Travel and Culture

Beard Difficulties

In my previous life, I worked at a job that made growing a beard difficult.  Every time I'd let it grow on vacation, I'd get close to an acceptable length, but still below the threshold of respectability.   Naturally, when I learned I'd be working with Negros Women for Tomorrow and Kiva here in the Philippines, I looked at it as a great opportunity to reinvent myself as a man with a beard.  On the street every day, people walk around with beards knowing that they are part of an exclusive fraternity, having chosen to distinguish themselves from the rest of the clean-shaven world.  On this trip, I would not pass up the opportunity. The process began on November 18th, two days before I left work.  I had two weeks before work began in the Philippines, a narrow window for a full bloom.  The above photo was taken on December 20th, showing a month of unchecked growth.  In the first two weeks, I already had a nice base, extending from my sideburns, down my cheek, and underneath my chin.  Halfway down my face, the pattern forms a right angle, before dropping precipitously past my mustache and down to the area below my chin. (more…)

Travel and Culture

Dancing for Filipinos

In the Philippines, or maybe just here in Bacolod City, people enjoy celebrations.  Bacolod is called the City of Smiles and is known for its annual MassKara Festival held in October.  The tradition began in 1980, in response to a sugar crisis plaguing the island of Negros and a ferry-capsizing that killed over 700 Negrenses.  To pull the island out of a pervasive gloom, the government organized a weeklong festival in which the participants wear smiling masks.  The festival is a nice metaphor for the general outlook of the island and its people. In a country that is 80% Catholic, at an organization that values family, community, and faith, celebrating the birth of Christ provides a great opportunity to let down your proverbial hair and celebrate.  A Filipino Christmas party is a highly choreographed spectacle of extravagance, filled with singing, dancing, and revelry.  Participation is required by all, including your humble correspondent.  Imagine bottling the spirit that drives some people to sing karaoke, and unleashing it on a Christmas party. (more…)

Microfinance

The Galvez Family, Pt. 1

Success in microfinance is difficult to measure because progress occurs incrementally and may take a generation or more to manifest.   Usually, the benefits of microfinance - improvements in healthcare, education, and quality of life - are only visible over a longer timeframe.  For industry practitioners and evangelists, the tangible success stories among recipients of microloans are valuable proof of its efficacy.  On a recent trip to Valladolid, I was fortunate enough to meet one of the most successful NWTF clients in the foundation's 25-year history. [caption id="attachment_38" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The Galvez family around the dinner table"][/caption] The visit to the Galvez family farm was the last stop on a three-day trek through Pontevedra and the surrounding communities.  The borrowers I'd met previously mostly operate small businesses that are reliant - directly or indirectly - on the rice- and sugar-farming industries that dominates the region.  Homes are modest in size, made from bamboo, aluminum and concrete, with few rooms and, more often than not, earthen floors.   And of course, like 80% of NWTF's clientele, the women live below the poverty line.  The Galvez family - Milagros, the matriarch, Lorito, her husband, and their three children, Lawrence, Lori, and Lori Mae - once lived a similar life, until a loan from Project Dungganon (NWTF's microcredit loan program) allowed them to grow their small sari-sari store into an empire.  Eight years ago, the family lived in a house made of bamboo.  With the profits of their many businesses, the Galvez' were able to upgrade to something better. (more…)

Microfinance

In The Field

[caption id="attachment_16" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="The road to a borrowers home"][/caption] I spent the last three days in "the field," a term used to describe the front lines of microfinance where the money is distributed to the clients of the banks.  Beginning early Tuesday morning, I set out for the town of Valladolid, a rural municipality about 50 km from Bacolod City.  The road snakes along the coast through increasingly less urban communities, until reaching Pontevedra, where the NWTF (Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation) Valladolid branch is located.  Linda, the branch manager and former loan officer, took me to see the first of 15  borrowers we would try to track down over the course of the three-day trip (with a 67% success rate).  Riding in the metal grates on the back of a tricycle, where I'd spend most of my trip, we rode to small village called a barangay to interview several women about their business and loan.  The community here is small, and stopping for directions usually produced a guide that brought us directly to the home of the borrower.  Home constructions vary from 2-3 room bamboo nipa huts, to shanties with roofs of corrugated aluminum and floors of dirt, to cement frames with electricity, running water, and decorations on the walls.  Over the course of the week, I'd see all types represented.  Housing loans are popular among borrowers, and many homes have been built with loans from NWTF. (more…)

Travel and Culture

Organized Chaos

Here in Bacolod City, and the rest of the Philippines for that matter, traffic laws are non-existent.  There seem to be no rules governing how you act behind the wheel – only that the horn is your friend, and is especially useful for letting the other guy know that you don’t intend to stop.  Last night, I went swimming with one of my coworkers and her mother at a resort in town (with an Olympic size pool, complete with a water slide, 30-foot statue of a giraffe and an elephant, and a zoo with an old crocodile that, according to my host, may or may not be dead).  On the way to the pool, we narrowly escaped a few accidents.   When Beth, the mother of my coworker, Liz, unsuccessfully tried to pass a jeepney with a bus barreling down the other lane, she shrugged it off.  “Whoops – almost didn’t make it,” she laughed.  When I relayed the fitting description the owner of a bike shop in town used to describe the traffic patterns here – “organized chaos” – she and Liz laughed again (Filipinos like to laugh, particularly here in the city of smiles).  “That may be, but everyone knows the rules here.”  And, as far as I can tell, it seems to be true.  When you drive here in Bacolod, honk your horn when you come to an intersection.  If you get there first, or see even a slight opening, go for it.  Drivers here are masters of the quick brake, mostly out of necessity. (more…)

Travel and Culture

Filipina Heart

The motivations for travel on a Trans-Pacific flight run vary more than your average domestic flight.  Businessmen hammering out last-minute presentations to their Chinese counterparts to your left; a sex tourist that looks, talks, and thinks like a sex tourist to your right.  And you, physically in the middle, but not necessarily anywhere along the same spectrum or plane.    The sex tourist and small business owner from southern Indiana sitting next to me is 48 and right now is en route to Bangkok to meet up with 25 year-old Filipino girl with a 6-year old daughter he met on filipinoheart.com.  When she was 19, she met up with a 50 year-old American who, according to my neighbor, "knocked her up, denied the baby was his, and called her a slut."  He left the country, leaving her with a newborn baby to raise on her own.  Now the sex tourist is heading over there for a week of fun in the sun and a proverbial test run, figuring out whether a) she is the one, and b) whether she is currently married, which means an extra $5,000 for an annulment to get her to the US.  The fact that she has a 6 year-old doesn't seem to bother him.  I might be giving him too much credit, and maybe he has no intention of bringing her back at all.  But she certainly seems to think so.  According to the guy, she's just looking for someone to love her ("they all are").  The good thing for her is that the sex tourist to my left actually seems genuine about bringing at least one of these girls back - his two buddies already have Filipino wives from previous flings. (more…)