MEETING IN MANILA
I'm going to start with food. So. Much Rice. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. And apparently if there isn't rice on the plate it isn't considered to be a proper meal. And as a veggie, I'm a slightly alien concept to the Filipinos. Meat is a massive staple in the diet and vegetarians are practically non-existent within the culture. Thankfully I eat fish and I'm not fussy (and I DO like rice, albeit not with every meal!) Today we met the 9 Filipino ICV's (in-country volunteers) who complete our team of 20. Such a friendly, smiley bunch of people who have already bought us friendship bracelets (so I'm sold!) They are all uni graduates in various courses from nursing to psychology and have an interest (much like myself) in international development. Although volunteering within their home country, the volunteers mentioned how living in a small rural community will be a big culture shock to them as well! This made me realise how easy it is to assume that everyone in a developing nation lives below the poverty line. Just like London, there is huge disparity in wealth- but never have I seen it in such stark contrast: when driving down what the ICV's described as "Manila's deadliest highway"- a 6 lane road of madness- we straddled the divide between the rich and the poor. Rows and rows of shanty houses stacked high and wide, faced palace-like offices and neat suburban houses. Structures made of cardboard, metal, plastic sheets and sheltered by umbrellas are what many filippino families call home. And often housing extended family members too, one room can be shared by as many as 8 people. The poverty here is an everyday and normal occurrence for the ICV's but because I'm so accustomed to the benfefit system of the UK, I was shocked by its mass scale. Even a job at McDonald's requires high school qualifications. And with a large percentage of the population not receiving a proper education, it's easy to understand the prevalence of unemployment and the poverty cycle.
But on a more upbeat note... Swimming in the rain was fantastic fun! It was so warm and yet there was continuous drizzle on our trip to the national park today. Apparently the weather, which only got worse as the day progressed, was partially due to Typhoon Louisa hitting in the North of the country! What came as a massive surprise was that most Filipinos can't swim and so we played games in the shallow end so that they could all stand. I wrongly presumed that all filippino's would take to water like fish (seeing as there nation is surrounded by the stuff!) but as it is not taught at school, the majority never learn. Nevertheless, the pool provided us with hours of fun and featured piggy-back wrestling fights and attempts at synchronised swimming/water acrobatics. Tomorrow we are being formally welcomed into the country at the embassy. Then we have a 3 hour drive to our final destination...Cabiao. Goodbye urban life. Oh I forgot to mention... Despite never meeting us before, our Filipino counterparts arranged a banner, cake and surprise "Happy Birthday" for team member Zoe's birthday! We don't even know how they found out about the date, but what surprised us the most was their generosity, kindness and warmth. I think we all could learn a thing or two from this open-hearted nation.