Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Greetings from Mindoro!

I'm very sorry, it's been a long time since I've written! Rainy season is
in full swing, and a weak hurricane is drowning the world outside my little
house as I write. The NOAA predicted about 30 typhoons for our region this
season. As it is we're already on E for Ellen on our second time through
the alphabet and we're only half way through the season.

There's something about my visa renewal that particularly seems to attract
the typhoons. Last year I spent a week trying to travel about 76 miles as
the crow flies, sleeping in the back of busses and in port terminal
buildings. I had waited until a week from my visa's expiration to renew, so
I had no choice but to push on through one of the worst hurricanes of the
season. Afterward I promised myself that I would not make that mistake

And so, with more than a month left before my visa expired, I texted my
agent at immigration and asked when would be a good time for me to come.
Within minutes the reply came back, "If at all possible, be here tomorrow."

"Wait," I thought. "We're in the middle of a hurricane, I was just trying
to think ahead so as to not rush so much."

"I don't know if I can get out, " I wrote back. "Can I come later in the

"If you can't get out, you can't," the reply came back. "But if there is
any way to make it here by tomorrow, do so. And come early."

I was sorely tempted to ignore the whole thing and go on about my business
until the weather cleared. I kept remembering, though, that this man held
my ability to stay in the Philippines in his hands, so I'd better do what I
could to comply.

Delpin, my Alangan partner, and I left early Tuesday morning, and arrived
back in Balangabong Thursday morning. I'll spare you the boring details,
but we had traveled for 48 hours straight without a chance to stop or sleep.
It was the longest non-stop trip I can remember ever making, and I promised
myself again, that as far as I was able I'd never do it again.

I arrived back to several minor emergencies that kept me hopping despite the
rain that had been falling for15 or more hours a day now for over a month.
It is amazing how cold you can get in the tropics in these conditions. In
the middle of the week my agent in immigration texted me that the prices had
gone up since last year and he had just found out. I needed to send him
money right away. After getting dunked up to my neck in the river on the
way out, besides the steady rain, while wearing all cotton clothes, and then
riding my motorcycle into town, I was shivering and chattering
uncontrollably. Of all the non-air conditioned offices in town, Western
Union had to be the one upscale enough to have a tiny split-style air
conditioner that blasted my already frozen body with icy air while I waited
45 minutes to send the necessary funds. Boy was I glad to get back out into
the wet warmth outside.

In the late afternoon, after taking care of all of the business that I could
for one day, I got on my bike and started home. An hour later I came into
the little town of Calintaan just a few miles south of my turn to head up
into the mountains. I was being particularly careful that day as I had been
thinking about the responsibility I have to be as safe as is reasonably
possible to be. I had slowed to well below the city speed limit of 40
kilometers per hour (speed limits are a new idea here, and NOBODY pays any
attention to them) and was carefully picking my way through town. Just as I
came to the main crossing, a portly gentleman on another motorcycle cut
across the intersection without even glancing at the traffic on the main
highway. I immediately braked as hard as I safely could on the wet road,
honked, and steered as wide as I could. There was no way for me to stop
fast enough, though, and even with my honking the man didn't notice me until
just before he T-boned me. A split second before the impact I have a
distinct memory of knowing that I had done everything that I could, he was
going to hit me anyway, and there was nothing that I could do about it. And
so I just sat unmoving and peaceful for the fraction of a second that

The impact, when it came, was definite but not nearly what I had expected.
The rear wheel broke loose for an instant, fish-tailing a little, and then I
was past it and still upright. As soon as the bike stopped I came back.
The man who had hit me had been knocked over, and the 4 or 5 men who stand
on the corner all day every day were helping him up. There were shouts of,
"Americano" and comments about how fast I had been going, and they only
increased when I pulled my helmet off and they saw that I was for sure an

I quickly assessed that there was no major injury to the man and no major
damage to his motorcycle. Then calmly and quietly I stated the facts of the
case and the applicable laws. Without listening at all, they kept repeating
how fast I'd been going and asking the man if he wanted to press charges.
"No," he finally said. "That would just take up a bunch of time. Just let
him pay me for medicines and the repair of my bike and we'll be done with

I knew that I was in the right, and that the man was almost certainly trying
to avoid the police because he had no driver's license. But I also knew
that in a system dominated by corruption, with white skin against me, and
with a street full of witnesses lying about me, I was safer to take a verbal
beating and pay a little than to stand up for my rights. After a trip to
the local health center and another half hour of my comrade telling the
world what I had done to him, we parted ways and I headed home.

As I drove, even more slowly and carefully, I continued thinking about what
had happened. A man at the health center had asked me what damage there was
to my bike. I replied that my gear shifter was bent, but that was it. He
kept repeating, "It's a good thing it didn't hit your foot, it's a good
thing it didn't hit your foot."

I agreed, but then didn't pay too much attention to it. Now I began to
realize what he had meant. From the way the bike had stayed up despite
being rammed from the side at a decent speed, I had assumed that he had hit
my rear tire or fork. The bent gear shifter, though, was proof that he had
indeed hit me right in the center of my bike. Not only that, I always drive
with my toes under the shifter as it is comfortable and I'm always ready to
shift. Occasionally I'll rest the ball of my foot on the peg, but every
other time I've had to do an emergency stop my foot has automatically jammed
back down on the peg for balance and to be ready to shift. I have every
reason to believe that my toes WERE under the shifter when it hit.

The full picture of what had happened that day didn't become clear, though
until next week when I borrowed a friend's tools to bend the shifter back.
After laying the bike over on the way back from Tamisan last year, the left
peg was slightly bent. When I had glanced down to assess the damage after
being rammed, I had again noticed that the peg was bent but had assumed that
it was the old bend that I hadn't gotten completely straight. When I
actually sat down to work on it, though, I realized that the peg was bent
way out of shape, far beyond what it had been after the spill on the way
back from Tamisan. My comrade hadn't just hit my gear shifter, and my foot
hadn't just been missed by millimeters. He had hit squarely on my foot, and
I distinctly remember NOT moving at all in that split second before he hit.
I hadn't pulled my foot up. He had hit my foot hard enough to bend the ¼
inch steel shifter and ½ inch steel peg as if they were a paper clip while
my foot was untouched.

I still haven't the foggiest idea how God did it, but I know that He is good
to me. Thank you so much for your prayers for the salvation of the
Batangan, for the success of the project, and for my safety. I'm sorry that
it has taken me a while to update you on what God is doing in response to
those prayers. I assure you, though, that I rely on your support, and that
I think of and pray for you daily. Thank you so much and may God richly
bless you for your service to Him!