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!


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.