Saturday, December 5, 2009

Provincial Meet

Sports are HUGE in the Philippines. Manny “Pac Man” Pacquiao is basically the greatest thing since white rice. Oh did you hear? He is running for Congress! Yes, I’m serious. Anyways, the people here take sports so seriously that student athletes have been excused from school for the past two weeks to train for the provincial meets. A typical day for those who are training begins at 4:30am with a morning jog through the mountains. There are several sports in which to participate including: Archery, Arnis (stick fighting), Gymnastics, Taekwondo, Tennis, Track & Field, Volleyball, Baseball, Softball, Chess, Boxing, Ping Pong, Basketball, Sepak Takraw (A Filipino sport which combines hacky sack and volleyball with a rotund ball), Badminton, and Swimming! For the past 3 months I have been spending my saturdays training 31 swimmers from Bontoc, Sabangan, Sadanga, and Tadian, all nearby municipalities. Finally the time has come for them to compete in the provincial meets! They are competing not only for medals, but for a place in the Cordillera Administrative Region Athletic Association meet this coming February. For the past three days I have been spending the majority of my time with them. On Sunday more than 2,000 athletes and coaches walked in a parade and gathered for the opening ceremony in the municipality of Bauko. I opted to walk with the athletes from Besao so that I did not choose between the different districts that my swimmers come from. My walking partner ended up being the mayor of Besao.My little brothers Merv and Fengag Alawas (the Bishop’s sons) are also attending the meet. They are both competing in tennis. I was able to catch one of Merv’s games after the parade! He won 8 to 1. I was so proud.My swimmers, co-coaches, and I are having a blast together at the pool. It brings me back to those summer nights as a kid playing around and waiting for hours for our chance to show our speed in the water. Melanie West Goes…Provincial Meet


Usually, I write blogs about all of the fun adventures I am having in my free time, but I should probably tell you all a little bit about all of the fun I am having at work! The majority of my working days are spent at the Ubaya Food Processing Center. It’s about a 15 minute hike from my house to work where we make organic jam, jelly, chips, juices, and wine! We gather the fruit from around Besao and then we make things from it, and I wish it were as simple as that. My business degree has really come in handy here from accounting to marketing to human resource management. It’s a handful. There are 27 active members. They are all women and all Anglican. That may seem shocking, but that is normal in Besao. In a nutshell we are the…
Ubaya Organic Food Processors and We Make Besao’s Best Products! We are located in Domdomacog, Kin-iway, Besao, Mountain Province. You can E-mail us at
The Ubaya Organic Food Processors organization was created solely to enhance the quality of life for the people of the Philippines.
In many small villages in the northern part of the country, access to larger markets is nearly impossible. This is primarily due to poor road conditions and inaccessibility to affordable transportation of goods. Thus, the foods that are grown in these villages must be sold in smaller local markets. Unfortunately, the products that do not sell in a timely fashion will spoil and be wasted.
Our goal is to provide such communities with the necessary tools to conserve these foods and extend their shelf life by processing them into other products such as chips, jams, juices, and jellies.
All Ubaya products are made in partnership with The Episcopal Diocese of the Northern Philippines,The Besao Multi-Purpose Cooperative,and the Municipal Government of Besao.Every ingredient used is grown and processed in the Philippines and made from the highest quality products available. We never use artificial coloring or flavoring in our products. Just fresh delicious fruit picked daily!
Healthier Food and a Healthier Life for Filipinos… Mission Accomplished!So, you may be asking yourself, “What is Ubaya?” That is what I said when I first heard the word. Ubaya is a Kankanaey word with similar meaning to Sabbath. Ubaya is a day of rest after the harvest when the elders go to the dap-ay and wait for the people to bring all of their best foods to be given as gifts to God. The women here wanted to name their organization Ubaya because they wanted the foods that they make to be a gift to God.
I have made great friends and great jam in the past 5 months in my work at Ubaya. I can’t wait to see how our business continues to grow and change throughout my time here. Who knows, maybe we all will be able to buy a piece of Ubaya in the grocery stores some day.
Melanie West Goes…Ubaya


The sunsets are absolutely beautiful here. Of course they are impossible to capture in a photograph, but I thought I might try. The Besao sunset is often bright red! One word…breathtaking. Melanie West Goes…Sunset

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

All Saints Day

Unlike the U.S., Halloween is almost non-existent in Besao. Dressing up and going house to house in search of candy is a custom that made the Igorots laugh as I described Halloween to them. All Saints Day, however, is a magnificent sight to behold. We had a mass baptism at the church at which I became a godmother (ninang) for the first time. Erin, the little girl who lives next door is now my goddaughter. We baptized her as Maurice Ernestine Almario. After the service, we went to the cemetery for a picnic lunch. People here do not see cemeteries as spooky graveyards filled with dead people, but rather, a spiritual place that honors all those who have gone before us. At 3pm we had another church service in which Padi Brent and Padi Johnny read the names of all of the people who were buried in that cemetery, blessed the graves, and lit a great fire.From the initial fire set, the people ignited their kindling (saleng) and spread the fire around the cemetery to be placed at each grave.Within minutes, the entire cemetery filled with black smoke and it became hard to see and even harder to breathe.When the smoke cleared, we were covered in black soot and made the trek home to take a bath before the evening feast.
Melanie West Goes… All Saints Day

Hong Kong

I was so blessed to be able to spend the last week of October in Hong Kong with my good friend and fellow Maegan Collier. You can check out her blog by clicking on her link on the right hand side of this page, but wait! Please read mine first. I had six days to see all of Hong Kong, and I was determined to cram as much in as possible. On my first day there, I was instantly overwhelmed with the fast paced and fast speaking people of Hong Kong. I guess living in the mountains for a few months makes one forget the technology of this world. I must have experienced a bit of culture shock on that first day because I wanted so bad to be out in nature that I asked Maegan if we could go to the ocean the following day. We rode the ferry to one out the outlying islands, and then took a bus to reach our destination. We spent Saturday at the beach, relaxing, reading, and rock climbing. Okay, the rocks were not that big, but they sure were beautiful.On Sunday morning Maegan took me to Mass at the Cathedral of St. John’s. It was absolutely breathtaking. Old wooden single seat pews and decorative linens filled the sanctuary. The ambiance was wonderful and I felt quite comfortable with the overwhelmingly Anglican service. I love to experience all of the “bells and whistles, incense included” of the church from time to time. Sadly, in the past few months, Hong Kong has been overwhelmed by the threat of H1N1 (Swine Flu). As a result, the church service at St. Johns had a few awkward moments for me. First, no one would shake your hand at the Peace. Of course, Maegan and I gave each other a huge hug, but no one else would touch us. Then, during communion, you had to dip your bread in the wine. They do not allow you to drink from the chalice for fear of spreading germs. Luckily, I am an avid dipper, but I know some people that would be extremely perturbed by this. After church, Maegan ran off to work at the Mission for Migrant Worker’s Office while I socialized in the parish hall with some of the parishioners. Something I noticed right away was how closely the parents were watching their children. Similar to big cities in the U.S., people do not often let their little kids just run around unattended. I would have never noticed this before living in Besao. In Besao, the little kids (4 years old) walk themselves to school and neighboring villages. They scrub the floors, play with “dangerous” objects like fire and glass, and even walk inches from the edge of the mountain. The women in Besao say, “that is how they learn how to be Igorots. If we are too protective of them, then they will never learn how to take care of themselves.” After an hour or so I met up with Maegan for lunch. We ate at “the square” a local hang out of the Filipinos who are living in Hong Kong. It is actually just the outdoor ground floor of the HSBC building, but there are hundreds of women there. When we arrived, they were holding a campaign rally to raise money for the victims of the recent typhoons in the Philippines. When they realized that I had witnessed this devastation first hand, they immediately asked if I would go to the front and speak on the microphone about what had happened. It was an emotional moment for me as I described to all of the people what was happening in the place in which I now live. The floods and landslides had killed so many, and the largest impact was on the poorest of people. I had to be the one to tell them how it all happened and why those people really need their help now more than ever before. Monday was a public holiday so Maegan and I ventured off to the Man Mo Temple, which was filled with coiled incense hanging from the ceiling, and then we headed to the outdoor market. That evening, “The All Most Reverend” Peter Ng, who is the Asia-Pacific Partnership Officer at The National Church Office of the Episcopal Church U.S.A., took us to dinner at his favorite Chinese restaurant in Jordan. It was delicious! By far the best Chinese food I have ever had. Big surprise; I was after all essentially in China.On Tuesday morning, Maegan went to work at the Bethune House, and I met up with her there in the afternoon. She showed me around and told me a little more about her work there. Bethune House in Jordan on Hong Kong’s Kowloon side provides temporary accommodation for domestic helpers who have been wronged by their employers and are seeking justice through the Labour Tribunal, the courts or both. It is very common for residents of Hong Kong to have a non-family member living in their house who will do the cooking, cleaning, and child care. There are hundreds of thousands of domestic workers in Hong Kong and the majority of them are Filipinos. I spent the afternoon talking with these women and listening to their stories. It was heartbreaking. Some of those women have gone through the unimaginable and it makes you wonder how any human could treat another human that way. Those are the type of people who we really need to pray for. On Wednesday, Maegan went back to work at the Bethune House while I explored Hong Kong on my own. It was a day filled with walking. I went to another temple, the public ports, Stanley market, and the Peak for a great view of the city.After all of that, I decided it would be a great idea to try to walk back to the mid-levels, which was actually much further than I thought. After a couple hours of walking, I jumped in a cab, only to realize that I was only a 5 minute cab ride away from reaching my destination. Maegan and I were both exhausted from the day so we invited some of her friends over to watch a movie, and order in food. Thursday, we got an early start as we checked my bag at the airport express and headed off to the far side of the island to ride the cable carto the Po Lin Monasteryto get a glimpse of the largest Buddha in the world!We had a great day and the weather was perfect. As the evening was nearing, we took a bus to the airport and said our goodbyes. It was tough to leave. Hong Kong was a great adventure shared with a great friend, and I can’t wait for her to visit Besao!
Melanie West Goes… Hong Kong