We started the day with a very nice breakfast before walking the short journey to the minivan stop in Ormoc – it was quite small, so small in fact that we even managed to miss it first time around. The minivan was to take us to Tacloban. We had no idea what to expect when we got there but the journey itself was pleasant enough. The countryside in Leyte was very nice and the road up and down through the green hills was really nice. One strange thing was a set of roadworks manned by kids – I can just imagine now how that would go down in the UK – the kids would be on their mobiles and carnage would ensue! Every now and then the driver would stop to have a fag (nerves brought about by children manning roadworks?) or for some other more random act but finally we reached Tacloban.
Our first impression of Tacloban was that it was very very hot and very very dusty but we had an address and some instructions should we get lost so hopefully everything would be okay. We had problems getting a tuk tuk to stop but finally a cyclo guy stopped and he appeared to be some kind of gibbering crazy man but needs must where the devil or crazy man drives – so me and Liz and our two heavy backpacks got onto his cyclo. We even asked him if he was okay to be taking us but in his own inimitable but crazy way he assured us he was fine (I think!) and off we went. Well rather he peddled and peddled until at last the wheels very slowly began to turn and albeit at a snail’s pace – we finally moved forwards. The journey was not too far but fair play to our crazy friend he made it even though it was so very hot – perhaps the heat and his craziness were somehow linked but I shall never know as off he peddled cackling madly into the sunset a forlorn figure whilst we turned and surveyed our new home for the next two weeks.
The place looked a bit like an old school and we were welcomed by the few staff that we there at the place (as everybody else was out at work) and then shown to our rooms. First off we were given two separate rooms but after a bit of a swap around we finally ended up in the same room – a room containing three bunkbeds – a very cozy affair. We were told to go to the main town centre to grab a couple of camping mattresses for our beds. So off into town we went – the entire place seemed like a dusty building site, which is not too far from the truth of the matter as the place had been devastated almost two years earlier by typhoon Yolanda.
At the Savacentre shopping mall we not only bought mattresses (I have read thicker newspapers!) but we also had a very nice Mexican as well which unbeknownst to us at the time was to be the last good (non-rice) meal we were to have for a while. We had been told to get back for the meeting they held every day before teatime which we duly did. We arrived back at base just as the workers were coming back home. The volunteers all seemed very young and straight away you could see (and hear) that there were many different nationalities. We chose a table and then the meeting commenced held by the main organiser or head who seemed to be a bit of a nervous looking guy (which turned out to be a very wrong impression) called Mike who seemed really nice and he had an excellent rapport with the workers. As we were newbies, during the meeting we had to stand up and introduce ourselves giving name, rank and serial number which was a bit daunting having fifty pairs of eyes looking at us!
Once again I had this nagging feeling that it may all just be a sham but everybody genuinely seemed really up for it. On the board it appeared that there were number of houses all being built all at various stages of completion as part of Project Leyte – Barangauy 83C (a small housing ‘estate’). There were team leaders who stayed with the house for the build’s duration but everyone else signed up for tasks so you did not have to do the same thing every day. It turned out that we were supposed to put our names against a task which we did not do so by default we ended up on the concrete mixing team. So after chatting with a few of the people in the communal area we went back to our room to ready ourselves for the morrow. We introduced ourselves to our ‘roomies’ – a tall Dutch guy called Edwin, a lady from Dorset called Ruth and an American girl called Lindsey. We chose our bunkbeds and after cold water showering (again unbeknownst to us this was to be our last proper shower for a while too) we bedded down for the night. The room was incredibly hot the only air coming from a couple of standalone fans so it was difficult to drop off to sleep and stay asleep once we had got off but here we were ready for action.