The Peace Corps Volunteers in Biliran Province, aka the Bilisquad, participated a fundraiser run for the Philippines Red Cross in the province capital of Naval. The hard part wasn’t even the race itself, it was signing up. There’s a large banner advertising the event hanging just outside my Municipal Hall, but signing up turned out to to be like chasing the Cheshire cat. Nobody I spoke with understood who to sign up with, where the event actually took place, and what time the run started. My site mate in next door Kawayan eventually signed the three of us up and event details trickled in and percolated to us over a couple of weeks. I was pretty excited to participate in my first run in country, not excited about the 5am start time. I woke up early, did the oatmeal+peanut butter and coffee thing, and set out on my bike by 3:45am.
Naval is 8km from Poblacion, Almeria, and I do this ride multiple times a week. Most days I use the ride to get some extra leg work in and to practice keeping my mouth closed so I don’t swallow bugs. This early morning ride was pitch dark and I had the highway to myself, amazing. Biliran, already peaceful and quiet as long as nobody is blasting videoke, felt like another planet. A warm, tropical planet covered in rice paddies and touched with smells of morning rain and water buffalo (karabaw). The stars were amazing, and I was cruising down the empty highway listening to an Alexi Murdoch soundtrack with Orion off my right shoulder and Ursa Major off my left. Feeling good, bilistyle. Due to transportation issues (it can be tough to get around out here in Biliran) we were short one of our Bilisquad trifecta, but the two of us that did make met at the Province Capital, suited up, stashed our bags, gripped our phones, and stuffed a bit of safety cash into either our shorts or bra, respectively. I didn’t participate in the hip hop/Gangnam-style soundtrack warm-up dancing, but it was an option. The race was supposed to be a 3k but felt a lot closer to 5k. Short races are so painful, I miss ultramarathons. I’ll skip the race report, but the end result was that Peace Corps Volunteers won the men’s and women’s races, in unknown times over unknown distances.
We each won 2000 PHP for winning, and each donated our prizes to the Philippine Red Cross because it seemed like it was in the spirit of Peace Corps and fundraiser fun runs. We also won invitations to take I-don’t-know-how-many selfies and pictures with all kinds of people and groups (also in the spirit of fun runs). It was a fun event, if not a little bit of a headache logistically, and it was awesome to see 200+ folks turn out for a fundraising run on a rainy morning.
Getting home in the afternoon was a mixture of admiring senior citizens dance at their Senior Citizen Christmas Fiesta, watching Barangay Lo-ok snag its first win of our Municipal basketball tournament (I am prohibited from playing cause I’m imported or something), and beginning to prepare for incoming Typhoon Nona.
That night Biliran was at a level 1 warning, but by the time morning arrived we were at a level 3, sustained winds between 120 and 170km/hr. I actually got in a short and rain-soaked run before breakfast, perhaps ill-advised, but then headed to the office to see what was what. The morning was mostly waiting for news and assignments.
Most of the Municipal Hall staff were sent back home, classes were canceled, and some of the Municipalities in Biliran Province issued evacuation for coastal barangays. These guys stayed through half the day working on this roof, really impressive.
The most interesting part of my day was in the afternoon when I was invited to ride with the Bureau of Fire Protection to visit high risk flood areas in our own Municipality’s coastal barangays…in the fire truck. This big bad boy is really old, and definitely has seen some things, but it still moves alright even with some pretty gnarly sounds. We visited really low areas along the coast that are susceptible to flooding and spoke with various officials, barangay captains, and community members regarding updated storm and safety information.
The important result, was that Nona passed over Almeria and Biliran without becoming overly strong. The winds and rains were powerful but without dramatic results. It was fascinating to see how the Municipality and Province reacted to storm warnings and collectively prepared for a natural event like this typhoon. As far as my participation in disaster preparedness and management, there’s obviously still a lot for me to learn. Other volunteer sites were closer to the storm’s center, and volunteers were consolidated to predetermined safe places to wait out the events of the typhoon. The network of Peace Corps staff and volunteers in the Philippines is impressive, in terms of offering regional information and also just friendly check-ins and status updates. Typhoons are a reality of life in the Philippines, but communities rally intensely to prepare and respond.
A belated Happy Hanukkah to family and friends back home, I’ve got an exciting couple of weeks coming up that I’ll be sharing later.