Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The MMT Diary
My Adventures with the Mindoro Missions Team

7 p.m. May 28 ASCM

After a most hectic day at the office, Bel, Xavier and I left for the Tritran bus station at the corner of Buendia and Taft Avenue. Bel is the bookkeeper in ASCM while Xavier is a third year engineering student in the University belt . Carrying our backpacks, video equipment, sleeping bags and a carton of supplies, we walked from ASCM in Valero to the loading shed in Ayala. I was very hungry but I still have enough strength left. Getting a taxi in Makati on a Friday night is next to impossible but to my surprise, we got one after only a few minutes. The grumpy driver projected an obvious “simangot” face when we asked him to open the trunk. “Kanto lang po ng Buendia at Taft”, I announced in sweet manner, hoping he wouldn’t eject us out when he decides that our destination has heavy traffic. He flagged down the meter. “Whew!” I exhaled in relief. While on the taxi we discussed how much Lidocaine (anaesthetic) surgical masks and gloves, we were going to buy for the dentists. And don’t forget dinner! We split up in two groups, of course, I, the hungry one, went with the group that will buy dinner. Bel and I got off at KFC and Xavier went on ahead to Mercury drug. KFC’s crowded and noisy ambience drained my remaining body energy. We just waited for Xavier to meet us and we ate dinner. “Baka mahuli tayo sa last trip!” After consuming the chicken we walked to the bus station. The bus they were loading was already the last trip.

11p.m. Batangas Pier

The rest of the team was already there. They were waiting since 4 p.m., they had to reserve space in the ferry for the jeep, they have to line it up along with the trailers, cargo trucks and other vehicles. If they arrive late they won’t make it to the list of the vehicles that will board the ferry. We were scheduled to leave 3 o’clock in the morning. Imagine they‘ve been waiting there for 11 hours. Doreen gave me an anti-malaria pill and I immediately swallowed it. I was dead tired sleepy as hell as I’ve been awake for almost 22 hours. I can’t wait to board the ferry so I could finally get some sleep. Finally, it was time! We raced to the jeep and Neil drove it straight to the parking space inside the ferry. We scrambled upstairs and there before my eyes… seats, yes, seats – uncomfortable ones! I was faced with the horrible fact that I wasn’t going to get any sleep today.

5 a.m. May 29 Somewhere in the Batangas Seas

I’ve been awake for 24 hours and my eye hurts due to a combination of fumes from the ferry, smoking passengers and pure sleepiness. It was an ugly boat, even uglier when you’re dizzy and haven’t slept for a full day. We sat in the ordinary section - the chairs were impossible to sit on. Bel and I kept on shifting to different sitting positions trying to find the one that will hurt our butts less. I kept on clinging to my video equipment, in case I fell asleep and somebody steals it. “What am I doing here?” Sleep deprived, butt injured, eyes irritated, back hurt – you cant blame me for asking this.
It was already 5:30 a.m. and the sun was already peeping from the mountains. I took out the video camera and started filming. It’s time to work.

6 a.m Abra de Ilog, Mindoro

The Ferry docked at Abra de Ilog. So called because during the rainy season 30 or so rivers appear. Mindoro is a beautiful island famous for its white sand beaches, beautiful mountains, unspoiled rivers and a sunrise to die for. The highway is cemented with intervals of rough rocky road. Dust is everywhere, it even penetrated the inside of the jeep. Mindoro dust is very fine, a thin layer accumulated on my sunglass after only a few minutes. I was sitting way at the back of our jeep so the bumps are amplified three times. Imagine sitting at the back of a jeep running in a hour long bumpy ride. Ouch!

7 a.m. Mamburao

We were scheduled for a stopover in Mamburao, in a church there co-pastored by an ASCM alumnus. My eyes hurt from the lack of sleep and my body ached all over. I felt my internal organs were shaken from their original positions because of the bumpy ride. Lighthouse Christian Community is a church pastored by Willie and Raffy, an alumnus of ASCM. Coffee! Coffee! I shouted as we reached Lighthouse Mamburao. As we entered the kitchen breakfast was served on the table; fried rice, tuyo, fried eggs, and of course coffee. There was an added treat – a unique suman. Suman is sticky rice with coconut milk wrapped in banana leaf and boiled in water. But because of the Philippines is made up of thousands of islands, I can only guess that there are thousands of suman versions available. I’m not really a suman girl, in fact, I only like two versions, the suman sa ibos and the tupig (barbecued suman) This Mindoro suman is somewhat different, it comes with coconut spinkles, yummy! I decided to keep it along with the other kakanins that I managed to grab from the table, its still a long journey to Mangyan territory.

11 a.m. Baranggay Pag-asa

We arrived hot, hungry and stinky after riding for hours of non-stop bumps and tons of dust. Baranggay Pag-asa has no electricity and has limited water supply. We settled in a church and unloaded all our cargo for the mission; brand new and used clothes, slippers, toys, cartons of soap and detergent, toothbrushes, anti-lice combs, and school supplies for the Mangyan children. We took turns taking baths, I had a ration of 1 pail of water instead of the my regular 6 when I’m in Manila. After the bath we headed to the backyard where some local women welcomed us and offered us Tinola for lunch.

1:30 p.m. Mangyan village up in the mountain

The Mangyans are the native people of Mindoro. They originally owned the island but when settlers from other islands came in they were pushed farther toward the mountains. They are illiterate and have no awareness in terms of hours, kilometers, gallons and years. They measure distance in terms of “shouts.” This means the distance reached by the sound of a shout is equivalent to “1 shout” Mangyans tell time through the shadows made by the sun, so if the sky is cloudy they would have no idea what time it is. They don’t know how old they are, so most of them marry and have children by the age of 15. They don’t have proper hygiene and most of them are even afraid of water. They name their children according to how they looked when they were born; if the hair is curly they call the child “kulot” or if the child is light-skinned they call him “puti.” If, on certain instances, a Mangyan newborn is orphaned, the elders of the tribe will kill the baby since there will be no one to take care of it. This is the Mangyan culture and these customs have been present for hundreds of years.

I joined the team to document the whole mission. As I was taking pictures and shooting video, I felt compassion for the Mangyans. They are suffering from poverty and malnutrition, but worst of all, they are suffering from the lack of knowledge that there is Someone who loves them and even let His own son die for them. Mahal ni Jesus ang mga Mangyan, these words kept ringing in my ears as I was filming them. I kept my tears from falling as it would cloud the lens of my cameras.

We trekked for more than an hour to reach the first village. Our dedicated dentists, Doc Tet and Doc Leng (yup, that’s what we called her) along with their assistants Bel and Nora set up the dental clinic and started pulling Mangyan teeth. Other team members were evangelizing and praying with the other tribes people. Some were just plain socializing with Mangyan mothers and children assuring them that we are friends and we mean no harm. I was amazed on how Doc Tet and Doc Leng handled their patients, for Mangyan teeth are stronger than the average and are red because they are fond of chewing “nganga” (betel leaves)

5 p.m. Back in Barangay Pag-asa

We sorted out the clothes and packed the hygiene kit. I’ve been awake for 36 hours and only had a total of 3 hours of sleep. It was getting dark and we were having difficulty sorting out the clothes. The women called us for dinner and we all headed to the backyard. They placed a table under the tree and that’s where we ate Sinigang. The animals provided the background music, there were ducks, dogs and chickens but the loudest was the white goat tied to the fence. This is a time of fellowship and we got to know each other better.

8 p.m. Inside the Church

It was dark and the mosquitoes are buzzing around waiting for a chance to bite. It’s a good thing we had anti-malaria pills. One of the men started the generator, thank God there is a generator. The dentists decided to set up clinic again for the people of Pag-asa. Doc Tet saw it as an opportunity to help more people. True enough more people arrived, more than what we expected. There were children, teeners, old people, and much older people. There was a lady who came to Doc Leng and she had her 9 teeth, yes, 9 teeth pulled in just one sitting. Whew! Tough job!

I volunteered to assist Doc Leng in place of Bel. I’ve been to countless medical and dental missions before but this was the first time I ever assisted in one. This was how it was done. For chairs they stacked monoblock plastic chairs and adjust the height by removing or adding the required amount. There is an assistant that holds the patient’s head in place and holds it still while the dentist is pulling the teeth. There is another assistant that holds the flashlight and fans the dentist and the nervous patient that usually breaks out in sweat once they see the needle. There’s a long table that hold all the dentist’s tools, the medicine, the basin where they wash the tools that were used and a big jug of water. And then, of course, there’s a dentist.

11:00 p.m. Inside the Church

I brought my sleeping bag and placed it in a very strategic place - in front of the altar. Why, I don’t know, I just miss God and it seems I’d be a little close to him in that place. Sleeping there felt that God was looking down straight at me. Forgive me, I’m a little weird sometimes… make that most of the time. They shut down the generator and after a few minutes I passed out.

I almost jumped out from my sleeping bag after hearing a scream of anguish- they killed the white goat that was tied to the fence. Then I slept again.

6:00 a.m. May 30 Backyard

I woke up to the smell of goat roasting over the fire. But before I got up I noticed red spots on my arms, mosquito bites, gosh! I went to the backyard and found three men slicing the goat into tiny pieces – the goat that was tied to the fence just the night before. Sorry, I’m a little affected about this. That was a cute, white goat with a pink nose and a goti. They were slicing it for the Kinilaw. We had Goat Kinilaw and Squid Adobo for breakfast. I had a hard time eating it because I’m not used to eating rice for breakfast. I was also upset about the fourteen mosquito bites on my left arm. Plus the fact that I kept thinking about the cute, white goat that was tied to the fence just the night before.

10:00 a.m. Worship Service

It was a thanksgiving service. The congregation bought food enough for everybody. I was looking out for the Suman with coconut sprinkled, but didn’t found any.
We were assigned to the Praise & Worship, of which we had no practice whatsoever. The instruments were old and sound funny. The guitar had a missing string, the drums had a loose cymbals which you can’t strike because it will be removed from the stand, the cymbal stands were made of construction steel metals.
It was an experience I wanted to delete in my memory. Ironically, Love who got the digital camera and took a picture of us singing on stage accidentally deleted all the pictures from the memory card, including pictures of the Mangyan village and the dental mission inside the church, gosh!

1:30 p.m. Under the Big Bridge

“Kahapon ang tindi ng sikat ng araw, ngayon naman ang lakas ng ulan. ” I blurted out as we headed toward the mission site. It was along the riverbank, under the bridge. Getting there was difficult. You have to climb down a rocky, steep passage. It was raining so the passage was slippery. I put all my equipment in a trash bag to protect it from the rain and headed down. It was not easy, I have only one free hand as I was holding the equipment and had to hold on to some roots that were sticking out.

After a few moments I saw the first batch of Mangyans coming down. The men are wearing a “bahag” and the children are wearing dirty, torn clothes. Women were carrying their babies in a swaddle that was wrapped around their bodies. They smelled bad as they haven’t taken a bath and brushed their teeth for months. Their hair, specially the children, are full of lice. There are no fat Mangyan, maybe because their diet is composed mainly of rice, vegetables and occasionaly meat. They lined up for the clothes, but first the team members gave them baths, cleaned their ears and trimmed their nails. They taught them how to brush their teeth in the river. Once clean we fed them and made them sit on the rocks, and there Neil spoke to them about how much God loves them. We gave them bath soaps, detergents, hygiene kit and some school supplies. I forgot about body aches and mosquito bites as my heart was blessed when I saw them walk away wearing smiles on their faces and new clothes on their bodies. That night we returned to Mamburao with even bigger smiles on our faces. Men oh men! It feels good!

6:00 a.m. May 31 Lighthouse Mamburao

I woke up with an immense urge to swim. Mindoro is known for its beaches and I simply refuse to leave this island without a swim. I went to the kitchen to get some coffee and I found Xavier, who, just last night, was persuading me to go swimming. Of course, last night I was too tired to think about swimming. After gulping my coffee, I change into my swimming clothes and we headed out to the sea. The sea was still that morning and it was warm, it was perfect for a swim. We floated and we splashed and stared at the sun that was just rising. Then, Raffy who came with us, found a friend that owns a boat. To our delight, we immediately boarded it and went for a ride. It was a refreshing time for us after all that hard work. Then as the grand finale, we dove from the boat into the calm sea.

9:30 a.m.

We hurried and boarded our jeep. Our ferry was scheduled to leave 11:00 a.m. from Abra de Ilog, and we’re still in Mamburao. Maybe it was because we didn’t want to leave yet so we delayed our departure unconsciously. We arrived in Abra de Ilog Pier five minutes before the ferry left the dock. This ferry was better than the other one, it was cleaner and the people looked more relaxed. We lounged around the ferry and looked at the islands and the waves. This was a more relaxing trip than the one before.

2:00 p.m. Jollibee Lipa, Batangas

This was our last stop-over as the mission is over. Doreen thanked everybody for giving their time and their effort. We prayed and we thanked God for protecting us and blessing us in this whole mission trip. Then as a part of the celebration, we ordered “ice craze” as the whole trip left us craving for ice.


Uwian na. I was blessed with the whole trip. Before I left for this mission I asked some friends from the office to pray for me that I may see what God wants everybody to see and that I may capture it with my camera. In order for me to do this, I have to see through God’s eyes. Mahal ni Jesus ang mga Mangyan. Kahit sila’y mabaho, kahit sila’y madumi, kahit sila’y di nagsisipilyo, kahit sila’y maraming kuto. Sometimes spending too much time in an air-conditioned office, wearing branded clothes and eating Italian food, you tend to forget. You’re perspective in life narrows and all you think about is “me.” This trip has been both tough and fun. But what I like about it most is that it opened my eyes again and I was reminded of the joy you get out of serving the least of our brothers. Mahal ni Jesus ang mga Mangyan.

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