Monday, September 5, 2011

Adventure in Amas – Part I – The Captain

It was our first day in the “provinces” as it is called, and we were ready to go. The provinces is the word used for the rural parts of the Philippines, and is perhaps an appropriate one. Like in most developing countries, there is a stark contrast between the wealth of the city and the poverty outside of it. In the capital cities, it seems there is a convergence to Western prices for food and lodging. And so it is somewhat accurate to draw a line between Manila and not-Manila; the city, and everything else (though I have heard there are several up-and-coming cities that have quite as high a standard of living as Manila).

Our first stop was in Amas, a Barangay of Brooke’s Point municipality in the province of Palawan. We arrived at the government complex where there were a dozen or so small buildings dotted a few acres of shaded grass. I’ve seen this rough plan in Kenya, and think it is far superior to the traditional office building, and I suppose, the result of a powerful government and/or cheap land. We were looking into working on Malaria, and our first stop was the Rural Health Microscopist, to see how Malaria was diagnosed.

The microscopist took a blood sample, and with as proper a procedure as can be, stained and smeared it, and viewed it, twisting the knobs on the microscope with an ease that comes with much practice. “No parasite seen,” said he after searching the slide. I would find out later that these “Barangay Microscopists” were villagers who received a month-long crash-course in diagnosing malaria. They look at malaria cases all day long, every day. And as they say, practice makes perfect. Well, not perfect. But pretty darn good. The Barangay Microscopists give the laboratory technicians (2 year post-college program) a run for their money. They are tested on occasion, being given ten known “cases” to examine. Villagers with experience do better than the educated without it.

I didn’t know all that then, and so I patronizingly watched the Barangay Microscopist examine the slide. “Isn’t that cute?” I thought, “He’s trying.” I suppose it is the prejudice of a schooled person to think schooled people are more important than the unschooled. But I should have believed what I already knew: experience, not letters, makes a person good at something.

We visited the Amas Barangay captain after this, and had a good interview with him. We sat around a table with the diffuse light of a cloudy day flowing in through the windows. Despite the limited funds available to a Barangay Captain, we were served refreshments: Coca-Cola and saltine crackers.

I’m not sure what the selection of refreshments communicates. Were we white visitors, so presented with the wondrous fruits of our homeland? Or was this considered the best? Or was this was all that on hand for our unannounced visit? In any case, it is unfortunate that high glycemic index is used to wash down even higher glycemic index, even if it be only on special occasions. Causes for the rise of diabetes in the developing world are not hard to find.

After hearing what we were planning to do, I stared asking questions about the problems in Amas. I was looking for work to do; if he told me there were problems, it meant we’d have work to do. We could come back. If there weren’t, then we smile and go home. I probed in various areas: health, education, economy. And in each of them, there were indeed problems. When I proceed robotically (as I am wont to do) from question to question, I forget how burdensome it must be to call to mind and to speak the multitude of problems, especially to a visitor. It seemed a sense of shame accompanied this social nakedness.

After listing all the problems, I was beginning to get excited about the opportunity. But the captain must have thought his Barangay’s case hopeless, “So do you still want to work here?” I smiled warmly and with sincerity said, “Yes. Yes I do.”

We finished the interview and decided to move on to one of the sitios (villages). We went to Macagua, and Dale left me with Norlita as he had things to attend to in town.

Adventure in Amas – Part II – The Penglima

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