The Turkey and I

Besides the family dog, the first pet that I truly had was the turkey.

I was about eight when Dad and my uncle bought a couple of turkeys home.  For some reason, I took to feeding the turkey not as a chore, but as a “mission” of sorts.  Feeding leftovers to the neighbor’s pigs was one thing, but taking care of the turkey was another.  I even made the turkey gobble on cue: all I had to do was stand in front of it, jump around, and imitate Taz from “Tazmania.”

Until that fateful day when Dad decided that the turkey was fat enough to be killed.  I was inconsolable: for much of the day I looked at my relatives as cold-hearted pet-killers.  Eventually I relented: after a gift of a plastic robot and a talk with Dad over the facts of life, I sat down to one of the best pets I ever had.

It wasn’t exactly a good meal, though: my pet turkey ended up as adobo and afritada, not the roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce of our 20th century colonial masters.  It wasn’t bad – a rather earthy, gamey chicken – but a bit sinewy and rubbery.  That’s the first and the last turkey we kept.

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Yolanda: Notes on a Disaster

Twenty-three years ago, Typhoon Uring (international codename: “Thelma”) turned Ormoc from a peaceful port overlooking the Camotes Sea, to a wasteland of despair and death.  The flash flood of 1991 gave way to the most haunting images left behind by Typhoon Uring: entire houses flattened by floodwaters, and streets ravaged by rubbish and debris.  Almost 5,000 people died from the flash floods.  An estimated 3,000 were declared missing, and P600 million worth of property were damaged by a storm that was, for a time, deemed the worst of them all.

Perhaps the most haunting images of all were rotting bloated corpses: like statues etched in blocks of impure marble and clothed with tattered rags, it seemed that the sculptor wanted to capture drowning and despair in their most literal forms.

And here we are, in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (international codename: “Haiyan”). Most storms hit the same places in the Philippines’ eastern seaboard.  The Eastern Visayas region – Samar and Leyte in particular – is no stranger when it comes to typhoons.  Yet at the same time, the region is no stranger to the poverty and vulnerability that comes with generations of underdevelopment.  Eastern Visayas is a place of extreme wealth in the hands of a few, and despondent poverty for the multitude.

The chatter in Philippine social media today spares no barbs for the Aquino administration, international humanitarian agencies, and even reporters from here and all over the globe.  Everything from politics to donation protocols to media coverage was put in the spotlight.  The images of hope – a street child donating a peso, a dirt-poor 80-year-old woman donating a half-open packet of milk to those starving in Leyte, lone helicopter pilots doing airdrops on their own, ShelterBox volunteers – are often shadowed by the criticisms of an angry public, mostly spared from the devastation of Yolanda.  “Donations are not being distributed fast enough,” one says.  “Politicians are hoarding donations for them to put their names on the bags,” says another.  That storm of opinions, brewing and swirling in Twitter and Facebook, did in words what Yolanda did in gales and storm surges: to shake the very core of our being.

Yet the devastation caused by Yolanda was just the exclamation point to the tragic story of Eastern Visayas: mired in hardship and poverty for decades, perhaps even generations.  Samar and Leyte became the poster provinces of rural poverty in the Philippines.  Yolanda barreled through the Visayas and not only uprooted trees and destroyed buildings and claimed lives: it also exposed the extent of poverty and underdevelopment in a place that needed aid and support way before the strongest typhoons of this year started brewing.

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Yolanda: Donations

So instead of spreading toxicity over the Internet (which we can do WAY, WAY later, not today, pag may time, so to speak), I’d like to take this time to help get the word out on donations.  There’s already enough awareness spread out there, so it’s time we ramp it up and donate.  And donate smartly.

If you haven’t donated yet to help out those affected by Yolanda, please consider sending donations over to UNICEF, the DSWD, or the Philippine Red Cross.  Other aid organizations are found in the GOV.PH website, and all over Facebook.  If you’re reading this from overseas, please consider making donations through the Salvation Army, Doctors Without Borders, the International Medical Corps, or even through iTunes.

Whenever you can, please try to donate money: while this may be a good time to donate old clothes we’ve outgrown or medicines we don’t use, I think that the pressing needs of our suffering countrymen demand a smarter, more useful donation.  Try to talk to your HR about giving a donation (no matter how small) as a salary deduction.

From what little I know of development work (I’m not an expert), donating in cash is more useful for the following reasons:

  1. Cash is easier to hold on to and to transport than, say, boxes and bags of shoes.
  2. Donations-in-kind are more expensive to transport, to sort out, and to distribute than, say, boxes and bags of clothes.
  3. Those in the ground would know more about the needs of the victims, and with the cash they can procure and purchase goods more efficiently than we can if we gave in kind.

I came across this Greatest Good Donation Calculator from the USAID CIDI; hope it lends you some perspective on how much the costs of a gift-in-kind can be, and why a monetary donation may be a smarter gift to give.

Cash donations also help fund the rebuilding of these communities in the future.  Despite the specter of graft and corruption plaguing the Philippines, making these donations means getting more relief and projects out there and funds the humanitarian and rebuilding efforts.  Crowdsourcing the flow of international aid is something that many Filipino netizens are doing a lot of lately, so public transparency is there.

Off-tangent, I hope that these discussions on social media about where all the aid is going can spark interest on the nature of aid, humanitarian work, and the challenges facing aid.  For those of you who want to get to know more about aid, there are some great blogs out there that discuss the topic of humanitarian aid from aid workers’ perspectives: Good Intentions are Not Enough and Tales from the Hood come to mind.

And here’s an absolute essential: the Google Person Finder.

So yes, you don’t have to feel helpless, small, and significant in donating whatever cash you can this payroll (or right now, if you can, or maybe someday soon).  A little goes a long way.

Oh, and one last thing: when making donations let’s keep in mind that it’s not about us, it’s about them.  And at the risk of sounding a little too touchy-feely about it, I strongly believe that there’s truth in saying that when it comes to giving, it’s about being the giver that others need, not being the giver we want to be.

Hope you can share!  Not this post, but a donation to the victims of Yolanda.

Postscript: The view on the relief efforts and all the chatter in social media, that will come later.

The Big Against The Small

“It is therefore in the body of the wrestler that we find the first key to the contest.”

- Roland Barthes, “The World of Wrestling,” Mythologies

When you break wrestling down to its essentials, the general context of wrestling is quite simple and straightforward. Some compare it to David and Goliath, but I’d rather much compare it to Samson breaking down the pillars of the Temple of Dagon. Before this all descends to the Bildung and frisson of analyzing simple things, it’s quite simple: in a match between the good guy and the bad guy, the good guy gets kicked and slammed around first before he mounts a comeback and beats the bad guy. This may last for as short as a quick 5-minute match, or throughout a whole storyline.

For those enthusiastic about pro wrestling trivia, this pattern emerges throughout the history of the spectacle. Take Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan. Or Shawn Michaels and Vader. You can even go back as far as the match that started it all: the muscular, chiseled George Hackenschmidt versus the athletic and toned Frank Gotch. In a post-”wrestling-is-scripted-not-fake” understanding of professional wrestling, it’s easy to see why passionate wrestling fans all over the world think that the WWE brass is screwing over Daniel Bryan in favor of the Big Show.

But isn’t that the very basic foundation pro wrestling is built on: the battle of big and small? And isn’t that applicable to things like, say, life itself?

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Dear Xavier Kid Who Bagged Groceries

In the interest of “sober perspectives” – which again is ironic considering the nature of the word “sober” and my often incoherent rambling – please read this article from The Philippine Daily Inquirer.

You’re a very fortunate kid, and I don’t mean that in the stereotypical and undeserved “rich kids of Xavier School” sense.  I mean it in the sense that you had an opportunity many of us – admittedly – never had, and that’s to spend four days being a grocery bagger at SM.  I’m pretty sure that years from now, everyone who read your article will hold you accountable for whatever promises you made for blue-collar workers.

Many people have criticized you over the past few days, many people had more than a few things to say to you.  And – admittedly – at first I was irked by the lessons you learned in that stint bagging groceries.  Perhaps what irked me the most was the innocence of it, or maybe the naïveté of it.  I’m old, maybe a bit jaded, had one too many groceries bagged over the years that I tend to forget the importance and value of these people in my life.

I thought about it, and I had a change of heart.  Maybe I don’t agree with the entire idea of immersion entirely, or perhaps with the lessons you learned.  But I’m glad you learned a lot from immersion, but there’s also that other place we need to be immersed in: life.  I don’t claim to hold a monopoly on the right way to view it, or the proper way to see it.  But hear me out for a bit, if you will: I’d like to share in your lesson, too.

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Making a Million People March

For all this talk about “hijacking” and an exchange of words dividing a critical mass, I think a more sober perspective on the Million People March is necessary.  Not that I’m the most sober (irony intended) person to lend that perspective, but I’d like to take a crack at it.  I would suggest reading the pieces of Tonyo Cruz and Jego Ragragio first before reading this one, though.

Let’s start with something basic and essential, but has often been downplayed throughout this whole conversation.  The fact to the matter is that there weren’t a million people in the Luneta march, the EDSA march, or the Ayala march.  So we bend the rules of math, and say that 70,000, 3,000, or 10,000 is equivalent to a million by virtue of metaphor.  And we bend the rules of marching as well, and say that those who expressed their support online through Tweets and Facebook statuses are part of the march, by virtue of metaphor.

That extends to what these marches are all about.  Some people claim that all discretionary funds are pork, and should be abolished.  Still others claim that government needs discretionary funds in order to function.  Some people claim that President Aquino should be ousted (or be impeached or that he should resign from his position) because of his involvement in the pork barrel scam.  Still others claim that this is about government accountability and transparency, and not the ouster of the President.

All that extends to why we’re arguing in the first place.  On the one hand, some blame the leftists for “hijacking” the Million People March for pursuing their own political agenda, relying on passé methods of protest that turn off the middle class who are at the center of this protest.  On the other hand, some blame the pro-Aquino camp for “hijacking” the Million People March to preserve the President from any further criticism of this matter, that this is a black-and-white matter of being pro-pork or anti-pork.

And there’s the rub, I think: are you a “million people march” if you don’t have a million people, and the thousands you have march in different directions?

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Invisible Hand

“Economics,” from what we were told and taught, comes from the Greek word oikonomia: “to manage a house.”  For a class as big as ours in fourth year high school, to manage a house of learning was no easy feat.  I would guess that it would be all the more difficult if you taught introductory economics.

Demand and supply curves are things we don’t often plot about in advertising and marketing.  The sum of our work is more or less the subject of big ideas predicated by manifestos, more at home with the humanities and design than with hard and fast economics.  Yet when target markets are phrased it’s almost always impossible to divorce yourself from the economics of things.  We are, after all, in the business of generating demand.

It requires great teachers to inculcate even the tiniest bit of that mindset to students while they’re young.  To be a bit more curious and caring towards the house they’re living in, and the people they’re living with.

The subject was not just economics, but hard and fast oikonomia: that the house being managed may be built on material foundations, but is built on a bedrock of values.

It takes great teachers, and I had a great one.

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