My recent run in with the military has resulted in a concern from people both in Canada and here in the Philippines.  Even the NGO peeps I work with that deal with this sort of situation all the time have been asking whether I’m ok, whether I was afraid.  People have even gone to call me brave.  Very strange.

To tell you the truth, and this isn’t me putting on a front, I’m always a little surprised when others call my little adventures brave.  I mean, don’t you have to overcome fear to be brave?

For some reason I really don’t feel a strong sense of at-the-moment fear.  I feel concern sure, but gut wrenching fear?  Not really.

Sometimes I’m concerned by it, shouldn’t that freak me out?  Isn’t fear in that situation normal?

[*note: the kind of fear I’m talking about here is the kind you feel at the spur of the moment when something happens unpredictably.  The kind of fears that are what if’s about the future still scare the crap out of me!]

I’ve had a lot of, what many would probably call ‘reckless’ adventures in the last few year so I’ve thought about this many times before.  I figure that as this trip is supposed to be partially about self-reflection, I’d share some of my thoughts on this with you.

Just so you have an idea of my idiocy, since I’ve been travelling I’ve:
– been strip-searched in public in Colombia by heavily armed soldiers after an attempted drug frame up.
– almost flew off a cliff in Colombia when the driver of the car decided to get really drunk.  Seriously, 1/3rd of the car was hanging off the edge.  This was after the driver just saved our asses (I was travelling with friends).  He had found us alone on the top of a volcano with no transportation and Colombian bandits on our tail (not kidding).
– negotiated with a drunk machete wielding mugger on a dark Ecuadorian sidestreet, who kindly didn’t kill me and only slashed off my shoulder bag.  I continued to walk after him to protest even after the fact.
– went hiking in the Andes without any water (as I thought there would be a shop at the Ecuadorian provincial park—there wasn’t), got bad altitude sickness while alone in the middle of the mountain forest, which resulted in my getting lost.  In a haze (really it was bad) I forced myself to push on blind up and down the rolling hills, and around ponds and rivers (which I drank from in desperation) towards a road I could only see every time I got to the top of a hill.  Had I not made it back before 4pm I would have been stuck overnight, the temperature would have dropped to below 0C and it would have been bad.
– gotten drunk with Filipino sailors I had come to travel with in Palawan, who then preceded to have a gun fight.

And those examples are all from before I started doing human rights work (where at least the danger is for a cause).  Yes I’m a fool.  But it’s weird, in none of the above instances was I afraid.  And I mean the shivering, unable to think, frozen in fear sort of afraid.  I recognized the danger and thought of what action would be best (granted sometimes the choices haven’t been the wisest—drunken machete man being a good example.)

It wasn’t always this way.  When I was younger I used to hear, like most did I’m sure, the taunt, “are you chicken?” (followed by the requisite chicken sound effects).  Being a smaller guy I may have heard it more than some.

Truth be told I was afraid of a lot of things those days: heights, being left alone, the dark (I slept with a night light forever!), people, and on and on.

Despite that I always daydreamed what I figure are usual guy dreams: superheros (this is really what I wanted to be when I grew up, it kindof still is), 007 type spies, being Bruce Lee, etc.  I always dreamt of a life of adventure, and the usual ‘adult’ life seemed so boring to me.

I remember starting a ‘spy club’ as a ten year old where me and friends would follow ‘suspicious’ people around town.  It would have been a ‘superhero club’ but we couldn’t quite figure out how to fly (apparently even if you really want to, ya can’t fly).  We’d never confront them but we always thought we would—you know, like when they posed a danger to innocents (which never seemed to happen—hahaha).

All the while if anything really bad happened to me I’d just back off and do nothing.

Eventually as I got older the fears really started to piss me off so I purposefully put myself into situations were I was afraid.  Thus I jumped out of a plane, travelled alone, forced myself to sleep in the dark, etc…

Then one day they were gone.  And that’s when the idiocy really began.  The correlation between the two is somewhat disturbing.

I’ve figure part of it all was about proving something to myself at first.  But these days it’s just normal.  These days it’s focused: bad shit is happening to people, people that look like me, and if I can do something (and have an adventure at the same time) then that’s the life I dreamed of as a kid isn’t it?

I’m still waiting for my superpowers though.

~  ~  ~

***Oh, and just so my Mum doesn’t freak out: I’m not a reckless as I was in my travelling days.  My travels these days are with responsible orgs and we are in constant contact with the outside when we go into the field.  There’s a buddy system where no one goes out alone, and we always have an exit plan.  I’m a responsible fool nowadays Mum!

Superheros, Identity, and Art:

Yeah so I want(ed) to be a superhero when I grew up:  to go right wrongs and have cool adventures.  That’s a good part of why I love the photo-ing so much.

To get good pics you have to be out there.  I thought about being a writer at first, but chose against it as I felt bored with the making calls and hunting down people in offices for interviews, I’d rather be where the action is, its the adventure instinct I think.  You have to be out there, and more, you have to be out front.

I freak out the human rights workers here in Manila all the time for example when I won’t stay behind the rally line and actually push the police out of my way to get shots.  At first whoever they chose as my ‘buddy’ (you always go to rallies in pairs in case of something happening) always looked like he was going to have a heart attack.  (Sorry bout that guys!)

That’s how I see it all and where my motivation is.  (Plus Peter Parker is a photographer.)  🙂

And that also where my difficulties start in purely ‘art for arts sake’ type work.  For me it has to mean something, it has to be of service somehow.  I have no problem with beauty for beauty’s sake, I just have trouble doing it myself.

For me identity is tied with politics and history.  As Filipinos lucky enough to have opportunities in our lives that our brothers and sisters didn’t have here, I feel we need to represent them and their struggles.

What was it the uncle of a famous superhero said about great power and responsibility?

A winning chicken gets stitched up after a cock-fight. His severe leg injury will keep him out of the game for 6 months. Bukidnon, Mindanao (2005)

Notes about the photos and story:

It all started with the pictures of chickens I took in Balanak, Bikol (I also added a couple on the bottom from Bukidnon, Mindanao).  “WTF am I going to write about?!?” I asked myself.  I was at a loss.

Then Rose Cortez wrote that I was ‘brave’ in a comment on my last post.  People have said this to me in the past too and I always feel weird about that.

Brave I thought?  Not really, but no chicken either.

Sure it’s a stretch, but hey there it is…

©2009 alex felipe
All Rights Reserved.

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