On the road again.... and the story of Leo

Trip Start Dec 30, 2010
Trip End Jul 18, 2011

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Where I stayed
Jay's family house

Flag of Philippines  , Mindanao,
Saturday, January 15, 2011

On the Road again...
Yesterday we set off at 7.30 am to Cagayan. The drive is very scenic - over the Marilog mountains, where you drive up into the mist and back down again. The locals there have green fingers, and there are many plant stalls with the most beautiful colourful tropical flowers for sale.


By 12.30 I was thinking we must be getting close to Cagayan. We entered the city of Valencia, and Jay told me that this was the half way mark. Oh dear, I was getting quite restless and it was obviously going to take longer than the 5 hours I had been told it would take. To make matters worse, there was lots of road construction going on, and the road was pretty bad - bone-jarring bumpy in many places. There are no passing lanes, and since the journey is through foothills most of the way, then it is a curvy, windy, sick-making journey. If you get stuck behind a slow truck, it is a calculated risk overtaking it, with blind corners and many times I was clutching the dashboard as Jay careered around slower vehicles with no idea whether or not something was coming from the other direction.

Around 1 o'clock, we stopped for a sick break. I was feeling positively green at the gills. Whilst we parked by the side of the road and I hyper-ventilated, Jay got a phone call from the travel agent saying that there were no seats on any of the ferries going to Cebu and the only way that we would be able to get there would be if we took a chance ticket, which is essentially standby. If we got on, then it would probably mean spending a night on the floor in the ferry, since all the berths would be taken. Jay did not sound very enthusiastic, and I was feeling wiped out, so had not much of an opinion either way. 

 The travel agent told us that 4 million people converge on the small island for the Sinulog Festival and the tickets had booked out days ago. To make things a bit more complicated, Haresh had left the day before to Cagayan de Oro, (and then onwards to Cebu) with the intention that we would meet up with him in Cebu. He wanted to travel ahead, because he needed a day to get permission for a photographer's pass. This would enable him to get up close to the closing ceremony on Sunday, where all the groups dress up in the most elaborate and colourful finery and dance and cavort. They are judged and a winner announced. Only the press photographers get the choice seating. The general hoardes have to satisfy thier curiosity lined up on the streets as the groups parade through the centre of town to the stadium for the grand closing ceremony. I have included the link about to the official festival website, so those of you keen to see a bit of what is on display can look there.

Back to the journey. Around 3 pm we stopped off in a large city en route to Cagayan called Malaybalay (trans. home of the Malays). That was where we bought some fateful rice sweets.

 We arrived at 4 pm at Jay's family house and by 5, I was beset by exhaustive diarrhea. It was out of the question to catch a ferry last night due to this, and also this morning. I have had enough of staring at toilet doors to last me a lifetime in the last 24 hours. Consequently I am fasting today. 

It is good to meet up with the 4 nieces and nephews here. They are all very polite and respectful and Dreamer (the 8 year old boy) has the brightest and cutest grin. He is like a little elf with his pointed chin and pixie ears. They are entranced with the laptop and so that is the easiest way to make friends with them.



 Today we brought the van to the repair shop. When Jay bought it, the windscreen was cracked and so the dealer had offered to replace it for free, once a replacement had been ordered from Korea. So, that was part of the reason for us heading over to CDO (Cagayan de Oro) - to get the windscreen fixed, as the new part had arrived. We spent a good hour waiting at the mechanics whilst they verified that the labour was to be free (they were gonna charge us) and I collapsed on the chair in the mechanics bay with stomach cramps, and praying I would not need to find a loo in this dirty, oily place. 

So, it looks like the trip to Cebu will not eventuate. Things have conspired to be otherwise and I have no energy to even consider it. Standing on a hot street in the sun, with 4 million other people tomorrow no longer holds any appeal at all. I sent an email through to Haresh with a wish list, and he will have to be our eyes and ears for us at the festival tomorrow.

The Story of Leo
 Now - on to another subject - that of Leo. Some of you may have been wondering why he has not featured at all yet in my blog. The reason is simple - he is not here. Leo is the little 7 or 8 year old boy whom we took over the care of in April this year. His family comes from deep in the mountains 10 hours away from Davao. There is no cell phone coverage there, and part of the journey there involves trekking to his village. Leo was staying with his aunt and maternal uncle in Blissful Village with 2 of his brothers. His father had died at the grand old age of 22, not without having fathered 5 children first (you do the maths). 

 With his death, the mother decided to move to Davao, where some of her relatives had moved, and get work as a house maid. A house maid in the Philippines is essentially slave labour. Usually free board and accommodation are exchanged for the maid doing all the clothes washing of the family, and food preparation and cleaning up around the house. She can not have her children with her usually. 

 So, Leo and his siblings were farmed out to various relatives in Davao. Him and his 2 brothers ended up with our neighbour. Which was fine, until his uncle lost his job. They said that they would send him back to the village, because he was a troublesome child. Actually, the problem was mostly that he had nothing to do with his time. Neither he nor his siblings attended school (the relatives could not afford it) and so they were just knocking around getting into mischief during the day. We offered that we would look after Leo for a year and arranged it with the aunt, when it became apparent that they were not able to make ends meet. His elder brother was sent to stay with some other relative and his youngest brother (2 years old) remains with our neighbour.

Anyway, Leo's mother came by a couple of days before Xmas and said that she would like to take her kids back to the village to celebrate Xmas with her family. This was the first time that Jay had ever met her. She does not speak Visayan (the main local language of Mindanao) and apparently does not have the  respect of her kids, who basically take advantage of her weak-mindedness. It seems that the aunt was the one providing the kids with boundaries and a firm hand. Leo didn't want to go, because he was scared that he would not be allowed to come back. However, his Mum mentioned to his aunt that his grandfather had lost the ancestral family land because he had used the land as a collateral for a loan, and was unable to pay off the excessive interest. Leo overheard this. Jay said he was astounded to see the change in Leo's demeanour. He became extremely angry and lost his cool. He said he was going to make his grandfather pay, and he would make sure that the land was returned to his family etc etc. He marched around the house all the day agitated and making threatening moves, talking about getting a knife etc etc. He then was determined to return. The bus trip left at midnight and so Jay waved goodbye.

Leo was meant to return on the 4th Jan, when school resumed. His teachers were asking after him when I went to visit the AMSAI school this week. Because of the awful weather, we were not that concerned, because we knew that it could have delayed them exiting from the village and getting transport. However, by the 8th, we started to ask questions. The story goes like this. Leo has been struggling at school (he is 3 years behind his peers and it sounds like he may be dyslexic or have some kind of learning disorder). When he got home to the village, he decided he did not want to return to Davao, because he doesn't want to go to school again. Bear in mind, that none of the kids in the village would be going to school. His parents are illiterate and he had never seen a book until he came to stay with us. 

 The mother left sometime last week, to return to her housemaid job in Davao. When it was time to leave with her 5 kids to return to Davao, Leo disappeared and went and hid in the forest, so that she would go without him. Which she did. The thing is, noone really thought to tell us. So, Jay just found out about this yesterday morning. We discussed in the car what to do. We decided to talk with the aunt upon our return to Davao and ask her advice. If she does not support his continuing his schooling with us, then we will leave it. If, however, she believes it is a beneficial thing, then we will pay for her to go to the village and see if she can bring him back. Maybe Leo will listen to his aunt, where his mother's half hearted pleas may have fallen on deaf ears. We don't even know if the mother really cares if Leo goes to school or not...??

So - that is why Leo has not featured in this blog. His Xmas presents remain in my bag along with all his school books and clothes stacked neatly in the cupboard.
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Joy on

That's a nice story. I am touched. I suddenly miss my homeland Cagayan de Oro

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