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The Mission Life: Serving in the Red Area

Mission Life Entry #3. Saturday, 23rd of September 2017. Daraga, Albay.

4:00am. My alarm sounded and my mind and body weren’t ready to function yet. The room is pitch dark and my teammates are still asleep. I snoozed the alarm–and bought myself 30 more minutes.

4:30am. My alarm sounded again. This time I am more conscious. Breakfast will be at 0700H and six people will queue for the bathroom, right after I take my turn, so I knew I couldn’t and shouldn’t buy more time. I have to take a bath, dry my hair, put on curlers and apply makeup–yes I am still a girl in the mission field, so all rituals apply.

6:30am. Everyone in my team is ready. We beat the clock. Before mess call (invite to the dining area) for breakfast we prayed. Mostly we prayed for safety and for success of the mission. As of 5 o’clock the advance team declared that only sixty people signed up for services–and that’s a pitiful number even for a small barangay. So we hoped for things to change.

9:00am. We arrived at the site, 2nd of the entire mission trip, and came face to face with the reality. The small school beside the basketball court which was to be our venue, was scarce of potential patients, so I got out of the pick-up truck in low spirits. My mood somehow changed when I was led to the area for Dental, however, because they gave us the balcony and it was a nice and cozy place for work.

Working In A Red Area

In the Army, when an area is labelled RED it means that it’s “enemy rich”. The area is remote and unreached  so it’s prone to insurgency. As a matter of fact, a week before the mission, there was an encounter between the military and the rebels in the nearby town. The area is dangerous because the people protect the rebels and it was clear that was the case when the LGUs were showing indifference to our presence.

10:00am. Patients started coming in for tooth extractions. From where we were, I could see more people flocking in. Red or not, people needed health service, and so we were more than happy to serve. The tense situation dissipated and soon we were making friends with leaders. We even got to enjoy a helping of fresh coconut–and everyone worked happily.

12:00nn. By this time the crowd has thinned in Dental so I decided to make rounds at the different sections. I heard people talking about going to a patient’s house to carry her via stretcher. She suffered a stroke and is already bedridden. Her daughter expressed the need, and so the soldiers thought it best to carry her over because our lone doctor was still seeing many patients.

Two of my teammates decided to tag along. I, naturally, wanted to go with them as well. As I ran to catch up with them I was called back to stay, “Wag kang sasama.” (Don’t go with them), but I ignored it and skipped to my friends. Halfway down the road, I noticed there were less and less people. At this point I realized I made a mistake but I didn’t want to go back alone so I continued walking with them. When we got to the house, the soldiers were already there, but the patient wouldn’t come out. Curious, I went inside and saw that the woman was lying down, asleep. Her daughter, cradling a baby, was waking her up but she wouldn’t budge. Despite her calls, she remained motionless.

In my mind I was thinking, “Is she dead? Can someone check?” And then I realized that it’s harder to wake someone who is pretending to sleep. I called my friends to exit the house. My paranoia finally set in and I was imagining this was a perfect setting for an ambush.

Of course nothing bad happened. My life is more dramatic in my head than it actually is. We figured the lady was feigning sleep because she doesn’t want to be bothered and so we left the house. We visited two more houses and invited two more elderly patients–and we successfully hauled one.

She had a wheelchair so there was no need for the stretcher. We felt victorious.

3:30pm. The day was about to end and we have completely packed up at Dental and Medical was seeing the last few patients. In the end, the 60-patient projection rose to 150+ and in my section we saw 30 people. For a baranggay with a population of 300, that was fine. We were happy with the numbers we served.

Anyway, while I was helping the Pharmacy section pack up I innocently declared, “I didn’t see a lot of male patients today. I usually do. But today they were mostly women and children”. As it came out of my mouth I realized what I had just said. The officer beside me sighed, “Kapag ang isang barangay puro babae at kabataan. Alam mo na kung saan mahahanap ang mga lalake.” (If a town is comprised mostly of women and children, you know where to find the men). I froze where I was and felt a chill in the air but the chief tanod who sat with us (one of the town leaders) giggled–so we took her cue and laughed with her. I think that was a confirmation, however unofficial.

4:00pm. We have packed up and loaded into the civilian vehicles. We wanted to take the first-timers to Cagsawa Ruins and just made it before sunset. Everyone was delighted. It was definitely a great treat after a long day.

The Aftermath: An Ambush

Days after I completed the first part of this post, I heard the most terrible news. About 40 rebel forces attacked the police and army detachments beside the airport construction site. They came in three groups in the wee hours of the night. One group fired at the police; one group fired at the military; and one group destroyed the construction equipment. A total of 30 million in losses. It makes you wonder because they claim to be pro-poor but this exactly hampers growth and development. This international airport is bound to create jobs; and any delay cause further strife to the people around the area. Pro-poor or bruised due to the denial of 3% revolutionary tax?

No one got hurt from both sides but this type of destruction and chaos leaves a great impact on the people. The pastor in my team said, “Kailangan tayo bumalik sa lugar” (We have to go back to this place), and even though I’m frightened I know that we have to and we will. And while I was praying I was thanking the Lord that he spared us from all forms of danger. The attack happened just 4 days after the mission. I know the Lord’s hand was in play, so I don’t really worry about these things but if you’re scared for me… here’s what I tell people everytime:

If it’s my time, it’s my time. And I’m at a point in my life where I’m ready for whatever. I don’t have to die in the mountains, in the middle of an encounter. I can die anywhere. Last year my car was grazed by a cement mixer and a few months ago a cement mixer fell on a car and claimed someone’s life. If it’s my time… it’s my time. You have to believe in that.

Anyway, God kept everyone safe during the mission–and that’s what’s important. We served the people and shared God’s love. And you know they say, God’s word is never wasted on anyone who hears.


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