Monday, 27 October 2014


Palanan, Isabella, 14th of October 2014.

When I finished writing the “change” post I had become quite intrigued by the following question: why should I sit eight or more hours daily on this very same chair ever again? Do not get me wrong, I loved my job. Making smartphones just a fraction smarter is the easiest way to explain what I did for a living. I mean the ‘what’ side of my work was fascinating, more so if you are versed towards technology and telecom that is.  It’s rewarding to make life of many just a tiny winy bit easier. However, I am less happy of how it is done. So today I want to put it all into perspective by comparing it with the hunter-gatherers of Palanan.

Planet made from a bird's eye view.
 Kanaipang white beach at the top-left.

The Agta wake up with the rising sun. After a breakfast made of any leftover food in the house, he or she decides what he feels like doing. This depends on the conditions (e.g. tide), weather and his state of mind. Some are more into fishing, collecting shells, trapping lobsters… you name it. Some trips are as short, time to catch a 5kgs moray eel to feed the family for some days, some more than a week to gather lots of goods to trade later. Some are in groups, some alone. Or quite often whole families decide to go visit neighbours for a few nights. Once again no planning, texting or arranging. Just living a happy, fresh and mostly simple life.

After this necessarily simplified view on Hunter-Gatherer work, one can already see the major difference with office work. For example, where I was the day scheme was simple. 9 o’clock, morning meeting, today’s tasks are more or less discussed and imposed on members. I must admit proactivity has a tiny place, maybe because I am in a ‘tech’ company. So I am ‘free’ to come up with ideas for about 4% of my working time. After a discussion with a guy from the innovation department, he convinced me to invite fellow workers to meet over lunch once a month to discuss new technological ideas. As soon as I invited people for the first event, I got in return invited into my boss’s office, where he stood, looking angry. If I wanted to start a meeting with other people, and despite being outside working hours, I would need to organise something with management and HR. This of course takes months to setup, he said.  I agreed, only to realise this just meant I couldn’t do it. Apparently I needed to be free over my lunch break, to impress my boss for 18 more months. I know this is an isolated case, but what matters here aren’t the exact details but the mentality behind it all.

Here’s another instance, apparently part of my contract states that I don’t own any code I write during my time at the company. This includes naturally what I produce in the office, but strangely what’s done outside it too, even purely personal projects. Could this even be possible? I googled it today, not sure why not before. Maybe I fouled myself thinking this was just one more paper to sign, but I can tell that yes my memory is correct and yes, it can hinders the life of many. None of this felt right when I was working there. After 8 months in the wild, it still does not.

To try and make sense if this, my first reflex is to invoke Hobbes. I have given much of my freedom to the company, but in return I am entitled to superpowers right? The first which came to mind is security. What do I mean here by security? Well, working for a big company gave me the security to know that my salary is very likely to come into my bank account at the end of each month, on the 28th to be precise. If I am sick I have a subscription to extra-public services which entitle me to a nicer room in the hospital and faster access to healthcare. All this comes in a 52 page document explaining all my entitlements. As everything is set down I am left with very little leeway. What if my disease is not on the list? What if I would like to be paid every other week? Then, too bad. What if they change the rules at a time of their convenience? Well again, nothing to do with me. Now, it is true, I am free not to take this job, but then I face all the other rules and networks which bind me to my society.

Planet made from a bird's eye view.

Let’s go back to the Hunter-gatherer perspective for a moment. I think I learned one of the most important lessons here in Palanan, where the mountain range protects the coming of roads and with it, a big part of modern society. Where some parts feels like living in the 50’s; there are no supermarkets and a big proportion of time is spent sourcing and preparing food. Some parts even feel like the 1850’s. Like the Agta’s camps without motors, water supply or electricity. They do it all with manual strength, animals, rivers, sun and moon light. But even more, the one element missing is security. They have no shoes and many poisonous snakes, no ropes and climb 30 meters trees, no food stored and unpredictable food sources. What then happens when things go astray? Most of the time, they don’t. To an extent, and through the times when I joined foraging trips, I can tell you how physically challenged I felt.  It is not that I am that unhealthy but more that they trained for this type of life. Their lifelong practice and skills goes a long way to protect people. But then, as unescapable as the finitely of life, accidents and difficult situations happen. For example, we met the first and only blind Agta of the region. His disability means he can’t do any daily activities nor provide for himself. Having an extra mouth to feed is demanding and the solution is for him to travel every now and then from one camp to another.  So the problem is solved by a strong community spirit sharing the burden.  Similarly, when a family don’t have enough food to provide for every mouth, their neighbours share their supplies. Sadly this security is not so prevalent in our communities anymore, for I believe the state and its rules are meant to replace it.

After all of these considerations, I can now come to the point of closure. But before this, I want to make it clear that, for me, freedom is never infinite as the freedom of one stops where the freedom of the other begins. Now, even if Mr Hobbes wasn’t completely wrong by stating that one must give some of his freedom in order for society to be possible at all, I am unsure of him agreeing with our present one. I understand the trade-off but it doesn’t mean I don’t feel a bit robbed under the current circumstances. I am, for example, very interested to know who really supports warlike state interventions? Or how much of our taxes we would like to see attributed for weapon design instead of school, education and health? The question of who should control the money making process is another good one to ask. As I’m pretty sure the results are contradictory to the current situation, why is it that we call our system democracy? Maybe the voice of society no longer belongs to the people. A democratic society is an equal partnership where each has the same power toward decisions, is it not possible to tend more towards this simple system?

I have now seen two opposite ways of allowing a group of individuals to live together. It’s difficult to tell which one I prefer, given the vast differences in settings, such as access to resources, healthcare, agriculture or even electricity. After these few months I am surer than ever that our system in Europe can be rethought and rehumanised.

Love to all,

Sunday, 19 October 2014

More fun in the Philippines

After precisely 240 days in the Philippines, we left (whop). Happy to have made some great discoveries during this page of our life and to have achieved most, if not all, of what we planned from the distant city of London. We are now on our way to the Japanese megalopolis and a few weeks of well-deserved holidays before the coming New Year. Before turning to the next page I would like to share a few feelings about my short-term adopted country and our time there.

First, there was the initial reason to come to the country, the Hunter-Gatherers Resilience Project. I so glad to have been a part of it. As it was spoken of in length on this blog, I won’t go into more details now and simply write how thankful I am to Dr A. Migliano, head of the project, to have trusted and welcomed me into the team.

So to the Philippines itself: I must say that the tropical weather has its good and bad. Good in that there’s no need to have such a place as inside as the temperature means one wear a T-shirt all year round. But the rains are here the strongest I ever witnessed and far outdo anything in Europe. Rivers can spring to life in a matter of hours and the winds break trees. Despite those little inconveniences, I now understand why half of the animals of the planet live in such conditions.

The people of the Philippines are of a kindness I never saw before. Not only is everyone jovial, helpful and relaxed, but also ready to go out of their way to transform a bad situation into a better one.  In the remote town of Palanan, this is even truer. Of course, at first everyone stared blankly at us when we arrived, but after the novelty passed we are still always greeted. Usually, when I get hailed in the street, it is to try and sell me something, a reproach or threat. Here, when I get called at it is because people just want to chat. From the kids who always ask my name and proudly practice their English skills, to the shoppers who are always curious about our plans and work with the Agta, I had many impromptu discussions. The only time I saw something similar was the smallest village in the centre of France. Having lived here for years, my grandmother knew everyone and everyone knew her.  It looked like a little bit of paradise when I first went there. I wonder and hope to be able to live in such a place in the future. 

Yet while people are like super nice here, the culture just doesn’t feel the same. I am unsure if this is because of the Americanisation of the country, but sometimes I have the feeling I fell into the movie “Idiocracy”. Many things from TV shows or ads are sometimes beyond words, like mocking some Americanism which was already a joke itself. Good example is the cultural slogan seen everywhere in the country: It is more fun in the Philippines.  Fast-food, big corporations, super shopping malls rule here. It’s all about customer service, except when you have five sale assistants stalking you trying to pre-empt everything, then it’s just, overwhelming.   But well, at least these titbits are unexpected and always make us laugh.


Welcome to the Hotel Sofia

Speaking of a chocolate-filled bun

Your text here

The food…. Well Filipinos love their food. It plays a very important role in their culture (actually I am sure this is the case in all cultures). If you walk pass anyone eating you’re told “let’s eat” as sharing food with anyone without is really fundamental here. However, the food itself… I think the best way to explain the Filipino palate is, deadly sweet. Sugar reigns supreme here, often in savoury foods. Having a sweet sausage was a first for us.  Sadly, with the rapid development of the country I won’t be surprised if the next major health crisis will be obesity and diabetes. The love of processed foods here is astounding. But after 8 months I must admit that Abbey eats rice like a Filipina, which means lots of it, all the time.  Even through almost every hector of land here is devoted to rice the country still has to import it. Seriously, that much rice.

As many wondered, I guess the thing I miss the most here, despite you know, people, is the outlook for the coming times. Since my earliest memories I have always been looking forward to the future, the invention of new technologies, the developments of art and to a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world. All of this had very little place during my stay, except for the short periods of time where I was able to access a decent speed Internet, which means nearly never.

Speaking of what comes next, we will continue writing here about our travels, all the way home. After this, and as I enjoyed the experience very much this year, I plan to carry on blogging about technologies, music, photography and product/business ideas I come up with. Abbey has plans to start a cooking blog with a tasty meal per week (not to fulfil gender stereotypes or anything).

 Stay tuned and do not hesitate to ask us anything.

Love to all,

Monday, 13 October 2014

Welcome aboard

Today we are flying together from Cauayan City to Palanan.
In order to have an idea of the trip here is an old Google Maps I found in the attic.

We are now five minutes into the flight and just reaching 2000 feet and 80knots of ground speed. The plane, an old seven seater from Cessna is outputting her full 325 horsepower and will stay at full throttle until the last moment before putting the flaps out for landing.

The pilot announces once again the altitude, speed and itinerary over the radio. This information is used for synchronisation between small airplanes as the instrumentation cannot detect other aircrafts.

Another three minutes and we are now flying over the rural area situated before the mountains of the Sierra Madre. We can see how the cement roads become dirt tracks and how the shapes of the fields show the manual agriculture system. In comparison, the fields around Cauayan are three to four times bigger.

Looking at the picture after shooting it, I am impressed by the capacity of the camera to see through the distant haze. One of the few cases where the human eye sees less details.

Here we are, the mountains. This formation makes the creation of roads difficult. A project exists since ten years, with construction supposed to start in five. This represents the safeguard of many cultural aspect of life in Palanan and at the same time the distant dream of a better integration with the rest of society, cheaper goods, better medical system and hopefully an ATM.

Entering the Sierra Madre. Each valley is here filled by a river. The mountain chain provides seventy percent of the water supply for the Luzon Island.

After slight turbulence we arrive to the other side. A band of land only about five miles wide. The plane is now heading north and on the right side appears Didian. Situated in the middle of the primary forest otherwise called jungle, where seven Agta camps exist. Also it is here easy to witness the influence of the non-Agta farming activity slowly replacing the forest by fields, mainly rice and corn.

At the point of convergence of the two rivers is situated the Agta Camp of Dipagsanghan, can you spot it?
Answer of last question. This huge beautiful tree at the North of the camp marks quite a spiritual place as a few tombs are situated at his feet.

Thirty short minutes have now passed since our departure and the plane is lowering from the previous 4000 feet. Speed is a bit over 120knots and soon the town is here.

Here the fields cover most the ground surface and right after the hills is the Ocean. Notice how the middle third of the landing strip is made of bare ground and full of potholes. 

When in town we are staying in the only two stories house close to the tarmac. From the terrace, I like to watch the plane land and take-off two to five time a day to bring people and cargo from 'mainland'.

We are about to reach our destination. I hope you had a good trip and enjoyed the view from up there.
As for us, this as our 23rd flight of the year. Seven more before coming home in December.

A company as recently starting using this massive 19 seater plane to deserve the city. The state of the tarmac became a real danger so the cementing of the rest of the landing strip has now started and should take about 3 months.
With love,

Monday, 6 October 2014

Fishing: tools, techniques and practice

Dear all, todays article is about sea creatures  and how to catch them, in case you are ever stranded and starving....

Just as a side note, we are currently in camp 6, which is the remotest area we have explored so far. Didian is 47km from the closest town, or a days boat ride away. All is great and  I will summarize this trip in pictures and words later.

For now let's start with the tools used for fishing. We are going to go from the commonest to the least used objects amongst the Agta.  It is worth noting that this order is more or less the contrary for the local non-Agta population.

The batek, so widely employed that in Palanan, the local dialect, fishing is said to be mag-batek. The main version of this tool is made of an iron rod between 60cm and 1m called the pana.

Bateka in the sea.

 It is sharp on one end, with a nail to stop fish from escaping once pierced.

Batek: focus on the front nail.
 The other end is U-shaped in order to fit the elastico. This is, as the name suggests a loop of rubber, which comes in all size and shapes, open on one side and closed again by a piece of string that will lodge into the U of the pana. The last part, which is optional, is a piece of nylon string linking both parts. The string acts to keep the pana tied at all times in order to avoid loosing it.

Batek: focus on the string piece.

 This is a requirement for fishing in the sea and only an option in the rivers where it is usually pretty easy to recover the pana once shot. Speaking of the sea, here the design is enhanced to create a real speargun. A wooden structure supports the pana and a bent nail acts as a trigger. Once again see pictures for a clear illustration. I had the luck to find a pana in the sea and a friend made the rest of the batek for me.

My batek freshly assembled.

The panas are also used in a group of three in order to go cugita spearing, i.e. octopus. The technique is quite complex and I wish I could share the video footage with you.Once the animal is spotted, hiding in a small coral hole, the Agta spears the three panas with a certain twist of hand in order to attain some specific point in the beast. Then, it is all about turning and twisting. If the animal proves resistant then a big rock permits to crumble the coral and access the octopus hiding in a now ink-filled mini lagoon.

In third position, comes the classical fishing lines, only used by the Agta at the coast. The idea is to go on a small boat with as much as 30 lines, with many big hooks and bits of octopus. Then throw to the depths, and wait. From my experience this was mostly carried out at night time and the yield wasn't great: nothing.

Last but not least, are the nets. They are used in all possible ways with different results. At the coast, it is deployed by walking out in shallow water and throwing it from a rock into the waves. Trying to capture fishes from a boat, all of this works. Hard to tell which technique works best, it is only sure that the yields are comparative to mag-bateking or slightly reduced. Inland, and on the rivers, I only witnessed one occurence where a small net was set accross a shallow river. Then a troop of ten or so mag-batekas came downstream driving the escaping fish to their end. This technique seemed very efficient.

As we are talking about nets it is worth noting that in the rivers a different structure is used. Made of a vine rope with banana leaves attached, the tool spans accross the whole width of the channel and is dragged up- or downstream. Even if this does not block the passage of the fish it certainly makes them turn as they do not dare to cross under the leaves. On the other side, the mag-batekas are ready to throw their panas in to the manufactured school.

Banana leaves net.

I had the chance to get hold of my very own batek at the coast so I went to try a tool a 8 year old Agta kid is the master of. After half an hour of work I had shot maybe thirty times and not even grazed a fish, nowhere near a catch.

The fish killing move.

 In the meantime our companion caught five small fish and five shrimp with her barehands! Not the most promising start for me.Then, in Caniapan it took me a bit of time to get the technique right as I kept getting the wire caught in the rubber. But after watching and following a kid the day before in a lagoon it felt more like the pans could defeat a swimming animal. Thirty minutes and thirty shots later I still didn't get anything but I was getting closer. Maybe , I thought, my batek is at fault as the pana is old and bendy. I needed to be sure. I aimed for a small fish swimming near to shore. The elastic strung, the spear takes speed and get stuck in sand, and to my shock, this included a fish. It worked, I caught the first fish of my life and even if it did not constitute a nice meal for me, it did for a crab logging near our tent.

Catch of the day.

To conclude our fishy tell, in the river it is hard to spot any fish as one fights strong currents, whereas the sea is more forgiving. That is why, I guess that with a life of practice people get usually half a kilo of 10-15cms fish from the river per trip, compared to up to fives kilos at the coast, with individual fish reaching 45cm and nearly 2 kilos.

Oh, and I also went octopus catching. This resulted in 4 hours of walk in the sun and no animal spotted by me or my companions. Fortunately, a man of the group and called me over to demonstrate the extraction, which I captured on video and include here a picture from it.

Octopus hunt with Jimmy.

Love to all,


Monday, 29 September 2014

Anthropology Corner: Health and Wellbeing

So a while ago, actually a really long time ago now, I wrote about some of my work with the Agta. Observing children is only one part of my research, the rest of the time I run around after the same children attempting to get anthropometric data.  

Anthropometrics simply refers to the measuring of people (thanks Wikipedia) and basically means that on three different occasions now I measured height, weight and skin-fold thickness for all the children and adults we meet.  For children, this is particularly important as a measure of their growth and development. Skin-fold thickness is also a great measure of fatness and malnutrition. With this data, we are able to understand the physical status of the population, compare this to other populations worldwide and to try and understand the causes of any abnormalities. 

Anthropometry has been used by biological anthropologists for many years as it is easy to conduct in different field situations. Even so, it is often challenging trying to find a good spot you can be sheltered from the burning sun or pouring rain which also contains a flat, hard surface and big enough to move people around in. Actually, I don't think we have ever managed to find all three, and often we send kids running all over the shop trying to find big pieces of wood (or rice grinders, benches, cutting boards...when needs must!) for the weight scale.   

But health is composed of main more things than simple height and weight. With an individual's anthropometrics it might be clear that they are malnourished and stunted but it is not clear why. This might be because they simply are not eating enough, or they have a parasitic infection (basically intestinal worms) or a bacterial infection such as TB.  So even with all the limitations caused by a lack of infrastructure, we are currently working on conducting blood, sputum and even stool tests to try and really understand the Agta's health. Working with the local medical services we are helping to screen individuals with some key diseases, primarily TB, worms and anemia, and facilitating their access to treatment.  

This is something I am really happy to be involved in, as for me it's important to directly help the population which does so much for me (I mean where would my Ph.D. be without them!). Hunter-gatherers have been a quintessential component in the development of Anthropology. However, there are now less than 50 hunter-gatherer groups remaining worldwide, and those which have survived are often referred to as fourth-world peoples: they lack socio-political and economic representation in developing nations and are increasingly marginalised in terms of access to resources and health care.  So to help change this, I am more than happy to be kicked by the occasional child (it's OK they forgive me again once the lollipops come out!).

That's all folks,


Monday, 22 September 2014

Anthropology corner: the endangered, tree hugging primitive.

While I was writing the previous article on Agta fashion, trying to say something witty about the archetypal tribal man or women in modern-day conception, I realised that stereotypes are an interesting and reflective topic itself.

What is the image of a hunter-gatherer for most people? I think in part it is based on the native American's we learn about in school and watch in the movies. This is the reason for the 'tree-hugging' title; the message often is that foraging people are at one with nature, in-tune with their environment, friendly with all living creatures because this is what they rely on as their daily bread.   I don't know about all the different groups in the world (and it really is important not to make assumptions) but certainly, the Agta do not conform to this image. They may rely on the surrounding environment for fish, birds, pigs, rice, fruits, and yams etc. but this doesn't mean they won't extract these items with force.  

For instance, birds are kept alive for a long time once they are caught, handed around as playthings for all the children to interact with. This is actually very hard to watch...and you find yourself wondering why are they not more sentimental to the creatures they rely on. My best explanation is that they can't afford to be; food is constrained, meat is limited and takes a great time and energy to procure. Imagine walking for 3 hours to Tesco's only to come back with enough for one day so you will have to hear right back tomorrow. I guess then no part of the animal can be wasted, you can't see the bird as a friend, or be a fussy eater cause it looks too much like the thing it is (most westerners, including me I think suffer from this problem - mash it, process it so we can disassociate from it).  So maybe, this heavy handling of animals is wrapped up in the idea that animals are food, to be dominated by humans.

Collection of hunted wild pig jaws

Of course, this doesn't mean that the Agta don't want to protect their food sources. They dislike non-Agta overexploitation of the environment (which is often illegal in the national park, such as electric or poison fishing) as it heavily reduces their yields. But the Agta are also sometimes living on the knife-edge with no food stored facing unpredictable conditions. Therefore, their first concern is survival and increasing their food intake however they can. 

So, why endangered? Recently there was a photography booń∑ called "Before They Pass Away" which featured different hunter-gatherer populations from all around the world. The premise is here that it is important to visually document these cultures before they are lost forever in the mists of globalisation and acculturation.   The tagline itself states "Jimmy Nelson forces us to see, to understand and to remember before they pass away" referring to these peoples as "the last resorts of natural authenticity".  

It's true that the world is smaller, increasing levels of education and globalisation mean you can find coke everywhere and the similarity between peoples is increasing. However, the concept that it is only the extremely exotic which is authentic, seems to me problematic. It is a form of Orientalism, or the creation of the strange 'other', which removes the actual people from view.  

Bonding over football

The Agta, like parents worldwide, want their children to have better chances and lives than their own. For them, this means education and integration with the rest of Philippine society.  These two things drastically increase key development measures such as life expectancy and health and wellbeing, so not such a bad choice right.  So in part, the people beneath these endangered exotic layers are actively seeking to become more like their farming neighbors because simply put, their life chances are better.  However, this doesn't mean the Agta will be lost forever except for an appearance in a few bits of obscure anthropological texts.  Our project is titled 'resilience' for just this reason; populations are dynamic and change is continuous but change doesn't mean extinction.  The conversation about endangered peoples often lacks this perceptive, the idea that people actively are able to integrate into society, change with the times but continue to differentiate themselves, and take pride in their own history and diversity.   Just because they don't continue to plaster themselves with paint or mount war raids on neighboring groups doesn't mean the peoples will be lost forever.  The work of a fellow anthropologist, Tessa Minter, with the Agta argues this point extremely well and demonstrates the importance of removal of such stereotypes as they have real impact on future development, health, and land right policies in the real world. 


So to the last stereotype - the 
primitive. Western culture has been built upon ideals of natural, innate progression. We started as stupid cavemen, made some fire and some wheels, then some tools and a few more things now deep underground, til one day we got intelligent enough to realize that the best way to live is within societies so we created modern day civilization, in the form of nation states and so forth. The implication of all this is the concept of the primitive, individuals who simply aren't advanced or intelligent enough to create a 'higher culture', thus are separated from the rest of humanity.  

Such perspectives are horrible and lead to foraging people's like the Agta to be referred to as 'not people' but more animal.   My field of study specifically examines how people adapt in and function in different environments. The one essential point here is that there is no natural progression - evolution doesn't necessarily make things more complex or civilized. Rather evolution simply optimizes the best solution which is wholly dependent on the environmental context.   

Family from Canaipan
So it is never appropriate to refer to groups such as the Agta as primitive, rather their social systems and their behavior is simply a product of the environment they live in.  For example, I study childcare and how this is shared with the whole community. Children spent their younger years being looked after by a whole array of individuals, from close family members to just older kids in camp. This is interesting as families in the west are isolated and are not so reliant on social networks for child support. We have wealth, infrastructure and a state instead. My point here is that it is the environment and the needs which arise from which dictate our behavior; an Agta moving to England other than being very cold, would be lively to change how they raise their children.  The difference that exists between people is in part a result of such influences. 

For me, these are the three key stereotypes which living with the Agta has completely dispelled in my mind. Living with the Agta creates a sense of normality, of people sharing life with people which are often lost or ignored

That's all folks,


Monday, 15 September 2014


For Tristan.

I remember being puzzled when I discovered on my very first day of engineering school that the first three days were entirely dedicated to a seminar on communication. Even more so, when during the first hour I learnt for the first time that while words matter, 70% of actual communication is expressed  by the body. Fast forward a few years later and I like this idea a lot. This sort of physical telekinesis that links us and the agreeable feeling not being a machine simply transmitting a flux of perfectly formulated data. The space for interpretation, guessing and imagination. With hindsight I am not sure on how this figure of 70% was ever calculated and at the same time convinced that there is quite some latitude in non-verbal communication. A simple example would be to watch kids meeting and playing together at the park. Or me playing with kids in a camp called Djabbut. The game was then called how many photos can we take before getting tired and the answer is at least 500. So to make this first answer short and clear, I am amazed at how much communication is possible without using a single word.

photo by Marinel, 7.

I have two great examples here to share with you.
The first one is very straightforward. In a camp called Kaniapan, there is a girl about 8 to 10 which is called Monika, or Awet depending who you ask. I noticed at first how much she was staring at us and finally found out that she is deaf. Nonetheless, we had a good time playing to catch all sort of animal in the camp in glass bottles, laughing at the horrible faces we had in photos we took and going on adventures around the camp.

Fitting Monika's new green bracelet.

Number two is a bit closer to you, especially if you are using the mobile version of our blog. Angry birds, Doodle Jump, Flow Free, Flappy bird... Despite being as young as 5 and having a style of life as different as could be from ours, I can tell you that it takes about 10 seconds for the kids, and adults alike, to get to grips with my phone. I also happily shared it for them to make photos and video clips. The one way to make a whole camp laugh is the slo-mo video mode where I get footage of kids and me doing all sorts of jumps and acrobatic stunt.

Captivating screen.

So, answering the first question communication with no words is possible. Of course understanding simple things like the aim of the trip you are gladly invited to join is a plus. The one thing that is complicated is that in the place we work people use mostly a dialect called Paranan, with no book or dictionary available, as there are only 1500 speakers. Most of them also understand Tagalog, which is the main Filipino language. After now 7 months, I must say that my skills in Tagalog are pretty awful. I guess the mixed language environment pushed me to a strategy where I learnt quite a few everyday words and expression, but I do not know which language they belong to. Nor do I understand anything about constructing a sentence. Despite this, I can go around greeting people in the morning with a nice 'Mapiya Dimadimang' reproduced here by adults and kids respectively.

I can carry on asking how was the night fishing, if they wish to share a cup of coffee and their plans for the day. Where it may get a bit awkward for me is when then we are having our cups filled with the warm beverage and I want to carry the discussion. Let's see, I can tell them the coffee is hot, but I guess they have figured that out by now, or should I simply say good morning again? Well, the good thing here is that, the Agta don't expect you to interact based on the ground of physical proximity, and in French the concept awkward do not really exists, so you can relax and enjoying watching the camp activity quietly.
Of course sometime this isn’t enough, either the Agta start to chat you and fully expect you to answer or when you actually need to express more complicated thoughts than ‘here is your coffee’.  This is where our Team of Translator came in handy.

Ate Christe, Girly and Aima

It took some time and effort to find them, but I must say they are doing a great job. For translation of course but also by helping us understanding the local traditions and organising our trips to different camps.  They  negotiate prices in shops and convince people to welcome us in their camps when it is our first trip there. We share all the good as well as the difficult situations together and I must say that I will miss our companions when we leave.
Medical survey at Didikeg

Time to cook dinner

Ok, I must admit it, the lost in translation effect is real and comes into play often unexpectedly. One night we were in Cauayan city in our Favorite Restaurant, Amorfino. And as often when back in town our appetite was about half what it was when in England. And because I love those Cheese-stuffed chilies of their I explained that I wanted to order only a small plate of them, being ready to pay the full but not to waste those tasty starters. She asked me quite a few times to repeat what I was after. I repeated one more time: a small plate of chilies.
And here we are twenty minutes later with a waitress very proud to bring me a big full plate of very small chillies…
I must agree I digressed a bit here so as a conclusion to this article I share here more audio clips in order to share with you the happy sounding language of Palanan.

Anin : Awesome, sick bro, amazing.

Asus: Dammit, WTF?, whoops.

And finally, some extracts of conversation. The first about how cool my recorder was and the second about medical matters.

With love,