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Cultural Observations from the Philippines

Cultural Observations from the Farm

The ability of the people of the Philippines to enjoy life in uncomfortable circumstances seems one of the greatest cultural assets. Laughter is easier to find here in a crowded slum than in a home in suburbia, USA, despite the lack of anything resembling furniture or comforts like running water or a refrigerator. The village that the farm is nearest, Pawpawan, has no electricity and people are fine with that. Filipinos are agreeable to a fault, meaning that it is hard to figure out what people really like or want because they want to be agreeable.
Some things you can adapt or get used to, some may take a lifetime. Most Filipinos who live in the provinces and work outdoors pay little mind while insects land and crawl on them. I have not been able to adapt to this or get used to it, I think you have to grow up with the sensation. I found it easy to get used to sardines and fish and rice at every meal. I always liked sardines anyway. I have more trouble with the very fishy flavours. One cultural observation that Americans and Europeans will find surprising is that most of the people in the world, including most Filipinos, do not use toilet paper. Additionally surprising is that they consider foreigners unclean for using toilet paper. They wash their bums after using the toilet! I will not try to get used to cock fighting, which is a destructive habit sanctioned by the government nor do I need to get used to conduct which is expressly forbidden by the law of the land, like vehicles without silencers on them, men abandoning their children or people building fires without a permit. Rather I will try to contribute toward enforcement of the laws, which more accurately express the culture than the illegal behaviour, regardless of how prevalent. I am already used to corruption, albeit a different kind. Robert Mueller, when asked about corruption in Costa Rica, replied that it was small corruption associated with the Latino focus on their family as opposed to big corruption like ENRON, Goldman-Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. The same is true in the Philippines. Most elected officials and public servants see little wrong with diverting money and jobs to their families. This leads, of course, to a weak and ineffective government and country. In fact in addition to being the primary reason for corruption, the extreme focus on the family gives Filipinos a weak sense of national unity and makes it hard to organize unions, communities and congregations that truly share resources and benefits. Family focus also plays a part in the over population of the islands. The Philippines has the fastest growing population in Asia. Larger families seem to offer more security for a Filipino. The children are all expected to support parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles at least until they marry and start a family of their own. There seems to be a double standard at play from this foreigner’s perspective. If a daughter marries a Filipino they are not expected to play a large part in the support of the family, since they have a family of their own but if they marry a foreigner it is expected that he will support the entire family. Now a transition into the law as it applies to a foreigner retiring in the Philippines (that’s me). Foreigners are not allowed to own land. They can buy a condominium but of course I would want land. The options to start a farm of my own in the Philippines are either to marry a Filipina or to start a company or incorporate in the Philippines. It begins to look like the latter is the best option as I mark my 65th birthday soon and cannot remember why I would want to marry. I may recycle the name of my gardening company in Santa Barbara and call it Biodynamic Gardening Incorporated and practice regenerative agriculture as I am now learning to do. For the time being I am happy to be the naturalist at the eco farm in Pawpawan and in charge of decomposition of organic matter. It seems a good role to celebrate on my 65th birthday?

Yours truly,
Rowland Lane Anderson, naturalist Samahang Bagong Buhay Foundation,
Veritas Social Empowerment and Veterans For Peace

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