Archive by Author

Homeless in Harvard

29 Apr

Who has seen Legally Blonde? All of you? Good! Do you remember this image of Harvard’s red brick buildings and its prestigious…lawns? Yes? Good no.2.Well, I’ll get to that later…

I am in a very “returned from volunteering” type of mood right now, which is lucky for anyone who wants to think about returning from volunteering, because I am meant to be studying right now
but I’ll return to that later as well I guess…

I wanted to mention a bit of a culture shock for me…or maybe more shocking for the people witnessing…especially my brother.

In 2008 I travelled to Guyana where I worked for 3 months. Now can I just say that regardless of what Lonely Planet says (Lonely Planet is mainly nonsense with fancy photography…and I once saw in a Lonely planet yearbook – I think it was 2010 – that Afghanistan was characterised by its amazing history and Guyana by its horrible crime)…Guyana is a beautiful country swept up in a swathe of Amazonian amazements, a scent of Caribbean Carnivale, and the taste of sweet cocunut bread…

I loved it there and will be talking about its wishful wonders washed up in a whirlwind of history more down the track (note: that was an alluring grab so that you keep reading my posts!).

But what I wanted to mention is what I did straight after Guyana.

After 3 months in Guyana, I was wisked off to New York (this should be sung like Alicia Keys does btw), Chicago (A tourist’s delight in the Summer: think Gotham city, but in the Summertime with so many free music and arts festivals that I think even the hippies had to stop smoking just to keep up)…and finally to meet my brother in Boston…here’s where the Harvard thing comes in…

Now, not only was I massively culture shocked by Chicago (but made some great friends who took me to CHURCH! – think of Big Mama’s House if you can – Evanglical churches on the South Side that reminded me a lot of Guyana) but I was trying to bring a lot of my lifestyle from Guyana into CHicago…namely, being a little dirtier than normal and walking barefoot…or in thongs at most – at this point I did not owne shoes…

This was a bit of a shock to my half-brother. He is the brains of the bunch and is studying at Harvard. I thought it would be great to stay with him for a week. So did he…

that was until he saw me from across Harvard’s prestigious lawn. Barefoot, and a little dirtier and the rest.

I hadn’t seen my brother for about 4 years, and I think in that moment, he wished it could have been 4 more…

but we ended up having a great time…even though he still and always will think I am weird…

However, all the while I couldn’t help thinking…that the grass beneath my feet was so finely cut, that it barely felt like grass at all. It was greener than the imagined colour green. And it smelled so full of grass and nothing of dirt. It is a truely beautiful lawn…

But I couldn’t help thinking that if the amount of money that went into Harvard’s prestigious lawns went into helping a homeless friend I made on the lawn that day…or even was redistributed back into some of the Guyanese communities I had just come from….maybe people would think that was even more beautiful than clean grass…

A response to Honey Ants and Chip Packets

29 Apr

Palm Valley - the kids call this place Puerta nemo (it means Nemo rock)

They say you can never really go somewhere
you always leave part of yourself here
Have you ever been to Central Australia?
I think that’s a place
that left itself
somewhere long ago,
before the new people brought themselves there
and tried to make it
part of here
They shouldn’t really call
it Australia up there.
Not if they call it Australia
down here.
It is this country’s heart,
but we have cut it off from the rest of the body
it beats now
only for its soul
and the spirits that still
sit and sing
in the sand.
It still beats. But now, and for such a long time
it beats alone

like a bone that has split amongst the sand
It has lost what keeps it all together
and keeps it together
with us.

some white people
in black suits
might not think so…
but they might not
what they think they know
and might not i
white as any other you’d find
but not one to pretend
I can take a place away from its heart
and just put its heart
back in.

I remember when I first returned from Ntaria, the plane ride home was one of the scariest experiences of my life. I had spent 3 months in Ntaria, only going into Alice Springs for about 1 hour every 2 weeks for food, because as Im sure you know (and we should probably talk about on this blog) the food available in supermarkets in remote communities in Central Aus is ridiculously expensive and horribly bad quality.

But I remember the plane ride home vividly. As we flew back over Sydney, and I saw all the houses and built up buildings so close together. As I swooped over the highways and city streets. As we glided over residential pools and excessive excuses of money spent and wasted on luxuries for personal use…I wanted to turn the plane around

I was so scared to be back in a society like this. I had grown old in Ntaria and was an old man flying into a different universe. I so craved the taste of dry open red dirt flung against my lips and flies against my eyes.

I never felt like that before. In all the places I had travelled, I had never been so ashamed to return home.

Hello, Kamusta, Jambo, Yo

12 Apr


Guess where this may be a trick

My name is Chris, and I while I am sorry I haven’t introduced myself sooner, I hope you enjoy reading. I have previously volunteered in the Philippines, in Guyana, and in Tanzania on all sorts of different youth, education and research projects. So I think you may get a bit of a mixed bag from me if that’s ok. Some of my posts might be about the Philippines, where I worked with a child-rights organisation called Bahay Tuluyan. Sometimes I might be talking about Guyana, where I worked on HIV/AIDS awareness and some Substance abuse community education workshops. And you might even get to hear about my time in Tanzania, as an English and music teacher at a crazy little school called Mandela Primary.

I have loved all of these experiences, so I hope you don’t mind me trying to entertain your taste buds you with a little flavour from all three experiences. They have all had profound, and profoundly diverse impacts on me. And I hope I can reveal a few important stories, and use this space as a reflective, but entertaining little arena of travelling tales and sunburnt stories.

I hope you enjoy reading.


A Jeepney: the national transport of the Philippines

12 Apr


A Jeepney in full flight

I remember the first time I ever saw Jeepney. Or at least I think I do. This strange caucophany of colours and steel (below), rumbling toward me and kissing out diesel fumes into the air. It looked a bit like a steel elevator on wheels. Full of colour, noise and smog.  This is what is known in the Philippines as the Jeepney. The distinct elongated but robust shape of the Jeepney is apparently a legacy of World War II and its aftermath, when United States soldiers effectively ploughed through the Philippines, and doing as they usually do, left all their military equipment behind, including their standard issue military jeeps. However, in a manner very symbolic of Filipino culture, the Jeeps were embraced and rejuvenated with a distinct Filipino flavour and flamboyance, transforming these moving sheds into the transport fiesta that is the Jeepney.

If you ever stay in the Philippines, you will be sure to jump into one of these banner-filled floating parades of paraphernalia. The first couple of times I did, I thought they were just about as fun as they looked.  But do not jump on your own, not at least until you have ridden them a couple of times with your team leader until you have a good idea of where you are going, and how to navigate Jeepney culture.

While they may look like fun, and they are, if you don’t know what to read on a Jeepney, you will be a bit lost. As you can see, Jeepney’s are covered in different graffiti-style logo’s all over them, you may even find a few that say Sydney, Australia on them. They are about as eclectic as things get. But if you are looking for where a Jeepney is headed, there are only two things to look for. They will usually have a single (final) destination written in the driver’s side front window, and have a more detailed description on the side  (as pictured).

If you are looking for a Jeepney, no matter where you are, you will probably be able to find one in no time at all. That is one of the great things about Jeepney’s. They are the perfect of example of the idea that the customer comes first. While most Jeepney’s do have places where they will regularly stop, there is little need to try and find some sort of Bus stop. A jeepney will stop anywhere. Even if it means screeching on the breaks and throwing all of the passangers cascading into a pile at the front barrier like a deck of dominoes tipped over each other. Jeepney’s pretty much stop anywhere you are.

If you see one you think will be able to take you to where you need to go,  just put out your arm, and unless the Jeepney is full (an almost impossible concept as in my experience seeing as Jeepney drivers are always keen to pack at least one more person in – we once had about 25 in the back, and I think the driver still thought there was room for one more ) it will most likely stop for you.

When you get on a Jeepney, in general, enter from the back, and crouch your way up the Jeepney until you find a seat. In general, Filipinos will shuffle towards the back of the Jeepney, which means that you will most likely have to walk all the way to the front. This shuffling makes sense, as you will most likely be on the Jeepney longer then the passengers who got on before you, and you need to pay the driver, who is obviously seated at the front. Saying that, sit anywhere you can. But do try and have some style to your seating decision. An unplanned sit got me in a lot of trouble a couple of times; not knowing where to go and then falling on someone as my driver turned the corner, bumping my head on the steel, 4 foot roof, or slipping over and ending up lying on the corridor floor in the middle of the Jeepney carriage.

Getting on and finding a seat can be a bit of a challenge sometimes (understatement), but once you’re on, take some time to relax.  Jeepney’s are customer orientated, and instead of harassing the customer to pay like we do in Sydney, Jeepney drivers will wait until you are ready to pay. In order to pay, simply say: Bayad po, and hand your money to the Jeepney driver. Usually Jeepney’s are the cheapest and in many cases, the only transport option for medium to long journeys, and may cost you from P5 to P30 ($0.10 to $1 AUS).  

  • Pass your money through each other’s hands to the front
  • Barad Po or tap the roof 2x to stop or get off
  • Don’t forget to pay
  • Driver’s are a bit crazy, but trust them, they have been doing it for a long time, and other cars are used to it!
  • Enjoy it, and look around!

I loved riding in Jeepneys. And I always think fondly of these rolling elevators with graffiti tattoos all over them. They remind me a lot about the Philippines.

A little snapshot of Filipino flamboyance...with a Jeepney on the side

They remind me of the somewhat mess of traffic that is replicated in Manila’s urban design and market places. They remind me of the colour, fun and tremendous flavour of the Philippines. They remind me of the syncretism of the Filipino culture, food, music, even the way the kids I remember like to pose for photos, often with a fan blowing their air back. And they remind me most about the Filipino ability to remake something new out of something old.

In many ways, that’s what happened to me on the trip. The people and places I encountered remade me, maybe not as flamboyantly as a Jeepney…but definitely added a little Pinoy spice.

%d bloggers like this: