Monday, September 26, 2011

Driving in Davao

One of the first things that I noticed upon arriving in Davao was the traffic.  Not so much the amount of it, but rather the way that traffic operates here.  We got off the plane, were picked up by some friends, and then were taken to their house.  By the time we got there I was a bit tense from the drive.  The way people drive here seemed crazy to me!  Now, we hadn't planned to buy a  vehicle before we came here, and after seeing the way traffic operates here I was very glad!  I didn't want to even attempt to drive in what seemed to me to be chaotic and confusing.

That was two months ago.  Since then I have had ample opportunity to observe traffic patterns and driving styles, and have come to understand a few things about driving here.  I came to realize that drivers here are quite good.  Accidents rarely happen, considerably less often than back in Canada.  Drivers are quite aware of everything that is going on around them.  There simply are a different set of rules that need to be followed here.  I think I have figured out most of those rules now.

When we got our van a few weeks ago I felt I was ready to try my luck at driving.  I had ridden in taxis and jeepneys a lot.  I had been a passenger in vehicles driven by people who have been here a long time.  I saw what to do and what not to do.  So after several weeks of experience I present to you the Rules of Driving in Davao (or at least what I have gathered so far!):

Rule 1
If there is a space available you are free to place your vehicle there.

Rule 2
The vehicle that gets into a space first has the right of way (see Rule 8 below for exceptions).

Rule 3
If the space which you wish to occupy is currently occupied you may ease your way into that space to encourage the other vehicle to depart from said space.

Rule 4
If the space is open in a lane normally used by oncoming traffic you may use that space.

Rule 5
If the space is in between two vehicles that are utilizing the lane markings painted on the road you may disregard the lane markings and occupy that space between the other vehicles.

Rule 6
If the space is on the sidewalk you may occupy it, providing you give warning to the pedestrians which may be occupying that space.

Rule 7
You shall give warning to other vehicles of your intent to occupy a given space by honking of your horn.

Rule 8
Size matters. The bigger the vehicle the more it has right-of-way.  The pecking order goes something like this: Buses - large trucks - large jeepneys - large SUV's - smaller trucks - smaller jeepneys - taxis - cars - tricycabs - motorcycles - bikes - pedestrians.

Rule 9
Pedestrians have no rights, except that you must avoid hitting one at all costs.

Rule 10
Pedestrians may appear from anywhere and be in any given space at any given time.  This often includes standing on a lane marker line in the middle of the road.  Avoid them.

Rule 11
Crosswalks are simply pretty designs painted on the roads and do not endow any form of right-of-way.  The same goes for traffic signals.  Just because the "walk" light is on does not mean that a pedestrian can walk, unless they happen to occupy that space before you do. (See Rule 2)

Rule 12
Seatbelts are optional.  Especially in the back seats where seatbelts may not even be present.

Rule 13
Passengers in a vehicle (including children) may occupy any seat, or where seats are not present, may occupy any space available.  The occupancy limit of any vehicle is based on the internal volume of the vehicle, the size of the passengers, and the availability of suitable locations on the external surfaces of the vehicle to allow passengers to sit, stand, or cling desperately to the sides.

Rule 14
All above rules are subject to multiple exceptions based on circumstance.  Be aware at all times of everything that is going on around you.

What seemed like chaos a few months ago has simply become normal now.  It is amazing to see how well traffic works here, especially since there are few traffic lights and fewer traffic signs.  I have yet to see a stop sign, and have seen few yield or merge signs.

But it really does work.  Everyone knows the rules and everyone abides by them.  I would say that traffic operates more smoothly and with less problems here than back in Canada.  Drivers here are much more laid back and aren't in such a hurry.  If the person in front of you is going really slow, you simply pull around them when you get a chance.  If someone squeezes into a space in front of you, you let them have that space.  Road rage may occur here, but if it does I have yet to see it.

I would suggest that drivers in North America could learn a few lessons from drivers here (Please leave your angry comments below).

I for one have learned to love the way that people drive here (mostly), and am interested to see how I handle driving back in Canada when we come back to visit.  I will be the guy ignoring the lines on the road and squeezing between the cars in the lanes.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Backyard Photo Shoot


I decided to take a few pictures this morning, as it was rainy and overcast today, so the light was quite good.  All these shots are from our yard.  Seeing as how a picture is worth a thousand words, I will let them speak for themselves.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Filipino Currency

One of the frustrating things about being in a new culture is getting used to the money system.  The money system is quite different than back in Canada.  Some things I have figured out, others I just shake my head at.

Allow me to give you a basic introduction to Filipino currency.  The unit of currency in the Philippines is the Peso (Piso in Tagalog).  A peso, like a dollar is made up of 100 smaller units, called sentimo.  In the above picture the bills represent, from left to right, P1000, P500, P100, P50, and P20.  I did not have a P200 bill when I took the picture, but you get the idea!.  The coins represent P10, P5, P1, 25 sentimo, and 10 sentimo. 

Pretty straightforward, hey?  At first glance it seems to make sense.  A lot like Canadian currency.  (Sentimo seem about as useful here as pennies are in Canada.  They should just do away with them completely and round everything to the nearest peso.)

The confusion begins when you look at the relative value of these bills and coins.  Currently the exchange rate is about P44=$1CAD.  So as a rough estimate, P1000 is about $25.00.

This is where the first frustration comes. P1000 is the largest denomination that is made.  When purchasing large items, like a vehicle (P150000+), you have a couple of choices.  You can either carry a huge stack of cash (literally, a huge stack), or you can try to use a credit or debit card.  Considering that most places you go do not take credit or debit card (more on this later), you probably need the cash.  So you are dealing with lots of cash.  Very different from Canada, where you can get away with not carrying cash anywhere and be quite fine. Lesson 1: Get used to carrying cash and dealing in cash.

The next frustration is that bank machines generally only dispense P1000 bills.  Why it is that they feel the need to give you the largest denomination possible I do not know.  It would be much more convenient to have the machines dispense P100s.  Imagine going to a bank machine in Canada and having to withdraw in multiples of $1000.  How frustrating would that be? Lesson 2: Expect to be using large denominations.

That leads to the next frustration.  Imagine going into 7-eleven and trying to buy a Slurpee (mmm...Slurpee) and using a $1000 bill to pay for it.  How much would the 7-eleven guy want to tell you where to put the bill?  Stores are not set up to offer change for that kind of cash.  It's the same here.  When you go into a store and just want to buy a coke (P22), and you try to pay with P1000 they aren't usually too happy.  That's a lot of change they need to provide.  There are many times when you simply cannot use a P1000 bill.  Taxis, jeepneys, corner stores; none of these will have enough change.  So it can be difficult to get rid of those pesky P1000 bills.  Lesson 3, 4, 5, and 6: Try to pay with the largest bill in your pocket.  Smaller denominations are better - hang onto them if at all possible. Never pay with exact change for anything.  Try to get change whenever possible!

While P1000 doesn't seem like much to us (after all, it's only $25), it is a huge amount of money here, at least for most people.  The average person (not the upper class people) here will make about P250 per day.  Yes, P250 per day.  Some will make more, some will make less.  So P1000 is a lot of money.  Many get paid daily and in cash.  They can then go to the store and buy what they need for the next day.  Lesson 7: A person working at McDonald's back in Canada makes more in one hour than most people here make in a whole day.

Which factors into the next frustration; credit/debit cards.  As I mentioned before, most places you cannot use a bank card or credit card to pay for things.  This is especially true if you are buying something from a home-based business or markets (which is very common), but is also often true at the stores at the mall.  The home-based stores and markets simply do not have the capability to accept payment by credit/debit.  It doesn't happen.  The malls can be a bit better as far as using cards.  Most stores there you can use a card, but often they will give you a strange look when you do.  Then they will have to dust off the machine and try to remember how it works.  Then they may be able to process the transaction.

I have found that the ability to use a card at a mall is not something that should be assumed.  A while back Kerri and I went to one of the nicer malls to look for a printer for our computers.  We went into one of the many computer stores and found the one we wanted to get.  The sales people unpacked it all and hooked it up to check to see if it worked okay (another annoyance, but not really related to this topic).  While they were doing this I thought to myself, "I am assuming that I can use my debit card here.  After all, it's a nice store in a nice mall.  They sell computers and stuff, so they must be used to larger purchases, and would offer this service."  So I checked with the sales person.  She looked at my bank card (my Filipino one, not my Canadian one) and acted like she had never seen one of them before.  I quickly learned that I needed to find a bank machine.  While on my way across the mall to find one, I had plenty of time to reflect on Lesson 1.  Lesson 8: Never assume.  You know what they say about assuming...

Why do stores not use credit/debit cards more often?  Next annoyance: banks are for businesses and the rich.  When the average person makes P250 a day, it is unlikely that they will end up saving much for the future.  Culturally that is not even a consideration.  And when the banks require a minimum of around P3000 to open an account (in most cases), it is unlikely that the average person will be able to get a bank account.  As for a credit card?  Yeah, right.  How do you do a credit check on someone who gets paid daily in cash? Why should a store spend the money to offer credit/debit processing when most people use cash?

All this can get to be frustrating, but I think that I have learned some pretty good lessons.  I think I have just about figured it all out.

By the way, do you have change for P1000?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My Life

I have had many of you ask what I spend my time doing, what a typical week looks like for me and how much time I spend in the clinic, so I decided it was probably time to once again write a blog.  I seem to have a very blog-happy husband, so while he's busy doing other things, I figure now's my chance to tell a little about what I have been doing here over the last few weeks.

After two days of orientation with the other missionary volunteers, I began shadowing in the office, the birth room and the prenatal clinic the middle of August.  There are three wonderful ladies, Ate Melody, Ate Bebing and Ate AnAn who are in charge of running the office portion of Mercy, and they do an incredible job.  After working in medical offices back in Canada, it was really fun for me to see how things are done here in the Philippines.

Psalm 139:13 is written in Vasayan on the wall in our health teaching room

The next day I was able to shadow in the prenatal clinic.  Regular prenatal check ups are done Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:00am until 12:00pm, but the buntis (pregnant women) start arriving around 7:30am to have their blood pressure and weight checked and at 8:00am there is a devotion done and a health teaching by one of the midwives or volunteers on a variety of topics such as nutrition, fetal development or labor and delivery.  Mondays are reserved for initial prenatal check ups and Thursdays are when various prenatal outreaches are done throughout the city. There are five prenatal beds separated by curtains and there are generally two Filipina midwives and three or four volunteers on a shift.  The first time I attended the devotion time, I was completely overwhelmed with emotions and began to cry.  It was such an incredible thing to look around and see the faces of these beautiful women, and to realize that after a year and a half of praying and planning, I was actually here.  I remember watching a DVD from Mercy and seeing the health teaching room and the prenatal clinic and being so excited to come here and now it was real, I was actually a part of this.

One of the prenatal beds
Later that week I had the opportunity to shadow in the birth room which was also an amazing experience.  There were no babies born on that shift, but I was able to get a feeling for the lay out of the birth room and learn how things are done.  The women that deliver at Mercy are really taken care of and shown God's love by the midwives that work there and it is an honor to be able to volunteer alongside such gifted and talented midwives who love the women that come into the clinic and the batas (babies) who are born there.

One of the birth beds with the birth carts ready to go

Another view of a birth bed
Where the baby checks and newborn screenings are done

The following week I began my regular shifts in the birth room and prenatal clinic and I began my Visayan classes.  Tagalog is the official language of the Philippines, but there are many other languages spoken throughout the country and Visayan is the most commonly spoken language on the island of Mindanao.

Right now a typical week includes one 8 hour birth room shift, one 4 1/2 - 5 hour prenatal clinic shift, and two 1 1/2 hour Vasayan classes.  In October I will begin going on outreaches to do prenatal checkups away from the clinic every couple of weeks.  There are many women who are simply unable to come to the clinic to get prenatal care for various reasons, so instead we go to them. It's a lot of work, but I am really enjoying myself and I am so thankful that Steve supports me 100% as I don't know how I would be able to do this if he didn't.  It has definitely been a big change for me to go from being the primary parent to volunteering at the clinic on a regular basis and learning a new language.  Please continue to pray for our family as we all adjust to new schedules and Steve and I adjust to new roles for ourselves.


Here are some pictures of the three babies that were born on my last birth room shift, two lalakes (boys) and one babaye (girl).

This was the first little baby born on my shift at 7:52am
His mama had to be transported to the hospital so he hung out with us for a while

The little boy on the left was the second one born at 8:23am

Finally a little girl born at 9:02am