This is a bit delayed as I lost my original entry to power failure several days back, but on January 17, I left the group in Bangkok (BKK) and flew to Cebu, Philippines. In many ways it seemed like coming home because things are so familiar to me there. There have been a lot of changes, however. It has been four years since I lived in the RP. A strong pull for this visit is that a friend, Suzie Smith, is now serving in the Peace Corps on Bohol Island (near Cebu). She will finish her term in September and I wanted to visit while she was still working on her project. She works at a small elementary school in an old Spanish colonial town called Loboc. It is on a beautiful river and is where the smallest primate, the tarsier, lives. One can see several of them happily living in town. Recently a movie was filmed there, which has put the national spotlight on the area. It stars Cesar Montano, a very successful actor, who is also from Bohol, and is about life on the river at the time of the Japanese occupation during WWII. "Pangahoy sa Suba", is in the local language with English subtitles. In many ways life is still the same on the Loboc River, only the Japanese that are there now are tourists going to see the famous Chocolate Hills near by.
The first few days I stayed with Suzie in her nipa hut mansion and accompanied her to school. One day we joined the local health clinic's nurses on a barangay (village) visit. They went to dispense medicines, do dental checks, and to inspect the homes to see if their "CRs" (comfort rooms, or toilets) are on septic systems and if the people are composting and burying their waste. The same day was the opening of the new small day care building. A priest had come to give a blessing before the ribbon cutting ceremony. This brought out many local officials, which in the Philippies, means many long speaches and lots of food after all that. Suzie and I had a good time participating in and observing all of the activities in this beautiful forested area east of Loboc.
The next day Suzie put on a workshop for girls entitled Girls Leading Our World, or G.L.O.W Camp. Several subjects were covered through interactive events such as nutrition, gender roles, the environment, and higher education. Suzie arranged a tie-dye shirt making session and they planted some trees and vegetables before each group put on a special song and dance program. A very full day for the fifty girls attending. Lots of learning and fun.
With that Suzie was free to go with me to Dumaguete for a reunion with my Silliman University friends at CENTROP, the Center for Tropical Conservatin Studies. I was fortunate to see many of them on Sunday afternoon preparing to go out for a week in the forest to conduct a bat survey. It was quite a surprize as I didn't notify anyone of my coming, but in true Pilipino fashion they were very friendly and hospitable. It was also wonderful to see many of my animal friends from the captive breeding fascility there, especially Brian Adams, one of the Visayan spotted deer, who lets me pet him for hours, the long tail macques, wild pigs, and "kabog", the flying foxes.
Dumaguete is more beautiful than ever. The streets are very clean and the park along the ocean front has been improved. The ocean is very clear and free of garbage. Several new restaurants have opened that have things like FRESH SALAD BARS (ah, heaven!) and there are new buildings, but not too many. Silliman campus is always well maintained. We attended the opening service for the Christian Students Life Week at the big old church, which was built by the Presbyterian missionaries that founded the University in 1901. It is the only Protestant University in the RP. We walked the streets and met many people that I would see regularly while doing my errands. It amazes me that they still remember me after all this time.
Monday afternoon Suzie and I went up to Janay-Janay, the mountain village where I lived while in Peace Corps. As usual we took a "jeepney" up the coast to the town of San Jose. Then we got on a "habble-habble", a large motorcycle, for the ride up the mountain. In the past this created a lot of concern on my part as the road was mostly unpaved, with large rocks and quite steep. The drivers are quite skilled, but even so there are lots of crashes and having been in several myself, I was not looking forward to the ride, but there wasn't enough time to walk. So we gritted our teeth and got on only to find that most of the road is now concrete and the ride was very comfortable. This is the result of the Twin Lakes National Park being official now. The main project I worked on with CENTROP was the process of preparing the documentation needed to have the National Government declare this special area a national park, so that it could receive protection. I'm glad that it is officially protected now, but I am torn because that former rocky road kept most people from the area. Now, the locals told me, visitors come every day to the lakes. Ah, the ever present dilemma of special areas, they need to be known to receive help, yet that help often is the reason for their decline.
Anyway, we had a wonderful reunion with the Janay-Janay people. Not much has changed there. More babies have been born, some young people have left, some dog friends of mine have died, but life goes on pretty much the same from day to day. It was great seeing my host family. We played Uno and drank Milo after I gave out my snacks and "passalubong" (small gifts) that I brought. Dapling, my host mother, really liked the hucklyberry tea I brought her from Montana. Dina is now 14 and goes to school in San Jose. She walks the whole way. Nimrod is 11 and goes to school down the road at the higher grade elementary.
Suzie and I had planned to take the ferry back to Bohol the next morning, but it was cancelled, as often happens, so we went south a little to the town of Bacong to visit a hotsprings resort owned by an Italian and his Pilipino wife. Nice. There we met a man from Hayward, CA, who retired and moved back to the land of his birth. Here he can live well on his retirement, where in the States he would be just getting by. This is a country which is great for retirees, but there are few jobs that pay enough to live on, so many people are trying to leave. America is still the country of choice, but now I hear the money changers asking if we want to change Euros instead of Dollars, so maybe that will change too.
Suzie and I took the afternoon ferry back to Bohol. When we arrived back in Loboc after the usual hour jeepney ride, we found that her neighbors were having a party for some of their relatives who were returning to jobs in the USA (they are nurses). So we joined in on the fun, dancing to a live band, for awhile. The next day we returned to Cebu. Tomorrow I plan to leave for Manila. I will stay there for a couple of days visiting the Peace Corps office and friends before returning to Bangkok and flying on to Delhi to rejoin the group. I urge you all to consider a vacation to the Philippines. So many beautiful islands that are affordable to visit and the people speak English! Sige!