Philippines - Day 3 (San Fernando, Orphanage)
This is entry #5.
Link to entry #4.
Jolayne is also chronicling our trip here.
As I mentioned previously, I awoke at about 2 am after only 4 hours of sleep, and yet I was so tired. I tried going back to sleep and wound up using the time to get journal entries ready. Our day's trip was to an orphanage, together with the young men and women of the San Fernando 1st Ward. We were told to be ready for our day's trip at 6am, just after sun-up. We even joked about Filipino time vs American time and were assured that they meant American time. Hmmm. It was just after 630am when the crew finally showed up, so we'd already had a half hour to sit out on the steps in front of the hotel, finish last night's pizza for breakfast, and enjoy the local scenery. Everyone seemed to be in a much better mood in the morning; the kids had a good night's rest, which was much needed.
TRAVELING THROUGH THE LAHAR ZONE
We were destined for Lubao, Pampanga, which is about an hour's ride southwest. During my mission (1995-96), the main thoroughfare from Pampanga to Zambales was the Olongapo-Gapan Highway, which ran through Lubao. It ran right through the central devastation of lahars with the rivers coming off Mt Pinatubo and was unpassable much of my mission, at least during the wet season. Lahars are volcanic (and sometimes even pyroclastic) mudflows. When they are dry, they can be like dusty concrete; very hard, even to dig. But when they get wet, they liquify and turn into a soupy, sticky paste that's even hard to get off the window with your wipers. Bridges don't last well when their abutments wash away, so it's been a common activity to rebuild bridges in this region for over 20 years now. We had several close calls as office elders when I spent so much time behind the wheel, but also enjoyed some fun P-days exploring that area, which at times looked like a moonscape. Many of my pictures of destruction came from this area. It was very interesting to me to return.
Within a year or two of my departure, the government finally erected a Mega-Dike complex multiple meters high to contain the lahar flows, and the road finally became more passable on a consistent basis. Then last August when they had a series of heavy rains, one or more of the dikes burst and flooded the area again quite badly. This flooding destroyed at least 4 of the bridges on the highway, which are still now under repair. This means that even early in the morning our ride to Lubao took much longer than it should have as we detoured around the construction. To be honest, we weren't even really sure where we were going. We had to stop and ask for directions several times, plus we had to duck a police checkpoint since we had people sitting in the front/back of the jeep, which is bawal (forbidden).
During the drive, I got my first glimpses of the Philippine countryside; until that point we had only been in the city, and it's an entirely different experience. It's rather hard to see out of a jeep if you're not seated right near the door; the windows are usually tinted and/or very low. No big deal when you're on a ride to an orphanage, but when riding around town I sometimes have trouble seeing out to know where I am and whether it's time to get off yet. On this journey, though, I just caught the view out the back door as we made our way down the highway. Rice fields are just full of beauty; it's hard not to notice, especially in contrast to the lahars of the rivers. Except for the riverbeds themselves, the area seems to be nearly completely recovered from the devastation I experienced on a near-daily basis in the 90's. The land can truly heal itself.
VISITING THE ORPHANAGEAfter stopping for directions again, we finally made our way to the Reception and Study Center for Children (RSCC). It was located on the far side of town a mile or two out in the middle of the bukid (fields). Really a beautiful location. This is the view out from the main gate.
The orphanage is state-run and has nearly 70 kids, mostly from ages 0-6, though they do have at least one set of siblings with older kids whom they've thankfully elected to keep together, regardless of their ages. The orphanage has mostly boys, broken up into about 6-8 different cottages (2 bedroom houses). They also have a special-needs unit in the back (which was even air conditioned).
We arrived around 730am and were told the kids had a schedule and that we'd be able to meet with them somewhere around 9am, so we spent the first 90 min or so cleaning the grounds, which weren't super dirty to begin with. For the most part, it was a beautiful little campus.
We all donned the yellow Mormon Helping Hands jerseys and got to work, first by sweeping and picking up trash.
My kids enjoyed (perhaps not the right word?) using local-style brooms to "mag-walis-walis" (sweep), though I watched them a bit and couldn't see one piece of anything that they were successful in actually sweeping. The local youth, however, were much more skilled with these devices. Here's a short video clip showing our western ineptitude at sweeping, Filipino style.
Finally it was time to meet with the kids, and we were split into a number of groups of 6 so as not to overwhelm anyone. My girls were split up as well. They were obviously nervous (perhaps for a number of reasons), but the youth of the ward were very friendly to them and had no problem speaking English to them, either. This was just the type of immersion I was hoping my girls would be able to have. I went with the largest group to play with the boys ages 3-6. There were about 20 of them. We first prepped for an egg hunt by filling the plastic eggs we'd brought from home with candy and then hiding them around the playground.
When we called the kids out and instructed them to find no more than 4 eggs each, they quickly got to business. It was pretty fun to see how happy they were; this was precisely the spirit of service I had sought. The hunt was over in about 2 minutes, and then we helped find a couple leftover eggs, one of which I gave to the wash lady whose only job is to do laundry ALL.DAY.LONG. Ugh. Glad that's not my job. She had piles of laundry, but at least had a washing machine, though she was still doing some of it by hand in the traditional bowl. 20 years ago washing machines were for the more-well-to-do and most folks still did the laundry with a big bowl, wood board, and bar of soap.
Once the egg hunt concluded, we kept the kids in the central (covered) activity hall and started into some of the gifts we'd brought for them. They were a super hit! We had the same stuff from the church the day before, little helicopter spinners, foam airplanes, whoopee cushions, yo-yos, temporary USA tattoos, friendship bracelets, and more. We spent the next 30-45 minutes playing with the kids and had lots of fun. Kristen fit right in and showed the kids how it all worked. The sticker mustaches were especially liked.
I'm glad we brought lots of water (purchased the night before), as there was none there. We went through over a gallon just for my family in the course of the morning. Some of the youth didn't have any, but I wasn't just ready to share mine as I knew I'd have no alternative (they could drink local water) if we ran out. I felt bad, though I knew the consequences if we drank local water; I experienced that problem too many times when I served as a missionary. By the time the toys were done, we'd obviously made a bigger mess than when we'd even arrived; there were little bits of plastic everywhere. The worker told us not to worry about it.
After we'd played a little while, we got totally trumped. Workers and machinery pulled up to take down the palm trees on the property, and the little boys were quite enamored by the life-sized Tonka trucks. By the time it was done, much of the shade on the property was gone. I imagine they took them down since they were close to buildings and must have been a risk during storms.
We finished up playing around 11am but were missing a number of our group. They were in the back helping to feed the special-needs kids. There were a dozen or so in there, as I saw when I went back later on. They took another hour to finish the task, so the rest of us just hung out and waited, baking in the sun. It was SO hot; we were learning just how much energy the sun can suck from your body. I had a decent sunburn on my neck from the morning. My kids were starting to drag.
A few of the youth stayed up in the nursery with the toddler-age kids and played with the, including Amy. These were the kids who pulled the hardest on our heart strings. The little girl that Amy held was so in need of love, any time Amy attempted to put her down (or act like putting her down) she'd start to shriek. She just wanted to be held, hugged, loved. We each commented at how we had to divorce ourselves from the plight of these children in order to keep from bursting into tears ourselves. How blessed we are. Hopefully we were able to bring a little of the love of the Savior into these children's lives, even for a few short hours. I could tell that my kids were each touched by the experience. I uploaded an short but unedited clip of the toddlers so you can get a sense of who these kids were.
Watching my eldest daughter during this visit really touched my heart. Sometimes Amy and I clash, which is obviously pretty common for a teenager and her father. But this day, I could tell she was serving these children as the Savior would. She simply gave them love. Someday she will make a fine mother herself.
We finally finished up around noon; our morning of service had been touching for everyone, local and foreign, child and adult. It was very fulfilling and something I hope my whole family will never forget.
LUNCH (A CULTURAL EXPERIENCE)Everyone was hot, tired, thirsty, and hungry. We determined to stop for lunch in nearby Lubao on the way back. They asked us if that would be ok since there were no chain restaurants in town; they knew it would be "cultural" for us. I readily said yes, though I knew exactly what was coming but chose not to share it with the family. Not much they could do about it anyway. We all piled into the jeep (this time, including the YM from the ward since no other transport was available in the middle of the bukid). We had over 20 people in the jeep, sitting on each others' laps and hanging out the back. That just gives credence to the Filipino joke about how many people you can fit into a jeep: always isa pa, isa pa (one more!). We jostled and bumped around for about 10-15 min until we got to the Lubao town center (bayan) and all happily climbed out for lunch. It was like a clown-car experience to watch how many people came out of that jeep.
We went into the palengke (open market/bazaar) area to a cafeteria (about the size of a large bedroom) which had a number of prepared local dishes available in pyrex-style pans. My kids looked at me with an incredulous you've-got-to-be-kidding-me expression (perhaps Jolayne as well!) and I just smiled back and told them to remember their pre-travel lesson. One of our preparation activities at home was to learn the golden rule of travel in Asia: you can eat anything if you put enough rice with it. They had officially started the immersive part of their trip. I thought it was pretty funny, but wisely elected to keep my comedy to myself.
Everyone began to order, and by the time it got to us, the place was cleaned out, so we had to go find somewhere else to eat. Sister Salangad, the YW president, was very kind to make sure we found a place that would be suitable, and we found another cafeteria several doors down from the first place. I ordered chicken and pork adobo, which is in a tangy thick sauce. Plates were used, washed by hand, and then quickly reused for the next patron. The flavor was great, and even the kids liked it, along with their plates of rice. They were very unaccustomed, however, to the serving style, with bone, fat, skin, etc. all still on the meat. We squished together into a small corner of the place and ordered sodas in bottles (perhaps another first for the kids). I caught more than one surprised expression not only from my family but also from others in the area. It was great. The hostess of the place was instructed that it was our first time to eat like this, and she was somewhat accommodating. I'm sure, though, that somewhere in Lubao later that evening, pretty colorful stories were told about the white family from America who wouldn't eat much of the good food they were served! Our new friends from the ward cheerfully paid for our lunch, which was such a nice gesture.
We quickly finished our meal after observing how the rice was so much better in this part of the world, and moved through the palengke to 7-11 to buy some ice cream. This was the kids' first exposure to a palengke, and while I'd explained to them ahead of time, I don't think they were quite prepared for the smells they experienced.
Walking into 7-11 after being so hot felt just wonderful. Too bad it could last longer, but we grabbed some ice cream bars and scadaddled. The kids wanted slurpees (now available, it seems in every corner of the world), but the machine was broken. We quickly crowded back onto the jeep and tried to eat our ice cream as fast as we could while (it seemed) playing twister with the other 20 bodies crushed up against us. It was about 95 degrees at this point. Ice cream melted all over us as we bumped and drove through now-heavy traffic back to San Fernando. The floor in the (very old) jeep got very hot, to the point where it was burning my feet through my shoes. There wasn't anything anyone could do, though, and everyone was so kind the whole time. Along the way, I passed out friendship bracelets to all the kids, which they sort of devoured as I passed out; keepsakes are very important here. Later in the week we met one of the mothers of the youth and she had one on which said "I love my daughter." Our schwag was promulgating! The comedy of our ride home together couldn't be lost on anyone; I even took a movie of it to remember the experience.
The jeep must have been overloaded because it trudged along toward home VERY slowly. As we drove, the young women played music from their cell phones and sang along; karaoke is a sort of national past time here, and we were treated to some fun singing.
When we finally got back to San Fernando at about 1pm, we stopped a mile or so short of our hotel while the crew secured some sort of permits to take the youth swimming later that day. It took nearly a half hour and we were all ready to expire by that time. Tick. Tock. We were invited to join but were too tired and were finally dropped back at the hotel at about 130pm. We all crashed hard (still not over the jet lag) until almost 530pm. I'd wished we had had more energy to use that time to be with people, but we were simply exhausted. At 5pm, still no one wanted to wake up. I forced the girls to get up so we could go see De Oceras again. Kids weren't at all happy by this time; unkind words towards me there were! Their dad was just torturing them, they were sure. It's perhaps as tired as we've ever been as a family. Exhausted just doesn't seem to capture the feeling. We wanted sleep more than we wanted to breathe, it seemed.
We hopped another jeep back over to Nanay's (mom's) and chatted for another couple hours while the kids played with even more activities (we had take two suitcases full of pasalubongs, activities, and other fun stuff). We passed out the rest of the gifts and they in turn presented my girls with some woven grass hats. It turns out the activities we brought were ideal for the situation; the kids worked on foam easter-egg magnets while the adults chatted. By this time Kristen had made great new friends in Alyssa and Allyson. They were now her Filipino cousins.
I imagine it was a little challenging for Jolayne to sit there and listen to a language she could only barely decipher. She said she did manage to keep up with the gist of the conversation, however. I asked Allyson how many Barbies she now had, and she quickly replied to me that she had only 1 (the one we'd given her). We were immediately humbled. We prepared to leave around 8pm as we knew we'd need to be up around 3am for the following day's trip to Mt Pinatubo. Since our bodies were so screwed up time wise, the early start wasn't a huge deal; we just needed some more time to sleep was all. As we were preparing to leave, Armida's husband Rolando--whom I've never met--came home from work. It was great to get to meet him; what a kind a quiet man he seemed.
We talked about our options for the Pinatubo trip. In order to save about $90, I'd previously elected to take public transit up to the jumping off point in Tarlac province, about an hour's drive north by car. However, when I learned that it would take a couple jeeps and a bus transfer, on a route with which I was unfamiliar, coupled by the fact that we'd have to leave around 3am, Jolayne suggested that I call our tour coordinator and see if she was still available to pick us up. I did. She was. Yay. Plans changed. Out departure point was switch to about 445am, well worth the cost in retrospect.
We said good night to each other and headed home. We hadn't had dinner yet (my fault, since I wanted to get back to see De Oceras), and while I'm sure Nanay would have been more than happy to cook for us, I elected to simply stop at Jollibee on the way back to the hotel. Jollibee is Filipino favorite, sort of like McDonalds. I hadn't been looking forward to the fast food on this part of the trip; too much fried stuff. No fruits or veggies. I'm sure I could have planned that much better; any of our friends would have been MORE than happy to share a meal with us, and I was perhaps even offensive at not making that happen. Sorry Nanay! We choked down some food (mostly because we were so tired, but knew we had to get something in our stomachs). Hopped a jeep back to the hotel and Kristen crashed almost immediately. I had to carry her the 1/4 mile from the jeep stop to our hotel. My family was just on empty. Once back in the room, we quickly readied for bed. The AC in our room was pretty strong and blew directly on my bed. I wound up sleeping in my sweatpants and shirt and was still cold despite the 80+ temps outside at night. But I didn't dare turn off the AC; the cold was needed.
Today's lesson was pretty simple and clear. We have it SO easy in every single way, whether it's in getting around, or the weather, or the ease in which we get stuff we need, or the fact that we have family to love and care for us. Even though I spent two years here already, and I knew just what to expect, I'm once again really and totally amazed at how easy we have it in the US. It was a somewhat challenging day for the girls, but I think it was also very eye-opening and culturally rewarding. And we have new friends for life.
Next: Philippines - Day 4 (Pinatubo)