2 January, Bohol
last morning of my R and R we kayak up the wild river: I call it
that because on my first day here, having kayaked along the coast
accompanied by the constant sound of traffic, I begged Ray to take
me to some kind of wilderness. He laughed and said no one had made
that request before, but he gave it some thought and today we are
paddling upstream on flat water between Nipa palms.
The last sign of a road was at the broken
bridge. This is Earthquake country and half the houses around the
nearest town were destroyed by the 7.2 quake in October last year,
along with 200 lives lost. I notice that it is the Nipa
houses that have survived intact, while the ornate stone villas and
the ancient churches have collapsed. There are no good
architectural choices in the Philippines.
Ray has not been up here since the quake and
wants to see how it has changed. Renato a local fisherman leads,
pointing out a raised sandstone platform that only emerged thee
months ago. As we go higher the river closes in, coconut palms
give way to beautiful, unnamed, branching deciduous trees with
mottled trunks and heavy leaves. Vines hang down and strangler figs
crawl up. There are kingfishers perched on branches and martins
dipping and weaving over the water. At one point we come to a
washing station where whole families launder and bathe in the
river. Then there is a series of clear pools between which we have
to portage the kayaks over rocky ground.
Finally we leave them on a small beach and
walk and scramble up more rocks and boulders to the Tank.
It holds the water for the village and stands with four clean
outflows above two deep green pools – perfect for swimming.
For an hour I cannot tear myself away,
floating and gazing up through the green leaves, sitting in the
natural Jacuzzis created by the small falls, with the water
pounding my shoulder and back; nothing but the sounds of river and
forest. Ray says he will call this Lynne’s trail in his
publicity material. Forget mental health programmes, this is a
real honour, a trail named after me!
Monday 6 January, Manila
I hold the green pools in my mind staring out at the
skyscrapers opposite. There is a swimming pool here; bright blue
and long enough for laps surrounded by Epsteinesque, heavy bodied
female sculptures, next door to a fully equipped gym complete with
TV screens. As you float on your back you can choose which shaped
scraper to look at: the one with tilting floors, or the oval one
with white trimming or perhaps at the green of the golf course that
bizarrely edges between them.
Everything around us was built in the last 10
years in an area of the City called the Fort. The pavements are
immaculately clean; there is traffic, but no jams, doormen and
security guards on every corner who salute you, a ‘High Street’
full of designer stores, and a tree-filled circle where you can
drink cappuccino. The whole place is full of bright young
Filipinos shopping and eating, and presumably working in one of the
Fortune 500 companies that built the tower blocks. No
jeepneys or street children here, and no visibly poor people,
except the ones who have donned immaculate uniforms to serve
us Italian pasta and Asian fusion and barbequed ribs at night;
always, always smiling.
My Agency has an apartment here - as many do. It’s convenient and
easy to get to many of the coordination meetings that are held
close by. Anyway, I have done my duty in meetings: I have discussed
mental health training curricula, and grief and mourning with WHO
at the DOH, a two hour traffic jam across the city. I have eaten
eggs Benedict in the café in the museum garden with the charming
Head of the Philippine Psychiatric Association and the Head of the
National Centre for Mental Health, both of whom share my
frustration at people’s lack of access to care. They have given
their blessing to our small venture in training primary health care
Doctors doing community mental
health can apply to the medicine access programme MAP
at the National Centre and they will be supplied. This is music to
They have grander plans: they want to train
one psychiatrist per region as a master trainer in the mhGAP
curriculum and then support them in rolling that training out in
all 16 regions. A great idea if someone will give them the money.
Dr Vicente assures me that there is access to psychotropic drugs.
Doctors doing community mental health can apply to the
medicine access programme MAP at the national Centre and
they will be supplied. This is music to my ears.
I tell him about Dr Verona, who has only had
free medications since the disaster brought the NGOs to her
hospital. He did not know that there was an outpatient psychiatric
department at Eastern Visayas. Perhaps the most useful role I am
playing here in this complex country of 7000 islands is connecting
I took three hours off to venture out of
our genteel up market enclave into the older familiar Manila of
stationary, foul smelling traffic jams and jostling streets, and
crossed town to walk through Intramuros. The oldest part of the
City was built by the Spanish half a millennium ago on the site of
a palisaded fort, by a wide muddy river next to the ocean.
I wandered through the garden that now
occupies the original Fort and eavesdropped as a Filipino tour
guide stopped among life-size bronze statues representing
Spanish monks and explained to a group of teenage Filipinos
that: the Spanish unified us, before that we were a group of
quarreling islands. They brought us together. Then I walked
round the corner to the remains of the jail where those same
Spaniards imprisoned independence-minded Rizal before his
final walk to his death by firing squad, now carefully traced
out in bronze footsteps. It is just across from the cells where the
Japanese occupiers tortured other Filipino resisters half a century
Further down in the garden more young people
photographed themselves, sitting on a bench next to the life sized
bronze of General Macarthur, responsible for the costly liberation
of the country and the reduction of most of this area to
As if the contemplation of all the paradoxes of colonization,
occupation and conflict were not enough, just standing outside
Manila cathedral is a lesson in either resilience and
determination, or bloody minded stupidity, take your choice.
A helpful plaque explains how eight churches
have occupied the same site since the first one made of nipa and
bamboo in 1571. Earthquakes in 1599, 1600, 1621 and 1645 knocked
down the two stone structures built in that period. Typhoons and
earthquakes so badly damaged the next one that the people knocked
it down themselves in 1751. An earthquake destroyed the fifth
cathedral in 1852 and the sixth in 1863. Then another earthquake in
1880 severely damaged the seventh, which was finished off by the
Americans in the Battle for Manila in 1945.
Just beyond the Cathedral is another memorial,
to all the unknown civilians who died in that battle, having
nowhere to flee.