Today, we have a guest article from Marielle Misula. Marielle is a student who lives in Manila. I was contacted by Marielle several months ago. She told me that she had a project to do for one of her college classes, and she was to interview somebody and write up the interview for her class. As I recall, I believe it was for a Journalism class, but I could be mistaken on that. So, over the course of a month or so, Marielle interviewed me about different aspects of my life in Mindanao, my family, my businesses and other things that I am passionate about.
After completing her write-up, Marielle was offered a chance to have her article published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, but due to some circumstances that we had previously agreed upon, Marielle decided to let me publish the article here on LiP instead. So, please join me in welcoming Marielle to the site. Marielle, I’d just like to say that I enjoyed working with you on this interview, and I wish you good luck in your studies! MindanaoBob
The White Bisaya
by Marielle Misula
TO many Filipinos, living in Mindanao is tantamount to digging their own graves.
But, trading his 38 years of living in the Land of Milk and Honey for a newfound abode in Mindanao was what Robert Martin, Jr. had in mind. Being adventurous that he is, he kept looking for what he called a change in life. And he got more than what he bargained for after moving to Davao with his Filipina wife and all-male brood of three in the summer of 2000.
“I feel that there is more personal friendliness and acceptance in the Philippines than in the USA. I like the closeness of family. To be honest, there really is not that much that I don’t like here,” the Washington State native explains.
Initially, his decision to leave the USA came to his relatives’ surprise. None of them actually accepted the news at first. But after living in the East for more than a decade, they have come to terms with his prerogative to build his family in Mindanao. In fact, his 70 year-old mother, Mrs. Billie Martin, made a vow to visit them yearly almost four years ago.
However, he makes it clear that he has no desire to go back to his homeland even just to pay his relatives a visit. In his own words, “I have not visited with my relatives, because I have not returned to the USA since moving to the Philippines. Honestly, I have no plans to ever go back to the USA, as I am very happy here in the Philippines. Anybody in my family is welcome to visit here, but I don’t envision myself visiting them there.”
Admittedly, Martin, who also responds to nickname Bob, deems that Filipino culture is very different from the one he was accustomed to. For him, adjusting to the life he has chosen in Davao City is always a work in progress.
“While I have lived here for over a decade, I am still adjusting every day. Of course, in most ways I am adjusted already, and it takes time and the willingness to accept things that are different than what we are used to, or even what we understand,” the Internet entrepreneur shares.
Being married to General Santos City – native Feyma for 21 years, it is only inevitable for Martin to get a glimpse of how it feels to live in Mindanao, genuinely piquing his interest. Its culture, history and people helped him get started on his journey to knowing the ins and outs of his home miles away from home.
“There is a lot of “unspoiled” land here. There is a lot of culture from centuries ago that is still alive in Mindanao. (It) is the only part of the Philippines that was never conquered by the Spanish. Thus, Mindanao has more true Philippine culture that was not bastardized by the Spaniards,” the 49 year-old American expat explains.
In fact, his goal upon setting his foot in Mindanao is to visit all 26 provinces comprising. That’s why to fulfill this ambition, he eyes Sulu and Camiguin as the next targets of the self-confessed traveler.
“I have a friend who is a former reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and we have a little competition going to see who will be the first to visit every Mindanao Province. He lacks only one, Dinagat, while I lack two,” he shares.
It was his online discussion group, Mindanao-L, that introduced him to the Mindanao-based reporter Bobby Timonera in 1995. But, it was the latter’s work assignment in USA that made them meet each other in person for the first time in 1997. And they have been close friends ever since.
“In fact, Bobby is the Ninong of one of my kids,” he divulges.
Martin reveals that he has no fear of heading to ARMM provinces for a visit. He has actually wandered around Lanao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi and even Basilan. However, he’s just waiting for the right timing to visit the Sulu, once he gets in touch with the right people in the area and the peace and order issues have been periodically settled.
Although he has gone to Manila, Pampanga and Cebu, MindanaoBob will always have his home attached to his nickname, where his three favorite provinces, including Tawi-Tawi can be found, “In many ways, Bukidnon reminds me of (the forested areas of Oregon and Washington), parts of the USA where I have lived. I love being up in the mountains, and that is Bukidnon! Also, the culture is very different than on the mainland of Mindanao, and I find it interesting. I love Davao because it is where I live, and there are a lot of conveniences here that are not available in most of Mindanao.”
“Tawi Tawi Province consists of 107 islands, so there is always someplace new to go. Being a province consisting of islands, travel around the Province is necessarily by boat rather than car, jeepney or other land based means. Also, being about 99% Muslim, the culture of Tawi Tawi is very different, with little Christian culture mixed in at all. Even in other parts of the ARMM, this is still unusual in many respects,” he adds.
In order to mesh with his new surroundings, Bob decided to learn how to speak Bisaya through Bebe Metillo who he met through Shannon, one of his LiP readers, in 2007. It took him one and a half years to complete the course. But, beyond having successful attempts of striking up a conversation in Bisaya, his interest in Mindanao-an culture sparked further when his teacher injected chunks of such in their sessions.
“I wanted to be able to join in with the society here, and not be such an outsider. I can go anywhere and carry on a conversation with anybody in Cebuano, for as long as I wish to,” he reveals.
And what were his first words of Bisaya? “Ha ha… of course, the first words that anybody learns in a language are the bad (swear) words. I learned those while still living in the States!”
His proficiency in Bisaya even takes him as far as working on a website for Cebuano language tools, following the trails of the businesses he also established out of passion. He’s now almost done with the training materials ready to be offered to people from all over the globe within at least the next three months.
His brainchild, Live in the Philippines Web Magazine (LiP) which he started operating in 2006, is a repository of his daily adventures in Davao. Together with ten regular contributors (mostly American expatriates), including his spouse, they help foreigners who plan to follow their footsteps by opening a window of Filipino culture through their daily blog posts. The site is a hot melting pot of topics, ranging from the mundane details like how basketball is religiously followed in the Philippines (that and cockfighting, too, despite its absence on local TV) to how corruption is rampant in the country.
LiP is actually part of the many online endeavors he has undertaken over the years. It was his site, Mindanao Magazine, that jumpstarted his foray into Internet publishing in 1995. In fact, it became the birthplace of MindanaoBob, a nickname given to him by one of his readers.
As his free-of-charge writing aims to reach out to his readers through his many informational site, he also has the time to operate his chain of income-yielding online businesses. This includes his successful gift delivery services called WowPhilippines which he started with a capital of almost a hundred bucks in 2001 and now gives him more than what he earned while working in USA. He also offers advertising and consulting services while handling his bookstore where he has been selling his written works since 2008 and PointmanPI, his private investigation agency all at the same time.
Despite having too much food on his plate, he makes sure he can attend to all his business needs with his strict observance of time and the help of his three employees assisting him in carrying out administrative work, “I don’t go out and party. I spend my time attending to the things that require my attention.” He can still even reply to at least 800 e-mails he gets every day and walk around the neighborhood in the afternoon if he wants to.
Influenced by his readers’ enthusiasm on certain topics, Martin also plans to embark on another project: a book on Philippine Dual Citizenship and a book series of Virtual Earner Series for those people who want to make money online.
As he draws a thin line at answering questions regarding his family for privacy issues, it is definitely no secret why he does not see Mindanao the way Filipinos picture the southernmost tip of the archipelago through dailies: dangerous and life-threatening. While continuously embracing his new turf, what he has dug here is not definitely his own grave.
Rather, it is a gem, the one composed of a loving family, a successful career and more thrilling adventures in between.