Naguey was my first field assignment as a community development worker. Years before, I worked in corporate halls so it was understandable for my new boss to be skeptical of my ability. I assured him that before working in the private sector, my first job was in mining communities doing development research. It’s a source of frustration sometimes that I look so much younger than my age.
Prior to both of us signing on my contract, he and I visited my would-be area. In a way I appreciated the gesture since there were not many employers who would give you this opportunity to make a decision. It was a long-ish four-hour drive via Halsema Highway. In the area, he took me around and asked if I could see myself staying there. Of course I knew the answer even before we arrived in the village. Nonetheless, I expressed my “I do”. Years later, when he had become more like a friend than boss, he confessed that it had been my physical appearance that made him doubt me. I know, I said.
During my time in Naguey, there was only one means of going in and out, on a mini bus. It left the village at 5 AM and returned in the afternoon at 6 PM. So it was like the end of the world when the mini bus incurred problems. It was the villagers’ link to the outside world. They communicated to people outside the village by sending written messages via the bus driver or conductor. In the afternoons, a crowd of villagers gathered at the bus door, eager for letters and what have you, like there was a king arriving and bringing back treasures from yonder land.
Once inside the village, I was pretty isolated. There were no mobile phones yet and the World Wide Web hasn’t been invented yet. The village has no telephone line. Also, majority of the households had no electricity, meaning no TV which was fine with me. Folks went to bed early, by 7 PM. The joke (which is not actually) was, it’s the lack of electricity why there are plenty of children in a given household.
On one hand, there’s the pristine beauty of the physical environment especially at harvest time when the rice terraces are verdant with the plant. The village has a balmy climate, perfect for the kind of red rice grown there. I trekked through these terraces to get to families. There’s also that hanging bridge to the other side of the Amburayan River**. It sways with the wind and even more so with your every step, which gave me the shakes every time.
Probably the only thing I wasn’t keen for was making my way to Boneng, a village neighborhood which for some reason is located on the other side of the mountain. And I mean mountain. In fact, from Boneng, one would already get on foot to Kapangan, another municipality in Benguet Province. I went up that mountain to meet with residents. We had a health center project there at the time and among other things I taught and assisted a core group of women there in writing the project proposal.
Is there already a road or tire path at least to Boneng? Is the health center – a project borne of much exertion on my part – maintained? I’d like to return there some day even if it only to bring back the fragrant yellow chilis native to the place.
In the above video, I see that the road to Naguey via Pasdong (a neighborhood in Caliking village) has been widened and cemented. Progress! I heard as well that there are now two mini buses plying the route. Yet I hope Naguey preserves it’s natural beauty. Can progress happen side by side with environmental preservation? This the challenge to planners.
**Villagers joked that if I wanted to go to Ilocos Sur, I need only to have the Amburayan River carry me.