17. Decisions, Decisions

  1. 01. Giving It Away
  2. 02. Mind Games
  3. 03. Customer Service
  4. 04. Getting Down to Business
  5. 05. …And Not a Drop to Drink
  6. 06. The Commission
  7. 07. Service!
  8. 08. Instant Celebrity
  9. 09. The Pinoy Diet
  10. 10. Life As We Know It
  11. 11. Doctors’ Borders
  12. 12. Poor, Poorer, Poorest
  13. 13. Half Empty
  14. 14. Me and My Leg
  15. 15. Always Be With You
  16. 16. Going Underground
  17. 17. Decisions, Decisions
  18. 18. I Shall Depart
  19. 19. A Volcano within a Volcano
  20. 20. A Nod and a Smile
  21. 21. Not Fighting City Hall
  22. 22. Stasis in Places
  23. 23. Fond Farewells
  24. 24. Parting Shots

Christmas Eve marked the six-month point of our nine-month volunteer assignments; three months to go. New to the country, the language, the culture, the laws, the economy and the people we work with, we knew nine months was not a lot of time to get much of anything accomplished. As such, Frank and I have been proceeding on the expectation that we would apply for an assignment extension, maybe to a full year, or maybe as long as a year-and-a-half. I am advised the assignment extension approval process takes around two months, so decision time is nigh.

One factor in our decision-making process is that our St Kilda home is leased for a year, and our tenants have an option for another six months, so if we go home earlier than that, we may have nowhere to go home to. Recently it occurred to me that is less a problem than an opportunity. With our home rented and paying for itself (and then some), it is a chance for some very leisurely travel to places cheaper than Australia. That covers pretty much everywhere, save San Francisco (and I am dubious anyone can save San Francisco in the cost-of-living sweeps). A month – maybe two? – in Cape Town, Split, San Juan, Marrakesh, Santiago, Mykonos?

But first, we’d really like to feel our work has made a meaningful contribution here. We aren’t expecting much – but it would be nice to be able to point to some accomplishment before we leave. “We helped set up that business” would do.  Right now, all I can say is “For a sideshow freak, I got a lot of applause.”

It seems every time our projects build a little momentum, something happens to bring things to a grinding halt, with the effect of having to start all over again, or nearly so. Certainly my little knee operation wiped out two or three months of our work. Taking a week to travel around the Philippines with visiting friends was a much-needed breath of fresh air, but on return we are re-visiting issues we had resolved a month earlier.

Such setbacks are troubling not only because of the need for a re-do, but also because the setbacks raise concern as to whether our contributions are sustainable. There are strategies to deal with that – get others in to fill the gaps, probably more volunteers – but the solutions seem more theoretical and academic than practical and effective.

Regardless, it seems like a sure thing that if we leave three months from now, we might as well have not come, at least from a benefits perspective. That is a mighty strong argument for extending. Yet, I have to ask whether anything will be different if we stick around another six months, or another year for that matter. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to that.

What is clear is that if our presence here is not going to make any difference, there are far more pleasant places to await death than Metro Manila.  Indeed, I get the real sense this place is sucking the life out of me. Obviously, hobbling around slowly recovering from a knee injury isn’t helping, but I am gaining weight, ache constantly, and almost always have a headache, a cold, an upset stomach, or worse. Every day I stay, the smog, noise, food, traffic, and lack of exercise is taking three days off my life expectancy.  Then again, life expectancy is overrated.

I have expressed these concerns to my host organization supervisor and co-workers, all of whom have urged us to extend as long as possible. That is gratifying; it is nice to be wanted. Nevertheless, given the “herding cats” nature of the work we do, they cannot promise much insofar as results within any timeframe.

Where does this leave us? In the next thirty days, Frank and I will take a guess at what can get done in the next three, six, nine and twelve months. Then we will decide whether it is worth that much more of our lives. We didn’t come here to save the Philippines, just make a contribution. If there is a reasonable chance of any meaningful benefit, we’ll stick it out. If not, we’ll pack our bags.

At the moment, we are pondering these things a thousand kilometers from the Philippines, in Taiwan for the Christmas break. I’ll be writing about that over the next weeks or so. Then, in January, it is decision time.

SK

16. Going Underground

  1. 01. Giving It Away
  2. 02. Mind Games
  3. 03. Customer Service
  4. 04. Getting Down to Business
  5. 05. …And Not a Drop to Drink
  6. 06. The Commission
  7. 07. Service!
  8. 08. Instant Celebrity
  9. 09. The Pinoy Diet
  10. 10. Life As We Know It
  11. 11. Doctors’ Borders
  12. 12. Poor, Poorer, Poorest
  13. 13. Half Empty
  14. 14. Me and My Leg
  15. 15. Always Be With You
  16. 16. Going Underground
  17. 17. Decisions, Decisions
  18. 18. I Shall Depart
  19. 19. A Volcano within a Volcano
  20. 20. A Nod and a Smile
  21. 21. Not Fighting City Hall
  22. 22. Stasis in Places
  23. 23. Fond Farewells
  24. 24. Parting Shots

The Philippines boasts the longest Christmas season in the world, so the holiday season has been upon us for some time now. I thought it an exaggeration when told — repeatedly — that it starts in September. But sure enough, every supermarket, mall, department store, sari-sari, turo-turo, open house, restaurant, bar, jeepney, bus and police station starts blaring Christmas carols the moment August ends. Leroy Andersen’s Sleigh Ride (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDRFmn_KqfA) is peculiarly popular given the environs’ complete lack of sleighs or snow or giddy-ups or a-jing-jing-a-lings.  There’s barely a person around who has ever seen snow, yet everyone dreams of a white Christmas. Even after twenty years in Australia, this cynic is moved by such absurdities.

img_4259The decorative crescendo is more gradual. This close to the equator, the sun never sets very late, helping justify huge investments in extravagant Christmas displays. Tree lighting ceremonies at shopping malls and public spaces attract thousands to celebrate peace on Earth by detonating fireworks to throbbing Christmas tunes.

I will say this for the Filipinos: they can sing. I see this as a by-product of a karaoke culture that encourages participation while effectively prohibiting criticism or mockery. I have struggled to hold my tongue through some painful renditions, but it has proven worthwhile, as the awful performances are relatively few, and the good ones plentiful. Rogue gangs of carolers roam residential streets demanding what you care to give in exchange for impressive intonation. Continue reading 16. Going Underground

15. Always Be With You

  1. 01. Giving It Away
  2. 02. Mind Games
  3. 03. Customer Service
  4. 04. Getting Down to Business
  5. 05. …And Not a Drop to Drink
  6. 06. The Commission
  7. 07. Service!
  8. 08. Instant Celebrity
  9. 09. The Pinoy Diet
  10. 10. Life As We Know It
  11. 11. Doctors’ Borders
  12. 12. Poor, Poorer, Poorest
  13. 13. Half Empty
  14. 14. Me and My Leg
  15. 15. Always Be With You
  16. 16. Going Underground
  17. 17. Decisions, Decisions
  18. 18. I Shall Depart
  19. 19. A Volcano within a Volcano
  20. 20. A Nod and a Smile
  21. 21. Not Fighting City Hall
  22. 22. Stasis in Places
  23. 23. Fond Farewells
  24. 24. Parting Shots

I was having a nightmare. My dreams often include personal conversations with world leaders and other serial killers, perhaps because I usually sleep with news radio streaming in my ear. In this particular dream I was just watching TV on election night, with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Andersen Cooper insisting that Donald Trump was heading for an electoral college majority. One pundit after another paraded on camera, forced to provide explanations of results they clearly did not understand. They made further predictions even though each had accumulated a remarkable string of misguided prognostications. It made me squirm to watch them blather away without the slightest appreciation of their own irrelevance. It was awful. I was sure I would wake up at any moment.

I am now a few weeks into this nightmare. I am beginning to think I must be in a coma. Traffic accident, perhaps, or another fall down the stairs, as I am wont to do. (I’ve never owned a flight of stairs I didn’t fall down.) I am certain, though, this electoral calamity cannot be happening. At least now I know for sure that it is possible for a comatose person to hear. Hey, somebody out there turn off the radio please! Enough is enough. Continue reading 15. Always Be With You