Golden ticket

The thing about living in developing nations is that you have to Novocain your heart enough to get through it.   When you stand on the beach at 7 a.m. and ask to see what the fishermen caught as they haul their boats in… it is undeniably tragic when they say “wa la”.  Nothing.  Sometimes they are out there for 6 hours with a big net, and they don’t catch a single thing.

One day, a man showed me his catch held in a plastic grocery bag: a butterfly fish and two wrasse- each no longer than 5 inches.   If you have ever seen these fish in a saltwater aquarium tank, you can easily acknowledge that this is not enough protein for one man for the day.  And it is definitely not enough for his whole family.  That is why he must sell it at 60 pesos/kilo ( or $.70/lb) to buy rice, because I don’t think he can afford canned sardines today.

In the Philippines, it is a shameful thing to be a bad fisherman.  Even though the lack of fish in the surrounding seas is not his fault, he is not proud of his catch, and it is obvious by his lack of eye contact and shuffling feet.  Though I would have loved to show you a photo of a catch like this, I find myself unable to pull my camera out of my pocket.  I usually smile and say something like this-“That is beautiful fish.  Thanks for showing me. Have a nice day.”

But what I really want to say is that I am sorry.  I am always well fed and I don’t worry about my inability to feed a family. And at the end of the day, I have my golden ticket out of there.  My passport grants me opportunities far beyond his reach, but it’s also a golden ticket of guilt.   I am so fortunate, and I am so sorry.

My work is not all that difficult, but it has been near impossible for me to write a word for the last two weeks.  I’m back home, but not done here yet, so stay tuned.  The Novocain has worn off.

B

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Just a simple storm?

What I’ve been experiencing this past week, was definitely not just a simple storm.  This bad weather has consisted of a few factors; we have the ‘habagat’- the southwest monsoon, plus multiple typhoons coming from the Pacific. I don’t really know the details because I haven’t been able to watch the news much, but things have finally settled down and I am reflecting on how this storm has affected life here in the Philippines.

 

My whole life, I’ve watched natural disasters on t.v., but rarely been in them enough to disrupt my daily routine. On the Pacific Coast of the U.S., I have only experienced a few earthquakes in my life, and even then, I can’t remember anything in my house ever breaking.  When I lived on the Caribbean side of Mexico, I went through evacuation of our research base due to a coming hurricane- that never came our way.  Now, living at just a few inches above sea level on Siquijor Island, I feel a little different about storms.

 

For one thing, we have barely had 24 hours of electricity since 7 days ago. That doesn’t really bother me- I travel with a headlamp and extra batteries and tend to just sleep during the dark hours.  At least we have running water, so we can bathe, and we had enough purified water to last, even if we couldn’t get more. But if you own an electric stove and need to feed your family, or you don’t own a flashlight but need to do homework, the ‘brown-out’ is going to force you to tweak your daily life.

 

Maite is on the southwest side of Siquijor, and this side of the island has been getting the worst of the storms.  The waves that are usually quite gentle were big enough to surf.  All boats were pulled ashore on every available property.  As I learn about who owns what waterfront property here, it is evident that as more foreigners build on their currently vacant lots, the community is losing out.  They lose a path to the beach and they lose a spot to pull up their boat. As far as I understand it, the public area is only 20 meters from high tide.  People can build their houses right up to that 20 meter mark.  Currently, that area is a pile of debris, and has been underwater with really high tides.  So there’s not really a public beach at all.

 

Sometimes, people build concrete seawalls to protect their houses.  It is illegal here, but that doesn’t matter if there is corruption in the government permitting office.  Thanks to my courses at U.W., I know about the negative aspects of seawalls.  It changes the dynamics of sand movement, which in turn can make other areas more susceptible to erosion. Like, your neighbor.  Their house might be totally ruined simply because yours is totally ‘protected’.  Also, complex habitat is considered better for marine life in some circumstances, and it makes sense logically; the more crevices animals can hide in at low tide the better, right? Straight lines and big walls do not good habitat make!

 

And now here are just a few comments on public health implications of this storm:

 

1. Coconut shells are excellent at holding stagnant water. Massive amounts of coconut shells on the beaches brought up by the storm= higher risk for dengue.

 

2. Dried goods that cannot be made edible without cooking= more pressure on forest resources for firewood and more cooking over fires. And cooking over fires is linked to asthma and increased air pollution.

 

And here are a few things I’ve been experiencing, remembering that seafood is the primary source of protein here:

 

1. Inability to go fishing, no refrigeration, little access to ice = no fresh fish.

 

2. Very few boats to/from the island and lack of a supermarket and canned goods on an island of more than 80,000 people= few food choices and increased pressure on the produce available locally.

 

3. Less food available= increase in people gleaning and collecting shells and urchins to eat during low tide.

 

4. Ruined marker buoy lines for the sanctuary= inability to determine exactly when someone has entered the sanctuary and inability to determine whether they are violating the sanctuary’s ‘no-take’ policy.

 

My curiosity about these things doesn’t seem to cease- is stormy weather linked with an increase in violations of protected areas? This is all getting really complicated, but I guess that’s what it is.  I don’t think I’ll ever look at a storm the same way again.

 

B