Posts Tagged ‘typhoon’

In my game days- here are the best and worst days:

Worst days:

  • Fable 3 crunch-being in some big machine that x-rays you every 2 minutes after eating radioactive oatmeal trying to see why I can’t keep down solid food.
  • Dragon Age crunch where I was in the ER after having a “heart attack” at the age of 25.
  • The day I was fired from that job that caused said heart attack.
  • Seeing the game that you worked so hard on (lost relationships for, cried over, gained 50lbs during the crunch, didn’t get any royalty money from), in the discount rack for 4.95$ less than a year after it’s release.

Best days:

  • When the final email goes out and says “WE’RE GOLD!” (read: done).
  • When the game is on the shelves and over-hearing a kid say “MOM! I WANT THIS GAME! IT’S SO COOL!” (for the record, this happened 2/20 times).
  • Going to Target to get Nerf Guns and then having an all-out war in the hallway while compiling a build at 11:23pm before a milestone.
  • When you can impress a bunch of dudes at a bar by saying “Did you play Fable 3? Did you have sex? Did you hear the bassoon porn music? That’s me.” (side/sad note: I have never actually picked up anyone using that line.)
In my latest volunteer work, here are the best and worst days:

Worst day: I was told that I HAVE to tell this story, even though it made me sob like a hyperventilating toddler. So, Ian, this is for you:

We were in Day 2 of a “House Damage Assessment”. (Day 18 post Typhoon). A task given to me by the Mayor of Bogo because I was an “unbiased party”. However, he did not give me a helicopter (spoiler: ended up getting a drone! ‘Murika!) or a lot of manpower (2.5 people… One was useless, so I don’t really count him as a person). Needless to say, we set out and tried our best.

We went to one barangay (village) and were shown a cemetery. At least, it was a cemetery. Tombs were above ground, clean, made of concrete. I can only imagine that the stick-houses that were built around these were of family/relatives that were staying close to keep the tombs clean. It’s important to note that I used the term “were”- because the tombs weren’t really there anymore. Yolanda or the earthquake (or both) made short work of the crumbling concrete and now the remains were spewed out all over the ground.

This area was also prone to flooding, and caskets are expensive and usually a body is just thrown into a hole…. You’re a smart reader- you know where this is going: the bones were above ground and washed all over. Have you ever played Diablo 2? You know the icon after you kill something and it becomes a pile of bones? That’s what this was. Except in real life.. and in the sticks that used to be people’s homes.

As if seeing this wasn’t enough, my partner and I were watching our step and counting all the totally destroyed houses (which was the same as counting how many houses total there were…. Since they were all gone and everyone there would have to be relocated) when one lady grabbed my hand and pulled me into her house, begging me to help her. I took one step in, looking at what she was pointing at and heard a giant crunch. I look down and see my foot in the middle of a skull.

Three thoughts occurred at that moment: (in this order)

1) My white-girl weight just crunched a skull. I must be fat.
2) Oh. My. Effin’. God. I just stepped on a human skull.
3) Why is this lady yapping about her lack of roof when she has human remains INSIDE HER HOUSE! Like they were dust-bunnies!

She told me to look up. Her roof was gone and replaced with some raincoats and plastic bags. She was really concerned about the roof, but I couldn’t help but look down at the collection of bones that had washed into the 1-room house that was residence of her (small) family of 5. I told her that I would do all I could, blessed her hand and escaped outside to try to get some kind of reprieve. Not that outside was much better, but it didn’t smell of black mold and my cough wasn’t as bad and I could look up instead of down if I felt nauseous.

I don’t know why, but I picked up a piece of jaw from somewhere else as proof that this day actually happened. Making a silent vow to help as much as I could.

Completely shaken, not wanting to do anything except drink heavily and try to forget everything, I arrived at my host’s house. Now- I love host families. They provided me an insight into how Yolanda has affected the locals and a deeper look into the local culture. If you ever get a chance to couchsurf, take it. It’ll change your life. However, sometimes you just aren’t in the mood. Sometimes you just want to sit someplace quiet and do your own thing, but because you’re a guest you feel obligated to talk to the host family. This was one of those nights.

Instead of the Muslim speech I got the other end of the spectum: Roman Catholic. I was asked (read: made to feel guilty… but in a nice way) why I wasn’t married (it’s expensive and men are trouble and heart-ache), why I don’t have kids (they’re expensive), and why I quit my job to travel (if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here. Are you happy that I’m here?). At the end of the night, I took a (cold) shower and cried. Just wanting the whole mess to end.


Best day: 

On Thanksgiving another American solo volunteer showed up and I (finally) got to have “adult conversation” again! I had no idea how much I had missed using slang and making pop-culture references. There was a rumor that a concert was going to happen on Saturday, November 30th. I don’t really believe in rumors because in Filipino Time(tm) “saturday” could mean “next month”. So on Saturday, (day 21 post Typhoon) I had gotten back from my 24-hr R&R (read: air con and internet break) in Cebu city, went to the 7-11, got a bottle of Boracay Rum (3$USD for 750ml bottle) and proceeded to go to the BBQ pit for dinner and get shit-faced.

At 9pm, the other American and I slowly made our way to the complex where, there was indeed(!!!) a concert. We got seats in a good section and watched the show of dancers, singers, magic shows and snake-charmers. It was probably the equivalent to a B-movie-talent show, but when you have been overly stressed for weeks and haven’t seen anything like this for a long time, your bar goes down and everything becomes magical. Needless to say, it was exactly what the people needed- and the only sad part was that more didn’t know about it to come. 😦

After the show, the DSWD (the group that I have been helping) started dancing. I went down and was instantly swept up in jitterbug swing! SWING DANCING! Oh, bless this little country for being an American Colony in the 40’s!!! I danced. and danced and danced. We showed off what moves we knew. This sound (called laughing) came out of my mouth that I hadn’t heard in a long time. I picked up girl’s husbands to bring them to the dance circle. Smiles, cheers, giggles, laughter and singing went on for 2 hours.

With sweat pouring off my body like I had just ran through a sprinkler, the band had to pack up and leave, the party ended and people went home. The next morning I was rejuvenated and so proud to be part of this community. I was thrilled that I was a volunteer who was there to help, happy to call these people my family. I finally felt part of this city and felt that it was a part of me.

As I write this, I was wracking my brain trying to remember the last time I had so much fun during all my travels- and a few times come close- but this was the cat’s pajamas. I said this during my “good bye speech”- but I’ll write it here: To the City of Bogo- I came here to help in any way that I could: Hauling sacks of rice, repairing homes, sweeping, data entry, looking at houses, listening. In the end, I think I cheated you because you ended up helping me more. I love you and I will come home soon.


NOTE: I’m a freelance volunteer. I have no affiliation. Which means that I can write and be totally open about everything I’ve seen. (HORRAY FOR NON-EXISTENT NDAS!) Being a “rogue volunteer” gives me a lot of pros and cons.


-I was invited to stay/sleep at the mayor’s house.
-I meet a bunch of random people of the town that “are important”
-Ride a bus with a bunch of musicians
-Be interviewed by Channel 5 (at least 3 times).


-I have to figure out where my meals come from
-I have to figure out where I’m going to sleep, my transportation, etc.
-I have to find jobs/tasks to do/help with.

I think if I ever do disaster relief again (and I’d like to) I want to be with an org of some sort. Just someone with a mission/purpose that is already established.

With all that said, however, I’ve been super busy helping a city (Bogo) and it’s surrounding “barangays” (villages) this past week. Before this I was helping in the food shelters packing (and repacking) food. I grew tired of this because of various reasons- mostly political. There has been a bunch of news stories (here in the Philippines) about “Repacking” and how it’s terribly inefficient. There are actually a few news stories on the topic that I’ll translate for you:

1) Organizations (Like DSWD. Department of Social Welfare) receive packs from donors. Then they repack them “to make them equal/all the same” and then mark the packs with “DSWD” on them, so it makes DSWD look good. (I help out with the DSWD and while I can’t verify that this happens- the second point DOES…. ALL THE TIME.)

2) Communities (disaster relief centers– like the complex I’ve been helping at) will receive packs from various locations and repack them to make them all the same (same amount of noodles/cans/etc) for when they get distributed. While this  is ok, it’s extremely time consuming. (A pack will be re-packed 3-4 times and every re-pack will add a day delay from that pack of food getting to a house/belly.

So- when I am lacking in work, I help at the complex, even though it’s inefficient and drives me crazy. It’s labor intensive and allows me to ignore the world for a while and just haul stuff and make all the Filipino men wish they knew what crossfit was.

When I’m not helping at the complex I’m helping Mayor Martinez and his army organize things. An example is that the Israeli army wanted to help rebuild a school. It was my job to talk to the mayor of that town, get materials bought (so the town has ownership… Not just a charity case) for the Israelis to rebuild the school. Another day I chartered a city bus from one town (Medellin) to Bogo (where the Israelis have a hospital set up) so everyone could have a chance to see a doctor. Another day, an NGO with Sawyer Water Filtrations came with a bunch of 55-gal drums, needed a team of volunteers to do work. (so I was basically the foreman telling people what to do). Not to toot my own horn, but I’m actually really good at “bossing” people around (read: making decisions, figuring out priorities, thinking creatively) and getting shit done. I guess this is why I’m helping the Mayor(???).
The next week, because I don’t have political or family ties here, the Mayor had me to go to damaged houses in each barangay to verify the reports that were filed. (Basically an insurance claims for the government). I was supposed to visit 18,454 houses, with a team of 4, in 3 days. With no helicopter. This was impossible. We did our best, but we only ended up seeing 28% of the houses. The reports from the barangay captains were pretty accurate- except the terminology. What they called “Majorly Damaged” I would consider “Totally Devastated”. (see pics). So currently the barangay captains are getting sheets to fill out of each person in their village who’s house needs assistance and I will go to each “address” and verify what they claim.

Major damage

Minor Damage

The term “address” is hilarious because the houses were (are?) built on the sides of mountains. No roads go to their house- and the “path” that is there is now a muddy trail littered with banana trees and palm-tree trunks. My brother made a great suggestion that I ask the US government for a drone and just use that to go around and verify all these houses. It’s not a bad idea.

While on the subject, I’m a little disappointed in the lack of response that I’ve seen from America being physically here, to be honest. Hell, I’ve seen more French here than Americans. (That’s just embarrassing…) To be fair, I guess I should say that I’m not in Tachloban or Leyte. Maybe that’s where they all are? Who knows. No one really seems to know- not even the news people. (“You’re American?! You’re the first one we’ve met!”) Until yesterday (Thanksgiving) I was the only American volunteer here in Bogo. Then the NGOs and another rogue volunteer came to help. Sad to say, this (American handshakes and accents) was the GREATEST thing I could ask for for Thanksgiving. 🙂

Sorry for the tangent…

The government has 3 phases here in place:

1) Food relief and assessment.
2) work for food, work for cash, work for materials. (A lot of their jobs (read reason for living) is gone, so work gives them purpose and HOPE.)
3) Rebuilding. (where they relocate people and/or rebuild their houses… This is where my assessment is coming in handy, apparently).

Speaking of hope/faith, it’s something they have a lot of. People will take time to write signs that say “roofless but not hopeless”. People are getting excited for christmas (xmas is huge here…. They put up the decorations in october) because all electricity will be restored by then (or so the estimates say. What they really mean is “if you live in a big city, it’ll be restored by Xmas. If you live in the sticks, you’ll have to wait until March.”).

The range of emotions is… drastic to say simply. It’s not enough that:

– no one is getting good sleep or
-drinking enough water or
-those working are over-worked… those not are underworked.
-still don’t have electric in their houses (so they can do stuff, like clean/fix their homes when they get home)

I so rarely see people cry, and when I do see it, it just breaks my heart. Because I’m crying every night (a waste of water, I realize) and I have a bed that I’m sleeping in. AND A MOSQUITO NET!

But some people don’t have that… They have nothing. They have less than a dog-house. (see pics) And they don’t get mad! Strike that. They get passive-aggressive. But in the games industry- you work for egotistical men who over-compensate so maybe I’m used to it. Actually, I think the only way that I’m actually helping is being a punching bag for people. They are stressed and frustrated and it’s easier to yell at me (someone who will leave) than it is to yell at fellow filipinos who they will see every Sunday at church. Not to say that I’m being treated poorly. I find the hospitality to be excellent. I’m fed 11 times a day (at least!). I get told, every day- by the women, how people appreciate my help. On the flip side I also get asked for money at every street corner. I get frustrated sometimes that people aren’t more willing to help clean up/do work-that I have to “con” them with money or hugs or high-fives. Some would call filipinos lazy, but I think they are mentally and physically exhausted. Chalk this up to another missed business opportunity: Psych students should flock to natural disasters and see PTSD at the source.

Speaking of PTSD— here’s a story: 

One morning I was being dragged around to useless/pointless errands of the Israelis (I didn’t need to be part of any of it… but they invited me. I thought it was important. It wasn’t. It was just dropping off water tanks to an island and taking a lot of pictures…. Useless mission for me, IMO.) Then I go to the sports complex. Channel 5 is there. They flock to me (because a) I’m white and b) I’m carrying sacks of rice. This never fails to impress people here. It’s like a free circus show) and invite me to help deliver food relief to a neighboring barangay. I agree and we load up a truck, jump in the back (redneck style) and head out.

Once the truck got to the barangay and slowed down, people flocked and screamed. At first it was children coming after us like we were an ice-cream truck.

Then it was adults and it got more ravage that just reminded me of zombie movies… Or India. (Pick one. Both are bad situations.) The truck stops and (after taking the picture below) I jump out and count them. 215… Not including kids.

215 hungry head-of-households. Everyone is smiling at me. Kids are running up, poking my butt and running off. I chase them for a bit. I don’t know why the news crew is taking their sweet ass time in getting out of their truck so we can unload– but they are. I play with the kids some more (yea. shutup. I play with kids now.)

And then someone yells at me to get back on the truck. We’re leaving… For whatever reason we aren’t stopping here. This was just a big fucking giant cock-tease. The people in line stare at me. Wondering what they did wrong. Did they not pray enough? Did they not say thank you enough? Did they not have cute enough children? They had the look of abandonment that can only be compared to the old dogs in the ASPCA shelters. The only hope I had was that we had 300 sacks and someone else was going to get them.

So then we stop up the road to a smaller part of the barangay. We actually had to knock on doors to get the people to come out. We give away 121 sacks, even though there are 135 households. When there weren’t enough takers, we went to another barangay where people lined up again. More of them this time. I was instructed to get out of the truck and hand people the relief sacks while being interviewed by channel 5.

To be honest, this was the only time in all my time in the Philippines I was terrified for my safety. I always tend to have “an escape plan”. Whenever I sit in a restaurant I sit with my back against a wall so I can see the door (or escape route). I am constantly making escape plan routes- mostly for the Zombie Apocalypse. Even when drunk (which ends up being really creative and hilarious, actually. It’s probably all for nothing, but it entertains me and isn’t hurting you, so stop judging!) Anyway- when I got out of the truck, I was pinned against the back of the truck with hundreds of hungry people’s hands reaching towards me from all angles. All the while I was being interviewed by Channel 5. After we gave 150 sacks (even though there are 130 households) I had the unfortunate job of telling a toothless woman (with an infected eye) that she couldn’t have food. That even though our truck was full, it wasn’t for her. She turned away and sobbed so loudly that I had to cover my ears, climb back into the truck and cry for myself. Someone eventually gave her a sack, but it was enough to shoot my nerves. All I wanted to do was drink a beer and lay in the fetal position for a few hours. I tried to meditate on the way back, taking puffs of a cigarette that someone else lit up to try to calm myself. Nothing seemed to help.

We get back to the complex and unload all the “unused” food sacks. There were litters of children who didn’t want to help. “I’m not strong enough” is what they all said. I told them that I bet they can- and handed them a sack. One girl said “hey. I bet I can carry more than you!” and they made a game. #AchievementUnlocked: Got kids to help even when they didn’t want to. This, apparently is my speciality. I usually promise high-fives, hugs or my phone number. (even though they don’t have houses, they all have cell phones. I get more daily texts from kids than from twitter telling me that The baby prince took a shit.) So the kids started to help. When we finished, we had a make-shift “talent show” on the gym floor. Kids were tumbling, kart-wheeling, doing handstands, playing hand-games, and jump-rope. This is when I split my pants because I was showing off…. Embarrassing. But every one just laughed and shrugged it off. I appreciated this. And hey! If I can make people laugh during this time, power to me.

I called my driver (yes. I have a driver… I’ll let you think it’s fancy- when really, it’s a hassle and I plan on renting a motorbike when I get back) and had him take me to my host family’s house (about an hour away). My plans were to just sit, read, answer Facebook* messages… You know… Relax. But instead I was hassled on why I’m doing myself a disservice by not believing in (the Muslim) God, how I should study the Quran, how even though I’m doing good work, I’ll still go to Hell unless I accept God into my life. blah blah blah. I tried my best to argue, but how do you argue with people like that? The ones giving you a roof, couch and food? The ones who are ignorant to how the rest of the world is, thinks, lives and believes that their way of life is applicable and valid for all?
I slept on an off that night. Going between anger, frustration, hope and sorrow. I tried all my yoga-relaxation techniques that I learned just over a month ago. I took sleeping pills. I swatted mosquitos. I thought of sex with Han Solo. Nothing seemed to help except the thought that when I die, it’ll be fine. And when I get home, I’m going to eat 3 pounds of streaky bacon. And it’s going to be the definition of glorious.
*fun fact: with most sim card plans, Facebook is free- but you have to pay for everything else…. why? No idea. Why didn’t Globe message EVERYONE in the Philippines “DANGER! TYPHOON COMING! EVACUATE IF YOU LIVE IN ___ AREAS!”??? I don’t know. There’s a missed business opportunity (or at least a life-saving opportunity) here.

I was in the Philippines when the typhoon hit. I was in a safe place called MoalBoal which is in south Cebu (Cebu is an island). I think we had 1 single banana fall from a tree. That was it.

It was a fun day spent with hostel mates playing cards, drinking rum, swimming, having dance parties… You know, the normal stuff you do when the power is out.

So- with that said, I thought it was a typical over-exaggeration of the news. Everything we heard/got word from was all the same: “all fine here!”

Then the texts from my friends and family came… Then twitter woke up and blew my phone up. And then we got power back and I actually looked at the news…. And was in shock.

So I headed to Cebu City Capital building to help in any way I could.

Just me- a single American tourist/now volunteer- venturing all around the Philippines carrying sacks of rice on her shoulders.

Cebu city was barely hit. Electric and Internet still flows freely- but the capital building was a buzz with hundreds of volunteers who were all busy packing canned goods (sardines….. Eww.) instant noodles, rice and water bottles to be put into bigger sacks to be shipped to other cities in need.

Hundreds of communities were hit by the typhoon. I had the privilege of meeting the vice-governor, mayors of multiple towns and other high officials* and they have told me the following:

-each district/island takes care of their own and then gives to other communities. (So, Cebu takes care of Cebu first- then other places like tacloban).
-the first 2 weeks are for food relief. Then it goes to building material relief and clean up.
-the government is going to pay the homeowners to rebuild their own houses. The home owners get free materials and a stipend (150pesos/ 3.50$ a day) and will be “checked in on” by government officials. (Personally I have no idea how they will handle the logistics of this. But that’s besides the point.)

*I’ve been told that I’m the only American here so far- combine that with being a “team strong” volunteer- makes me special and worthy of shaking hands with. (Heh.)


Besides all that- here is what I have experienced personally (because this is MY blog and it’s always about me…. Ahem.)

1) I haven’t really slept unless I take sleeping pills. I keep having crazy nightmares where zoey is stuck in a tree getting her eyes poked out by angry roosters. I’m also, for one of the first times, really homesick.

2) about 5 days ago I was napping and felt an aftershock (yes, they had an earthquake here about 4 weeks ago) and ran out of my room. “Aftershock?!?” I screamed
“No. Fat man fell out of bed! Hahahaha.” Said the cleaner.

They have weird senses of humor here.

3) being a crossfitter has made me a FreakShow. The amount of photos/newspapers that I’m in on a daily basis is just fucking embarrassing. I was told that a Crossfit *IS* opening in Cebu city next month. I hope they print out a pic of me hauling sacks of rice on my shoulder and use that as an advertising tool. (“Become strong and useful.”)

4) I have the flu. Or something like it. I should feel thankful that I’m shivering in the tropics instead of back in the states, right? I may have gotten it from a dirty child or from the free flu vaccination that they gave me. Unsure. I hope it passes soon.

5) Giving food relief to those who are hungry (or, more likely, thirsty) is like a Black Friday sale at Walmart… Or an episode of the Walking Dead. But people are barely wearing clothes and mothers have a baby attached to their breast while they reach their arms out for a plastic bag of rice/noodles/water.

6) the news here is abysmal. I learn more about what is going on via twitter and my friends than through any newspaper or local.

7) I asked the vice-governor what she would do differently- she said “we should have distributed out reserves more evenly before the storm” (as opposed to having a majority of then in Cebu city.) Cebu had a lot of damage- but not a lot of deaths. (A miracle, IMO.)

8) I’m currently sitting in a pizza joint, checking my email, writing this blog, eating an icecream and listening to shitty top-40 radio and, to be honest… I totally forgot where I was. It was really nice to just pretend like I was back home and I didn’t see piles of debris that resemble a lumber sale rather than a house. Or the starving kids that keep asking this white girl for extra money for food.

Tomorrow, once my laundry is done, I’m headed somewhere else. Goodbye electricity. Goodbye icecream. Goodbye Nickleback. Hello disaster zones.

Side note: if anyone knows anyone/any group/org that speaks English that is here, can you please email me? That’s really the only sucky part of this whole thing is being alone.