Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Supporting Haiyan (Yolanda) survivors

I don't usually use this blog as a platform for soliciting aid, but the recent calamity in the Philippines requires me to relax my "blog rules". There are many local and international organisations that are and will be providing immediate disaster relief and medium to longer term recovery and rehabilitation aid. Please consider supporting one of these initiatives.

The letter below is a call for support from Kalikasan- People's network for the Environment, one of the Philippine NGOs that I have worked with since 2010. Kalikasan and their partner organisations do excellent work. Their extensive network and presence "on-the-ground" means they already understand the local context, customs and needs, and can reach some of the most vulnerable people quickly. When they did a similar outreach with the Typhoon Sendong survivors I worked with in CDO, the support extended beyond the short relief period into longer term advocacy, livelihoods and sustainability initiatives.

26 Matulungin St. Central Dist., Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines, 1100
Tel./Fax; +63 (2) 924-8756     E-mail:  secretariat@kalikasan.net    Website: www.kalikasan.net

12 November 2013

Dear friends, allies and partners,

Our brothers and sisters in the Philippines are in urgent need of our help!

On November 8, super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) ravaged several provinces in central Philippines, with the provinces of Samar and Leyte as worst hit. Considered the strongest storm to hit the country and the world in recorded history, Yolanda decimated whole towns in a matter of hours. It left in its wake thousands of deaths which authorities fear to rise to up to 10,000 individuals as many others remain missing.

Communication and power lines are still down, while transportation is still impossible in many towns preventing relief and rescue missions. Around 620,000 people were displaced and 9.5 million individuals were affected by the super typhoon, according to Philippine government estimates.

In these trying times, let us express our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Philippines. BRIGADA KALIKASAN (Bayanihan ng Maka-Kalikasan para sa mga Biktima ng Disaster) appeals for your material or financial support to the survivors of Yolanda. Food (rice, canned and dried goods, coffee, milk, among others) water, and medicine (for cough, colds and diarrhea, paracetamol, antibiotic) are much needed. Sleeping materials such as mats and blankets, tents for temporary shelter and clothes are also appreciated.

For material donations, please drop them off at the BRIGADA KALIKASAN headquarters located at #26 Matulungin St., Brgy. Central, Quezon City.

For cash donations, please see details below:

Bank Account: Center for Environmental Concerns
Branch: BDO Matalino Branch (G/F J&L Bldg., Matalino St., Diliman, Quezon City)
Peso account number: 3640008876
Dollar account number: 103640033382
Bank Swift Code: BNORPHMM

BRIGADA KALIKASAN is being organized by the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines, Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment, Computer Professionals' Union and AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People. For more information please contact us at +632.924.8756, email: kalikasan.pne@gmail.com.

In solidarity,

Clemente G. Bautista Jr.
National Coordinator

Canada's response to Supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda)

A Philippine flag flutters atop the control tower of a damaged airport after super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city, in the central Philippines. Haiyan is possibly the strongest typhoon ever to hit land.
Photo: Romeo Ranoco/Reuters
It is heart-wrenching to listen to the stories of survivors of Supertyphoon Haiyan (or Yolanda as it is known locally in the Philippines), and to the stories of Montrealers who haven't yet been able to get in touch with their loved ones in the affected parts of the Central Visayas. At this point, I feel like the only things I can do are to continue trying to get in touch with my friends and acquaintances in Tacloban, Cebu and St Bernard, to donate to disaster relief efforts, and to urge the Canadian government to strongly support relief and recovery efforts. So, I wrote to my Member of Parliament, Mr. Marc Garneau, this morning. Here is that letter.

Dear Mr. Garneau, 

As one of your constituents in the riding of Westmount - Ville-Marie, I strongly urge you to take an active stand in Ottawa in pledging more and immediate support for the communities affected by Supertyphoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The disaster affects me personally and professionally, and I am extremely disappointed by the paltry response of the Government of Canada thus far.

My doctoral research explores how Filipinos rebuild their lives and livelihoods after a disaster. Since 2010, I have spent nearly a year in the Philippines visiting communities affected by disasters, interviewing survivors, and learning about critical issues and challenges. Everywhere I went, I was received with warmth, kindness and generosity. Everywhere I went, the resilience and ingenuity of Filipinos emerged as common strategies for living with uncertainty. I expect that the survivors of Haiyan will exhibit these same traits, but the effectiveness of these traits in rebuilding lives and livelihoods will be limited without significant and thoughtful financial assistance in both the short
 and long terms.

As of Monday November 11, the Government of Canada has announced support for two funds to help relief efforts in the Philippines: one fund of up to $5 million for humanitarian relief (14 cents per Canadian), and another fund that matches the donations of Canadians to registered Canadian charities between November 8 to December 8. Yesterday,  it committed to deploy Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). I think Canada's promise to help is grossly inadequate and ignores the importance of the Philippines to Canada. Please permit me to explain.

The Philippines provides a lot of human capital to Canada. It is now the number one source country for immigrants to Canada. Manitoba, Saskatchewan,  Alberta and British Columbia all have formal labour agreements with the Philippines. A similar agreement for the Atlantic provinces is underway. Many of the caregivers who care for Canadian children and elderly are Filipinos, providing a vital service that Canadians are unwilling or unable to do. Many more Filipinos or Canadians of Filipino descent work in engineering, health care and other sectors of the Canadian economy.

The strong interests of the Canadian mining sector in the Philippines vastly outweigh the pledged humanitarian response. The latest (2008) published statistics from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Philippines indicate Canadian mining companies invested more than 1.2 billion dollars in Philippine mining projects (table 1). Although these mining sites do not lie within the path of the supertyphoon, maintaining goodwill between Canada and the Philippines is important to the social license Canadian mining companies require to operate overseas. Moreover, the revenues and repatriation of copper, gold, silver, nickel profits to Canada are surely worth hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars to Canadian companies. A donation of
 up to five million dollars and an undetermined amount of matching dollars is minute in comparison to the mineral wealth mined and repatriated to Canada. A significant response to the current disaster would indicate Canada cares about the people and not just the mineral wealth of the Philippines.

Table 1: Canadian Mining Companies Operating in the Philippines
Source: Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Philippines
(million $)
Sitio Canatuan, Bgy. Tabayo, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte
TVI Resources Development Philippines Inc.
Maco, Compostela Valley
Apex Mining Corp. Inc (Crew Gold)
Victoria, Mindoro Oriental
Crew Minerals
Jabonga, Santiago, Tublay, Agusan del Norte*
MRL Gold Phils., Inc.
Balabag, Bayog, Zamboanga Sibugay
TVI Resources Development Philippines Inc.
Bgy. Camanlangan, New Bataan, Compostela Valley
Philco Mining Corporation (Sur American)
Sitio Capcapo, Licuaan-Baay, Abra
Jabel Corporation (Kadabra Mining Corp., Olympus Pacific Minerals, Inc.)
Bgy. Balibago, Lobo, Batangas
MRL Gold Phils., Inc.
Bgy. Balibago, Lobo, Batangas
MRL Gold Phils., Inc.
Camanlangan, Panay and Fatima New Bataan, Compostela Valley
Philco Mining Corporation (Sur American)
Bgy. Camanlangan, New Bataan, Compostela Valley
Philco Mining Corporation (Sur American)
Malimono and Mainit, Surigao del Norte
MRL Gold Phils., Inc.
Source: Isa Lorenzo and Philip Ney. 2008. The Canadian quandary. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. 28 December 2008. http://pcij.org/stories/the-canadian-quandary/

While I laud the government's pledge to match the generosity of Canadians supporting disaster relief efforts, I expect that the amount the government pays out will be drastically lower than what Canadians actually contribute. This is because the majority of money sent by people with a direct Philippines connection will not go through a registered Canadian charity. Instead, the money will be channeled as remittances sent directly to family, friends and Filipino organisations working at the grassroots level. Thus the GOC will pay comparatively little to the money wired through global payment service companies like Western Union, MoneyGram, WorldRemit and others.

Finally, why did the government wait until 11 November, three days after Haiyan made landfall in Eastern Samar on 8 November, before deploying the DART? The Tropical Storm Risk website began issuing alerts about Haiyan on 4 November. The DART should have been deployed last week to Japan, to be ready and in the Philippines on Saturday, right after the storm passed. It would not have cost Canadian taxpayers any more money, and most importantly, it could have helped to mitigate the emerging crisis due to clean water and food shortages, and severely damaged communication and infrastructure systems. With storms becoming more and more destructive, I expect my government to adjust its response to effectively deal with disasters, which requires a proactive stance. Stephen Harper claims his Conservative government is the best option for managing money; delivering food and water after the people have died is not effective. As such, the current government is living in the past; I want a government that is prepared for the present and the future.

Given the strong existing ties between Canada and the Philippines and what I understand as the moral obligation of Canada, I strongly urge you to speak up on behalf of Canadians who want their federal government to take more and immediate action to support short-term disaster relief and long-term recovery in the Central Visayas.

Thank you.  Sincerely, 

CC: Justin Trudeau (Liberal Party Leader), Thomas Mulcair (NDP Party Leader), Stephen Harper (PM), Elizabeth May (Green Party Leader), Daniel Paillé (Bloc Québecois Party Leader), Christian Paradis (Minister of International Development and Minister for La Francophonie), John Baird (Minister of Foreign Affairs) , Tobias C. Enverga Jr. (Conservative Senator), Jean François Bouthillette (Radio Canada reporter), Leslie Gatan (Philippine ambassador to Canada), Robert Desjardins (Canadian ambassador to the Philippines)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Catching pisos

I hesitate to write this post, and to upload these photos and video. Have hesitated for almost four months. Why? I don't want to reinforce "us and them" attitudes, or to create/perpetuate an orientalist (mis)understanding of the Philippines. 

(In 1978, the Edward Saïd published a book called Orientalism. In it, he describes orientalism as the subtle and pervasive prejudices against people of the Middle East. These prejudices romanticise (and caricaturise and even daemonise aspects of) Arabic culture, and are used to justify the colonial and imperial goals of Europe and the USA. The current US 'war on terror' is one example of how (neo) orientalism has real-life consequences today.)

Technically, from a geographical standpoint, harbouring 'subtle romantic yet harmful prejudices' about the Filipinos and Filipino culture cannot be orientalist because the Philippines is in Southeast Asia and not the Middle East. But, creating or reinforcing simplistic stereotypes can be just as detrimental.

So, with these caveats, here are some images snapped from aboard a ferry in Cebu City. 

In the hour between boarding and departure from the port an economic (and cultural) exchange takes place. 

Over the ferry intercom, an authoritative voice reminds passengers that they should not throw money at the people in the bangkas. Such actions can cause injury. The warning falls on deaf ears. Rather than dissuading passengers from engaging in such activity, the announcement seemingly has the opposite effect.  A large crowd appears on the starboard deck. The passengers empty the coins from their pockets and slip rolled bills into empty plastic drink containers. They scan the water below.

Ten bangkas putter up alongside the ferry, each carrying two to six people. They wear little and very lightweight clothing. No bathing suits. Most of the boats have both children (including infants) and adults. One young woman pauses during the exchange to nurse her baby.
Each boat has one or two 'catching tools'. These tools are made of an old rice sack or plastic canvas poster attached to two strong sticks, which enable a person to manipulate the catching tool. 
When a passenger tosses a coin or bill from the ferry, there's a flurry of activity. Often, the passenger makes a show of preparing to throw down money. One, two or three of the bangkas glide through the water nearing the passenger. The people below try to make eye contact with the passenger and unfurl their catching tool. The coin is tossed. If it lands in the catching tool, the catcher tilts the tool so the coin slides into the boat. If the coin misses, then one or several people will dive into the water to retrieve it. The water retrieval success rate is surprisingly (to me) high.
The exchange lasts thirty minutes. The ferry horn blasts. The passengers head back into their cabins, the cafeteria or the karaoke bar. The bangkas depart; some propelled by human paddling, others by motor.

What is your response to the images. Is it pity or guilt? Amazement or incredulity? Or nothing at all? What stories do the images tell? Tales of poverty and desperation? Or tales of creativity and ingenuity? Or something else entirely?

Monday, March 25, 2013

A film shoot

One of the research methods I was most excited to try during my field season here in the Philippines was something called participatory videography.

Participatory videography is a variation of the photo voice method. (If you've seen the film Born into Brothels it's the same kind of method.) Photo voice is a process in which participants are asked to capture their personal perspective on a particular topic using photography, with the goal of identifying, representing and improving their community. The photographs are later used as the basis for a critical discussion, either as part of a group workshop or a dialogue with decision-makers. In my study, a small group of participants create videos instead of taking pictures. The videos will be used to explore the various places environmental migrants go following a calamity, and the livelihood changes they have experienced.

For many reasons (which I will not elaborate upon here), the process of doing participatory videography has turned out to be very different from what I'd anticipated. The revised version, I think (and hope), will yield good results.

On Friday, my research team set out with a small group of research participants to trace key elements of their journey as environmental migrants. I hope this entry will give you a glimpse into the types of research activities we are doing here. Instead of going into the minutiae, I've opted to write in note form and let the photos fill in the details.

*      *      *      *
5:43 am
My internal alarm clock goes off. Must be nerves about the day's activities. There's no way I'm falling back asleep.

6:20 am
A forrest yoga podcast to start the day (and an extra half hour sleep for Ada and Frank).

7:00 am
Plain instant oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, banana and mango for breakfast. No time to make (brewed) coffee. Frank double checks to make sure he has the GPS (aka Samsung Galaxy smart phone with a GPS app). He's been assigned to be the official coordinate-taker at each site.

8:00 am
Meet up with Dudong, our jeepney driver neighbour. I'd arranged a pakyaw deal in which I hire him and his jeepney to take us around for the day's activities at a set price. He's wiping down the long benches running lengthwise along each side of vehicle. He runs back into his house to change from his pyjama-shorts into old jeans and a t-shirt. We are en route in the emptiest jeepney we've ever been in within 15 minutes.
Our jeepney for the day

8:45 am
After snaking our way through morning traffic, and a short stop to top up the oil, we arrive at the Park Cafe in Divisoria. We're picking up Kuki, my translator and research assistant extraordinaire. I send her a short text message telling her to look for us in a white and very empty jeep. Frank makes a quick trip into Dunkin' Donuts for some coffee.

9:15 am
Arrival at Ecoville. Only two diversions on the drive in (aka wrong turns). 

There are no staff on-site, and no group of participants waiting (as per our arrangements). Uh oh. 

We head to the carenderia of one of the participants who has agreed to come out on today's activity.  Communication about the plans broke down somewhere along the line ... A frantic "are any staff around?" text message to my contact.

The carenderia owner helps gather the other participants, while I go collect and pay for the snacks I'd ordered from the Ecoville cooperative. The coop manager informs me that they'd been instructed to make "hearty" and "filling" snacks. Great! 

10:00 am
Departure. There are thirteen of us: four adult women participants and two of their young children, two adult men participants, Kuki, Dudong, Frank, Ada and me. 
There's an air of excitement. Transport from Ecoville into the city is relatively expensive so it's a rare splurge for many of the Ecoville residents, particularly for those with no or sporadic employment. When Kuki explained the activity at a workshop last week, there was an enthusiastic response. It would be like a school trip - back to the sites of their old homes and the other places that had a significant impact on them in the months after Typhoon Sendong. It would also be an opportunity for them to learn more about their new neighbours and their pre-Sendong lives. Ecoville residents lived in many different barangays in the city before coming together and building a new community in Ecoville.

10:30 am
First stop is the Xavier Heights covered court. It's a few side streets off the national highway in barangay Balulang. A goat grazes at the edge of the property. A half-dozen boys play basketball in the covered court.

We all dismount and tour the site. Kuki interviews one woman who lived her from December 2011 until February 2012. The army brought her here. We film on the spot where she and her family slept. It's right at the edge of the basketball court, on the grass side.
Xavier Heights covered court
On the walk out, a group of men stop Frank, and inquire about our activities. Upon hearing the interest in Typhoon Sendong, they offer an explanation on the root causes of the devastation: (illegal) logging, mining, unchecked development. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on the calamity.

11:20 am
It's a harrowing ride through the backroads of Balulang down to Isla Puntod, the former home of two of the women. The road is used mostly by big trucks carrying crushed gravel from the river quarries. Much of the soil was carried away with the floodwaters, leaving only large boulders and giant potholes. Dudong's grimace tells me he was not anticipating this kind of off-road driving when he quoted me his pakyaw price.

There used to be two bridges connecting Isla Puntod to the mainland, a hanging bridge for pedestrians and a cemented bridge for motors (motorbikes), quarry trucks and the multicabs that served as the main mode of public transportation here. The former bridge was completely washed out and has not been rebuilt. The latter is cracked and doesn't look like it could stand another flood, but is still used. Looking at the river and the main Taguanao bridge upstream, it's easy to see that Isla Puntod would inevitably be flooded if the river level ever rose. There is no other place for the water to go. During Sendong, the water rose to within one meter of the bridge.
Taguanao bridge over the Cagayan River
Yet, the lots on Isla Puntod were titled. And there used to be plenty of houses.One woman moved here in 2003, paying a monthly mortgage of 116P to eventually own the land. Her place was connected (legally) with electricity in 2008. She will not receive any reimbursement for the money she has paid for the lot.

We film in front of her old house. She points to the site where a coconut tree once stood. When the water began rising (up to 25 feet), she and her husband climbed the tree to escape . The tree was knocked over by a barrage of uprooted trees. It was very dark so they kept shouting "where are you?". They crossed from one treetop to another, eventually making it to the safety of a neighbour's place several hundred meters away. 

Her family has rebuilt a nipa house. They return occasionally to harvest mangoes, papaya, kamote and other vegetables and root crops. It's very peaceful; the river air and breeze is welcome respite from the summer heat.

The only new structure on the Isla is on a quarry site. The building serves as an office. Quarrying activities continue unabated.
Quarry next to the river
Isla Puntod is now a no-build zone. On the drive out, the women wave to old neighbours relaxing in hammocks hanging from a mango tree outside their concrete house. 

12:00 pm
Drive into the city, into traffic. Turn left off Borja Street onto Isla de Oro. A young mother used to live here with her family. She tells Kuki about her old home.

Meanwhile, Frank strikes up a conversation with a group of lechonero, the men who prepare lechon. Roasted pig, or lechon, is a specialty of Cagayan de Oro City and a favourite dish of Cagayanos during holidays, graduations and fiestas. The men are resting in the shade of a light, open structure. Two lechon are skewered onto long bamboo poles, ready for hours of roasting. It turns out that the men are (English-speaking) environmental migrants, so I go to interview them.  

Lechonero with their lechon
The men used to live in Isla de Oro, but have since been relocated to the Chinese houses in Cala-anan. Even though they have been relocated, they return to Isla de Oro on a daily basis ... for work. Lechon-making is the main livelihood of these men's families. Holidays is a particularly busy time for them. Sometimes they receive orders from Manila; to get the cooked lechon to the Lumbia airport in time for the afternoon flight, the lechonero must start preparations at 3am. There are no jeepneys running from Cala-anan to the city at a quarter past two in the morning, so the men have no choice but to spend the night in Isla de Oro. 

The men compare levels of theft in Isla de Oro and in Cala-anan. Theft, they say, is much higher in Cala-anan. They attribute this to poverty and unmet basic needs at the relocation site.

The entire Isla de Oro is now a no-build zone.

12:40 pm
The next stop is Isla Delta in barangay Consolacion. 

The young mother who used to live here talks rapidly. She calls cheerfully to former neighbours who seem happy to see her. 

She points out the spot where her amakan house once stood. It's just past a junk shop and adjacent a small creek whose waters are more stagnant than flowing. The water is barely visible under a thick mass of bright green aquatic plants. The house was given to her from the Celebration Church. She lived at the house for 15 years. 

A two minute walk away is her brother's house. She returns here on a regular basis to visit family; she sleeps here whenever she comes into the city. The house has a concrete foundation and amakan walls on the upper floor. He continues to stay here with his family, even though they have a bunkhouse (temporary shelter) in Ecoville. They will move permanently to Ecoville once the construction of the permanent houses is complete.
Under the Marcos bridge
We continue walking and stop under the Marcos bridge. She returned here on a daily basis to collect relief goods given by the Catholic Church and some non-governmental organizations. 

Across the dirt road is a giant billboard. On the night of December 16-17, 2011, her mother and cousin were carried by the flood waters and stranded in the struts of the billboard. Luckily, they survived. 
Billboard where several survivors were trapped
We leave on a somber note. She points to a stretch of road where the bodies were laid out, brought there by members of the police and armed forces. In the days after the calamity, families gathered on the bridge and looked down, trying to identify loved ones.

Most of Isla Delta is now a no-build zone.

1:15 pm
We drive past the pier and into barangay Macabalan. Most of the houses are constructed with light materials. It is densely populated, and lacking in trees and greenspace. It's an estuary barangay, located at the meeting of the Cagayan River and Macajalar Bay. Salty air wafts into the jeepney. It's a refreshing change from the diesel, charcoal and refuse stench in the downtown core.

The roads are very narrow with deep gutters on either side. It is barely wide enough for the jeepney to pass. Dudong demonstrates his expert driving skills when he is forced to creep around a wake extending onto the street. Kuki explains that when someone dies, there is usually a wake in which family, friends and neighbours come to pay their respects (and maybe share a shot of Tanduay rum). In poorer neighbours, where most people have tiny houses with very limited space for accommodating visitors, these wakes extend onto the street. It is socially acceptable to appropriate this public space for the duration of the wake.

We shoot a video looking out onto the river. The former resident explains that his house was built on a seawall and extended over the river. It was entirely washed out. All along the river side of the road are empty concrete house ruins and newly planted vegetable gardens. Children play in the abandoned houses. On the other side of the road is a thriving community - sari-sari shops, carenderias, residential homes, etc. No building is vacant.
Frank takes the GPS coordinates where the house once stood
Many of his former neighbours are waiting to be relocated to the Cala-anan and Indahag relocation sites. Initially, no Macabalan residents were supposed to be given relocation housing, even though many of houses were washed out. The city's rationale was that nobody in the barangay died in Sendong. It took a very tragic incident for this position to change. One woman died by suicide in an evacuation center; she had been denied relocation housing because she was a renter and not a home owners, was too traumatized to return to her old place, and felt she had no alternative. The Catholic parish priest in Macabalan was afraid that his parishioners may follow a similar fate, so he lobbied the city on their behalf, advocating for relocation. He is credited with helping a lot of (former and soon-to-be former) Macabalan residents.

1:45 pm
A quick stop at the Macabalan Elementary School where he stayed for two months, along with 74 other families. The guard recognizes him, and waves us in for the filming.

Macabalan Elementary School
2:00 pm
Everyone is getting hungry. The snacks were hearty and substantial, but a full meal is definitely warranted. On the drive to a favourite carenderia the Isla Delta woman points out a PhilPost building; it is where she comes each month to pick up the money she gets from the DSWD's 4P's program geared at helping low income families support the educational and nutritional needs of their children.

We make a quick stop at the Provincial Capitol to film where the same woman came each afternoon to collect relief goods. Government workers would distribute cooked food, a welcome respite from canned sardines and noodles.

2:45 pm
After a lunch of rice, chicken, porkchop, jackfruit salad, and squash and monggo bean soup, washed down with Pepsi, we are all in much better spirits. The weather, however, has taken a turn for the worse. It's clouding over. By the time we stop at City Central School - one of the main evacuation camps - it is pouring cats and dogs. It's the first all-out thunder and lightning storm we've seen in our time in CDO.
Filming in the rain
The rain abates ever so slightly for the video shoot. It is the only clip we do under umbrellas.

Kuki has to leave for another job, leaving us to finish the day sans-traductrice. Fortunately, everyone has a good sense of what to present at each site. Still, not being able to communicate fully does make the work more challenging.

3:10 pm
We drive through Macasandig, a relatively upscale barangay. Many of the barangay's middle-class residents were completely unprepared for Sendong because there had been no flooding there (in living memory).

It's still raining so we offer the older gentleman who lived here the option of filming from the jeepney. He walks with a cane and might have trouble navigating puddles. He insists on doing his part and filming on-site in the covered court where he and his wife stayed for several months.

3:45 pm
We finally arrive back at Ecoville, exhausted. We do a final video in one of the bunkhouses, where the Macabalan man and his family now stay. It's small but cheery. A motorcycle helmet hangs on one wall. Bags of donated clothes and linens line one wall. He narrates his video in a mixture of English and Visayan.
Alley behind the bunkhouses at Ecoville
After much thanks, hand-shaking and good wishes, we head back home.

*      *       *       *
The day is long, emotionally taxing and physically exhausting. And rich, revealing and rewarding.

I will go back to Ecoville again next week to deliver copies of the video to each participant. Before the videos can be shared with others outside the research team, they need to be translated, edited, and, in some cases, altered to conceal the identity of the participant (as per their request).

N.B. I have permission to use and share the pictures and stories of the people in this post. Sensitive  details have been omitted in order to protect the respondents.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Stinky fruit

The Philippines boasts myriad tantalizing tropical fruits. Some fruits grace North American and European grocery store shelves: yellow mango, banana (of all sizes), pineapple, papaya. Other fruits are harder to find outside of tropical countries, especially in their non-juice, non-dried form. Some examples include: mangosteen, breadfruit, lanzones, rambutan, jackfruit. Sadly (for tropical fruit gastronomes based in colder climes), the quality of such fruits diminishes rapidly with intercontinental travel, so a Philippine mango consumed in Canada is nowhere near as lami (Visayan word for delicious or sweet) as one consumed in the Philippines.

Of the more unusual fruit sold at local roadside fruit stands (and found in our fruit bowl), are two kinds that fall into the "stinky fruit" category:  marang and durian. 

Durian, in particular, emits an odour that is not merely mildly unpleasant, but (to many people) full on repulsive. For example, an ice cream parlour in Madison, Wisconsin once tried to create a durian-flavoured ice cream. Apparently, a neighbouring business, unfamiliar with the smell, called the fire department, complaining of a gas leak. After the arrival of fire trucks and a bomb squad, the parlour abandoned its recipe experimentation.

Personally, I consider other smells much more offensive (e.g. hockey gloves that have not been washed for several months or a car full of wet kayak gear in a July heat-wave). Frank disagrees. And so too, apparently, do many hotels and airlines, who single out durian and marang as banned substances. 
Lobby display at the Marigold Hotel in CDO
Here's an introduction to these two stinky fruits. 

A pile of marang 
Marang (Artocarpus odoratissimus) grows on a tree indigenous to the island of Minadanao. It is a relative of the breadfruit, but a much stinkier and smaller cousin. The outer skin is covered with short, flexible spikes; it bears an uncanny resemblence to an echidna (spiny anteater) balled up in a defensive position. The range in the size of these fruits is roughly the same range found in bowling balls. The fruit inside is composed of sweet, soft white-coloured segments, each around a hard inedible pit. 
Young woman eating marang
Durian (Durio spp.) is the king of stinky fruit. In the Philippines, it is grown almost exclusively in Mindanao. (There's debate over whether the fruit is native or was introduced.) It's pretty expensive as far as fruit goes. It retails for over 250P per kilo in the grocery store (inner fruit only). Buying whole fruits at the Cogon market or at a roadside kiosk is a more budget-friendly option (60-100P per kilo).
Durian vendor with her basket of fruit

The fruit has a hard green-brown exterior; its sharp spikes easily pierce through canvas grocery bags and the skin on your fingers. It's best to ask the fruit vendor to slice open the fruit before you buy. This reduces: 1) the chance of cutting your fingers and 2) the possibility of buying fruit with critters small enough to worm their way between the spikes and start devouring the soft flesh inside. 

There are several cultivars of durian. The one with white flesh has a lighter, more delicate taste. It's the preferred choice for those with a more sensitive nose. The yellow-fleshed durian has a bolder taste (and smell). The fruit itself is very creamy and rich; it melts in your mouth. It is very soft; its 'squishability' makes it an ideal baby food. (Mango and durian are tied atop Ada's list of favourite foods.)
A partially-eaten durian

If you ever find yourself with the opportunity to indulge in such delicacies, I highly recommend it ... even if you have to hold your nose the entire time.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mending nets, sewing (sowing) relationships

Today's interviews were at the Cala-anan resettlement site. It's one of the largest resettlement sites in CDO, and is home to former residents from many different barangays. When I tell people that I'm studying the different places where the survivors of Typhoon Sendong went, and what they have done for their livelihoods, a typical response is "have you been to Cala-anan?"
Relocation housing in Cala-anan
From the city's main market, it's a 40 minute (15P) jeepney ride. My translator, Ada and I rode a jeepney that was nearly empty when it left the terminal. This is highly unusual; most drivers will wait until the jeep is full or nearly full before departing. We stop frequently, picking up passengers. We pass the giant landfill site (site of tomorrow's interviews), the turnoff to a transitional housing area and another relocation site.

Along one of the side streets, in the doorway of her row house, sits an older woman. She is mending a net. Instead of thread she uses fine wire, carefully stitching the mesh to a round metal frame. The net is pink. Attached to the frame is a long, thin metal handle. It looks sturdy, yet light.

When we reach the part of the interview about livelihoods, and changes she has experienced in her livelihoods before and after Sendong, I ask her about the net. Her former barangay is next to the sea; I am anticipating to learn that she used to mend fishing nets (likely for a fisherman husband or son), and continues to do so in her new home. That the person using the net doesn't fish as frequently as before, because of the distance and added expense of commuting from such a distance.

I'm wrong.

The net is unrelated to her livelihood. Her apo (grandchildren) like to fish in the creek on the other side of the road. Their enthusiasm for fishing (the act of fishing, not necessarily catching anything) means there are many nets to repair. It makes her happy to make her apo happy.

When I look at the net again, it looks familiar. Not one of the store-bought butterfly nets you see in nature stores. No, it more closely resembles the handmade nets my Grandpa made for his grandchildren. The nets that my cousins and I used to catch minnows and crayfish in Lake Superior, and the chipmunks and squirrels that ventured onto one of bird (squirrel) feeders at camp. The nets that gave us endless hours of planning, practicing, failing and finally catching creatures. The nets that, more importantly, encouraged us to play and run around together for hours and hours and hours. The nets that Grandpa would repair again and again (the squirrels had a tendency to chew through the nets in their quest for freedom).

When I watch the woman mend the fish net with this insight, I see her sewing with something other than potential income or food as her motivation. It's something that money cannot buy. In mending this net, she is sowing relationships - among her apo, and between her and her apo.

Friday, March 8, 2013

International Women's Day

March 8th is International Women's Day. It began near the turn of the twentieth century when women in the USA began actively asserting against women's oppression and inequality (with men). It is now celebrated around the world. This year's theme is "a promise is a promise: time for action to end violence against women." (If you want to read more about the history of International Women's Day, check out this website.)

Because my research uses a feminist geography lens, and because I'm generally interested in gender and feminist issues, I was keen to partake in the International Women's Day events here in Cagayan de Oro City.

The Northern Mindanao chapter of Gabriela hosted a rally in Divisoria, the city centre. According to its website, Gabriela Philippines is "a nationwide alliance of more than 200 women's organizations that cut across sectors and regions". Since 1984, Gabriela has led the struggle of Filipinas for freedom and democracy. The Gabriela organizers I have met over the past few months have helped me better understand the political and domestic situation of women in this country.

Today's event builds on the 1 Billion Rising campaign that was launched on Valentine's Day. The campaign calls attention to violence against women and girls, and refuses to accept this violence as a given, demanding a change. On February 14th, the campaign aimed to have one billion men and women from all around the world rise up and dance. And they did.

Gabriela's unity statement for the 2013 International Women's Day calls attention to the "oppressive conditions that have been plaguing the Filipina women - poverty, hunger, structural violence, discrimination and the general lack of opportunities for women" (emphasis in original). On page two there are a few lines about the situation of women and children survivors of Typhoon Sendong: "in our region, 'Sendong' survivors especially mothers and children suffer still in relocation sites and danger zone communities. Access to livelihood, water, electricity, school and other social services remains a persistent problem." From what I've been told in interviews, and observed in site visits, this statement rings true.
Calling for action and change at the IWD event
When Ada and I arrived at in Divisoria, there were one hundred plus women, men and children sitting in the park, listening attentively to the speeches. Many participants wore pink or black t-shirts stamped with the campaign logo. Throughout the afternoon, Gabriela leaders and sympathetic partylist political candidates read unity statements. Their calls for action were received with enthusiastic cheering. A spirited version of the 1 Billion Rising choreography interspersed the speeches. Most of the crowd had mastered the choreography, suggesting they had participated in last month's campaign launch.

Not surprisingly, the crowd was filled with individuals apparently very sympathetic to the women's cause. It was, however, not who was present that is especially telling, but rather who was absent. There were no politicians - municipal, regional or national. There were no hoards of university students (easily identifiable by their school uniforms), even though the main gates of Xavier University stand less than 200 meters from the microphone. There were no individuals wearing religious garb. There were no Muslim women (although Muslim Filipinas do participate actively in other Gabriela campaigns int he Philippines). There were no army, police or fire units. There was one photographer, and no film crew. 

Tomorrow morning, the Region X Police is hosting a fun run to raise money and awareness for abused women. If I can wake up early enough to run, I expect to see a very different crowd and experience a very different vibe at the state-sponsored event.