It’s been a week now since I returned from a data gathering trip to the Philippines, and as one might discern from the title of this post, this was my first time in the Philippines. In fact it was my first time across the Pacific. While it was quite the whirlwind of a visit (and I’ve just recovered from the jet lag), it was a wonderful and informative experience.
When first designing my PhD research, I was focusing on a single context – Ecuador after the 2016 earthquake. However, a few months ago, the Philippines was added as a context. Two colleagues of mine have (and are still) studied recovery after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and my research seeks to build off of some of their work. Thus, I am continuing their studies as well as the work I started in Ecuador this summer.
During this trip, I got to spend time with these two colleagues, who are better considered as friends. (Our friendships might not be the oldest I have, but hey, it worked with a catchy title). Having them with me during this field visit was invaluable. Not only did I enjoy their company, but having their support and insight as I adjusted to a new culture, new projects, and new research norms was immensely helpful. “Teamwork makes the dream work” might be a cliche, but it was true for me.
So what did I take away from this experience? While I’m sure more thoughts and developments will come in the future weeks and months, my most immediate reaction was to compare what I found in the Philippines to what I witnessed in Ecuador. In coastal Ecuador, which was recovering from an earthquake that destroyed mostly homes made from masonry block, there was a desire to want to rebuild with timber. However, in the Philippines, most households I spoke to wanted more masonry and concrete block and viewed the lightweight wooden structures in their community as weak and vulnerable due to the destruction of timber houses during Typhoon Haiyan. Although the Central Philippines is also susceptible to earthquakes, it was the recent typhoon event that informed household material choices. And I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this. In my own life, isn’t it often my short-term memory that helps to inform my decisions? So how do we assuage fears and construct homes that are culturally appropriate and strong in multiple types of hazards?
I had a long conversation with one engineer about the use of bamboo as a building material and its pros and cons. Now in Ecuador, numerous organizations were rebuilding with bamboo. It’s often cheap and locally sourced. It’s sustainable. It’s light weight and flexibility make it a great choice for earthquake resistance. But, often, it’s seen as a poor material and not socially accepted. This was also true in the Philippines. But, in contrast to Ecuador, bamboo was not prevalent. The only homes I saw constructed out of bamboo were from one organization. Bamboo in the Philippines was expensive. And…importantly in the Philippines, there are typhoons. Traditional bamboo construction is often destroyed in the high winds of typhoons. So I was intrigued by the bamboo-concrete hybrid structures being constructed by one organization. From the outside, these houses appear to be concrete structures but have the desired ventilation and earthquake performance of bamboo structures. I’m certainly looking forward to studying these structures and learning more about the continued recovery of these households.
Although this was a short trip with much to accomplish, I was able to take a few moments to enjoy being in the Philippines. My last afternoon was spent being a tourist around Manila and enjoying the views from the bay. Another afternoon was spent cooking as traditional a Thanksgiving meal as possible in a country with different cuisine. And in a kitchen without an oven. (Note: stuffing needs to be cooked in an oven). Despite having Thanksgiving on Saturday and thousands of miles from my family, sharing a meal (both traditional and not) with old friends and new friends was a wonderful way to end my fieldwork. I’m not sure when exactly I’ll return, but it’ll be soon, and I look forward to it.
Check out my photo gallery for some photos from my trip.