Presenting field site #2: The land of mangoes

Arrived on the island of Guimaras last week, for a month of fieldwork here in the mango capital of the Philippines.   It’s the second place in the Philippines where Irrawaddy dolphins have been recorded, discovered to science only in 2004 when a SEAFDEC researcher responded to a stranding.  Studies on this population have been led by Dr. Louella Dolar (see here for more on her work), and found that these dolphins range from the norther portion of the island (Buenavista) over to the island of Negros (where I’ll be next month).

The wonderful Dr. Lilian B. Parreno, at Guimaras State College (GSC), has gotten us nicely set up with a cute and ideally located apartment in the municipality of Buenavista, and a team of four bright, fun recent GSC graduates. Buena Vista, it seems, is striving to be a Tobacco-Smoke Free Municipality. Admirable. Ambitious.  It’s also striving to be child-friendly. Also admirable.

Perfect words to describe Guimaras: pleasant and pretty.  It’s suburban compared to Palawan’s “last frontier” vibe, and it’s a nice change.  Palawan is stunning and it still captivates me, but life just feels easier here.

The roads are in great shape compared to the rutted, bumpy dirt roads around Malampaya Sound.  We have 24-hour electricity.  There is a vastly wider selection of produce.  Though the local dialect, Hiligaynon, is in many ways different from Tagalog (trying hard to pick it up without getting confused!), many more people are familiar with English here. Everything just feels more accessible.

All of the coastal barangay where we are interviewing have 24-hour electricity from the island-wide provider, unlike the barangay of Malampaya Sound, where attempts at introducing basic (1 light bulb per house, 4 hours of power) electricity infrastructure have been stymied by inability or unwillingness of residents to pay.   The houses here are more sturdy, larger, and more spaced out.  At first glance, it seems that fishers here are more well off than those in Malampaya.

All of this is not surprising, given that Guimaras is not as isolated as Palawan.  It’s an easy boat/ferry ride to two major cities (Iloilo and Bacolod).  The bulk of the populace seem to have lived here for generations, whereas Malampaya Sound has seen many waves of immigation throughout the past century.  It makes sense that Malampaya had a more gritty, “wild west” feel to it.

Of course, “at first glance” isn’t good enough for this discerning (…) researcher.  From preliminary interviews, the income of fishers here doesn’t seem to be significantly greater than for the fishers in Malampaya, and it’s a good lesson to give careful thought to what constitutes “wealth”.  Many of the differences I’ve noticed relate to infrastructure, not to individual wealth, and speak more to the function of government.

Anyway, it’s an interesting juxtaposition.  Next post: the ever-exciting kick-off steps to a new field site, including translations and office visits!