What's mine is yours??
So it should be mentioned that we are not present on our lot on a daily basis. We have good friends that live across from our lot and help ensure that we do not have any squatting action going on. However, on one fine day a few weeks back, my friend heard some "whack whacking" going on.... and walking down to see what was going on ....noticed someone trying to cut one of our trees. After convincing them to move on.... the guy did.... he moved right on to my friends property and started one of his trees..... again, he was convinced to move on. This happened after a few months of inactivity on our lot.
'Houston', we have a problem!
My friend rings me up and alerts me to this likely now becoming a regular occurence since it seems that without an visible signs of ownership, the locals will begin to encroach on our land like "Kedzu in a monsoon".
So this is a new one on me... they know the property is owned... through chika chika, they probably know every last detail of the transaction and it has only been a few months so they could not have forgotten all that.. right? Well, my friend, who is much wiser in the cultural ways, goes on to explain that it is not viewed as stealing or anything like that... with there being no activity on the lot.... the locals simply see the lot as "unattached" and the resources going to waste. It seems, that this land could sit there for years and be untouched, IF the locals have a face to put with the land... once it was sold and we did not make ourselves known to the locals... it is now considered "unattached" and free game. In this social culture, even land needs to be represented in the social realm.... titles... deeds.... tax declarations... all mean nothing... unless there is a face and personality attached to the land.
Putting a bandaid on the problem
Well, with us abroad, we brainstormed, with our friends, how best to combat this issue and nip it in the bud. What we arrived at was simple. We contacted my asawa's parents and asked them to make regular trips up to the land. Hang around it... chika chika with the neighbors.. very simple steps intended to put "faces" with the land. They agreed and also, on their suggestion, made Visayan signs that kindly requested nobody cut the trees. They made the trip up the next day, hung their hand made signs.... immediately locals seemed to come out of nowhere with curiosity over who they were, what they were doing with the land... how many children they had... basically like an inquisition, my inlaws satisfied their undeniable need for personal info about the people "attached" to that land. All in all, the plan worked flawlessly, as my father in law learned that he knew one of the families from way back and that got the ball rolling. The inlaws reported that they made the visit and had renewed old friendships with some of the neighbors and that not only would those folks not be touching our land, but that they would police it against others as well. I encouraged my inlaws to make regular trips up to the land (all expense paid of course) even to grab a red horse or two and hang out up there once in awhile and keep that relationship going strong. They have done so and to this day, nobody interferes with our land and no more "whack whacking".
How to cope?
I recognize that unlike where I am from, where neighbors are mostly useless obstacles to your high priced view, in the Philippine culture, the social interactions effect your life in countless different ways. My first real introduction to this was when we were unloading our container full of personal belonginings... for nearly the entire 8 hours... we had a throng of neighbors surrounding the streetside unload... just watching. I asked my asawa, what is up with that..... her explanation basically, clued me in to the inquisitive nature in her culture, where the people are accustom to knowing everything about everyone in their neighborhood. Well, this was their one and only chance to learn alot about me as they watched everything I own being offloaded. I had a few options for how to handle this.... could be pissed with concern that someone was staking out a burglary.... or embarrassed that all of my personal belongings (yes, there were laundry baskets with underwear showing) were on display for the entire community (it seemed) to ogle over...... or I could laugh it off and make light of the situation... possibly using their attention to, in a way, introduce myself. I, of course, chose the latter and though this was a long hard day in a hot humid land.... I made sure I played with some of the kids in the "audience"... shared some candies... basically, took the opportunity to break down the very clear social barrier that seemed to be standing between myself and most of the crowd. We made many friends that night and to this day, we have not had ANY troubles in our rented home... no break-ins, nothing, nada along the way of crime against us. We smile and say " Maayong Buntag" every morning (like a million freaking times).. and "Maayong Gabii" at evening... I smile more than I EVER have and that goes a really long ways. Joking with the kids all the time... just keeps those social barriers down which is all good. Just the same as in the western working world," The ass you kick today, may be the one you need to kiss tomorrow".... just always be respectful and you never know when or how it may be paid back to you.
Building relationships for the long term
Using those sorts of experiences, I see my relations in the bukid following a similar path. I will not be the "unsociable" foreigner... that nobody can identify with.... I will, as I always have, occasionally spring for a few beers and some balut and just "hang out". Basically, I place alot of emphasis on "fitting in". The more I fit, or blend into the surroundings, the less likely I am to have a target on me and honestly, I have alot of fun with it so it is all good! I am not a particularly charitable person, but I will pay for a job well done.... I am however a compassionate person, that will more than likley support someone, silently in need, over someone asking for help. I will not purchase friendships in the bukid, but I will share when and how I decide to do so and completely on my terms. I find that, in my experience, there is a mutual respect that develops if you "teach a peson how to fish", instead of simply "buying them a fish"... it takes longer to teach them... but if it works, the relations are stronger and longer lasting. If it does not work for a particular individual, well, at least I did not waste a fish on them. I am investing in my family's future in this location.... we may have all had our share of experiences where we are at odds with the neighbors.. .and I think it goes without saying that in the Philippines, there is a way different level of risk of being "at odds" with anyone. Good relationships with the neighbors is not optional here, it is essential to your long term health in many ways!! Something to never forget.
To be continued.......
I will update this particular blog segment as I hit the ground and see how things go... I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for us, as foreigners to take an active role in this social culture. So many intangible benefits result and over something so simple and painless to do as associating in a respectful way with those around you.