Our Living World is Dying
Stacey Worman, 2006-2007 Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellow
Date: December 1st, 2006
To: Undisclosed recipients
Re: My Dream Destination & an Indigenous Filipino Family...
It's been five months away from home and I have yet to set a schedule and a route for my travels. One year ago, this fellowship was an abstract idea and I was busy constructing my proposal for my once-in-a-life-time, dream-trip around the world. And when brainstorming the infinite possibilities, I kept a transient list of different countries that I might want to visit...
Now...if I were to go home, fumble through my old notebooks, and re-visit all of my chicken scratch, I'm sure I would have a good chuckle over the evolution of that list. But ever since the beginning, the one country that has never left that list...the one country that I had earmarked as my "definite, absolutely, must-get-to place" was the Philippines. I'm cannot explain exactly why I found this country so incredibly alluring...but for one reason or another, I did.
And poof...here I am...a dream come true...and good timing, as it was truly an appropriate place to have spent this year's Thanksgiving! And wherever you all may have found yourselves last Thursday, I hope you had your own wonderful food-fun-friends-and-family-filled holiday!
As I mentioned at the end of my last email, Siobhan connected me with a friend she had made while she was traveling in Cambodia...and her friend (Lindsay) connected me with her best friend (Sherry) who is currently serving as an environmental volunteer in the Peace Corps in the Philippines. Given the current U.S. Travel Advisory and the fact that this marked my first real adventure in a developing nation, I was especially appreciative of the lifeline (so were my parents!). And when I arrived at Clarke Air Force Base, two hours away from the airport I thought I was flying into...completely and utterly confused (what's news?)...I quickly became appreciate of another thing; my hideous hot-pink international cell phone that I had reluctantly purchased by necessity and default mid-way through my travels down-under. It meant that I could contact my contact!
And since arriving to my dream destination a little over three weeks ago, I've been settled in the mountains of Northern Luzon...And my reality has been even better than my dreams...
The highlight of my time in the North has definitely been the Cosalan's, Sherry's indigenous Ibaloi host family. I arrived just in time for the much anticipated launching of their Eco-Tourism and Organic farm. Early in the morning, we gathered at the Municipal Hall in town for the three kilometer hike down into the valley. Into the afternoon, the crowd grew as the traditional feast (two pigs were slaughtered!) and festival continued. The entire day was beautiful; full of speeches and prayers, singing and dancing, love and happiness. And into the night, we continued the celebration around a bonfire.
The Ibaloi were among the first citizens of the Philippines and the Cosalan family has continuously possessed and occupied their land for over three generations, since the early 1840s. Guided by cultural traditions, they have religiously practiced their indigenous system of resource management, anchored on the central tenant that, "Land is not only capital, but, more importantly, life." To ensure an ecologically balanced landscape, their ancestors left more than 30% of their property forested...devoid of plants, terraces, and paddies...in order to protect their water source and watershed and to ensure the health and prosperity of the land for their children's children.
But like most indigenous communities in colonized countries, the Cosalan's were pushed to the periphery. The government allowed the family to retain only the parts of the property which they had 'settled' and took away their forests given the fact that they lacked signs of their 'use and occupancy'. But East to West, concepts of "use and occupancy" of land are innately different...And to this day, the family (and countless other indigenous families) continues to battle for the full title of their ancestral lands.
Then...a few decades ago, Santo Niños opened a mining operation close by and the Cosalan's were indirectly driven off their land and into the nearby city, as they found their water source, their crops, and their health damaged. Less than a decade ago those mines went out of business and closed and their land began a process of rejuvenation! The eleven Cosalan children who were raised on that piece of land are now adults...and they've joined in an effort to continue their parent's indigenous legacy and environmental teachings! Their aim is to preserve their land and culture while using their organic farm (now named ENCA) as a space to educate the community.
And it was great to be there for the official launching of their dream. And it's been wonderful spending time down in the valley, helping out with various tasks like trail construction and seed sowing by day...and hearing stories by night! Their intimate knowledge of their land...its' plants and animals...is awe-inspiring...they have so much to teach us! Two days ago I finished participating in the first seminar held on the premises; a three-day introductory workshop lead by an Australian-trained Filipino on Bio-dynamic Farming! We've also just finished registering the farm as a WWOOFing host (the first one in the Philippines!)...just in case any fellow international travelers out there happen to be looking for a great place to spend some time!
When not at the farm, I have been staying with Auntie Lyng (the youngest of the Cosalan children), Uncle Daniel, their son Carl, and their house-hand Mildred. They welcomed me into their home with open arms and were extremely hospitable. Family is extremely important in this country and I quickly became part of theirs. It was nice to spend some of my mornings down at the Municipal Hall, watching Carl play in his basketball games. And at day's end, it was nice to sit around a dinner table and exchange stories.
For Thanksgiving, the Peace Corps organized a holiday gathering further north in a tiny-touristy town called Sagada. It was nice to be with American's on the America holiday...and we gave thanks over a traditional feast (the only thing that was missing was my favorite...the pumpkin pie!)
While there, a group of us hired local guides to take us on a caving adventure! The caves in Sagada were beautiful and the limestone formations were unlike anything I had ever seen before. We had to swim across an underground pool for one section! And there was another large, ice-cold, crystal clear deep pool that we all took turns jumping, diving, and cannon-balling into! Because very few people in the group had ever been underground before...the day made me think about my Wilskills days back at Vandy. I found myself pitching Tennessee and its' natural beauty...I even uttered the phrase, "Tennessee is the caving mecca of the world." Ah, Good Old Rocky Top...for all those of you reading this back in Nashville, you are lucky to be in such a remarkable place!
Well, that's my update for now! Thanks for those of you who had emailed about the typhoon! I stayed dry during this one...and found myself slipping and sliding on my trek out from the farm during another one! Yesterday I left the mountains and this morning I arrived on the island of Palawan...sure doesn't feel like any December I've ever known...
Until next time, take care and so will I,