Thursday, January 5, 2017

                                        This is day one of our to Negros Occidental: 
                                                              by Sister Webb

Gathering at the church
We left the cement jungle of Manila this past week and headed on assignment for Negros Occidental. With all final arrangements made it was time to head to the remote schools for the solar lamp distribution.  Our traveling companions were Elder and Sister  Soletas.  I hadn't realized that each Island comes with it's own unique culture and tradition, and while we've traveled up and down the big Island of Luzon, we haven't really experienced the true nature of the Philippines up close. 

 Ilongo is the language of Negros Occidental.  My ear detected little similarity to Tagalog.  The people are generally smaller, gracious, kind and long suffering.  They are soft spoken and peaceful by nature. I was told, by MaeAnne our office manager, even the resistance army will smile and softly say, I am going to kill you.  I don't know if that is true, but it is what I was told.

 We were to meet the Stake President in Kabankalan at noon.  Between waiting for our ride and the long distances we traveled, we did not make our appointed time. Our vehicle was provided by the Aunt and Uncle of Evelyn Soleta, who grew up on the island and speaks Ilongo.
Our team Elder Soleta far left, Stake President,one guide, a counselor, Sister Webb, Sister Soleta, the other counselor, and the biker service.  Great guys.  Elder Webb was in the church changing his clothes.

Sister Soleta's aunt and uncle picked us up at the airport, drove us to their home in Bacolod and then gave us their car for two days.  Evelyn's Aunt loaded us up with nuts, cracker, water and mango so we could get on our way without stopping for lunch.  By the time we got to the church it was well after 1 pm. The stake president was there with his counselors who were to act as our guides.  Elder Soleta had made the arrangements and quite frankly he is a bit hard to pin down on details.  He just say's Elder Webb I will handle it, don't worry.  So, when we were instructed to go change our clothes we didn't think a lot about it. Our field uniforms are LDS Charities shirts and jeans.  
Elder and Sister Webb meet their new driver

We changed and when I came out of the church to put my clothes in my suite case I noticed there were several more young men in the church parking lot.  They had come on their motor cycles (dirt bikes) and were standing around.  We were informed that the road to the school was not passable by truck and that these young men were our transportation for the day.  "The school was just another hour or so away". That was a joke but we did not discover it till later.  None of us had thought to bring rain slickers so we grabbed black garbage bags to wear.  It is the rainy season after all.  
Sisters Soleta and Webb change bikes.  We had four on the bike you see.  One on the gas tank for balance.

We were assigned bikes and off we went.  Elder Webb and I sat behind our driver on one bike the Soletas on another and the Stake Presidency on yet another.  The solar lamps were strapped onto a  bike and off we went.  I believe there were 6 bikes when we left.  

One block to the left of the church we turned towards the mountains and charged forward.  We rode for about 15 minutes and the pavement turned to dirt road, then mud and rock.  The road started up and the mud and dirt became mud with deep ruts to which our driver gravitated for traction.  We fish tailed through the mud and then headed up again this time through rocks and mud.  Half way up this hill the bike stopped and we were asked to walk.  When we reached the top of this hill the bikers readjusted their loads and Sister Soleta and I were put on one bike and Elder Webb was given his own driver and bike.  While 3,4 or even 5 Filipinos can ride on 1 bike their lighter weight distributes more evenly over the bike.  Our weight was a different story.  After the redistribution we continued on.  The drill was the same.  We would head up and down the hills and when the mud was too thick we walked while the men pushed or rode the bike to the top of yet another hill.  

Looking up at the corn field we traversed.  

Our walking became trudging as the mud collected around then over our shoes.  About an hour into the trip we asked how much farther.  We were told we were about half way there.  The time was getting away from us. The rain started.  Actually, it was more of a drizzle but it didn't help the roads.  Once we left the road which was doing a switch back kind of things and hiked down through a corn filed planted on the side of the hill.  That might have been quicker but we sunk deep into the plowed ground, and the clay muck that stuck to my shoes was so heavy I had trouble lifting my legs.  We laughed as we came to the bottom of the hill only to find a 5 foot drop to the road.  I just sort of slid down the bank hanging on to the tree branches which lined the road.   
Shoes covered in mud.  I'm in the middle and my foot is actually in the air.  It's hard to tell

At this point we had lost sign of the bikers and everyone else.  Danny, Elder Webb and I looked at each other and voiced our hidden thoughts hoping we had not been abandoned.  My shoes no longer had traction because the mud had filled every crack and I now had slick bottom shoes.  The mud became a sea of slim and I found my self sliding along with little control.  More than once I lost footing and my legs would slip to one side or the other and I would find myself laying on my side in the middle of the mud.  

I would clean my shoes off on rocks or in the grasses as best I could.  We found the bikers waiting for us at the top of another hill.  You can be sure they were a sight for sore eyes.  Back on the bike again, I found my self sandwiched between two Filipinos.  We continued on until the mud got the best of us again.  This time all three of us ended in the mud as the driver lost control and the bike turned on it's side. I still feel the after effects of that experience. I am quite sure I used muscles I haven't used since I was ten years. 

I haven't mentioned the scenery in my writings.  It was beautiful.  Everywhere I looked it was green, lush, verdant and living proof of God's great handiwork.  The sounds of life filled the air.  I wished I wasn't working so hard to stay upright so I could drink in the healing effect of this visual feast.  I would stop every once in a while and just stare off to the distant terraces.  The art work of the farmers fields filled me with wonder.  

Children gathering in the school yard
The solar lamps are on.  One can see how dark the room is.  There is no electricity in these class rooms.
I also didn't mention that my backpack and camera were on the back of one of the drivers who insisted on taking charge of it so we would not be burdened by it.  Unfortunately I don't have pictures of a lot of what I say because of that.  
Setting up to solar lamps at the mountain school
Standing with the children and their school signs.

We arrived at the school over two hours after we started.  The school was not expecting us.  The dignitaries were at another school 30 minutes down the road.  We talked with the local principal to see  if she could make sure the lamps got to the children who do not have electricity.  She said she would take delivery in their behalf so we had a brief hand over ceremony.  All this took about 40 minutes and we were off again starting down the mountain side.

The children were darling but very cautious.  They may have seen white Americans before, but I really thought they were frightened at first.  Sister Soleta had seen soldiers in one of the room with large guns.  We learned that the opposition army had been in the area and that the government army was there to protect them.  It's a rough way to live.  Very much like the Gadianton Robbers in the Book of Mormon.  They hold a village hostage expecting them to pay not to be hurt.  

Time to clean the bikes.  Our happy group
Darkness was coming no matter where we were.  I climbed on the back of a bike to which I was assigned.  My driver turned and smile giving me two thumbs up. This driver was in a hurry to get back, actually they all were.  My driver had wrapped his tires; the back one with chains and the front one with rope for traction.  I never had to get off of the bike, but I held on for dear life, one arm around the drivers mid section, the other hand gripping the bar on the back of the seat.  I have a blister on my right thumb to show for it.  It was exhilarating; at the same time I said a constant prayer.  Did I mention none of these drivers wore shoes?  Actually they all had flip flops but they did not wear them as they navigated the mud roads.  The put them on the handle bars of the bike to keep them safe.  

Our first stop on the way back was about 30 minutes into the trip.  Everyone in our group except me and my driver had to walk up a rather steep incline.  When we reached the top we waited for the others.  While waiting several locals appeared from behind the tree.  They were riding the local horses which like all thing in the Philippines are generally small.  They look like the Welch ponies I rode as a child.  Elder Webb made his way up the hill and approached the first rider offering him 10,000 pesos for his horse.  The man either did not understand or was not impressed.  

Elder Webb hiking up the hill.  These are the horses he offered to buy
My driver made two other stops to clean the caked on mud from his bike.  We never saw anyone else.  It was getting darker and darker the clouded sky covering any light heaven might provide by the stars.  He did not slow his speed.  Apparently these men drive this road several time a day and night and they know the path so well they can do it in the dark and that is exactly what they did.  The vibration of the bike shook every bone in my body. I wondered how they make the trip over and over.  I also wished Len (my son-in-law chiropractor, or Jim Grant were around the corner and could give me an adjustment. 

We started to entering the lower area of the mountain ( about two-thirds of the way home) where houses would occasionally appear on the road side.  We stopped at one of the spots where there were houses on either side of the road.  A man appeared at the door of one of them and asked if we wanted water.  My driver said yes.  He drank and then used water to clean the bike again.  A man from the other side of the street called to me to come to his home. Madam come, madam come.   He came and took me by the hand and led me to the home he was building.  The building had electricity and I could see the work he was doing. He motioned for me to sit on the saw horse in the middle of the room.  He also turned on the music.  I sat for a while and we tried to communicate.  I told him I was worried about my husband.  He sent his son to cheer me.  After a bit I asked my driver where the others were and he just pointed to the mountain.  Then the man that had been so kind to me ran to me and said come madam and I noticed everyone was moving for cover. What had been a light rain turned to a cloud burst.  All I could think of was the others from our party and their safety.  I was sure they could not see the ground they were walking on. The rain was gone again with just as much warning.

 After about thirty minutes the other driver slowly appeared one by one. Then  Sister Soleta walked into view.

Slowly the other men began to appear.  The Stake president and his counselors then finally Elder's Soleta and Webb came down the hill into the dimness of the flash light.  They were safe wet and tired.  Elder Soleta was wearing loafers and every time he took a step the mud would suck the shoes off his feet.  Elder Webb said nothing but "I am O.K." I was very proud of him for not complaining.  

The bikes were cleaned, we gave our thanks to the neighbors and off we went again.  My driver took off at high speed and we whizzed by homes with people settling in for the night.  We had some pavement that would end and then start up at random spots.  Rhen, my driver knew his way, new the danger spots and the bend of the road.  His bike light was dim but enough for him. My hat blew off round the last bend in the road before we were again on a paved highway.  We were the first to arrive at the church that was locked up tight.  We waited for the others.

We washed off in the hose while the Stake President negotiated the payment of our guides.  Along the way we had one blown out tire, 2 burnt out lights and a damaged frame.  Yet these men got us safely to and from the school.  We paid the biker boss who then paid his men.  I tipped each man enough for them to buy dinner.  We had gone without food and water since 2 and it was 8:30 pm.  We had no doubt the Lord had been watching over us.
The beauty of this rustic mountain home was breath taking.  Just like many good things in our lives one has to take a moment to look before ones vision is cleared and we can see.  Life gets kind of sticky just like the road we were on.  Walking was so hard I had to keep my eyes on the road.  When I stopped to take a breath  and look up I found myself in a very peaceful place.

We offered to take everyone for dinner, but they said no they had a long way to travel.  So we said our good-byes and headed out.  Little did we know we were all headed to the same town about an hour away.  We discovered one another again and found the only place open in town and quickly ordered dinner.  Because they were about to close they afford only one menu item rice and chicken of course and soda pop.  It was all you can eat rice, which is what makes the best meal.  We also bought 8 bottles of water for the hotel.  The bill came to P1100 for 10 people.  That's about $24

I can't tell you how much I loved this day. The clean air, the landscape, the gracious people: it was all beautiful. I can laugh about it now that we are together and safe.  What an adventure!  What beauty in the landscape and people.

The Solar lamps we distributed were for children from unenergized (no electricity) homes and schools.  One of the request we received from the Department of Education was help in providing a light source to these children in the hopes that they will be able to keep up in their school work. They have asked for 100,000,000.  It seems children are dropping out because they fall behind and then get discouraged.  During the daylight hours there are chores to do,  water to collect.  Some of the children we have met must walk 5 kilometer in the morning to fetch water before school or after school.  These solar lamps allow them to do homework in the evening.  The teachers have also requested solar lamps saying they too cannot work and prepare the lessons in the dark. Believe me, it is DARK. We have done this as a trial distribution and will monitor how well the lamps work, how much they are used, and if the children are doing better in school.

We expect to deliver 2,825 lamps to fifteen schools in four Regions of the Philippines.  Two full time missionary couples, the Bradshaws and the McClures and 2 full time employees, Elder Jairus Perez and George Kenneth Lee are helping with the distribution.

The Lord loves the people of the Philippines.  He has given us this wonderful opportunity to discover what makes them so special.  We are thankful for this grand experience; working Him.  He doesn't always work with the most qualified people, from the worlds standards, but the Lord always qualifies those willing to work for him.  We are learning so much.  

Elder and Sister Webb
The eyes of the world are upon you.  
Norriss and Carol

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