Bohol, Philippines, Feb. 2014

Greetings from Bohol, Philippines! It was a long, 36-hour, 4-flight journey, but I managed to get some sleep on each flight and arrived feeling relatively ok.

That didn’t last long. I’d like to say I hit the ground running here on my fourth disaster relief excursion, but really, it was more like I hit the ground stumbling. Demolition and clearing rubble definitely lends itself to a lot more minor injuries than construction does. On my first day I stepped on a nail, turned part of a fingernail black and blue, and rubbed antiseptic cream on at least half a dozen minor wounds. By day two I had a mysterious rash and a sore throat, and by day three I had to leave work early, with a full-fledged bronchial infection and an assortment of troublesome sores and itches.

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So I took a few days off, and am feeling much better now. When I’m not injuring myself, I really like the projects we’re working on. The first day I helped clear the enormous pile of concrete and salvage the wood that is all that remains of the home of an 82-year-old woman and her husband. She brought us baked sugar bread and soda and told us that we were “a gift from God,” because now she will be able to have a home again. She makes a face as she explains that they’ve been staying with their in-laws, and her arthritic husband can barely make it up the steps. Once we clear the rubble, she’ll be able to sell the property, and use the money to build a smaller house across the street.

The next project I helped with was deconstructing an unsafe elementary school, while the kids looked on from their makeshift classrooms in tents on the lawn. I learned how to prop the building up on bamboo poles, take out the windows, then progressively sledge-hammer the walls and columns until the dramatic moment when the entire building could be pulled down from the outside with ropes.

As we drive home at the end of the day, every child we pass waves and shouts hello at us. Sitting on the roof of the jeepney, we wave so often that we feel like we’re on a parade float rather than a rickety bus on a bumpy rural road. People here really seem to appreciate us. They do everywhere, but in West Sumatra is was kind-of “Thank you, but some of us are worried you’re trying to convert us to Christianity or influence our culture.” In Haiti it was “Thank you, but international NGOs have more power than our government and what happened to all that money that was pledged to us and can you get me a job?” Here, it just seems to be, “Thank you.” Even my taxi drivers, when I tell them what I’m doing here, turn to me and say “Thank you.” It’s uplifting.

Sunday is our day off, and fifteen of us piled into two minivans to see the island. The first stop was the famous Chocolate Hills (yes, I went to a place where the main attraction is the Chocolate Hills), where we climbed to the top of one of the oddly round volcanic bumps that dot the landscape and turn chocolate-brown in summer. We visited bug-eyed tarsiers at the sanctuary, drank mango shakes, zip-lined across a river gorge, and had lunch floating down a river through the jungle interior. Such a fun day!

So all in all, things are good. My tent is holding up well despite the afternoon downpours, the food is healthy and good on base, and the jetlag is making it oddly painless to get up at 4:30am every morning so I have time for yoga before breakfast at 6 and work at 7.

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I’m still trying to raise the money to cover my costs here, so if you’d like to help, please consider buying a Haiti journal. I’m asking at least $17 donation per journal. All the minor imperfections that were in the first printing have been corrected, and the new journals are laminated to last longer. You can mail a check to 221 Dolores St., SF CA 94103 or donate through paypal via my website, magicandchocolate.net. (or directly through paypal at ashapaypal@riseup.net).

I’ve been trying to upload photos to magicandchocolate.net, but we usually don’t have enough bandwidth for uploading, so only a few have made it so far. I’ll keep trying. Click the word “Photos” in the right column on the web page to see them.

Thanks!

Hugs from Bohol,

Asha