all levels of life, health, illness, pollution, evolution…

Eating raw food is not about ‘going on a diet to lose weight’

(I am freely quoting the authors in this post.) The raw food diet is not even a diet in the sense of the way we use the term. Humans are raw food eaters, by nature. So eating raw is basically just… eating. At the very base of their exposé, the authors of the book say ‘cooked food is poison’. It is the last sentence of every chapter. Cooked food is poison. Quite dramatic. …

‘No natural creature ever tampers with its food’, yet we humans cook and process virtually everything we eat. Nature provided us with all we need, and we go change it. By changing it and this is the thing, by cooking, burning, processing and adding chemicals to it, we deprive our system from all the nutrients that would feed it and what’s more, we turn it into something that the human body was not intended to digest. Because the body can’t handle it, it takes days to digest it. Because the body doesn’t know what to do with it, it stores it. What we call fat are leftovers… leftovers of the mush we feed our body that it can’t process the way it is supposed to.

The authors say that every illness the human being has comes from his diet; from the body being weakened by not receiving enough nutrients and from being forced to process mush that doesn’t actually give it anything. The leftovers clog our arteries. The leftovers turn into vicious cells.

They talk about doctors who have successfully cured patients with natural nutrition. They quote Hippocrates with ‘Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.’

It makes me sad. And angry. ‘Why has our entire system of everyday reality been built up in a way that it is so very bad for us? And why does it have to taste so good? Why is a breakfast with yoghurt and cheese-toasts and coffee harming me?’ And what’s more, the industries around the way we eat harm our world so badly, factories, pharmaceuticals (to ‘mend’ what we have done wrong but, in effect, just inserting another indigestible element to our system), transport, electronic devices, waste… so many things are part of our everyday life now that were not supposed to be here in the first place.

I don’t like it! I don’t like that my reality is now suddenly wrong, I don’t like that our reality seems to be a big mistake. I don’t like that my reliable comforts harm me. When I walk through a supermarket all I can see is how processed, packed and fake everything is. The book was written in the nineties, and they claim that 80% of our waste landfills were filled with packaging and things related to cooked and processed foods. 80%… I hope that today it is less; I hope that some of our efforts to live sensibly and ecologically have had an impact.

And I don’t like how nobody seems to know this. Why was this such news to me? A big part of me doesn’t like that this knowledge has been shared with me. Because now I can’t ignore it! Now I will need to take it from here, and now I will also be, and have been, telling other people about it – and will I be upsetting or annoying because of it?

The question I have been asking myself is precisely that: HOW will I take it from here? I don’t know how this post sounds to you, because now I am sharing it with you just like it has been shared with me. Am I leaving you with a sense of frustration? Or amusement? I know you’ll all be thinking and feeling what I do. ‘But if it makes me feel good, surely it can’t be bad?!’ and ‘No way I’ll give up my pasta!’

Here’s the thing: I feel great!

I really, truly do. Four weeks into it now. Apparently I have lost more weight, though that was not the intention. My body feels fit and energized. My hair feels good. I don’t feel like my skin needs to be moisturized at all anymore. I sleep better.

And I feel the difference when I ‘cheat’. Because I do have the odd cup of coffee and cheeky muffin; the day I returned from Palawan I actually had a beer and deep-fried cheese… When others are eating cooked, I’ll add rice or bread to my salad. But I try to always have as many raw elements as cooked ones in my balance; ideally slightly more raw than cooked. I feel good. I feel I am doing my body good. And want that to stay.

So I want to give it a go. My goal is to have two raw meals a day, and add raw to whatever cooked food I eat. I will get a fancy recipe book and the tools I need. Because some of the stuff we ate in Bahay Kalipay was out of this world and I would have downed it even without knowing the beneficial effects it has. I will go to market. I will find out about it all.

I am expecting it to be a challenge, starting with the winter when less fresh is available and when we feel we need to ‘warm up’ with food, and especially when it will be just me…

Let’s see 🙂

Last days – encountering the elements

Originally published February 9th, 2012 – My second last day on Negros started the evening before. Sunday night, we met Miss Melina from the organisation for indigenous communities and Albert from Bantay Bata (the TV’s goodwill arm who is Simone’s partner on her Connect, Create, Conserve project) at Silay City Hall.

 

I have noticed people referring to ladies as Miss and her first name (Miss Laura), but I haven’t noticed the equivalent for men. However they do call everyone Sir and Ma’am. I like it. ‘Good evening Ma’am’.

Charlie’s Angels

When I say ‘we’, this time it was three Western girls, Simone, me, and Ulli – Ulli is a band member Kalayo’s girlfriend – she flew in from Germany two weeks ago and has been my peer since (she gets my take on toilets, that it is not intended to be disrespectful or princessy, but that it is ‘different’). She spontaneously joined us, which was cool. Charlie’s Angels 😉

 

And when I say we met Miss Melina and Albert, that means, naturally, we waited for them for an hour. Sat down in the grass, we were joined by all the kids playing on the statues outside the City Hall. All the kids sat with us, rolled on the grass bumping into us, just watched us. We’re an attraction. I even caught one little boy sniffing Ulli’s blonde hair. Sweet!

 

This time we only had one day of workshop in the mountain, and because it is such a journey, the Tribal Leader offered for us all to sleep at his house at the bottom of the dirt road. Half-way. He has a proper house, was all proud of it. Concrete built, marble floors, front porch, bedrooms, equipped kitchen… the kind of house that everyone seems to aspire to, that are being widely advertised on large billboards along the roads, but that goes completely past local cultures and the bamboo huts of the mountain community. Filipino hospitality, we were offered slippers and dinner: home-grown rice and fried fish. We tasted it, I have trouble saying “no” to the omnipresent rice, and added our cabbage-tomato salad to it. Lush!

For bed we actually got a room, a double bed and a proper mattress on the ground. We argued a bit having brought sleeping bags and sheets and been ready to doss down on a floor – the marble had looked clean to us compared with other floors, and suspecting that grandma and the tribal leader were now sleeping on the floor. But there was no discussion, and so I had my second night in an actual bed since I left LA.

 

The next day we… waited. For Caryll Ann from Bantay Bata who had to cancel out on the sleepover. But having to wait for her to come up with the first Jeepney (with the fishers), we couldn’t help but wonder why we had come up the previous night. We weren’t going to get to the community earlier after all. But that is Filipino time. We all got up for a 7 am departure, which turned out to be a 9 am departure, so we watched the massive flat screen – the National Geographic channel was showing one report after the next on predators and their killings.

up the mountain on the back of the Captain’s truck

When Caryll Ann arrived, a group of 14 school kids also arrived. We hadn’t known this, but today the ladies of the tribe were going to show the dance that accompanies the traditional rhythm that that lady had drummed for us last time. These high school students were going to document it in the scope of a project. Everyone was loaded onto the Captain’s truck. It was a utility truck; we got on the back and held on to the sides. Pretty soon up the road we held on for dear life, as it turned out.

 

 

 

dust tracks turned to mud tracks

It had rained all night. The dirt road turned into a mud road. We got stuck at one point, and a lady and a man appeared from out of the sugarcane fields to help us get going. She threw straw under the wheels, he pushed. He wasn’t wearing any shoes, and had the most massive feet I think I’ve ever seen. Once we were moving, he hopped on, too.

A bigger truck approached from behind, a big sugarcane truck. It was when I saw how it was skidding on the mud, slipping around, tipping on the uneven track that I saw how our truck was making its way up the hill. I didn’t like it very much – you always hear of these things: truck falls over in mud, squashing 14 students and three volunteer workers. Or do we even hear about them? Hm not much there could be done about it that very moment, besides, they say to do something scary every once in a while.

 

The workshop went really well. Really well! We had a day on the basics of marketing (Simone taking advantage of my presence), so I went through Product – Price – People – Place – Promotion and Simone added the community value to it. We had them work in groups and ‘develop’ a product/service in that scheme around their community which we acted out afterwards. We were amazed at their input! Wow! The topics were ‘food’, ‘accommodation’, ‘tours’ and ‘shop’ and when we returned to the room after lunch, people had brought back little flower wreaths and cut up papaya, they had drawn signposts and put on costumes! They were excited and so were we!

Miss Melina, Caryll Ann, the man who opened the buko, self, Ulli, the Captain’s secretary, Simone and a girl

We finished the day with a relaxation session and then I said my official goodbye to the community and got a big applause. Everybody came individually to shake my hand; one lady even said ‘we prefer you’ which I kept to myself.

Upon our departure, photos were taken, lots of group shots!

 

 

This day of 6 February was marked by something else. I can’t remember what time it was, if it was before or after the lunch break, but at one point in the classroom, the community leader looked at the ceiling (the beams and aluminium sheets that made the roof), said something and instantly everyone’s faces turned serious and we all ran out!

Earthquake

I was convinced it was a snake (having watched that report on tv in the morning, they were a bit too present on my mind), but it turned out that it was an earthquake. And once I was told this, I felt it, too. Ever so slightly, like being on a slowly rocking boat. We asked why we’d run out and the kids hadn’t; well, because the room we were in is unstable – reassuring. And then we asked if they experience many earthquakes here and they said ‘never’.

 

Shortly after that, text messages came in. Being shut off from the world without electricity, this was where the information came from. People’s families and friends were texting from the city. Snippets of information came through. 6.8 magnitude. Cebu and Negros Oriental hit strongest. Tsunami warning issued. After-quakes expected. At 3pm, Caryll Ann’s office had texted to order us back down. They didn’t want us on the roads during after-shocks. Hell, I didn’t want to be on that muddy track at all, a little shake and there was no telling where the truck would slip to! But we also couldn’t help but think that we’d be safer in the mountains than by the coast…

 

The next day however we heard that the mountains were hit worst, and that people had been gone missing in landslides. Bless. We were all safe in Negros Occidental. We felt two massive after-shocks on that evening at home at Chyd’s. They lasted quite long, probably not more than a few seconds. But it sure gives you a whole new respect for mother earth when it starts to shake beneath your feet. We all just looked at each other, not sure what to do. I headed to a doorframe, because I think I had heard that was a good place to be… the shake wasn’t that strong, but you definitely can see how there is not much to do when it happens, I can’t imagine what it’s like when it hits you proper hard.

 

The next day I left Negros. I stayed a night in Manila, on the eighth floor of a hotel – and for some reason I could still feel the earth moving, very aware of me being in a big building. I slept half dressed.

honour your environment

Originally published January 30th, 2012 – It was 6:45 a.m. and I had just crawled out from under my mosquito net that was attached to childrens’ chairs, grabbed my toothbrush and water bottle and opened the door of the day care centre we had slept in. And there she stood, this elderly lady. Holding the biggest fruit I had ever seen, smiling at me and saying “Maayong aga, good morning! Jackfruit!”

And a BIG smile!

Was it timing or had she been standing there waiting for us to open the door? I don’t know. But naturally we let her in. The lady knelt down on the ground, and chopped away with the large knife they also use to open Buko and coconuts with.

Jackfruit for breakfast

Ramke and Simone crowded over her, devouring every piece of Jackfruit as soon as it was liberated. One eats the soft little yellow pieces of fruit inside the big hard green shell of Jackfruit. It tastes sweet, a bit like vanilla, but it has a vinegary kick…

The indiginous community of Sitio Sibato

We were at Sitio Sibato. Finally.

This is the indigenous community that Simone has been working to get to for over a year, as explained in a previous post. We were supposed to go in a week earlier, but administration got in the way, the partner organisation needed to get more OKs from more institutions, etc. So when this time we got the go-ahead, spirits were up in our little household!

Because spirits had been a bit low –Simone had been feeling poorly. She and Ramke are friends but the two of them bicker a lot, and I guess this project being halted didn’t necessarily add any positive energy. I stayed neutral, tried to keep out as much as I could, and if that wasn’t possible, I tried to mediate.

In that extra week, however, we did work a lot. I am finding myself ‘coaching’ Simone in her organisation’s undertakings more than being an intern. I think I am interning in the way of life more than the job, which is a fabulous internship and really giving me a lot. Remember how I was never really able to explain what I was going to be doing here? Well, I am trying to help her come across more clearly for future candidates or in any of her other communications. I don’t mean this to sound pejorative, I just think that maybe this was my mission here, to help her with what I know how to do – I still believe I am good at it, even though I no longer actively work in communications per se. And she is asking for it; I guess when you’re running your own organization alone, all the time, you’re happy when someone else comes aboard to talk things through.

We also went to the pool of an eco-lodge one day, celebrated Chinese New Year in Bacolod the next, I went to the Hacienda, the band rehearsed for the concert… but this was good, the project was kicking off!

We packed our backpacks, took a tricycle, then a bus, then waited outside the mayor’s office in Silay for one hour for Caryl Ann from the partner organization. And then we waited another hour for Miss Melina from the council for the indigenous communities to arrive. We got in the private jeepney at around 10:30 (the workshop was supposed to begin at 10:00, but this is normal here, they say), and headed off. First we went along a road, past the airport. Then along a dirt road past sugar cane plantations, then we stopped and loaded in some people at the tribe chief’s house, then we bounced up a rickety dirt road as far as the jeepney could take us. Then we got out and hiked the rest.

we walked up a hill, across a ridge, down a hill and up again

The hike was about one km long, on a path through amazing landscapes. Up a hill, across a ridge, down a hill, up again and then we reached the school of the community.

Everyone was there, kids were staring at us, and we were ushered past classrooms to the largest hall of the little complex. This was where the workshop was going to be.

 

The attendees who had come in the morning had been sent home for lunch in the meantime, so we settled in, arranged the chairs in a big circle, and prepared some lunch with the veggies we had brought. All the time we were being watched, and being helped.

Fresh Buko – it is all we need

The leader of the community opened some buko, served us the fresh water from inside it and scraped out the fruit for us. Such a welcome! I have come to appreciate fresh coconut. For one it really tastes OK. I don’t crave it, but I like it. It tastes nothing like the dried processed coconut they sprinkle on things in factories. And secondly, Ramke (he really knows a lot) told me it is the fruit of all fruits, the mother of nutrition; it is the single, most healthiest thing we can eat. Human beings could live off it, and knowing that alone makes it taste good!

So the way the workshops run is that Simone talks and facilitates, Caryl Ann translates (not only the language, but also giving examples they can relate to). The workshop is on ‘social entrepreneurship’; the basics of business, business with care – how to make myself a living that won’t harm me, my community, my culture or my environment.

honour your environment in your business, make THAT your business

the workshop – draw yourself

She uses creative moments, has people draw a lot, plays music etc. It is ambitious, but I think it is good. And from the reactions from the people attending, the basic message seems to come across. Yes, they agree that life in the busy city (which many aspire to) and not ever having enough may not be better than living in nature where you have it all. Honour your environment in your business, make THAT your business.

I think we should ALL think about that.

Which is where I came in. While we were preparing for the workshop, I told Simone about the ‘trend’ going on in the ‘Western’ worlds, how companies are developing Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility schemes, designing their business to be the best possible actor (well, at least they are doing the minimum to be able to sell the point; but even then, every little counts) and why this is happening. Because the consumer is becoming more and more aware of the impact on life and nature that business and production have. And with this awareness we are starting to look for the ‘least harming’ when we chose what we consume… I think this is where I may also have come to be useful to Simone.

Apart from asking ‘structuring’ questions, I also come from the place that she is trying to tell people not to copy blindly. But I come from the big bad west, I know the industries, I know our lifestyles. And I know of some trends she doesn’t know of – which happens when you leave a place, you just lose touch. So I agree that focussing on the ‘unique’ and ‘real’, and making just THAT your business is, actually, hopefully, what the consumer might, should, be looking for. I mentioned eco-tourism and glamping, how people in ‘the west’ are now more and more looking to be least harmful for and to connect more with nature when we travel. Because one of Simone’s suggestions is for this community to consider setting up an eco-village in the future, build mud huts, offer the experience of nature, earth music, indigenous culture, crafts and even add a spiritual note to it.

words of wisdom

So anyway, she asked me to give a little talk on CSR, which I did. People listened 😉 Well, they looked. And they listened to Caryl Ann’s translation and nodded. Hmmm. This made me happy. I had been looking into training before leaving my previous job. It made me happy that this spontaneous intervention went well.

The whole two-day workshop went well. There is a lot to work on, a lot to tone down. As previously said, it is very ambitious, but the community likes it. And the partner likes it. We had a very good meeting with Caryl Ann when we were back in the city – now that it is concrete and happening, they are drawing up a memorandum of understanding which will be signed by all partners (including administration) and it will also facilitate finding funds. Also, they asked for Simone to train some trainers so that the workshops can be more fluent if they are held in Ilongo directly. This is what she had hoped for, for them to take ownership. This is all good.

On the hospitality side the experience was a very uplifting one. I have overcome my initial shock of ‘simplicity’, which I am happy about. I didn’t like my ‘princess’ reactions, because I know that this princess behaviour is ultimately really bad for our planet; and I am becoming very aware of that. This community lives without water or electricity. They lug their water up in barrels, they have a generator in the school that they turn on for one hour a day to make the computers work – they have 11 computers that were donated to them. Actually, they are looking for funding for a solar panel that could have the PCs operational. I also think they should collect rainwater, it rains plenty here, but I guess for that they also need funding. HOWEVER, with the workshops they may be able to come up with solutions for that.

Without electricity, you eat before it gets dark. We prepared our raw vegetable salad, while the teachers, who live there during the week, cooked their rice. The villagers go home (one kid told me he walks 3 kms to school, over a mountain and through a river, every day – they all live really spread out. Proper far away.) I offered them some carrots, they laughed! They don’t eat raw carrots. WOW!

Princess suites in the day care center

But dinner was good, after that we moved into our quarters. The day care centre. The lady who brought us the Jackfruit the next morning had actually offered to sleep there with us (WOW), but we said we’d be fine, she should go home to her place. The teachers spared us some mattresses from their camp beds, so once the mozzie-nets were up, we had a pretty nice little suite.

Before bed we walked up a little hill next to the day care centre. There was a clearing in the dense green of coconut and banana trees and all the other lush big greens that grow in this tropical climate. Ramke suggested a bonfire, and the few kids that were there went off for wood. Soon enough the teachers joined in, the lady who brought us jackfruit and some others. Ramke brought out his drum and guitar, the locals brought fermented coconut (the local alcohol; after my chicha encounter I asked, and nobody chews anything during the process), it was a really nice moment. The jackfruit lady taught Ramke a tribal rhythm that her grandfather used to play, but that nobody knows anymore. She doesn’t have a drum. He was impressed.

And you see, these are the things!

Talent and raw material in abundance

The talent and ‘raw’ material is right there! They have the sense of customer care, probably more so than any ‘customer care’ professionals – because it is intuitive goodness. And they have their local culture. An own beat! Bring the lady a drum! Show her how to make drums, and visitors could jam away with her under the starry nights of Negros!

Simone and I had a good girlie chat and laugh in bed that night – at one point Ramke pssht-ed us; we are getting to know each other now in a way where we can laugh easily with each other, we are starting to get each other’s humours, feel comfortable. Its good, I like that, it makes it all more fun!

The second day was another good one. We only got the morning, and less people. Wednesday is market day, they need to sell their produce. We’ll know for next time.

As we were packing up our things to leave, Jean, one of the teachers, called me into her classroom. She said the kids were too distracted for class, so maybe I could just come in and answer their questions.

I had just applied sun protection and insect repellent, it was the usual 30 degrees; so you can picture me, I looked particularly sticky in that moment. That is how I made my entrance, I apologized for my shiny skin, but explained that I needed to put special cream on it to protect it from the sun that is too strong for it. One boy said, in Ilongo, that he had never seen anyone like me.

Hmmm. Yes, I guess, if you don’t have tv, you walk for two hours through nature to get to school, then I guess yes, you may never have seen anyone like me. We continued, they asked questions in their language, Jean translated. They wanted to know where I come from (we looked at the globe, all there was, was the usual LUX – country’s too small to put the name in), what its like over there and if I was married (everybody wants to know that). They giggled a lot, kids crowded at the windows to watch. I felt like Lady Di. This was fourth grade. They learn English from a very young age, it is a national language in the Philippines (which makes it rather easy to travel here). Yet these kids needed translation. I asked them if they understood me, some nodded, so I encouraged them to keep it up, they are doing really good. Later on it occurred to me that maybe they have never heard anyone but their teachers talk English to them – these workshops will really bring a lot more than the workshops alone.

Halfway through my ‘intervention’ Ramke strolled out of the comfort room (that’s what, ironically, they call the toilets here – it was in the classroom, and with an open ceiling) – he later said that he’d heard the girls whisper to each other that ‘she’s so pretty’.

Awwwww…. I’ll finish on that note.

Being privately public

Originally published February 2, 2012 – Dear friends,

I kept this a restricted site until two months ago when I decided it’s really time for me to share the things I see, the things I love, the things I’ve learned. At the beginning, I didn’t make this site public because I felt would not feel free to write if I knew the whole world was reading it. I’m a private person. In 2012 when I set up the blog and started populating it for the eyes of a select audience, I even had a hard time with that – being public, even privately public. I didn’t send out usernames and passwords to all of the people I would have liked to send it to because I felt truly self-conscious about inflicting it on others.

expectations

I was worried that I’d be expecting my friends to make a commitment they might not want to take – that they may expect me to expect them to read it. Who am I, I reasoned with myself, to say that this blog with its many pages is how you would want to spend your precious spare time? So I distributed it very cautiously…

I am enjoying writing. At the moment I am very aware of the fact that I just write. I write quickly to jot down as many snippets of experiences and observations as I can before I forget them, before so many more pile on top of them. There are so many stories I have not yet been able to put down.

And there you are, actually reading them! Not only reading them, but making the most encouraging comments to me, making me feel like you are right here with me, following me, getting me. That is so generous, thank you!

I have less than a week left here in Negros, less than a week in my other world. I have come to deeply feel this place, this place I am in, the encounters I am making, the thoughts they are provoking. I have just been on a rollercoaster of kindness and inspiration and I don’t know how to hold on to it, record it, make the most of it, give back to it.

our world, our future

But I know that this is the dance of the universe, we are all in it together, you give, you take, and mostly you are doing both at the same time – even if it doesn’t always appear that way. And, with the universe dancing, I felt I had no choice but to share what I’ve seen and what I’ve done so maybe you can have a different perspective because of it. Like the Philippines. A beautiful country, with beautiful, wonderful, generous people, but living in pollution with trash littering their beaches. Orphans. Smog so thick, you’re dirty just minutes after you’ve showered. And food, the circle of life, our life, what are we doing to our bodies? Our future?

Thank-you for sharing this back to the past journey with me. Once it’s over, and it nearly is, we’ll be going to new places together. Our next stop will be India.

 

 

waking up to the sounds of the flute

Originally published on February 4th, 2012 


Waking up to the sounds of the flute, I’m now almost local and an active part of our family of the moment
, and here’s how my days generally go.

Ramke playing his flute

Ramke’s sound healing

When I wake up in the morning, it is either through pottering in the house of Chyd (Ramke’s sister) getting ready to go to work and her helper Victor…helping. He has a very shrill voice. Or it is to the sound of Ramke playing his flute very softly, it is a beautiful, peaceful and gentle wake-up call from a distance.

Mostly I wake up to the sunshine first though. It shines right onto my mattress, through tinted windows and it is H O T. I turn on the little fan beside me to dry off the sweat, then I roll out.

sleeping with drums and guitars

The room I sleep in is a mess. A proper mess. It is normally Ramke’s room, he sleeps in the living room, as does Simone, while I am here, and all their stuff as well as my stuff is in here. There is one cupboard, but it has no hangers or shelves, so stuff falls out of it. I have taken possession of the 4 hooks on the door, and that is as organised as it gets. I try to sort heaps as I go along, but really, it is all about ‘look and find’. This room is also the storage to Ramke’s band’s instruments. Drums and guitars are my roommates. I like that, makes me feel artsy.

I grab one of the individual Nescafé serving bags I buy at the market in Talisay and make my way to the kitchen.
Victor inevitably screeches ‘coofffeeeeeeee?’ and I say ‘hmmmmmm’ and he gets out a mug and saucer for me while I pump hot water out of the hot water maker.
Ramke then inevitably says ‘Coffee!!!’ in a fake surprised, shocked and sarcastically reproaching tone and ‘but you’re on RAW!’, to which I used to respond politely, even apologetically, and to which I now just groan. He’s become a like a brother to me, and we’re getting comfortable in each others’ authenticities in that way. Simone still sleeps at this point. When she gets up, she makes smoothies, though I have begun to also make the morning smoothie. We use whatever fruit we have from previous visits to the market. Typically we go there every day. Typically we get papaya and mango, she likes papaya, I like mango (they are really juicy!) – so we mix in the two, and add in a banana.

And then the start to the day is slow. We mooch. Everybody goes online. I write. Or prepare work for Nomadic Hands. Or just talk Simone through whatever she is working on. Or I read my book on raw food that I want to finish before I leave. When I feel like doing my own stuff, I retreat to my mattress in our room, which is where I am right now.

time

Sometimes we have a timeframe for when we want to leave, but it is never fixed, it is inevitably always changed, and for obscure reasons when someone finally decides that it’s time to leave, it becomes an emergency. At first I would then hurry, but realising that that would have me sit ready and with my backpack on my back on the couch for another half hour waiting for people, I have just adopted my own rhythm now.

Time and timing have a different concept in the Philippines. Relaxing into is is part of local integration, a bit like knowing which jeepney to catch when.

We write yesterday. Yesterday was a very big day. Yesterday was the fundraising concert at the University at which Ramke and Simone’s band, Malignu, were performing. Malignu are a so-called earth band, they play instruments that they mostly make themselves (drums, didjeridoos, flute, guitar) and they have been rehearsing for this event ever since I arrived. Their music is melodious and somewhat primal, I have grown to really enjoy it.

At one o-clock was the technical rehearsal at the university, but first we needed to collect business cards we went to have printed the previous day (this is a big PR opportunity, so we had them made for distribution), collect photos we had printed to take to the community workshop on Sunday, buy bubbles for the performance (not champagne, but soapey water blowey bubbles) and a black t-shirt for Simone’s outfit. We sat down for some lunch at 11.30 with Chyd. When it was time to go, there was a bit of an excitement about where to go first, how long it would take, and would we have time?

We wouldn’t have time, to me it was clear. To me it is always clear.

But even when we are running late, we are still always fine, because in the Philippines, no one is ever ‘on time’.

So if you are a half an hour late, you are still too early. An illustration?

Our flight for the weekend get-away last week was at 5:55 am, I had Simone book a taxi for a 4am pickup. I was up at 3.30 for my shower. I woke Simone at 4. She’d said she wouldn’t get up earlier because the taxi would be late. It was late, 30 minutes late. And what do you know? When we arrived at the airport shortly before 5, there was a long queue outside – passengers waiting for the airport to open!
Yeah, one has a different take on time here.

But I still suggested that I go to Plaza Mart to get the prints, so that they could get off the jeepney at an earlier stop to get their bits.

They had hardly jumped out the jeepney when I got a text message to my local number saying that they had been called to go straight to the rehearsal, if I could get the bubbles.

shopping local

So I went. Plaza Mart is a local shopping mall. Local meaning not a big complex with air-con, but a highly buzzing crowd of little shops and market booths, all leading into each other in an intricate web; you enter through one of many holes on the lively street between fruit stalls and mobile phone repair booths, and you find yourself in a labyrinth of stuff, sounds and smells.

The printer who made the business cards (600, printed both sides for 1000 pesos, i.e. 20$) was a business set up in an alleyway. Three computers and an inkjet printer huddled into a corner, about five people busying in it and 10 customers at the desk at all times. They were one of many printers in that alley, but they looked like the most successful by far. Their equipment also looked the most sophisticated. Our cards were ready and on the counter when I came. Big customer oblige, I got smiles from all the staff and when I said that they had done a good job they were clearly very proud of it, too. Done! Collecting the photos was quickly done, too. Next: bubbles. Where to get bubbles? Well, just walk into any of the colourful crappy toy shop and sure enough, they have bubbles. I chose the simplest looking pot, not the big pink bear-shaped signature one I was initially presented with. There is too much kitsch for my comfort in Asia.

Messages kept coming in from my ‘managers’ with requests for random errands, like  ‘sorry, please can you also get calamansi’ (tiny lime-like fruit we put on everything and into all drinks) and ‘can you pick up a sewing needle, it should only cost a peso or two’. I also wanted to get business card holders for the musicians (I sponsored their 300 cards coz they have no money for them) and a black t-shirt.

I meandered through shops and jaywalked (as one does) around hooting jeepneys, past people trying to sell me yellow gold-imitation wristwatches, asking directions to sewing needles and calamansi. I treated myself to a new iPhone cover; buying that alone took a half an hour because after the girl disappeared for 15 minutes (‘wait here’) to find more colours, she carefully stuck the protective plastic on to perfection.

So even in the bustle of the market, things move slowly here.

Once I was finally done with my errands I asked the calamansi street vendor which Jeepney to get to go to La Salle university. He pointed one out to me. The jeepneys are everywhere, going in all directions, constantly hooting to get attention of potential customers. Which ‘route’ they operate is to be discerned from the two or three key words painted on them. I needed to get one going to ‘Shopping – Libertad’.

How to jeepney

To get their attention, you whistle, waive or make kissy sounds. Yes, kissy sounds. For some reason they resonate in the loudness of the old-engine roars of the busy streets. I hopped on and texted my people that I was on the way and taking no more orders except for something from the local coffee shop called Bob’s. And sat back. People get on and off. We passed the South City bus terminal and the central market where we stopped for about 20 minutes.
Here’s the thing. The Jeepney driver only earns as much as he has customers, I think. So if he finds there aren’t enough people on board, he’ll just stop at a strategic location and wait for it to fill up. And everybody seems to be OK with that.

So even in the bustle of traffic, things move slowly here.

reflecting on my time here

On how I now feel comfortable enough with local transport, with diving into markets, with plain being here. I liked that feeling.
And then I thought about how utterly colourful everything is, how many photos and good photos are to be taken, and how I was not really taking many photos at all. And how I had initially chosen this ‘internship’ to develop my photography skills. How come I wasn’t taking any photos? I think it was because we were either constantly on the move or waiting around, I think it is because I just don’t feel comfortable or inspired to take photos all the time, or that I enjoy watching the life around me that I forget to take the photos. Which is a pity, I’ll get home and have little left of this opportunity, at least photo-wise. So I thought: just take out the camera, if it is out you may be more inclined to shoot. But the feeling wasn’t there, also, Jeepneys wobble a lot, break suddenly, start abruptly.

and then my phone goes missing

Shortly after that I felt for my phone, which I had put in the front pocket of my jeans to have it accessible. And it wasn’t there. I remember telling myself at one point that day that ‘this is not a good place for your phone’, the pocket was a bit too small and the phone needed to be pushed back in all the time, which is why I felt for it every five minutes. But it wasn’t there. This never happens. It must have slipped out. But it wasn’t on the seat. Maybe I’d put it into my bag? I rummaged but had the feeling, the feeling when you just know that it’s gone. I’d had it on the Jeepney, I had written to Simone. Now it was nowhere. I turned to my neighbour, the man I had talked to just minutes before to ask if I was on the right Jeepney and he had been friendly and said yes – well, I turned to him in my search and just then he jumped off, I found that he looked a bit in a hurry.

I didn’t want to believe it but I just knew like you know, my phone was with him. Before I got off I searched the jeepney again, there was nothing. And at Café Bob’s I searched my rucksack to no avail. A feeling of sadness overcame me, I just wanted to cry. It was only a phone. It was my spare old phone. It was a good little phone, fits nicely into pockets (well…), and I use it for travelling. The simcard in it had hardly any load left, there is hardly anything of any value on it except everyone’s phone numbers in Europe and some photos I had taken over the years that it had been my main phone – and, rationally, of all the things I’d had with me in my bag that day, it was the least valuable thing. It is just a thing. I hadn’t been attacked or hurt. But I felt abused. It made me appreciate how safe I had been throughout my entire trip; if having my phone stolen off me felt this way, well, my heart found a new compassion for everyone who is less lucky than me. Why would someone do that? His karma will take care of him, is what I thought.

Then I reflected on my general state that day. I had to admit that I had had a few negative thoughts that day… Yes, maybe I had been slightly grumpy about how slowly things move. About how I kept receiving messages to shop for something more that kept me going back and forth into the crowded shops. About the pollution and noise in this city. About how I wasn’t taking photos. About if I had really made the most of my time here or if I had spent too much of it hanging around, waiting for people, discussing matters that aren’t mine. Maybe I had thought to myself that I was now ready to leave again; the time had been great and better than I could have hoped for, but that I was also now happy to move on…

And as a strong believer in the law of attraction, those negative thoughts replied to me.

Luckily in a very subtle way, a warning only, telling me to shift thought frequencies.

recycling: the phone and then me

So later I decided that maybe this was a way of recycling. At home this phone just lies around, maybe I don’t need so many electronics… Simone texted a nice text to my phone asking the finder of it to return it – benefit of the doubt, maybe it wasn’t stolen after all.

And frequency change: I brought out the city girl for the concert that evening. I dressed up in my black pants and black halter less top and put on full make-up for the first time since New Year’s Eve. It worked, it always does.

Bringing back the city girls, make up and clean hair

Bringing back the city girls, make up and clean hair

Pretty soon after emerging from the Comfort Room of the venue as a changed lady, the President of the Danjugan Island Reef Protection Foundation, the organiser of the event so to say, handed me a nice cold beer, a compliment and a smile.

 

You get what you give, it is the law of attraction.

Day 16 and drunk on chocolate

Today I know it was a massive kick-off for my awareness on what I feed my body with, and how I treat my environment in the process.
My transformation into an organic vegan all pretty much began by going raw in 2012; I was in the Philippines, working with Nomadic Hands, and I decided to join my host on her raw food diet for a month – I called it an ‘experiment’, I did it for no other reason than for fun and convenience, and I took some notes. It was a rollercoaster ride, both mentally and physically, and for a while it seemed like I had no character for such ‘radical’, even ‘hippie’, behaviour…

Originally published January 30, 2012 – Who would have known the effect that cooked and poisonous food has on a system that has been abstinent for a while? On Day 16 of the raw food ‘experiment’, I was drunk on chocolate brownies.

Simone and I had a girly day out on the town last Thursday – she needed a decent t-shirt for when she goes back to Sydney, so we shopped after a meeting with her partner organization.

We went to the mall and on the way out… We bought a box of brownies. Yes four, chocolate-coated chocolate brownies!
And what do you know, we got drunk on them! We giggled all the way back home, said ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank-you for choosing our jeepney’ as people got off, and laughed a lot…

What a rush;-) Drunk on chocolate.

The Universe always provides

Back in 2008 I was handed a book by my friend Sarah that completely changed my take on life.
Some books, with the thoughts and perspectives they suggest at the right time, when we are open to them, do that. Some moments do that. Some encounters do that…
What happens is that we suddenly ‘GET’ something, we understand something, we see things differently, and in a way that will never be the same again.
An inside transformation happens, and this clarity comes up – a clarity in our appreciation of what is going on and who we are in the whole.

Back then, it was The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.
See, the Universe wants magic for us, the Universe conspires around and with us, and the universe provides what we ask for… and much more.
We attract the cosmic energies with our own. 

While the concept of ‘our energies’ can be scary, intangible, maybe hippie – we can bring it closer by imagining that our energies are channeled through a power and tool that IS tangible: our thoughts – we control our thoughts.
Oh yes we do, and learning that I control my thoughts was a HUGE revelation for me. Realising that my THOUGHTS DEFINE MY FEELINGS even more so.
And then, understanding that my feelings attract what comes my way still has  me in awe, every day – because, YES, magic is everywhere.

Here is how it goes:
ASK for what you want – make a clear request, visualise it, see it, feel it, make it real and true in your mind
BELIEVE – believe in its reality and that you already have it, leave no room for doubt. Trust in the process.
RECEIVE – and yes, be open, be available, be welcoming so that you do see it when it appears. And receive in gratitude.
Start receiving every tiny snippet that makes up your request, and practice gratitude.

And then: dance and bathe in the magic that unfolds.
Here is an example of such magic, just one of a million mindblowing examples I have.
Ask, and it is given. Always.

 

Originally published January 30, 2012

 

So I spent two fantastic days with the most generous host who welcomed me into her life and that of her community in a little village on Negros, giving me access to experiences that very much added to the colourful kaleidoscope that makes up my trip – BUT who is Neneng?

it all started with a flight to Los Angeles.

Yes, I flew to the Philippines with a stop-over at my godmother’s in LA.

massively overbooked

Like so often before, I travelled on a concession ticket and, like so often before, I sat waiting at the gate after the boarding agent had told me that my flight was massively overbooked and had more stand-by passengers like me but with higher priority. And so, like so so many times before, I sat there at the gate, just watching people board and board and board… it can be a quite tummy-upsetting feeling, sitting at a gate for a flight you want to take and knowing that there is a possibility of not getting on.

There was no other direct flight that day, so even though I was basically told it was useless to wait, I just sat and waited with the others, who sat and waited. Some were eventually chosen. The number of people waiting began to thin out. I wanted, more than anything, to stop waiting and to be on that flight. Yes, I visualised being on it.

Finally, it was just me and another lady left.

And then it happened. The boarding supervisor asked if we would be OK to travel on the jumpseat and we both said YES! (There are a few extra crew seats on aircraft that aren’t sold to passengers but can, on crew and airline’s discretion, be offered to staff.)
We were allowed to board!

thank you, universe

The flight was good, the crew was as caring as could be and I was actually quite comfortable. On one of my walks through the cabin, I stopped to chat to the other lady. First we spoke German to each other and later on English. She was going to visite her mother in California. We chatted for a long time.

And at one point she mentioned she was from The Philippines. I picked up on it, and told her I was headed there. She said ‘Where to?’

I said ‘Negros’.

I’d spoken to many different people about my trip to The Philippines and to Negros, but this woman reacted differently than everyone else. For most, the name didn’t register, some would say, ‘don’t know it, never heard of it’. But this woman was different.

She exclaimed with pride, ‘That’s where I’m from!’.

eyes lit up

She told me all about it, her eyes lit up as she talked and talked and talked about her house, the birthday parties for her mother in May when the whole family goes for a month, the Hacienda, the Padre, her sister… and ‘you should go visit her, stay at the cottage, it’s lovely’. She gave me telephone numbers and the name of her sister, Neneng.

I was not sure about imposing on her hospitality, but I knew I would call her, even just to honour her sister’s spontaneous and generous offer.

And good thing I did!

See, the truth is I was a bit worried about going to the Philippines, and this encounter calmed me a bit and helped me feel braver. I would say it was serendipity. Because, what are the odds? She’s from Negros, lives in Europe, is visiting her mother in LA, and I’m from Luxembourg, going to the Philippines via LA… AND THAT WE ACTUALLY TALKED TO EACH OTHER to find out I was going to where she was from – somewhere over the Atlantic!?

It was intended for us to meet with everything that had happened – us flying to Los Angeles, the flight being full, the offer and acceptance of the jumpseat, the chat, the questions asked – all those things happened for a reason.
Yes, she was sent to me to let me know I was going to be fine, and to give me a sense of safety, a sense we get when we know we are connected, not alone… in the big wide world. Because, in fact, through encounters like these, we never are alone.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines serendipity as:

ser·en·dip·i·ty \ˌser-ən-ˈdi-pə-tē\. : luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for

It’s a great reminder that the Universe always provides.

And it is a great example of what can happen when we talk to people, when we are open to what they offer, when we are ready to receive…

“Be grateful for the snippets, and on the greater scale of things, every moment will have the power to make a difference.”

The fruit of a random encounter

Originally published January 23, 2012

‘Hi Laura! Come in, come in! How are you? How have you been? What are you doing in Talisay?’

It was as if two old friends had just reunited after a long time apart. Not like two strangers who were brought together through a set of random moments in a random encounter.

Neneng didn’t even ask me about how I’d met her sister who gave me her number; she handed me slippers, sat me down and asked me about my time in Negros. Some five minutes after my arriving her phone rang, she spoke about two words and handed me the phone ‘It’s my other sister, from Manila, she wants to talk to you.’ And so a friendly voice on the other end of the line greeted me and invited me to stay at her place when I go to Manila.

Lead characters

I was introduced to the lead characters of my weekend. Rosalie, a young girl (my age) who lives with Neneng, and her mother who cooks for Neneng. Another lady whose name I forget helps Neneng during the week. Anyone who is slightly better off has help, there is always someone busying around peoples’ homes cooking and cleaning. This lady’s niece, Sarah, joined us and stayed with us for the rest of my time at the Hacienda.

Neneng is a warm lady, I reckon in her 50’s, she talks slowly and calmly. I had called her the day before, asking if I could come by and she said yes, anytime, and instantly told me what all we were going to do while I was here. She invited me to spend the night and when I said I hadn’t any sleepover gear with me, Rosalie came out and handed me a pair of white shorts and a pink t-shirt to change into.

Just like that.

chapel of cartwheels

Chapel of cartwheels

We set off for our first visit, The Hacienda. First I was shown the probably most prominent tourist attraction on the island, the chapel made out of cartwheels.

Neneng’s cottage is next to it. And literally, the chapel is made out of cartwheels, placed in a circular frame, making it an open round church. The benches inside where made out of robust wood planks, by the community, I was told. The altar was a big stone, from the beach. The candlesticks where parts of a mill that used to grind corn. The mosaic in the cartwheel windows was made out of bits from glass bottles. Very pleasing, quaint, inviting.

the mansion

The Big House

Then we walked across a grass patch, past two horses. Past a pond, in which two carabao (national animal, it’s an ox) were bathing and snorting loudly, to the Monseñor’s house, the ‘big house’.

The big house is a huge old mansion built in 1913 and remained in the Gaston family ever since.

Father Gaston is the head of this community of farmers who all work on the sugar plantation that belongs to and is run by the family. They all speak very dearly of him. We walked around his house and it was impressive, like stepping back in time; massive verandas, high ceilings, dark wood, grand staircase, creaky floors, faded pictures… I half expected to come across house ghosts, and I feel they would have been friendly! It was quite a change of scenery to the other places I’d seen on this trip; one can tell that it used to be very majestic and obviously marked by the Spanish Era – as is the vastly spread Catholicism.

the village

The hacienda is a sugar plantation. Sugar cane is, with rice, a main product of the Philippines. The farming of the two, as well as the logging industry that doesn’t replant trees taken down, are responsible (so some people have been telling me) for the fact that the dense rainforests on the islands have been deforested down to 3% of the mass they had just 100 years ago.

The farm workers and their families live on the plantation. They all have their own houses with little yards, some have animals, all have coal barbecues to cook on and have their washing out on Saturdays. I noticed that, although very basic, these homes all looked very tidy and clean.

Rosalie’s mother weaving for the craftsshop

As we walked past the neighbouring house we met Rosalie’s mother, who was weaving a gorgeous basket in her doorway. Next door, another lady was weaving placemats. At this point Neneng explained that the people, often the women, of the community do a lot of handicrafts to help them be sustainable in the low farming seasons.

The products are sold in their own little gift shop at the entrance of the Hacienda, where Sarah works, and in a larger shop in Bacolod. They even export the goods through a network that the Monsenor’s nephew’s wife has set up.

sugar cane plantation

hanging bridge connecting communities

hanging bridge connecting communities

We walked through the sugar cane plantation on a footpath to the ‘hanging bridge’ which had been built across a stream not all too long ago, connecting this community with the neighbouring community owned and run by the mayor of Manapla. This hanging bridge now enables the kids from Rosalia to walk to the school of this community.

coulourful and bright school rooms

coulourful and bright school rooms

We went to the school, which I will say, was pretty nice and from what I can tell, well equipped. Colourful and with open windows, lots of flowers and, like in all the schools I’ve seen in the world recently, lots of drawings.

I tend to visit schools. Such as the playschool in Bella Vista, Bolivia, for the kids from the mountain communities, the one in Wirrabara, South Australia, for farmer’s kids from far away homesteads and the one in Mission Viejo, Southern California, where my friends Emily and Ethan go to school. I liked the feel of it; again, simple, but complete.

There was commotion in the village. Little kids were playing on the sports field next to the school, women were sitting around them, many tricycles and mopeds were parked at the entrance of the village and loud men voices and rooster cries were to be heard.

cockfights

Saturday is cockfight day

Saturday is cockfight day

Saturday is the day of cockfights, I learned; I had earlier learned of this “sport” in The Philippines when we went to the cottage in the North Negros forest.

Men and boys were perched on bleachers made of bamboo, around them there were many drink and barbeque booths like at any fair.

I chose not to go any further. A choice I already regret as it would have been such a unique tradition to experience, but at that moment I had no desire to see a cockfight. Also, I was kinda the talk of the town, a woman, and blonde… I just didn’t fancy that kind of attraction while watching something quite as cruel as roosters made to kill each other.

My hosts were relieved, neither Neneng nor Rosalie enjoy cockfights.

Village road and traffic 🙂

As we walked back, from the houses of the village I could hear the unmistakable sound of karaoke – little did I know that just about everyone has a karaoke machine (of all the things you chose to have) and little did I know that, just a few hours later, I would be blaring ‘Never been to me’ into a crackling microphone myself.

We had lunch at the house; it had been miraculously prepared while we were about. A lush cooked meal of Filipino delicacies. I had been pretty steady on a raw food diet for about a week and Neneng was out to treat me to the real local cooking.

to the beach

Now I’d been on this island for almost two weeks. Talisay and Bacolod appear to be seaside towns, when looking at a map, but I had not yet seen the sea (Simone told me they were horrible harbour fronts).

Literally, in the plane I sat on an aisle seat so I didn’t even see the sea through the window. So yay, I was going to see the beach, finally!

I came across these pretty creatures at the beach

We took our own tricycle; I was introduced to ‘boy’, our driver. He also lives next door. Everybody lives ‘next door’. I like it, it is that omni-present sense of community, the sense of ‘next door’. And everybody knows each other. He drove us to another next village (villages are also ‘next’ door, or ‘next-down-the-road’) five minutes down the dirt road.

This village lives off fishing, seafood. Again, this little community was out and about, boys were playing basketball on the central ‘place’, everybody else was sat around, watching. Watching me as we appeared. There were now four of us, Neneng, Rosalie, Sarah and me, and we were joined on our walk by a gentleman I forget the name of. He still plays baseball, I was told by Neneng, ‘at his age’ – he was in his 70s, so why not!?

the beach was a dump

paradise beach touched by man

paradise beach touched by man

oh puhlease!

oh puhlease, people, we can do better than this!?

The beach was AWFUL! Awful! Now I like to look away from things I don’t like, I will not glorify the bad. But this just needs to be said. The beach was a tip. A dump. Full of plastics and papers, wrappings, containers, fishing nets and tools, flip flops (it’s the national shoe and apparently it retires here).

A LOT of education on household trash needs to happen. That said, I am not entirely sure if trash IS collected at all… I must research it.

But c’mon, surely anyone can see that the beach doesn’t look nice like that!?

the evening

dusk, that golden time of day

dusk, that golden time of day

 

‘Boy’ then took us to the next town, Victorias, on the tricycle. I’d only taken the tricycle to very close destinations, here we went about 10km. On the main road. Hairy. Loud. And gosh, the pollution! I must think to pack my scarf to put around my nose and mouth in these situations.

buying dinner

buying dinner

We shopped for dinner at the main market, for everything but the crabs that we’d selected at the village earlier in the day. So far I had paid nothing. I was being treated like a princess, like a very important visitor for no apparent reason except spontaneous generosity.

 

buying dinner

buying dinner

I was happy to be allowed to pay for some of the food…

Back home, we karaoke’d, as mentioned above, until dinner was ready.

The cottage was made of concrete walls and a tin roof, that weren’t connected to each other. So it was, in effect, an open cottage. At one point I counted 10 geckos of all sizes crawling on the walls. Interestingly, I didn’t mind so much, I must be getting used to them…

After our meal of crabs that we brought along from the beachside community, I was presented with pristine pink silky pijamas to wear and a fluffy towel.

The shower, like the one I described in the mountains, was a big bucket of water. But either I had acclimatised or it wasn’t so much the bucket itself as the mud brought in from the rain around it in Patag that had disturbed me, but taking a ‘shower’ here, out of a bucket, was the lushest of moments. And how good it felt to wash off the pollution, the dust, the sunscreen and the mosquito repellent before going to bed. BED! I got to sleep in a proper bed. Granted, it was still a piece of foam, but it was on a frame; it was the first time in two weeks that I wasn’t on the floor.

Neneng and Rosalie shared a bed that night; I slept in Rosalie’s bed in the same room.

family of the moment - Rosalie, her niece, her mom, me, Neneng and Sarah

family of the moment – Rosalie, her niece, her mom, me, Neneng and Sarah

 

 

Mass is at eight. ‘We leave the house when we hear the opening song being sung’.

I like going to masses in different places, and of different religions, too. The vibrating gospel mass with my godmother Sally in LA two weeks ago and this one semi-open air with guitar and song just show how a catholic mass can be quite uplifting, too. I can’t get over how dreary and sad they are at home. What’s different?
Maybe our sense of community as a whole…

meeting the Gastons

Keeping up with the massive spontaneous generosity I was receiving, we were invited to brunch, together with the padre, to his nephew’s house after mass. I don’t know how I hadn’t seen their house when I arrived; it is a big farmhouse revealing that these people are of a different social calibre.

I am happy I got to meet Joey and Ina. He’s the business man, the head of the plantation; she is a designer and runs the arts & crafts business.

I enjoyed talking to him, he explained how sugar was ‘made’, which I didn’t know yet (so, the juice is extracted from the cane, the juice is boiled and boiled and boiled in four different containers, until it turns to syrup. This again is heated and constantly stirred as last liquid evaporates and crystals form. This leaves raw brown sugar. In a nutshell.).

He told me about the farm, the sugar industry, and the tragedy of the deforestation (because I asked).

All in all I got a lot of basic information a visitor wants know about, it was a very good exchange, a kind I had actually been missing so far. Simone and Ramke have been telling me their own stories; they are both so passionate about earth and what Western economy does to it that it was hard to get a bigger picture from them. I like their picture, don’t get me wrong, I definitely share it, too – and it surely has a great part in my view that has now been completed a bit more.

They all want to meet Simone; I told her about her community projects and interest in helping them produce and sell their crafts for an income. I think this contact would be a great one, if they do get together and find agreements. I will certainly promote their meeting while I am here.

The padre gave me a ride back to Talisay in the evening; he was going to the Archbishop’s birthday party.

Back at Chyd’s, the band was rehearsing in the living room for their concert. And I felt home again.

What a weekend. My weekend!

What an experience, I can’t describe how grateful I am to have made that one random encounter in a random moment.

‘This is the one! Take it, quick!’

A few years later, I was having a meal with my yoga teacher and endless inspiration, Wenche, in Sri Lanka, and we talked about how ‘travelling’ really teaches us everything we need to know about ourselves and getting through life (in a nutshell) and she mentioned that she met an HR boss who would make a point of asking people how much they’d travelled versus what academics they have to present.
Yes, it is all part of the learning, and the situations we find ourselves in on our journeys never fail to impress and teach me, about myself, about the differences in cultures, about people.

Originally published January 23, 2012

This is the one! Take it, quick!

And so, in a somewhat frantic moment following Ramke’s urging tone, I grabbed the outside handle of the yellow bus and leapt onto the already moving step.

Off I went.

This was the moment, the moment I had previously mentioned, the scary moment of taking the public transport by myself for the first time.

What I have learned so far is that the busses have designated stops, as opposed to Jeepneys who stop when there are customers to get off or on. But they don’t have timetables; you just go to the road and wait for yours to drive by. Which is why it all happened so fast; I had asked Ramke to just get me on the right bus in the right direction – and it just happened to roll by as we turned the corner.

I was headed for Gaston, via Manapla.

And once again, the ‘directions‘ and ‘address’ I had been given hardly made sense – until I got there.

I sat down by an open window, paid the conductor/steward/boy 35 pesos for my journey, and asked him to let me know when we get to ‘Gaston’… ‘yeah yeah yeah’, he said with a smirk.
He was with some other lads and they were downright laughing at my request – or me! I notice that a lot, then again, I have hardly noticed any other foreigners in the Talisay area, apart from Simone and me, so maybe it’s funny to see me.

you are never alone when you travel alone – watching others and engaging in conversation with strangers is great company

2012 take the journeyExhaust polluted wind blew into my face, mussing up my hair, drying out my eyes… I loved it. I was on my own. I was enjoying being with Simone and Ramke, but this little weekend ‘getaway’ was ALL MINE!

 

 

What a great feeling! This is me, on my way, on my own adventure in a foreign country.

The bus filled up as we made our way north. Where I was headed was one hour up the road, the ‘ring road’ of Negros Island.
At one point, a little boy got onto the bus and sat down. The conductor came to him and spoke to him in a friendly but firm tone; I don’t understand Ilongo, but it was clear he was asking him where he was headed, where his parents were, and if he could pay the fare. As soon as he left him, the boy began to beg and sure enough, e few moments later, I felt a strong tweak at my shoulder. I had a few cookies left and asked the lady next to me if she thought he’d like them, and she said that she thought he would. I gave them to him. They were scoffed in no time at all, and the bag was thrown out of the window – where else? But then again, it was pretty clear this little boy was receiving no education except the rules of the road and copying others.

…and I missed my stop

When we drove into Manapla I started asking about my stop.

The lady next to me looked a bit worried and called the conductor.
Here, as my cousin Marianne had also pointed out to me when we were travelling in Latin America, when you wave people to you, your hand moves in a downward shovelling way.
The conductor didn’t look happy, and the lady explained that we had passed my stop. I was asked to hand him my ticket and he started scribbling onto it.
At the next stop he told me to get out, and gestured something at me, trying to explain but I didn’t get it. I’m sure it was about which bus to take next.

There I was, stranded at a wrong stop and a bit puzzled, truth be said.

Damsel in distress, bus-chasing-bus and travelling strangers helping me get to where I wanted to get

I asked a tricycle driver to take me to ‘Gaston’ and he looked blank, then I said ‘Hacienda Rosalia’ in the hopes he may know it and that it might be closer than ‘Gaston’ itself. Blank.
Then MY bus, the one I had just gotten off of, stopped next to me again, no idea where it came from – I was waved to come back in and immediately we started racing down the rickety streets of Manapla – OMG, I thought, he’s taking me back to my initial stop!
Actually, he was chasing the bus going south that we had just crossed. As it stopped, we stopped, my guy leapt out and instructed me to follow, I was pushed onto the other bus and off I was again, going back. Quite a fast adventure, very heroic, really.
Self-conscious, I now got up every time the bus halted, not going to miss it this time, but all the people on the bus, like a chorus, were waving at me to sit down until they, eventually, all waved at me to get up.

Everybody was on my cause now, quite humbling – I can’t help but wonder what I must have looked like to them, the Western Damsel in Distress, especially considering where it was I was going. They knew, but I didn’t. 

Gaston!

I stepped out.

‘Gaston’ was a tree

It seems that ‘Gaston’ was a tree and a dirt road lined with palm trees leading off the main road in a right angle.

If I didn’t already before, now I felt a tad nervous, to be honest.

I was an unmistakable tourist, a young blonde woman at that, and I was somewhat stranded… on a relatively quiet roadside… on an island… in the Philippines. Far away from anyone I knew.
Yes, things could happen. Things DO happen. One reads about ‘things‘. And when one reads about these ‘things’, one comments on them, from the smug safety of one’s own home, say, ‘how irresponsible it was for a young woman to set off on her own like that, she didn’t even know the people she was going to!

into a village

the path into ‘gaston’

However, these kinds of thoughts never help, I learned that ages ago.
Again, in Chile in 2000, my cousin Marianne and I had decided that it was absolutely unnecessary to sew money bags into one’s bra for safety (as some fellow travellers were doing until late into the night before setting off on a trip). We had decided and agreed that safety was mainly a question of mindset, trust and the way face situations – and also, admittedly, comfort (what a waste of time to sew ones money into ones underwear).

And so I checked in with another perspective:

This is it, this is life! This is where experiences are made.

These unknown, unpredictable situations when we find ourselves way beyond our comfort zone are the situations that spice up our life and our stories!

And situations always clear up, they always do.

And so, as I made one step toward the tree, two tricycles and two men appeared into my vision field, lounging in the shade and jumping up eagerly when they saw me.

I hopped on one and we wobbled down the straight dirt road. Five hundred meters down it, the road made a right turn and just before it made a left, we stopped at the gate of what appeared to be the farm.

I went in, asked for Neneng and a friendly man brought me back out again, put me in yet another tricycle and so the journey down the dirt road continued. The road was now in the shade, little village huts were nestled into them, colourful washing hanging out to dry; it only took about 3 minutes and we stopped outside a stone built cottage with a big porch.

villages are nestled in trees

villages are nestled in trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

The driver yelled out and soon enough, my host appeared at the door with a big smile.

Later on, over a meal, the kitchen help mumbled something with a smile, and everyone laughed. Neneng told me that my little escapade in Manapla had already made the rounds in the community – everyone was talking about how I got off at the wrong place.

As Auntie Pam would say, ‘Fame at last’.