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Thursday, December 18, 2008

When A Light Shines Bright

I have to admit how fortunate I feel for the life I have led the last couple of months.  Buy the time I leave the Philippines it will be around 4 months since I arrived.  I could save this blog for the end of my journey, but for my own self and for my thoughts, I thought no better time than the present. 
I have been assisting a few people with a few necessities. Mostly rice, milk for babies, diapers, couple visits to the doctor.  When I came here I thought I would get involved with a school, or an orphanage but before I ever got my feet wet with any of that, I was quickly engaged with a group of people, that were, still are and will continue to be poor.  I say this with almost 99% certainty.
I do not wish it upon these wonderful people, and in my thoughts, and conversations I am constantly thinking and advising my friends to think to the future. 
All of the things that I have provided, or given I feel have had a deep impact on the daily lives of these people.  But "daily" being the buzz word.  Whether I have been put upon by any of these   people, I don't really care.
When I leave, all will go back to pretty much the way it was before. Denying the mothers of any of the necessities that I have provided, to teach a lesson to make yourself a better person, was not in my vocabulary on this trip.  Whether they saw a "true fool" willing to give, or willing to part with his money, I will never ponder or care.   
My giving did extend to one young girl, who on my behalf is receiving tutoring for school that will hopefully makes a difference for her to continue.  She is nine, and when she went to school the 1st day of the 4th quarter her teacher told her to go home.  She was going to fail, so no use in continuing this year.  She went home and told her mother, "don't worry mom I can be a maid".  Sad as it sounds, this is just a crumb of reality! 
Another young girl I have hopefully empowered to pursue college in her future.  She has always talked of going to college, but the distractions of following your dreams for this or any other dream are great.  No one would raise an eyebrow if she just never went anywhere.   Showing her the history of indifference and how it would carry on in her family without her attending college, and how she could break the cycle of literally generations of indifference by succeeding and following her dreams to attend college.  When I told her mother that your daughter is going to go to college, she  looked at me and laughed.  I asked her why she laughed, and she just said "no one in our family has ever gone."  I quickly told her, "that's exactly why your daughter has to go!"
School here in the Philippines is not a mandatory requirement.  There are no laws that children have to attend school until a certain age.  The idea of school for the poor, is an idea that is sometimes hard to understand, especially amongst the poorer people of this land.  The politicians tell you that public school here is free.  But it is very misleading.  Children are constantly asked to donate a few peso's hear and there for things such as a fan for the class, a mop and wax for the floors, uniforms, the school guard, and many other things.  So public school is far from free, Mr. Politician.  I keep reading how public school is perceived as free here.  Those few peso's that are asked from students for the thing's I listed above are sometimes the nail in the coffin for many students.  A teacher told me that she has no choice to ask for these things, she is paid a mere pittance as a teacher, she surely can't afford to buy the extra's.  "The school will not provide these general necessities for whatever reason" she said. She told me that many children don't come back to school, after she has asked for "donations". The family is either embarrassed that they cannot provide the money, or the little that they do have is needed for mere survival.
What continuing in school and attending college does for a person is not understood.  Even until this generation many of the poor never attended even grade school.  For the ones that did, basic reading, writing, and arithmetic seem to be what most accomplished.  The attitude of why, what, and how school going to help me seems to be very prevalent.  Without any money or dreams, college seems a distant idea reserved for the rich.
I have found that there are some government sponsored programs that allow children from the poorest families to attend college.  I was shocked when I found out about this.  But even with this available, it takes a lot of desire to find or get that far.  
I guess my point being is that unless the student is pushed, prodded, or who knows what, the desire and the want to attend college have long been extinguished.  At this point the cycle continues for another generation.  
Somewhere along the line, someone has to step in and start teaching the value of education. The sooner it starts to resonate amongst people the better.  It sickens me to think of all these children who's future never starts. Generation after generation with no future.  
The unwillingness to support and provide education, I believe is a huge part of the disgrace that this country hides itself behind.  I thought to myself of every person, be it artist, author, chef, doctor, garbageman, fireman, teacher, scientist, or any other field that lends itself to improving society, and all the children with potential to become anything more than uneducated, and the lives that are simply unchallenged, unrecognized, and basically wasted.  The thought of how big a crime is being perpetuated on the people of this country is something that is  inexcusable. Inexcusable to people that I walk next to everyday,  people that smile to me, people that walk past me, people that eat, and people that are down right deserving of a hell of a lot more!
Again I re-direct myself to the importance of education.  In a country such as the Philippines that has allowed and continues to allow a class of poverty to continue to grow is as low as one can go.  I say a simple changing of the way things are, to a simple change of the way things should be is at hand.  The word empowering is defined in one dictionary as "make stronger and more confident, especially in controlling there life and claiming there rights."  To me education is the first step in empowering any person or group of people.  All will not embrace education, but even knowing that education is available, mandating education to a certain age, this is without a doubt the beginning of empowering people to be able to live for something other than poverty, and hopelessness. This is the beginning of turning a poor unaccountable country into one that thrives and stands with other countries of the world. 
For those of you who don't know who Manny
Pacquiao is, he is a legend in the hearts and minds of all Filipino people.  He donates money to the poor, he will at some point run for public office, and if he decided to run for president he probably would win!  When Manny applies his trade on TV around the world this country stops all.  Even the criminals stop.  They say that crime is basically at a stand still when Manny fights. Manny Pacquiao is a boxer.  History will probably say that he is one of the great fighters of all time.  At least that's what there saying in the Philippines.  After Manny pummeled former champion Oscar De de la Hoya, Executive Secretary of the Philippines called Manny's win a "saving grace" for the country, people celebrated like the war had ended.  Manny Pacquiao is a god fearing man, who came up the hard way, he went car to car at stop lights and sold water, or cigarettes as a kid.  Look at this from two ways.  One of course is the obvious, this man gives a whole country hope, his story is simple.  Poor kid becoming what could prove to be one of the most influential men in the history of the Philippines.  But don't forget what Manny Pacquiao really is.  Manny is the the "greatest" in a barbaric sport.  His job on any given night is to pummel, beat into submission, go into his squared ring with the idea that if i don't pound this man in the head as many times as I can, he will certainly do it to me.  
Within the Philippines, the country stops itself in its tracks to worship it's hero. Government officials put this phenom on a pedestal and acknowledge him the saviour of a bleak existence.  What is wrong hear?  Have they just fixed a leak with a little gum.  Is it that simple that this man represents the lives, the hopes of a country so embattled with itself.  
I have been watching and enjoying boxing for many years.  More than seeing blood or any misgivings in a boxing match, I do enjoy the sport.  For what it's worth I was very impressed with Manny as a boxer.  
As a people it's great to have a champion, or a representative that all can be proud of.  Manny Paquio serves the people as such a hero.  When dreams are dashed, and futures reduced to day to day existence, life is hard.  No one said any of this would be easy.  Maybe Manny shows hope for some, maybe he shows a tiny path that needs to be swept and cleared daily.  Manny's light shines bright, and lets hope when that light dims, things just don't return to normal!

I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance.  People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their own happiness or satisfaction.
-His Holinness the Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Oslo, December 1989

Saturday, December 6, 2008


I have mentioned several times in my blog, about first times, first things.  Tonight was Nikki's ninth birthday. I know for many years as my birthday approaches I don't really look forward to it. It's not the getting older bit, because I know I'm aging like a fine wine, but just the attention that people want to throw on you.  I think most mean well.  But maybe holidays in general would mean more if they were celebrated every five years, rather than every year.  Just think how exciting the holidays would become.  Getting back to the main point here, Nikki's birthday.  We don't get to see the kids that "live" here on the weekend during the week so we celebrated a few days early.  Nikki is from a very poor family.  She doesn't speak a word of English, except when she sits next to me and repeats all my words.  She has the most beautiful smile that runs from ear to ear.  Nikki does go to school and she is a good student,
but English is really coming slow to her.  "Without question let's have a birthday party for this little girl this weekend" I said to my friend Mira when she asked if I wanted to celebrate.  Mira is Nikki's aunt.  
I left the cake buying up to Mira, and asked her to buy Nikki a Barbie doll.  I had heard someone say that Nikki loved Barbie dolls.  As I walked down the stairs  Saturday morning I sang a rousing  quick little Happy Birthday to Nikki, she gave me her biggest smile. We left the decision of lunch to the birthday girl, and she chose the nastiest junk food that the Philippines has to offer. It is loved by the masses,  and has recently found an audience in the USA, but it truly is the worst most inedible garbage known to man.  But how can you take that away from someone who has so little.  Her aunt told her to finish her plate at lunch because it is a treat that she will probably only have once or twice this year.
The day went pretty uneventful, other than the rental car dying and having to find another car. Wasn't that hard to find, and I will have a new automatic on Monday.  I'm looking forward to the new car as I have held off driving because the car I have now is an standard.  
The kids went for a nice swim at the pool and
then we made dinner.  As usual the kids rushed away from the table to watch cartoon network, and a few minutes later we asked them to come back and sit down for dessert. I lit the number nine on the cake and lifted it out of the box, turned around so all the kids saw the cake, and five kids mouths dropped open and followed my few steps to the table, staring at that big chocolate cake as I set it down in front of the birthday girl.
Just a chocolate cake with a few flowers I thought.  I asked Nikki which piece she wanted and someone translated, but she just smiled.  I cut her a big piece with a big flower.  She gave me her best little "thank you" that she could muster, and it was just so nice to hear.  I cut pieces for everyone, as the volume seemed to rise as the kids were devouring all that sugar.  Nikki's sister Rose said something to Mira, and I asked what she said.  Rose didn't know that Nikki was getting a cake for her birthday.  I made a face like what do you mean?  Mira told me then that this was the first birthday cake for either Nikki or Rose had ever had.  At first I thought to say "really"?
But I just looked at Mira, then at Nikki smiling with chocolate on her face, and then had a little hollow feeling in my stomach, but then I  just went on.  

Thursday, December 4, 2008


During the last week I downloaded a few movies to show the kids
that would visit over the coming weekend.  So Friday night I showed my all time favorite Disney movie
"Old Yeller."  I had my doubts that they would appreciate this classic but I have always had the idea that kids are kids.  A good classic is always a classic just have to turn off the game boy for a few minutes.  Really  
I made this a big movie night thinking popcorn would be nice also.  I hadn't realized that my guests had never popped popcorn.  They were kind of laughing when I showed them the bag of unpopped kernels.  I think they thought the strange man from the USA wants us to eat that." That's popcorn in his country!" I think they were saying.  I got out the popping pot, added oil, and then just 3 kernels.  My way of making popcorn.  The top of the pot was clear and I asked one of the kids
 if they wanted to watch.
  I don't think they really were sure what they were suppose to watch.  Most of the kids had walked away.  One of the kids was looking at the sizzling kernels and as the first one exploded, she jumped but quickly looked back again.  The next two kernels exploded and the biggest toothy smile went from one ear the other.  I opened the pot and covered the bottom with kernels.  The little girl turned to me and smiled calling her sister to come quickly from upstairs.  They stood there looking in the pot, and then the explosions started. 
 To see two so excited about popped corn was really quite enthralling.  You couldn't help but smile loudly.  Not of course at the corn, but at the sheer innocence at there new discovery. A memory to last a lifetime.  Old Yeller starts with a very hokie old song. 
"Old Yellerrrr Old Yellerrrrr greatest dog in the land, Come back Yeller" on and on...  Fast forwarding over the weekend, versions of that song permeated the silence, all from little Filipino voices singing for the last 72 hours.  
Watching the kids watch the movie was another one of those moments where its hard not to smile.  Eyes wide open, little hands reaching into the popcorn bowl, then hands
rhythmically dropping one or two pieces of popcorn in there mouths.  Never taking there eyes of the screen. They really loved that movie, and I was really surprised when I came down the steps the next morning and they were all waiting to watch it again!  Old Yeller still watched and loved after all these years!
It has been days since I wrote anything here.  I have been experiencing the most incredible bouts of not being able to sleep.  The minute I fall asleep, any sound wakes me and then takes me forever to fall back to sleep.  So focusing has been really hard.  But I will push on, for the one or two who reads this.  I have been spending a lot of time here at the house.  The regular tourist things have been done, and now everything takes on a more regular routine.  I enjoy this part of my journey.  Just listening to everything, watching, going grocery shopping, all the basics that all of do.
 Just doing it all in the Philippines.  
If any of you out there have access to used, and sure it can be new clothes also, please think about putting it aside for me. Shoes, sneakers, sandals are also in great need.  Winter clothes are not needed.  It is extremely hot here.  I am going to try to collect as much clothes, shoes and children's books as I can.  Not as a one time thing, but as an ongoing enterprise. Children's clothing are in great demand here.  Even adults need everything here.  Kids are running around naked all the time.  The ones I have seen are mostly under the age of 3.  
I have plans to return around the middle or end of February. That's my plan anyway.  If you put anything aside I will try to pick it up when I return.  Or we can make some kind of arrangements.  I have no dates set for anything, nor do I even know where I will be living at this point.  I do know that I will leave this house around the 13th of January, and will head to this little house I rented on another island.  The house sits up on a hill, and you can see the ocean from all sides.  Looks amazing!  The island is much more of vacation spot for most.  Many resorts and beach bars.  Not anything that I enjoy, but the owner of the house told me that "for people that know there way around there are many many little deserted stretches of beaches."  The house come with its own expert, lol.  So I'm so looking forward to this next part of the trip.  It's still over a month away but time has just been flying here.
In the mean time, and for the next month  a few of the kids that I have taken "in" have birthdays.  We will try to celebrate as much as we can.  Christmas is coming and none of the kids have had a Christmas tree, so that is another little project.  I'm going to teach them to string popcorn, and make paper chains to decorate the tree. I've never had a tree, but what a perfect time to start. Then of course New Years, and what I found out yesterday was really interesting.
I was reading an article in the newspaper, and they were talking about taking it easy over the holidays, it can and usually is a very dangerous time here in the Philippines.
The article started talking about not eating to much pork, which is a huge favorite here. 
The article went on to the abuse of alcohol. Which I dare say, alcohol is abused way beyond our abuse in the USA.  But here's the kicker. There are no drunk driving laws!!  No roadside sobriety tests, no legal limit.  Just get hammered and off you go.  If your weaving down the road, as long as you don't harm anyone it's all Kosher!! Accept that thing about the pork, that ain't Kosher!! 


Friday, November 21, 2008

The Fish Was This Big

I just returned  from five days "OF" Club Serena. I say "OF" Club Serena because saying "at" Club Serena just doesn't do the place justice.  For me Club Serena is a magical mystical tour.  I have called Club Serena a resort, and even the name Club is a little misleading.  I think of a resort as a bright, polished, starchy, airy, pink shirt,plaid shorts type of place.  Club Serena is none of that!! Club Serena is a pool, a small restaurant/bar, a couple of bungalow's, a wooden love seat, a stone wall, Club Serena is a place to go if you want to think, if you want therapy, if you want to relax, if you want to be motivated, if you want to repair any mental capacity that has gone a little astray, then by all means go sit by the beach at Club Serena and once again "listen to the silence"!! Talk about dreams coming true!!  Well my dreams of catching fish came to life a couple times over.  I did have to work out the kinks of the new rod and reel at first, but after my first cast found my pony tail, the 2nd cast ended in a huge huge mess of line all tangled, things did start to get much better.  I had overheard from one of the girls in the dive shop that there were alot of fish out past where the water turned from almost clear to a much darkercolor.  That dark water was way out there but I was determined to catch fish, and there wasn't much worry of undercurrent because the water here is so calm, at least on this side of the island. Later in the week it did start to get a little rough, but on this day all things were right for fishing.
Serena had put in what was an underwater cement sidewalk that led out about 100 yards into the ocean.  It was for the divers to walk out easily with all there equi
pment and also to get out to where there boat was anchored off the beach. 
 My first step onto the sidewalk and I almost hit the deck as it was covered in a slippery algae. But onward I forged.  The area here is so abundant with sea life that all you need to do is open your eyes and you will see many little creatures.  Walking down the underwater sidewalk the several times I did while at Club Serena, particularly at low tide and the little tidal pools just showed all sorts of colorful sea creatures.  Bright blue starfish, little tiny sea crabs, long flowing starfish, the most amazing colored shells, poisonous spiny sea urchins, little fluorescent shrimp.  It was quite amazing to see.  I knew why I loved aquariums!  Although seeing it in real was much more interesting than peering through any glass.
With rod, reel, and couple lures in hand,  I headed out into the deep.  I peered out over the water and saw a school of tiny baitfish skimming over the top of the water.
Not there usual way of existence.  This was good to see, as it was a sign that something was probably chasing these little fish. I tied on a lure that most resembled the little silvery baitfish, and started scanning over the water.  I thought I saw something dark and I quickly flicked my lure towards the shadow. Nothin
g but coral.  Coral was pretty abundant to the area I was fishing so I knew I needed to be pretty accurate 
with my casts, and as soon as or before the lure hit the water I needed to reel fast.  The idea was to keep the lure up on top to avoid hooking the rocks and also to imitate the fleeing baitfish.  
I had my hand to my forehead shielding the already bright sun at 7am.  Even with the polarized sunglasses, and the wide brim hat, this sun was hot and powerful.  I quickly did a double take, as the sun caught something shiny about 30 yards forward.  It looked like a Barracuda, my heart did a thump as I thought the object looked fairly big.  Cuda are definitely the type of fish that chase baitfish.  I opened the bail to make a cast and made the worst cast in the world.  I uttered something and laughed at myself.  I reeled the lure in fast for another chance.  I didn't see the Cuda as I made ready to cast again, I thought he was gone, but a hard look showed he was still there, he had just moved forward  a little. 
 I took aim and cast that lure far past the fish.  I reeled hard, the lure was heading straight for the toothy fish.  I swear the lure hit him in the head, but another couple turns of the reel and the lure was at my rod.  I didn't see the fish as I made ready for another cast.  I tried to put the lure right past where I had last seen him.  Just as I brought the rod forward to release the cast again I saw a bright flash from the sun, I knew it was the fish but now he was quite far from his last stand.  I wanted to get that lure back to me as fast as possible for another cast.  I started reeling even before the lure hit the water, I saw a flash and bam I felt a weight on the end of my line. The drag wasn't set right, and I quickly gave it a quick turn.
ZZZZZZZZZZZ the fish was on the drag, but to much drag.  I reeled and tried to gain some line, another second or two and this fish would win our little battle.  I reeled again, he was still on. Then ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz a long run on the drag, I tried to gain line back, but he had already found his way into the coral. Then the line went limp.  He was gone.  You think the Kentucky Derby is the most exciting two minutes in sports.  Not Quite!!!  There sure wasn't any shame in losing a fish like that.  It was Awesome!  
After that I didn't see a fish for days.  I tried fishing but nothing.  I even bought a frozen squid from the kitchen and tried that.  Still nothing.  I was happy with my one experience but really you can never be happy with just one fish fight, I wanted more.  Wednesday the sky grew really dark, it started to rain and the wind picked up pretty good.  It rained and rained for almost 25 hours.  I really thought that the rain and wind would either push all the fish out, or maybe push a few in towards the shore.
After the rain had finally stopped, I couldn't sit still.  The water was still pretty rough and there was no way I was walking out on that sidewalk.  I had bought this fairly big jointed lure and thought what the hell, I'll give it a try.  I really tried to whip that lure out there.  I was trying to get it fairly high to get a little extra distance from the wind.  I started casting a few times in each spot that I stood, and then I'd walk ten or 15 feet. I was just at the edge of the property when I thought I would make my last cast.  I needed to get my feet a little wet and try to take advantage of the outgoing waves.  I stepped a few feet into the backing waves,  and ripped that lure as far as I could.  It didn't go as far as I wanted,  I made a couple of turns on the reel and the lure caught a solid rock.  Or whoaaaa that was no rock, I saw the line start ripping of down the beach, and not out towards open water.  I knew instantly it wasn't a Barracuda.  I started moving in the direction the fish was going, reeling line as fast as I could.  The drag was set pretty lite, and this fish was taking full advantage, knowing he was hooked and in a battle.  It seemed the fish was staying in a little deep channel that ran down the beach.  As I walked and reeled I gave the drag a little torque every couple of feet, slowly tightening it down on this fish. He seemed big, but maybe just small and solid.  I hadn't seen him yet, but it wouldn't be long till he made an appearance.  Well that's if I didn't do something stupid.  The fish had gained some pretty good water going out towards the deep. He was digging deep.  If I didn't keep him up high he would cut my line.  I held the rod as high as I could and reeled.  
He had stopped taking line from me, but he had gained alot in the first couple of strips off the reel.
I new I needed to go into the water.  I hesitated a little but knew I needed to chase him down, at least a little.  I stepped into the water and was up to my knees very quickly.  Now I was gaining on him, I could see that he was starting to get tired. The fish made a big mistake when he let himself come away from the rocks.  He was out and I had turned his head.  Now it was all fishing rod.  I started backing out of the water.  Reeling, lowering my rod, and then reeling as I muscled him towards the shore.  I saw him about 30 yards out, he was tired.  It was what I think we call a Trevaly. (Trevaly pictured above)
I had mentioned this fish in my last blog.  The fishing store said they were fun to catch down in this area, and they weren't kidding.  I continued to muscle him in.  About ten yards out he saw me and made a short burst and it caught the drag ZZzzzzz but I was all over him.  I turned his head back toward me and it was it was all over.  I dragged him onto the beach and picked him up by the tail.  He was probably 8 pounds.   A real solid fish.  The hook was just barley stuck in his mouth. I gave it a quick twist and the lure was out.
I looked around and there wasn't a single person that saw my battle.  I thought for a second to take him for food, but then thought what the hell.  He fought a good fight, he deserves another one.  Getting to be a pretty good sized fish around here was no easy feat.  I walked into the surf again and held the fish so the current flowed through his mouth and gills. He wasn't moving and I gave him some encouraging words to come back.  A couple seconds later and his gills moved and next his tail made a quick shake and he was ready to go.  I let go and he quickly swam back to his family.  Now that was AWESOME!!!!  Never ever forget that.  Sorry I thought to bring a camera, but the sand eats camera's and wasn't taking a chance with mine. 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Paradise Redux

Monday morning Philippine time I will head off with my friend Mira to Club Serena.  It will be our second visit to the Club.  I talked about this place in a previous blog. This time I'm heading to this little piece of paradise with rod, reel, and lures.  I keep closing my eyes, and I can see myself standing in waist deep sea water, warm as bath, the drag on the reel screeching as a Trevally has taken my lure and turned his shoulders,  heading for the place he calls home.  I keep the rod high trying to keep this predator from taking me to the razor sharp coral that will surely mean a quick release.  That screeching drag that only a fisherman knows, makes my heart pound in my chest!  Then the reel stops, I reel hard hoping there is still something there;  reeling, reeling, reeling and that dream is over!! Still I smile from my dream, even without the fish!   Part of the area that I will be fishing is a fish sanctuary. When I was last there the locals were netting fish left and right in front of our beach.  I kicked myself  at the thought of what a fun place it would be to just throw a lure.  Even to not catch anything would still be fun.  
I'll leave this blog without an ending.  So hopefully I can tell you how that fish really fought.  Or how all those fish fought.  
I have reserved the beach house.  It's not really a beach house because it's not on the beach, you have to actually walk ten feet to get to the sand.  But then it's all beach and ocean.  The pool is close, the bar is even closer.  If it sounds nice it is!!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A First For Everything

Thursday night schools were canceled for the Level 1 storm. I made sure my sliding door leading to the patio was greased and ready to open to get outside quickly, not that I wanted to escape, but I wanted to feel the force of the "Big" storm. It was my first Level 1 Tropical Storm. As I have mentioned before I am a big fan of big rain. I will have to wait patiently again for that first. Nothing more than a few drops.
Thursday afternoon I had invited some friends over for dinner. It was about 10 people. Here's the breakdown of who was here. I was here, I think, my friend Mira, her t
wo nieces Rose who is 10 and Nikki who is 8, her teenage nephew Katrina who is 16, a 8 year old cousin of Mira named Jeff. Then 2 teenage siblings brother and sister Harme 15 and Harmin 16. Harme and Harmin have younger brothers, one that is 2 whose name is Harvin, another
brother that is 4 whose name is Harold. Also three sisters all over 20. Harold and Harvin didn't stay. There mother is 44. A woman named Anna who is one of the 3 sisters over 20.
When the Level 1 storm was declared all my guests asked if they could stay
the night.(All the kids) Sure why not. Let me say that kids didn't leave till late Saturday night. I think that was the plan from the beginning. Nikki and Rose had never been in air conditioning and had never taken a real shower. They were very cute girls. One speaking great English the other not a word. I had brought a few children's books for the kids, and they all loved to read to me.
Friday was a wash out with a steady rain, no where to go and also one person feeling under the weather so we decided to just hang around the house. The kids woke about 5am running around singing "Fruit Salad Yummy Yummy"(The Wiggles) which I had introduced via Itunes last night while gulping down a Philippine favorite Fruit Salad. The kids all thought my singing was funny, so I had to prove it was a real song.
After a 5am wake up I thought by lunch the kids would be climbing the walls. I had seen on the Internet and in the paper an add for Jolibee delivery. Jolibee is the Philippine equivalent of Kentucky Fried Chicken dropped 10 levels. The options are chicken, spaghetti and burgers. We called to find out about delivery; need a minimum delivery of 200 pesos we were told. That is about $4.00 USA. Upon it's delivery and my immediate stomach ache the kids were clapping to me, it seems again it was the first time to have this delicacy for some of them, and the last time for others. They were all happy, and so was I!!Feeling a bit under the weather on Friday night I headed off for an early slumber. The kids were advised to be quite and they were exceptionally well behaved. During the night I did open an eye to the sound of a pretty heavy downpour, but that was it, just an eye and back to dreamland. The next thing I heard was "Fruit Salad Yummy Yummy" coming from outside. It's 6:30am. This time I did get up and went out on the balcony. All my guests were in there skivvies running around in the still pouring rain. They were having a ball, and it did bring a smile to my face.
They even had soap. When a rain like this comes it means it's shower time. Most bathing for these kids is filling a big bucket and using a ladle. It's effective but surely not as easy and comforting as a hot shower. But the downpour is also a great and fun way for the kids to bathe.
I told them to take a hot shower when they came back in and they looked at me like I had three heads. Who am I!!
When I traveled into the mountains recently I kept seeing all these plastic barrels along the sides of the roads. In many countries where rain falls hard, there are deep channels along the sides of the roads. The channels are to catch the water that is coming off the side of the mountains, and divert it before it cause flooding and land damage, and with the way it rains here it can be a lot of rain at once. Anyway the plastic barrels are to collect water from the rain to wash clothes. That was my first discovery of the uses of mountain rain. Still traveling along the mountain roads I came to and discovered something interesting.
It was actual cement tanks or catch basins, that caught the heavy rain. But these tanks acted as holding tanks for shower stations. People were lined up, bathing themselves in there clothes. We passed several stations and it was the same at all. People soaping up in there clothes and showering next to the road. I thought to stop for pictures, but I also thought a good way to get beat up. Off we went!!!
So after the kids came in and dried themselves from there rain showers, and declared they were all hungry, I announced that they would be going to the movies and to the mall. It is barely $2.00 per person to go to a first run movie here. 3 of the 5 kids had never been to a movie, and the one little girl Nikki almost cried as the lights dimmed in the theatre. It was her first movie, and the dark was a new concept also. After the movie I asked how they had liked it, and if they had a good time? "It was like watching a huge TV in the mall" Jeff said. "I didn't understand it, but it was really fun eating popcorn, and fun to watch the other people laughing."

Reading my blog back to myself today, I kept thinking that this is a boring addition. Is this it, don't I have anything more exciting? I thought. Maybe I should wait till tomorrow, I haven't been sleeping well and I am particularly tired, almost asleep as I write. But then I thought about this past weekend and how all the kids are already asking/expecting to return this coming weekend. It was kept from me until today that the kids cried all the way home. Rose cried because she had so much fun, and now she had to go back and take care of her sister.
These simple little activities that these kids experienced this weekend were what was fun for all of us 35 years ago or before. This weekend was a step back in time, running around in a rain storm, watching old Superman episodes on the "computer", playing cops and robbers, even eating popcorn and going to the movies.
Even in my thought of all this being boring, and maybe this has been boring to read, the idea that such little things can make these kids so happy. I learned a lot through this last weekend. It's amazing what kids can teach you. But like anything you have to be willing to listen to the silence!!

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Went Down To The Crossroads

Now that the election is history, the celebration of the First Black President continues. 
The world is celebrating the victory of all victories.  Now the next step for all of us, I hope, is that at some point very soon we can start referring to Barack Obama as the New President of The United States, and not the first Black President of the United States.  The USA has turned a corner of history.  Now hopefully each and every one of us that feel it so easy to use racial, social, and religious slang will some how find a way to cease and desist and finally leave our ignorant prejudices behind. Please it's enough.  No more racial/religious slurs it's ignorant and it's offensive to every one of us that lives and breathes.  Good luck to Barack Obama..
Today I took a friend to the dentist.  I noticed she kept covering her mouth when she spoke and finally I asked what was wrong.  She said she had a toothache.  I gave her some Tylenol which at first she was scared to take.  Two hours later
she came over to say she was feeling better.  The next day I saw her from a distance, and saw her holding her hand to her mouth again.  I waited to see if she would approach me.  People are very shy here!  Very timidly, she asked? "can I have some more of your pills?"  I was happy to give as many as she needed.  I asked about her tooth. "Can I see it?" I asked?  I only needed one quick look.  "That tooth is broken, you need a dentist!" I said.  She laughed.  I knew from her laugh, who was I kidding.  She had no money.
This tooth would just get worse and worse, until who knows what happens when this type of thing is left alone.    I heard after the fact that a woman had gone to a local medicine man for a tooth extraction, she went directly back to work, because she was afraid of losing her job, and died a few days later. 
Sorry not sure of the exact reason of her early demise.  I sent a text to my landlady, and she advised me of a dentist, and off we went.  I new the pain that this girl was having, and I couldn't consciously look at her when she was in pain. Because I called the landlady, and she was more of someone with some connections, she sent me to a dentist that hopefully had a little more than most of the other dentists around here. From some experiences of people needing dental care here it seems a little rough.  You go the Dentist, sit down in the chair, describe your ailment, and the Doc will send you to the drugstore with the list of medicines you will need.  The quantity and the importance listed in order.  If he tells you you need four injections of Novocaine and you only have enough for one, well that's just the way it goes.  You can take care of it with one, and the Doc will do whatever you want.  Luckily I didn't witness this treatment, but it is the precedent here.

Not one for waiting in long lines or doctors offices, we dropped our patient off and sojourned to the local yacht club for some refreshments.  The yacht club is run by a guy named Steve.  He is from England and has the exact same accent of Cary Grant.  He sat with us the last time we were there, and drank red wine and smoked Marlboro Reds.  I couldn't place his accent at first, and then I said, "you sound like Cary Grant."  He laughed.  "Where you from?"  I asked.  
"England" He said.
"I know, but where."
"Town called Bristol."  He said.
"I don't have the best memory but I would almost bet that Cary Grant is from Bristol."  I said.
Doing a little fact checking as I write this, because I certainly don't want to let any of you astray, I have discovered and just patted myself on the back, that Cary Grant and Steve the Proprietor of the Cebu Yacht Club are indeed cut from the same cloth. 
The Cebu Yacht Club is not what you envision, but a very laid back bar and restaurant of particularly not the greatest food, and actually limited alcohol.  It is one of the only cheap places around that sits near the sea, and I'm particularly fond of that. The clientele is a bunch of scruffy and unshaven American, British and Aussie men, usually but not always with there Filipino girlfriends.
The other day we walked into "the yacht club" and two as I described above scruffy and unshaven men sat opposite each other.  At first glance I didn't take much notice of them, but something made me look again and immediately the first man looked familiar.  When I rounded the other side of the table, the other man also looked slightly familiar also.  Not like I ever met either one of them before, but just looked familiar. Cebu, Philippines is a place you can get lost, or hide or just disappear from the world if you want too.  I wasn't about to disturb there peace.
As our meal continued I kept hearing bits and pieces from these two men conversation.
  The one looked liked Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics, and the other was a Bob Geldoff twin.  The one part of the conversation I did distinctly hear was "that was after my first Emmy nomination."  I didn't think much of any of it, because it really wasn't much, but just funny when you have those brushes with nothing.
Meanwhile the young lady that had that nasty tooth ripped from her head, was no worse for ware except now where that tooth lived there a was a big gaping bloody wound.  
It's been awhile since I punished myself with a tooth extraction, and I may be completely wrong, but I think the last time they pulled my teeth they packed the gaping wound with something.  Not this one, just blood and raw flesh... 

Saturday, November 1, 2008

It's a Family Affair

Today I met with a woman(call her Barb) and her four beautiful children.  I have been speaking to Barb on the Internet on and off for almost three years.  I was unsure if I wanted to meet her today.  Barb is unmarried and trying hard to raise four children.  This woman, as so many others in the Philippines our, is very poor.    The reason I was unsure if I wanted to meet Barb was that for much of the time I knew her she has continually told "sob stories" of her life. 
 She then asks, pleads and begs for money to help her through her current woes.  I have heard many stories from many people, and I'll be honest it's very hard to believe them all. Barb has told me everything from her house blowing away, to cancer, to a story 
of the death of close family member, and many more tails. Many times I would not respond to this woman's initializing a conversation with me online because I just didn't and couldn't face another story of woe, and then a barrage of asking for money.  Many people ask for "help", many have stories, most go away after I refuse to help.  But this woman was persistent and very compelling.  She would make a great lawyer.
The last couple of weekends I have been inviting  people I know to bring there children here for swimming and food on Sunday's.   It was very hard to say no to Barb when she knew other's were already coming.
Barb arrived with her four children.  As you can see from there pictures these children are very cute, they are also incredibly well behaved, funny, affectionate, and respectful. What you can't see from the picture is that these children are incredibly hungry.   I had worried and made myself a little uncomfortable thinking of there arrival.  That feeling was washed away like a roaring river as I saw these children.

As I write this now and try to get across the feelings that I had as I saw these children eating, I have my own empty pit in my stomach.  I had been giving the kids candy as we waited for a few others to arrive.  The kids were all smiles as I played with them.  I had downloaded some superman episodes on the computer and turned that on for the kids,  John the six year old was mesmerized.  He had never heard of Superman, but the cartoon was perfect.  He stared at the screen for the twenty minute episode, when it was over he found me and took my arm so I       could start another episode for him.  Sydney the youngest was just four years old, she kept reaching in my shirt pocket for another chocolate candy kiss.

Someone said the kids were hungry and they hadn't eaten breakfast.  I quickly got up and took out leftovers from dinner the night before.  Rice is a standard at all three meals and someone plated a big pile of rice for 
the kids and there mother.  I went to get a glass of water for them as the four were sharing one glass, and when I came to the table they were polishing off most of the food we had given them.  When rice is the only option in a household, in the morning it is served with sugar, and in the evening with salt. 
A little while later the rest of the folks showed up and I called everyone in to sit and eat.  I told Barb to sit with us and eat and try what I had made.  She was shy to eat again as she had tried some of the food with her kids.   Barb took very little and I spooned more onto her plate. Everyone here seems to eat quickly, I think that is because there is never that much food for most meals and you eat fast when you can get it.
  As soon as people were done they got up and washed there plate.  I noticed Barbs kids sitting close.  "If there still hungry?"  I said. Motioning to the food on the table.  She called John to come over.  She put a plate of rice in front of him and he ate it by the handful.  Silverware is not used in many households either. John sang and giggled under his breath as I fooled with him as he ate.  The brightness of his eyes and the smile on his face as he ate that plate of rice was so awakening.  I sat and just started to wonder what a life these children must have. 
The other part of coming over was to go swimming.  I went in the other room and started pushing people to go swimming.  Barb had not brought swimsuits, and the truth
 was she nor her kids owned them.  We put our
 heads together and came up with enough swimming attire for the five of them to swim.  What a rag tag group I sent over to the swimming pool.  Swimming cost around 150 pesos per person.
When the kids came back, Barb told me her oldest daughter Lanny had asked? "Is it really cost 150 pesos to swim for one 
time, we can buy a lot of rice?"  I didn't ask how Barb responded to her, but I did feel a little perplexed, and said "maybe this will be a special time she remembers for a long time, that's important." I don't think my answer was very good, but I didn't know what else to say.
As everyone left my friend Mira asked me what I thought of Barb.  It wasn't an easy question to answer.  I had hard feelings to start with Barb because of the past things she had told me. After I thought about her situation I realized this was real, and Barb is in a fight everyday when she wakes to somehow put food in those beautiful children's mouth.
To think that there are nights that children go to sleep hungry. No one reading this knows this feeling.  To see it close up is quite extreme.  If I think of my niece and nephew, or any of my friends children, or hell any child in the world, and the thought of trying to find food for them on a daily basis, or even one child going to bed hungry is incomprehensible to imagine.  The limits that Barb goes to everyday are to say the least extreme.  But are these limits unrealistic for survival? Of course no one wants to be lied to about anything, and I certainly don't condone the actions that Barb or any other person feels they need to take to survive.    Before I came here I often mentioned and talked about seeing the children, trying to give back, to do something while here.  It was easy to talk about, but I never in a million years thought a child that I would know would be so hungry that he hadn't had food in a day. 
How ignorant of me.  I knew coming here, that there were people who were hungry!  But the level of poverty here is as bad as any poverty stricken country in the world.  You pass by poverty every time you leave your house.  A beautiful house sits with gates, green grass, a gleaming swimming pool, and shrubs manicured for every leaf or needle, and immediately next to the house and of course blocked by a big fence si
ts a house wired together with bamboo sheeting.  Garbage, clothes, weeds, tires, all manner of garbage is strewn everywhere around the house. People sit on porches with no job, no money, and not much hope.  
To realize what life brings to some of us, is an awakening  in itself.   These people and these woman who I speak about above would love nothing more than a job to support themselves. They are all smart, hard working and 
love there children.  Most will wash clothes for a few peso's, but they are lucky to even find this job.  If you talk of any hardship's with Filipino's, they will often offer these words, and I have heard it several times, "We are Filipino, we are strong when pushed, and even stronger when down!"

A few days after my first meeting with Barb and her children, and after I had wrote most of the blog above, Barb called me on the computer.  She told me that the kids had really loved me, and she wondered if I would think about adopting Sydney the littlest daughter.  The thought floored me, and I kind of laughed it off.   Her daughter told her "she wouldn't cry if she went away, and when she was older she would come back and get her mother." 
 I asked Barb "how she could even think such a thing?"  I wasn't sure what response I would get to my question but the one I got really punched me in the gut.  Barb said "I know you would give her a great life, and I can't even give her three meals a day."  If there was ever a time to shed a tear that was it.  

Friday, October 31, 2008

Paradise Found!!!

I'm sitting at the dinner table with my friend Mira; we are waiting for our dinner to be served. Ten feet from where we sit there is a small sea wall made from volcanic rock.  Below the wall is a small white sand beach, and a few feet from there the waves of the Tanon Strait rhythmically lap there way up the sandy beach.  Looking out from our table it's a bit cloudy, and I would say no more than 2 miles across the strait is the Island of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental.  From where I sit the island looks to be all mountains.  As the sun sets, lights become visible like stars all along the dark distant shoreline. I learn that for miles along that far coast there are towns and a highway that follow the shore for most of the island.  
Our waiter Roland is from that island that I am presently mesmerized by, but he i
s from the far side of the island which is called Negros Occidental.  At one time the island was called just Negros but it seems there was an argument over some sugarcane or a virgin's virtue, and it was thus split into two.Roland told us he is one of ten children.  One girl and nine boys, he being the ninth boy born and number ten was his sister.  He told us his mother just wanted a girl and when that day came she would stop having babies.  Can you imagine another boy, nine times?  Ten children and barely a year skipped between ages. Roland's mother made it through all ten, but his father expired just after the tenth child was born.  Roland is now twenty-four and his mother is still doing fine.
Roland just informed us that they rang the bell in the kitchen to tell him our meal was ready. Ummmm.  He had advised us to get the sizzling prawns.  Said it was a favorate of the guests. We order our meals ahead of time so 
there's no waiting, and the chef has plenty of time to prepare everything.  Whatever works, and all this was really working for us.
Roland put down the sizzling platter, piled with prawns.  They were the biggest shrimp I had ever seen.  As the sizzle of the platter died down and the aroma of the dish filled our heads, we smiled and couldn't wait to rip those huge babies apart.  They were served head and all, and boy were they amazing.
As we were enjoying our sumptuous meal, Roland came over and pointed to the approaching clouds.  We hadn't noticed that off in the distance the lighting was starting to dance across the sky, and thunder was making itself heard.  A storm was coming. I had been waiting for a Philippine storm since my arrival, I had heard they can be quite intense.  As we waited for the lighting to light the sky again, the wind suddenly picked up and in one cool gust, blew all the flowers that Roland had decorated our table with.  Roland had went all out to make that table look so nice. Roland ran to close the doors facing the sea, and just at the same time the sky erupted in a very heavy rain.  It was coming down "in buckets!"
Outside the bar/restaurant where we were having dinner was a beautiful pool, next to the pool the sea wall extended out past the bar, next to the wall were these little raised decks/platforms that were covered with the local Philippine style of grass roofs.  On the deck was a mattress and pillows, the structure was decorated with soft curtains and shell chimes.
I thought what a great place to watch the storm. Two steps out of the bar and we were under the overhang for the first platform.  There was wind but barely a drop hit us as we watched the most incredible storm over the Tanon Strait.  I have always loved rain storms, but lying here next to the sea, listening to the waves, hearing the rain hitting the roof of the platform, even the shell chimes that decorated the platform had a very magical sound.  I was in a very special place, at a very special time.
The last couple of mornings I have made it a point to wake up early and watch the sun come up, and I have been close, within and hour, that's kind of close!  When I do get down to the beach there are many locals "combing" the beach for anything they can find.
Shells to sell, fish, crabs, clams, even coins or jewelry anything that may provide even a tiny bit of sustenance for the day.
The man in the picture with the sea creature, that is a squid.
The man asked me if I would like to buy it.  "No Thanks! But can I take a picture?"  I asked.  Everyone that I have approached to take a  picture has been more than happy to pose for the camera, the little kids sometimes run or hide or giggle, but when I show them there image they all want to see more.  No
one has turned away or refused my camera. Today is the last day at Club Serena in Moabal, Cebu.  An incredible place, next time I will stay longer!!!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Temple On The Mountain

I visited this beautiful Taoist Temple property the other day.  It was perched on the side of a mountain overlooking the sea.   From each individual Temple the view of the surrounding area was just amazing.

All over Cebu and the surrounding areas, business's are guarded by very armed guards.  I mention this, because here in this beautiful, tranquil compound a very armed guard made a very big presence. 
 Most guards are carrying a pistol on 
there waste, but many are carrying a sawed off shot gun with a pistol trigger. Even with the presence of this gun-toting guard, these grounds were still incredibly spiritual.  Once I got back into the car for the drive home I realized to myself that the guard was not there to tell me not to take pictures, but for the real threat that we deal with today in our society. 
When I first stepped through the main gate sparks were flying inside of me with the anticipation of entering this sacred place. Maybe it was just the whole moment of traveling and everything just feeling so good that hit me at that time.  
I remember feeling this way in Costa Rica years ago, when I was on a boat tour through the jungle.  Animals, birds, reptiles were everywhere.  It was a euphoric feeling.  It just felt really right!!
As I went into the big temple, I looked around and tried to take it all in.  I lit a stick of incense and set it in the pot with the other already burnt pieces.  How many dreams, prayers, thoughts had come before me.  I stood in silence as the smoke danced a wild dance, caused by the changing breezes that blew through the temple.

I stared through the rising smoke.  I have read books of Asian religions.  But this was all different.  It was real.  The temples may have only been built within the last forty years, but the ideas, the wisdom, and the presence of something there was no mistake this was very real.  No talking, no photo's just silence, so you can hear your heart beat.  Admire al
l th
is, and take it away, to remember in your own special way.  

Dragons hold a huge presence in the Taoist religion.   Also there were many pools of live turtles.  The turtle has many references in the Taoist religion.  Most that the turtle holds wisdom.  I looked down to  what I thought was just a little overflow of rain water, but it was a little tended to turtle pond.  No bigger than a goldfish bowl.  
There was no explanation to anything, and 
no one to ask.
  But as you continue to think of this most sacred place, even days after your visit it makes sense as to why there is no explanation.  This is a place for reflection,  for thinking, for just sitting, for anything that you want from your time here.  In whatever you believe I don't think there is place that makes a better place to believe.  There are places such as this Taoist Temple that may wake you up from a long sleep, or kick you a little bit, but there is nothing better than just here!!