July 2010 Archives

Olongapo Lightning

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A video I took this week of the weather we're having.

Cinema 4 at HOYTS, Forest Hill Shopping Centre...

Image via Wikipedia

Apologies for the long break between updates. I've been writing blog posts but never seem to get them finished, then something new happens and they need to be updated and the cycle continues. This post covers the past couple of weeks and is rather disjoined because I wrote different paragraphs on different days.

Well we've had our second weekend in Olongapo. Most of us went to the big market to have a look around. I finally got to take a trike, it's great fun until you realise your life depends on the ability of your driver to avoid everyone else on the roads. There doesn't seem to be a true system here. I originally thought "might is right" applied but it seems that pedestrians are always safe and give way is really just whatever happens - if you're cheeky you can go quickly.

The market was certainly the biggest I've seen in Olongapo, but the things they sell are all so similar. I did buy a t-shirt though for about NZ$6. It's a large and it's not designed for a western-heighted body, but it'll be fine so long as it doesn't shrink much in the wash.

We also found the local movie theatre and took some time out to watch Inception, which was well worth the $3 we paid to see it. After that we went to the nice pizza place for coffee (I had Hot Chocolate, I'm trying to limit my coffee intake).

We went to church twice this Sunday. The girls did a dance in the morning and they were so good they got asked back in the evening. I'm still clearing my photo backlog, so it may be a while before I get the video up online.

It's Tuesday night and we've had a hectic two days. Monday we went to an orphanage/old persons home in the morning and split into 3 teams - one for infants, one for kids and one for the old people. I was in the kids group and I'm so glad I was. We walked in to some kids in cots and others running around. I wasn't sure where to start until David smiled at one of the girls in a cot and she started bawling her eyes out. I only later found out this was the reason. I spent 10 minutes trying to calm her down just by talking caringly to her and rubbing her back, but I wasn't having any luck. I decided to pray for her and she stopped crying literally 2-3 seconds after I'd finished praying.

I think her name was April because that's what was written on her bottle but I never got this confirmed. She was very cute once she stopped crying and I just feel blessed to have been able to give her some love, some physical contact and for the chance to pray into her life and pray blessings on her and all the kids there.

We have been working on the book and we're slowly getting things together. We have a deadline tomorrow which I hope we will hit - we're supposed to have all our raw materials collected - this is stats, pictures, interviews, the works. I've started stepping up into an organisation role and nobody has objected so I'm going to run with it.

The other new thing we've been doing has been bar ministry in Barreto, a Barangay (district) of Olongapo. This is not new for the base but it has been for some of us, including me. We have been going to Baretto which has a road of bars there. We went to 2 bars on Monday - Firefly and Midnight Rambler. At Firefly we met Marissa and Juliana and played a bit of pool. I was quite nervous (as you no doubt guessed, I'm not great around new people) and conversation was a bit awkward but they had a pool table, which I'm very glad for. We ended up leaving that bar after a while (for our own good, Sarah had managed to annoy the owner of this bar at his other bar so we decided moving on was prudent).

We went into Midnight Riders and found a lovely bar inside. I was still nervous about talking to people but after I had ordered my drink, Kathy, one of the girls from the base who was looking after us, came over and said they wanted to talk to me, which I wasn't expecting. (I should preface this by saying the people here like white skin, pointy noses and the fact our eyes are coloured). The girls in Midnight were all dressed in the same tight green dresses that were cut very high on the legs in an attempt to please visitors to the bar. These girls are employed to be company for visitors. Many of the bars on the strip offer more than company but the manager of this bar insists you can't get sex there and I believe her.

I spent the evening talking mostly to Ashley - a lovely girl my age who has been working at the bar for 3 weeks. I also met Meah who was a little bit more flirty but less than I was prepared for. The girls in this bar don't have to be available to sleep with the guys (in other bars that's their job description) but I also don't believe there's anything stopping them if they want to make extra money and the best way to do that is get the guys interested. We chatted for a while and then we went home.

Tuesday we went back to the same bar and met up with the same girls, plus some new ones, including Cheena, Faith and Apple, all very unique. Cheena started off with the whole please the customer routine and I got a kiss on each cheek in the first few minutes and Dave got a kiss too. I must say all I can so to react to this is laugh and smile. Once she realised we weren't usual customers the act vanished and she got oddly quiet.

It turns out a lot of the girls in the bar are quite shy. Cheena and Ashley have told me they're shy and Apple has shown it. It's not something I ever expected to find, I thought they'd be more outgoing to be working in the bars but it just goes to highlight that these girls aren't working where they want. Cheena wants to be a cook.

I think Apple is the most interesting girl in the bar - she's a born again Christian and has been for 3 years. She works in the bar to support herself and her 5 year old son and she's not alone - Ashley has a 4 year old boy. I was saddened to hear that Apple's church started judging her when they found out she worked in a bar. I know Apple doesn't want to be in this job but she's very short of options. I'm praying that she is able to find another job where she doesn't have to dress up and work from 6pm to 2am every day.

We invited the girls to a beach day on Thursday. 5 girls came from our bar and about 8 (plus kids) from the other two groups came. We had fun, played games, swam (which I think was a bad idea, we were told the water was clean but we were all getting nibbled by some things we couldn't see when we were in the water) and ate a good lunch. Virge talked a bit about YWAM, the Olongapo base and about her life, but this was really just a chance to give the girls some fun, because they work every day and have so much responsibility that they don't get the chance to go out and have fun very much - I found this out by asking girls "What do you do for fun?" and they struggle to answer as if they don't understand what fun is. We had a really good time of just hanging out and having fun, relaxing and showing the girls there's more in life than work - and they no doubt enjoyed it because they arranged to come see us on Friday at the base.

On Friday we again just hung out and had fun. We played a couple of games and were able to pray for a couple of the girls - Alma who actually requested prayer (we hadn't suggested it) and Ashley who is going back to Manila for 2 weeks to see her family (including her 4 year old son). They have said they'd come back about 3 times now and each time it's fallen through. I hope we get to see them again and pray for them all before we leave.
A small tea pot filled with loose leaf Oolong

Image via Wikipedia

Last night we were going to do bar ministry (the first time for me) however we were instead treated to our first typhoon in the Philippines. We got a lightning and thunder show in the evening, but it died down so we went to McDonalds for desert then came back to the base. I tried getting video and pictures of the lightning but only the video worked. I commented to Sarah Haberly that we were so lucky to be able to sit in the Philippines on a porch, sipping Oolong tea (thank you Lily) watching a free storm light show on the horizon.

All was peaceful when we went to bed, inside and out. First we lost power to the base, which meant all our fans stopped working, same for our lights. My torch was fine for the lights but the power cut meant we had no fans either, but that wasn't too bad, we had a good breeze going from the typhoon. This didn't last forever sadly as the rain picked up and our breeze turned into a shower, time to close the windows and sweat it out.

By this time the typhoon had really picked up and was throwing anything loose outside around, including the outer mosquito door, which bangs heavily, can't be locked and kept waking us up. In the morning I recovered my flip flops and monopod none the worse for wear.

Sadly I also ended my diarrhea-free run on this outreach. I realise this wasn't due to the typhoon, I really don't know what caused it but this is an honest blog and so you get all the details you lucky people you. ;)

I've spent a decent amount of today sleeping to try and catch up because we're going to go out tonight to do ministry if the weather agrees with us and I don't want to be yawning.

Other than that there hasn't been a huge amount exciting to report. We are still working on the book, I'm still working on the website. I feel like we need to storyboard the book and go over the interviews tomorrow and Bethany agrees (the interviews were her idea) so I'm hoping we can just take time to do that.

We did go to a small church on Sunday which was fun. The songs were easy to sing along to - they are mostly Hillsong style with a twist in the timing and some words are a bit different, but 98% is identical. We were asked to share testimonies and Kayla shared hers. The sermon was mostly in English with some Tagalo thrown in (maybe when the pastor thought it was necessary). His sermon was longer than I'm used to but I was braced for a 3 hour epic, which didn't eventuate, so I was thankful. Afterwards I got talking to the drummer from the band. Next Sunday we are going back and we have been asked to do more stuff, so we are preparing a dance, we have 2 testimonies lined up (though I think we will just do one) and Danielle will be sharing a heart piece then leading the church in some prayer.

The team from Tokyo has left to return to Japan for the rest of their outreach. I'll miss them, they're a cool bunch. This means our room with 4 beds has dropped to 2 beds and the other room is empty. 4 of the girls from our DTS are moving into that room now, so we won't be lonely. So far the girls have managed to clog both toilets they've had access to, they have been put on notice that this will not happen here.

Thank you for all your prayers - they are very much appreciated. If you could find time to pray for my sore back (too much time sitting badly on my laptop) and for patience and good health for all our team that would go a long way.

Other little random things: McDonalds has free Wifi here and a small cheeseburger combo costs about US$1.50, which is about NZ$2.10. Don't get ice in your drink, we think that's how 2 of the girls got sick. The local store (when I say local I mean next door to the base) sells 7UP in 1 liter glass bottles for 50 cents (you return the bottle). Hand washing clothes doesn't take too long if you do bits at a time - for bigger loads the girls on the base will happily wash them for you if you pay them. Typhoons make the next day cooler, yay!

Saturday 10 July 2010

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Today is our day off! This explains why I didn't pull myself out of bed till 10am and have had a chance to just relax and lounge around a bit. I'm also wearing one of the shirts I brought because all my t-shirts are either dirty or being washed. The local girls here earn extra money by doing laundry and I'm happy to let them do mine.

We have settled in quite nicely - we are in an apartment on the 3rd floor of the center. We have sofas, a dining table, a kitchen area (just a sink really, but you could get a hot plate and cook) and 2 bedrooms, each sleeping 4. We are sharing with 6 guys who are also on their DTS outreach who came from the YWAM Tokyo base - they're all really nice guys and they'll be here for a couple of weeks, then they go back to Tokyo to continue their outreach there.

We have been having meetings about the book and we have a bit of a battle plan now. We have a focus, lists of people we want to interview, things to research and get stats for, how we want to structure the book, things like that. We haven't decided on a name yet, but we have some ideas.

I've also got an idea of where to take this website. I've managed to get Ubuntu running in Virtualbox on this mac, so I have a real development environment to work with, which looks seamless on full screen.

Last night was another first for me, we were asked to give a bible study to the girls here and I ended up being the one to do it. What I didn't know was that I'd have a translator, so everything was getting translated into Tagalo for me. I was very happy with how it went though, I wasn't well prepared (due to lack of time) and I really felt God helping me teach these 10-15 people about parables and trying to get a common understanding of them, especially when language is a barrier and I could only understand what was being said through the translator. Thankfully the parables come with explanations and they had Tagalo bibles and our translator was very good so I feel like we understood each other.

Thursday 8th July 2010

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YWAM Olongapo Website - Day 1

Image by serenecloud via Flickr

So we're settled in at YWAM Olongapo and we just had a 2 hour meeting about what we will be doing here. We have 3 separate projects in the pipeline now: a book and potentially 2 websites.

First, the book, the reason we came here. We have one month to gather information about prostitution in the Philippines and gather opinions, facts and stories surrounding this topic into a cohesive book for people and government to read. This is a lot of work to get done in a short time span. We are hoping for lots of interviews with people - police and social workers alike, government officials and the girls themselves so we can give a full picture of what's happening here. Tonight we have another meeting to keep this momentum going.

The websites are likely to become my area of responsibility and I just had to open my mouth and suggest the second, but to be honest it's the more exciting. The first is a new brochure site for the base, something I plan to scratch up in Drupal without much effort aside from maybe a theme. The second is an online store for the cards the girls are making here on the base. I need to do some research on this as I know there are things out there that already give small businesses the ability to sell online.


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Remember the interviews we did last night? One of the girls we interviewed (Let's call her Liz, but that's not her name) works during the weekend and goes home during the week. Since it's Monday she is going home today and she has invited us to come with her to meet her family, which we have accepted. It will be interesting to see more of her story. She comes into Manila to earn money to support her family and in telling you this I've told you the story of many of the girls here, her situation is not unique, but she is. We are so privileged to be let into her life and meet her family.

So we just got back and we're discussing Liz and her situation. Her family lives in a house in a slum, and calling it a house is a great compliment - it's a combination of brick wall, wood and corrugated iron that we learned is water resistant but not water proof while we were there. Despite being in a slum they have paid for the land their house is on, I don't know who you pay to live on a slum but obviously someone. The family were very welcoming to these 11 foreigners and Verge who turned up at their doorstep. We did karaoke with them, talked for quite a while and had the chance to pray for them. After that we took a family portrait photo which we are going to print and give to Liz so she can take it home.

I have found out a few things about this situation over the past 2 days. I know that Liz is a prostitute because of poverty and a desire to help her family, not for kicks or a desire to be rich. I know that in Manila it's hard to find work that pays enough to be worth it, but young, attractive girls can make 300 pesos per customer, 200 of which they keep and 100 of which they give to their pimp (which is similar to the percentage of my pay that goes to IRD). I know that the pimps in this area are mostly older women who act as some sort of mother figure to the girls. They seem to just find customers for the girls, almost like an advertising agency. I also know that Liz has at least 5 customers a night and has been beaten by some of them. I know that the police here don't listen to these reports and so the girls don't make them anymore.

I know Liz could stop and not be forced to continue, however her duty to her family compels her to keep selling herself for about NZ$9 for 10 minutes, 5+ times a night.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum we spent the evening playing with the local kids on the street. We played games, learned games, messed around and took photos - they love having their picture taken. I was very disappointed that at the end of our time my last 4 shots got corrupted and I don't know why. The shots weren't the best but I'd have liked to keep them.

I'm listening to Name by Fireflight, which is a song about how God is near, even when things hurt and there's pain. It's about all I can look to in this situation with Liz, I don't have anything else.

Asia Mall and the local prostitues

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Main Mall Entrance

Image via Wikipedia

This morning we packed up our gear and took a Jeepnee to the Project Hannah drop in center. This meant we had to say goodbye to Kit, but we have met Verge, who will be our contact with Project Hannah.

Last night we also had to say goodbye to Harry, one of the guys who has been helping us for the past few days. He has gone to do his own DTS at the YWAM base in Antipolo and I really think he'll do well at it, he has a real servant heart and a humility and respect for God that's an example to me.

Right now it's 8pm. We spent the morning getting to the center and settling in. In the late morning we went to Mall of Asia, one of the biggest malls in all of Asia. It was very weird to go from a slum yesterday to a huge mall today that felt like Queensgate, only 10 times the size (that I saw). The contrast seems to be a lie, some people live in this wonderful air conditioned clean dream world of products, just like we do back home and yet no more than 10-20 minutes drive away are slums and poor areas, where McDonalds and Wendys are next to, but the people who live there could never afford that. I wonder how much it's like this at home. The slums may be harder to find but I bet they're there, if we chose to look for them. I don't want this post to come across as a judgement on anyone or any country - I came here with my eyes opened by 12 weeks of DTS, it's to be expected that I see more of these things than I did at home.

Despite all this flying round in my mind it was Erikas birthday lunch - we had a delicious pizza (my favourite, as many will know). We went round and bought a couple of things - some stickers for my laptop (UK, Philippines and China flags and an Autobots logo) and another adapter - Universal to Philippines.

After the mall we had dinner and I played all the videos I've taken so far including one of us walking back to the center after the mall with about 30 kids following Marissa and cheering, it was something I never expected.

It's 9:30pm and we've got down to the bear bones of why we are here. Some of our girls went out onto the streets with Verge and saw some of the girls working. I stayed at the center, but Verge said she would invite some of the girls back to have something to eat (our leftovers), and she did. I have a recording and a rapidly typed transcript of our first interview. It was so strange to know that this girl came off the street and would be going back there afterwards. We were so privileged to hear her story and I hope to share it with you all when I return. It's not my place to just throw her story on the Internet and at this point I don't even want to give her name or age.

While I'm typing this up more people have come in and we're about to interview them too. I'm not sure how to even begin processing what I'm hearing, I think sleep is needed, but I must say I've been amazed and humbled that both prostitutes and pimps would come here and answer our questions so honestly and openly.

Slums and balut

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It's 11:15pm and I'm pretty awake - we had a nap this afternoon which had to have been at least 2 hours long.

This morning we went to a slum about 5 minutes walk from where we are staying. This is one of Kit's ministries and we got to sing, play games and teach the local children while Kit did a bible study with their parents. This was my first chance to get some portrait shots and I'm pretty happy with them.

I've decided not to post all my shots online as I go through this outreach. A picture may well paint a thousand words but without a proper story behind some of the photos they just seem to have much less impact, or if they do impact they leave you asking questions, which I cant answer directly if the photo is up on flickr. I also want to make sure that the photos aren't interpreted in a way I didn't mean when I took them.

Tonight we had our Fear Factor challenge - balut! This is a 16 day old chicken (though ours was duck, which also counts) that has been cooked in the shell. It's considered a delicacy to open the shell, drink the juice, eat the partly developed bird, yolk and whatever the crunchy part is. I didn't eat the crunchy part but I did eat the bird and yolk.

Hello Philippines

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Toilet paper

Image via Wikipedia

Update: I found another blog post from the time we landed to the start of this post, so I've put them together here.

Hi everyone. I am safely in the Philippines and have obviously found Internet, however I've been writing this in various places that didn't.

We all cleared customs with 60 days except for David, our co-leader, who was only given 21. We will all need to get extensions at some point so we can stay the full 77 days but we expected this. I guess we will have to see what happens with his visa but there is a decent chance he can get an extension.

Right now we are in the heat waiting for our contact to pick us up. We have been waiting for quite a while and Plan B has been formulated. Since we don't have her address or phone number we're a bit stuck to contact her. Did I mention the heat? It's like a sauna, we were told 32 degrees celsius with pretty much 100% humidity, and it's 8pm here but my laptop and my body both think it's 2am. A sauna isn't too inviting at 2am but I hope my muscles enjoy the heat and loosen up a bit.

Still it's far too early in this trip to get frustrated so I'm putting my time to good use and writing this blog post. We left Kona at 8am with a wonderful send off from everyone else in the class (we were the first to leave). We were prayed over, hugged and then given a mexican wave as we did laps of the flags in the van - I got a video of it. I didn't cry but I will really miss everybody. Give it a week and I may miss the base too.

Shortly after we left the base my little camera battery died, which is annoying because it was only charged 2 days ago, I may have to buy a new one over here. We flew to Honolulu with no incident and my lunch was chow mein, hot chocolate and a choc chip scone, dinner was plane food - some meat on rice with a nice sauce. I'd forgotten how cold planes are and stayed tucked under my blanket for a lot of the trip. The plane ride over was pleasant but long - I watched Alice in Wonderland on the plane entertainment system and Band of Brothers, Futurama and Big Bang Theory on my laptop.

Looks like Plan B is being actioned, time to pack up and move our gear.

Okay, we're at the airport hotel, which is more expensive than we thought. However we are sitting in an air conditioned area while our leaders try to email or facebook our contact. I just had my first encounter with a begging child as we walked the 200 meters from the airport to the hotel. He can't have been more than 6 years old with an empty drink cup asking for money in English. I have no Philippine money yet and I know that all the money I have in the world could never look after all these kids, it's my first real taste of how much poverty there is in this country.

The poverty drives a lot of things, including prostitution. Many girls enter prostitution because they need to support themselves or their family and if they're young and pretty they can earn what is good money to them but to us is pocket change. The younger they are the more they can get too, there's also a premium placed on virgins.

The thing that gives me hope is that we will be working with Project Hannah, who give these girls a chance to get off the street and get a skill they can use to earn a living without having to service up to 20 men a day. My body feels like it's 3am and I know things seem worse at night but it's hit me how real this issue is. It's not a statistic anymore or an issue - I can put a face and a voice to the poverty now. I'd appreciate any prayers I can get for strength and hope for all the team in this outreach. I don't want to see us overwhelmed by the challenge before us.

"We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of freedom in this, because it allows us to do something" - Oscar Romero (Paraphrased)

It looks like the mystery of the missing contact has been solved. They were waiting for us in a different area, by the time we got there they had gone. We have her number now and I'm hoping we can arrange a lift soon. It's 9pm local time and I really want to get to bed - Erika is the same way, she has fallen asleep on the couch, with both her backpacks on.

I've had less culture shock right off the bat than I expected. Since the base is multi-lingual it's not weird to have people talking and me not know what they're saying. The people here seem friendly and everyone I've talked to knows English, which is good because I don't know any of the language yet.

I know this outreach is going to push me in new ways. I know I'll need to seek God in all I'm doing because these issues we're going to face are so much bigger than we are.

So, last night we eventually linked up with our contact and found our way to our accommodation. We took a Jeepnee from the Airport Hotel lobby (where I was falling asleep) to somewhere in Manila, not entirely sure where we are but there is lots going on.

Culture shock has started to set in - mostly with the bathrooms. The water here is undrinkable which means brushing my teeth required having a bottle of clean water there. The bathroom is fully tiled and also doubles as a bucket shower area so it's often wet on the floor. I have shoes I wear just in the bathroom too. The toilet is european style, but has no toilet paper - the pipes are not big enough, they would clog if we flushed paper down them. All I can assume is that Philippinos wipe with their left hand. The right hand is used for food. This is not unique but to me it's very different. We have set up a trash bag and toilet paper.

Filtered water is easy to get over here and if we run out and need a drink we each have a very cool water bottle with a filter built in which will remove a load of nasty stuff leaving drinkable water at the end :)

Things are very cheap here - I've converted some of my money to Pesos and bought a SIM card (that doesn't work yet), a universal adapter, toilet paper, hand sanitiser and some snacks. A 500ml coke bottle here costs 50 US cents, which is about 71 NZ cents, things are cheap. We are going to go to a mall this afternoon and get more supplies - I need an umbrella and sunglasses. After we get back we have been told we're doing a Fear Factor. I don't think balut is involved but I'm still not looking forward to it.

I think I'm just going to have to get used to sweating all day. Even when I'm not expending any energy my body still feels the need to shed heat. Our room has a fan which helps but it's not a fix for the problem. I also need to grab my ear plugs - we are close to a big road and we have the windows open for the air. We're safe though - there is mosquito netting and big iron bars on the outside, not an easy target. We are also keeping a close eye on our bags. I have been meaning to take more photos but the battery in my small camera has been acting up and emptying ridiculously quickly :( I've bought a replica one here and I'm hoping that will be better.

Kit, our contact, has given us an introduction to the culture here, which we mostly already knew, but it was good to have a reminder. My time in China has really helped me here because it's not the first time I've been in a busy Asian culture - it's different here to be sure but I knew to expect the difference.

We're at days end now and I've had my first ever bucket shower. It wasn't a great experience but it wasn't too bad either. The worst thing about the water here is that it looks fine but you know it's not - Kit said it's called "Funeral Water", which makes me feel so much better about it...

Anyway, on a lighter note I'm actually getting to bed at a decent time - 10pm (ish). If I sleep well that's 9+ hours before our 8am breakfast. Kit has Internet on her computer, but not in the building we are in. Tomorrow I aim to get these posts online for you to see them.

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