Friend of The Manifold, Jennifer Cavagnol rips out a few pages from her travel/volunteer journal in The Philippines to relive her experience and tell us how she got to “BOUGHT THIS ASS.” Read further to this addictive writers experience in the beautiful country of The Philippines for #WorldWeek and get inspired to do some volunteer work of your own.. Giving back is just as good as getting!
Jen Cavagnol is a well traveled soul trekking through South East Asia, then Europe with a great need for philanthropy. Her profile has been featured in DISfunkshion magazine and her efforts were heightened when she tried to raise money for a film produced to raise awareness for the country of Myanmar or Burma.
March 8th, 2014 – Kanaga
I’ve been in Kanaga for about two weeks now. It’s a small rural town about 45 minutes from Ormoc City on Leyte island in the southern Visayan region of the Philippines. We’re sleeping on bunks in pretty tight quarters, we take bucket showers outside overlooking rice paddies and we spend mealtimes huddled together on the lawn around the campfire. There are about 50-60 volunteers at any given time, with one toilet I feel impelled to note (50 people, one toilet, I want you to consider that for a moment). People arrive and depart pretty frequently. The faces in the crowd are constantly changing. It’s hot as fuck out here. There are several projects going on at a time and we switch projects occasionally to get a change of scenery. But no matter what we’re sledging concrete, shoveling rocks or busting down walls. We pretty much break shit all day. The organization is small and the projects they sign on for deal more with deconstruction, demo and rubble clearing than rebuilding. It allows homeowners and community leaders to be able to rebuild. It’s hard work, but everyone seems to love it. Maybe because we know we’re doing it for something other than money. Hydration is key. Food is key. Taking constant breaks is key. Cold beer at the end of the day is key.
It’s strange but even though I have only been here 13 days, it’s very quickly starting to feel like this is all I know. With every swing of the sledge and every sip of Red Horse, it feels closer and closer to home. The world I came from is melting away and you become so present. I haven’t looked at a phone, a TV, the internet in two weeks and though it doesn’t sound like long, but it’s amazing how disconnected you become… and how that disconnection makes you experience so much more in every moment. There is value in understanding what life feels like when you’re really aware of yourself in a moment. What it feels like to have to find diversion in really simple things. It’s a somewhat forgotten reality in our world and it’s challenging, which can be disarming… but it’s good. It feels good.
The people I’ve been working with are various, with names, lots of names, lots of countries. People with names from countries. So many incredible people, all with their own stories, their own reasons for being here, their own sense of humor, their own talents and skills and neuroses. It’s a pretty emotional thing being here, knowing that you’re here for altruistic reasons, but also for selfish ones, seeing what’s happened to the families and how long it really takes to rebuild, learning that the little girl with the pigtails and the tattered shirt is sleeping in a rotten one room shack with a tarp as a roof, with her five siblings and two parents and that everything they owned (which wasn’t much to begin with) either blew away in the raging wind, shattered into a million pieces or is rotten solid from the rain. It’s emotional because it’s sad, it’s emotional because you know that whilst there are many good people trying to do good things, all each person has is two hands and there’s just so much destruction.
But the scope of my emotional experience is broader than just heart-wrenching sympathy… it also encompasses the aspect of group living. There are 50 people living together, literally on top of each other, with one bathroom… did I mention that yet? 50 people. One bathroom. It’s intense. There are people with names from countries living together, working together, drinking and eating and having sex and it’s like one big non-profit orgy. Just kidding, it’s not like that… but there is sex happening, as sex tends to happen, next to you, above you, below you, on top of you. There are just so many various personalities interacting on so many levels. You don’t get much time to yourself, you’re disconnected from the world you know, it’s all at the same time intense, refreshing, challenging, emotional, introspective, radioactive…
And fun. A lot of fun. You form special bonds when you spend so much time with people, work with them, sweat with them, brush your teeth with them, poop with them. We also spend a lot of time drinking together… but we do organize things too that allow us to take our nights to higher levels of entertainment. Last night one of the volunteers, Kitty, organized an auction to raise money for tools for the organization. We were all given the opportunity to donate something to the auction, whether it is an actual thing or a service of some kind. Essentially anything you could think of that someone might pay for. There were 2 girl oil massages, pink tutus, one hour spooning sessions, Pilates lessons, etc. My donation was to allow someone to motorboat me for one minute, which the Welch auctioneer had his heart set on. The auction was a lot of fun. I spent over 10,000 pesos ($250. I was drunk) on some items including an hour in a tent with one of the young very handsome volunteers while he read his self-written poetry to me in his whitey tighties. I spent $30 on the right to be a backup dancer in a music video, $25 on getting Smitty to shave his extensive and quite impressive beard, and a couple other smaller things. But the bulk of my money went to something a bit longer lasting. One of the volunteers offered to get the highest bidder’s name tattooed on his ass followed by three words of their choosing. I had to have it. And I got it. Now I just have to figure out what I want it to say. My motorboat raised the most money, a whooping $250. Men are hopeless.
March 24th 2014 – Ormoc City
Another tropical depression sent us back down the mountain to take shelter in hotels in the city. The other volunteers from the main base also met us in Ormoc. It was a strange storm, magnetic even. There was this ominous feeling in the air, not so much dark… but something mischievous, like you could almost hear the wind cackling. It was tangible enough to send many of the volunteers into hiding. Of course, it tempted some of us to delve into the night in search of what lie waiting.
By morning the stories began to emerge, one after the other and I can honestly say, I am now a believer in the mystique of earth and solar energies interacting and effecting human behavior, sort of like the disturbances caused by a full moon.
The night started at a party thrown for the volunteers by another non-profit whose project we were assisting on. Michael, the 18-year-old whose ass I was about to own by branding it with my name, invited the tattoo artist to tattoo him at the party. While he was getting his ass shaved, we drank what I’ve dubbed the Philippine Tanger, a drink the locals mix for us and which we’ve learned is the favorite for parties… it’s a combination of Emperador Brandy (the domestically distilled liquor of choice for Filipinos), water and powered Tang. Like everything else, it’s extremely sweet and gives you a gold star headache.
Michael is now laying on his stomach, getting tattooed, my name already gleaming from his hairless cheek. He’s drinking the Tanger and chain smoking cigarettes. From the look on his face we decipher that he’s about to have one of the longest nights of his so far short existence. The liquor and the tattoo gum jamming through his ass skin start to make him sick. He juggles between getting up to shit and barfing in a bucket and he’s only one hour into what will turn out to be a six–hour experience. Though we do find it wildly entertaining for a while, our interest wanes and we leave him alone with his slowly forming ass tattoo and the Filipino ass tattooist. When we find him in the morning, he tells us that he fell asleep and woke up with no friends in sight while two Filipino men were massaging his butt cheeks.