We arrived at San Roque, which was a small village area that we would be setting up most of the shelter boxes. The first thing we needed to do was be shown by the locals, who has been trained by Shelter Box, how to set up these tends. Of course, instantly the skies opened up and the most torrential tropical rain hit. However, we work rain or shine and so there we were, standing in the rain watching this tent get set up. I couldn’t help but smile, because the rain was so refreshing. It reminded me of back on my first few days traveling, standing on the balcony in Phuket during the rain storm. Once the rain eventually stopped, and we were all suitably soaked(and still smiling), the whole experience became a really nice community activity. Everyone from the local community came out to observe the slightly confused looking foreigners setting up a tent in the now muddy area. Young, old and all between found as much entertainment seeing this as we all had being a part of it. Unfortunately I do not have many pictures as I left my camera back at the base but here is one from the All hands website.
After we set up the first one, we split into a few teams and started setting up some more Shelter Box tents. One of the other volunteers and I were tasked with carrying one of the Shelter box tents to the next site. Now, these things come in quite heavy boxes but we struggled on up the street nevertheless, with multiple breaks. We were then, as 2 grown men, humbled to such a ridiculous level that I do not think we will ever be shown up so spectacularly. During one of our many breaks, to rest our dainty hands(mostly mine), we turned to see one of the locals come walking quickly up the street with one of the boxes slung onto his shoulder, single-handedly carrying what we struggled so much with. To add to this, he was about 70 years old. I literally stood open-mouthed as he smiled and nodded as he shot past us. I would like to say we then sucked it up and powered on with the box, but we just continued to huff and puff our way ahead.
As we got the site we would be setting up, it was my first time interacting with the locals and I was blown away by how amazingly positive and helpful they were. They were initially very shy, especially with English, but they quickly relaxed into it. Further to that, it was my first experience of what would become a staple of our rehydration/survival on work sites, coconuts. The first shelter box was set up next to a particularly destroyed house of a young family who were really helpful. These tents are slightly annoying to set up at first. The tents themselves are fantastic, being between the inner and outer tent is a bit of a struggle. The point where you are inside attaching the inside tent to the outside is especially uncomfortable as it is super hot inside with little air circulation. Followed by the first one we went down further into the village and up to this raised area in the coconut forest. It was an absolutely beautiful area, one which I wish I could have taken a photo of. We set up 2 shelter boxes in this area and I think worked fantastically well as a team. Most of us were new and complete strangers to each other, but here we were working together so well already. It is amazing what a common goal and interest can do to bring people together.
4:30 comes and it was finish time so we loaded on the jeepney and went home. The sky was particularly amazing that day, and once again, I had no camera. Although I did promise myself to bring it every day after this. The story of my first day does not end there because I was now challenged with the communal living situation that we were in. I am not generally a fan of this. I like my space and my privacy, both of which I would not be having for quite some time. The base was in a resort that had been damaged in the earthquake so it was not open to the public. It had a pool, which was empty due to the damage. The sleeping options were either a tent, which I did not have, or on the floor in the house. In my transit through Singapore, I had been able to collect a sleeping bag and ground sheet, but that was it. So it was the floor for me. I put down a piece of cardboard on the tiles and rolled out my sleeping bag. Home sweet home.
Each day we have dinner together, which is cooked by two locals ladies hired by the project. I also really liked this because it meant we got freshly cooked Filipino food each day and it was another way the project supported the local community. Around dinner time there is also a daily meeting which includes the daily review, plans for the next day, introductions from new members and goodbyes from people leaving. So all of us gathered around as the sun set, having dinner and discussing the day. It was a nice touch.
The next thing to deal with was there was no electricity and no running water. Therefore any showers were from a bucket of collected rain water. I had made the mistake of letting it get dark and so showering from a bucket was going to be difficult. I decided it would be a better idea to just shower in the morning because it seemed like it would be bad idea, this would end up being the wrong choice. The rest of the night was spent chatting and bonding with the others in the group and I have to say, I really enjoyed this. Everyone had their stories to tell and as mentioned above, we all had a common interest by being there to help, so I could see the group getting close quickly.
The final point of the night was while sleeping. First of all, it was hot and the ground was hard, so I slept on my sleeping bag with my T-shirt rolled up as neck support. This was uncomfortable, but I kept reminding myself what the people in the village have to deal with far worse. The actual talking point of the night was me experiencing my first ever earthquake/aftershock. For those who have never been in a quake or aftershock, it is a weird thing to describe. The shaking is not the scariest part, especially considering these were not big aftershocks, but it is the sound that scary. It is this deep humbling that seems to come from so deep in the earth(which technically it does). So I was woken up at about 3am by this.
So, I expected I would be scared by my first ever quake, but this was quickly cut through by one of my roommates , who it should be noted had been there a few weeks already and experienced many of these, freaking out and repeatedly saying “oh my god, it’s an earthquake”. Now, I had just woken up and anyone who has experienced me being woken up will know, I would look for the quickest goal for getting back to sleep. In this case, the earthquake only lasted a few seconds but the commentary was still going on. Therefore, in my half asleep state, I concluded that would be the issue that needs addressing. So my first ever quake resulted in me telling the more experienced person “Don’t worry, it’s fine. It has stopped. It is okay. Go back to sleep. Don’t be worrying”.
And off I went back to sleep.