26March, Makati, Philippines
Makati – half way (yikes!)
In this first post, now that it is set up, I will start posting as of “now” and then get caught up (backwards) and post going forward. Going backwards and forwards at the same time reminds me of some moments of my days! More on that later…
Where to begin when there are thousands of thoughts swimming around between my ears… I suppose I will need to ignore the advice “if you don’t know where to start, go back to the beginning.” So be it… here goes as I jump in.
Last night we rode our first Jeepney! For those of you who have never heard of or seen a Jeepney, it is a variant of an American Jeep, elongated and customized. Some say it reflects the wonderful culture of mixing together the best (and sometimes worst [e.g. US fast food chains] !) of other cultures by combining them in jaw-dropping ways. No two Jeepneys are the same. Some look like Mad Max machines of war, emblazoned with intimidating front grills and impressive hood ornaments; others have prayerful sayings in murals; some have doo-dads upon doo-dads; while others look like a pinewood derby car gone wild. Each is unique, but they have some things in common. Up to 20 people can cram into one, typically, sitting facing each other like in a C-130 military cargo plane. Each one is custom fabricated, by a local chop-shop, they are not “manufactured.” Through the back, you ingress and egress using the back bumper and sit there, hip to hip, chock-a-block with other commuters, with your knees about ear level and your head bowed down. This is because you need to PRAY when you are on one, as it seems it is to the driver’s amusement he will do his best to shake rattle and roll you against your neighbor. I suppose it’s like being in a washing machine. In any event, after almost ten days of hearing about them, we finally got to ride one. I don’t believe we were suddenly brave enough after our meal at a Mexican restaurant (I know, I know, but please forgive me, we’ve tried likely a dozen cuisines so far) after a pitcher of courage, it’s simply it was time. I’ll post a picture as soon as I transfer it from my phone.
Okay, now that my first post seems to have worked, let me try to get a bit caught up.
What an amazing and fascinating country, city, culture and what incredible gracious and friendly people we’ve encountered. Everyone here seems to smile all the time. This is a lesson for me – if I smile, the other person smiles. A good life lesson, alas, far too often [re] learned over and over. We have interacted with so many people of all walks of life and without exception they have been gracious, friendly, accommodating and fun! Even the security guards along the sidewalks (with guns!) broadly smile each time we enter/exit the hotel, salute in a somewhat mock way and call out in a sing-song way you hear everywhere, “morning BOSS.” The other night we came upon an elite force of the national government who were deployed to protect a national figure (likely the president). They let one of us sit on their motorcycle and wear a helmet. I’m pretty sure one of us could have convinced one of them to let one of us sling their shotgun over a shoulder to pose with them! Fortunately for us we have our truly incredible in-country hosts (Andrea, Nathan, Mei, Waya, Goo and others), who have been so kind and gracious and answered our incessant ‘why?’ type questions. They have been a comfort to us in untold ways
Warning! Deadlines Approaching!
Yesterday was a long, but good day, with an early morning start and our last meeting ending around 8 p.m. Learning of the traffic symptoms causes us to seek to understand the causes and the underlying causes and root causes. There are many stakeholders and many organizations, communities and millions of people affected – directly – by the traffic here. More than 20 million people live in the metro Manila area and there is incredible congestion throughout. There is no doubt change needs to [continue to] happen. However, in speaking with the various stakeholders, it is clear, that like all communities, there are somewhat disparate interests. So we have a situation in which much has been tried to reduce the negative impacts of traffic. There is no shortage of ideas and recommendations from various groups, people and organizations. As we conduct our philanthropic work, it is clear this is truly akin to the story of the 7 blind men touching various parts of the same elephant, trying in vain to describe what an elephant is.
Yesterday the group split so we could multi-task. There is so much to be done and we are realizing that with each passing hour we are that much nearer our next deadline, the deadline after that, and the completion of our work. Daunting at times but we are up to it.
The diversity of our group in terms of background, style, skills and preferences continues to be a source of strength and at times wonder. We are all so different and yet our differences enable us to do better work as a team. One area I cherish are the great senses of humor of those around me. We laugh a lot. I suppose much of that is because we have some funny situations and some of it is comic relief. Nonetheless, it is a source of solace for us and makes our hard work fun at times. Some group members have provided nicknames, based on funny incidents (or personal quirks). We can laugh with each other and at ourselves.
Our local hosts continue to be great supporters. Waya brought us Balut yesterday as the result of a dare (to me and others). I was the only one brave enough to eat/try the semi-developed duck embryo/egg, as others watched in mock-horror.
Later on, after our last call we trekked over to the surrounding restaurant area and had some delicious Thai food. To date we’ve had a tour-de-force of cuisines – Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, American, local/regional, seafood, Mexican, etc., etc., etc! The food is abundant and amazing! It’s important to exercise self-restraint and get exercise, but it is hard to be disciplined to do so.
Today we have “deliverables” for a meeting at 8 p.m. and there’s *much* to do. All for now, more later…