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Note: The following blog was originally posted on emphas.is for our project backers, and is being re-posted here. Posted on 11/24/12 at 10:13am

Week two in Manila is wrapped! Two more to go. I feel like we've been here for a month, at least!

More about all of our activities and progress "In Other News," below.

First, I want to share some of the experiences we had today in the North Cemetery.

It's Saturday. I'm tired. We haven't taken a day "off" since arriving. There is so much to do. I woke up declaring, "I'm taking the day off!" But by noon decided to join James in the North Cemetery anyway. That's why we are here, right?

We've started a photo project with three individuals in the cemetery, giving them each a disposable Kodak camera, encouraging them to document their lives, from their perspective: what is important to them, what makes them sad/angry/grateful, etc. We've also given each one a notebook to record what the photos are, and what they mean to them. We'll give them each a book of their work before we leave.

In addition, and depending on how the photos turn out, I'm hoping to turn this into a fundraising project for the photographers and their families once we return to the U.S. and launch the documentary. We have two cameras and journals ready to develop tomorrow, and engaged with a third local photographer today. I'm encouraging each to be as creative as they wish, and I can't wait to see the photos!

I also brought my old, amateur video camera and invited LL, his "Lola" Crisna (she is unrelated but his caretaker - his mother abandoned him) and Angelina (84-year-old mother of Steve Cabuso, one of our closest friends and subjects of the documentary) an opportunity to play with it, and show their surroundings. LL generously gave me a tour of his house (room), pointing out what was important to him, where he sleeps, etc.

James produces beautiful visuals. For me, the most fulfilling part of this project is engaging people through interviews, as well as photos and video that they take, to share their perspectives with us. Today was a good day.

While James gathered high-quality b-roll and photography around the cemetery, I hung out on the north wall with the women and LL. Crisna told me that she has been sick with vomiting and fever for four days. I asked her if I could get her medicine and she showed me the packaging of what she would take, if she could afford it. (Each generic pill is almost one USD, which is completely out of her budget.) I asked permission to buy her medicine and she thanked me. I took off for the pharmacy about two blocks outside of the cemetery. I found the medicine, and as I was paying, heard my name being called. "Jessica!"

I turned around saw Steve's wife, Jinkie, and her son Jett. I asked why they were there, and they said, "for you!"

Apparently Steve sent them after me when he found out I had gone wandering by myself outside the cemetery. Jinkie held my hand, and Jett's, as we crossed the very busy, chaotic street, and brought me back, "home," to the cemetery. Steve chastised me for leaving on my own, and told me he had sent Jinkie to find me.

The feeling of being cared for, and looked after so closely, was surprising and very, very comforting. These are true friends.

I spent the rest of the afternoon speaking with Angelina: about her long life, her devastating experiences during the Battle of Manila, her brother, who was beheaded by Japanese forces during that time, her 11 children (five of whom she has outlived), and why she moved to the cemetery. It was a deeply moving conversation for me. She also told me that her first child, born when she was 19 years old, was fathered by an American soldier who never knew she became pregnant. She said she "wants to talk to him!" I have his name and I'm going to try to look him up.

I'm really looking forward to interviewing her for this project. What she has lived through is mind-blowing...and she shares it all with a smile, repeating often, "I am strong!" And she is. You're going to like her.

We also visited with Jerry and Jenny. Their daughter, Kristin, agreed to be our third “inside” documentary photographer. Jerry brought out his new pet toucan, Ralph-Palph. Google, the parrot, was released from his cage and Kristin even brought out her pet, “Bird-Bird,” who kindly sat on my shoulder. I was, clearly, elated.

 Jessica with Bird-Bird

Jessica with Bird-Bird

In Other News:

In the past week, we've interviewed Father Melvin Castro, Executive Secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family Life of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, following a "media forum" against the Reproductive Health Bill, which is a very high-profile issue in this heavily Catholic country, and an issue he is leading the fight against.

We also interviewed Nathalie Versceles, faculty member of the Department of Women and Development Studies at the University of the Philippines, and Board member of Likhaan, who is very much in support of the RH Bill (although she says recent amendments have caused it to "lose it's teeth"). And, last but not least, Carlos Celdran, whose dedication to Manila, her history, and human rights for all Filipinos, is providing passionate and insightful perspective into the larger issues surrounding the context of the North Cemetery community.

We've also requested interviews with Representative Imelda Marcos (former First Lady of the Philippines) and Representative Emmanunel D. Pacquiao (Manny Pacquiao, aka, "Pacman") as Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson, respectively, of the Millennium Development Goals Committee for the House of Representatives of the Philippines.

No word, yet. But we're trying!

Next week we'll speak with an expert on sustainability in informal communities, another expert or two (we hope), and begin our final interview series with residents in the North Cemetery.

...

As we left today, I gave Angelina a kiss on the cheek I told her we would see her soon. She replied, "I will wait for you."

Thanks again to all of you for your support! We're working our tails off to make a beautiful, honest documentary over here.

- Jessica Chance

Posted on 11/24/12 at 10:13am