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11/15/17

When we saw foreigners we'd run away

As urban areas expand, rural areas contract. The nature of the economy changes. Rural areas are societies that took a very long time to form. They are not cash economies even when money is used. They are social economies, where economic functions are embedded in deep social relations and interrelationships. Rural economies are earth-based economies, where nature plays a big role in providing for people's needs. Things produced come from the earth and return to the earth. 

In the rural area in the Philippines where we have spent over two months, it is easy to see this. Coconuts everywhere! The fiber is used to make thatched roofs, the coconut water is drunk, the flesh used to make coconut oil and coconut milk. The guyabano fruit--a powerful cancer fighter prized by Krista--and papaya grow everywhere. Rice, black as well as red, is easy to grow. People don't earn much in terms of cash but that's exactly the point. They don't need much cash in an earth-based economy. A local friend uses cash to buy a little carton of Dutch Milk as a special treat for his two year old daughter. 

If I were to take the ferry from this island--two hours by fast ferry, five by the slow one--to the city I would enter a very different world. I know that world well having spent two months living there with friends. The city is entirely a cash economy. Nothing grows there so everything has to be bought in markets and increasingly in malls. Everyone I got to know there uses 'vegetable oil', that foul, unhealthy oil made from soy beans. Coconut oil is prohibitively expensive and available only in select pharmacies. People earn a lot more cash in the city than they do here in the rural area, but the cash is spent quickly on Nestle formula ( it is difficult to breast-feed the young while working twelve hours a day), Nescafe 'white' coffee (instant coffee mixed with that vegetable oil atrocity: 'non dairy creamer', 'cheap' clothing at the mall for the family, ridiculously expensive school uniforms complete with black leather shoes and school 'supplies'. The cash based economy destroys the society that rural living built over centuries. 

A local friend reports visiting a village in China and then returning a year later to find an entire city in place of the village. That is the likely fate of the rural area here in the Philippines that we have spent an idyllic two months in. An international airport is being built--one so big that it will cover four barangay (the unit of local government) and permit ten airplanes to take off and land simultaneously--to be operational next year. Already the first 7-Eleven on the island has come up, anchoring the first mall, containing exactly three stores. In a year this place could be hell.

We start to say goodbye to our dear friends in this rural area, this beautiful island. Carlo's house bequeathed to him by a favorite grandmother is over a hundred years old. It is built on stilts, in the traditional manner, with thatched coconut roof and woven grass walls and graceful openings for doors and windows that have no 'doors' or 'windows'. The house is open to the world as it has been for a hundred years. Carlo says, laughing, "When we were young we thought foreigners were ghosts. When we saw one we'd run away!" 

But the land, our earth, can't run away when the 'foreigners' come. She is open, with no 'doors' or 'windows', even as we disfigure her beyond recognition. 


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