Orange ribbons lined the streets outside the house today. Why? Erap Estrada is coming home. Mind you, I don't think this is a great idea. In fact, I think it's patently unfair.
The former president of the Philippines, who was convicted of inane amounts of plunder after being forcibly removed from office by the populace, happens to live on the same street in the same subdivision as my grandmother. My aunt and I drove by the other night and saw his house brightly lit, with a contingent of white-baronged security men standing outside.
The current president (Arroyo) pardoned him today because of his age (70), his promise not to run for public office again (big whoop, he was President) and the "hardships he's endured" (read: confinement in a luxurious mansion under house arrest for 6 years). The announcement went out over the radio as we were driving down the orange-ribboned street (Estrada's favorite color, to celebrate his homecoming). "Great," my aunt groaned. "And then there's going to be a motorcade coming through here, and the whole Philippines will be stuck in traffic."
My cousin was somewhat more vehemently vocal about the level of political corruption here, which makes American politicians seem like choir boys. I won't recount the stories of first-hand experiences at government budget meetings, state dinners, etc. I've heard from various people here, but every single person - from a variety of backgrounds, stations, industries, jobs, races, ages, genders, everything - I've spoken to about volunteering in the Philippines has immediately said "don't go through the government! You have to go through private channels!"
There's a lot of history around here, and it's not all good. If I step outside our subdivision, I can have dinner at the same club where Cory Aquino took oath as President after People Power ousted Marcos' martial dictatorship. Driving to the office yesterday, we passed the mall where a bomb exploded a few days back while I was in Cagayan (in another mall, actually. "Don't go 2 d mall - bomb just went off in makati," texted my aunt. A day later, I read the news reports on the carnage.) I can see the prison where my great-grandfather was held and executed during WWII, or the monument including two of my grand-uncles who were kidnapped and deported during the Marcos regime... woo, legacy.
I hear stories about slum schools built in landfills (and one where the mountain of trash collapsed, burying the school and killing the children in it), see barefoot kids in elementary school selling flowers on the streets (a cousin had to interview several for a class, and the ones she found told her that they sold flowers after school, had to sell them all before they were allowed to return home to surrender the money to their parents, and that their earnings were used largely for gambling), get followed for several blocks by women with their heads wrapped in t-shirts holding grubby infants and moaning "baby hungry, baby hungry," even after I told them I didn't have any money (I don't - and these people are often part of large begging syndicates, too). One of the most common prescriptions at the charity clinic I visited was multivitamins - a lot of folks get real sick here just because they can't eat right.
The first time I came to the Philippines, I asked permission to get out of the car and give my hamburger to the other kids my age who were rapping at the car windows. It was explained to me that this would be both dangerous and prone to start a street fight among the kids for my leftovers; we drove on. Past people sleeping under highways. Rivers the color of thick chocolate, dotted with wrappers. Walls that smell of stale urine. I know exactly why they keep me inside the gates and inside the car, and I can't stand being inside when that stuff is out there. I know the above descriptions sound melodramatic, but I'm trying to say them as matter-of-factly as possible. That's life here. For some people.
I'm mad. No, not mad. But burning inside somewhere. It happens every time I come to the Philippines, and crops up occasionally between visits. How am I supposed to change a world that's been deemed too dangerous for me to explore? How do you even begin to find out what's going on? How do you jump from a school whose first Honor Code clause is "Do Something" to a country where the most common response to my questions is "oh, you/we can't do anything, that's just how it is"?
Aha. A challenge.
In other news, I learned about polyphase filters today. They're really a fancy name for saying "If you're convolving stuff and then downsampling, just downsample first before you convolve, so you'll have less to multiply." It was one of those "eh wait, there's a name for that?" moments - less awe-inspiring than the one that went "wait... you call that calculus?" some years ago, but cool nonetheless. Laziness is fun (and computationally efficient). I need to learn more about how Python handles memory, though - I can see what's happening in assembly and C (woo malloc and free), but as far as I'm concerned, things get stored in VAGUE-LAND! in Python. ("I work at the STORE! I do THINGS!")
The stuff I've studied and done as an electrical engineer seems so far away from what people here need, though. And that thing is still seeping frustration inside me. And I can't get out to do things here. And...
But, y'know, do what you can, learn what you can, and keep your eyes open, right?