Toti arrived at my door on Saturday with the newspaper in his hand. "Good news," he said, grinning as he pressed the Davao Sun Star into my hand. Glancing at the headline, I immediately understood his giddy countenance. " 700 People Suffer In Diarrhea Outbreak". I know this is probably disgusting and cold-hearted, but anytime Toti or I hear about people suffering with diarrhea we get a little excited. It's not that we revel in people's suffering. We simply recognize an opportunity to make a difference.
The article referred to suspected water contamination in Maragusan, a town in the province of Compostella Valley. It only took seconds for Toti and I to agree that a visit to Maragusan was a worthwhile endeavor. We decided to make the four hour drive as soon as possible, and Wednesday was the first day of the week that we were both available for the whole day.
So yesterday morning we packed my camera gear, my computer, a filter, and a bunch of our brochures and started driving. I was feeling pretty excited. We were flying by the seat of our pants. We had no connections in Maragusan, and we barely knew how to get there. I was feeling like a teenager again, reminded of the many trips that my best friend Paso and I used to take. We were leaving with only a vague idea of where we were going and without a clue as to what we would do when we got there.
The drive was very different from what I expected. I've seen lots of Mindanao, but I was expecting something very different. I understood Maragusan to be a city of considerable size. This led me to believe that the city would be located on or near the national highway that runs north/south along eastern Mindanao. I couldn't have been more wrong. After driving north on the highway for two hours, we turned east and soon found ourselves on a dirt road that winds along the floor of a beautiful valley. For two hours Toti and I enjoyed mile after mile of beautiful rivers and mountains in relative silence. I think I was almost disappointed when we rounded a corner and suddenly found ourselves entering Maragusan.
Our first plan was to see the Mayor. His name had been mentioned in the newspaper, so I had written him a quick letter of introduction, requesting an opportunity to demonstrate our filter. We've only tried the political route a couple of times, never with any success. But those were always at the barangay (neighbourhood) level, and I wanted to at least try to gain some municipal support. Besides, this town was in the middle of a health crisis and I have a product that can fix it.
After stopping to ask for directions several times, we found the Mayor's office. The secretary told us that the Mayor was out with his staff investigating the recent water contamination, but he would be returning after lunch. We gave the secretary our letter of introduction and he told us that he would try to schedule us a meeting with the Mayor when he returned. Feeling encouraged, we went to find some food. We had an hour and a half to kill after lunch, so we drove around looking for a place to lie in the shade and take a nap, which again left me thinking about the many hours that Paso and I have spent looking for a place to sleep.
We settled on a small grove of trees that was littered with concrete culverts which served as a playground for some of the local children. As per usual, I very quickly became the center of attention and soon there were about 30 school-aged boys and girls all watching and waiting to see what the strange white man would do next. Sitting with those children for an hour and half was the best part of my day. They practiced their English phrases, as one after another asked my my name and how old I was. Some of the older ones had enough English to carry on lengthy conversations with me, asking me where I was from and what the heck I was doing in their town.
I was able to take advantage of the captive audience, and with Toti's help we had a great hygiene lesson. We talked about where germs come from and the need to wash their hands regularly, especially after using the CR (bathroom). We spoke to them about their water supply and how it was important for their mothers to boil the water before drinking it. They seemed to enjoy the lecture, and I was glad to have at least accomplished something in this strange town in the middle of nowhere.
At one o'clock I had to pry the children off of me and send them off to school. Toti and I returned to the Mayors office and were delighted to discover that he would meet with us. My delight quickly turned into disappointment. It was immediately clear that he was simply being polite and he had no interest in meeting with us at all. I think we sat with him for a total of two and a half minutes before we were ushered out of his office. He had at least agreed to come see a demonstration of the filter outside the building once we had installed it for him.
It didn't take long for Toti and I to attract an audience as we installed the filter. Curious onlookers began to draw near and soon we were surrounded by excited barangay health workers who were all shouting questions at once. This was the reception we are accustomed to and it was nice to be experiencing something familiar. We answered all of their questions and gave them brochures and business cards before they went on their way. If we made any progress yesterday it was with those women.
The Mayor was true to his word and came out for the obligatory presentation, though he was barely present. His back was half turned to us the entire time. It was as though he was thinking, "I have a serious health problem on my hands, don't waste my time with your silly contraption." I had hoped that he would recognize the opportunity that was staring him in the face, but he was clearly too preoccupied. I tried to talk with the municipal health officer, but met with similar results.
By 3pm it was time to go. We had accomplished all that we could, and we were running out of time if wanted to reach civilization before nightfall. We stopped for snacks (a necessary component of any road trip) and hit the road. I have no idea if our visit to Maragusan will garner any results, but it was worth a try. What sort of results was I looking for? I'm not sure. I suppose I just wanted to make some connections in an area that is clearly in need of water filtration.
My Dad had a catch phrase that he borrowed from another pastor in the early 90's: "Ready, Fire, Aim." I think that's what we were doing yesterday. The idea behind the phrase is that you can easily get caught up in the preparation and planning, and never actually get around to making your move. Yesterday we got in the car without much of a plan. We heard about the need and we went to help out. If something comes of it, then that's great. If not, that's okay too. One thing is certain. If we hadn't made the trip, then there would be no chance of helping out. I don't know that I'll jump in the truck every time I see the word "diarrhea" in a newspaper, but I'm glad we did it this time.
I have not been practicing the "Ready, Fire, Aim" policy in another instance. For two months I have patiently listened to Rudy, a connection of mine that has been promising to introduce me to the Governor of Davao Oriental. Rudy is constantly planning and talking about this potential meeting, but he never actually follows through. Maybe I should just show up at the Governor's office and introduce myself. On the other hand, I'm getting fed up with Filipino politicians, and I'm considering bypassing them from now on.
I've attached a couple of photos of our trip. In other news, Bethany and I have been having a great visit with Merrilyn, one of our pastors from Vancouver. She's been staying with us this week after she spent some time up in Manila. Today we're going to take her for a bit of a tour of the city and I'll take her to see the shop where we make the filters. Bethany is doing great, but feeling very pregnant. She seems to think that the baby will come early, perhaps even before my birthday (Aug. 25). She's already 2cm dilated. I'll try to give you an update on the water project later this week.