9. We were led to believe that Manila was “a very dirty, smelly, rough city.” We were also warned to watch out for pickpockets, and I was told that it would be a mistake (one of many I could make) to carry my wallet in my back pocket.
10. Additional advice: send everything airmail because it will take two or three months for surface mail to reach Manila. Air-o-grams were somewhat cheaper (for short letters) than regular airmail, which was 25 cents per ½ ounce. You could use about four sheets of airmail paper for ½ ounce.
11. One morning the Pepeekeo site got a visitor. She was Ualani, a two-year old water caribou. And since this was the first time she was away from her mother, she spent two nights letting us know that she was very unhappy. She was very tame and was obviously quite pleased whenever anyone gave her attention. The married trainees became her keepers, and Peggy and I agreed to get up early one morning to exercise her and hose her down. It was the only direct contact we ever had with caribou because we were assigned to Manila.
1. Before we left Pepeekeo ex-Peace Corps Volunteers and our language teachers described Manila to us, but the city certainly wasn’t like the picture they drew. The traffic was unbelievable: there should’ve been accidents every few minutes, but we didn’t see any. Few corners had either stop signs or traffic lights, so everybody barreled full blast toward the corner, and whoever honked his or her horn first got to enter the intersection first. Our hotel was on a main street, Roxas, which had a medium but no lanes marked on what was about a three-lane width (each way). So vehicles just took off down the street, weaving and squeezing in and out wherever and however they wanted. There was much horn-honking … some of it to get the right of way at corners; some of it to alert other drivers that a vehicle was coming close to another; some of it to scare poor pedestrians (who seem to have no rights!); and we were sure that some was just to make noise. The first city sounds we heard in our hotel room was this honking. Many vehicles had horns that played a tune.
2. Public transportation vehicles way outnumbered private vehicles. The most common were taxis. (We never rode them because the one time we did the driver was obviously going considerably out of his way so that the fare would be higher.) Jepneys, converted World War II jeeps, were the next most common. They were privately owned and operated. Each held 10 passengers, although American-size bottoms caused problems in a full jeepney. The drivers had specific routes, but there were enough of them that it was possible to go anywhere within the city limits for 10 centavos. The third means of public transportation were buses. They were owned by companies, of which there were quite a few in Manila. They had specific routes but no specific stopping places and no schedules. We felt sure that both the bus and jeepney drivers went as fast as they could in order to make as many runs as possible … especially late in the day, when there were many more passengers than seats.
3. The great number of squatters in Manila was another thing we were unprepared for. People came in from the barrios (the countryside and small villages) looking for work! But many, many could find no work, much less a place to live, so they lived in parks, around monuments, in half-built buildings … just any place …in structures that we wouldn’t even call shacks. We never saw inside one, but we were sure they were small, filthy, and dark. Close to our hotel there were even some boys who slept outside on the sidewalks. During our first week in Manila, we were in Quiapo Market around 10:00 p.m.; we saw children and old women who were through trying to sell their products just curling up beside their goods and going to sleep.
4. Every block around our hotel had at least one stand, manned usually by a child or a woman, selling smuggled U.S. cigarettes. And we couldn’t go very far without having a small boy come up to us and beg for money. Although we knew they really needed the money, we didn’t feel that we would really be helping them by encouraging their begging, so we never gave them anything. They needed so much more than a few centavos. We were only beginning then to get a feel for these people. It was frightening and overwhelming almost to see such poverty and all that went with it … and to realize that there were no solutions. The people we saw were very dissatisfied … and all sorts of things had come to the surface because elections were soon to be held. We still felt that the Peace Corps could do some good … but it could only put a tiny drop into the bucket of what was needed.
Peggy and Randy Ford