Cheshire Cat in Space

The first day of my internship with LNF, Atty. Oposa informed me that I needed to learn how to SCUBA dive. ASAP. There are local fishing villages, he said, who upon seeing the coral reefs and marine life below the surface of the water realized the tragedy of devastation caused by dynamic and cyanide fishing. Scuba diving would be my way to see the environment I would be fighting to protect.

Bedroom view

So I contacted Stu (see earlier post) and weeks later I arrived in Granada near Boljoon on the island of Cebu. Their property consists of their main house and the resort–a beautiful property built on a mountain with steps down to the resort pool, other buildings, and the beach front. I arrived at night and in the darkness I could just barely make out the mountains and the sea.

In the morning, I opened my eyes and thought I had gone to warm, tropical heaven. The windows in my room opened out onto rolling green hills with palm trees, song birds and pink flowers. I walked downstairs, through the open living room and kitchen to the veranda for breakfast. The giant papayas were picked from the trees along the house and the taste was sweet and delicious.

Papaya Tree

I jumped into my swimsuit and grabbed my mask before making my way down to the resort’s pool for my first diving lesson. Down and to my left was the ocean, eggshell blue melting into navy and sparkling in the morning light. I stopped multiple times to gaze through the tree branches toward the islands dotting the near horizon. Small fishing boats moved through the water and men with wide brimmed hats paddled or motored with the hopes of the day’s catch. This is where I will learn to dive, I thought. Life could be worse.

I spent almost two hours that morning learning the basics of diving. I tried on the bulky equipment and practiced breathing underwater with the regulator, BDC and tank. I felt like a fish–a big, unbalanced, awkward fish–and clearing my mask took a number of times before I felt comfortable removing my mask and clearing it using air from my nose. I listened to Stu’s instructions and tried to replicate them as my mind wandered to the memories my father had of diving with Stu long ago. I was swimming in my father’s wake with the same man by my side.

Hours later, after lunch and a cup of coffee, Stu and I were floating in the sea with our gear on ready to go for a dive. A real dive for the first time ever. I put the regulator in my mouth and took a few breaths. Don’t freak out, I told myself, What’s so scary about breathing under 30 feet of water for 45 minutes? Stu gave me the OK sign and we began to let the air out of our BCD’s, sinking slowly beneath the surface. I kicked my fins behind me and told myself to breathe.

Sea life appeared beneath my body and in front of my mask almost instantly. Black and white stripped fish danced between hard pink coral branches and long blue arms of sea stars hung onto the rock walls. I left like Alice falling into Wonderland and Neil Armstrong exploring the moon. There were creatures I had never seen before, organisms I could not create in my mind and there they were, living life as they had for generations. It was a sight to behold.

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Internship: Law of Nature Foundation

Just as I was getting used to my new relaxed life in the Philippines, I was reminded of the real reason I spent a total of 17 hours in the air to fly half way across the world. No it was not their delicious desserts and ability to purchase rice at McDonald’s. It was the chance to intern at the Law of Nature Foundation and learn more about environmental law than I could have dreamed possible.

The office is located in Alabang, about an hour and 15 minutes south of Marikina City, sometimes more, with the infamous Filipino traffic. At most, the small two-room space on the 6th floor of the Westgate building consists of three people: the secretary Lisa, the young multitasking genius Vivienne, and the founder of the organization, Atty. Tony Oposa. While the office doesn’t seem impressive, don’t be fooled. Projects include: a sailing and environmental eduction school in Bantayan Island, one of the top vacation spots in the Philippines, a Road Revolution in Cebu city, a Global Action on Climate Change, ongoing legal battles, presentations to the Senate, and coral restoration all occurring at the same time.

It’s a lot to take in. Especially on a first day. Anna Oposa, Atty’s daughter, is extremely active in the organization too. She spoke at the Senate hearing on the illegal exportation of black sea corals and was quoted extensively on the front page of Philippines Daily Inquirer. By the end of my first week, I had already visited the Senate to speak with senators about the illegal black sea coral exports and met a director about a new bill. I received a personal invitation to the house of the Filipino president, a flight to Cebu to meet the masterminds behind the Road Revolution, and solidified plans to spend an entire month on Bantayan Island researching environmental economics for Oposa’s upcoming book.

I need a nap. But check out the Road Revolution. A petition is being signed to change Osmeña Boulevard, a major street in Cebu City, into a street focused on people. The proposed road will allocate 30% for sidewalks, 30% for bike lanes, 30% traffic, and 10% for edible gardens. It’s a mind revolution in the truest sense of the world. You can also read about it by blog and like it on Facebook!!

I’m perspiring just thinking about the next couple months. Oh wait, that’s the humidity.

Little side of rice at McDonalds