On book clubs

‘Club’ in my college days meant one thing: disco clubbing which I’d been a member, kind of, occasionally. Outside of that club, though, I’ve always wanted to be a member of a book club or start one. But in the City and elsewhere (at least in the towns and other cities here I’ve been), I couldn’t find one. The absence of book clubs I believe correlates with the absence of public libraries and where there’s one the lack of modern book collections (even in highly-urbanized cities such as Baguio City. Works of fiction in the City Library are still from the 80s) therefore where your money is therethere your heart is also.

Many Filipinos’ hearts are not in sharing knowledge to the wider community nor in collectively adding to and expanding the knowledge or literary base. People are more into religion-based “clubs” (which has the effect of instigating turf wars further dividing the community rather than uniting it). Local tourists make a visit first to the churches and healing and miraculous spots in their destinations rather than to the local museum or library.

Our communities lack truly civic-oriented activities. I say truly because where there are civic-oriented groups and organizations their movements and activities often are infused with religious convictions following the religion of the leader or officers. Civic leaders and officers invoke and pepper their statements with the ‘God’ word that at some point it sounds more like fuck. If you ask me, these people are the ones who’ve not taken the Bible to heart. Who do you think I am? was that not God-made-man’s question posed to a disciple? Do not take the Lord’s name in vain is that not the number one commandment?

The ‘God’ word is the most used and abused word in this country. And mostly for vanity– to score a vote, raise public esteem of oneself (s/he must be God-fearing so s/he must be good is the most naive conclusion), wash one’s hands in public off a wrongdoing or issues needing one’s decision, put fear in people’s hearts so that they won’t look elsewhere, and the like.

Literature is a good reason to start a truly civic-oriented activity. Has any community- or neighborhood-based civic group read and discussed for instance Florante at Laura, or Biag ni Lam-ang? Ah, adults especially would rather gather to gamble, gossip-a-thon, or pick at each other’s heads for lice, no?

In many villages in the Visayas (I saw these only in this Island group), there are public “Reading Corners”, a collaboration between the Barangay LGU and the DepEd/public village achool, set up on public space along village roads. These are nipa-and-bamboo huts big enough to sit twelve persons at a time. Village folks design the huts accordingly using recycled locally-available materials.

Nipa hut

Incredible that those villages, mired in poverty statistically-speaking, actually have public spaces that promote and support “love for reading”! But also confounding to live in a country of parallel worlds– on one, poor villages with colorful reading venues, and on the other, wealthier towns and cities with drab-looking and poorly-maintained or even non-existent public libraries. How is that? Even then, they share a commonality: under-utilization of the structures and lack of modern literary collections. The starter collection donated to the Reading Corners 20+ years ago has not been added to. They’re utilized only during Reading Month celebrated by the village school thus also lacking relevant materials they were gradually used for purposes other than reading.

There’s this theory on the stages by which a society undergoes modernization and progress:

Rostow's model

The Philippines, according to it’s leaders, is now in Stage Two. This generalization though is a classic case of averages painting a rosier picture of everything, because when you’ve a cross-sectional experience of socio-economic realities in the Islands, you’d know that large swathes of communities in the countryside more pronounced in Visayas, and in marginalized pockets across Luzon and Mindanao are at Stage One. “Stage Two” is what’s happening to the country’s metropolitans ie. Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, Metro Davao, Metro Iloilo as well as rapidly urbanizing capital towns and cities where steady streams of large investments are poured into eg. Subic-Clark. The rest of the country are somewhere in between Stage One and Two, in transition.

Implicit in the model is the concept of productivity or that which fuels a country’s progress up the ladder of growth. Productivity is determined by capital resources of which one is labor and intellectual capital or knowledge another. The Philippines has a surplus of labor but what quality is this labor? In the absence of machines, for tasks that don’t ask much, like hauling boxes from Point A to Point B, men (and well women too) who are healthy and can follow basic instructions are employed. This quality of labor, however, need to be upgraded in order to achieve higher productivity. And to upgrade it, we need knowledge ie. inventions in the form of new tools and strategies eg. specializations and management frameworks toward accomplishing more goods and services of excellent quality within a given time.

This brings us back to books and the imperative to survive and stay relevant by a never-ending acquisition of knowledge and then new knowledge – through research and development – that in turn produces new goods and services in support of a growing and expanding economy. The point is, we don’t read books just for the sake of reading because that would be burdensome and pointless! We do it for a purpose which is to improve ourselves, communities, society, nation, country. The lack of relevant books and appropriate venues for the continuing knowledge acquisition of the public implies that priorities lie somewhere else.

(But what thoughts on a weekend. A colleague said to me once, “hey, you’re orgasming again…in your head! You need to also do that here” indicating my body. Whaaat? I said, too surprised to say anything more. He laughed. Then I laughed as well. I laughed until my stomach ached. But back to my weekend reading and bed.)


On the proposed divorce law

What I’m waiting for the most, perhaps even wishing it in my subconscious, is the law on divorce. Divorce, in this country, and maybe in some others as well that remain closed even to the idea, has long been misunderstood as a Pandora’s box. Open it and all sorts of she-evils will fly out and contaminate the world. It’s BS. Like the story of the stork ingrained into us as children when we asked adults how babies got made or born.

For me, the most practical argument for divorce is that the right to enter into a contract, in this case, marriage, gives one the right to terminate or reform it when terms and conditions are not met; termination is applicable when, despite the steps taken to set things right, the effect of the contract on the parties is one of a weighty yoke. No person should be burdened by a contract.

The clergy would argue that marriage is more than just a “contract” or a piece of paper affixed with the signatures of bride and groom and their witnesses; that it is in essence a sacrament in that marriage is “to glorify God and to be a representation of how Christ loves the church.” Fine. And that is where the Church or rather the clergy has failed marriages today. They are increasingly more concerned at managing mainstream (meaning, anti-poor) businesses and school boards instead of attending to their primary mission which is to be like Christ who took the road less traveled where the poor and unwanted of the earth are. Administering sacraments to persons, whether the sick or the bride and groom, has become mechanical. The clergy has become so world-busy that they now also have no time to stop and chat with and get to know their sheep. In knowing their sheep are shepherds able to administer to each according to individual needs.

Where were they when families are falling apart or when marriages show cracks in their seemingly happy veneers? Selling organic food. My god. The clergy also has it all wrong now. The passage about “God will provide” means that families will be the ones that will support the clergy and the Church into the future as long as they are also supported in their spiritual needs. Because, how could a family that’s always fighting help back the Church and it’s clergy? It can’t as all it’s energies (and money) are spent in something else. I overheard churchgoers once saying “wala naman pinuputahan mga binibigay ng mga tao.” Churchgoers have already become sarcastic about adequately contributing financially to the Church because they don’t feel a spiritual connection with their priests and nuns. They are sheep without a shepherd.

What does it mean by marriage as glorification of God and representation of Christ in the church? Do modern married couples understand that? The few that do have I bet came to out of a lifelong struggle of experiences not necessarily with the individualized support of the clergy.

The Church is in a crisis and it’s effects on the Body, the families, are felt proportionally. The sacrament of marriage is entwined with the health of the Church that has facilitated and borne witness to the marriage. My point is, and this is for the clergy, that they stop pointing fingers at others in connection with this divorce law. Look at yourselves first, acknowledge your part in what you describe as the deterioration of society, bring order in the house, and society will follow.

On the other hand, the marriage contract, to be understood as distinct from matrimony, should not be forced upon the contracting parties when it is obvious that it is beyond repair or reform. This is where the State, not the Church, steps in with the duty to protect the right/freedom of persons entering into contracts. Those who counter that the law is bound to be abused are like people walking forward with their heads turned a hundred and eighty degrees back. They don’t know forward from backward. Look at the child protection law. It’s not that there suddenly was a flood of cases reported following the law, because these cases really did happen, many of these years before the enactment of the law, but rather the courts are lacking in appropriate response given inadequate personnel, not enough trained personnel including judges, irrelevant rules of court including design of courts supposedly friendly to children, and the like. It’s the justice system not the victim-survivors that renders the law ineffective and inefficient. Similarly unless there are preparations now let’s anticipate the same with the divorce law when passed.

loversIn the meantime, we all want and cannot truly know life and happiness without true love. I wrote, recently, on the slip of paper that the nuns will read in their prayer and skip meals for, for true love. Finally. Yey. Ha ha. I should’ve explicitly asked for it a long, long time ago but as it is I didn’t. I was for a very long time ambiguous about love and relationships. Girls and young women my age were busy looking for and raving about the love of their lives. I was busy doing other things. Then life happened. But the universe remains kind. Recent happenings seem to propel me toward a life that has less to be fearful about and more reason to be grateful for, to love, and be loved. It struck me that such is the purpose of life: true love. But then our world is an imperfect world. For the majority, true love doesn’t come on a silver platter. The first time that we thought we’ve got it may not be it after all. Many times, success depends on circumstances. We all, for instance, cannot be Catherine and William because there is only one of either. We are called upon to chart our own unique lives. If and when we fall doing so, we get up every time. That’s the most important thing. For the State or the Church to keep the fallen down is like declaring death sentences on people who are otherwise still alive. Let the clergy deal with their own internal crisis on their own time if that’s what they feel like doing, but not on borrowed, that is, people’s time.

Protect the people quote


Child separated from familyOne of the more frequently-pronounced words among development workers is the term ‘unpack’ as in “we need to unpack the human rights normative framework” or “we need to unpack the right to development for various groups”. The term came to mind as I spoke to more and more displaced persons of Marawi City. I had put my research work on hold for a few days in order to help my host organization, needing all the extra hands it can get, in emergency response work. My task was to document the whole humanitarian response activities. This entailed doing a sample of interviews with beneficiaries.

Listening to their stories, women and older children especially, I realized that the label ‘IDP’ or ‘evacuee’ bakwit is a very much generalized description much like saying ‘human’ which supposes that what is said of one human or what is true for one, whatever the gender and circumstance, is true for all (hence prompting for the one-size-fits-all solution). This is a hugely mistaken view.

What image do most people see on hearing ‘evacuee’ or ‘IDP’? I would guess fleeing persons. Yes, that. What about the image of family members getting separated as they are fleeing? That I don’t suppose is something readily-perceived by most people. Most people only see in their minds say a boat full of people on the run, after all that’s what most people see on telly, each person in the boat subsumed into only one face: refugee, IDP, evacuee, bakwit. Collective terms like ‘victims’, ‘survivors’, and ‘IDPs’ do not latch on to human imagination as instantly or deeply perhaps because since these are groups they’re perceived as relatively strong down to individual members. Only when effort is taken to get individual stories or experiences of victimhood or displacement that we see the gaping wounds of pain and loss that got squashed beneath the weight and mass of the collective.

I learned that many children that fled Marawi City in May got separated from their parents but managed to cling to one of their grandparents usually the grandmother who also left together with them. Many children who fled with their primary families ended up with only one of their parents, the mother in most cases. And many women escaped the City with very young children in tow, one of them usually an infant or newly-born.

Marawi displacement response ©thecolorofred

Part of the documentation task was to get photos (with their consent after I’d informed them of the implications of course, and I got jittery every time I approached afraid I’d get acid on my face, but I was surprised and grateful every body said yes. I guess they knew how these things go), to be taken in a positive frame, of beneficiaries. The human story is also one of hope, after all. That is what we want to hold on to and for donors to contribute toward. In one village, the children who’d immediately become my friends helped me with this task. They went and called their mothers and grandmothers who had already gone inside the center after having lined up long in order to get the goods. “Come,” one boy called to me, “we’ve already gathered them. They’re waiting for you.” I’d not anticipated the gesture and was very happy about it. I immediately went after him. Half-way down, the other children came to meet us. I praised each of them. Then they walked with me and introduced me to the waiting women.

“Do I need my husband with me? Do I need to call him?” asked one of the women.

“No need. What do we need men for?” I joked, and then shit did I just say that? Did I offend? I waited for, maybe, boulders landing on my face. Then I recalled the Muslim community is in fact matriarchal.

The women burst out in laughter. I relaxed. Their expressions said damn right. Right there was their positive moment. So, click, click, click.

I was chatting with the women, my children-friends in a protective circle around us, when one of the village leaders found me. In my haste, earlier, I didn’t tell them where I’d be.

As we walked back to the main area, I realized then the limitations of humanitarian aid. Response has been standardized in the form of food, shelter, water, psychosocial activities of drawing, playing, etc. — essentially physical and visible things — but a lot of human needs in times of crises or disasters remain intangible, occuring within each heart and mind, personal reactions to personal pain and loss that could only be healed by allowing oneself and others to grieve. What is it that’s said about grief? It’s as individual as an individual’s fingerprints, and that it’s one of those walks that individuals need to take alone. I look at psychosocial activities done to children and women and I can’t help wonder if everybody’s just willingly playing a game of pretend.

Grief is like living two lives: one is where you pretend everything is alright; the other is where your heart silently screams in pain.

While it helps to talk about or deal with pain and loss together with others, responders need to be sensitive to the fact that not everybody is experiencing it in the same way at the same time. Grieving people especially require solitude or time alone to figure things out on their own and deal with powerful and often conflicting emotions. It’s the only way for individuals, and then, families, and ultimately communities to truly move on.

So, yes, unpack needs. There is so much more to displacement, conflict, emergency, or disaster than what’s captured on current needs assessment forms and reports.

Rethinking red

classic red woman illustrationAmong the few indulgences – security blanket really – I brought with me to the field were my heavy-duty ankle boots (that doubled up for self-defense considering travelers including girls and women aren’t allowed even their Swiss camping knife set which is ridiculously funny given that the real enemy is running around free and fully armed) and liquid tattoo lip color in red. The lip color became a kind of statement in the time I was speaking with community groups.

On the morning that was my first into the communities, before heading to the first village in our planner, we made a side trip to the residence of a community leader. We needed to finalize the next day’s venue arrangements. The leader wasn’t home however, but the wife and kin were there to receive us. On meeting, I caught the reaction on their faces. It told me they had not expected a Jacintha Magsaysay (minus the ghoulishness) to appear on their horizon. Ha!

Red lips was more for personal convenience. I was to facilitate discussions at a rate of two groups a day everyday one each in villages that were miles apart. It wasn’t as if I travelled like a madam. We hied from one village to the other on trikes one of the two (the other is motorcycle) available local transportation. We were practically in the field our entire waking hours. And there was the challenge on my part to connect on limited time with people who I’d be meeting the first time and probably the last. I needed something to help me maintain my energy level and red is that something. I would’ve said coffee but seeing there was none prepared I didn’t have the face to ask. Above all, these are poor communities- our venue was more or less a shack, no toilet (I had to go to the nearest house to ask if I could use theirs which isn’t necessarily what you might call a standard toilet. Luckily for my hosts I’m capable of putting up with temporary inconveniences. There was this female foreigner-volunteer though, whom a local official told me about, who was shown the toilet when she asked to use one. Unfortunately for her the nearest available was the indigenous hole-in-the-ground type. She had looked ill after seeing it. She asked if there were others and was told there was one at the school but they’d have to hike up the hill. She said she didn’t mind and could still control her bladder until then. So a-hiking they went), no wash corner or room, no running water. In other words, there was no facility that a woman could do her touch up in private. I learned from my British teacher in kindergarten that it was not good manners to powder in public (hence the powder room). That stuck with me growing up although I also won’t be caught looking washed-out like a white lady and a distraction to people. Therefore, whatever I put on myself at home in the morning had to be long lasting. The lip color brand promised to last 24 hours and thankfully it delivered.

I also didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into a type. Consultants, researchers and evaluators are typecast. Researchers especially are perceived as either nerd- or weird-types. I’m neither. So are I/NGO or development workers. Male or female workers always have a scarf around their necks which they use as head scarf or shoulder wrap when they’re in the field, why is that I don’t know but I loathe the sight. Most of the women also don’t put on make-up or do their hair or grow it long perhaps afraid they’d be perceived as “dumb blondes” if they did. But isn’t that hiding?

In one research village, men dominated the discussion group. A number of women showed up who I tried to get to talk in the open but I guess their role in the community has long been prescribed– as listening sages. Cool. I will not rock that boat. Anyway in the past days women were the dominant participants. I also wanted to get the side of the men. So there we were at the ungodly hour of just after noon talking about probably the most sleep-inducing topic at that time: community resilience. I tried to inject humor, also to help me manage my nervousness at being in a hall teeming with poker-faced manly men, but apparently the men whose faces are weighed down by…conflict? instability?…would not be humored. That is, until we came to the question to which they responded with a standard reply that confirmed their religious conviction. But I already knew that. It’s old news. I or should I say the research needed more than a standard reply.

My red lips probed. “Would you say that’s a good thing or a bad thing? Because something may be good for you but destructive for others. In what instances would you say that it’s a good thing? When is it bad? Remember, there’s always two sides to a coin.” The men stared at me and then each turned to speak to the other. The hall had turned into a marketplace. Then I heard somebody said “ah, she’s good, she’s good.” I wanted to laugh. Shit, did they mean that in a good way? More had come into the venue, men, some of them ulema, done with their midday prayers at the nearby mosque. They had caught my query and were consulting the others for what had prompted the questions. I gave them some time to discuss among themselves. I obviously had ventured into a no-questions-asked zone. If they insist on that I hoped they’d at least do it kindly. They did better. They enlightened me with an honest answer.

People will see through you. They might have doubts on initially seeing lips that are perhaps more appropriately seen on the runway or in glam events but eventually they will see past that to your more essential characteristics- personality, attitude, deeds, and words. If you’re true, kind, respectful, and sensible then people will think “oh, red lips don’t necessarily mean Cruella De Vil“. Women need to reverse stereotype-thinking in others.

The many sides of ourselves

What do you do with long nights by your lonesome in the Muslim South? At first, I listened and nothing else. I listened to the night, it’s shadows, it’s silence, it’s movements, it’s peculiar sounds. But, mostly, I heard the whirr of my desk fan (despite urging from my hosts, I chose not to request airconditioning from my agency. “How will you be able to focus? You look dead from this heat.” I knew I did. But “I feel that when I have airconditioning, I’ll be worlds apart from community people. I want to feel the heat like how they feel it. And how could I face them and say “I understand” when I really don’t?” “But you have to understand you are not them,” the head of my host organization told me. It took me almost three months to adjust to the heat. I developed a cough that got worse as temperatures rose. At one point I panicked and thought I had TB but of course I hadn’t. Then, when I changed my mind and about to draft my request for airconditioning, I had to go and help in emergency relief for Marawi IDPs. At an evacuation center, we learned that a young woman had unexpectedly given birth there the previous week, her baby suddenly going out of her and dropping on the bare cement. While the others were busy at the registration table, I went and sought out the woman. The condition of her and her baby’s “living quarters” made me want to weep. I’m a mother too. I can see that it was no place for a woman who’d just given birth to recuperate. And poor baby, how unfortunate to have come into this world under present circumstances. I recalled a celebrated Christian scene every year in December. Yet this family is Muslim. I spent almost an hour with them – her young son, her sister, her father. Her husband, she said, has stayed behind in Marawi to look after their house. Finally returning to the company of my team, after having gone round the center and tried to know each family, I informed the head of my host organization of my devision. “Having no airconditioning is little sacrifice compared to these people’s. I can live with just a fan. That’s my final decision.” He laughed. “I know what you mean. If you can do that, then good.”).

pink eye shadow

If not the sound of my desk fan, I listened to my imagination which is the worst of all. It made up noises when there really were not. Seemingly endless nights went like this in the first weeks. Until I decided I didn’t want to end up as among the casualties. Then, I remembered I had 24/7 internet access. That’s when the nights were a time I looked forward to. I studied make up online. I experimented with colors. I learned that pink is in.

I tried to do pink shadow under the eyes that extended just above the cheekbones. I did this on a day I didn’t know I’d be speaking to Moro leaders. I could see during the conversation that they’d go back to looking at my eye part. Unless I’ve overdone it which I honestly didn’t think so perhaps they were trying to reconcile in themselves the me with the pink eye shadow and the me who spoke to them seriously. It’s both. They’re both me.

Mercado experience Part 3:  “The bazaar in the Islamic City”

For centuries, people around the world have gathered to trade, buy, and sell goods in their communal and commercial centers. These marketplaces often served as an integral part of the community and were called by many names, with meanings specific to their respective cultures.

The word bazaar has roots in Middle Persian (wazar) and Armenian (vačar). In the course of economic interactions, the word spread to Arab countries, Ottoman Turkey, Europe, India, and even China. ‘Bazaar’ has acquired three different meanings: the market as a whole, a market day, and the marketplace. It could also refer to one part of the bazaar, such as a street belonging to a specific guild. Borrowing from the Aramaic word shuka, bazaar equates with the Arabic word ‘suq,’ which denotes the commercial exchange of goods or services as well as the place in which this exchange is normally conducted.

The bazaar has played a key role in the economic, cultural, and even political transformation of cities throughout the Islamic world… The historical role of bazaars in international trade had a major effect on the international role of cities in the entire Islamic world. Because of the bazaar’s key role in Near Eastern cities, its study is of interest to scholars in a variety of fields; and yet, despite its significance in the study of urbanism and architecture, the concept of the bazaar in the Islamic world has not yet received a comprehensive analysis.

Although the bazaar existed as a concept in Roman and Parthian cities, it was further developed by Muslims to accommodate trade in secured Islamic lands, which within a few centuries of the death of the Prophet Muhammad extended from China to Spain.

Markets in the Islamic world have traditionally been considered peaceful places. This is probably because the bazaar defines a cultural or even psychological territory which is to be protected and respected by city residents. It may have to do with the fact that jeopardizing commerce in any fashion would threaten the entire society and its fundamental principles, which are based on survival. Contemporary examples of ‘peace markets’ can be seen on Israeli borders. These temporary outdoor markets serve as mechanisms that allow for the trading of surplus goods among Jews and Muslims. In these markets, merchants and customers behave as if in a sanctuary, which allows cooperation between historical enemies. In these markets, the norms of the larger society are not operative because the market becomes the manifestation of peace. The market defines a community with its own rules and regulations.

Due to its social dynamic, the bazaar was considered the best place to learn about people, their lives, public culture, and cultural interactions. There is a story that a Qazvini went to Tehran to seek employment. Answering a question concerning his education, he referred to the “Grand School of Qazvin.” In response to the prospective employer, who asked him about the location of this school, he clarified “It is indeed the Grand Bazaar!”

Modernity also threatened the significance of the bazaar and diminished its centrality and concentration in terms of form. The old narrow alleys of bazaars gave way to new, wide streets to accommodate motor vehicles. Supermarkets and commercial malls were constructed in close proximity to bazaars, threatening their monopoly. The new shopping malls, however, were completely different in nature from old bazaars. Shopping malls gathered a great number of shops under one roof, whereas bazaars possessed an institutionalized status and had more to offer, like carnivals and nurseries.

After the 1960s, several shopping malls were constructed beyond the conventional suq territories, resulting in decentralized trade in cities.

The formation of these modern malls and shopping centers, especially in the last two decades, has allowed people to purchase clothing, furniture, and other items without any need to go to the traditional bazaar. It has also resulted in the creation of a new and different commercial culture, which gradually affected the cultural context of the bazaar… The process of Europeanization resulted not only in decentralizing the bazaar, but also in changing the traditional trade culture and providing a social space for the new generation, which did not culturally connect to the bazaar for socializing. Malls have not only begun to reshape these cities, but also play an influential role as the setting for stories and narratives in contemporary literature and cinema.

However, many people of middle- and upper-class status still prefer traditional shops where their families have longstanding relationships. In the age of e-commerce (‘dot-com markets’), bazaars will continue to survive, especially in small cities and towns, because of the inaccessibility of high-end malls to the lower classes of society and also because of the social bonds that have been shaped during centuries.

– The Bazaar in the Islamic City: Design, Culture and History  / Mohammad Gharipour.—Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2012

grand bazaar istanbulIt’s why I suppose even at the height of the Marawi City diaspora, despite our unspoken alarm at witnessing truckloads of evacuees and agency vehicles propped with white flags passing through, conduct of business in the marketplaces where I was went on as usual. I thought, this was what they call occupying and living two contradictory worlds at the same time, one peaceful-normal and the other not. Pwede din pala. But I suppose it’s a strain. The only glitches in the local market I observed were the panic buying in the two grocery stores on the day martial law was declared (the next day and after, things normalized as suddenly); the other was early closure of business in most shops at 5 PM. With the former, customer behavior I suppose benefited the stores as all their stocks including those nearing expiration were wiped off of the shelves without effort on their part. With the latter, it mostly inconvenienced shoppers like me who were at work. What I did was I chucked out to the grocery during my afternoon snack break at 3 PM. Since I only had at most ten minutes to do my buying, I learned to shop only for what was on my list and not dilly-dally on the aisles getting distracted by new products and potentially putting them into my basket unnecessarily. Martial law actually helped me save up. Ha!

I guess the message here is as long as “terrorists” are not bombing marketplaces right off the map, hope remains. Hope that people are not absolutely unreasonable; that there remains a space in which differences, comparative advantages, are recognized as necessity and valued accordingly. Leaders should take care to do well to further this opening.

Mercado experience Part 2: Moro Exchange

What’s usually mentioned in Philippine history books or lectured in classes is the Galleon Trade during the time of the Spaniards. But did you know that in the time of the Americans there was the Moro Exchange? And that, in 1908, four years into these successful Exchanges, in the Annual Report of the Governor of the Moro Province, Cotabato was hailed as the most peaceful district?

“The market place is a time-honored institution the world over,” reported The Mindanao Herald enthusiastically, “and in no people does it appeal more strongly than to the Moro. It is to him the ancient forum where commercial and social interests mingle.”…

Responding to the supposed “natural” Moro inclinations toward trade and commerce, on 3 September 1904 the military regime opened the first “Moro Exchange” in Zamboanga…

Originally the brainchild of John Finley, a district governor in Moro Province, the Moro Exchanges consisted of several primary structures specifically designed for commerce, as well as a number of other buildings intended for lodging travelers and storing various commodities. These markets were designed to engender feelings of safety, fairneds, entrepreneurial opportunity, and accommodation for Filipino Muslims and various hill tribes that wished to trade. Anxious to provide a welcoming atmosphere to Moros in particular, colonial administrators made every effort to “give due consideration to the Moslem faith of the Moros” and to “exhibit a fair measure of respect for their religion and their customs” by maintaining “sanitary” facilities and even access to halal foods for devout Muslims. 

By providing a level playing field and impartial means of exchange, colonial authorities proposed to break cycles of class tyranny and eliminate the causes of debt and slavery. “The market had been built for the use of the non-Christian people of the District of Zamboanga,” reported The Mindanao Herald on opening day, “to sell their products at fair prices, which they would be permitted to enjoy themselves, and ‘no Sultan, nor datto, nor panglima, nor person of any sort, will be permitted to interfere with…the enjoyment of…legitimate rights.'”…”Heretofore the inhabitants of the interior of the island have been at the mercy of the Chinese trader for a market for their goods and these, when sold, were seldom paid for except in merchandise at many times its real value,” concluded one article.

Much to the delight of colonial officials, Moro Exchanges received broadly enthusiastic support from Filipino Muslims… Reporting on five distinguished headmen from the Lanao District, The Mindanao Herald stated, “The Moro Exchange seems to have claimed their attention to the exclusion of all else, and they have petitioned the government to establish one at Marahui (sic).”… Probably no governmental policy since the American occupation of the islands has produced such prompt and beneficial results to the native people as the Moro Exchange system,” praised The Mindanao Herald in 1906 while contemplating the great social and economic changes occurring among the Moros…

Established markets in perennially disruptive areas such as Jolo, for example, reported an outpouring of participation and support for the colonial program. “The Sulu Moros are pleased with the Exchange,” acknowledged one American colonialist. “They know that they can come to the Exchange and sell their products for what they are worth.”…

“A very valuable trade has sprung up between Zamboanga and Jolo through the agency of the Moro market in this city,” reported an American from Jolo, and “excellent prices (are) being paid the Joloanos who come laden to our shores with fruits, pearl shells, and other articles too numerous to mention, carrying back to their homes in lieu thereof good coin of the realm.”…in 1913 General Pershing responded to Moro cries for financial institutions by allowing The Bank of the Philippines to open a branch in Jolo. During its first month in operation the institution took in over 60,000 pesos in deposits from anxious Moros.

Making Moros, Michael C. Hawkins

Thoughts while watching an early morning banana boat ride

It was not yet nine in the morning but I guess that’s already late in the day for these beachgoers. I was meeting select people in this coastal village for a discussion about what they’re doing to make their community resilient. For many Filipinos, resilience is equated to “smiling or laughing though the world has crashed around them”.  This attitude is good but…only to an extent. Beyond a certain point, it’s avoidance, of sad realities around them- no basic infrastructures such as water systems, roads, sea walls, and if there are as for instance village health stations, they’re not staffed or equipped. Spending one’s free time on a banana boat is a personal choice, yes. But then the choice each and every Filipino make makes the nation. If everyone of us are on banana boats where does that lead all of us to? Filipinos need to be more conscious when making a choice especially at this time in our development when the nation needs more of it’s people to engage with planners and decisionmakers. We need to spend less time on banana boats and more time in public session halls, lobbying for quality basic infrastructures and services, for talk to be consistent with walk, for change to happen on the ground in the villages among families. Otherwise it’s the same hullaballoo all over again- the next generation inheriting redundant pile of to-dos we procrastinated on that our generation inherited from the last and so forth. Filipinos need to be generous.

The press conference of a lifetime

Donald Trump leaks are real news is fake

US President Trump’s solo press conference was probably the most refreshing I’ve watched. Michelle Obama had her “when they go low, we go high” moment. I believe President Trump, channeling his savvy businessman persona, had his. I’ve not laughed so much in a long time! I believe this has cured my February maladies!

Right there was ‘white American’ in the raw. That ‘American’ whom peoples across the globe have had complicated relationship with- the one they “hate” and then also love. He’s no Mao or Stalin however who had histories of killing people and such. Thing was, in the press conference, that famed American bad-assedness was turned upon itself, against the American press that is. Suddenly, nations of the world became, for a change, the outsiders of an all too familiar treatment. 

But, if we don’t think too much about the President’s communication style and try to step away from getting embroiled in criticisms against him and into his shoes ie. a first time politician but nonetheless part of corporate America that contributes much to “US supremacy”, there are nuggets of wisdom in his statements that the press ie. corporations having journalism as their business really need to reflect on:

The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk about it. We have to find out what’s going on because the press, honestly, is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control. I ran for president to represent the citizens of our country. I am here to change the broken system so it serves their families and their communities well. I am talking, and really talking, on this very entrenched power structure and what we’re doing is we’re talking about the power structure. We’re talking about its entrenchment. As a result, the media’s going through what they have to go through to oftentimes distort.The distortion, and we’ll talk about it, you’ll be able to ask me questions about it. We’re not going to let it happen because I’m here, again, to take my message straight to the people.

The President isn’t the first to call out the media. There are the celebrities constantly followed around by papparazzi who counter with statements like “fame comes with price” and “just doing our job”, and articles about their lives you won’t know if it’s true or not prompting celebrities to open their own social media accounts. Could media be ever honest? Billy Joel’s Honesty comes to mind-

If you look for truthfulness
You might just as well be blind
Honesty is such a lonely word

On that the President and media, like Tom and Jerry, could go at it without end with nothing accomplished in the end. Perhaps it’s just a matter of managing expectations on both sides? It’s clear media has some preconceived ideas about the ‘President’ and his treatment of them and the new President has also his, of how media should cover him and his administration. I could understand how a first time politician, the US President at that, could feel so much pride for the smallest of accomplishments of his office and thin-skinned about any criticism versus the weary and cynical attitude of a press that has covered plenty of Presidents and failed policies. Would conceding those initial accomplishments to this particular President lead to a better relationship? In any case, both sides need to find their common groove.

Happy in the City

I used to go for massages and such at a spa in Baguio.  On such a day, I overheard a man asking if the center offers sauna service.  The lady at the front desk replied that she’s sorry their one and only sauna was out of service that day. Such queries are what one would randomly and normally hear at any spa.  Minutes later, another man asked for the same service and received the same reply.  Then another, this time a small group. My curiosity was already piqued. Since when was sauna in demand in the City and especially on a weekday morning?  And by men in suits too?  Another man came in and asked for the same service.  At that point, I thought the center insane for not putting in double time to fix the sauna. Their loss. Meanwhile, I was more interested at the rate the service was asked for in just under a couple of hours.

That directed my thoughts to first the number of spas and sauna centers in the City and second tying demand for the service to the rate I was witness to at my center of choice the probable reasons for the increase in demand.

I did notice the proliferation based on ads in the City’s weekly paper. Compared to say five or ten years ago, there’s now this and that center, including French-sounding ones which sad to note don’t hold anything close to the French’ dedication to effortless refinement, offering this and that service.  The increase says something significant of the changing and prevailing local lifestyle– how did going to the sauna become a practice among City folks? who in the City goes to the sauna?

via milamai

traditional Finnish sauna

The suited men started to arrive around mid-morning.  My guess was they had just gotten out of an early morning meeting the kind wherein hard decisions had to be made, or wherein they put in everything in order to sell an idea to the higher-ups, probably the Board.  Perhaps they’ve already made such decisions, or needed some time to mull over a decision or to wash off the pressure from a life-or-death presentation.  Perhaps the corner cafe outside the office building can’t provide the kind of environment they particularly needed.  I was pretty sure they’ve already been to the sauna and so knew the physical and mental cleansing it brings them and in some instances social bonding and release as well hence their search for such a facility.  Since the center of my choice is conveniently located at the downtown area, far enough from the bustle of Session and Harrison Roads but within walking distance of everywhere, this was also where their internal compass led them.

The men were I was sure of it not native residents of the City but rather it’s work that brought them to the City.  Native residents haven’t yet caught up with the trend, one reason being that ‘sauna’ has had a reductive meaning equated to activities relegated to the local red light district.  If they were from Metro Manila, which I was sure they were, frequenting spas and saunas are as normal a routine as having lunch or dining out with clients or potential clients, or among business associates of a certain income level “sneaking out” for a round of golf.  Naturally then they’d bring the practice with them, which now brings me to rounding up the reasons for the apparent increase in demand and therefore supply of it.

It’s a return to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and wants basically, in that moving up the hierarchy needs and wants become more and more sophisticated (i.e. up to a point).  On the other hand, there’s the market economy ever ready to cater to material needs and wants. Well, ideally, because as what was the case in my center of choice it failed to meet the day’s demand–  an example of choke points in the market.  But the thing about the market is there are so-called substitutes.  Where did the men go after learning the sauna wasn’t working?  Depending on their preferences and circumstances at the time, it could’ve been to the barbershop for a similar physical rub down, or back to the office where hell’s fury awaited the person(s) fortunate enough to have crossed their paths upon their return.

And last but not the least of my observation was those would-have-been customers were men.  Meaning?   It just cued me to which among the sexes – Filipinos – are availing the service more and whether or not there’s a significant difference and if so why?   But would the information matter?  In any case, I count myself among those who love saunas and it’s substitute, really hot showers and baths.

This end justified the means

Whenever I see bright red nails it reminds me of the young woman who was part of the team that provided training on Knowledge Management for my colleagues at the field office.  The unit was to pilot test a KM community of practice planned to be further developed into a strategy for the entire organization.  The young woman was there to assist the training team which was part of her role as a coordinator at her organization, and she was my initial contact for the training.

As I had already been collaborating with her and training team as to the details, I knew beforehand that she’s pretty and fair in skin.  Cutely daring was an apt description of her style.  But my colleagues didn’t know that yet.  Part of me was anticipating their reaction knowing that development workers especially those who’ve been long in the field don’t often get to be up close and personal with shall we say the more pleasant sights of civilization.  Women in the field have in general somehow set aside their feminine side, a necessary trade off given the task of dealing with all sorts of personalities not to mention project setbacks and what have you out there.

I wasn’t mistaken.  When the training finally materialized, she came in looking no less like Aphrodite herself, which I expected, her nails in a bright shade of red and a similar hue on her lips the color irresistibly stark on her fair skin. Knowledge Management is rather a technically challenging topic but she at least got everybody’s full and undivided attention on the matter.

We’ll always have soccer

We’ll always have Paris is a well known and oft cited quote but I’ve only just now realized that it was uttered very far from Paris, at the tarmac of Casablanca airport in Morocco.  This, meaning?  Well, that Rick and Ilsa were…well-travelled. Whatever. What I really want to say is for the rest of us who don’t have Paris or even know where Paris is there’s always…soccer.  One’s amazed to see in the most unlikely places, in the midst of difficulties and uncertainty, the unassailability of the human spirit and the human being’s capacity to conjure up tremendous fun and joy out of seemingly nothing.  With such framed in nature’s beauty, one regains if only at these moments of play faith in humankind and hope for the world.