Friday, November 21, 2008

back in Manila

So, almost exactly one year later, we find ourselves back in the bustling city of Manila. Actually, bustling is a severe understatement... think blood-pumping, jam-packed with people, belching fumes from the most chaotic traffic you've ever seen, thick, muggy air that was 85 degrees at 7am when we arrived, and the excited energy of 104 people, 99 of whom hadn't been here before, ready for their last big adventure together.

For Scottie and I, there is a lot that is familiar. We are staying with his same host family, Frank and Inez Reyes, and their two boys Patrick and Pa-el (short for Pablo Gabriel). Pa-el, who is adorable, said to us at dinner on our first night, in his charming Filipino accent, "Scott and Ellen, I know why you got married!" "Why, Pa-el?" "Because you have the same skin color."

We've dived right into our Community Impact projects... the cast is at seven different sites each day, for eight total service days here in Manila. My site is a Habitat for Humanity site, where we are working alongside Filipinos who are accumulating sweat equity, part of their 1000 hours required to qualify to receive a habitat home in the area we're building.

Two days of hauling cement blocks, and buckets of mortar, building walls with interlocking bricks which are a bit like Legos (and are an exclusive Habitat design, to be lighter so more accessible for volunteers, more appealing to the eye than cinderblock, and more efficient and sturdy). We only use mortar for every fourth row, and then pour a runnier consistency down into the vertical holes after every layer of three rows. Now we've got the system down to the point that our foreman can't keep up! We call him Boss, and his crew of guys who know what they're doing run around leveling our walls, laying water pipe and electrical lines, tying up rebar- the things they haven't taught us how to do (or don't see us qualified for), and we just keep hauling, stacking, and cementing things into place. We are building a 120-unit apartment building, the first of two on a government-owned lot in Pasig City. It is a pleasure to work next to Ching, a woman who is approved to live in the building we are building, once it is finished in the next eight months or so.

It takes us about an hour to get to our site from the Reyes' house, though without traffic it would be only about a 15-20 minute drive. We take either a taxi, or a combination of jeepney and tricycle. The taxi costs a little over two dollars, and the jeepney/trike combo is about a dollar. Its nice to know enough about the transportation system that we can get around confidently, even on our first day.

I was worried about jet lag with such a busy schedule for our first days, but besides falling asleep by 8pm the last two nights, I'm doing pretty well! Tomorrow is our big regional learning day in Manila, another day of stark contrasts.

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