How did everyone’s summer go? Did you get out to the beach? Have some BBQs? Do some camping? Kayaking? Bike riding? How about that eclipse? That was something, huh?
I did manage to do most of the above, except instead of kayaking, I floated on an innertube. But I didn’t do as much fun stuff as I would have liked because I pretty much lost the month of July to getting a family member out of a dangerous situation.
I can’t tell all about this experience because there’s no way to tell the story without copping that I’m talking about a sibling and while I’m OK with being forthright about my parents, since they’re no longer with us, I don’t want to overshare about someone who can be hurt by having his privacy violated. So, I’ll tell my part of the story and leave others’ details out as much as possible.
I have a brother who has been living in the Philippines for about 7 years. He’s lived in a few different places, but most recently was living in the northern part of Mindanao. Sometime this winter he suffered a health crisis and lost one of his limbs. This was bad, but he was receiving good care in a nearby city. My other brother and I had been concerned for a while about the general danger of living in a country whose government was becoming increasingly authoritarian and violent. But still, even with the amputation he seemed to be managing and didn’t want to leave.
Then in the late spring he started saying he wanted to come back to the States. About a decade ago I had told him that if he asked for help and was truly willing to take it, I would assist. At the same time, a militant group with ties to ISIS attacked and took over a city about 30 miles from where he was living. So, in addition to wanting to follow through on my offer to help him, I was worried that a Westerner who isn’t fully ambulatory might be an appealing hostage and shouldn’t be living so close to a war zone. Basically I didn’t want to see my brother’s head sawed off in a YouTube video. So, other brother and I decided we were going in.
I like travel, and I’m told that compared to some of my friends, I’m an adventurous traveler, but there’s a difference between riding a motorcycle in Germany, or even Thailand, and going into a war zone to extract a troubled family member. I was scared. I thought we might ALL be kidnapped and wind up on YouTube. I am painfully aware of the limitations of our State Department in situations where Americans go into places they have been told to stay out of. But, we decided that it needed to be done and that we would find a way.
Initially we hoped to fly as far as Cagayan de Oro, which was almost 100 miles from the war zone, and have our brother meet us at the airport. This seemed pretty safe, assuming that the airport didn’t get attacked. The fighting hadn’t come that far east yet and it didn’t seem likely that it would. But, the more we talked to our brother, the less likely it seemed that, given his health, he would be able to get himself to the airport.
So, we had to go to Plan B, which was to fly into Cagayan de Oro and then have someone drive us (preferably in a vehicle with tinted windows) to the village where my brother was living, to bring him back ourselves.
Our saving grace in this whole adventure was the mayor of the municipality where my brother was living. He gave up a comfortable life in the US to wage peace in a troubled part of the Philippines. He had grave concerns about my brother’s continued safety in his area and did a lot to help us get him out of there. The first thing he did was arrange a trusted person to drive us from Cagayan de Oro to the village.
And so it was, with this rough outline in place, that other brother and I set off for our Philippines adventure. Tune in next week for more of the story, including a fun interlude in Narita, Japan.
(Note, this post has been edited from the original in order to protect family members’ privacy.)