Kari Gravdal

Kari Gravdal

Mum, granny and engineer from Stord, Norway. 55 years old. I love the coast line of Western Norway, travelling, sailing, being outdoor, gardening, knitting.... But first, my children and granddaughters. Working as engineer at a hydro power company. This is my first volunteering experience, and I will go to Tacloban for Volunteer for the Visayans

The end

 Posted by Kari Gravdal at 1:39 am  Philippines  Comments Off on The end
Dec 012014

29th November

…….and so it is all over!

My fourth week passed by in a hurry and I don’t know what happened….

Nutrition at Lolita as the week before. This week in company with an Australian woman. New heads creates new ideas and together we decided to try to keep the children occupied while they were waiting for the food. Origami and drawing as a start. Some of the older kids (following their younger siblings, the target group for the feeding programme is kids aged 3-5), found origami interesting and some of the younger found my simple paper boats amusing. We also decided to buy plastic containers with lids to the children as a gift. They all had different containers, some 2 litres ice cream boxes, some tiny lunch boxes, others came with a flat plate, and we even had one trying to collect his lunch in a plastic bag. Now they all got a colourful box with their own name on the lid. It is so much easier to share the food and give them the same amount, when all of them got equal boxes.

Friday we had to weigh and measure the children. Luckily, we were two this day and had a local woman to help us. What a busy day! The Australian took all the measurements and kept the records, the local woman identified the kids and explained what was going on; I was in charge for the food and managed to put together a tomato sauce with sausages – many sausages. We also served bananas and mangos as an extra treat since it was Friday and my last day. All popular. I think it is a good thing to ‘spoil’ them a little occasionally; they certainly deserve it.

Wednesday afternoon I went back to Mohon to see the karpinteros and the house where I started my volunteering 4 weeks ago. I had promised them to see them before I left. It has been raining more or less all week, but Wednesday it poured down all day, so I was not looking forward to the visit, as I knew how muddy it would be at the building site. I brought soft drinks and cakes from the local bakery with me on my worst Jeepney tour ever. Due to the rain, the plastic covers alongside the Jeepney were down, so no new air came into the vehicle. When all seats were taken, they squeezed in a washing machine and a big sack of rice, before placing even more passengers on stools. We were all about to suffocate in there until I managed to persuade them to open up one of the curtains. “but you will get wet, Ma’am”…… rather wet than dead! I sat far in so to get me out of the Jeepney as we arrived my destination, was a bit of a struggle. The path to the house was flooded, I had to make a detour to reach it without wading, just to find that no one were at home! A young man belonging to the family did not know where everybody were and when they would be back, so nothing else for me to do than to have a look around, take some photos and hang my cakes and drinks on a hook on the wall. I did also bring my torch as a gift to the house and young boy living in it followed by a card to tell I had been there. They had written our names in the cement, as an honour to us volunteers. A nice gesture. When I was about to leave, the sky opened up even more and you cannot believe the rain! After a while, I struggled my way back to the main road to wait for transport back to Bliss.

I do not know what to feel and think about the building project as it ended up as an ugly shed. It is so sad that donated money ended up like that. Maybe I had too high expectations for what was achievable; maybe it was a wrong decision to let the family build the house instead of hiring a more professional builder to lead the work? I though in the beginning that the new house would become an improvement to the plot, it ended up as a shed among sheds and it is hard to tell that is newly build. The added “comfort room” build in concrete blocks I will not even mention. This was not a suitable project for volunteers, as no plan or drawing existed and there were no following up or expectations.

Friday morning I presented an alternative build a home project for the director of VFV. Thanks to my brother, they now got a set of drawings, cutting lists and a description for how to build a simple but solid house. If this will lead to a better result than the Mohon house, depends on who is building it and how they are followed up by the organisation. It is important to follow the drawings and description to make the design work, but it is doable if they find skilled workers that are willing to try. There is a family at the dumpsite that VFV will help with a place to stay, so as soon as a plot of land is available, they will start building using the design.


Thursday there were no feeding at Lolita as the “health center” was used for another purpose. I decided to spend the day seeing one of the other projects and a young English girl working at a shelter for young boys allowed me to shadow her. She has been in Tacloban for three months and is very devoted to the shelter. She even got her own fundraising site. She is so full of engagement and ideas. The shelter is situated about a 45 mins Jeepney tour north of Tacloban, but first she took me to an area called Salvacion, where a Canadian organisation are building new homes for Yolanda victims. Here she had found a ‘karpintero’ that had agreed to build two cabinets for the shelter. Salvacion is situated quite high up in a mountain side and the minicab service provided is rather poor, so most of the morning passed by waiting for transport. We reached the shelter about lunchtime and her project for the day was to empty an old shed to make a ‘work shop’ for the boys to work with their bikes. Wading in mud, while fighting spiders, caterpillars, mice and ants, the shed slowly turned from being a dark hole to a pleasant place to be. No food all day, and a long day it was, so I was exhausted when I eventually came home to Bliss. The plan was to go out that night, and we did, but I went home again after an hour, went to bed and slept as a child all night. There is a limit for what this old body can manage.

My housemate has been in Tacloban for three months. She has worked as a teacher at a remote school and has established a net of friends. She has had a hard week saying farewell to them all. Hugs and tears all week. My stay was only four weeks so it was a bit easier for me. We had company on the flight to Manila this morning.  18 years old and the whole life in front of her!

What will I miss from my stay in Tacloban? Nannay and her son for sure. Nannay’s food and hospitality. The boy’s energy, his mixture of Waray Waray and English, his kisses (always on my arm for some reason), the general positive attitude of the people (that I myself definitely can learn a lot from) and the juicy, yellow, sweet and tasty mangos. The beauty of the country, the snorkelling in the clear warm water, the colourful reefs…..

I will not miss the stinky drains, the muddy ground and the sweaty nights under the mosquito net, the non-flushing toilets and the crowded Jeepneys. Neither the gecko in my bedroom ceiling…

My Tacloban adventure has come to an end. It was not at all what I expected ( – I did not know what to expect). Did I make a difference as my T-shirt sad I would?

No, I did not.


Third week ended

 Posted by Kari Gravdal at 5:11 pm  Philippines  Comments Off on Third week ended
Nov 222014

23th November

My third week in Tacloban has ended. It has been a quiet week without much to write about. I have been doing the nutrition project in Lolita Village all week. Tuesday and Friday I did I alone, and that is no problem now, as I know the drill. Some days the kids turn up early and sit awaiting while I am doing the magic with the meat and vegetables and as soon the food is ready to be served, they queue up with their boxes, eager to dig in my culinary wonder. Kari-Kare (has nothing to do with my name) on Friday, pork and vegetables in a peanut sauce, the photo shows the pasta, tomatosauce and sausages we served earlier this week. Yes, it is rewarding, I can recognise the children from day to day now. It is an easy job, though, and not very challenging. I am not sure about next week, maybe I will stick to Lolita, maybe I will show the drill to one of the new volunteers that arrived yesterday, maybe I will do a totally different job my last week here.


After finishing work on Wednesday, two of us went Downtown for lunch. I have not been often to the town thus I find it very confusing, messy, hot and dirty, but I had this wish to see the ships that Yolanda throw onshore. After eating and walking around for a while, we headed to Barangay 69 by foot. This is the area northwest of Downtown. To reach there one have to walk through the market area and the smell as approaching the fish market is unbearable. Walking through the market without a cloth to hold over nose and mouth will make you puke. Two weeks ago, we were stuck in traffic here sitting in a minicab, ten more minutes and we would all been dead!

Along the coastline in Barangay 69 many people still are living in makeshift shelters and sheds put together of whatever available. In the middle of all this, several ships stranded. The work chopping the ships to get rid of them is going on. Only the bow and the keel are left of the one that stranded with its bow stuck in the shoulder of the main road. The ships are dangerous but tempting. People soon moved in in lack of other accommodation, to imagine the living conditions on board the ships is impossible.

As we saw and smelled all this, I was aware that I did not take it in as I expected I would. It scared me I did not feel stronger. Have I lost my empathy? Am I shallow and ignoring, or is it just too much to handle? I have no answers.

I find it difficult to figure out what to feel about how they administrate this country and how the people living here are coping with everything. Those who lost everything due to Yolanda, also their plot where they lived as areas now are banned as building land, have not much of a choice other than live in tent and makeshift sheds while awaiting a new place to settle. I can understand their desperation and hopelessness.

Most people here are so cheerful, positive and seems to be happy. What I find difficult to understand though is why some just choose to live in mud and rubbish. OK, they are poor, but it does not cost anything to bend down and collect the rubbish around you in a pile to burn? It is like an acceptance of the situation. This is not a result of Yolanda only. I saw this especially in the area where I was working on the house build and as we travelled to Biliran Island two weeks ago. Clever people, educated, some of them got jobs, owning their own plot of land and motorbike, but living in houses you could not see because of all the rubbish that was stored around them. Old fridges, loudspeakers that never will speak again, lanterns, plastic boxes, torn plastic bags, rotten wood, a bath tub, boxes filled with empty bottles, cracked buckets, rusty roof sheets….. All soaked in mud and for every rain shower; more mud added. Nothing of value, nothing to reuse, just rubbish. Amongst it, barefooted children, roosters, pigs, dogs, chickens and cats wandering around making their contribution to the smelly mud. I know it cost to hire a car to take the rubbish to the dump site, but it does not cost much (actually nothing) to sort out what to burn, and place all the rest on one place to make one’s living space to a nicer place to be. Why collect lumber for years until it is useless instead of using it to make walkways between the houses to avoid walking in mud? This “it doesn’t matter” and “it’s good enough for us” attitude is hard to understand. Instead of doing something to improve one’s environment, they spend hours singing videoke and listen to radio. However, as we saw Downtown the other day, next to a stinky river with the worst houses you can imagine alongside, the most beautiful tranquil garden occurs. The contrasts here are enormous; you never know what you will meet around the next bend.

To get away from it all for an hour or two is essential, and I have found Patio Victoria as my hide away. This week I have visited the pool three times, to swim or to sit on a sunbed watching the sea and just turn the back to Tacloban and all its misery. Yesterday I ended up in the pool after being to the MacArthur Landing Memorial site. It took some time for me to figure out how to get around using Jeepneys. Minicabs and Pedicabs, since there are no real maps of the area available, and Google Maps does not deliver very well, either. After learning where the different destinations marked on the Jeepneys are according to each other, it is not so scary to travel alone. MacArthur surely found a beautiful spot to go ashore 20th October 1944 to fight the Japanese. The memorial is impressive and the sea breeze was welcome. I am glad I went to see this landmark.


My housemate turned 18 this week. She is so excited about it. This afternoon she will hold a gathering at the community centre to celebrate the birthday and I guess it is a “thanks and good bye” as well, since she is leaving Saturday after spending 3 months here. Our Nannay has been preparing food all morning and at the centre, they are busy preparing a surprise for her.

She dragged me out of the shower this morning because I had promised to follow her and a couple of others to a church and they had decided to attend the 9 am service, not the 10:45 as planned. So off in a hurry to Robinsons to participate in the service that was held in the movie theatre. It was not a regular catholic or Lutheran service as I thought, but some sort of New World congregation with a jumping and dancing audience and a rock band on stage, the song texts on the screen and praise the Lord and buy our latest CD mixed together. I was not able to stay there. It actually made me feel sick, so I left after twenty minutes.


Building, cooking and snorkeling

 Posted by Kari Gravdal at 9:32 pm  Philippines  Comments Off on Building, cooking and snorkeling
Nov 172014

17th November

Thursday morning my stomach was not very well, but I managed to get over it and has been well since. I am very aware about what I eat, drink and touch. Antibacterial gel is always in my handbag, I was wearing working gloves on the build site, and I am wearing medical gloves at my new project, nutrition.

What we do are to cook a decent meal for 28 sponsored children in an area called Lolita Village. The budget for a day is 600 pesos and there is a collection of recipes available. We go by pedicab to a market to shop for what the recipe require, rice, vegetables and meat. The meat stall is not my favourite, dirty and smelly as it is. Then we jump into another pedicab to make our way to Lolita Village where a small green building called “health center” (nothing else than the sign on the building tells it has anything to do with health), is the place for preparing the food. A local elderly man got the responsibility for opening the doors to us; he boils the rice and he is the clerk who ticks off in the journal for every child coming with their plastic boxes to collect the food. Most important though, is how he is the master of the radio. There must be something about Filipino men and their radio. Don’t you dare to turn it off or down! The radio must be on loud all the time, no matter if he cannot hear the kids’ names. The echo in the small concrete building is terrible and to me this is painful, but being in the Philippines, do as the Filipinos……

Chopping vegetables and meat and cooking a meal under very primitive conditions can be a challenge, but all dishes are meant to be prepared in one saucepan or wok so no advanced food is served. The children are queuing up for the pork stew or chicken curry or as today, spaghetti and tomato sauce with sausages. They love the food and the attention they get, some are shy, others more comfortable in the situation.

The meal is meant for the sponsored children, but as there may be other children in the family without a sponsor, it is difficult not to put a little extra into the box. To sponsor only a selected child, and not the whole family, is policy that is hard to understand. If there is a malnourished child, its siblings are probably in the same situation. The child will bring its food home to share, and will continue to be malnourished.

Health senter Lolita

I went to the building site this afternoon to chat with the workers and to see if I should go back to work there. They were happy to see me, but I cannot see that I can contribute with anything useful as things are now. They will start digging for the septic tank tomorrow; today they were making foundation for the stair. It is sad I cannot follow the build to it is finished, but I am here to work. I promised to call again before I leave Tacloban.


My housemate talked me into going to Padre Burgos for the weekend with seven young girls. They were heading for a diving resort. I could not resist spending the weekend on and in the water, so I decided to follow. Everything was arranged very well; a van picked us up at the arch at 7 pm Friday night and the drive to the southernmost point of Leyte took 3 hours. Have you ever been driving in Western Norway? Then you can imagine how the roads on Leyte are. Up and down, curves and bends, narrow road due to landslides, narrow road due to road slips. Bridges, passes, bad road surface, no road surface at all…. What they got here at Leyte and not in Western Norway, though, is the ‘people living on the road-phenomenon’. It is dark, the traffic is heavy and unreliable, but people are sitting lying texting eating running playing on the road. ‘Low speed ped x-ing ahead’, said the signs ahead of every zebra crossing, but pedestrians were crossing everywhere very relaxed and in full confidence that they would survive and reach home for supper. Some situations really scared me, but the dog sleeping in the middle of the road or the father with a flock of children jumping around his feet while walking in the darkness couldn’t care less.

It was dark and late when we arrived so we went straight to bed. Early start Saturday morning, breakfast and then to the boat. Those who were diving got their equipment sorted out, three girls would stay at the resort to start diving training and a couple of us were going to snorkel.

Have you ever sailed up the Bømlafjord a calm sunny summer’s day? Having Sletto behind you and Ryvarden Lighthouse to your starboard, Bømlahuk on your port side and the view northward with the Kvinnherad mountains in distance? Sogod Bay reminded me of this homely setting. The contour of the landscape, the width of the fjord. The landscape along the Bømlafjord is not covered with palm trees and tropical forest, though. I am so grateful for the beautiful warm Norwegian summer we had this year, it gave me many snorkelling opportunities and prepared me well for two days snorkelling in Sogor Bay. One cannot compare what is to see under water here and what is to see under water in Norway, of course. Oh, what colours and shapes! The coral reefs are magnificent. You could watch all colours from pale yellow via all browns to purple, turquoise, sharp reds, some greens and blues, and swimming amongst all this were the whole cast from Finding Nemo and all other underwater movies. The clear blue starfish topped it all.  At one of our locations, we swam to a beach and went ashore. Two of the crew opened coconuts and gave us to drink and eat. It was a nice gesture and a great experience. We felt a bit like Robinson Crusoe stranded on a desert island.

The weekend did us all good. All were tired but satisfied when we returned to Bliss late Sunday night.


Frustrations and Merry Christmas

 Posted by Kari Gravdal at 2:30 am  Philippines  Comments Off on Frustrations and Merry Christmas
Nov 122014

11th November

Yesterday was not a very efficient day at work. We had looked forward to getting off ground and up in the height, but of course we could not climb high in the A-frame to do any work, so a little carrying and digging was all we could do on site. Two from the team decided to follow another project today, to avoid another day without any meaningful tasks. The remaining two of us headed for the build site as normal.

The two workers were busy mounting the roof cladding when we arrived. We were set to carry the aluminium sheets from across the road. The crossing beams for the floor had to be adjusted and some sawing and chiselling was work we easily could manage. The builder himself was in a great mood today (payday?) and bought us doughnuts and soft drinks to celebrate that the roof was on, he even followed us to the jeepney when we left to show the neighbourhood that he was the lucky one having us in his team.

We were presented the fact that we also will build a comfort room to the house. This is a toilet and shower room, placed above a septic tank behind the house. This require us to dig a new hole (and we thought we had done our share of digging!) about 150×110 cm and 120 cm deep and build a septic tank out of concrete blocks in it. The digging will start Monday, and then the Australians are gone and I will be the only volunteer on the build!

A most welcome bucket bath and some laundry to be done when back home, before heading for the community Centre to see if there were anyone in to discuss my plans for future houses. I met Ester and she listened to me and saw the plans my brother has made for an alternative way to build a house. I have to do some more research on the material list for the two options, but I am quite certain, the new way of building will cost less and be faster than the way they build today.

Ended the day sharing a bottle of wine as I was invited over to a Norwegian girl’s last night party. I have heard a lot about this girl and this was my last chance to meet her. After a while all the young ones went Down Town, I went home.

12th November

A bit frustrated today; the work that we were expecting to do, the two workers had already done. Instead of finishing the roof last night as they said they would, they had done the floor beams we were supposed to do; and sat on top of the build when we came to site. As long as they were up there, we could do nothing else than await them to come down. I decided to stay and see how things developed, the rest of the team left to find another project to follow.

I stood my time, but as I left, I said I would probably not come again this week, as my wish is to do some decent work while I am in the Philippines, and this build does not allow that at this stage. I will check over the weekend to see if building the comfort room and septic tank can give me some challenges. They are also talking about painting the house, I do not know if that is in the budget, but that is definitely something I can do. I do wish to follow this house and see it finished, but I do not want to spend my time in the Philippines watching two men working. I hope there will be an alternative project for me to participate in tomorrow and Friday.

It is Christmas!

Christmas trees and lights all over. Music on the radio and at Robinson’s (the Mall). Jingle bells and I wish you a merry X-mas…. The young girl staying in the same homestay as I am, brought home a small Christmas tree and decorations for the family today (they lost most of their Christmas decorations during Yolanda). They have already decorated the tree.

I started to dig in my memory to find easy things to make for Christmas; such as different kinds of paper baskets, Santas made of yarn and so on. I stopped at Robinson’s on my way home to buy coloured paper, cotton wool and other useful materials for such activities. The girls at the Girls Club might like to make some decorations. The Santa prototype is now hanging on my wall.


End of week and the weekend

 Posted by Kari Gravdal at 12:20 am  Philippines  Comments Off on End of week and the weekend
Nov 092014

6th November

Today we started to produce the formwork for the pillars. We came a bit late to the site due to a long wait for a jeepney so we were eager to get started. The plywood were at site, but the 2×2 timber we were supposed to use, was not there yet. After cutting the plywood, we actually sat for an hour awaiting the lorry with materials to turn up. It did, eventually. The young girls were not at home today, so the radio on loud, playing popular music was our entertainment all morning.

The timber are coco wood. It is very heavy and hard. I was set to measure and saw the parts for the formwork; the Australians did most of the work connecting the pieces into formwork, supervised by the two workers. Hard work in the heat, but in spite we started late, we managed to finish some of the boxes and even place and level up two of them before lunch. The plan, as we left today was to build six boxes, place them, fill them with cement, and reuse three of them for the last pillars tomorrow. With this progress, we will start building the framework for the house on Monday. Time will show.


Awaiting the jeepney, I saw this sad collection of graves along the highway. I am not sure if they are actually graves or just a memorial site, but the small piles of soil suggested that they are graves. It is hard to imagine the grief of these people loosing so many of their own in such a terrible way as during Yolanda, and not even have a decent place to bury the dead bodies. Four brand new white crosses are placed at the memorial site among dead flowers and cardboards with the names.

A most required bucket bath and a couple of hours doing nothing, before heading for the VFV centre to see if there were something for me to do. I ended up in a pile of clothes to sort, before the kids came in hordes to the afternoon gathering for tutorials, spelling competitions and other activities. They are so eager to learn, and it is so inspiring to be there to see that, but the level of noise in the room during the hour this is going on, makes it impossible for me to participate every day.

Supper and some writing and I am exhausted. No late nights for me….


9th November

Back at my homestay after an adventurous weekend.

Friday we finished filling the last four formworks for the pillars, we filled the soil back in the holes with the already finished pillars and there were nothing more to do other than watching cement dry…, so we ended off for the weekend. The workers would continue working on Saturday, so tomorrow; we will probably start making the framework for the house.

Three of us decided to go away for the weekend. For the Australians who will be here for two weeks only, this weekend was the only opportunity to see some more of Philippines than just around Tacloban. This has also been the one-year anniversary for Yolanda, so participating in the memorial ceremonies in Tacloban, would probably have been the most decent thing to do. To me the thought of being stuck in the crowd and the heat with no other way out than queueing up for a Jeepny, was unbearable, so I decided to follow two of the Australians to Biliran Island north of Leyte. Yolanda did not hit this Island.

The tour was not very well planned, but we made our way to the bus terminal where we were lucky to find a van owner that lives on Biliran and was on his way home. He gave us a good price and the three hours’ drive in an air-conditioned car was quite pleasant; until he started talking about the risk of kidnappers in an area, we had to pass through! How could we know he was not one of them!

We made the booking for rooms at a beach resort on the west coast of Biliran, at Almeria, whilst driving. Our driver took us there and he was certainly not a kidnapper. I did not know what to expect of a beach resort in Philippines, but this was perhaps a bit disappointing. The beach was useless as a beach for sunbathing and swimming, the place was very ran down, and the standard was not even worth one star. I think we were the only staying guests. We were well cared for though and the food was simple, but good. It was a quiet place with lovely views to some small islands and the ocean. People were wading to pick fish and mussels when the tide was low. At the southern end of the beach a small village is situated, and the local kids were bathing and having fun in the water as the tide came in.

wading for fish

Saturday many families came to spend the day at the resort, they brought their own food and used the pools. We headed off to see some rice terraces and a waterfall – by motorbike! I had imagine a motorbike with a sidecar for the three of us, but first one bike turned up to take all of us. “No way, never ever!” was my reaction to that. Of course that would be ridiculous – four persons with backpacks on one bike! Therefore, they ordered one more bike to come. Well, I was still not very happy sitting on that bike clinging on to my co-passenger with one hand and to the homemade roof with the other. I really tried to enjoy the scenery as we passed by, but I was not able to. The driver took us up a valley to some rice terraces, let us off to take photos and then further up to start a 30 minutes’ walk to see a waterfall. Half the way up I said I really hoped this waterfall is worth the effort of all this, I was not comfortable walking in the heat, and waterfalls we certainly do have in Norway, so for me they are not worth risking the life to see. We reached the bottom of the waterfall and it was beautiful in the setting of tropical forest. Plenty of time to worrying about the ride back to the resort while walking back to the bikes.

rice terraces

I have wondered all week what is on the old coke-bottles on stands along the roads. It is red and for sale. I thought it might be some sort of local drink. Never had I imagined that it is petrol, but now I know. The motorbike driver stopped to fill petrol and they handed over one of these bottles. What about the health and safety in this matter?

Our return to Tacloban today started with the same motorbikes to take us to Naval where there was a van to follow. All went well, but I have had my share of motor biking for the rest of my lifetime. For the people here though, the motorbike is essential to make it work living here. Whole families on tour, father as the driver, mother sitting behind, one or two kids in the middle and the youngest in front, no helmet no security. I even saw a mother breastfeeding her baby while sitting on the bike. Most of the motorbikes have a homemade roof or shelter to make shadow. On the one, I had the pleasure of sitting on, it was made of narrow wood trimmings, a blue plastic tablecloth covered the roof and in front an old window frame as windshield. Cheap and practical, gives shadow, but no protection in an accident. It would rather be the cause of the accident.

We have passed many villages and communities during the weekend. People seems to live on the road. Kids are playing on the asphalt as cars and bikes rush by in high speed, laundry hanging on the road barriers, they spread the rice to dry on mats on the road for cars to manoeuvre between. Every second house got something for sale: petrol on coke bottles, snacks, motor parts, meat and vegetables. Even in areas not hit by Yolanda the poverty is obvious, small dirty sheds build of wood, plastic, concrete blocks or mats, but in between, some very pretty houses that stands out compared to the common ones. Sitting in a van or on a bike do not give room for taking photos, so many of the images of this weekend must be stored in my mind and not in Dropbox.

The weekend gave us a welcome break from the busy and noisy city life and its poverty. I feel ready to start working again tomorrow. If we made the right decision going to Biliran instead of staying in Tacloban for the anniversary, is impossible to tell.

Everyday life..

 Posted by Kari Gravdal at 1:08 am  Philippines  Comments Off on Everyday life..
Nov 052014

4th November

Early start for the three Australians and myself as we headed to the street to jump on a jeepney 7:30 this morning. Seems like the four of us are not the luckiest when it comes to get transport when we need it. 40 minutes in the heat before a Tolosa jeepney arrived and picked us up. The drive south to our site is about 25 minutes. You often sit like sardines in a can in these jeepnies and there is always room for one more… This transport is not for people afraid of contact with others. Everybody are trusted your money. If you sit far back and the driver is the on to take your money or if you sit in front and there is a conductor hanging back on the vehicle, you just pass your fare on to the person next to you and he passes it further to the recipient and your change comes back the same way. Works every time.

We reached our building site eventually and found the holes we dug yesterday filled with rainwater. Nothing to do with that, we have to await the water to drain out before we can finish the holes. We started to bend iron for the reinforcements for the concrete pillars, and then we did the binding of the iron to make the reinforcement. We made god progress and cooperated well with the two local men. They really know how to build and are skilled workers. That is good, because we are not. After a while, we actually went out of materials. The VfV coordinator came to site and made a list of what to shop, but the materials did not arrive while we still were present, so hopefully it will all be there tomorrow morning. Plenty of time today to talk with the young girls living close to the site, no videoke today, but they took us to the jeepney stop as they did yesterday.

I managed a bucket bath before heading for the Waray-Waray class 15:30. Waray-Waray is the local language they speak here on Visayan. We had an hour to learn some of the most common words and phrases. I do not know how useful it was, we were all tired so most of what Ester tried to teach us, just went in one ear and out the other.

Maupay nga gab-i.


5th November

Arrived the site today to find all nine holes finished and the reinforcement for the pillars levelled out in two of the holes. Iron enough on the site to make the remaining iron grid for the foundations, so I sat down in the shadow in the street that goes through the area to bind iron. Interesting to sit and watch the village life as it passes by an early morning. I had a concrete tile covering some of the drain as workspace, sat on an old dirty beer box and used my special homemade tool (some bended rusty iron) to bind the iron pieces together to a square grid. Everybody passing by had a comment; a man offered me fresh (?) fish, kids asking for my name. Some 15 meters further down the drain this lady sat on an equal box as I sat on, doing her morning toilette, pouring water over her head, washing herself as thoroughly all over as she could manage whilst having a T-shirt on. Adding soap to her long hair, singing and smiling to people passing by. Her feet placed in the drain itself, the toothbrush lying on a dirty piece of wood next to her.

Screaming and shouting in the opposite direction, as what I figured out must have been a mother throwing out her young son. She chased him with a hammer in her hand, while he was heading across the street with his portable bed with him seeking hide at friends. The mother continued screaming while hammering on the concrete covered street. Kids queuing up for some sweets outside the kiosk, or heading for school dressed in uniforms, sack on their back, smiling and cheerful. So filled with contrasts this place. The music from the radios mixed, reggae, C&W, the latest in pop and Filipino music all overtaken by the false singing of the girls with the videoke.

In the backyard where the build is going on there is also a busyness. Reinforcements finished up and levelled out. The holes emptied of water and toads, mixing of cement and then carrying the mixture in buckets to the holes. All this while we were chatting with the girls next door, eating and drinking not to faint in the heat. In the middle of all this, the lazy dogs wandered around to find new shadow, hens and chicken made their noises and contributed to the smell. Today the rooster was in his box, so we did not see much of him, but we did certainly hear him. The worksite is dirty and we are manoeuvring around the holes and the piles of mud that used to be in the holes, lift a foot here because of the measuring line crosses and watch up there not to bang your head. Health and safety is not an issue here. Mixing cement on the ground wearing flip-flops, that’s the way they do it!                                                  Buildsite.

About 12:30 there were no more for us to do, so we packed up and headed for the jeepney. We have been luckier today, almost no waiting for transport all day. Three of us decided to go for a swim and a cold drink.  We eventually found the right jeepney heading for the pool close to the airport, Patio Victoria. The place used to be a beach resort but was destroyed during Yolanda a year ago. The outdoor roofed pool and the conference centre are reopened and got quite high standard. The hotel itself is under reconstruction. You can find some Japanese bunkers from WW2 on the site.

The swim and the cold drink were both a welcome treat after 3 days working in the mud seeing nothing else than misery and poverty. We will definitely do it again!


First day at work.

 Posted by Kari Gravdal at 12:54 am  Philippines  Comments Off on First day at work.
Nov 032014

3rd November
Yesterday afternoon I took the little boy in the house out for a walk, or he took me, more likely. We ended at the basketball square where there was a match going on. How the young men could run and keep such a high tempo in the afternoon heat, I do not know. My little boy wanted to play on the playground and some of the kids around chatted me up. They are interested in the volunteers; some of them are trying to sell themselves in as kids to be sponsored.
Back in the house again for supper and the other volunteer living in my homestay turned up after spending the weekend with friends. She has stayed in this house for 2 months and will leave the same day as I do. She has a lot to tell and I will learn a lot from her.
Thunderstorm and rain ended the day yesterday, sun and the rooster started this day.
My wish for my volunteering was actually to do building and construction work, but I was told I could not expect that kind of work here in November, so I accepted “community centre” as my task, without actually understanding what kind of work that would be. This morning as I turned up at the office I suddenly joined a group of three other volunteers who were doing house building. I do not know why I has been told there would be no such opportunity for me, but I am very pleased it turned out to be an option after all.
Off we went by jeepney to a similar community to where I live. This community is situated 25 mins by jeepney form here. There we met a family with a sponsored child and we are supposed to help them build them a house. We were not presented any drawing or plan of the house, but after a while I figured out that it will be about 3,5 x 3,5 meters, standing on 9 pillars 4 feet above the ground, being 7 feet high from floor to top beam. They put us to dig holes for the foundations for the pillars, cutting iron for the concrete foundations and things like that. We were not prepared for such dirty and hard work at all today, so our shoes and clothes will definitely be more suitable tomorrow. We will also bring more water and something to eat during the day, because we cannot drink the water or eat food supplied where we work.
What amazes me here; is how fresh and clean everybody are in spite of living in such environments. Had I put my children (when they were younger) into such surroundings to play, they would have been dirty within five minutes. Here the children jump around in their flip-flops with mud everywhere and their clothing are clean all day. Their mothers must put quite an effort into dressing their children properly and to keep the clothes clean and presentable.
We were only meant to work half day today, so we left the site about 12, guided by two young girls that was told to show us the way to the jeepney pick up. These girls had entertained us for hours with their videoke singing and chatted with us  during our breaks. Had to wait quite a while for transport, all jeepnies were filled to the roof (yes, people sat on the roofs and hang outside the vehicle, and we are told not to do that…) In the end a taxi passed by and we could not resist the temptation of air conditioned transport into Down Town for lunch and some shopping for snacks to bring for work tomorrow.

The rooster at worksite

Welcome to Tacloban!

 Posted by Kari Gravdal at 8:36 pm  Philippines  Comments Off on Welcome to Tacloban!
Nov 012014

Saturday 1st November
So here I am, in Tacloban at my homestay.
Started 4 am this morning, by taxi to Changi Airport in Singapore. I had a couple of days there on my way to Tacloban. I think it was a great idea to acclimatize before leaving for Philippines. Now my body is used to the heat and my head is somewhat used to the time difference. However, the difference in life standard in Singapore and here is enormous. I left the uppermost of standard in the morning to meet this poverty in the afternoon (but the bed here is definitely more comfortable than the one I had at my hotel in Singapore. That was like sleeping on the wooden floor with a log under my head!).
The flight to Manila was quiet and comfortable, the attitude and the humour of the Filipinos are great, even the Airline had a twist on their way of presenting themselves and the security on board.
My first contact with the Philippines was the airport in Manila. To me it all seem chaotic, I got through immigration unexpectedly easy and the lack of interest they showed me at the custom, confused me. The transfer of my luggage and “you must stand here” and “you must go there”, without understanding why I had to do so, made me believe that I never would find my way to terminal three and the right gate. I did, but had no expectation to get my luggage when landing in Tacloban. I did that as well. VfV was not present at the airport to pick me up due to traffic, but I had so many around trying to help that I was fully occupied with that until the two young men turned up and took me to the VfV office by jeepney and further on to Josephine and her lovely house and family.

I had my first bucket bath before I spent some time playing with the kid in the house, drawing and watching children’s programmes on the computer.
Josephine made me supper and after that, I was not able to do much more, jet lagged and out of sleep as I was, but we managed to connect me to the Wi-Fi before I went to bed, so staying in touch with the world will be easier than I feared.
Early to bed, fan on and mosquito net hung, Nite…..until the rooster started 4 am. The volunteer guide warned about the rooster in the neighbourhood, and surely it is present. Earplugs in, but that did not eliminate the sound of the rooster. I will get used to it, I guess.
Sunday 2nd November
Early start again, bucket bath, breakfast and off to the VfV office for orientation about Volunteer for Visayans, followed by a round trip in Tacloban. We were supposed to learn our way around using jeepnies as transport, but I think I missed that part. The jeepnies are so low so when sitting sidewise under the ceiling, you do not see much of the surroundings (at least not when you are a tall European), so getting any feeling of where we were heading was difficult. The city is not very big, but very confusing and it is difficult to figure out the streets. They all look the same. I must learn some landmarks to orientate
We jumped off the jeepney a couple of places, amongst them at Robinson’s Shopping Mall where we could shop for essentials as tissue paper and a snack. This Mall is new and busy with the most you can wish for, in contrast to the shops along the streets. The tour ended by having lunch in a Filipino restaurant at the mall.
My community is very poor; most houses are built and rebuilt out of what one could get hold of. Some got a concrete structure and tin roof; some are proper houses, like the one I am staying in. But also this house were badly hit during Youlanda last year, with water standing 1,5 meters above the ground floor. Inside it is so clean and neat (how does she manage to have so shiny floor tiles?), outside the “streets” or narrow alleys are dirty and stinky, cats, dogs and roosters are wandering around. The walkways are concrete tiles with open drains on both side, so you must better watch your steps! Everybody are interested in the new volunteers so kids and adults, they all ask for my name and tries to pronounce it. I guess they even manage to remember my name. I cannot guarantee I will remember theirs. I got at short walk from my homestay to the VfV-office, so within a week or two I might manage to name those living along the route.
Rest of the day are free to rest. Tomorrow I will know what kind of work they will put me on.

Counting down

 Posted by Kari Gravdal at 11:40 pm  Philippines  Comments Off on Counting down
Oct 222014

What to write to test this journal?
It has been a long journey, even before the journey has really started. A lot to read to prepare, countless injections to take, paperwork to do, worries about the weather, the closed airport in Tacloban, my capability to handle the huge culture shock that I’m sure I’ll meet. On and off, to and from…
I’ve landed now. Not in Tacloban, yet, but mentally.
This is something that I really want to do. Now I’m packing and doing my last preparations. I’m ready for takeoff. 5 more days and I’m on my way

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