Two Weeks to Go


We HAVE to leave Asgad on the 22nd of January.  No later.  This gives us three days to make our flight in Cebu.  You might think I’m being overly cautious.  Not really.  The wise, experienced traveler’s adage in the Philippines is “Never take a ferry to catch a plane on the same day”.  Given our remoteness from Cebu, we need at least a second day to cover the trip from Asgad to Ormoc. 

We are taking a ferry on the return for a couple of reasons.  Most importantly, I can’t get on line to book a reservation.  That means if we have excess luggage, we have to pay an exorbitant amount for it.  The aircraft would most likely be an ATR, which allows only 20 kilos each before you start paying excess.  I KNOW we have over 40 kilos of luggage.  It’s just easier to deal with the ferry in this case.  Getting from Asgad to Cebu is a full day if everything clicks smoothly using Van Van’s or Duptours plus the ferry. 

What can go wrong?  Canceled ferry due to rough seas.  Canceled vans due to flooding (it’s the rainy season in Samar).   Traffic accident blocking the road.   Ferry broken down.  (Heaven forbid)  Earthquake.  Jeepney broke down so we can’t get out of Asgad in a timely fashion. 

Ha ha on that last one.  That EXACTLY happened to us on our last trip together to Guiuan.  We found a jeepney (turned out to be an unscheduled third jeepney) that was not full and we hopped on it on Monday the fourth.   About 1/10 mile short of Jagnaya, it broke down.  Something in the driveline seized and, although the engine was running, the jeep could not move at all when the driver released the clutch.  It was stuck comically square in the middle of the road on a hill.  I suspect the rear end seized up, less likely, driveline u-joint seized up.  As it was fixed quickly, I doubt if it was transmission related.  Anyway, Praxy and I started walking for Bogton, a little over two miles away.  We got there and were looking for another jeep and the second scheduled jeepney via Asgad showed up with school kids piled everywhere.  At least 60 on board, probably closer to 70.  Most got off and we got on.  We went about our business and bought supplies for the library and house.

The third day is the relaxation day before the trip home.  We have a 43 plus hour trip from Cebu to Lewiston to look forward to, including a 12 hour layover (read hangover) in Seoul.  Then a 1 1/2 our drive to first Pomeroy, then home.  We want to be rested before that journey.  We could get a room in Seoul for free, but it really isn’t worth it.  Neither of us could sleep while in the motel in Seoul, even though it was clean and quiet.  We have opted for the “Seoul City Tour” instead.  We both totally enjoyed the last tour.  Seoul is a beautiful and interesting city.

Whack whack whack pound pound pound.  New shelves going into the library, replacing the marginal job we did ourselves.

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This is a huge improvement over my lame shelf and hollow block idea.  Shelves installed by professionals.  The job is amazing, far beyond anything I could accomplish.  2pm in the afternoon and the job is just about done.  It’s just as well.  The kids are getting impatient.

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This group was waiting last night and we had to turn them away.  One little boy cried.  Another large flock came by later.  Praxy had painted the front door and the paint was too green to allow kids near it.  Another bunch came by in the morning and we had to show them out as well.  The books are piled everywhere in the house as the carpenters work on the shelves.  We don’t want children in the way of the construction.  We’ve promised tonight.  I hope it’s done.

The carpenters are so good that we are thinking about hiring them next time we are here.  The owner is currently building the agriculture building nearby.  I’m planning to put in a temporary store room behind the house so we can stow things out of our way.  It will be on a foundation, the start of our addition out back.  Maybe half of the floor with a building on a portion of it. 

We are going back about 15-20 feet for a bedroom with bathroom, full kitchen, storeroom/pantry, generator room, and stairs to an upper level.  That upper level will have a screenable porch for dining or sleeping and water tanks for the kitchen and new bathroom.   Gravity will supply plenty of water to bathroom and kitchen if we use large diameter pipes, maybe 3/4” or so.  If we want pressure, I’ll add a pump and pressure tank.  Much as I like hot showers, I’m not going to bother.  Too hot here.  I might put up two tanks, a reflective one for cool water and a dark colored one for warm water.  There will be a cistern to catch the rain water a sump pump with an easy-to-clean filter to raise the water to the roof tanks.  If we decide to get hot showers, then we’ll put in an “on demand” electric heater.  That will require a pressurized system.

I’ve now had a lot of time with the locals around here.  Time to write about them.

There are two classes of people living nearby with an easy way to distinguish them apart.  One group has plenty of money.  One group doesn’t.  The group that has money is very small.  Maybe ten houses including us.  Every one else is almost hand to mouth.

Three of us (Praxy and I are included here) are well off.  People that have businesses or steady good paying jobs.   Own nice cars (ours are in the US, though).  Perhaps their children work abroad and send money home to their parents.  Several others have good jobs (not in Asgad) and live a higher standard of living.  These people have TV sets, a couple have cars, all have motorcycles, most have electricity.  Their houses tend to be more modern, a dead giveaway is the houses are painted.  A select few have air conditioning and hot water.

You’ve kind of seen how they live by looking at my blog and looking closely at our house.  Better food, able to purchase supplies and keep their houses up and looking good very easily.  Can get to town at will.  Yeah, I know I said it’s difficult for us to get to town, but we can go anytime we want because we can afford to pay someone to take us there.   The big difference, most other people cannot afford any extra trips to town. 

What about those other large group of people?  The ones without money.  Those are the lives that I want to try to share with you.  What is life like in a Philippine province that has over 60% of the people below the Philippine poverty level?

Siera (SY-rah), OIIIEEE DOUGHNUTS!  I asked Praxy to ask her for her name.  She is eight years old.  It’s 2:45pm on Wednesday as I write this and she is out peddling her doughnuts because they all didn’t sell this morning.  Her family can use the extra money.  Her grandmother cooks up the doughnuts and Siera sells them for 4 pesos each, about 9 cents in the USA.   Praxy asked for freshly cooked ones (or fancier ones) and the price jumped to 5 pesos. (We can afford this, many people could hardly afford that one extra peso!)  Now we are at 11 cents.   She gets up very early every day, including school days.  Praxy pointed out to me today that Siera had got plenty of sleep last night.  She was animated and smiling.  Sometimes she is dragging herself around the barrio like a zombie.

Her parents have a small farm near the old barrio.  They raise vegetables to sell around here.  As no one has much money, no one pays much for vegetables.   It might be noted that poor people and Praxy and myself are about the only people that eats much vegetables.  Everyone that can afford it buys rice and fish.

This meager income buys; food to eat, electricity or gas to cook the doughnuts, Siera her school uniform, clothes, medicines (good luck on that one), soap for body and clothes, supplies to keep their house repaired, drinking water, you name it.  I assume she has siblings, very unusual for a family to have less than 4 children.

OOIIIEEE PANDESAL!  I don’t know much about this family.  But what I do know is that 2 pesos, 4 cents, does not leave much of a margin for profit.  On a good day they might sell 50 or so around us.  If the rolls don’t sell today, you’ll see them for sale tomorrow.  I can tell when they are day old, but I don’t complain.  The young man that sells them doesn’t like the job.  But mom and dad have to stay at the shop in Asgad and sell their rolls there.  So he is out here almost every morning at sunup, selling with little enthusiasm.

Outside, I see the local street walker, Miguel, walking aimlessly.  He is about 30.  When he was 16 or so in high school, he was a good student.  Then, a bad fever hit him.  It fried his brain.  He walks around town all day long.  Back and forth.  Sometimes down on the beach.  He has a little house outside of town because of his outbursts.  He is given injections of something every thirty days as he gets violent without it.  Everyone watches out for him, including me.  I was the one that spotted him heading for town one day to see his father and grandfather.  He was nearly twenty miles away when he was picked up and returned home.

We’ve hired a couple of relatives to work on the new windows.

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Presco and Imone.  Presco (in blue) works odd jobs around town.  He has eight children at home.  Four are his and his wife’s, four others are from his brother.  His brother was knifed in a drunken argument and died on the spot several years ago.  His wife wasn’t capable of caring for a family.  So Presco and his wife took the kids.  Presco is a busy man.  Youngest child at home is 12 years old.  One is in college.

Imone is 80 and still going strong.  When he’s not working in his garden he does odd carpentry jobs around the barrio.  He wasn’t available the last couple of days and I helped Presco.  Amazingly, Imone was busy harvesting coconuts.  No kidding, this 80 year old man STILL climbs coconut trees for a living and he’s good at it.  I was flabbergasted when Praxy told me this morning.   His grip is not strong enough to put the screws into the coconut frames on our windows.   Presco or I have to do that.  But he can climb, evaluate coconuts, and cut them out of the tree.  

Three evenings ago three of the locals dropped by while I was eating dinner.  I recognized the man immediately, he is in charge of the sewing project (funded through Australia) that sews up backpacks and such to sell around this area.    They seemed a little ill at ease, but warmed up to us quickly.  They had a request.  A Donation.

The bags are selling, but not quick enough to keep four sewers busy.  But, they have people that are interested in working and want to earn more income.  They also have plenty of building materialsBut, a serious problem and that is where we come in.  A female piglet is 3,000 pesos in Guiuan.  $63 USD is WAY over their ability to afford.  “Would we be interested in sponsoring their project?”

I couldn’t see any reason why not.  I told them, “You build your pigsty, then show it to me.  If I’m satisfied you are serious, I will buy you a piglet.”  They were ecstatic and left with huge smiles.  Praxy told me last night that they are making rapid progress.  We’re going to walk over and check things out this afternoon when the weather cools a bit.  I’ll pay for that little piggie next week some time I suppose.   It might say “wee wee wee, all the way home!”

They need a sow to start what they hope will be a thriving business selling pigs for butchering.  Some locals near us got a couple of sows a year ago.  They got their piglets all right, then sold every last one of them including the females.   One of the sows wasn’t fertile, so they butchered it around Christmas.  One sow and no piglets in sight.  Looks like the business is about dead.

I pointed these things out to our visitors.  They assured me that they would only sell males until they had enough females to keep their herd going strong.   I also told them it might take a while before they see much money.  They were OK with that as well because of the sewing.  We’ll see.

1/9 8:20am.  We visited the up and coming pig farm last evening.  The framework is up and they are getting ready to dig the septic tank.  They don’t have enough money to roof the whole thing, but I don’t care about that.  Since when did a pig ever worry about rain?  They will have enough room for 10 stalls and a work area for the ladies.  Looks like they are indeed serious.  They will get their promised 3,000 pesos before we leave.  I’m off to the bank in Guiuan on Monday for more money!

Next door is a family of eight living in a house exactly the same as ours.  Mom, dad, five children, and one daughter-in-law.  The oldest son has a good job cutting coconut lumber running a chain saw.  The rest of the family lives off of him.  None of the younger kids go to school.  Mom works outside all day long washing clothes by hand and cooking over a wood fire.  They can’t afford electricity, propane, or a stove.  Yet.  I think they are working at it.  Mom and dad have a miniature sari sari store in the front room of their house and it seems to do a decent business.  Yesterday I bought a box of matches as we were about out.  48 matches in a little wooden box for 3 pesos.  They probably paid 2 pesos for the box of matches in Guiuan.  1/9, Indications were leaning that direction and we found out for sure this morning the newlyweds are expecting.

Three other miniature sari sari stores are nearby.  Everyone trying to better themselves a bit.  A larger one sits 100 yards away, owned by one of the wealthy families here in Asgad.  They do the most business as they have the most inventory.  We buy ice from them for our cooler.  Only four places in town have enough money to buy a freezer, and they all sell ice to help defray expenses.

Two doors down to our left is another one of the few people that have a good job in New Asgad.  Ramon drives a jeepney from Guiuan to Borongan and back three times daily.  One day off a week which he spends here in Asgad.  He gets a percentage of the payments by riders (in Puerto Vallarta Mexico, for instance, it is 30%).  I suppose he makes quite a bit on good days, like around the Christmas holidays.  He and his family are doing well.  All kids go to school and frequent our library.   They have a motorcycle and a television.  No electrical power.  But WE have power.   Praxy paid to get us hooked up and it was expensive.  Maybe two hundred US dollars or so.  Praxy allowed Ramon ran an extra line to his house from ours.  They pay the bill (except they won’t this month as we have used a lot of power while working on our house) which is 30 pesos per month and they also watch over our house while no one is here.  You’d think the power company wouldn’t allow two houses on one meter, but no one seems to care.  I’ve seen three or four on the same meter.  I guess the power company figures any power sold is better than no power sold.

His wife Maravic will run our library.  She also does odd jobs for us like laundry, cooking, and, of course, watching over our house while we are gone.

Behind us is a man that tends a huge garden and orchard.  He was named the “Farmer with the Cleanest Farm” in the barrio.  Farming is his only job.  I frequently see him hauling vegetables and fruit on a large wooden backpack to market, wherever that is.  He also planted stuff in our yard, which we pulled up.  The Philippines recognizes squatter’s rights and we and other neighbors are concerned that he might try to legally take land from us.  If he plants and grows without our permission and we don’t stop it, he has a case for acquiring our land.  So we’ve planted bananas, papaya, mangos, sweet potatoes, sun flowers, and all kinds of things out back.  I haven’t seen him messing around on our property since we arrived.

I told Praxy to tell everyone, “If he plants anything in yours or our yard, pull it up.  Throw it on his property.  The plant is his, but the ground isn’t.”  We probably wouldn’t have had any problem with him and his plants on our yard if he had asked.  I think he knows the laws and did it intentionally to see what would happen.

4:15PM  1/8/2015  Nuevo Asgad, Eastern Samar, Philippines

Down the road, a crew of five is hard at work.  I was busy and couldn’t photograph the work until after it was done.

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A water line from Viejo Asgad to Nuevo Asgad is finally going in.  The end of the line will be about 100 feet from our house and Praxy wants to add a line to the house and we may do it before we leave.  If that is the case, we have another project.  Getting the line into our bathroom.  It is the only place in the house that has a drain, albeit the floor drain in that room may be partially plugged.  I think I’ll borrow a toilet plunger and check it.

Here at the house, a fence and gate are going in.  Praxy is disgusted that the local boys think our yard is their local playground.  Not necessarily their presence, it’s that they inadvertently step on Praxy’s well loved (doted upon) flowers and plants.  So a man has brought in on his back three five seven  nine eleven (Crap, that man has been busy!) long stalks of bamboo and something should be built by tomorrow or the next day.  She may be fencing off the whole back yard! 2:00 pm 1/9. Well, most of the back yard.  We have two guys out there working on the fence.  They want it to look good (and that will mean it takes longer and the get more work) so they are splitting the rails. 

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It should look pretty sharp.  Those bamboos cost us 50 pesos each delivered to our house by these guys.  The same bamboo would be horribly expensive in the northern US.  I’d guess over $30 and perhaps much more.  The man in the foreground is splitting the end of the bamboo.  When the split is long enough he will put it over the steel bar and pull it through.  Works great.  The guy in the background is cleaning up the ridges and spikes.

Back to the people.

Two very very old people walk by on the road every day.  Going south in the morning, and north in the evening.  Praxy tells me they have a little farm just outside the barrio.  As slow as they go it’s a long walk.  But, they don’t miss it.  Sometimes the man stays on the farm.  They hardly speak, they just go about their business.  I could set a watch by the lady.

Presco scrounged four of our old window jalousies for his house.  The price was right.  We said, “Here, take ‘em!”  I made sure he had the best ones and I lubricated them with WD-40 before he left.  I hope he can make them work better than we did.  I’ve been told they need to be moved regularly or they seize up.  We haven’t been here enough so, the windows went south.  All are now replaced except in the library.

Here comes my point.   The people around here are some of the happiest that I’ve ever seen.  Sure, they have their problems.  Next door the little girl got in big trouble a few nights ago.  I think it was because she followed Praxy and I to the beach without permission.  A few days back a husband and wife got into a tiff down the road.  But, it went away. 

They really don’t know what money is.  So they don’t know greed or miserliness.  They don’t sweat it much if something breaks.  They really don’t care that anyone around them (like us) has more money than they do.  They don’t have any.  Period.

They wouldn’t know what to do with money if they had it.  If a windfall occurs to them, chances are it will get squandered on frivolous items.  Or worse, turned into a long, drunken party.  I’ve seen both happen during my travels.  It saddens me.

Because there is little money, people live off of one another.  The twenty peso notes passed around a barrio get used until they are brown and nearly see-through.  Larger bills are almost always newer and many people rarely see anything larger than a 100.  Presco was mightily impressed that we had a bundle of brand new twenties (leftovers from the carolers) and that is how we paid him.  Easier for him as he doesn’t have to find change. 

Philippine welfare?  No such thing, really.  A pittance.   The true welfare program around here is to sit on a street corner and beg.  That is very unreliable, so you don’t see it outside a larger city.   Individuals that cannot get by because of illness or injury are always attended to by the neighbors.   Rice, fish, vegetables, and bananas (plentiful to the point of being a nuisance) find a way to the needy.  The needy try to pay back as best they can with work or anything extra that they own. 

Social Security?  Kind of.  Older people get a meager amount.  It will just about cover buying a month’s worth of cheap rice.

We don’t give money away unless the people involved are in dire straits.  We do pay well for work and food though.  We try to hire different people around us to give everyone a little bit of help.  We know they appreciate it.  Everyone wants to work for us.

It’s up to the individual and/or family to sink or swim.  Individual and/or family; this explains why families are so close here. 

Parents that can, sacrifice to send their children to school.  The ambitious students continue on to college if their parents can afford it.  The less ambitious or unlucky turn into laborers.  The successful children send money to their parents and younger siblings so they might succeed.  And the circle starts.

You see these children throughout the United States.  Working.  Many in the medical field, but in other jobs as well.  Fishing industry, restaurants, motels, construction, etc.  Some marry foreigners as they have to be educated to learn a foreign language.  I hire some of the wives to mark fish in the spring.  It is through that connection that I met my wife.  Which has brought me here to Asgad.  The circle continues.

Filipinos are much sought after throughout the entire world for workers.  They are usually honest and caring.  Most important, they have a work ethic that can be trusted.  This comes from their upbringing here in the Philippines.  Working hard for little.  Making something broken work.  Putting forth effort on the details.  All of this for the betterment of family and friends.

Some of the money they earn both in the Philippines and abroad is sent home to their families.  A few workers send home nearly every penny they make.  They also send the “balik bayan” boxes, what we would call “care packages” or gifts.  These packages help their relatives get through college and help the family even more.   Foreign goods are usually much higher quality than things made in the or for the Philippines.  More siblings and relatives become successful and the family prospers.  The circle is near closing.

When the workers have finished abroad, a lot of them come home to live.  The foreigner wives usually stay of course unless their husbands move here.  The families become reunited and the circle closes.  A new circle starts with grandchildren. 

Praxy did this for her family before she came to the United States.  Helped her brothers and sisters.  All are quite well off due to my wife’s sacrifice.  Some are continuing on, their children are doctors, soldiers, teachers, computer technicians, etc., both in the Philippines and abroad.

The system seems to work.

And I’m now a part of it.

9:45am  1/9/2015  Nuevo Asgad, Eastern Samar,  Philippines

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About Ken

I am a federal employee that loves to travel. I don't get any time off during the busy salmon tagging season, March through November. So, I save my leave and explore the warmer parts of the world during the winter.
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