The end is near…

My perception of “the poor” has changed.

Coming into this trip I had something of a picture of an imaginary line. I, a wealthy westerner, would cross this line from my world of income, education and comfort, and step into the world of “the poor” which is called “a slum” and where people live desperate lives “in poverty”.

Definitely not Balgowlah…

Thing is, it’s not quite as black and white as this. I mean it is (obviously) in a general sense. If you compare a typical house and resident of Baseco to one in Balgowlah, sure, the gap is extreme.

But within the microcosm of Baseco itself, there is a lot more nuance and subtlety; generalisations about poverty don’t hold much ground. There is a variety of existence here.

A renovator’s dream….

Some people do actually live in woeful conditions, in collapsed tents made out of garbage.

When your “nanny” is five or six years old…

There are emaciated kids left to wander all day while their parents are out, and hopeless adults sitting in the dirt gambling the few pesos they have or buying locally produced crystal meth, which is cheaper than rice. Prostitution and crime is rife and within two days last week, three people were shot and killed, two of them young teenagers.

We met one little girl who had been “given” to a woman because the birth mother couldn’t look after her. Check out her photo below… and then the photo, beneath, of her shoes… the coolest boots in Baseco!

Little girl with “new mother’

How these beauties are kept clean i have no idea…

Great excitement: new pile of landfill has arrived

But there are lots of families who work hard, some making do with anything that comes in front of them. Dump trucks turn up all the time to dump their rubble, and kids, women, grandmothers, men all start scrambling through the mud and rock  looking for reo bars or plastic or bits of wood or anything else to sell. Others run stalls or carts in the colourful markets on the outskirts of the settlement.

Mere in the markets: fish, vegetables, indefinable meats, strange fruits, DVDs…

Ingenious: fish trap on Rubbish/Toilet Beach, made out of thongs and string

One of many driftwood charcoal pits
along Rubbish Beach

Others collect driftwood from the bay and burn in it in giant firepits to make charcoal to sell.

A day of garlic peeling gets you a few cents

Other families spend dawn to dusk peeling garlic for a few pesos. They send their children to school, dressed  in impossibly immaculate and pristine uniforms. School runs from 6am to 11am. In classes of around 80-100, you have to pay (bribe?) the teacher  extra to get your work marked, or get a report, or to sit by the coveted fan. Most of them want to go on to college.

Church leaders love the camera… (The larger John 14 building in background)

The young women of the church we visited were funny. Fashionable.

Pastor Maravic’s one room house: one of the more palatial residences

Some of them live in places with tiled floors and besa block walls, a tv and “western” toilet (even if it does just drain and seep into the ground. There is no sewerage system in Baseco for 100 000 people.)

Karaoke in the mud

Curiously, lots of people in the slum seem to own massive sound systems and an endless supply of 80s rock hits and crooning anthems. I cannot describe how bizarre it is wading through septic swamp, claustrophobiad on every side by rotting wood and plastic sheet dwellings, with a deafening Bon Jovi soundtrack rattling your teeth with ever slippery stinky step.

Pedder with some of his youth leaders

The youth of the church are like any bunch of young Christians I’ve come across. Earnest, enthusiastic, loving community, engaged in running kids’ programs.

Youth leaders

Their clothes are cool, the girls have pierced ears and make-up and there is nothing they love more than striking a pose for their next Facebook profile pic. One young woman came to church (in the middle of a septic swamp) wearing an immaculate nurse’s uniform. She is a student, and would not be out of place in the halls of a university in Sydney. Another guy I saw walked out of the slum wearing a black suit. This is probably one of the most surprising things. People live here who have jobs where you wouldn’t think for a minute they live with eight others in a one bedroom shack with a muddy floor and a roof made out of packing crates.

Chillaxing at Bible Study in the swamp

They are people who work in brand shops in the big malls, or in the supermarket checkout, or waiting tables in a nice local restaurant, or as a check-in attendant at the airport. They have make-up, clean hair, immaculate uniforms, articulate conversational English. But they live in… “a slum”.

The grand conclusion? The world isn’t as black and white as i thought it was.

Friends… thanks for reading along over the past month or so. Have appreciated your prayers, support, best wishes, emails and comments while on our little sojourn. This part of our trip is soon to be over. And so is this blog.

Mere and Pete, selfie in back of trike, looking cool despite fearing for our lives.

For us it has been at times and in turn eye opening, bizarre, exciting, challenging, hilarious, scary, inspiring, sad… In particular I look at people (missionaries / NGOs) etc who aren’t just doing the little few weeks visit thing, but are committing to people and communities, outside their comfort zone, for years. I look at them in a new light. Kudos.

There’s one or two blogs left in this old laptop (and my brain) and after that we’ll be grabbing some R&R.

So as Frankie said, “and now, the end is near…”

10 responses to “The end is near…”

  1. Susan Stanton says :

    thank you Peter for your amazing photos and blogs, its been fascinating. what amazing folk the missionaires and NGO’s are for giving up everything to serve the poor. I found that incredible that those who work in the “mall” and airport etc then go home to the slum. Not something you would expect. MIss you at st Lukes, looking forward to having you back and hearing more tales. God bless and keep you safe and enjoy your r and r sue
    ________________________________

  2. Andy Simpkin says :

    Hi Peter, we have read and enjoyed your blogs…great work and very inspiring. You have a great way with words, I had really started looking forward to the next blog from the Philippines…clearly it has been an amazing trip. Love to Meredith and enjoy the R&R
    Andy & Fiona

    • downeyphilippines says :

      Thanks to you both. As well travelled folk yourself i am sure you can probs identify with the quirks and curiosities of other cultures. I for example, am still trying to work out what to do with that little bucket next to the toilet.

  3. Rachel says :

    Hey guys, can you see how sometimes ex Missios and in my case missio kid doesn’t get too excited by the overseas poverty experience. don’t get me wrong I do care, deeply. Look forward to more chats soon, cheery.

    • downeyphilippines says :

      Can’t really imagine what it would be like being a “misso kid”. Some challenges I imagine but also some eye opening mind expanding experiences that one doesn’t get growing up the ‘burbs!

  4. Matthew Stackhouse says :

    G’day Cousin, I’m so thankful to have read your blog. I found myself anticipating them during my morning routine. Glad your time has been so full of life and learning. Would love to debrief with you back home. Will you have time to visit King Solomon Christian School?
    Let us know. Cousin Matt

    • downeyphilippines says :

      Hey Cos! You would now having been here what it is like! Your advice to me was excellent. I know see many of the the things about which you were speaking. Love to catch up on return. Visit to Solomon unlikely… simply too much to do and see. Drove ourselves into the ground the first couple of weeks. Am sure it is amazing.

  5. L&P says :

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, words and pictures with us Mere and Pete, it certainly has provided much discussion and prayer in our household… As we know this part of your journey is coming to an end, we’re taking extra time to drink in the last couple of posts. We’ll miss them! We look forward to seeing you soon! This last post particularly reminded me of experiences I’ve had in this country and abroad in working for very wealthy families and having so little yourself… the dichotomy of being in two cultures…

    Enjoy your R&R…
    Libby

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