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Philippine Sojourn: “The god who made the earthquake. . .”

February 22, 2012

To have lived many years on the surface of the earth and never before to have felt the inescapable rumble of an earthquake, and then twice in recent months, on opposite sides of the globe, to have this experience. . . hmm.  The first came in central Virginia, and the seond in Negros Oriental, the Philippine province from which we have recently and, to be sure, have safely returned after a several week sojourn. 

Barbara went to take part in the further development of a new association, ICUUW, the International Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women, of which she is President.  I went as a trailing spouse and sometime participant.  There were visits to “livelihood” and “microfinance” and “social business” projects in Manila and in villages near Bocolod and Dumaguete, the major cities of  Negros Island; there was a meeting of the ICUUW directors from India, Romania, USA, and the Philippines; there were visits to Unitarian Universalist congregations, whose members are rice farmers and whose leaders are itinerate ministers and lay volunteers; there was an all-day conference for women on social, political, and economic issues that impinge on their lives.  I took part in a discussion group in which young women shared “issues”: they spoke of income, schools, medical care, and nepotism in public programs; and “resources” to meet these issues–they named community associations, families, and “the resillience of women.”  I suspect that domestic violence felt too sensitive to raise.

The most pervasive concern is “livelihood,” often understood as supplementary income made by the women in poor families.  Even small amounts of extra income can have a positive effect on concerns such as education of children and health care.  There is, further, a personal energizing and an optimism that come with engagement in groups that actively seek ways to work together and suppoprt one another.  This effect was especially visible during our visits with the women in a poor barangay–the Philippine term for a village or urban neighborhood political unit–inManila.  Here Nelly Nacino, founder of the Mother and Child Association–a social enterprise with various money-making schemes–was an inspriational model. When the barangay Chairman stopped by her home and was confronted by Nelly and her minions, he threw up his hands and committed then and there to support a long-delayed sex education program for the local school.  James Lutehr Adams called it “the power of organization and the organization of power.”

Change usually comes painfully slowly, but sometimes suddenly, as with an unexpected break that brings many changes in its wake.  After the opening talks and the group conversations for the Women’s Convocation Day-long Meeting, at Silliman University in Dumaguete, and in the midst of a powerful address by Representative Luz Ilagan, of the Gabriella Women’s Party, the rumble and shake of an earthquake suddenly intruded.  All fled for the entranceway.  No official instructions came, and the meeting resumed indoors, now minus lights and sound system.  Then came the first of several large aftershocks.  This time we continued the meeting on the lawn outside!  No damage was apparent, and quiet prevailed.  But when rumors of a tsunami began to circulate the collective anxiety level rose.  The sea was almost visible, just a few hundred yards away.  Some participants said they myst go home immmediately.  Leaders conferred about what to do: Abandon this long-planned conference forthwith, or move out immediately to higher ground?  A university official came by to say they were closing the campus; otherwise no one was directing an evacuation.

Cecilia Hofffman offered her home as a refuge, in Valencia several miles inland and upland.  Out on the highway we found as many taxis as we could–motocycles with sidecars for as many as you can pile in–they do and we did!   So amid the confusion of vehicles going every-which direction, we went.  From the packed courtyard of the Valencia Catholic church we walked to Ms. Hoffman’s gracious home–a tropical paradise–where we filled her large gazebo.  And listened while our hostess spoke with passion of the political and economic prospects of women in this society.  The evening was concluded with a worship celebration, led by Rev. Carol Houston of New York and Rev. Rebecca Siennes, President of the Unitaraian Universalist Church of the Philippines.  Words were spoken, songs were sung, and a spiraling dance brought us eye to eye with one another.

I was asked to speak “for the men” among us, but most of what I said was intended for all: That we had experienced deep anxiety and uncertainty about what to do; we had contemplated abandoning the gathering, and had chosen to keep together and to keep on with our first intent.  For the experience we will never forget this day, I said, and remembering it we will be the stronger, within ourselves and together.   To pass through a time of crisis together creates community.

One of my teachers, Arthur Darby Nock, used to say that the deepest religious motive is expressed in this idea–as preliterate peoples have said it: The god who made the earthquake made also the incantation to avert the earthquatke.  That day we did not avert the earthquake; it measured 6.9 in magnitude and killed 52 people at the epicenter, a few miles north of Dumaguete.  But no tsunami materialized, so who’s to gainsay the power of our incantations–our songs, our words, our snaking dance?  Or to break the spell of ancient and debilitating fatalism?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   G K B

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Howard Stoodley permalink
    February 23, 2012 4:33 am

    Kim glad you are both safe and thankful that your work continues. God bless you both.


  2. February 28, 2012 4:17 pm

    Our trip to the Philippines was pretty exciting–all of it–including the earthquake and tsunami. But my personal favorite was when the barangay captain in Manila agreed to offer a sexuality education course to teenagers in the barangay. Thank you for telling the story!

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