Sunday, July 6, 2014

David in the Philippines - Highlights From Month #5 (June)

5 months in the land of the Philippines. I am humbled how God is using me to have such an impact on many lives, and I have learned so much about myself - some good things and some things I definitely need improving on.

I have my drivers license, Alien Card and bank account. I own a tricycle. I have experienced the mixed emotions of seeing three kids go to their "forever families."

I certainly miss my family (like crazy!) and the other people in my life, but as for the lifestyle, busyness and stress that comes with living in Australia, you can keep it! Such a focus on self and stuff. Life is so simple and uncomplicated here. It hasn't been without its struggles and challenges but overall I am feeling peace, contentment and quiet joy.

One thing I enjoyed immensely was having a Queens Birthday holiday (Australia reference) where the weather was warm and I wasn't stressing about school reports. Quite unusual.

Some reflections from this month:
* Many of the kids at Ruel speak pretty good English, but they're still very literal in some things. Sometimes when they ask to go to the bathroom I say "No, you'll just have to hold it." Since they only have one concept of what 'holding it' is, much laughter follows as they imagine themselves holding their...well, you know. I really must watch what I say.

* Today I narrowly avoided getting hit in the head by a live frog thrown by a four-year old. He then tried to put those same hands all over my face. I then provided a spectacle by giving a bunch of Filipino schoolkids something they'd likely never seen before: a white guy pushing a baby in a stroller. Just another day.

* Another cultural lesson learned from the saga of the tricycle. So, it's been...I don't know...a few weeks since I sent my new bike off with a trusted friend to get it converted into a tricycle with a sidecar and a roof. He gave it to a friend of his who needed work. I had no objections to this. I paid up the full amount early, with my reasoning being: if I didn't, he would take longer to finish it. However, it turns out that over here you never pay up in full straight away because once they have the full amount they will do every other job they can, and take as long as they can on the paid-in-full. I just wanna ride my tricycle (that actually sounds a bit too much like a four-year-old for my liking)  

* Coming from a land where schoolkids "live" for recess and lunchtimes, it has been hard for me to fathom that here at Ruel, the most common question I get asked is "School time?" Even at merienda breaks, even in the late afternoon, even on Saturdays and Sundays. Sheesh!! The schoolroom is also a place where the younger kids aspire to sneak into any chance they get. I guess I must be doing something right.

* I love kids mispronouncing song lyrics. Here's the latest two from Ruel:
"Now let's get the river of the hands" (rhythm, Dr Knickerbocker)
"You are, you are, you are my feeder" (freedom, Alive by Hillsong)

* Since I've taken over the Ruel FB page we've chalked up 330 extra "likes", majority from Australia (not taking any credit for that). Thanks so much for your support my fellow Australians, and it's a privilege to promote an organisation like Ruel Foundation, doing such good work helping the kids and families of the Philippines.

Ruel mistake #6942 - I was pushing a kid on the swing, and some others came along and tried to grab it while it was moving. I made the mistake of sternly warning them "Let it go!" What do you think they started gleefully singing while I blocked my ears and writhed in agony? *Facepalm*

* CRAP!! My first earthquake since I've been in the Philippines and I missed it! How the heck did I miss it!? 5.2 on the scale and I was sitting on my couch, on my laptop. Heard or felt nothing. Wow.

* I've been given more responsibility at Ruel than I've ever had before - caring for kids, teaching, promotion, money, admin, driving. I am thankful for the trust that's been shown to me. But rather than get weighed down by it all, I feel like I'm actually thriving. Being a (paying!) volunteer, I'm not swamped by the extra pressure and expectation I put on myself when I was earning a fairly decent five-figure wage as a teacher. Feeling good about it all
These legends! The four family members from the US have been volunteering at Ruel for a few weeks. On their second night here they uttered six little words: "We're going out. Ya wanna come?" Might not seem like much, but to an insecure introvert like myself it was huge. Numerous card games and trips to Anahaw and McDonalds followed, and I really enjoyed getting to know them. You will be missed!
You know that show, "Pimp My Ride"? Well, consider my ride officially "pimped." The kids were asking straight away if they could go for a ride, and while I appreciate their absolute faith and trust in me, I just ain't ready. Now to practise. 

Yesterday the kids went for their regular walk down to a local church to get some exercise. I decided to surprise them with a visit on my new tricycle. They all jumped on and I took them for a spin (in the safe confines of the church grounds) PS the kids on the roof and the babies are just there for the photo
I'm finally on the staff board! My job description: "Teacher, administrator, social media promoter" I came up with that all by myself :)

Happy 2nd birthday to Baby S. She sure knows how to eat cake
This is something I always need to remember. There's a few of these here at Ruel

I was ecstatic to receive some genuine Cadbury chocolate from down south. They have it here but it's not quite the same. 

A sad day for me (from a selfish point of view), with Mr B going home with his family. Rarely has a little person worked their way into my heart like this guy. He was here for about two months, had a cleft palate operation and is now well enough to go home. His only communication is in squeaks and squeals, and to me it was like a "siren song of cuteness". I'll miss you little guy

Fathers Day here in the Philippines kind of snuck up on me, since in Australia we don't celebrate it until September. Another tricky day, considering where I find myself, amongst many fatherless kids. My major feeling at the moment is gratitude. God is using me, even with all the challenges and struggles I have been dealing with, to be a father to these kids (even when they show their affection by kicking, whacking and biting). Inch by inch I am growing in love, grace and patience.

Some brand new art and craft supplies thanks to friends from Portland, Australia, Rita and Mick Handreck.

This sign gives me a chuckle every time I go past it. I sure hope it's not what the customers say when they purchase a tyre and get just down the road.

Any Zoolander fans out there? "So hot right now..."

With an awesome family of godly men from church. I am now their adopted brother/son

The day finally arrived! After being reminded every day for a MONTH, June 17th was Miss M's 9th birthday. Miss M has made my life...interesting and challenging...and has stretched all my reserves of love and patience. I took her on a tricycle ride to a local mall, we played some games, got her a watch and a yummy blue drink. She was very well behaved until she started running around the "breakables" section of the department store, then I knew it was time to go. I know God has brought her into my life for a reason, to build my character and reveal to me areas of my life that need improving. Happy birthday Miss M.

This picture is right outside my apartment. It might not look much like a bathroom, but it's amazing how many people stop at this spot for a very public wee-wee. I'm feeling thankful for bathrooms.

June 19th was my third "Forever Family" experience since I've been at Ruel. 3-year-old Mr R headed off to his new family in the US. He's an awesome little guy and he's been here most of his life, so there's a big adjustment period ahead. God bless you little fella
Here's Mr R meeting his new daddy for the first time

A momentous occasion for me. I am officially a registered, certified Alien (the card is actually called "Alien Certificate of Registration"). Because only Aliens can open bank accounts, mere tourists can't. I'm becoming more Filipino every day

Staff outing to a nearby resort. I successfully drove a bunch of the Filipinas there and back safely in the big van. Felt rather proud of myself. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

David In The Philippines - Highlights From The Month of May

Four months in the Philippines represents quite a milestone for me. It is the longest I've been outside of Australia. My previous record was three-and-a-half months doing a summer camp in the US in 2004.

If you're on my email list or you've seen my Facebook page then some of this might be "old news" to you. It's been a very rewarding time here so far, but also one with many struggles and challenges in regards to adjusting to the culture and relating to others.

On a staff outing to a local resort. I spent much of the time watching out for two-inch-long ants and little jumping spiders 
I got my Philippines drivers license! Because I already have an Australian license, all that was involved was a blood pressure check, fill out a form, pay some money (less than $20) and I was done. I have already completed a few journeys around the place in the big Ruel van.  

We were privileged to have Ruel CEO David Cowie stay with us for a few days. It caused much confusion and amusement to the kids having two "Kuya David's" around the place.

Add this to the "I never thought I'd do it" list - I am a junior soccer coach! I've been taking a few of the kids along to soccer training the last few weeks, I took a couple of sessions and then got asked if I could coach an 8-and-under team at an upcoming tournament. I've had experience coaching Under 8s in basketball, so it's not a big stretch for me.
In the pre-tournament chaos, we tried to take a "team photo". Three of these kids weren't even in my team

Soccer lads after training

This is Laura and Henriikka from Finland. They spent a month with us after being in Vietnam and Cambodia, and it was great having them around the place.

 This is Baby K, one of the new arrivals at Ruel. He is four months old, very tiny and quite sick. I really enjoy popping into the Malnourish Centre and spending time with the littlest ones. Yesterday I held Baby K and started singing to him. Twinkle Twinkle and Humpty Dumpty went down okay, but I noticed a huge change in his demeanour when I started singing about Jesus. I sang "One Way", "My Redeemer Lives" and "Open the Eyes of My Heart". He looked into my face, his eyes grew as big as saucers and he started giving off massive smiles. It was incredible to watch. God is at work in this place, friends.
This is Baby M. He is now one month old, and was given to Ruel by his family at four days old, since they were just unable to provide for him. My 19-month-old niece doesn't have the mop of hair he does.  

This is Baby Girl D. She is two months old and her mother is very sick. She hadn't had any milk for two weeks when she was brought to us. Here we are just having a little chat
I have taken over the petty cash and banking responsibilities. My first time in a bank I had a 90 minute wait and really felt like doing a Mr Bean ticket-swap, but their were no wheelchair-bound suckers to take advantage of.

It was great having a group of guys from YWAM stay with us for three weeks. One of them, Mikko from Finland, is a keen soccer player, and he was able to show his skills a few times while he was here. Thanks to my friend Dom from church for organising it.

On Ate Danielle's last night with us, we all sat down together and watched the movie "Frozen" (the things we do for our kids!). I have to be honest and say I can't stand the movie or any of the songs which are sung incessantly at this place, and was not won over


Mr R is the son of the Ruel director, and for his tenth birthday I took him out to watch Spiderman and eat a delicious dessert called halo-halo.
This is Ruel's oldest resident Miss P, and she just turned 11. Miss P is an incredibly loving, responsible and helpful girl. I bought her a watch for her birthday. There was no mucking around, she chose the first pink one she saw.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Someone Loves Wendy

I wanted to share with you a story I've been captivated with ever since I read it. It's essence is fictional, but in all honesty it could be the story of thousands of children anywhere in the world. This is the story of Wendy, and her journey from hopeless failure to Compassion sponsored child. It was written by Emily from  the blog "An Ounce of Compassion", and reproduced on the Compassion Blog on October 30, 2012 Enjoy.

I know I will never be wanted; something deep down inside, tells me so. Each time the cold eyes of my papa chisel at my heart, I know I am nothing but shame to him. I am desperate, oh so desperate for his approval, the love that he forever withholds from me. It shatters my heart into a million tiny pieces that no one can put back into place. He is ashamed of my weakness. I try to be strong. I struggle to pull the tears back, but they so easily rebel. I cannot do better and I know I am a failure.

The coldness of solitude creeps into my bones as the echoes of laughter reach my ears. There is no room for me to partake in the laughter of my fellow school mates. I am too ashamed to make friends.  I know they must despise me: a motherless creature, who fails before the eyes of both my teacher and Papa. As Teacher gathers her students back to the classroom, I slowly follow behind.

Nearing the doorway, my heartbeat nearly comes to a halt. I can barely take in a breath. My exam is today. Will I even pass into the next grade? Surely my Papa will be disappointed with me if I fail him again. He cannot waste his meagre income on such a slow animal.

Each minute of the exam seems to stretch longer, as I scribble down answers. I strive to pull the facts from my brain.  I struggle to comprehend. As my dull pencil gets shorter and shorter, the pink rubber eraser becomes worn with frequent use. Fear grips my heart and twists it relentlessly.  My breaths are quick and short. My head is dizzy. My hardened brown feet kick the legs of the desk  monotonously. A pestering fly teases me cruelly. The hot air chokes my attention. And yet all I can think about is Papa.

Papa, working hard on the farm to feed me and keep me in school; day after day, fighting the unyielding clay.  If only he knew how I loved him so dearly, how very hard I try to please him.  If only I had worked a little harder after school, it wouldn’t have been my fault.

I wouldn’t have killed my dear sweet Mama, if only I had done more.  She was too weak to work, but I hadn’t known. How wicked I was to have stayed in school while Mama, suffering with cancer, labored at the farm. If only I had known how much pain she was experiencing, I would have worked harder. I would have exerted all of my eight-year-old strength, so that she could rest.  I helped the best I knew how, but it wasn’t enough.

How can I expect Papa to forgive me, when I cannot forgive myself?

All at once, my thoughts fly back to the exam.  The dryness in my throat makes it hard to swallow.  With a minute left, I scratch out my name at the top of the paper and hand it in.

The walk home today is more painful than the hunger growing in my stomach.  Fear whirls in my mind and each dusty step fills my heart with more dread.  Approaching the stench of our small farm, I hear a pleading voice from behind the tarp. Whipping in the wind, it seals out very little sound. I know that my Abuela is speaking with Papa in the house. Her smooth words advocate for me.

This will be good for Wendy, my son. Surely you can see that? Do not let your hardened heart stand in the way of her best interest.”

Her best interest? Have I not labored to keep her off the streets? She is a lazy child, who does not deserve to go to school. I cannot allow her to attend a church program,” his firm voice bellows above the loud flapping of the tarp.
I will not back down Juan,” comes the quiet reply of my grandmother.  Her weak voice trembles with earnest, and I yearn to be held in her arms.  “Wendy must be registered tomorrow for the Child Development Center.  I believe that God has sent this opportunity to us.”

Papa does not respond. His silence scares me. I creep closer, but terror prevents me from entering the small room where they converse.

Finally his strong voice speaks.

If it gets her out of my sight,” he retorts, “you can take her tomorrow, but God has sent us nothing.  He has only taken from me and my family.”

Suddenly, the tarp flies back sharply, and Papa storms past.  After observing me angrily, he disappears behind the rusty shed.

Taking Abuela’s wrinkled hand, I step into a long line of waiting people. The children stare blankly at the splintered floor of our tiny church. Pastor Jose greets the crowd kindly.

I tug Abuela’s sleeve gently, fearing that she will become irritated with me. She turns her head and I can read the sympathy in her eyes.

Why are we here, with all of these people?” I ask imploringly. She nods with patience and I wait for her response.

I am going to register you with the Compassion project here at Pastor Jose’s church,” her words come slow. “This will help you greatly, my child.” I want to believe her, but I am also puzzled. I know of a young girl in my school who attends the project once a week. She talks about her sponsor and shares about the activities and games she plays at the Center. She says because of her sponsor, her family is now able to buy groceries and provide her a uniform. And still, I do not know what to expect.

We talk with several people and answer many questions. Then I am whisked away with a number of other children and each of our pictures are taken. I have never seen a camera before, although I have always wondered what they look like. Something that is able to capture the image of a person, must be truly magnificent. I stare at it wonderingly, as lights flash three times.  It is almost a sort of magic I assume.

Abuela takes me home. I am very tired. Next week I will come to the project and meet my teacher. I want to be happy, but the truth haunts me. I know she will soon discover that I am a failure. I wonder if I must take many exams at the Project?

I have attended the project for many weeks. A new light is burning in my heart. At the project, we learn fascinating Bible stories and I am making new friends. I still don’t have a sponsor, but the teacher has prayed that one will come soon! I am very happy.

I have passed the third year of primary school. I had hoped that this would make Papa glad, however most days he is silent. He will not speak to me, but I talk to him. I tell him all about the joy I have found at the project.

Papa, today my teacher, Marie, taught us how God sent His Son Jesus all the way to this earth, just so He could die to save us from our sins. Do you think He did that for me too?” I beam with excitement. But Papa does not reply. My heart sinks with a heavy burden. I return to scrubbing his shirts. The soap stings my cut hands, so I quickly dip them into the cloudy water. Suddenly he speaks, but his words cut me like a knife.

So is my daughter too stupid of a girl to deserve a sponsor? I knew no one would want you. It has been four months now, and no one has chosen you.” He turns to leave the room. I lower my head to hide the tears that stain my face and drip into the bucket of laundry.

I didn’t think of it much before, but now, each day without a sponsor seems to pierce me deeper and deeper. One by one the other children in the Center find a sponsor, but I am left alone. I am too much of a failure for anyone to want me.

The rainy season soaks the world around me. Wet mud puddles stain my clothes, as I follow my grandmother to the church service. My mind begs to silently slip into the back pew, but Abuela steadily presses toward the front. I gaze upward at the wooden cross which hangs majestically from one of the supporting beams.  My step becomes lighter, and I sit on the front pew, beside my beloved Abuela. Her faithful eyes rest on Pastor Jose, who is opening his Bible and preparing to speak. I listen intently.

Jesus loves you all so much. In fact, there is nothing you can do that is bad enough to remove His love. He is forever knocking at the door of your heart. He truly desires a relationship with you,” Pastor Jose paused and gave his flock of sheep a genuine smile of love. He wanted so much to lead them on the right path. If only they would listen to his cries of sincerity. ”He wants to come into your hurting heart and fill it with His love. Please let Him in. Please don’t keep Him waiting outside any longer.”

My heart slowly fills with hope as I hear the wonderful words of Pastor Jose. I never knew that Jesus would want someone like me. How could one so perfect, love a child as horrible as I?  The question is rolling over and over in my head. But as I ponder this almost impossible statement, a feeling of love is beginning to surround me. I am beginning to realize that Jesus really does love me, even if no one else does.

I shyly rise from my seat and creep up to the Pastor after service.

Will you help me let Him in?” I stammer.

His smile pierces my hopeless heart. ”I would be more than happy to help you.”

Pastor Jose kneels beside me and leads me in a prayer filled with compassion. God’s love pours in and washes away the sorrow. I am full of peace and joy. Maybe one day my papa will feel this peace as well.

The days pass by and I eagerly count each one. I am longing for the day when my sponsor will find me. At the project, Marie pulls me aside when it is time for the children to return to their homes.

I have a gift for you,” her voice dances with happiness. I take the small box she places in front of me. Inside is a beautiful black Bible, all my own. I have never held a Bible before, so I touch its smooth cover reverently.

The soft paper feels so soothing between my rough fingertips. This Bible is a precious jewel to me; my only possession. Its treasured words will lead me closer to Him, the one friend I have. The One who gave salvation to a failure.

And now,” she continues. ”I have some very special news for you, my little Wendy.” Marie pauses and places her warm hand on my stooped shoulders. ”Someone has decided to sponsor you!”

I take in a quick breath of thick air, my brown eyes fixed on the tiny letters of my Spanish Bible. At first, I do not look up into Marie’s smiling face. But as her words sink in, gratefulness overflows the tiny cup of my heart. My brimming eyes turn upward.

They want me? I whisper with a cracked voice unlike my own. Marie nods.

They love me. I breathe.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Three Months In The Philippines...

So...three months in the Philippines?

It's been an incredible time, I can't believe how much has happened. There have been massive challenges and relationship issues, but ultimately God has put some amazing people in my life with whom I am developing friendships and this convinces me during the times of doubt that I am truly in the right place, doing some good stuff for His glory.

Here's a summary:

As my role has panned out so far, I am here primarily as teacher and "promoter", using the blog, Facebook page and Youtube channel to increase the profile of Ruel by providing engaging pictures and stories of our daily life, so that supporters know what life is like here. It is humbling to realise that as a result of my advocacy hundreds of new people, particularly in Australia, have come to learn about and support the work of this amazing orphanage. God's heart is for the people who have much to love and support the people who don't, and that is exactly what is happening.

I have also just taken over the petty cash role, and will potentially be doing the finances using MYOB. This is a role that I am excited about, as working with money and numbers is a skill that I have been given, but never really got to use in an employment capacity. I know it is an important job, so I pray for wisdom and integrity in doing it.

I have been able to facilitate a link or partnership between Ruel and United Evangelical Church in nearby Lalud. I found it on my third day in the country when I was looking for a Compassion partner church and it has been such a blessing for many people. The kids of Ruel now go there every Sunday and they LOVE it. As they are involved with Compassion International, the kids program is high quality and engaging. The church has a real heart for children. I have also been able to bring some of the foreign volunteers at Ruel to the church, and the group from YWAM were able to lead a mid-week service during Holy Week. Some of the young people from the church have also come to visit Ruel and formed connections with the kids.

You may or may not know this, but in order to come here I gave up pretty much everything in a material sense, and I am currently living off my savings. It's called a leap of faith. In terms of my finances, I have probably spent more than I anticipated so far, but I know it all belongs to God anyway, and He always provides. I am comfortable that the heart behind every financial decision I have made is that it can have a positive impact and blessing on others.

- I was able to provide the church with three new guitars, and I am teaching the guitar to children from the Compassion Project at UEC.
- I have paid for one of our kids Mr F to attend a soccer clinic every morning during April and May. The coach of the Oriental Mindoro soccer club sees some potential in him and actually asked if he could be enrolled. How could I say no? (I have also coached a couple of sessions. Well, I am NOT a soccer guy!)
- I will be providing funds for the UEC church to build a basketball court on their premises, and hopefully I can be involved in doing some coaching. It's all about giving the kids from the church and the community something constructive, physical and engaging to do.
- I have bought a motorbike from a Ruel volunteer who has just left, and I will be paying a bit extra to attach a sidecar. This is partly for my perceived safety and increased confidence, and also with a view to being able to take the kids places, rather than always having to pay for a tricycle. It will also make it easier to run errands such as getting groceries.
- I also still have two Compassion sponsored children who I have not been able to find a sponsor for, so I am currently financially supporting them at half cost. If you are interested, please click here, and then let me know.

Please understand I am not saying the above things to show off or boast, but to show what God is using me to do in the lives of others PURELY because I have committed and devoted myself to serving Him. Everything I have and everything I am belongs to God, and be assured that if He can use me, He can use anyone!

As an aside, if you would like to financially contribute to either God's work at Ruel or to me personally, please let me know

I wake up every day knowing that above everything else I'm doing here, God has given me the role of "father" to these kids. I don't always appreciate this fact, but sometimes the significance of it hits me and it just causes whatever little trivial problem was bothering me to fade away

Part of my job at Ruel has been as the unofficial photographer, and I've taken hundreds of photos of other people, so please excuse a tiny bit of self-indulgence on my part for this blog, as I get on the other side of the lens. I'll let the pictures tell the story.
With Mr W and Miss N in the school room
With Mr J just before he left to be with his Forever Family in April. 
With new arrival Baby Girl J, 3 months old
With my wacky schoolkids
Loving our new soccer balls, sent from Australia by my friend Fiona Piccinato
Merienda time!
With 3 year old Mr R on his birthday
With Miss R aka "Dora" (her haircut used to resemble the cartoon character)
Stopping for a rest on one of our walks
With Little Miss R. She's a munchkin.
Craziness with Super-Spiderman
The wonder of a selfie
With the soccer-man, Mr F. I've been blessed to be able to pay for him to attend a summer soccer clinic, and I've suddenly transformed into a proud "soccer dad". The kid's got some skills.
Terrorising the local mall after church

Every couple of days I take all the schoolkids to Mr F's soccer, and it's a treat to get an ice cream.

Not sure whether it's the Essendon shirt or the beard that Baby S is not impressed with. She really does love me though.

More selfie hilarity with Little Mr R

"I can't believe it!" 

This kid has captured my heart. Mr B is almost four but is the size of a two year old. He has a cleft palate deformity, and communicates only with squeals and squeaks. Cutest thing I've ever seen. I will miss him when he goes.

"Yo Homie"

How many little heads can we fit into a selfie?

Both Mr B and Little Miss R are currently having an operation to fix their cleft palate problems.

Enjoying some time at a resort at a place called Lantunyang

At Anahaw Beach

A very multicultural dinner table. This was the night Miss J's Forever Family arrived from California. Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Philippines and the US were represented.  

With Rachel, a volunteer from the US. She was here for three weeks and just made the place better with her caring and personality. We also talked for about 90 minutes on the first night she came, which for me is some kind of record.

Compassion Pics:
Coach David's guitar class, starting with 16 kids. The numbers have decreased somewhat, but hopefully after vacation they will pick up again.

United Evangelical Church, Lalud (UECPCOM)

Paying attention to the Pastor (!)

UEC just had their 28th anniversary, with visiting speaker Pastor Erickson from their sister church Sampaloc Bible Christian Community in Manila. I felt rather special being invited to have lunch with them out the back :)

I love how they have small groups straight after church. This allowed me to get to know many people, where I might not have otherwise.

The Ruel kids love going to UEC, they have been welcomed with open arms.

With an amazing family - Five godly men, all serving and making a difference in many people's lives. I am their "adopted brother" and son.

Enjoying a snack :)
We might "make children smile" at Ruel, but certainly not with that face.

Enjoying some tubig (one of my few Tagalog words)

My new ride (need to practise lots)

Swimming at Lantunyang

My first time trying the wonderful dessert Halo-halo

I love birthday cake as much as the next guy

My first time driving in the Philippines. We survived unscathed