Each morning in the village of Cadaio, I awake to some rooster crowing nearby. Its around 5 am and still dark. I exit my orange tent to stare into the universe of stars above the valley. The sacred mountain above begins to glow in the dawn’s first light. What a place this must have been before the colonization of the Philippines.
I make my way down the narrow path to the wild river below for my morning swim. This is one of the few rivers I know where it is safe to swim and drink simultaneously. I intend to help it stay that way…
It’s 9 am and our team makes its way up the track to the destroyed mountaineering lodge. I can hear people working already clearing the debris. We have made a deal with the surrounding communities to help restore the lodge and create a new eco-education version of the lodge as an upgrade.
I see a heap of smoke pouring from the rear of the lodge area. The villagers are burning the leaves, fronds and branches lying everywhere. Wombat scrambles up next to me and says, “They burning everything, we got to stop them!” I hold him back. “Mate, you cant just stop this energy, you have to manage it.” He backs off to see what I’m going to do.
I grab Roli, our cultural guide and translator. I get him to call the people into the clearing. We pull most of the organic matter out of the fire. Roli translates as I explain that this organic matter is useful. I also explain there was a landslide on the riverside of the ravine and this organic matter would work to help hold the slope together instead of burning it. Wombat shows how to mulch the gardens in the clearing like a mime artist while I talk. We are like a theatre team. Soon I have various groups throwing the non-useful organic materials off the cliff in front of the lodge creating a kind of post destruction mulch. Many of the timbers are termite riddled, so over the cliff they go.
Brittany rounds up the 20 or so children and shows them she wants all the plastic picked up and heaped in a pile. Off they go, smiles on their faces grabbing every skerrick of plastic in sight.
The roofing iron is piled in one spot; the big timbers are stacked in another. Some old women are recovering clothing items and folding them neatly in another stack. Our teams pick apart the smashed tangled heaps that were once buildings. I look at the ground. An Australian health and safety inspector would have a heart attack! Huge nails stick up out of broken wood bits everywhere. The kids run past wearing only flip flops, dodging the rusty nails without batting an eye. The adults stagger past stepping around the hazards carrying armloads of waste to throw off the cliff face. I smile, thinking the best safety is awareness.
For several hours we wade through the mess and slowly order becomes visible out of the chaos. The pathways open up and clearings are uncovered. It’s actually a very nicely sited location. No time to gawk at the scenery, I work like a Trojan to show the villagers white men can work too. Many have never seen a white guy up close. Our languages maybe different but the language of good hard work is a common one. I get heaps of smiles as we pass each other on the way back from the cliff face.
Yam Yam, the elder’s son who was sad and depressed looking when we arrived is amazed how fast the crew is making progress. I see him begin to smile. That’s a good thing. Yam Yam’s father started this loge many years ago and helped the villagers in many ways over the years. The father, Babe, is waiting in San Jose, a few hours away. He recently became ill but wants to return. Yam Yam’s had instructions to clean the damage up and prepare lodgings for the old man. It now looks feasible. Yam Yam’s stress level is abating rapidly.
We go nonstop for over 4 hours until I read the energy level is flagging. It’s hot and the work is difficult so many people are slowing down and keeping to the shade. I know its better to manage the finish of the days work than to let people slip away, so I get Roli to call everybody into the clearing which is much bigger than before.
“Form a circle, form a circle!” I call, and Roli yells the translation. Some speak English but most speak their own local dialect, which sounds a bit like Indonesian.
I do a rough count and see we have the same as what we started with, no runaways. That’s a good sign for me for future projects. These dudes can work!
I thank them for the day’s efforts and tell them I’m happy to work with such diligent people. Nothing is impossible with a group like this that can pull together to complete a job. I can see also they enjoyed the camaraderie of the group effort. We all feel something good just happened. It’s a new beginning.
I’m in the mayor’s office. It’s the only part of the municipality building that has air-conditioning. Nice and cool. Beck and I are chatting with the agricultural officer, Juan, and the organic farming extension officer, Mara. Both are so happy to meet us and warm to our project immediately. Juan tells us that the mayor is stressed because the municipality is paying for the aid packages downstairs and there is no other assistance coming in from outside the municipality. Funds earmarked for other projects are being diverted to the “calamity packs” and they are almost out of money. I’m also told the municipal staff are seeing behavioural changes in the people where they deliver the packs. She describes their behaviour as people acting like rats. They scramble and push each other to get the food and some of the staff are getting scared.
I casually tell them it’s going to get worse. I’ve seen it many times before, on other projects I’ve worked on. Eventually it will lead to total aid dependency. The alternative is permaculture aid and teaching the people to become self-reliant. Juan and Mara want to hear more. They tell me they will convince the mayor our ideas have merit.
Mara jumps into our vehicle and we move onto the highway on our way to see an organic farm. Many smashed houses and bent power poles show the force of nature when it’s having a temper tantrum.
The power lines are being repaired meter by meter. Its just over 3 weeks since the storm and some areas still look like it happened yesterday. As we pull up outside the organic farm I see ruined houses and bent outbuildings and a heap of felled coconut trees lying on top of each other. Once this small farm must have been a beautiful model of organic agriculture. Yolanda didn’t spare it though. It’s going to need a lot of work.
We meet the farmer who is an electrical engineer on his day job. He explains that organic farming is his passion. I see plastic mulch and straight raised beds. In my minds eye, I see a new productive permaculture version of this place. The farmer and I agree to work together when I return. I promise to bring non-hybrid seeds, which he has never heard of. This place is begging for permaculture!
Next stop, an organic seedling producer. He speaks English well. I see his large square trays with thumb sized pots made from a banana leaf. Mara tells me he can produce 3,000 seedlings per day in the worm castings he uses as potting mix. Cool! I see a small pink coloured seed poking from the pots centre. It’s a sure sign he is using hybrid seed varieties dipped in a fungicide. Again, another organic worker that’s never heard of non-hybrid seed. This is going to change.
Back at the mayors office I see an ugly park in front of the mayor’s office with a half destroyed building in one corner. The civic central meeting hall structure is a naked twisted mass where a high tin roof was once. In its place I see a vision in my head of a community garden and healthy food café. The dilapidated concrete children’s playground is totally devoid of children. There is an iron pipe climbing gym with red peeling paint. Empty. Who’d play on that crap?!? The busted bent steel building looks like more fun. The park has a statue of some guy pointing off into the distance…maybe he’s trying to tell the people something is wrong.
I suggest my idea to Mara. It’s a radical idea I say. A community gardening club right in front of the municipal office. A Perma Club! Let’s train the householders of Barbaza in home gardening and self-sufficiency there. She raises an eyebrow and then smiles a wicked grin. Perhaps she will suggest such a proposal to the mayor… I suggest the same thing to Juan later on. He grins too. Before the typhoon these people would have laughed at such a plan. After the wrath of Yolanda and dwindling food supplies, such an idea may just float.
Back at our peaceful camp in the mountains I arrive to see Brittany doing art with the kids. She has torn all the pages out of her notebook and each page has a beautiful drawing of a village scene from each of the 20 or so school kids attending the one room school. No longer shy, the little children chatter to Brittany in faltering English. I see a beautiful bond forming.
Wombat looks pale and drawn. He tells me his guts hurt and he has the runs. Dysentery has set in. Must be the water or maybe the food? I boil up some young guava leaves until I get a deep green tea. Sure-fire cure for most gut problems. Later Britt develops similar symptoms. More tea brewing… I scrounge up the team’s toilet paper. It’s going to be a long night for them. This is the down side of frontline aid work. I see the positive side. Tomorrow, these guys will have whole new respect for the humble guava tree!