Homebuilding, take 3

After a 7am wake up call in Manila (and you know I don’t do mornings) I was up and headed down to breakfast. You really get to know your co-workers when you have the chance to see them bleary-eyed after a long day of travel. After breakfast, we loaded up in vans and headed to Laguna (close to the build site) for lunch. Apparently I am the only vegetarian they’ve ever had on this trip so the cook kindly offered to make me a plate of veggies – and then cooked them in the same chicken-based sauce that everyone else’s stuff was cooked in. Oh well…

Then it was  onto the GK build site – it reminded me a lot of AZ during the time of Hands Across America. Lots of dust, heat, and obvious poverty. 150 families living in tents (provided by the Saudi Arabia government).  (photo coming soon) No running water. Trash everywhere. And amid all this: the children and their adorable faces are heartbreaking. Their clothes are clearly second (or third) hand. Many have dental issues (missing and rotted teeth)  and still they smile at us, seemingly unaware of their situation.  I wish my own children could see this; perhaps they’d feel better about having grown up in a middle-class single parent household.

After walking around to view some recently-built homes (rows of 20meters square cement row houses which will each hold an entire family!) we headed back to the Laguna hotel to prepare for our first “build” day. It’s quiet on the ride back. The reality of why we are here is sinking in…

headed to PH

For the past 7 years my company has sponsored a home building program based in the Philippines: http://gk1world.com/ . Each year volunteers are recruited from our various business units around the world and sent to PH for a week to participate in building homes for refugees who currently live in a tent city (interestingly, the tents were all donated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). Never having been to Manila, I eagerly filled out the application and was approved to go! After an orientation meeting and several additional lunches and after work get togethers to plan games for the build site’s children, I felt confident about the trip. Still, never having been to the Philippines before I had no idea what to expect. I spoke with co-workers who had previously gone on this trip; they spoke highly of the experience.  One story (about the positive effects of the trip) I heard over and over again was about an colleague based in Ireland who quit his job and went to work for GK.

You’ll be proud of me, fitting 1 week’s worth of my personal items into a carry one; the donations for the children fit into my checked luggage.

Homebuilding, take 2

After a short flight on China Airlines (< 2 hours, during which we were served a lovely small snack – a definite difference from Delta where we got nothing but peanuts on a nearly 4-hour cross country trip) we arrived at MIA (Manila International). After standing in line to exit the plane, we stood in line for immigration with a whole SEA of people. (photos coming soon)

After about 30 minutes (LAX could learn something from this method of processing people, we got our luggage (by now it had arrived and the super friendly airport staff stood by to help grab it off the belt) and stood again in line for customs. Oddly, there was a well-dressed gentleman (who apparently had made it through immigration) who did not have his official immigration card all foreigners entering the Philippines must fill out in-flight. He had a bag labeled “Bahrain Duty-Free” and looked middle eastern so I asked, are you from Bahrain? Yes, he said but then seemed concerned about speaking openly with a woman. I could see his bright red passport, stamped with a fancy gold seal and gold (arabic?) characters. I’ll bet it was real gold!

I could see the airport exit but we still had one more hurdle: money exchange. We had heard that it was best to have USD and that the airport had a better exchange rate. 80 USD netted ~3600 pesos.

Our company had arranged a driver for us, so we went in search of him. Seriously, I’ve never seen so many people milling around. And man was it HOT and HUMID! A bottle of water (don’t drink anything not bottled we were told) cost 40 pesos. And we were off to our Manila hotel, well sort of. Think of LA drive time traffic and add to that motorcycles zipping about, “Pulis” with guns literally walking onto the road, and Jeepney’s (former military vehicles pressed into service as public transport) plowing through the mass of vehicles, and you’ll begin to get the picture.

At the hotel, we schlepped our bags (most of us had a large suitcase just full of donations for the refugee children) to our rooms and went in search of dinner. What an adventure!

The hotel concierge gave me a map and I managed not to get us lost as we walked down an unlit main road, across street without traffic lights. (If you know how directionally-challenged I am, you’ll understand what sort of miracle that was!) We decided on an Indian restaurant on the 5th floor of the Podium mall since there were a fair number of Indian people also eating there. The food was surprisingly good (although they didn’t have the masala dosa listed on the menu). Our little group consisted of: 2 Japanese, 3 Taiwanese, and me, having vegetable biryani, green curry, naan, and raita in the Philippines! The cost? 435 peso each (~10.00)

My asian co-workers had a ball taking photos of practically everything! Tired but satisfied, we found our way back to the hotel. Tomorrow we get up early to get our first look at the build site.

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As for me, I will take the road less travelled…