An Amusing Letter From Fr. Gerspacher In The Philippines

Dear all,

Well, here I am in a really different place from South Africa. I wanted to write earlier but along with everything else that is new and different I have to learn this new computer system. So I hope that you do get this soon. Our phone system isn’t on a landline either, as we are out in the country, and it seems they only got the phone here some months ago, otherwise they used cell phones. The phone works by radio signal. I am still learning how everything works here or doesn’t work. The power was off most of last Saturday and all of Sunday. Fortunately they have a generator which handles the load very well. This also was only put in about 4 months ago. The Noviciate has only been here about 3 years so it is still a new place. However there is work to do on the main building for when the heavy rains come, (anytime now) the gutters cannot handle it and the water comes inside and shorts out the electric

We have our own wells but the water has a bacteria in it so it has to be boiled before drinking. I am looking at a filtration and purification system which might be in by next week. Also a pressure system as we only have gravity feed from a 20 foot tower so the upstairs has never, in fact, used the showers as they are almost at the same height. A chap came out today to look at our setup and I was impressed that he actually came on the day he said he would. In South Africa it wouldn’t be as likely.

The man came out by public transport which means a jeepney from Hoilo City to Santa Barbara a distance of 15 kms and then by tricycle (motorcycle with a kind of sidecar which can carry up to 12 or more if you don’t mind hanging on) for 3kms of concrete road and 3 of dirt. The trip without changing rides takes 45 minutes to go just 21 kms. They can’t believe that we travel at 120 kms plus in South Africa. The roads have not been repaired in years so a lot of potholes. Of course we are in the country so it is dirt or mud out here. The traffic in Manila is unbelievable. Just 15 kms from airport to the Priory there and it takes at least 1 hour and 2 or more when the traffic is a bit heavier. I arrived on a Friday afternoon so it was nearly 2 hours. I bet that nearly 90% of the vehicles on the road are public transport of some kind. So we are fortunate to have our own utility truck with a covered box so that everyone can ride in the back. But it is so rough.

There are presently 14 people here, 4 priests, a lay teacher from Sri Lanka who teaches English and 3 professed Brothers, one Novice, 2 postulants and 3 pre-postulants and a retired gentleman from the city who stays here during the week and acts as a kind of secretary and errand man. Since there is only one vehicle he is often in and out of the nearby town Santa Barbara or the city of Iloilo. A lot of the brothers spend there work days in the rice fields of which we have perhaps 8 acres. It is all planted by hand, weeded by hand and reaped by hand. They do have a machine for milling the rice. At this moment the rice looks like grass and should by ready for harvest in 3 months time. They eat rice here all the time and for a treat they even have it for breakfast on Sunday. Normally no rice in the morning only at lunch and supper. We have meat like pork or chicken and sometime beef, but always some kind of fish. Often a fish that is cooked in vinegar served with head and tail, or dried fish, like small dried squids.

As for animals we have a few ducks, 2 geese ( a third was killed by a neighbour’s dog just 2 days ago, because the goose stuck its long neck out the fence to eat some grass and the dog was waiting; such a silly goose) 2 turkeys, a tomn and a hen, plus a few chickens. The previous superior has built a very nice chicken run, but it stands empty for one reason or another. All the poultry is now together where the geese and ducks can have water. I am not sure what to do with these. It would seem to be a simple matter to raise a few chickens for eggs and meat, but apparently with chickens becoming so hybrid they need special feed to make them lay eggs, and for the money we would spend on feed we could buy 6 dozen eggs a week. Otherwise since this is a rice farm, every farm has it’s own water buffalo. So we have one of those here, which remains tethered by the nose but able to move in quite a big area. They do nothing the whole year until it is time to plough the rice paddies and then they work.

Plus we have a dog or two of our own. One a typical Filipino breed, rather small just a farm dog but has a very shrill bark, The other belongs to one of the priests here, a toy Japanese Spitz, all white and looks like a miniature Husky. His name is Bin Laden!

It is rather warm here, much more than Johannesburg ever was, and humid especially now in the rainy season. Apparently the dry season is very dry and even the grass will all go brown. It was 31 when I arrived and I don’t think it has changed at all. The early mornings are quite nice but by 7.00am the heat is already there. I seem to be managing alright but it seems chest problems are common with the humidity and any change of temperature, like air conditioning. Fans are used everywhere here, in our chapels and most have one to sleep with. I have but haven’t used them yet. We don’t have air conditioning and probably one would have to be quite well off to afford it. It is better to avoid them I should think.

There is lots to do here and not much in the way of money to do it. The faithful in the nearby chapels do support us, but they also want to have a church built, which I am also supposed to undertake. So our income helps to feed us and that is about it. It costs about 6000 pesos a week to feed everyone here and that is with very few luxuries. Fruit is about the only one we have (and they have some interesting local fruit here besides the mangos which are in season and bananas of different varieties but very nice) and on Sunday the Brothers can have a coke or fanta for lunch and supper and as I said rice also for breakfast. There are about 50 pesos to the US dollar so perhaps 40 to the Canadian, five to the Rand.

So it is time for breakfast ( I am having an 11:30am Mass today) which today is just enriched white bread. There are no brown or whole wheat let alone rye breads available out here in Santa Barbara, but perhaps brown bread in the city. They also love Kraft cheese spreads and use it a lot on bread. I have gotten away from so much processed foods in South Africa that I am reluctant to start eating it again. I had stomach problems when I arrived with diarrhea now it has gone the other way. I went to the city last week and wanted to buy some dried prunes, but guess what, they don’t even have any in the biggest shopping mall in the city.

When I get a hold of a camera I will send some pictures through. Keep me in your prayers as I do daily for you.