I can't believe how quickly time is passing but I've now been living in the Philippines for over 6 weeks. As is customary of all ICS programmes we have to conduct a mid-phase review, in order to assess our progress in the community and consider where improvements can be made (it's another 'tick box' activity). As a team we have decided to do hold our mid-phase review at the beach and do all the important stuff before leaving- so in reality, mid-phase review translates to mini-break!!... and it means that I will finally get to see a Filipino beach!!!!
Before arriving in the Philippines I had expectations of being surrounded by sea and sand. According to Google, it is home to some of the best beaches in the world. But as it turns out, Cabiao is in the centre of Luzon and couldn't be anymore mainland if it tried. So I am still yet to make you jealous with photos of golden sand and clear blue sea. NB. I'm going to apologise in advance because this is definitely going to be a gloat post. I'm going to be like THAT girl on Facebook who keeps uploading bikini selfies from the beach. But I've been working really hard as a volunteer, so allow me- just this once- to brag about being a beach babe.
Amidst my excited packing frenzy I even started to look forward to the long drive- picturing myself staring out the window, with some Jack Johnson on my iPod and maybe writing in my journal. Yet, as it turned out the journey was not glamorous or pretty. 22 of us, plus the driver and all our luggage squashed into a jeepney for the four hour drive to Morong Bataan- in 35 degree heat...and of course, our driver is a fan of John Legend's "All of me" and played it on repeat for the first hour (see my last post)! We are travelling on a budget and have 20,000 pesos to cover all our costs, accommodation, travel and food. (For those of you who are not familiar with the Filipino currency, 20,000 pesos converts to approximately £322.58!) It amazed me that you can take 20+ people away for two nights on so little, as in the UK one night in a hotel can easily exceed this amount. If flights weren't so expensive I would be recommending the Philippines as a cheap holiday hot-spot...the new Tenerife?...
Nevertheless, I don't want to dwell too much on the travel when there is a beautiful beach to be describing. And my God it did not disappoint. Picture perfect with its bright white sands and clear blue water; like something out of a travel magazine with its warm waters and gentle breeze. What's more is that we have the whole beach to ourselves- because the hostel has no other guests at the moment! So for the last 2 1/2 days the beach has become our new home. I even traded my bed for a matress made of sand, when I spent a night sleeping under the stars, just metres away from the shoreline!
What's been really fun is the cooking. In order to stay within the budget we have decided to self-cater and so groups of volunteers have been put in charge of dishing up breakfast, lunch or dinner. Surprisingly, the food has been a big success: lunch today was served FIlipino style - on banana leaves- and consisted of barbecued fish, sweet potato and corn on the cob. A delicious banquet made by Reemar and his sous-chefs! And despite having drunk a fair few glasses of wine, I still managed to whip up a well-received vegetable soup to go with fried chicken for the first night's dinner (and thankfully didn't cause any food poisoning!)
So my life at the beach has involved lots of eating, drinking, sleeping, reading, laughing, swimming and most importantly- relaxing. I don't want to leave this little piece of paradise (can we just make DRRM plan for here???) because it is a stress-free sanctuary away from the pressures of work, cultural difference and deadlines. Time moves even slower here than in Cabiao- London life feels like a rollercoaster ride by comparison. But then again, I think that this is the main aim of mid-phase review: to create a physical (and mental) distance from the community, so that we have the space to 'breath.' We are able reflect on what we've achieved and also remember why we are here: to bring about change- not only in the community, but in ourselves. I am not on a twelve week holiday. I am volunteer. And I am dedicating 3 months of my life to helping others.
Unfortunately, sitting on a beach sipping a cocktail from a coconut doesn't have the same selfless intent.