Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book Sharing Project 2012: Three Flights To A Library

I got choked up. And I must have squeezed my daughter Luna a little too tight. She fought her way out of my embrace and ran towards a gaggle of loitering pupils. I was standing on stage in the middle of a half-century-old school, forcing my weepy eyes to stay open. Three months we waited for that rose-colored day, I sure was not planning on dozing off even for a millisecond.

Our final destination. Photo by Paula Peralejo of Our Restless Feet.
The library of Rizal Elementary School in Sorsogon that we helped fill was about to be (re)opened. The Book Sharing Project 2012's a brainchild of Gubat — yes, that's the municipality's name local Emm Balabat and was spearheaded by Journeying James.

It's a labor of love. For weeks, a bunch of Filipino travel bloggers shared the school's (rather familiar) story in social media. In its more than 50 years of existence, it did not have a library.

Okay, it sorta did. But is that near empty room something you'd call a library? Yeah, I thought so.

The countless posts, tweets, shares caught tremendous attention. Sponsors/contributors poured in. We received so many books that we hired a truck to transport them from the drop off centers to a house where they were sorted. The project team also received donations in cash which we used to buy new pairs of slippers for the students.

Suffice it to say that the Book Sharing Project achieved great success. A success that wasn't just measured by the number of books given or the amount of money that we were able to spend, but by the high decibels of children's squeals and the angles of their smiles. While some of the ol' volunteers celebrated the project's anniversary five days ago by reposting photos, reminiscing about the many side trips we did, I had an entirely different flashback of my own. One that sent me back a day prior the actual event...

Crossing an empty bridge on foot at 4-ish AM in Moscow.
About half past four in the morn, hubby and I woke from a two-hour sleep that felt more like a nap. My muscles were in pain because of that long walk from the metro station to our hostel with our packs on our backs the day before. We had only been in Moscow less than 24 hours, but we were about to leave Stolichny Hostel for a flight later that morning.

No one was in sight around the common area. We advised the owner/manager of our very early check out but it seemed she didn't care. I wouldn't be surprised if there was just some kind of miscommunication though cause she barely spoke English. Or make that, she barely spoke. She mostly communicated with the classic Russian grunt.

I left the room's key on our bed and at five we stepped out into the freezing autumnal air.

 Imagine if this was as packed as Manila's LRT during rush hour.

The walk from the Stolichny Hostel's building (Dom Na Naberezhnoy) to Borovitskaya Metro Station took half an hour, about triple Google Maps' estimate of eleven minutes. We climbed sets of stairs to a bridge, a gruesome task for the hubby who carried one twenty-kilo suitcase up then went down to take Luna because I simply cannot climb that many stairs with her in my arms and a fifteen-kilo backpack slinging on my shoulders.

We crossed the bridge to get to the other side of the river, and took turns lugging Luna. By the time we reached the station, my body was so sore that I wanted to sob but didn't have the opportunity to do so for my feeling of self-pity was quickly replaced by panic when we realized that there was no one manning the ticket counter. We were very eager to get on the trains before all the morning rushers do.

Buried under one's life's belongings.
Five minutes must have passed until a grumpy granpa decided to get back to work. After purchasing our tickets, we sprinted towards the platform to catch the next train. We eventually changed to another line at some station further along and was tailed by a young Russian couple who struggled to keep up with us because they were pushing a stroller with their son slumbering in it. They didn't know how to get to the airport.

My memory of how we were able to find the mini buses to the airport from Domodedovskaya Metro Station is already a blur of smoke, but I do remember the Russian family following us all the way until there. The mini buses leave whenever full (if not full, every fifteen minutes). We managed to squeeze our suitcase at the rear luggage compartment, but the rest we dumped between our legs and my seatmate's legs man, was she so annoyed! The ride took around half an hour and we arrived at Domodedovo International Airport just in time for check in.

Repacking bags and changing clothes at NAIA 3.

Our seven hours and twenty minutes Moscow-Beijing flight provided little relief (though Transaero Airlines Airlines fed us two fantastic meals). I couldn't sleep soundly with all my worrying about missing our flight to Manila. We only had two hours and a half until the plane departs Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 2. We were to arrive at Terminal 1 and that means the time frame's very tight. Shuttling between two terminals eats a lot of time. 

We practically ran from the Transaero plane to the immigration counter to the baggage claim area to the free shuttle bus. Because it was past 11:00 PM, the departure interval between buses was a hair-pulling 15 minutes (past 1:00 AM it's thirty minutes). Thankfully the driver left on the dot. It saved me from making a scene.

Fifty minutes left until departure of our Manila-bound flight, we raced passed the line marker on the floor towards Cebu Pacific's check in counter and stomped on the ground as if we were stepping on an Amazing Race mat. In my head I imagined the ground staff blurting "Gay, Sherv and Luna, you're the last team to arrive but you're boarding the airplane anyway!". If I wasn't about to pass out due to lack of sleep I would initiate a belly five.

Aboard the four hours and a half flight I finally had some shuteye.

After a grueling 24-hour travel in three countries, this was our reward. Seeing kids go gaga over a library. Photo by Paula Peralejo of Our Restless Feet.
It was 5:30 AM when we touched down Manila. At the arrivals, my father and his uncle (they drove all the way from Tarlac) was waiting for us to pick up our luggage. Yes, just our luggage, because we were to fly again(!) in three hours to Legaspi to join the Book Sharing Project team for the Rizal Elementary School library opening. My father also brought a box full of clothes which my mom prepared, for me to dig through and hopefully find stuff that we could use for the Bicol trip. Including swimmers. All we had in our suitcases and backpacks were dirty outfits for the cold.

I suddenly had a surge of energy when I thought of getting Luna involved in a historic event (I'd say in a way it was, for a lot of lives). Although she won't remember it when she's older, we are hoping that our participation will teach her later on to appreciate all the things she would own because not every child is as fortunate. I also really, really hope she treasures the value of reading.

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." ~ Dr. Seuss. Photo by Mark Go of Nomadic Experiences

The sacrifice we endured during those many hours of transit may be considered ridiculous by some, but you know, the hubby and I are a couple of ridiculous, impractical people. And with this kind of turnout:

I don't think I got some further explaining to do. Photo by fellow volunteer Jojo Pauly.


Ephraim Arriesgado said...
September 25, 2013 at 11:02 AM

It's a grueling trip indeed. Yet the reward is worth it all! Hope to contribute some books on your next Book Sharing projects in the future. :)

Stella Sandoval said...
September 26, 2013 at 8:43 PM

Oh man! I got teary-eyed myself when I spied those shelves. I'm a bibliophile myself and I just now how much more depressing the world would be without books... and stories. T_T

Anyway(wiping imaginary tears), I absolutely love what you guys did for that school! A big kudos to you and your friends. Hope I could donate books myself on your next project. :D said...
September 27, 2013 at 9:31 AM

Oh that would be lovely, Stella! Thanks in advance and yes, I hope there's another similar project I can take part of in the near future. said...
September 27, 2013 at 9:31 AM

Worth every exhausting step :)

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