Visiting Basag*, the Hot Town in Philippines
– The New JTS Activist’s First Journey
JTS Activist, Lee Jae-Gon
“Can you tell me where I can wash my hands?”
Whenever I ask something, the children in town become very shy and busy to run away from me. They just smile at me who looks different from them. High grade students randomly understand my English but the lower grade students don’t understand English at all. I don’t know how speak Bisayan(Mindanao language) either, so I made a gesture like washing my face. Even though I try so hard to know where a bathroom is, they just point at somewhere and never tell me exactly where it is. I asked one of the school teachers this, and he said, I should go for about 1Km out of town to get water.
The town I’m visiting today is called Basag. Most of the residents is natives and 300 people in 70 families live in the town. When I felt really hot in Korea, I used to say “I’m sizzled by the sun like Basagbasag. (In Korean, Basag means a sound of something burning.) Under the strong sunlight in Mindanao, my skin felt sore because I got burned so badly and I became extremely thirsty. It’s like my body is sizzling, like Basagbasag literally. Since the weather is so hot in Basag and the hot weather fits well with its name in terms of the meaning in Korean that I didn’t even wonder the meaning of Basag in Philippine.
When I got to Basag, all I can see was few trees and a school getting strong sunlight on the empty field. There was only a few trees on the ground because people logged most of the trees. When I met some of residents, they treated me to coconut juice, welcoming the foreigner from Korea. Actually I don’t like coconuts, because of the bland flavor, but I drank every last bit of the coconut juice this time. And it tasted sweet and perfect. I felt like it was not like any other coconuts.
I visited Basag to monitor the school, built on March this year. I was told that the farm in Basag has been getting broader and the residents have been increased too. It turns out that children, used to live in Phagumpung and Blueant, moved to Basag and became Basag school students. When I arrived at the school, children were taking their kindergarten class in a classroom where is outside of the school building, having few chairs and desks. Classrooms are in demand although the school building was completed a couple of months ago. Furthermore, they don’t have a water tank in town yet, so not only children, but school teachers who live in school can’t have clean living water. I was very worried after seeing the poor circumstance in Basag, but one of the activists said that we can’t promise the residents to provide a water tank or extend the school building right away. Because we should keep an eye on its circumstance very seriously before decide to support.
On the way back from the town, I was faced with a road. I named it as “Road of Desert Sahara”. It’s difficult to walk on, due to the strong sunlight over my head and hot asphalt on the ground. I couldn’t walk more than 10minutes under this weather. If there is little shadow of trees, I ran into it and took a rest. I didn’t take the break for my relaxation, but to survive. I wish I could feel a little bit of wind but It was just a hot day without a hint of a breeze. And I had to walk on this road in this weather for 30 minutes! I once marched across South Korea as an perseverance training for myself, so I thought it would be not a problem to walk across some towns in Philippine at all. However, I now completely understand the residents’ saying that some visitors had passed out on the road at the recent visiting. A Philippino staff Jessy cheered us up, saying “Very cold!” when the activists were exhausted. Jessy have been with us as the coordinator of town developing project in Damulog, Mindanao. He translates Mindanao language into English and introduces the circumstance of towns. I followed him saying “very cold! very cold!” just like Jessy did. While I was taking a sweet break, one of the activists took a photo of my face glowing with red. His face turned red afterward too, just like mine. Now I understand why Jessy always covers his face with orange cloth wherever he goes.
“I’m glad you’re still alive”
Activists in head office told me, after I reported him our visiting on the phone. Before I leave Korea, I learned something from Activists Training for Foreign Project, which the best way to help towns in need is not always to give and support. When I got the train, I agreed to the idea. I thought giving and supporting without long-term plan only makes beneficiaries more dependable. After visiting the town, however, I felt frustrated about why activists are not in hurry to provide a water tank to the town, and to rebuild the school urgently. After reminding about the fact that it’s hard for beginner activists to understand the local condition, I could finally put myself together.
Although I’m in the office, I feel like I’m still walking on the extreme hot ground. It has been a month since I left Korea where I was able to use plenty of water and get cool air by pushing one little button. I used to feel nothing watching a campaign for saving water, but now I realized that I had lived in an rich and affluent society in Korea. Other activists told that compared to the heat in dry season, the weather I felt today was nothing. And the fearful dry season is coming to Mandanao. I’m worried that soon Basag, the hot town will get even hotter day like Basag(burning).