September 2009


Philippines PH Team
There are some TWR fields that have clearly established project teams, such as the one that I work with, Project Hannah. The reality in the Philippines is that if you are in the office and you are a woman, you are a part of the Project Hannah team. The “Women of Hope” program begins with an English script which is then translated and broadcast in three languages, Tagalog, Ilocano and Cebuano. As it is designed to be a “chat over tea”, a number of voices are needed for each program and they must be the voices of native language speakers to make it more acceptable to the listeners. Therefore, if you work in the office and you speak the language you will be called upon to translate, voice the scripts or to do listener follow-up.

Each program that is aired invites listeners to send their questions or comments via text message to one of three phones – one for each language – that are manned twenty four hours a day by these women. It is not unusual for them to be up during the night providing counselling and support over cell phone lines to women who often have no one else to turn to. Fortunately, in this part of the world text messaging costs pennies a month, and cell phones are very cheap.

Philippines SoupRuthanna, the Project Hannah co-ordinator graciously invited all of the women to her home out in the hills surrounding Baguio, for a time of fellowship and an opportunity for me to get to know them. We chatted over a snack of boiled bananas while Ruthanna prepared a large bowl of a traditional Philippines soup, served over rice, and guava leaf tea.

It was a wonderful opportunity to hear of the joys and challenges of family life for these women as well as to get an understanding of the depth of their love for the women of their own country and their commitment to the ministry of Project Hannah.

Jeepney Ride

As the afternoon rains started, we all piled into a Jeepney, the common means of transport for most Filipinos, for the crowded journey back into the city. My heart has been touched by these women and their devotion to the cause of Christ. There is so much that I want to do for them, and they have so many needs to more effectively carry out their ministry.

Children's TeamIt is no secret that we love the people of Asia; their simple courtesy, their respect especially for the elderly, and their recognition of the importance of family and social relationships, all speak to the same values that we share. But the Filipino people really have to be the sweetest that we have ever met. They greet you so spontaneously with their shy smiles and twinkling eyes and can’t do enough to make you feel cared for and completely at home.

The main purpose of our visit to the Philippines was to meet the TWR team and spend some time with Ruthanna and Jenn, our Project Hannah staff. On our arrival we were welcomed with a “tour“ of the new TWR office, in single file, walking forward into a room and then backing out. Due to cost constraints, they recently relocated from the core business district of Baguio City to a house high up on the hillside. This two storey building, which probably has less total floor space than the living room of our apartment, provides office space for twenty one staff, two tiny studios, a kitchen and a meeting room and is home to the caretaker of the property.

Philippines TeamI was in awe on hearing the extent of the work that is accomplished from this humble space by such dedicated people. Take the children’s program, for example, which is aired weekly throughout the Philippines. In order to produce this program, they write the script, translate it into two other languages, compose the accompanying songs and set them to music, gather their little band into the four foot by six foot studio and produce the track, before recording the entire program. Did I mention that they also change their voices for each character they have created?

With their own program distributed for broadcasting, each staff then must step in to translate and read scripts for the many other programs that are produced. Even the very shy, retiring accountant has become comfortable in front of a microphone. This team now broadcasts in five different Filipino languages as well as their English programs which are available even in Malaysia.

That however, is only the radio component of their work. Much of their time is spent providing listener follow-up, mainly using text messages and field visits to local churches, schools and providing workshops and seminars to encourage leadership development. I was truly humbled by such selfless dedication in such meagre surroundings.

Philippine Restaurant
Travelling in Asia has some surreal moments. Like driving down the highway from Baguio City to Clark Field and encountering a “floating restaurant.” As we were miles from the ocean at that point, we stopped to investigate. Here was this restaurant on the edge of the highway, miles from anywhere that was built on a marsh. Taking advantage of what anyone else would have deemed a liability, the owner had constructed a series of platforms and private gazebos connected by bamboo bridges, and made that the site of a restaurant.

Philippine RestaurantBut not content with that incongruity, the owner stretched the point by populating the place with the oddest sculptures, like the monkees pictured above and huge concrete fish in various poses. There were pools of goldfish to feed and a narrow concrete bridge over which the daring were invited to walk to win their lunch, or get thoroughly soaked trying.

Philippines 101We settled on paying for a feast of fried chicken, grilled tilapia, chow mein and shanghai fried rice, washed down with mango and papaya smoothies for a very reasonable price. We paid a little more for Steve to seranade Pam along with a troop of wandering minstrels singing Elvis and Ritchie Valens. Just another surprising and delightful chance stop along the route of our Asian journey together.

Pine Trees in Baguio

It is funny how the same experiences can bring about such different effects. I can recall going to Algonquin Park in Ontario when I was about ten. We had only been in Canada about four years at that point, and it was the first chance that we had as a family to see the “wilds” of Canada, as we understood the term. For me it was a life changing experience. I breathed in the sweet smell of the pines and drank in the sight of the water glistening like a field of dancing diamonds in the sun and felt a connection in my soul to that majestic and untrammelled beauty. I understood what a privilege it was to be a Canadian, and I knew with a certainty that has never left me that Whoever made all that was Good beyond human comprehension.

I have been fortunate to have seen much of the world’s beauty, and I never cease to marvel at the delightful creativity of God. But there is something about standing in a pine forest that speaks to something in me that I almost cannot fathom, and draws something out of me that I cannot fully explain. Baguio City in the Philippines is surrounded by pine trees. This picture is taken from our balcony at the guest home on the grounds of the Philippine Theological Seminary. Just standing there is a quasi-religious experience for me.

There are prettier trees, catalpa and frangipani, for example. And there are more impressive ones, like baobab and banyan. But there is nothing like pine. The needles blossom out like a spray of water frozen in time in a green cascade, filtering light with their delicate softness. The trunks are dark red-brown, with a rugged, textured warmth, sturdy and firm, with graceful and surprising curves. The underbrush is invariably clean, inviting you to stand and walk among its cathedral pillars. And there is no aroma more subtly invigorating and calming to the spirit.

I know that when God calls us back to Canada, as one day He surely will, that I will once again head for the Canadian woods, preferably in a canoe, to drink in His beauty in a form that He has in some fundamental way wired me to understand. Until that day, this one will have to do.

For those waiting to hear how Pam is doing, she is very busy with the TWR team in Baguio and will blog as soon as she gets a minute. We are both pretty sure that this will not be our last trip to the Philippines!

baguio parade
The guest house where we are staying in Baguio has the most comfortable foam mattress. That is my excuse for sleeping past 6 am, something I almost never do. We had a leisurely breakfast and a quick look at the shower setup before taking a pass for a warmer time of day to give it a try. So by the time we had found the center of town and got parked it was coming up for 9, just in time for the start of a parade to celebrate the centenial of the founding of Baguio.

Filipino people are among the sweetest we have ever met, and quite eager for us to have a front row place so they could show off their culture to what must be the only tourists in town. The parade was quite the deal, with floats and dancing dragons, lots of music and marching bands and some great national costumes. We stayed right up to the horses (always the last thing in a parade for obvious reasons), then took a hike through the park to the shopping mall at the top of the hill for a spectacular view of the hills and a chance to get online at Starbucks.

I managed to completely wrench my ankle on the treacherous curbs and had to buy a crutch to get me through the rest of the day. No big deal; my brother has accused me of using my religion as a crutch for years! We drove around town and over the hills through white pines as stately as anything you would see in Canada, and even got a walk through an ecological reserve that smelled sweetly aromatic. The shower proved to be no trouble at all, despite its idiosyncratic appearance: essentially a bucket with holes in it hooked to a hose. All of that exercise wore me out, and I slept soundly, thankful for lots of blankets in this remarkably temperate city.

The Road to Baguio 
I make no apologies for my love of driving. I come by it completely honestly, having being raised by a father who learned to drive from Raymond Mays, the Formula 2 pre-war racing champion, for whom he worked for a while. Dad was quick, but he was also an extremely capable driver, who taught me much about driving defensively. “Think of the most irresponsible and unpredictable thing another driver or pedestrian would do,” he would say, “and drive accordingly.” I do, and aside from an impetuous and nearly fatal mistake when I was 16, I have never had an on road accident. Don’t talk to Pam about parking lots. That’s another story!

We had every intention of taking the bus from Angeles City where we landed to Baguio City, where we are now. But a quick look at the public transport situation here in the Philippines changed my mind in a hurry. I did a brief survey of the options and rented a Toyata Vios for 8 thousand pesos for the week, or about 160 bucks Canadian. We downloaded a couple of maps from Google and pasted them into Paint for future reference. It was a good thing that we did, as the term ‘map’ has very little currency in a part of the world where the next town is a foreign country, and we ended up relying on our memories and quick glimpses at our computer to get us here.

We plotted out a route that took us through the flat land and along the coast to Agoo, one of the earliest Spanish settlements on the islands, founded in 1578.   From there it was all uphill to Baguio, and what an uphill it was! Switchback doesn’t do the hill justice. The road was positively tortured, crowded by buses and trucks passing each other on totally blind corners in a torrential downpour that limited visibility to about 20 feet. Downshifting constantly between second and first on every corner on what must have been 30 degree grades, the forty kilometers tooks us well over an hour. Over two thousand people died building the first road into this town. Not the most dangerous road I have ever been on, but definitely in the top five.

Fortunately we had managed to buy a map of Baguio back in Angeles, so we had some idea of where the guest house was in town. Baguio was at one time considered the summer capital of the Philippines. It is a little off the beaten track for most tourists, so what you get when you arrive is pretty much entirely indiginous and quite delightful. The air is cool and much like what you find in Canada in Haliburton, Ontario. We can’t wait to do a little exploring.

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