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April 2014


As the weeks go by it is getting hotter and hotter here in Kalibo. April and May are the 'build-up' seasons for the monsoon rains to follow in June and July. And even though the rainy season will be welcome due to the lower temperatures it promises, at the same time it will also be the season of the Typhoons and Dengue mosquitoes.
But saying that, even now a Typhoon is approaching the Philippines. A slowly moving tropical storm that is forecast to increase to Typhoon class 1 and arrive here on Wednesday. Class 1 is nothing to worry about. But it is also very early in the season. What will the real, seasonal Typhoons look like then?
The last week can be dedicated to new people arriving here in Kalibo. First of all there is Peter, my housemate Jen's boyfriend who will join us for the next 2 months. And then there are two more Australian volunteers who arrived here today for their respective assignments. Unfortunately for them, their host organisation did not have much time to introduce them to Kalibo. Not like my workmates who spent the whole first day together with me, going for lunch, playing basketball etc. So yeah, for the new volunteers Jayfree and Jen and Peter and me had to take over. Showing off our beautiful new hometown, having lunch together, going shopping together and even looking for a permanent place for the new girls to stay. So all in all we had a pretty good afternoon.
The rest of the week was filled with 'new' people as well. Not exactly new but by then still unknown to us were the four US Peacecorp volunteers from the area around Kalibo. They came to Kalibo during the week and we did spent two evenings with them, having a beer or two and a lovely chat. Hearing their stories I believe we as Australian volunteers have it really good. Not just the amount of our allowance that is considerably higher but also the laid back conditions compared to Peacecorp regulations lets us Aussies really live like kings here. And that is really what it feels like, we live such a great life in Kalibo, we almost should feel bad about it. But we are also just as aware that it is temporary only. I already know now that coming back to Australia will be quite hard...
Back at work most of our time was dedicated to prepare an awesome exercise. An easy solution to a simple problem. The problem is that in the remote far south of our province Super Typhoon Yolanda wrecked havoc in the rainforest back in November, resulting in hundreds of fallen trees in the Aklan River. The fear is that these trees will create an artificial dam during the next typhoon, resulting in massive flooding. As it happened during Typhoon Frank in 2008, the worst and most deadly natural disaster to ever hit our province. The easy solution is what we plan to do: 90 people with chainsaws will trek up to these remote forests, cut the trees to lumbers, donate these lumbers to villages for repairing their houses and at the same time keep the river clean for the rainwaters to freely flow down to the ocean. The logistics of that exercise are massive though. Just to get to the location involves a ride in the back of a dump truck for over 30km, riding on motorcycles for another 10km to the end of the trafficable road. And then a 7 hour walk through the rainforest. All in all a 7 day activity. 90 people including provisions and equipment. We will be so remote that even the assistance and protection of the Philippine Army has been requested! But I already know it will be an awesome time. For I love these sort of activities. The life outdoors. I was also asked to run a two day training exercise then, up there. Training 'remote area rescue'. I am still not exactly sure what it is that I am supposed to train them. But I will figure something out.
This week will likely be dedicated to help the Seals Rescue volunteers with some equipment. Already for a long while we try to secure a shipment of outdated or no longer used rescue equipment from Australia. But it proves rather slow and difficult to secure this shipment. So as a Plan B I introduced the idea of crowdfunding to Jayfree. And, as expected,  he is very excited about the possibilities. What the Seals need most is equipment and transport. It is just not a good look for any rescue organisation to catch public transport to respond to emergencies. So we dedicate the crowd funding idea to purchase a Multicab vehicle. They are amazing little cars. Pretty much tiny vans with the back half cut open. Like pick-up vans. These vans are locally made in the Philippines out of Philippine and Chinese made parts. And cost only AU$4500 brand new. One such van is all it takes to transport a rescue team and all available equipment quickly and reliably to any response location. But there are simply no $4500, nothing really close to it, on the accounts. Crowdfunding seems to be a working solution towards getting the money together. Although I must admit I have never done anything like that in fundraising. So we'll see if we can prepare a successful campaign next week. The motivation is that success literally saves lifes.
It's now 9:30pm and I am still sitting here on my little balcony with my little laptop. Even the laptop gave me a scare last Friday by just simply dying and refusing to start. Only a factory reset made it working again. But also deleted all data and all software. Fortunately enough I had all important data backed up. But some of the software is forever lost. But anyway, life here starts early and finishes early and it's time to sleep. So for this week that's the latest.

Five months after the storm damage from Super Typhoon Yolanda is still clearly visible around Kalibo 

The Typhoon Yolanda damage not only extends to structures. But also to the environment. Like the trees on the hill in the background of this photo which got stripped bare of all leaves by the force of the superstorm

Five months after Yolanda some people still live in temporary tents donated by the international community

The gateway to Kalibo complete with an Ati Atihan mask on it's left. The Ati Atihan is the Philippines biggest festival. And happening right here in Kalibo every January. Also a common feature are the tarps filled with rice along the road. They are used for drying the rice in the intense sun during the day.

The central 'Plaza' of Kalibo with the big private hospital in the background. That is also the hospital prescribed to us Australians as the preferred place for any medical issues.

Right at the centre in Kalibo you will find this massive Balete Tree. These trees are usually not touched because they are considered haunted trees. Which also mean they survive for a long time even in urban areas.

It was another big week in Kalibo. It started with a bit of a scare,  cyclone Domeng was forecast to find the Philippines during the week. Predictions in classification ranged into the seriousness of a category 1 Typhoon. More highlights of the week included Wednesday being a public holiday. And Sunday being the day when the most famous of all Philippinos, Boxer Pacquiao, had his epic fight in Las Vegas, a fight that would literally stop the nation. So what did the week have in store for me?
Reporting to the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, the forecast of a cyclone had to have an impact on our job. Although the windstrength was not predicted to be a serious hazard, cyclones can bring a lot of rain. And often that means Kalibo gets flooded. Our Flood Early Warning System is still not 100% established. Relevant for Kalibo are three automated sensors along the Aklan River. One far up in the mountains in Libacao. Another one halfway down the river in Madalag. And the third one here in Kalibo. Ideally the sensors upriver measure the high water levels and the sensor in Kalibo gives us a reference for consequences these high up river flood levels have for Kalibo. These reference measurements can be used for future flood predictions. Giving us an indication of when a flood will arrive in Kalibo and how high the water level will be if a certain water level was measured at a certain time up in the mountains of Libacao. Obviously the more reference measurements we have, the more accurate the prediction will become. So in a way we need floods and cyclones to obtain these references. Cyclone Domeng would be the first chance to test our new system. So far the theory. In reality, the all important sensor in Libacao stopped working some 2 months ago. Nothing was done with it for a month. Then it was removed to be sent to Manila for repair. Where it still is. So it seemed more than likely we would encounter a cyclone during the week and miss out on the chance to get any data from it. Explaining the waste of a chance to the office very quickly a plan was established to install a manual flood gauge in Libacao. The next day. It was one of the shortest and most efficient field trip planning I've experienced so far here.
So off we went, Jayfree and me on my motorbike to buy the things we need. Mostly spraypaint and a tape measure. Libacao is the most remote municipality of our province. Some of the villages in Libacao are not accessible by road, only by a 6 hour hike through the bush. However, the location of our flood gauge was accessible by a small track.
Tuesday morning we set off in a car borrowed from the Coast Guard Auxilliary Unit, a small two wheel drive open truck.
The road between Kalibo and Libacao is one of the most scenic ones our province has to offer. It follows the mighty Aklan River in it's valley, the first few km are paved. Most of the way though is an unpaved gravel road. It leads to the main settlement of the Municipality, called Libacao Poblacion. But we had to go further. Into the wild. Beyond Poblacion the road was no longer a road, more like a rough trek. Our little coast guard car, clearly not designed for a 4WD adventure in the mountains, struggled a lot. Us passengers sitting in the open tray at the back, we were completely covered in grey dust and shaken to the bone when finally we arrived on site.  The location for the automatic sensor and now also for our manual gauge would be a bridge. Decades ago there were plans to build a bridge here in Libacao. These plans reached fruition and a construction for a concrete bridge commenced. Still a construction site, Typhoon Frank hit the region hard in 2008, creating the highest flood levels Aklan has seen to today. And destroying most of the bridge under construction along the way. What remained has not been touched since. A ruined half constructed bridge surrounded by the dark green world of tropical forest. The frame of where once was our automatic flood sensor, now in Manila, could still be seen clearly. And most amazingly, right next to the bridge ruins - a house. Almost right at the river bank. I couldn't believe there were people living in it! This area gets flooded so often, multiple times a year, floods up to 9m high during cyclones. And yet, a family chose this most dangerous spot to be there home. Fair enough.
A manual flood gauge is literally just a supersized tape measure, painted on a structure in the waterway. In our case it was a pillar of the bridge. The pillar was clearly in the flood zone, surrounded by coarse river gravel. But when we got there it was all dry, the river flowing past us a few meters distant. It's been a couple of days without rain. Perfect to spray paint our flood gauge. The Seals volunteers created some awesome templates for all the dashes and numbers just the night before. Ideally we would just climb up the ladder and spray it onto the concrete using those templates. But of course there was no ladder. Neither our office nor the Seals own a ladder. Nor would we have had any chance to transport it to Libacao. So the easy solution - abseiling. Three of the Seals took turns abseiling down from the bridge, along the lonely concrete pillar, spray painting over templates. And yeah, it worked. At the end of the day we had 7m of potential water levels marked on the bridge pillar. Right on the side where the lonely family home was located. So they can look out their window (or more likely walk out their house a few steps) and read the water levels. When the level reaches the 3m mark the water will start entering their house. When Typhoon Frank hit in 2008 and swept the bridge away the water level was at the 9m mark... The resident explained to us how they just run up the hill a couple of times a year when their home gets flooded.
We encountered our own disaster on the way back. Our sturdy Coast Guard vehicle may have survived the rough ride to the fallen bridge, that one huge nail on the road back was no match for our tyres though. Having a flat tyre along a remote road is not an easy fix. Particularly when the spare wheel has an even flatter tyre. Everyone knew about it so it spared us to effort to try the spare wheel. Why did we have a spare wheel with a massive gash in the tyre? Well, no answer to that, it's just the way it is. So up the hills we were on the dusty road, taking the damaged rear wheel off. Any vehicle driving past would shroud us in a grey cloud of dust lingering around for a while, making breathing difficult. The car was parked at a tyre repair shop that unfortunately only repaired motorbike tyres. But not today anyway, the repair guy was busy somewhere a the river. So we were sent to another shop up the road. Ryan, a Seal volunteer, stopped a motorbike and hopped on the back with the spare wheel going back up the mountain road to where we just came from. Hopefully the tyre repair shop there was more of a success. The rest of us waited with the car. And waited. And accumulated dust while we waited. In what seems an eternity later a jeepney raced past us, out of the window Ryan was waving us, disappearing with the jeepney down the other way, towards Kalibo. So no success at that tyre repair place up the road then!?!? Another eternity later, our dust layers had by now turned us into grey statues, Ryan came back. Smiling on the back of another motorbike with the wheel and the fixed tyre! Finally back on our way again.

These are little episodes in my life in Kalibo. Nothing is bothering, all is just taken as 'the way it is'. Every bridge is crossed when we get there, some in an ordinary way, some in a very innovative way. But life always goes on. And amazingly no one ever complains about anything. It is an amazing feature in Philippino life - no complaints!

And really, in the grand scale of things there is nothing worth complaining about. Considering the great life we volunteers are living here - definitely no complaints. Just saying. While I am sitting on my own balcony. Watching the sun set. Every evening the shroud of clouds lift at the horizon and the mountains of Libacao appear. In all my life I was dreaming about living in a big house in a warm climate and having my own balcony. And here, for the first time ever, I do. Not just travelling through, staying for a night. No, it's my home. For now. So, life is good.

Ah yeah, cyclone Domeng has weakened into a no-worries low pressure system and turned away from the Philippines. And Pacquiao is the new champion and hero after winning the boxing fight in Las Vegas today. No need to complain either, right?

The road between Kalibo and Libacao goes through a stunningly beautiful landscape along Aklan River

There is this one house next to our flood gauge location. It is right there in the flood zone. But helpful to us because the family living there can read our manual flood gauge. So we do get flood levels even though the automatic sensor from this site is in repair.

Jayfree abseiling to place the marks for the spray paint job.

We worked on that derelict bridge, a casualty of Typhoon Frank in 2008. Hard to believe that then the water level reached the underside of the concrete bridge girders. At the left corner of the bridge deck you can still see the installation of the automatic flood gauge, the sensor still there but the reader and radio transmitter was sent to Manila for repair. However, this flood sensor is the one crucial part of the Early Flood Warning System, the one that triggers warnings for Kalibo city.

On the way back from Libacao we were forced to stop right here, having a flat tyre on our car. A happy little pig enjoying sweet potatoes was good company.

Coast Guard vehicles are not compatible with mountain roads. So we learned.

The view from my balcony. I do an effort to try to be there every sunset. Only then the clouds lift and the mountains of Libacao appear at the horizon. Framed by rusty metal roofs and banana trees.

20/04/14 - Easter Sunday

Happy Easter to all of you brave followers of this blog! Yes, Easter is celebrated here in the Philippines as well. It is actually taken extremely seriously. The Philippines as an arc-catholic country regard Easter as one of the main holidays. It means four days without working, starting Thursday all the way through to Easter Sunday. And although it may seem like the perfect opportunity for the Australian Volunteer to travel, at the same time it is not really that easy. Because Easter is a time when Philippinos travel back to their families. Which means that all flights, all ferries, all buses are cramped to the roof, prices go through the roof and even travelling outside on the roof may give you trouble finding a spot. So, lazy as I am, I stayed in Kalibo. Which again saw me having our whole house to myself with my housemate travelling with her parents for a week to eastern Luzon.
It doesn't mean there was a boring time here for me though, no, the very contrary. And super interesting. Celebrating Easter - Philippino style.
Let's start with Thursday, our first public holiday. On Thursday and Friday all the Seals volunteers were busy on First Aid duty at one of the main pilgrimage sites. It is a hill in the town of Banga, right in the main campus of the Aklan State University. As you slowly walk up the densely forested hill you will pass 14 life size shrines depicting the 14 stations of Jesus last walk with the cross. Each one of them having it's own small crowd of praying pilgrims around. The highlight though is experienced up on the top of the hill, as you come out of the forest onto a large opening with a huge concrete cross towering into the blue sky above. And the view from there is just spectacular, clear sight all the way down to Kalibo. It's the only significant hill in the Kalibo plains. You see the planes full of Boracay Tourists landing on the long straight runway of the airport, you see the big concrete cubes of the Gaisano Shopping Mall. And in the far distance the ocean. The Aklan River showing you the way in a curvy line all the way from the foot of the hill in Banga to it's delta just past Kalibo town.
Amy, another Aussie volunteer, her partner Michael and me went off to do just that hike up the hill, in the company of lots of local pilgrims. And of course to visit and cheer up the over 20 Seals volunteers on First Aid standby along the route. After finishing the long walk in the tropical heat we decided to enjoy a Halo Halo before we get back to Kalibo. Halo Halo is awesome, a typical Philippino refreshment snack. It is basically a juice glass filled with a thin layer of sweet corn, sometimes beans, always sugar and then lots of colourful sweet jelly pearls, lots of crushed ice and ice cream and milk. When it's served, all the ingredients are neatly separated in the glass. And before you eat it, it needs to be mixed up. Halo Halo quite literally means 'Mix Up'. Sitting there enjoying our snack and thinking about the long way home by public transport, usually too many passengers in a too small vehicle in the too hot tropical temperatures - Amy and Michael decided to buy a motorbike. Snap decision. But good idea. So the three of us went back to Kalibo by Tricycle to go on a motorbike hunt straight away. And a few hours later there was another motorbike in the Aussie volunteer family.
As it should be a new bike needs to be tried and tested. So most of Good Friday we spent on the road. Amy and Michael and me and our two motorbikes on an Easter tour. Down past the airport, along the coastline of New Washington all the way to the tip of the small peninsula at Dumaguit. A ferry carried the bikes and us across to Batan. And from there on we followed the empty roads along the small bay past the small towns of Altavas and Balete and also Banga. Through beautiful green forest, fish ponds, bamboo houses. In Banga we stopped for another visit and cheer-up of the Seals volunteers on their second and last day of duty at the hill, it was much more busy than the day before. The highlight of Good Friday though would follow later - the huge Easter Procession in Kalibo.
Good Friday is the main holiday for Easter in the Philippines. Almost all shops, restaurants and service stations are closed. The roads are empty. It's a somber commemoration of Jesus dying on the cross. Culminating in a big procession after sunset. I can only estimate but I would guess at least 20000 people participated in the procession, probably 25-30 floats depicting, much larger than lifesize, stations of the living and dying of Jesus, of St Mary and other saints. Floating along Kalibo's narrow roads on golden and silver carriages pushed by the people. Beautifully decorated with fresh flowers and shiny glittering clothes. Lights, powered by a small generator for every single float, set the scene for the statues of the Saints to shine brightly into the night. And all around the floats thousands of candles. Nearly every single person in the procession held one in their hand. If one was blown out by a breeze it was promptly lit again by another. One flame shared by many. A slow flowing river of thousands of little flickering dots, interrupted by islands of brightly lit saints looking towards the sky in suffering facial expressions. No one in the procession spoke. Apart from a few kids the whole scenario happened in silence. For probably two hours. Jayfree invited a few of us Aussies to join the procession with him for a while, shortly after we stopped, moved to the side and just watched the beautiful floats floating past us.
Easter Saturday was very different indeed. Once again it was movie time and early afternoon six of the Seals came home to my place, carrying with them the (community education-) projector from the office, a large bag full of food for cooking and blankets and pillows for sleeping. Movie night always means sleep over, it's mandatory. And that's fine. So Saturday summarised just was: an awesome day of cooking, eating, drinking soft drinks, buying more food at the market and cook and eat and drink more. And all the while watching movies from my laptop, projected onto the large empty wall of our living room. Others came and went, two little girls of our neighbors sitting on the step of our open door, too shy to come in, but still eagerly watching. Others watching through the windows. And, as I learned the next day, watching movies from their own balcony through our window. It's the 3rd such movie night since I got to Kalibo and they are my favorite past times. After I don't know how many movies and close to 1am everyone just slept on the spot, where ever. On the floor, on the bamboo couch, on the too short soft sofa.
And then today, Easter Sunday. I woke up by the clinging and banging of dishes in the kitchen. Everyone wakes up so early here. We still had a lot of food leftover from the night before so it was good use for breakfast. Rice and Fish in tomato sauce. Or spagetthi with tomato sauce and sliced sausages. And coffee, our favourite Nestle 3in1. Not too bad for breakfast.
After breakfast everyone went back home. Apart from me, I was home already. Not much later, with my door open, two of the boys from the neighbors just sat on my doorstep. Because it was on the shady side of the block of townhouses. Not much later they sat on my sofa. Still excited by the movie marathon the night before. They were the ones watching our movies from their balcony. Excitedly counting down all the movies we watched. It's cool. There was this one thing I noticed before in our neighborhood. All the kids from all the different families play together. Where ever there is an open door it is part of the official playground and kids just walk in and out. Except in our house, there is still too much shyness. But I have the strong suspicion that that has changed since the movie night. Kids are curious now, coming in, having a lemonade with us. Using our house to hide and seek.
Later in the afternoon we had a meeting with the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary. Although I did only get a rough idea of what's happening, the meeting was held in Aklanon language, Jayfree invited me along to introduce myself and meet the volunteer coastguard people (the 'Auxiliary'). Many of the coast guard volunteers work in a normal job that quite often is related to my very own volunteer work, such as the Municipal Disaster Management officer of Numancia and others. So it was good to meet them, another great bunch of volunteers.
After the meeting, perfect timing, there was a text message from one of the US PeaceCorp volunteers. Chilling with a friend in a beer garden not far from my house. Sounded great to me. So I helped them chilling with a few beers before dinner. Coming home after that I got caught on my door step, a small voice calling 'Marco!'. One of the boys from this morning smiling and handing me a plastic container with salad. Made by his mum for me. And it was delicious!

That was Easter in Kalibo.
The only other highlight during the week was another training course run by my office. A refresher for Disaster Risk Reduction in Ibajay, around an hour drive from Kalibo. We were fortunate enough to have a pickup service, a car from Ibajay coming to Kalibo to taxi us back. An open pick-up multivan, us sitting in the back. Which was good until it started to rain, the heaviest rain I experienced so far in the Philippines. After the course most of Ibajay around us was covered in a thin layer of water, flashflooding. So much so that on the way back we were driven in an ambulance car. Not the open van anymore. Greg lying on the stretcher relaxing. The other ones sitting around him enjoying the airconditioned ride back to Kalibo. Service you can't complain about...

The ride to our training course in Ibajay - in the back of an open multivan. Shortly after we would be drenched in the rain.

A typical training course. Jayfree is presenting. Participants are from the Barangay (villages), MDRRMC (Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Council) and Bantay Dagat (environmental protection volunteers). To the left of the projector screen a big Santa is hiding.

There it was, a random Santa Claus, just next to the presentation screen. Yep, it's close to Easter!

The ride back home was much more comfortable. In the back of an airconditioned ambulance car we enjoyed the great service of being driven home through the rain.

Our Good Friday Ride - the ferry from Dumaguit to Batan and our bikes.

Proud owners of a brand new motorbike - Amy and Michael.

In Batan we came across more damages from Super Typhoon Yolanda. The area here was battered much harder than Kalibo, it was close to here that the eye of Yolanda made landfall on Panay Island.

Also in Batan we came across some beautiful beaches.

Getting ready for the Good Friday Procession - a lot of larger-than-life floats are lined up on the Plaza near the cathedral.

The floats are usually made and cared for by one family in Kalibo. Across generations the family will participate with their float in the Easter Procession, decorating it with fresh flowers and taking care of it as a family treasure.

An ocean of people. Getting ready for the procession to start at sunset.


As April is about to finish, my assignment in Kalibo runs into its 4th month. Although there is a certain routine it still feels like holiday for me. Waking up with the sun shining bright and the heat already developing, walking or riding along amongst the colourful jeepneys, the big yellow Ceres overland buses or the flood of noisy smoky tricycles will get me straight into Kalibo-mood every morning.
It was the week of another flood drill in cooperation with the Philippine Red Cross. Flood drills are cool because there is a lot of action. And I like it. It was another two day event. One day of planning locally, surveying the area and orienting the population. The second day is the actual flood drill, basically a mass evacuation exercise with a few rescue scenarios thrown in. I was put in charge of the rescue scenarios. So we had to find some casualties, prepare them with lots of fake blood (a sticky mixture of tomato sauce and flour) and find some good locations to position them. We had three locals to be volunteer – casualties. So off we went with the fake blood. One of the guys had a stick protruding through his food, mimicking a scenario of him walking through murky flood waters and stepping onto a sharp piece of debris. The girls in 'Cas Prep' did an awesome job and if it wasn't for the big smile on the casualties face you could be excused for thinking the injury was real. That one really attracted some good attention. The second casualty didn't need much preparation, his story was simply that he has fallen and broke his leg, hurt his head and was found unconscious. The third one was special. We would place him in the river, mimicking an accident when he was falling down the embankment into the water, causing him a chest injury along the way. So lots of tomato sauce on his shirt. After preparing him though he disappeared. Apparently had to go just for a minute to get something in the council building done. But it wasn't just a minute. As time went by the flood drill started. Warning signal 1, signal 2 and signal 3 for evacuate. Still no casualty 3. What was happening? I can only imagine what happens if a man walks into a council building with (fake) blood dripping off his shirt, squirting from a large (fake) chest wound. 'May I pay my council rates please?' Well... we never saw him again but apparently there was nothing to worry about. Just one more of these things that just happen and don't seem to worry anyone. Another thing beyond my understanding. However, we just recruited another volunteer casualty on location, literally just pulled someone from the street and covered him in fake blood and threw him in the river in a matter of 2 minutes. But no worries, the local rescue team did an awesome job and a few minutes later he was already rescued out of the water and heavily bandaged. Not surprisingly since the rescue team was already on it's way before we even knew we had a casualty...
We all returned to the evacuation centre to evaluate how things are going there. The evacuation centre was the big basketball hall in the next town, Ibajay. We had 728 participants in the drill evacuated there plus countless volunteers of the Red Cross and our local Seals and PDRRMO team. And on a day that started to warm and sunny in Kalibo we would soon learn what happens when an evacuation centre floods. Because it did. The roof of the stadium has been damaged by the Super Typhoon Yolanda last November and was only partly repaired. It was a metal sheeted roof and only the last row, the bottom row, of sheet metal was still not installed. And then the rain came. It came quickly and without mercy, water was pouring down on Ibajay. A roof the size of a stadium collected the heavy rain, the entire roof catchment flowing down the sheet metal to hit the 1m gap right down the bottom. Creating a unique sheet-waterfall all around us. The concrete steps of the stands quickly transformed to a cascaded water fall and the playing ground at the bottom transformed into a lake, some of the people fighting the inevitable with brooms and brushes and timber boards. Fortunately the rain was as shortlived as it was in intense and an hour later our evacuation centre, still wet, was usable again. In another show of typical philippino manner – no one seemed surprised, no one complained, the smile never left anyone's face. My deepest respect to the resilience of the people.
Last week has been a very special week for our Province of Aklan – the week to commemorate the founding of the province 58 years ago. Consequently there was much to celebrate. Just around the corner from our office was a big trade fair. Every town in the province had their small stall introducing what was the identifying feature of that region. The town of Lezo showcased their pottery items. The town of Banga their basket weaving. Ibajay had seafood. Kalibo's stall was Ati Atihan themed – the biggest festival in the Philippines. Around those stalls there was much to eat, much to drink and a live music stage till midnight every day. The provincial government building in the background, set alight by a colourful lightshow every day after sunset. It created much of a fiesta atmosphere and a couple of us took full advantage of it during two nights. All culminating on Friday, the actual anniversary of the province's birth.
Friday started with a big parade. After a mess in the Cathedral the parade went through the town of Kalibo to the Provincial Government compound on the southern outskirts of town. By coincidence also the location of our office. I received the great privilege to walk with the Seals and hold up one end of their banner. And received a proper Seals uniform to blend in. Although the shirt was a bit tight it was okay to wear. The uniform pants though finished just under my knee and there was no chance I'd be wearing anything my size as uniform pants. I guess for Philippino standards I'm pretty tall...
On Friday night the Seals were invited to a gala show just outside the massive Provincial Capitol building. Back in November the Seals were the first in Kalibo to respond to Typhoon Yolanda, the volunteers of the province working tirelessly to clear the roads from debris and support the people whose houses have been destroyed. And for their effort the Seals would receive an award that Friday. Which made me lucky too because I was allowed to tag along. We entered a different world there, although it was outdoors, it was an invite only event. There was a live band playing classic music. There were tables with shining white table clothes. People dining in the best of what their wardrobe would provide them with. There were many VIP and political leaders of Aklan and the neighboring provinces attending too. Food was Western style. None of it I have seen in the Philippines before. Fresh grapes, sushi, mediterranean style bread . There were cocktails too. And Sangria. Most tellingly though, there was no rice.
Around the awards ceremony there were traditional dance shows, modern dance shows and Ati Atihan style dancers. And at the end of it all – fireworks!
The week was properly finished off by a trip to our neighboring province of Antique – a beautiful stretch of land along the western shores of our Panay Island. The capital, San Jose de Buenavista, is the home and work place of another Australian Volunteer in Disaster Management of my intake – Richard. So a whole group of us set out to visit him. A contingent of three Aussies and three Pinnoys going interstate. Apart from the occasional text message there was not a lot of contact between Richard and me in the last few months. So it was good to catch up. And to see how Disaster Management is done in the Province of Antique.

Jayfree lecturing about flood evacuation

The warning signal for an imminent flood is given by drums strategically placed around the village

People evacuating their homes from the other side during our flood drill. This picture highlights the need for disaster management in the area. Although it is hard to believe but underneath this river is the old village centre, the basketball court, the Plaza, the Barangay Hall. During Typhoon Frank in 2008 intense flooding lead to the Ibajay River changing it's course and relocating right through the centre of the village. And the river never left the village again.

Local rescue volunteers treating a casualty during one of our staged rescue scenarios

The local basketball stadium, used as our evacuation centre during the drill, got flooded during an intense rain storm.

After the Aklan Day Parade - our contingent of Seals volunteers posing in front of the Capitol building.

The building of our Provincial Government beautifully set alight for the annual awards ceremony

Symbolising the three strong points of the Province of Aklan: Boracay Island (windsurfer), Kalibo Ati-Atihan festival (traditional dancers) and Pina fibre (white business suits) during the festivities on Aklan Day

Chilling out on the beach in San Jose de Buenavista - life is good in the Philippines

Relaxing in a Fish Spa in Tibiao - little fish picking the dead skin cells off your feet. It's a pretty tickly experience.

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(c) 2014    marco hoffmann