The Market: It’s not just fish but that’s mostly what I’m going to talk about

When I first arrived in my municipality, the market terrified me. It’s big, loud, confusing, and all around assaulting to all of your senses. The perimeter is lined with small groceries, carinderias, bakeries, and other assorted shops. The inside is dimly lit, cram-packed with tables and booths that change locations at irregular intervals. However, after being here for 9 months, I’ve come around. It’s basically like Wal-Mart, but even crazier.

The first section is mostly household goods, selling everything from pots and hangers, to rat poison, clothing, machetes, and Korean DVDs. Moving back, the stalls transition to produce, to snacks, to grains, and finally to meat and fish. There are alcoves and carts for cell phone repair, coconut shredding, and haircuts. The narrow walkways overflow with smaller sellers setting up there goods on tarps or banana leaves.

And all of the above, is just a regular day, not an official market day. On market days (Tuesday and Friday), no floor space is left unclaimed by sellers and the market expands itself outside of its normal bounds and fills the basketball court with more goods and ukay-ukay.

Ukay-ukay (literally meaning dig-dig as clothes and accessories are often displayed in piles) is the Filipino version of a flea market, where most of the clothes come from other countries.

But, most my market time is spent at the back, in the:fish section.jpg

Twice a week, I accompany my coworker as she conducts the price monitoring interviews with the roughly 50-80 fish sellers. We do this in order to keep track of both what species are available and how the price fluctuates over time. (She does most of the work. I mostly point, ask questions, and sample snacks.) Fish sold come not only from our municipality, but all over the island. Many sellers commute to larger ports in order to get access to more rare or prized deep sea fish. Most of he fluctuations have to do with the weather (stormy days means less fishers go out), but there appear to be all kinds of factors. No two market days are the same.

One fish is always there, Bangrus, or milkfish. These fish are grown in the ponds that dominate the landscape of Capiz.

There are typically a variety of shells– oysters, mussels, snails, scallops and clams:

Some cephalopods:

Tiny shrimp, fermented and sold as a paste to giant prawns and mantis shrimp:

Eels, sharks, and rays:

Crabs:

And all kids of other fish, small, big, weird and everything in between!

It might seem that with a fish market like this, productive and diverse, things are going pretty well for the fisherfolk and the fisheries of Capiz. But, I should add, that while many fisherfolk agree that although enforcement, management, and community involvement and organization are improving, overall fishing is getting harder. Fishers observe less fish today than there were 10 years ago. The fish they catch are smaller. And, several high valued species have seemingly disappeared from the local fishing grounds. 

Why is happening? Most fishers would first tell you the reason we are seeing declining fish stocks is because of overfishing and destructive fishing. Fortunately, these are two areas we can actively work to combat. Through education and strict enforcement, the Philippines has already seen great reductions in destructive fishing methods such as dynamite fishing. But, it’s still an ongoing battle.

However, we can not ignore that climate change has had a particularly strong effect on the countries like the Philippines. It is hard to find a fisherfolk, no matter their political leanings or level of education, that does not believe climate change is a major problem for their livelihood. In Capiz, storms have intensified and seasonal patterns have been affected. Coral bleaching is rampant and sea grass areas have shrunken down to patches, leading to less suitable fish habitat. These issues will only intensify in the future and makes it all the more important that fisherfolk are supported and have access to the tools they need.

Anyway, I hope you liked the pictures of the market.

Amat-Amat: Baby Steps and Continuing Work with FARMCs

Woah, I’ve been in the Philippines for 9 months today! (That was true when I started this post a few days ago at least.) That means, as a fellow volunteer pointed out, that my 27 month service is 1/3 over. It also follows that I have a year and a half left. Depending on the day, that seems either really near or really far away.

I’m happy to share, I’ve been fairly busy lately. Not everything is going smoothly, but things are certainly going. The main activity on my plate right now is a massive re-organization of both the Barangay and Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Councils (BFARMC and MFARMCs, respectively).

Over six months ago, I wrote a post about FARMCs. As a quick review, they’re basically organizations of fisherfolk for every level of government, from the smallest (barangay) to the largest (national). In my last post, I talked about how in a perfect world these organizations would create local fisheries management, created by fisherfolk, for fisherfolk (with a little help from local government, NGOs and national agencies).

My municipality and our FARMCs are not there yet. And we have a ways to go. But, now we’re working in the right direction. To get things started, we enlisted the help of the provincial BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) director. He agreed to join in a meeting with all of the barangay captains (local leaders) to and share our plans to organize the fisherfolk in their barangays.

Next, my filipino work partners and I visited all 10 barangay and held information sessions and elections. Basically, we’re now the proud parents of 10 newly-born fisherfolk organizations. Some of these infant organizations are better off than others with strong leadership, vocal members, and supportive barangay officials. The rest might take some extra TLC…

Now, with most of these new groups deciding to have monthly meetings, my schedule is filling up. The goal is for each group to be self sufficient where they are able to set their own agendas and goals, have their own funds and budget. However, right now, I’ll be happy if the meetings simply happen.

So far, the regular meetings are off to a bumpy start. Of the four originally scheduled for the first week of April, all but one was postponed. The one that went on as scheduled started almost 2 hours late and had 15 participants out of about 140 potential fishfolk members…

But as they say in Hiligaynon, amat-amat… or as I’d say, baby steps. It isn’t easy to get busy fisherfolk and fishworks to come together in an organized way once a month. On top of having hectic work schedules, many have second sources of incomes and families to take care of. Further, most organizational efforts have proved ineffective and teetered out in the past for all sorts of reasons. And, starting from scratch, we have very few resources (or pesos for snacks) to work with. This is likely to be an up hill battle.

Over the next 18 months, I’ll continue to attend meetings. I hope to help these organizations gain recognition and find support in their communities. This month, I also plan to have an orientation meeting for a the municipal level FARMC and get that up and running as well. I’ll be sure to post another update down the road.

Wish me luck!

Two Months at Site

One year ago today, I accepted my invitation to join the Peace Corps. Now, I’ve been in the Philippines for over four months and at my permanent site, here in Capiz, for just over two. These past months have gone by so quickly, and without a great deal of tangible results, that I sometimes catch myself worrying about not having enough time here to accomplish what I hope.

But, that’s the American in me; time is different in the Philippines and not having enough time isn’t really a concern. This can be frustrating as a volunteer– Filipinos are notoriously late, for everything. And not just a little late. Yesterday, I was told to arrive at the municipal building at 6am. Feeling savvy, I got there at 6:45. By 7:30, everyone else had trickled in.

If you’re reading from the US, you might imagine that the more punctual of the group would be annoyed or even angry waiting for the stragglers. But, that wasn’t the case. Instead, people were catching up, exchanging stories and genuinely enjoying their time.

In fact, that’s exactly what I was told during my training that I only partially understood at then– Filipinos enjoy time.

This makes me think back to a quote I read once, superimposed over some serine natural scene, incorrectly credited to Buddha: “The trouble is, you think you have time.” The quote stuck with me because I liked it, but didn’t totally sink in. I couldn’t really imagine an alternative to possessing time, until now.

So, in the spirit of enjoying time and not possessing it– I’d like to share a few highlights from my last few weeks.

I experienced my first major holiday I traveled with my work partner to her home town for All Saints Day. Part of this experience included attending an outdoor mass in a cemetery.

I went on a pilgrimage- Well, I visited a Pilgrimage Resort*. Without knowing what I was getting myself into. When I was invited, they left out the “pilgrimage” part. We walked up ~500 steps, stopping along the way at scenes representing the stations of the cross to arrive in Heaven.

Also, it was a farm. (*In the US, the word “resort” carries a different meaning than in the Philippines. Here, they can range from modest beach spots with a few cabanas for rent to very upscale vacation spots.)

I became a Maninay– or a wedding sponsor/godmother. During the wedding ceremony, I stood behind the bride and groom. It was pointed out that at 25, I’m very young for the role. And, although I’m not completely sure what it entails, it’s an honor none the less!

I’ve explored the coastal waters– My municipality has a beautiful 13 km of coastline and several small islands. We have corals, white sand beaches, tidal pools, mangroves and seagrass. Getting there is a bit of hike from my house, but this just got easier BECAUSE…

I got a bike! So far, I’ve only taken it out twice. And, heading out to the coastal barangays isn’t exactly a leisurely ride, up and down some hilly and not always smooth terrain. But, the freedom is exciting! I’m also realizing I have a lot to learn in the ways of bike maintenance.

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I rode a jeepney… alone-This might not seem like a big deal. But, the fact that it took 4 months to happen should say something. Part of the reason it took so long is cultural. My hosts here are extremely hospitable (like above and beyond) and always make sure I have a companion. But also, traveling around as a foreigner is not exactly easy.

Also, I have been fairly busy with “work”. Most of this involves just going places, shaking hands, and posing for pictures. I have met with all kinds of government leaders from the barangay officals to the governor. I’ve begun getting involved with local groups and attending events with co-workers. There are a lot of people to meet and get to know. Still in my first couple months at site, I have a lot to familiarize myself with. Slowly, I am seeing relationships develop and am finding different ways to get involved (even with my very limited language skills).

More to come!