Long Travel Experience – by Marilyn Toomey

Once again, my daughter, Jackie, and I, have trekked from our chilly residence in Colorado to the warm and humid climate of the Island of Panay in the Philippines.  Grateful that Mending Faces allowed us to accompany them one more time on a surgical mission.

After thirty-eight hours of late flights, a missed connection, and one volunteer photographer lost and restored, we finally arrive at the Kalibo Airport on Panay.  Tired we were, but amazed to be dropped into an environment far different from our “sliced white bread,” Evergreen, Colorado experience.  A soft warm breeze stirs the hair and relieves stiff joints.  The landscape is green and lush, with splashes of bright color.  There are no over engineered, linear contrivances of Western cityscapes. The people reflect poverty in all its blinding hues, yet also, it is a community that has learned to live with what grace it has been given.  They are simpatico with their environment, imperfect and beautiful, reaching to survive, not giving up.  We Americans seemed large and bloated with excess in contrast.

One could almost laugh at the cluttered yet unworried chaos of the Kalibo airport.  The plane parks steps away from the terminal, and one does not wait dreadfully long for one’s luggage.  This is good, because between the crowded, hot and confining space of the tiny terminal and the fact that toilet paper is not always readily available in the restrooms, one does wish, briefly, for an American airport until one thinks of the TSA.  Explanatory note:  toilet paper is a limited phenomenon in Asia.  Why would one use toilet paper when one can dip water from a strategically placed bucket and take care of that bit of business?

Outside the terminal, one is greeted, or assaulted, by vendors, selling beer, water, soft drinks, food and other items.  I was overjoyed to be handed a beer and a bottle of water for 75 pesos ($1.85 US). What a phenomenal idea for American airports!  As you are dragging your luggage out the door, someone hands you are beer in mid-stride for a nominal sum of money; perhaps everyone would be happier in America for just that simple reason.  I was.

A sign clearly stated that “We take bomb threats seriously,” the import of which is clearly countermanded by the milieu of stray people wandering freely in and out of the terminal.   In March 2012, Kalibo airport security thought they had a land mine in their X-Ray machine, and the Philippine National Police prematurely announced they had foiled an attempt to bomb the Kalibo airport.  They were hugely disappointed to find that their bomb was a damaged disc brake from a golf cart being shipped away for repairs.  But they did take the threat seriously.

And this airport is also under construction, but then since airports are under construction EVERYWHERE, this should not have been a surprise.  It was difficult to tell from the clutter if this was a planned expansion or if half the roof was torn away in a storm, or perhaps a “not reported” bombing.  It bore no signs of being an organized endeavor.   I was speculating about this matter when I discovered I had left my Kindle aboard the plane.  It took only a minute for me to run to security and be pleasantly surprised that they had already been asking around for the owner of the Kindle.  Amazing.  Yes, there was extensive paperwork involved in order to reclaim it; some things, once again, are the same EVERYWHERE.  However, the conscientiousness, courtesy, and honesty of the Kalibo airport security team were refreshing.

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