Friday, May 29, 2009

If you plant it, they will grow

It's only been a few days, but Nicole's obviously a natural...

Crowd Control

I wish I'd taken some 'before' photos for you. Yesterday's distribution was absolute madness. I suppose my taking the simple task of queueing for granted stems from my colonial (or convict?) ancestry. I would think that if you sat three people in front of three windows, that other people waiting for their services would simply fall in line in front of the three windows. WRONG! Sure, it begins with some resemblance to a line or five, but it quickly gets totally out of control!

The day before yesterday, we were issuing coupons before the food distribution, and things were getting a bit chaotic. We had to call the cavalry (and by cavalry I mean infantry). I was quite concerned about the crowd and the pushing that was going on, so I was (relatively) happy when a few army dudes showed up. Things settled down very quickly after that!

Yesterday, the three windows thing we thought would work just failed from about the third minute. It was a very hot day, and fair enough, people weren't that keen on standing in long lines in the sun. So they'd just crowd around the front, waving their coupons in our faces, hoping we'd take theirs and they could get on with the day. It got a bit ridiculous. Luckily, we'd learnt our lesson from the day before and brought a megaphone with us. We moved everyone away and got them to organise themselves into groups of about 10. Then one representative could approach us to line up to get 10 food coupons. We decided on 2 lines for the men, and 1 for the women. I thought some stick figures signs indicating which line was which would do the trick.

I didn't see any women trying to join the male lines, but the number of men trying to queue up with the women was ridiculous!! And the guys still couldn't figure out how to make 2 lines...

Everyone probably thought I was a cold hearted witch for telling people loitering in front who didn't have coupons to go away, over and over again. But the safety of my colleague and myself, and of the IDPs is more important to me than allowing a free-for-all hang around and check out what's going on, even though I've got absolutely nothing to do with what's going on here today situation. If only I knew how to say "move along, nothing to see here"...

If only I had US$2.3m

I could live in Cameron Frye's house!! But I wouldn't drive my Ferrari 250 GT through the glass garage...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Circle of Life Part 2

I woke up this morning, opened my door, and found Grandma lying on the grotty doormat with two of the kittens. The guard came rushing over to me and turned me around to look at the laundry. The little marmalade kitten (not Mangy) was just lying there in the doorway. I poked it, and it was cold and hard. The poor little kitten was dead. There was a wound on its stomach, someone had attacked it.

I checked the little black one near Grandma, because it didn't seem to be moving either, and it's also got a wound below its ear.

Apparently the guard saw a big black and white cat (I know the one) attacking the kittens. Now of course I remember the time that the guards said the other tom cat had eaten one of the kittens and I threw a rock at it when I saw it trying to get near the other kitties. And then we found the kitten alive and well. I felt kind of bad about that. But this black and white cat should know to never to darken our door again.

I'm sad today.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Not much to report really. Worked 11 hours yesterday, 10 hours today...a good portion of that time was spent in the car, the other spent in the hot sun holding a clipboard, interviewing people who've just received their rice rations, or collecting the coupons that allow them to get the rice. I was extremely frustrated today as our implementing partner kept us waiting for about 2 hours, at their office and at the distribution site. As a result, we couldn't get through the entire distribution and got back to Cotabato at 6:30pm; we're supposed to be back in the city by 5pm for security reasons. It's not a big deal getting back late, but it annoys me that quite a few of the IDPs, who'd spent all day waiting in the sun for their rice, have to wait another day to get the ration. I'd be pretty damn peed off by that!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Mary Mary quite contrary

Nicole's family are farmers, so it's obviously in her blood. A while ago, she brought back some seeds and we managed to find some pots. Finding some dirt was a bit of a problem but she solved it by asking some IDPs for their dirt...seriously...

Step 1: Decide what to plant where

Step 2: Drainage

Step 3: Get dirt (from the WFP rice bag)

Step 4: Introduce dirt to drainage (Mucho Gusto. Igualmente) and Mangy

Step 5: De-lump the dirt

Step 6: Till the dirt (and scare Mangy)

Step 7: Open the seeds

Step 8: Inspect seeds (and comment on how they look exactly like the coriander seeds you buy in the herb aisle)

Step 9: Introduce seeds to dirt (enchante!)

Now all we need is some direct sunlight (and dry conditions for some of the herbs...yeah that's not going to happen here!) and voila! By the time I'm long gone, Nic should start seeing some results!!

And here's a new picture of the kitties...eyes are open!!

Saturday, May 23, 2009


One of the benefits of being one of a few non-Filipinos around here is that people remember you...that's also a bit of a negative too because I struggle to remember all the people I'm introduced to. But anyway, a couple of weeks ago I went to a evacuation centre to assess if they should be supported with WFP food. I met the cutest little boy who was looking after his baby sister. The little bub was absolutely adorable, and wouldn't stop smiling at me. Her gappy smile with just a couple of teeth was just heart melting.

We went back to the same evacuation centre yesterday for the first distribution. While things were getting organised, I was keeping an eye out for my little buddies. Of course the bigger part of me hoped that their family had been able to return home, but I was also hoping that I might find them. And sure enough, I spotted the family; the mother was just handing the baby over to the little boy so she could get in line to get her coupon validated.

I made my way over and tapped the kid on the shoulder, and when he turned around, he face just broke into the biggest smile. And the baby followed suit. I think he was surprised that I remembered him, but I was glad he remembered me. We hung out for a little while, and then I had to get to work on some exit monitoring. Since there were three of us doing it, I only had to interview five people, so then had more time to hang out with them and some other kids. My friend is the second from the left in the front row.

The little bub had a nasty rash all over her forehead, chest and her belly. I'm told that this was either due to poor nutrition or poor water and sanitation. Hopefully the rice the family received will go some way to helping her.

And while it looks like she's about to cry, I snapped a second early, this is actually stage 2 of the smiling process. Cute huh!

I saw a mouse!

We've got a bit of a menagerie at the house, what with six cats, endless toads, and a new recent addition, a mouse. The cats a pretty useless; not only do they show no interest in killing toads (much to my dismay) but they haven't even noticed the mouse we've spotted skulking around on a few occasions.

Last night, after watching the American Idol finale (yea Kris!), we watched a pretty awful movie, "Bring It On: All or Nothing" (which I actually remembered watching late one night in El Paso, Texas), and somehow during that movie Nicole and I got into a discussion on childhood dance lessons. I never did ballet or tap, but do remember having some sort of dancing lessons when I was about eight. I remember our end of year performance, in which we did two routines. The first was to the song "Mony Mony" and it involved green, black and white crepe paper pom poms. I was struggling to remember the second, but did recall small black canes being involved.

And then it hit me. I saw a mouse! Where? There on the stair! Where on the stair? Right there, a little mouse with cloooooooooggggggs on, well I declare, going clip clippity clop on the stair...oh yeah.

And what do you know, it's on youtube!! Ah, memories!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

P-A-R-T-Why? Because it's been 7 months!!

If you've been reading this blog since the beginning, you'll be extremely familiar with Vardy and Adam and the crazy story of their engagement. It took them a little while to get organised, but they finally had their engagement party on the was so great that I could be there:

Tehehe, I laughed and laughed when I saw the pics. Since I could be there in the flesh, I made a little video for them.

Oh, those crazy guards! There was a lot of preparation involved in making the video, with a number of rehearsals - they were supposed to say "Congratulations Vardy and Adam" but when the camera turned on them, they just froze. So I didn't think it was fair to ask them to do another take, even though my own spiel could've used improvement!! (What's up with my voice??)

Anyway, congrats again dudes!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's not them, it's those

My mum volunteered in the tuck shop (canteen for those non-Aussies) when I was at school and was always appalled when kids would say, "Can I have two of them donuts" or some such thing. Her response would be "two of those". My friends will vouch for my nazi-ism on the same topic - just one of the many good habits I picked up young.

Though I sometimes get lambasted for grammar on this blog (usually when I'm using some crazy foreign keyboard where the keys are all over the shop), I am a stickler for the correct usage of apostrophes. Such a stickler in fact, that I boycotted a cheap shop at the local shopping centre because its name is "Whats New" (well, until I needed some cheap paint supplies for a certain art project I undertook).

Which is why I had to giggle at this:

Yeah, I'm a bit of a nerd sometimes.


I had an interesting field trip today to validate some recently displaced people. The journey was made all the more interesting due to the following:

Apparently a typhoon took the bridge out quite some time ago, so it was a short little punt across to the other side.

Obviously, the car wasn't able to come with us, so we had to use another form of transport to get from the river to the people we needed to talk to. Beach umbrella time!!!

I didn't go on this one exactly, it looks far swisher than the one I took. The speedo on the bike went up to 140...we didn't make it over 20!

We had a successful validation and post distribution monitoring, and then punted back across...though that boat was sitting pretty low in the water, I was glad it was only a short trip!


Movin on up

We had another visit from the lovely Ann from OCHA last night (and tonight as well). Ann's a bit of a softie and has been checking up on the progress of the kittens since she first met them a week ago.

After a few beers (I'll get to that later), we decided to improve the cat house, as it was a bit cramped and the walls were too high for Grandma to get in and out of without jumping on the babies.

So I give to you: the little cats who live in two joined-up beer boxes

Grandma had managed to get herself inside, and was then determined (having seen how the other half lives) to move the babies in there. This involved picking up various kittens and wandering around near the doors with a kitty in her mouth. Then she'd kind of give up on that, drop the kitten and just meow really loudly at us. I took the opportunity of a dropped kitten to give you a bit of a scale shot...still so tiny (even if I do have big feet!)

Anyway, we'd had a lovely dinner for 6, and 6 people drinking beer. So the cans just started piling up...Ann's 5 foot 10 by the way, and this wasn't all of them!

Just an average Tuesday night in the Cote!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


By now, you're all probably aware of my addiction to cute animals. Particularly cute baby animals (Nicole wouldn't let me steal one of two very cute baby goats [I was going to write kids then, but thought that might lead to some confusion] that were hanging out down our street on the weekend - spoilsport). This addiction isn't just cute domestic baby animals, it's cute wild animals, cute farm animals, cute highway get the point. Anyway, check this baby out:


What did the blank cross the road?

I see a lot of animals crossing the road as I spend a lot of time driving around most days of the week. It's curious that the animals seem to have adopted the "Famble" (the Filipino Amble) and are very casual about crossing the road. I'll point out here that the road I'm referring to is the national highway, and though it's only singe carriageway, it's a busy road. So anyway, because there's not much else, I get entertained by the different animals Fambling across the road. These include:
  • cows
  • caribou
  • horses
  • goats
  • sheep
  • dogs
  • cats
  • ducks
  • geese
and yes, even some damn chickens.

Back to the Famble's the most frustrating thing! I'm no giant, but in comparison to most people here, I'm at least a good head taller than most women, and give a lot of men a run for their money. So proportionately, my legs are looooooooooooong. But it's not just about size. There's an attitude involved in the Famble. And that attitude is to demonstrate how slow one can actually walk. Doesn't matter where; crossing the road, walking around the mall...ok, those are the only places that I'm allowed to be on my feet but I'm sure there is Fambling going on everywhere. If you're stuck behind a Fambler...there is no pain greater (alright, I exaggerate slightly)...particularly in confined spaces when you can't get around them. Gah!

Pick up your feet people!!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rollin' on the River

I am a ginspiration to all! After faffing about for a while, Nic has finally decided to rejoin the blogosphere.

You can check out her new blog right here right now

(And I take full credit for both the coining of the term ginspiration and the title of her blog!!)

Thought of the day

Life is 10% hard work, and 90% ginspiration

Work/Life Balance

I think it was the couple of years I spent working in occupational health and safety that really developed my strong commitment to a healthy work/life balance. It wasn't because the job had particularly long hours or was very stressful (or stressful at all really) but I suppose it was due more the knowledge of how psychological stressors effect all aspects of life.

The life of an aid worker is right up there with the most stressful jobs around...below being Mayor of a Colombian city or an Alaskan fisherman, particularly during emergencies, or in conflict situations. This is where the work/life balance becomes even more important. When you're working 15 hours a day, it's hard if not impossible to find some time for yourself to relax a bit. But the psychosocial ramifications of not doing this will either become apparent pretty quickly, or build and build until you just crash.

I'm not working 15 hour days here, and while this deployment is considered a complex emergency (i.e. an emergency in a conflict zone), I'm not finding it difficult to maintain a work/life balance. Now that has a lot to do with my role here, as it's not a high stress position, and because I'm not cooped up inside a hotel room. I am cooped up a lot of the time, with 2 armed guards, but at least we have a big house and can go out with a driver basically whenever we want (not late at night obviously!)

This week is going to be great on the 'life' side of things: Yesterday was 2 hours of badminton with Nicole, a new guy from ACF and myself, followed by a fantastic dinner of lettuce and watching Save the Last Dance (luckily, Nicole is a dance movie tragic like me). The week will also include another couple of hours of badminton with a different agency, Wednesday night is the final performance night on American Idol, and then Thursday night is the finale. Nic's got me absolutely hooked on American Idol, and we're not the only ones. As such, we're going to figure out how to hook the TV up to the projector and have an AI party on Thursday night. And I think I might just have to schedule a massage for Friday night.

We're still considering going away this weekend, but may stick around for some ultimate frisbee and rock climbing...two things that I'm probably going to suck at, but will have a go at anyway.

And on the work side of things, I had to stick around in the office today for a couple of (encouraging) meetings, but will be out in the field doing assessments for the rest of the week. After being tied up all of last week with the visitors, it will be nice to get back into some real work.

So, in a nutshell, I'm giving a shout out to a healthy work/life balance - no matter what your job, no matter where you are, make some time to do things you enjoy!!

And for any aid workers out there that haven't heard of the Antares Foundation, they have an excellent booklet on "Managing Stress in Humanitarian Workers" which you should definitely download.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


My favourite band of all time, that means not just the flavour of the week, but OF ALL TIME, Ash, have just released a new single "Return of the White Rabbit." There's no film clip yet, but you can listen to it right now and enjoy some still photos of the band. Right here. Right now.


You'll remember I mentioned the visit we had recently from the ABC, who were reporting on the issues currently facing the peace process in Mindanao. The MILF guy Jaafar, that the reporter Kesha West speaks to, is the guy with the pet monkey I met with last week.

You can watch the news program "Mindanao Peace?" (15/5/09) at the Australia Network website and see for yourself the types of evacuation centres we're working in. Unfortunately, my walking shot with the Country Director, Nicole and some of our national staff got cut, even though we did it a couple of times! But a snippet of Nic's interview is in there, you'll agree that she did a pretty good job!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Ambassador and the Senator

Today was even bigger than yesterday. We welcomed our National Ambassador against Hunger, KC Concepcion, who's a very popular actress and singer, and her father, Senator Kiko. By the time we picked them up (from their private jet) and started our journey, we had a convoy of 13 vehicles, including press, military and private security guards!!

Our first stop was one of our warehouses, which saw a lot of interesting photo shoots

(That's our Deputy Country Director, Wurie, who's also one of my housemates)

We then travelled to Midsayap to visit a school which is doubling as an evacuation centre. KC read "War Makes Me Sad" to some of the IDP children (just look at how nice her skin is!),

While the Senator met with their parents in the next room. Unfortunately, not all the kids could come inside for story time...

We'd been presented with ribbon something-or-others on our arrival, which just didn't hang right, but we still wore them for our photos...

Our last stop of the day was an evacuation centre in Datu Odin Sinsuat (or DOS as we refer to it), and boy did the crowd turn out and put on a show! Our car was at the back of the convoy so we arrived a bit after some of the others. We decided to make our way around the back of the stage area to try to sneak up. Yeah, it was a bit of a mission, but when people saw my smiling white face, they happily let us through. Once we were on stage though, it was like a mosh pit.

KC met with some more kids, while this time around, I joined the Senator for a discussion with some representatives of the IDPs. The conversation mostly focused on the need for 'food for education' and to encourage all parents to enrol their children in schools and keep them there, no matter how long they're displaced. The little room we were in had a sign on the wall, which I thought was pretty great:

I hope so...

Corporate Tourism

This week we've had some visitors from two of our biggest corporate sponsors, and as such, a program was organised to show them some of the places we're operating.

Hailee, Hasna and I were the "advance team" yesterday, which meant we showed up at the site about3 hours before everyone else...not there was much to do, the a tarpaulin had already been set up so there wasn't anything to even supervise!

We decided to fill some time by interviewing a very interesting old woman for a potential case study. She couldn't remember how old she was, but had had 13 children, and 30 grandchildren. She's also made the pilgrimage to Mecca years ago...the first female Hajji (I think women are called Hajjas) I'd ever met.

Eventually, the Governor rocked up as well as our corporate sponsors, and we had a very interesting meeting, where the IDPs were able to voice their concerns and appreciation.

Not even a torrential downpour could put a dampener (ha di har) on things...thank goodness for the tarpaulin!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Safety Dance

As many of you know, Julz and I are big fans of the movie Bio-Dome. Like Zoolander, it just gets funnier and funnier everytime you watch it. And one of the best scenes (after "free mahi-mahi" and "shave poochie poochie") is when Bud and Doyle lead the scientists in a dance to, appropriately, The Safety Dance.

You can't help but groove a little....

And to think that I then found this video from one of my favourite shows, "Scrubs". Love it.

A side venture perhaps?

I received a comment on one of my recent posts from OurExplorer, obviously not a real person, but a company that offers tour guides all over the world. I remember actually stumbling across this website before, and it's a great idea. Find yourself a local guide, and have a different tourist experience, depending on the person you find.

So I visited the site and typed in the Philippines to see if there was anyone in Mindanao. Surprise surprise, there's a guy in Davao (hence why this comment was left on my post about Davao). Unsurprisingly, there's no-one registered as a tour guide in Cotabato City...maybe I could have a part time job where I take people (as long as they're approved for travel in UN vehicles) to the mall, Two Gals pizza house, and to the badminton courts...coz that's about all I've seen of the Cote!

Run like you mean it

I watched an episode of Friends recently, in which Phoebe and Rachel go running. Rachel is embarrassed by Phoebe's individual style of running and hilarity ensues...

Something struck me a while ago here. The kids don't run with reckless abandon. I remember seeing one little guy - he couldn't have been more than 2 - running down the side of the road, naked from the waist down, chasing after his brother. He was pumping his little arms and was leaning forward and the look on his face was one of pure determination. It was absolutely adorable. But so serious.

Until today. I went out to do some post distribution monitoring and the kids were running around, arms and legs flailing was nice to see.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Just another Saturday in the Cote

I'd passed a little store on the way to and from badminton quite a few times which looked interesting, so Nicole and I decided to stop in there for a bit of a look yesterday morning. It turned out to be a mecca for thongs (flip flops people!). I restrained myself to two pairs; one "abercrombie" pair (couldn't say no the moose!) and the cute lighthouse pair. Gotta love cheap thongs!

I also bought two tops (supporting local business!)

We then headed to a market area which looked deceivingly small from the road. But inside, it was basically all same same and we left empty handed. It was then onto the supermarket to load up on supplies.

Our fabulous dinner had to wait as we had a meeting with the MILF. While we were left waiting for 45 minutes, we had entertainment in the form of...

a pet monkey!! I wasn't keen on catching primate flu, or rabies for that matter, but my colleague Mike was game.

The meeting was interesting enough, but we were more than keen to get home to start our feast. Nic had a recipe for flat bread, so while we were waiting for the instant yeast to do its magic, I whipped up some hommus and baba ganush, got out some olives and fetta and fried up the chorizo we'd bought in Davao. Nic threw together a bit of a salad and poured a couple of cups of red wine and voila!

In the words of one of my Spanish teachers, Gustav, excellente...perfecto...EXTRAORDINARIO!!!

Friday, May 8, 2009

No friggin' way!!!

Otters that can play I really have seen it all

Incredible photography

This is like, totally gnarly man!

The circle of life

We've been waiting for a few weeks for this moment...Grandma finally had kittens! We'd suspected that there was maybe one of two in her bulging belly, but it turns out there were three!!

It's a bit hard to see the third one, as Grandma (yes, I realise it's strange calling her Grandma when she's also a new Mum, but she's Mangy's grandma and Mangy got named first, so the names stick alright???) has her leg over it. But there's a marmalade one, a tortoiseshell one, and a black one. And apparently, according to one of the guards, the same tom that is (apparently) Mangy's Dad is also the father of these kittens (apparently) incestuous!!

Thursday, May 7, 2009


The drive to Tulunan today was about two and a half hours, and thankfully, all of it on good roads! But once we got out of Cotabato City limits, the radio station choice became woeful. The show we got stuck with was called YOM...Yesterday...Once...More and it was all power ballads that Haidee was singing along (quite beautifully) to, that I'd never heard b-side Carpenters perhaps. There were two songs I recognised: Roberta Flack's "Tonight I celebrate my love for you"...and the reason I know this song?

From the greatest TV show of all time, Ed.

The second song I knew: "Please don't ask me" by John Farnham. JOHNNY FARNHAM ON FILIPPINO RADIO!!!! Geez the man has pipes!

And just because I found it on youtube, here's my all time favourite $10 bet from Ed

Do I have a phobia??

I don't like guns. I've never fired a gun and I have no desire to do so, and until I lived in Bangers, I'd never really been in close contact with guns...granted, the guns that guards had there must have been about 60 years old, but they were still guns.

Guns are everywhere here; the house guards have sawn off shotguns and I've seen what looked to me like an uzi hanging on the wall of an IDP's hut. Then there's the guards at the mall, the signs asking you to check in your guns, and of course, the military and police cruising around in the back of pickups with the guns pointing out at the side of the road (Why can't they point them up?)

Today Haidee and I went to a place called Tulunan, where nearby fighting over the weekend forced a lot of people to evacuate. We went to assess whether they should receive WFP support. We stopped in at the Mayor's office first, and she said that while it was safe enough, that she'd provide an armed escort for us - military in plain clothes. I made the comment to Haidee that I wasn't sure which made me more uncomfortable: having a uniformed escort, or a non-uniformed escort.

The Mayor gave the instruction that they were to be discreet, yet when we pulled up to the first evacuation site, they all jumped out of their pickup and started slinging their massive guns over their shoulders. I asked the government partner rep to tell them to get back in the car. My driver turned to me and asked, "do you have a phobia about guns?" I explained to him that I didn't have a phobia about guns, and that I was concerned not only for the appearance of the UN being associated with men with big guns, but also because these people had just fled for their lives from men with big guns. 4 civilians died in the crossfire over the weekend, and the government report on the situation shown to me this morning included some half page colour graphic photos of the casualties.

I don't like guns. I don't like being followed around by men with guns, but I've accepted that as part of the package to working here. What I don't accept is men I don't know following me around and freaking the living daylights out of people that have obviously been through trauma you and I can't imagine.

Piggy Piggy

I think if swine flu were to hit the remote islands of Mindanao, it would be because of this guy...

"Well, there's nothing too extraordinary about that pig, it's just a pig," I hear you say. WRONG!! I first noticed a tail flicking from around a corner. Too high for a dog, too low for a cow...what on earth could it be??

I walked around the corner and was greeted by the sight of the most enormous testicles! Comparable in size to this:

And these testicles (I never thought I'd write the word testicles on my blog so many times!) belonged to the biggest bloody pig I'd ever seen. Here's a wider shot to give you some perspective:

I wish there was something else around to give you the scope of this monster. I'm glad I didn't hear him sneezing!

And then I found this little dude...mmmmmm, spotty bacon!

Oh the travel tails I have!