I’ve been stateside a few weeks and although it’s late, I finally have the chance to write about what most non-research and non-nerd friends and family really care about, what my life was like in the Philippines.
Before I left I really didn’t know what to expect in Tacloban City. My mom made fun of me for maybe a bit of over preparation: I unnecessarily hauled over shampoo, markers, and back-up battery packs. It turns out Tacloban, a city of about a quarter of a million people, has everything I could ever need. I was spoiled with accessible amenities and a laid-back local cafe. Once or twice, I even snuck up to the rooftop of Hotel Alejandro for a dip in the pool and a view over the city.
Where I lived
I found my home through Airbnb, just on the outskirts of downtown. I didn’t have AC but I did get my own spacious room and bathroom. I shared a kitchen with whatever guests chanced upon the Airbnb gem. Marvelously, it had reliable(ish) wifi! I decided to stay for the whole five months because I liked being out of the city. The kitchen overlooked a wetland and I enjoyed the tiny feeling of escaping into the wilderness and the happy faces of the two resident carabaos when it rained.
It wasn’t all smiles at my bahay (house) however. The neighbors had roosters, and I learned roosters like to have cock-a-doodle-dooing contests at 3:30 in the morning. Then they rest their vocal cords for a full morning clangor at 5:30. Here I am on one of those sunny early mornings:
How I got around
From my home it was only 2 km to the heart of downtown and I would often walk. Truthfully though, I started to abhor the sun as much as the locals—it was seriously so swelteringly hot—and by the end of my time there I was taking a multicab into town. Multicabs are a sort of converted truck with elongated and covered beds, lined with benches on either side. Dozens of them regularly circle the city so they’re easy to catch… the tricky part is knowing where you’re going. One method is to learn the local neighborhoods—Abucay, Tagpuro, Diit, Marasbaras, San Jose, etc.— and then catch the multicab branded with that barangay. Another is to be unabashedly vocal and naive, directly asking the driver and then all other passengers “Hey, is this going to intended destination?” and then comfortably chill. Not to worry, the driver will stop and all aboard will holler right when it’s time to drop.
Within the center of the city, trikes are popular. The downtown area isn’t all that big, but I’d still grab a trike when either the heat or the downpour of nature was fighting against me. The classic trike picture below can easily accommodate 5 passengers, my favorite seat is the feet-swinging spot right behind the driver on the motorcycle.
To get to more remote locations, like the relocation sites 12 km north of the city, I rented a scooter. One day I had Phoebe film a few parts of our commute, including a side jaunt across the San Juanico bridge to the island of Samar:
What I ate
Ok, so I actually didn’t really take pictures of the food. Mostly I just devoured it. Is that surprising at all? So I’ve borrowed some photos off the internet (dear photographers, I’m sorry). Pictured below are some of either my favorite (bicol express and street bbq) or uniquely Filipino (halo-halo) dishes.
I generally only had quintessential Filipino meals for dinner. For lunch I opted for one of the cheapest sandwiches on the coffee shop menu or ate simple meals in community eateries. At breakfast I would exchange Kuya Anton, the neighborhood sari-sari store owner, 21 pesos for tatlong bunay (3 eggs).
How I spent my time
I hope I don’t disappoint all my adventure-loving folks by revealing how little time I actually spent at the beach or in the mountains. Mostly, and to the relief of my advisor, I worked. I also spent a lot of time working to work: bumming cafe wifi to try to schedule meetings and waiting in government lobbies. When Roos was with me throughout November, she snuck in a few shots of me in my natural Tacloban habitat:
I know, totally exhilarating.
Remember that I study the construction of relocation sites, and on some of my favorite days we went to the relocation sites to learn directly from the experiences of relocated community members. These trips were a joy. Phoebe was the best research partner I could ask for and families welcomed us into their homes with kind and open hearts.
In the first picture, the kids bombarded our interview because they discovered pushing on my badly burnt shoulders imprinted designs into my skin, and they found that hilarious. In the next, Phoebe and I closed the day down with a beer and relaxed with one of her local friends after the loudest interview of my life (roosters, a highway, screaming kiddos, and karaoke all competing to ruin the audio recording). In the last picture, leaders of a transitional site gave me a tour around the garden, piggery, and water systems of their community.
Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you have any specific questions about my life and routines in Tacloban City! I’m happy to feed inquires and tack responses onto the end of this post.