Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Last Days: Apo & Dumaguete

Hey guys! We are on our way home! I'm typing this from the plane from Dumaguete to Manila, but who knows when I'll get good enough wifi to actually post it. 😉 

My last post was about our homestay with the Lumad, which simultaneously feels like a month ago and five minutes ago! After our night with them, we spent a day learning about the Moro community in Mindanao- Muslims that continue to be ostracized in Philippine society. Since then, we headed to Dumaguete and Apo Island! You're about to get a photo dump and be super jelly of the last few days! 

After our arrival in Dumaguete, we headed straight to a night on Apo Island- truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. This was my third trip to Apo and it truly never gets old. We took a boat across the waterway to Apo and then spent a full 24 hours relaxing, snorkeling with HUGE sea turtles & beautiful coral reefs, hiking, and spending some much needed quality time together. It was blissful to say the least. 

On the Dumaguete side, about to get on the boat to Apo! 

Rachel and I on the boat to Apo!

The boys! Cobbie, Nick, Sebastian, and Theo. 

It's kinda pretty there I guess. 


😍😍 x 2. 

This was (one of) our view(s) after our hike in the morning. 

There is a bit of a time gap in the photos since I spent a good 48 hours under the weather with an awful stomach bug. Unfortunately, I missed a few lectures- climagration, the LGBT "situation" (lol), and a lecture on the theology of struggle in the Philippines. 

This was right after I rejoined the land of the living- we had lunch at one of my favorite Dumaguete restaurants, Sans Rival. 

Saying goodbye to Cobbie {for the second time in my life, ugh} was really tough. Cobbie & his amazing wife Dessa were my bosses while I served as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in the I Philippines, so reconnecting with them both was a special treat. Cobbie helped to coordinate our entire trip and we absolutely couldn't have done it without him. Watching my SFTS group fall in love with Cobbie and with the Philippines was absolutely incredible. 

I've likened this experience to introducing your friends to your boyfriend for the first time. Iknow that I like my boyfriend (the Philippines), but you never really know what others will think of him. So hearing my teammates say things like "I love Dumaguete! Cobbie is so great! It's so beautiful here!" was both a reassurance and a deeply treasured gift. 

As is always the case when one returns to a place, it was both very different and very familiar. Seeing my friends in Dumaguete was AMAZING. It felt so normal to laag (chill) with them and be a part of my family again. I learned so much on this whole immersion trip- about the Philippines, about myself, about social justice, and my team members as well. This experience has already bonded us forever- I know we will be friends for a lifetime because of this trip in the Philippines. 

This might surprise you as much as it surprises me, but I am very ready to get back to San Francisco. I have a wonderful life there (and in the States in general) and it is calling me back. Until next time, my beloved Philippines. Mubalik ra ko. 💜🇵🇭


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Days 5, 6, and 7: The Lumad

My goodness, what a whirlwind these last few days have been! I have no idea how I'll be able to express all that we've seen and done, but I'll do my best. 

First of all, who are the Lumad? The Lumad are the indigenous people (IP) in the southern region of the Philippines (Mindanao). There are 2.1 million Lumad in the Mindanao region, and 18 different tribes. These people have struggled so much in the last few decades. Mindanao is very resource-rich, and unfortunately, everybody knows it. Thousands of hectares of land in Mindanao were owned, tilled, and lived in by the Lumad until the Philippine elite & foreign companies (Dole, Delmonte) figured out how profitable the land could be. There is a perpetual plunder of resources; whether it be by landgrabbing, illegal mining, or not allowing the Lumad to till the land that is rightfully theirs. 

What is especially unfortunate for the Lumad is that this land is their ancestral domain. This means that not only is this land historical for them, it is also spiritual. Many still practice their traditional indigenous religious that is completely based in the nature & land surrounding. How are they to worship without it? One of the leaders of the PALM (People's Alliance of the Lumad in Mindanao) shared with us that," [our] wants are basic. This mining corporation is not for us- it's a plunder of our ancestral lands. It leads us to nothing- we are displaced in our community, lands- so what will come of our children? Our future generations?" Thousands of Lumad have been pushed out of this land that their ancestors have lived on for centuries. There are currently 393 Lumad in an evacuation center where we're staying. They stay here because if they return home, there is a threat of being killed by a paramilitary group defending the corporations and investors that have commondeered their land. 

Evacuation center at Haran housing nearly 400 refugees. There used to be 800 but many returned home. Those that remain are afraid of being killed if they return. 


Yesterday morning, we left to spend a day and night in the community of the Bagobo tribe in Kahusayan- a couple hours outside the city of Davao. It was a challenging trip in more ways than one. The drive up there was gorgeous, but when we got to what seemed like the tip-top of a mountain, there was a large fence and we got out and *literally* walked through the jungle for about 20 minutes to get the village. 

Driving to Kahusayan! L to R, Sebastian, Rachel, Abby, Kerry (our teacher!), Hazel, Theo, Asefa. 

Oh just casual jungle-hiking in the mud!

Wait, let's go back a minute. Why was there a fence?! Okay so BRIEF story time in which I will do my best to make a complicated and truly awful story as short & accurate as possible. 

Basically, there's a church (read: cult) that is taking all the land. Reverend Apollo Kiboloy says he is the son of God (I am not joking!!), so he got interested in the ancestral land of the Lumads. This man wanted to own ALL 1800 hectares of their land. Unfortunately, Kiboloy (henceforth known as VBM, Very Bad Man) has lots of influence with politicians, so he was able to use the Philippine army to destroy the village. VBM also tried to divide Lumad tribes against one another so that they had conflict with each other and not with him. In 2008, the military extracted the houses (they are bamboo & on stilts) and put them in the road. As if this wasn't enough, they burned entire villages & killed some villagers as well. Villagers woke up at midnight to banging on the door telling them to vacate because "we will use this place for Kiboloy's plan." They destroyed the farm of the people, killed the land & destroyed their homes. Every midnight they either arrested people or forced them out of their homes. 

Great guy, right? So remember how I said the Lumad have 1800 hectares of ancestral land? Well, we visited them...on the land they have left. All five hectares of it. Five. 5. FIVE. Can you tell I'm getting mad just talking about it? So, in addition to being a Horrible Person, not only did VBM take all their land, but he used it to make what he calls the garden of Eden. Remember? Cause he's Jesus? Y'all, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. So naturally, as Jesus would do, VBM puts up a very large impenetrable fence around his garden of Eden. You know, like Hitler would do? Wait no, Jesus. Just like Jesus. Right. 

That is all the snark and talk about VBM I can handle before I drive myself back up the mountain and punch him in the face, so now I'll show you the bright side of the story. The AMAZING Lumad community we met! Everyone was so incredibly welcoming and loving, we truly had a deeply moving & inspiring 24 hours. 

Basketball court 

My first time trying the native coffee! It was lami kaayo- very delicious!

The kitchen in the home we stayed in. 

It rained for most of the afternoon, so naturally we played Uno and made a toddler-friend. 


Tiny toddler-friend spent about 80 million hours filling up this cup with the rain coming off the tin roof and dumping it back out again. I couldn't pick a favorite of these pictures. 

Last toddler-friend pic, I promise!

When the rain finally stopped, we went on a VERY muddy walk around the village during which I ruined my shoes but at least met this precious baby.

Aforementioned muddy walk also happened to be very beautiful. 

Buuuuut then I fell flat on my ass in a big pile of mud. 😂 Whoops. Totally worth it though! 

After dinner, we met with the community for a cultural sharing in which they told us about the plight of their people and their land and we sang them an Adele song. {which of these things is not like the other?} Regardless, it was deeply moving and encouraging for all of us. 

We spent the night on the floor of this beautiful home, which you might guess was mildly uncomfortable. You might not guess, though, that it was FREEZING cold. We were in the mountains and apparently it's negative twelve degrees there. Brr. I can assure you we will all sleep VERY well tonight. 

Walking back down the very muddy and aptly called "treacherous" path down to the motorcycles. 

Okay, I have to stop my photo dump here for a minute to talk about our motorcycle ride. After a long, pretty gross, very muddy hike down the hill, we climbed on the back of some motorcycles to go the rest of the way down the mountain. For those of you who kept up with my blog & fb during my YAV year in the Philippines, you might know how much I love motorcycle rides in the Phils. If not, you're about to. 

Riding down this gorgeous mountain on the back of a motorcycle, speaking my (very limited) Bisaya to the two men in front of me, and watching my American (and Ethiopian) friends ride along beside me was the highlight of this trip so far for me. I felt so at home (as I always do) in this country, doing as the Filipinos do. The landscape was utterly beautiful, and as I happy-cried going 45 mph down the side of a mountain, for the life of me I couldn't remember why I ever left this place. 

I don't know how or when or why, but the Philippines stole my heart a long time ago and it is very clear they have no intention of giving it back. 

[The cry-count is 20. Just wait til I go home to Dumaguete.]

Oh yeah and I also finally got to have my favorite sweet Filipino snack- an ensaymada. When Rachel asked me what it was, I had to be honest. "Umm, bread, butter, and sugar." What's not to like? 

Until next time. 

Oh, and roll tide, y'all. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A Check-In: Food

For those who keep up with me on social media (and in real life), you may know that I have a love-hate relationship with food. As someone who has struggled with disordered eating for much of her life, this has proven to be a continual problem for me in the Philippines. Not being in control of what I eat is incredibly difficult for me. Over the course of the year I lived in the Philippines, I gained around 30 pounds. The Philippine diet is mostly meat and starch-based, with white rice served with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. How Filipinos are still so petite and slim is beyond me. 

Let it be stated that the problem isn't with the food in the Philippines. I love Filipino food! The problem is that I love it too much, and going from one extreme to another is really rough on the body & digestive system. Rachel pointed out this morning that we eat a very plant-based diet out in California. This was wonderful for me when I moved to the Bay Area in August- I was surrounded by healthy, whole, organic foods at every turn. Vegetables abound. I got into a happy and healthy routine that has been shaken up since finals, the holidays at home, and now this trip to the Philippines. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I don't have a scale with me here, so I can't quantify how much I've put on. I can only share that I am feeling mostly icky and bloated. 

In lamenting this struggle (for the millionth time, I'm sure) to my mom last night, she reminded me that I won't be in the Philippines forever and to enjoy the foods that I love while I'm here. I know this to be true, it's just not that simple for me personally. I am very used to having my "safe foods" around and being able to go for a jog or a long walk at my leisure. Eating white rice 3x/ day and walking less than 10k steps per day (trust me, I'm counting) has been emotionally taxing for me. 

This may sound small or petty to you, but as you likely know, I've made the intentional choice to "live out loud" and with full disclosure. If nothing else, perhaps this will make someone reading feel grateful for the choices of food at their fingertips. Perhaps someone who has also struggled with disordered reading can relate to situations in which our "safe foods" are not around or readily available. Recovery is a process, and I just wanted to share that today I'm feeling heavy- in more ways than one- with the food situation at the moment. 

In other news, we just got to Davao safe and sound and will be here until Monday. It's nice and hot, but I am loving hearing people speak Bisaya. So far everyone is getting a big kick out of the fact that I speak a little too! One step closer to sweet sweet Dumaguete. 

Until next time... 



Day 4: Kentex Factory Fire

Good evening from Manila! Just a little check in- we are all pretty tired but agree that our days have been productive. Tomorrow we head to the southernmost region of the Philippines- Mindanao- to the city of Davao to learn more about the plight of the indigenous people of the Philippines. But first, today... 

In learning about labor laws, migrant workers, and human rights violations, we had a busy day. There is so much information coming at us from a million different directions. It would be easy to do a data-dump onto this blog, but in the interest of saving you some statistical boredom, I've chosen to share with you a story we heard today. 


On May 13, 2015, a fire broke out in a factory on the outskirts of Manila. Today we met Myrna and Ammied, survivors of the fire, and Marlyn, who's 24 year old son died in the fire with approximately 73 others. 

Myrna and Ammied, survivors of the fire and former Kentex workers, told us the explicit story of what happened that day and what conditions in the factory were like. 

L to R, Ammied & Myrna, survivors. Marlyn, mother of a 24 year old who died in the fire. Me, Rachel, and our translator. 

They worked making rubber flip flops. The chemicals used in making the rubber soles were unprotected and unmarked- there were no safety precautions, no sprinklers, no trainings on what to do in case of an emergency. Myrna and Ammied tell us that the chemicals smelled awful, but they were not provided with proper safety gear or working conditions. The workers had to purchase their own safety masks and gloves because the ones they were provided were thin and would break very easily. They had less than an hour break for over an 8 hour work day because they had a quota- they had to make 2,500 pairs (5,000 shoes) every day. If my math is correct- that's 83 shoes/ hour- IF you don't take a break to use the restroom or eat. The workers had  3 breaks per day, one in the morning for 10 minutes, 15 minutes for lunch, and 10 minutes in the afternoon. If they were late in returning from break, their employer would tell them that they could hire another if they didn't want the job. 

They were perpetually told that they are expendable machines, good for nothing other than making rubber flip flops. Ammied tells us he was often so tired that he would be almost sleeping while working, but couldn't. The smell of the chemicals was so bad that he lost the use of his taste buds sometimes- his whole head was constantly foggy and he was losing a lot of weight. There was ventilation in a separate room for the product (FLIP FLOPS!) but not in the room where actual humans were working. 

The day of the fire, there was welding on a door and a spark caught fire on the second floor while some of the workers were on break. The building was set up so that the windows were very high up-so that the product would not be stolen by the workers themselves. Myrna, who was on break when the fire began, said that they tried to put water on it (due to lack of safety training) but the water only cause the chemical fire to spread. She shared with us that she could hear the cries for help coming from her coworkers as she ran to the gate, but there was nothing they could do. The fire had spread to the staircase and those on the second floor could not get out. Because the windows were so high up, they could only see the hands of the people reaching desperately for help. 

Approximately 75 people died that day. Most who died were women and young people (15-21). The official report says that 72 workers were burned to death, but they learned that there were 3 more unreported bodies found. The survivors and their families believe there were actually more than 72. Kentex doesn't keep a record of these workers, so there is really no way to be sure. There are still many parents who don't know where their children are, assuming they died in the fire.

I am beginning to find that the more I ask questions, the more questions I have. Who am I in all of this? What does this have to do with globalization? Can I safely assume these are not uncommon labor situations? What does it mean to me (and the world) when I purchase something made in the Philippines? Am I stimulating the Philippine economy or am I putting more money into the hands of the rich? Does my silence actually support these human rights violations? 


After hearing these heartbreaking stories, we held a vigil for those lives lost and stood in solidarity with our storytellers. The photos & liturgy (paraphrased) that follow are from the vigil. 

The news says, "except for 3 bodies- the first recovered from the accident site- all 69 had been burnt beyond recognition. The news reported that they could no longer be recognized. The stabbing pain about this fact is that even before death came to them, they were treated as if they were already non-human beings, mere muscles and bones that manufactured slippers. They were not recognized as people who need decent pay, decent jobs, decent housing and sufficient food... Trapped within a walled and barb-wired factory, there was no escape. They were locked in and gobbled up by fire. They were left beyond recognition. In their living, they were considered nothing but producers of slippers. Their deaths are a mournful, yet glaring, evidence that the poor amongst us would be rendered to insignificance- bodies unrecognizable- in the working place that became their grave. 

We remember the dead of the Kentex factory fire- 
lives taken with cruel disregard of their workers rights. 
In an explosion of chemicals, sparked by a heartless repair 
ordered by management, a factory teeming with women, men, and youth, 
which had been fortified like a prison, became a blazing deaths rap. 
Seventy-two Filipinos burned alive in an inferno of profit-driven greed. 

Awaken within us a righteous anger and indignation,
that we may stand in solidarity with the workers 
to denounce inhumane working conditions and oppressive labor practices. 
Raise us up as a thunderous voice for justice and decency. 

Give us courage to break down prisons of exploitation and build up respect of the human dignity of each and every worker. Amen. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Day 3: Tondo, the Urban Poor

Today we visited Tondo, the pier area where all the big ships come in. It has been a site of great poverty and garbage dumping. A community has formed around these circumstances. These photos are presented without comment. 

Behind this man is a walkway full of homes hanging from the bridge. Over 50 families live in this structure under the bridge. 

The walkway (and the homes that stem from it) hangs from the bridge, never touching the water. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Day 2: Quiapo, Intramuros, and starting to "see"

Hello lovely readers! It has been decided that my blog will be representative of our entire group, so expect to see the opinions and experiences of all of us represented here! I hope I am able to convey not just my experience but the experiences of each individual and the group as well. Enjoy photos & thoughts from our second day in Manila! 

Green mango on the street. 

We took the MRT to Quiapo (downtown) from where we are staying in Malate. 

View from the MRT over the market at Quiapo. Busy busy!

These candles are very important in the Filipino culture. They used to just have red, black, and white, each meaning something different, and now the colors have grown. In preparation for the Black Nazarene, people are preparing for the procession. They prepare themselves by lighting these candles and touching the statue. It's about cleansing the spirit, and gaining the power to live the life of your dreams. 

Sampaguita- national flower of the Philippines. Very yummy jasmine-esque smell. 

A beautiful fish mandala! I almost wouldn't want to buy one because they are so perfectly arranged! 

Cause who doesn't want fish on a stick?

We had a really wonderful afternoon at the market! Asefa is from Ethiopia and says, "I see similarity between the market in Addis Ababa [capital of Ethiopia] and this one. The way people communicate and get their livelihood. Even the shanties look familiar. It feels familiar to Ethiopia." Rachel noticed how each marketplace had several purposes- they were underneath homes that in the US would be deemed uninhabitable but are lived in by many many people. 


The museum at Intramuros. Love this group shot! L to R, Rachel & Theo, our professor Katherine (Kerry) Poethig, Dean McDonald, Asefa, Sebastian, and yours truly. 

Beautiful fountain at Fort Santiago. 

The second half of our afternoon was a little less light. We visited Intramuros and Fort Santiago, both remnants of Spanish colonization and WWII. Sebastian (who arrived this morning- yay!) commented that the cruelty of the Japanese during WWII was limitless. We walked past caverns where prisoners were held and tortured...specifically made so that it echoed & other prisoners could hear their pain. The extent to which they would go to gain power, knowledge, or simply just to torture others was heartbreaking. Theo mentioned how the psychology behind the torture (purposely making their pain echo) was just plain crappy. It was tough to see. Asefa, ever the poignant thinker, said, "wherever I go I, see a scar of colonization. Still I doubt it that colonization has really gone away from the world- especially seeing it work in the form of globalization. Today if you sit down for a diplomatic meeting between developed country and a developing country, the developing nation is almost always the loser of the deal, at the expense of "support" from the more powerful. So I don't know if we're really free from colonization." Dean McDonald, adjunct of SFTS and wife of the president of SFTS, has also joined us and added on to Asefa's thoughts that "the powerful do what they want and those without power do what they can."

Really really thought provoking stuff. Our short course here is on the ethics of globalization, and we see globalization at every turn. Our hotel is just a block from a HUGE mall full of places like Starbucks, H&M, McDonalds, Forever 21, KFC (yes, really) and so so many more American places. We are starting to wonder if we as Americans are perhaps implicit in keeping the Philippines in poverty. I think soon we will "see..." 

Until next time.