The Pilipiñas Packet

Sojourn in The Philippines, 2019-2020

Volume 28, Dasma, May 10

Week 28, May 10, Dasmariñas Lockdown Week 8

It was another quiet week in Dasma.
And what a strange conflicted mind I find myself in these days; like ‘Red’ Redding in Shawshank Redemption, I’m tired of my prison but I’m apprehensive about leaving it. Trading one jail for another: QQR versus the halfway house of 76 Budapest.
But I am getting ahead of myself. 

I had some lovely replies to my last Travels with Myself post, The Clichés of The Philippines; these commentators think I’m doing a lovely job of capturing elements of Pilipiñas in these essays, elements they hadn’t been aware of. One even suggests I should submit them to Canadian news media for publication, bless her. I’m not sure they are good enough for that, and in any event they may have a hard time competing for space against all the Covid stories. Regardless, I’m not sure I’ve yet captured the effects of these experiences on my own essence, which is supposed to be one of the objects of my sojourn here. Perhaps I’m just trying to be too profound. Maybe it’s enough to describe what I experience and let the implications incubate in my mind, and the readers’ minds. The penultimate essay, Pilipiñas Paradoxes (and if you were thinking a couple of dachshunds you have a low sense of humour) appeared on Friday (and if you didn’t get yours check your spam folder!) and the ultimate one, Travels with Myself, upon return to Canada, whenever that may be. 

Two of my UK friends, readers of this digest, have renewed standing invitations for me to come over for a visit. Somehow it’s hard to imagine being eager to travel again so soon but Carmen would love to travel to London  and visit not the Queen but yet another of her cousins. Maybe I can engage my inner anglophile again and compare and contrast one island nation with another. (Oh no, you’re saying to yourself, not another bloody blog.)

And speaking of attentive readers, two of you have asked how you can contribute to the relief of destitute Filipinos, meaning my extended family, though now more the size of a village. (We also are aware there are emerging jealousies and resentments that I am supporting Carmen’s family but not her sister and her extensive family.) In fact there are millions of Filipinos in the same plight. I suppose you could find an agency who are distributing aid, just as they do in other calamities in the Philippines. It seems a long time ago since we last talked about International Aid for victims of Taal Volcano. In any event, I support my ‘village’ through bank transfers to Carmen’s daughter Celca, and also to the nephew Noël in Tacloban, via my bank (Scotiabank) and Western Union, online; then send her the WU Transfer Control Number, via Messenger. If you want to help, let me know. I don’t need to be involved at all except to provide you with Celca’s full name and her Messenger address.

And continuing my saga of this discontented winter I got news this week that another of my dear octogenarian friends has died, Bob Brown. This makes five. I’ve known Bob since 1971 in my first year on joining AECL as a raw recruit fresh out of Queen’s. Irascible Bob, he of the short fuse and the heart of gold. His first words to me were, ‘who the hell are you and get your feet off my desk!’ I had been sent from Ottawa to Mississauga to sit at the bargaining table with our draftsmen’s union as note-taker. We were between sessions and the HR Manager, Bob Wolff, showed me to Bob Brown’s office as he was out. But he came back. We remained colleagues for 15 years in AECL and friends for another 35 years, Bernadette and Bob, Marlene and Doug. 

I’ve now been in The Philippines for seven months. The plan was five months and as of April 23 I will have passed the six month mark and my OHIP may no longer be honoured nor my Johnson/Medoc supplementary insurance. Every day presents the risk that I may have an illness or injury requiring medical/hospital treatment and I quickly move closer to the bankruptcy cliff. I’m a risk-taker and the probability of this happening is low, but risk taking is one thing, foolishness is another. It’s time for me to come home.
As I may have described in an earlier post my efforts to communicate with Air Canada have been challenging. I’m getting close to accepting email invites from Qatar Air to fly with them and get me home. But that probably means going west instead of east and what a long journey that would be. And we would still have the drama of facing CBSA Officers’ interrogation and gaining entrance for Carmen. 
With the continuing non-responses from our ever-cautious public servants at IRCC I despair of getting an exemption pass for Carmen. I almost welcome the potential encounter with a CBSA Officer, though after reading the article in the Toronto Star Monday my level of confidence of gaining entrance for Carmen ebbs. Perhaps ‘encounter’ is too strong a word. I need to resurrect my old negotiations skills. But what do I have to a bargain with? Oratory eloquence? Socratic argument? Moral suasion?
In the meantime I try to penetrate fortress Air Canada. I can’t communicate via the Air Canada website because I get a flag that says access not allowed from this country (Philippines); I can’t email them because there is no email address given – they want you to phone the 1 888 number provided but that too is not active in Philippines. If you dig hard enough on Air Canada’s site you find an agency in Manila which represents Air Canada in the Philippines, but when you phone SuperSonic Services Incorporated you get an auto-attendant and a message to press 4 to reach Air Canada; you press 4 and after three tries by the auto-attendant you get a message that the call could not be ‘attended’, and you are routed back to the main auto-attendant. Repeat. Also repeat pressing any of the other extensions given: 1 for Cebu Pacific, 2 for Air Asia, 3 for ?, 8 for Administration: same result. Patience is not one of my virtues, but I’m learning; I try again, and again. Maybe this is the strategy to get people to stop calling; or maybe there’s actually nobody there to take calls, the general quarantine in Manila being in effect. I have to use Carmen’s cell phone because my Telus i-Phone is inoperable in Philippines (I had reduced my plan when I came here to save money). Carmen’s phone is mostly used as an internet voip device, not a cell phone, and for that it has to be reloaded every week or so (200PHP per load which gives her about 30 minutes of cellular talk time). My next step would be to phone directly to Air Canada’s 1 514 number but that will eat Carmen’s load in one hell of a hurry, and cost about 2000 PHP. (Apparently there is a Skype number at Air Canada but we haven’t tried to connect that way, yet.) 
Patience may not be one of my attributes but persistence is and I had plan D or E yet to try. I dug through the Air Canada web site and found an email address for Customer Care, an euphemism for complaint department. I sent off an email and after a few days I got an email back from a lovely lady who advised that this department was not able to deal with Reservations. Christie did say that she was able to locate my file reference however and it was still open. I asked if she could contact Reservations for me, give them my story and have them call me! or email me. This was the beginning of a beautiful relationship (I heard my inner Rick say) and after a number of other exchanges with Christie over the ensuing ten days, I got a call from Reservations in Montreal. The long and short of it is that I now have return tickets to Canada for Wednesday, May 13. 
But still no definitive green light from IRCC. And Carmen is depressed.

Sunday we started to pack for our return trip to Canada. I told Carmen we needed to travel light in case we encountered ‘turbulence’ when we arrived in Vancouver. I am trying to make contingency plans for Carmen if she is refused entry in Vancouver. There is a direct flight she could take from VCR to MNL via Philippines Airlines on Sunday May 17. This terrifies her. If she does not come back with me to Canada I told her it may be three months, or maybe even six months, before international flights will resume and we can be reunited. This demoralizes her. She’s caught between Scylla and Charybdis: she’s fearful of being refused by CBSA and she’s terrified of being left behind in Philippines. I asked Air Canada to call me back Monday in case I had a change of plans. 
But the decision has been taken out of our hands, made for us by The Philippines authorities: No Filipino except OFWs may leave the country during this quarantine, now likely to be extended beyond May 15. I am coming home on Wednesday. Carmen is staying in Philippines.
She’s rearranging the contents of all our suitcases for me to bring one medium bag and one carry-on. The rest of our stuff – and what a lot of stuff: appliances, groceries, fan, pots and pans, my dumbbells and exercise mat!, all the things from living in our ‘apartment’ these four months – will be transported to her little house in Trece Martires. It will get good use there with all her waiting family. But her heart’s not in it. There have been many tears. I expect it will be a sleepless night Tuesday.

Stay safe. Stay sane. And stay tuned for the next edition of The Dasma Diary.

Doug Jordan Reporting to you from Dasma, Philippines

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 

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