Notes After Haiyan

Stepping off the plane and onto a slippery tarmac the morning of November 8, no one could have foreseen the repercussions the day’s events would bring.

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We were flying back in from a week’s vacation in Hong Kong, already delayed but expecting worse weather conditions. Upon arrival in Subic Bay, it wasn’t until evening that the sky burst, pouring out untold destruction as Haiyan swept across the country.

On our hillside home, the wind howled louder than usual, but we kept the shutters down, flashlights nearby, and slept through the night.

The next morning, my husband had a scheduled meeting in Manila to discuss our family’s business on one of the islands in Palawan.

“Are you still going?” I asked him, while stirring the day’s first coffee.

“No,” he said quietly. “There probably isn’t anything to discuss anymore.” His gaze was distraught; he’d been following the news online.

I flipped on the TV, and there it was.

Death. Destruction. The worst storm in history had left its mark.

typhoon-haiyanAnd this was just the beginning.

The island we’d just finished construction for a new kitesurf camp on, lay in the direct path of the typhoon’s fury. As we watched bleak image after image of survivors in shock, as the news of a rising death toll spread across the globe, we could only hope that my brother and the 20 staff members on that tiny island in the middle of the South China Sea, were still okay.

It was to be three long days before we’d made any contact with them.

And during those days, I turned to social networks to follow the news, desperate for updates, for information, for hope.

Thankfully, and by nothing short of a miracle plus the boys’ disaster-preparation, there were no casualties, and no debilitating damage to the island. None of the native-bamboo structures had succumbed to the wind. We had never felt relief like this.

And so began a month that was probably the busiest of my 2013, besides March, when my daughter was born.

goodsSuddenly, we found ourselves caught up in a whirlwind of activity. My brother got involved in hands-on relief to other islands nearby whose residents and villagers weren’t as lucky. Our team in Manila organized shipments and air supplies of relief for the outlying islands where the local government, even with its billions of donations, still wasn’t getting to.

1462893_620826914644532_406989573_nPeople around the world who wanted to somehow help the victims of Haiyan were finding us online and giving from their own pockets. We began to work more closely with other individuals who were also active with relief efforts in Palawan, to send relief in a fast, efficient way, reaching hard-to-access areas. The ground teams, meeting shipments at port, would then go, sometimes with boats, sometimes on foot, hand-carrying supplies to the people.

southcoron1The process and logistics were crazy at times, but things were happening. Help was getting to the islands. Medical missions were carried out; hundreds of families reached with food, water, and clothing.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAThere are so many stories to tell that won’t fit just one blog post…but the last month, despite the horrible tragedy that was, also brought a bit of inspiration to my personal life.

You see, I went from being a busy mom in the kitchen to being a busy mom in the kitchen with a mission.

I still remember the feeling waking up with a million things on my mind–we’d just heard from my brother, that he was okay. I went to my husband and said, “Help me sort all these ideas in my head. We have ways to get to the islands, to reach the remote villages. My Facebook page is going crazy. People want to send help. We can’t not do anything!”

He looked at me with a, “It’s going to be a logistic-nightmare” face, but, being the level-headed man he is, told me what was needed, first and fast: Boats. Manpower. Fuel.

Suddenly, on the other end of my phone, were priests, doctors, medical workers, and people trying to connect with those who were suffering in the islands, asking us if we had a way to reach them with supplies.

borac2And because we did, it became a team effort of complete strangers coming together in the most unique of ways. I was reminded of my youthful days in Thailand, and of the aftermath of the Tsunami, when I found myself on a beach in Hikkadduwa, Sri Lanka, listening to the stories of survivors, visiting the little school run by the Daughters of Charity sisters, and of the week I spent with hilltop tribes in Uganda.

It wasn’t about one person or one group being a hero; it was about teamwork, concerted efforts; compassion in action–not just talk.

These were the adventures and journeys that, though wrought with difficulty, opened my eyes to the reality of the world. As a teenager, I learned to cherish life, to know its value.

And now, in-between diaper changes, midnight feedings with my baby, and scheduling family activities, there was also scheduling of relief pickups, emailing sponsors from faraway countries and helping to connect them with the immediate need.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAI know now that my life’s calling always finds a way to beckon me back.

I don’t have the money, or the resources to make a difference. But what I have always had was the blessing of being surrounded by amazing people. And this last month has proven that vital connections one makes to another, and another, and another, when interwoven in that crucial time, are enough to make miracles happen.

calambuyan2A ripple effect.

You can read about some of the amazing stories of our team’s Haiyan relief since it began here, here and pictures here.

calambuyan5I now find myself with just four days left in the country. So before we go back to Saxony with the kids, I’m enjoying my family and catching up with old friends over long, late night conversations. I’m taking my son around every day and showing him what it means to live an unconventional life.

To me, it continues to mean the same thing: that, sometimes, we don’t know where this journey takes us, what storms are ahead, what unforeseen events.

But we pray for pockets of peace; we trust the love and support of friends—and yes, sometimes even strangers.

It’s a crazy world we live in, and as my children grow, they will see that there is evil, and people with bad agendas, those power-hungry and money-hungry.

But they will also come to find that there is still so much good, so many who make the right choices, to live their lives in beautiful ways, and for humanity. I have met those kind of folks this month, connected with them, learned from them.

1453435_620826514644572_883025096_nWe continue on that journey, with its winding trails, and sometimes flooded streets, and other times, brokedown trains (story of our adventure in Metro Manila yesterday!).

And if, at night, our loved ones are near, and we can still sleep in each others arms, and if our children are healthy and laughing, with a roof overhead, then we have a million reasons to be thankful.

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Please watch this video posted on Youtube, with lyrics written by songwriter Armand TJ in Boracay–sung by children who were also victims of Haiyan, but they came together to sing for the world , the beautiful way Filipinos do despite the many storms.

(Relief photographs courtesy of 250k Kiteboarding Adventures)

Waking up in Wonderland

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Sleep-ins, as all moms know, become something of a distant memory once a baby is born.

But today, I welcome my 8-month old’s wake up call, her whining to go outside.

Because today we are in the “City of Pines”—that lovely, cool climate escape called Baguio. I slip into some comfy strolling clothes, and then push her out into the sweet-scented open.

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The breakfast buffet at the hotel’s restaurant smells of buttery croissants, homemade jams, and finely brewed coffee. That, mixed with Asian aromas from the giant spread: garlic-spiced longganisa, honey soy chicken, fish fillets and a large pot of steaming congee. I spy salted egg, banggus and ampalaya ensalada…

But we’re not up this early to eat—not just yet. We’ll wait for the sleeping boys and then pig out later. I’ve packed my camera, so we’ll go revel in this morning hour.

We catch mist rising; cascading streaks of early light. Hints of a perfect day awaiting us, its sun-showers spraying through a forest of impossibly tall pines.

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More pretty things on the pathway: beds of flowers, decked with frosty Christmas beads and giant glass baubles, a wishing pond with dancing kois and invisible water nymphs. At its bottom, a thousand coins glisten.

Dare I make a wish?

And still more pretty things: Paved up-hills and down-hills, winding roads to travel on foot. Further on, we overlook a silent lake. There’s a sprawling golf course in the distance, nestled in this carpeted playground of vibrant green.

Baguio city, tucked away in the Cordillera mountain ranges,  was once the recreation destination for US soldiers, when they held bases around the country. Because of its high altitude, the temperature is always pleasantly cool. Today, it’s just 17 degrees, a refreshing change from the usual humidity we’re used to.

My baby basks.

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She is silent, enjoying, taking in the peace and stillness of this wonderland. Every now and then, she coos a little, and when the hotel staff greets her with a good morning, she eyes them suspiciously before breaking just a half smile from an upturned, pouty lip.

She’s a bit suplada like that.

I scold her for being unfriendly, but maybe she just needs to get out more. We turn down towards an open road, continuing our stroll until it’s time to sleep again.

And this time, I welcome her dreamy midday slumber with a nap myself.

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As partial payment for a project I did for the Philippines Dept. of Tourism this year, I was given a four-day complimentary stay at The Manor. This charming luxury hotel is located at Camp John Hay and—besides other delicious things—serves the most amazing gourmet salads.

http://www.campjohnhay.ph/

Not Quite a Tsunami

Pundaquit, San Antonio, Zambales

Pundaquit

Somewhere between multiple typhoons, floods, and other seasonal September weather, we tripped to Pundaquit beach in Zambales.

From a distance, the son and I watched giant, forceful waves rushing, clashing, thrashing at the shore.  But my husband, he had to swim right in.

“Is it a tsunami, mom??” gasped my son, as he teetered on tiptoe, behind a bamboo fence which stood between the beach from the bar.

“No, not quite,” I reassured him, and we watched his dad grow smaller and smaller as he ventured further out.

Securing a spot at the bar, I could oversee both my little boy as he played in the sand, and my big boy, as he maneuvered a surfboard through the reckless ocean. Stealing photographs of him from afar (he doesn’t like his photo taken at all), I was content enough to meet new friends over a couple of cold San Mig Lights and Thai prawn soup.

When it looks this dramatic and beautiful, I can stare at the shore all day. Have you seen some awesome forces of nature lately?

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How to get to Pundaquit beach

 

Philippine Floods: The Curse of Unnatural Calamities

Philippine flood 2013
photo via http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Disaster zone, all over again. 125,000 families affected by the extreme flooding; over 600,000 people, since a typical Filipino family has 4-6 children.

Seven casualties, so far.

It’s the third day of torrential rains, and the amount of rain that fell on the Luzon area in the last 24 hours was what usually takes an entire month.

Social media networks helped to make rescue operations faster, while evacuation centers were already setup. Since the Ondoy flooding of 2009, catastrophes like this have battered the country every year, during monsoon season.

flood philippines 2013
photo via http://www.telegraph.co.uk

We just had a typhoon blow through last week. But as soon as it left, a new one, named Maring, lashed out. Today, it sits stubbornly over the country, refusing to leave. All day, and all night, the rain poured, water levels rose, rivers threatened to overflow and dams to break.

After all that this country has been through recently, it feels like Armageddon. Two oil spills, a fatal accident at sea that has already claimed 61 people; gas explosions, bombings in a public mall; calamities, everywhere. In just one week.

Peering out the windows of our house, I am relieved that the waters don’t rise where we live. Situated on a  hill, in a well-built residential area, we are in a safe zone. But just outside, flood waters rage like rivers. I’ve been up most of the night nursing my sick son back to health, and the baby has also woken on her usual multiple feeding times. But the fatigue I’ve experienced in the last few days are nothing compared to the tragedy and trauma endured by those thousands of evacuees seeking shelter in centers and trying to keep dry.

My son, at just 3 years old, is so interested in the news updates and the weather. Yesterday, we watched the TV reports together. Streets I used to walk to work; familiar highways I once commuted on, all turned to muddy swamp.

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Cavite, where my mom lives–thankfully, her house is elevated and unharmed

Metro Manila is a sinking cesspool.

This is a country plagued with natural disasters, yes. But I believe the problems are rooted much deeper.

There are serious calamities that could be avoided, but continue year after year, because of corruption, greed, abuse of power by those who hold the purse-strings.The majority of people, for lack of education,place more value in the gossip and lives of celebrities, wanting to emulate them in their dreams, in their Facebook statuses, and the telenovelas they adore praise material things and aesthetic beauty rather than hard work and education to secure a promising future.

Little or no urban planning; no health-care; overgrowth of communities, undisciplined citizens who accept filthy streets and choked traffic. While many live on the streets, there are also long lines of huge SUVs of rich kids, with parked chauffeurs waiting, clogging arteries near schools. Deforestation gives way to landslides, more common disasters. It isn’t Nature’s fault.

Funds meant for the people are stashed away by the millions, wasted on personal excess. The middle-class margin in this country is miniscule. There is the filthy rich, and then the filthy poor.

And the poor will remain so, the displaced will find no stable homes; the affected continue to live their lives in fear. The taxpayers will keep on slaving away day after day, and never see their earnings or contributions improve the lives of their children.

Philippine flood 2013
photo via http://www.telegraph.co.uk

It angers me, as I look out at the rains falling. For those of us who work in the tourism industry, it’s a constant dilemma and personal point of conflict.

Yes, we have a beautiful country; yes, there are kindhearted, wonderful people living here; yes, there are those treasures to be found. But the real problems grow more cankerous every day. They remain unmoving, like the typhoon overhead that refuses to shift. How can we ever improve and progress as a nation? How can we build a better home for our children?

Is there hope for the Philippines?

There is a deep-rooted part of our culture that just “accepts” things. Bahala na, we like to say. There’s nothing we can do about it, and that’s the way it will always be.

Philippines floodIt’s one part I am not proud about.

In the midst of all this,my thoughts turn to those who are the true heroes–the sacrificial rescue teams on call all day and night; the volunteer technical divers who scour the sunken ship in Cebu, searching for the missing, retrieving bodies, despite bad weather conditions. Those who bond together to get through the night and help all in their path. The mothers and fathers whose spirits may be downcast, after they have lost everything in a matter of hours.

And add to that list, all those who weather the conditions to get to work, who, on this downcast Tuesday, still carry on.

I hope and pray, that for their sakes, and for the sakes of the innocent in this country, the waters will subside and the storm will pass.

Philippine flood Maring
Bulacan, ravaged by floods. Took a road trip here with my husband and son just last May. Photo via http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Birthday Notes and Memories

Last Tuesday, I woke up 32 years old.

In those early morning hours, I wrote a little, reflecting on my past, present, and future. And I started counting the birthday gifts I have been given:

I am most thankful for MY CHILDREN. Seeing them every day, watching them grow, teaching them, and having all the time in the world to love them.

TIME is on my side. That is a huge gift. Time is at my disposal. Time to work; time to play; time to love; time to feel; time to create.

FREEDOM is mine. Another gift. No oppression; no riots, no civil or world wars where I live. Freedom to connect through the internet—something not possible years ago. Freedom to live life how I choose to create it.

…my son peeks over my shoulder as he wakes and sits up in bed with me. “Whoa,” he says, “That is a lot of words!”

WORDS. Another gift. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of words which you have given me. You have enabled me to speak, to write, to communicate with words. This gift is mine; let me use it for good.

HEALTH. I have never been hospitalized for an illness, nor have my children. No accidents, through all those years. And every day, I am given another 24 hours to enjoy living with a healthy, breathing body.

After these, there are others; the list could go on… TRAVEL…FRIENDS…A JOB…MONEY TO PAY THE GROWING BILLS…A HOUSE TO LIVE IN.

Lord, I thank you for all these birthday gifts, and ask you to guide me through another year. Keep me challenged, changing, growing, accepting of all that life has still to give.

Last year's birthday celebrations, I pigged out on German food with my boys!
Last year’s birthday celebrations, I pigged out on German food with my boys!

Year Highlights:

14 May—On my 31st birthday (after an early celebration in Stuttgart, Germany, we drove to Italy and arrived in our new home on Lake Como, possibly one of the prettiest places on earth.

The winding, still snowy road through the Alpine border into Northern Italy--our car was packed gypsy-style!
The winding, still snowy road through the Alpine border into Northern Italy–our car was packed gypsy-style!

In Italy, life was simple and good (Read about it here.) I got back into painting and even sold some of my work in this amazing, picture-perfect place. Every artist’s dream.

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Summer on Lake Como when my mermaid friend came for a visit 🙂

Even though my hands were full with a toddler, and I got pregnant (yes, Alexandra was made in Italy!), the desire of my heart to get back to paid-writing in some form was granted through work-from-home jobs for Philippine Airlines Inflight magazine and the Department of Tourism’s new website.

Growing belly in September
Growing belly in September

At this time, we also launched Lifestyle Planet, a start-up website magazine now growing rapidly! I’m so excited for the future of this 3rd baby of mine! (Go to the link now!)

My little man, always in awe
My little man, always in awe

By the time we got back to Saxony, vibrant Autumn colors had arrived—my absolute favorite European season. And then, we even got some early snow!

Snow in Sachsen
Snow in Sachsen

…but I’m really not a deep-in-winter kind of girl…thankfully, we made it back to sunny Southeast Asia in time to have a tropical Christmas. Reunited with my one dozen brothers and sisters, Karsten got to meet his very young aunties and uncles, and experience again the fun chaos that is Manila.

7 months pregnant in December--Karsten turned 3 on December 22!
7 months pregnant in December–Karsten turned 3 on December 22!

We kicked off 2013 outside the metro, where we now stay (again, temporarily), just a few minutes’ drive from the beach and bay. We came here to have the baby in a more tranquil place, and to ensure that our kids had clean, fresh air to breathe.

Boys at play
Boys at play

Alexandra was born on the 1st of March, 2013, by scheduled C-section, even heavier than her brother. Even though it was a surprise getting her, and not in any of our plans, I’m glad for our beautiful girl.

Picture taken at less than two months old
Picture taken at less than two months old

I don’t know now where the footprints in the sand will lead.

It seems that change is coming very soon again. Story of our life.

But as another year says hello, I am just thankful to have made it this far. I’m setting new goals, dreaming new dreams, but also trying to cherish the everyday simple. The 5pm walks through nature; the crazy screaming (newborns!) nights; the children; more time.

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Last year was not without its trials, tears and challenges. The roads were many, both literal and in my mind. And as my family grows, so do the daily obstacles. I’m hoping to keep taking this one day at a time, while still setting long term goals and reaching them. And I’m grateful for everyone who has been a part of this journey.

Sunsets by the bay
Sunsets by the bay

I can’t believe it’s been more than three decades! Can’t wait to see what’s around the corner. Cheers to new beginnings! New life, new love, new adventures!

Beer, anyone??
Beer, anyone??

Travels with My Toddler and New Philippine Tourism Website!

What’s happening now, mommy?

What’s that over there?

Where’s Opa’s house now?

You’re hungry now!

Daddy, the Polizei are behind us!

I knew all along, that the day would come, and now it finally has. Our little smiling, sometimes crying, always pooping baby has grown up and become a toddler-talking-machine.

Finding his way in-between adjectives, mixing up pronouns, and the complication of both languages, he is just as fluent in English as he is in German, and just as inquisitive.

You can imagine that this makes for very interesting road trip conversations—many of which, he is having with himself. Whether narrating what’s going on outside, or pestering us with questions, or singing to himself, there’s always something going on in that head of his.

And I’m glad for that. Since Karsten was three months old—no, since he was in my tummy—we have been on the road, in the air, in nearly every kind of public transportation mode possible in all (last count was seven countries), and he has fallen in love with traveling. (Read my article on What To Pack for Travel with a Baby, in Smart Parenting Online.)

This makes long journeys like the 28 hour drive we just did yesterday (Italy to Germany), so much more bearable. He sits comfortably in his car seat, with hardly a wiggle, enjoying the great outdoors, the highway trucks, the zooming along the autobahn, all the while counting every clock-tower in Tuscany.

I’ve also been reminiscing my own travels, not only here in Europe, but back in my country of birth, the Philippines. Fresh on assignment for the Philippine Tourism website, I’ve been time-traveling back to when I first got better acquainted with the islands, and garnered some pride in being from an amazing part of the world.

Wanna know what it’s like in my islands? Check out More Fun in the Philippines, which launched just a few days ago!